Author: Chad Nielsen

Chad’s three great intellectual passions in life are science, history/religious studies, and music. He has pursued a career in biotechnology, but maintains an active interest in both of his other passions on the side. Chad is a four-time winning contestant in the Arrington Writing Award competition held at Utah State University for his essays on Mormon history and has presented at the Logan Institute of Religion scholar’s forum and the annual meeting of the Society of Mormon Philosophy and Theology. He is a faithful Latter-day Saint who has served in a variety of music, teaching, and clerical callings at his church as well as in the music ministry of a Presbyterian church. Currently he is serving as a music missionary as a member of the Bells on Temple Square.

The Fiery Meteor

Joseph F. Smith “(remember the F)” is one of the most important and influential presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even though he isn’t frequently discussed in church settings. It was during his administration that the Church really started to take on its current form – rejection of polygamy, modern monetary auditing systems, the first attempts at correlation, temples outside of the United States, our understanding of priesthood as an entity unto itself, the vision that is now D&C section 138 was received, and the purchasing and development of historical sites all were developments overseen by Joseph F. Smith. As a person, Joseph was also extremely complex, making him a fascinating subject to study, as Steven Taysom’s recently-released biography Like a Fiery Meteor: The Life of Joseph F. Smith demonstrates. In a recent interview with the Latter-day Saint history blog, Steven Taysom discussed a bit about the life of Joseph F. Smith. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

“Like a wise man who built his house on rock”: A Pioneer Day Homily on Matthew 7:21-27

A sacrament meeting talk given 23 July 2023 At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, St. Matthew recorded that the Lord, Jesus Christ stated: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you who behave lawlessly.’ “Everyone, then, who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” (Matthew 7:21-27, NRSV.) Besides being the basis of a very fun song to sing with children, these words underscore the importance of both learning and acting upon the words of the Lord. Now, why did the Lord…

Asking Questions About the Book of Mormon

A central question about the Book of Mormon that has been asked over and over again is whether it is an ancient document or a modern one. Despite being asked and answered by so many people, that question is still being argued and fought over and probably will be indefinitely. But what other questions are being asked about the Book of Mormon? In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, Joe Spencer and Nick Frederick talked about some of those questions in a discussion about the field of Book of Mormon studies. What follows here is a copost to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion.

Joseph Smith and the Mormons: A review

Joseph Smith and the Mormons, by Noah Van Sciver, is a fantastic addition to Mormon literature. And while not written as devotional literature, this graphic novelization of Joseph Smith’s life is very well-researched and makes a lot of effort to portray things in a fair and open manner. And the book itself is beautiful in its presentation.

Jesus Christ in Joseph Smith’s Teachings

There is an apocryphal story about John Taylor that was shared by Leonard Arrington: Shortly after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith in June 1844, a prominent eastern visitor to Nauvoo[, Illinois] was being ‘shown around’ by Apostle Taylor.  He remarked to Brother Taylor that he sincerely regretted the murder of the head of the Mormon Church.  Brother Taylor got a twinkle in his eye at this reference to the ‘head of the Church’ and replied, ‘Yes, and isn’t it wonderful that on the on the third day he arose from the tomb and came back to administer to the Saints’ (Leonard Arrington Journal, 14 May 1973). It’s a fun play on expectations, but also goes to the point that Jesus Christ, rather than Joseph Smith, is at the heart of the Latter-day Saints’ religion. In a recent interview with historian Keith Erekson at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, he pointed out ways in which Joseph Smith taught about Jesus Christ and about God. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 8: Colonization

One of the important aspects of the Church’s presence in Mexico was the establishment of colonies in the far north.  Intended as refuges against anti-polygamy legislation and persecution, the colonies were a constellation of settlements that proved successful for many years and, in some cases, still continue to exist to this day.

Translation or Revelation?

I posted about Book of Abraham translation a couple weeks ago as part of a co-post on an interview with Stephen O. Smoot. This time, we’re looking at a different interview with Michael Hubbard MacKay, who had a different perspective about Joseph Smith’s translation projects. The interview on Book of Mormon translation is over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, so what follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

The Jewish Revolt and the Abomination of Desolation

One of the more pivotal events in the development of both Christianity and modern Judaism was the First Jewish Revolt, which started in 66 CE and culminated in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Jared W. Ludlow discussed this event in connection with his chapter in New Testament History, Culture, and Society: A Background to the Texts of the New Testament. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). To start, Ludlow discussed what the First Jewish Revolt was: The First Jewish Revolt beginning in AD 66 was an attempt by the Jews in the Roman province of Judea to gain independence from Rome. Rome had dominated the region since 63 BC, mostly under vassal kings like Herod, but also directly with procurators and prefects. The revolt culminated in a siege on Jerusalem and the subsequent destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70. Some of the rebels held out, particularly at Masada until AD 73. . . . There were various factors that caused the Jewish Revolt. There was long-simmering animosity among the populace against the local vassal kings and elites who worked closely with Rome. This animosity fed the rise of Zealots who wanted to purge the land from foreign, corrupt influence and return greater control of religious traditions to their understanding of…

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 6: Voz de amonestación

The first two years of missionary work in central Mexico brought some long-standing successes, such as the conversion of Desideria Quintanar de Yáñez and her family, and some frustrating failures, as was the case with Plotino C. Rhodakanaty.

Book of Abraham Translation

When Joseph Smith used the word “translate”, it meant something different than what we usually think of as translating. The Book of Abraham is a very intriguing example of the process that, while it still has a lot of unknowns, does provide some insight into the process. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, Stephen O. Smoot discussed the Book of Abraham translation. What follows here is a co-post (a shorter post with some excerpts and discussion).

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 5: Thanks to Plotino

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints post-WWII, the statement that a socialist and anarchist was largely responsible for initiating missionary work in the country that is home to the second-largest community of Latter-day Saints is unexpected. Yet, that is exactly what happened in Mexico thanks to Plotino Constantino Rhodakanaty and his associates.

Temples, Communication, and Covenants

Temple rituals form an important part of Latter-day Saints’ covenant relationship with God. A recently-released book by Jennifer C. Lane entitled Let’s Talk About Temples and Ritual delves into the importance of temple rituals. Lane has shared some of the insights she gained that are captured in that book in an interview with the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to that interview (with some related information from a second interview included as well).

Wilford Woodruff and Adoption Sealings

Wilford Woodruff was hugely important in the development of temple work as we understand it today. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, Jennifer Mackley (the executive director and CEO of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation) discussed some of the influence that Presisent Woodruff had on temple work. The interview covers a lot of ground, so this co-post is going to zoom in on one specific aspect–Priesthood Adoption Sealings.

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 1: Westward to Mexico

It’s time to return to the Mexican Mission Hymns project, with a slight change. Instead of running hymn translations and the brief history discussions together, they will be separate posts moving forward. To do this properly, the previous history segments are going to be rerun as their own posts, starting with this one.

Camille Fronk Olson on Women in the New Testament

The Bible is “the bedrock of all Christianity” and women play some very key roles in the stories that it shares. Camille Fronk Olson has worked to highlight these female Bible characters as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Olson discussed some of what she has learned about the women of the New Testament through her studies and work in writing Women of the New Testament. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

Mercy, kindness, and caring – a Sunday Sermon

At one point in his ministry, “an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus.” He wanted to see what Jesus would answer, asking him: “Teacher … what must I do to inherit eternal life?” To this, Jesus responded with a question of his own: “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” As an expert in the Law of Moses, the lawyer quoted from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, saying: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.” To this, Jesus responded: “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” The lawyer wasn’t fully satisfied with the answer, however, and “wanting to vindicate himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Rather than responding with a question, this time Jesus responded with a parable: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and took off, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came upon him, and when he saw him he was moved with…

Vengeance Is Mine

The story goes that J. Golden Kimball was once preaching to a crowd in the South and became concerned when he noticed that only men were present. As he opened his mouth to talk, however, All at once something came over me and I opened my mouth and said, . . . ‘Gentlemen, you have not come here to listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. . . . You have come to find out about the Mountain Meadows Massacre and polygamy, and God being my helper I will tell you the truth.’ And I did. I talked to them for one hour. When the meeting was out you could hear a pin drop. The Mountain Meadows Massacre is a topic that tends to have that effect, and a long-anticipated book on the topic is about to come out. Vengeance Is Mine: The Mountain Meadows Massacre and Its Aftermath by Richard E. Turley Jr. and Barbara Jones Brown is an exceptional and highly-recommended book that delves deep into the aftermath of the infamous Mountain Meadows Massacre. The authors have done a remarkable job in presenting a comprehensive and detailed account of the massacre and its cover-up. The book is a follow-up to the 2008 publication Massacre at Mountain Meadows and takes readers on a journey through the aftermath of the gruesome massacre. It examines the attempts of the local southern Utah leaders to conceal their crime by suppressing witnesses and disseminating lies. Government…

The Mountain Meadows Massacre Aftermath

One of the most significant books in Mormon studies being published this year is Rick Turley and Barbara Jones Brown’s Vengeance Is Mine: The Mountain Meadows Massacre and Its Aftermath. It’s been years coming, but is worth the wait. I’ll probably publish my own review next week, but wanted to highlight that Turley and Brown recently shared some about the book and the Mountain Meadows Massacre in an interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

Rebaptism in the Church

One of the interesting aspects of how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints approaches the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is that it is seen as a renewal of covenants. What may not be as widely known is that the idea of renewing covenants may have originally emerged in the Church in connection with the practice of rebaptism. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history and theology blog From the Desk, historians Jonathan Stapley and David Grua discussed Latter Day Saint rebaptism. What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

Voice of the Saints in Mongolia

Voice of the Saints in Mongolia by Po Nien (Felipe) Chou and Petra Chou is an informative account of the establishment and growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mongolia. As the first comprehensive history of the Church in Mongolia, the book breaks historical ground and provides valuable insights into the challenges and blessings of bringing the gospel to a rugged, harsh climate and a people with deeply rooted (non-Christian) beliefs and traditions.

W. Paul Reeve on Race and the Priesthood

The race-based priesthood and temple ban that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had in place from the 1850s until 1978 is a heavy, but important subject to study. I’ve shared a review about W. Paul Reeve’s recently-released Let’s Talk About Race and Priesthood where I stated that it was one of “the best and most important entries in a fantastic series”, and I stand by that statement. Recently, W. Paul Reeve shared some of the insights he has gained from his research on the topic of race and the priesthood in an interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). W. Paul Reeve describes the history of the race-based priesthood and temple ban as a three-stage arc. In the interview he stated that: The book is divided into three phases which lay out the chronological history of the racial priesthood and temple restrictions as I have come to understand them: Phase 1. In phase one there were no restrictions. Priesthood and temples were open to people of all races and ethnicities. In fact the First Presidency published an article in the Nauvoo newspaper in 1840 announcing their intent to welcome “persons of all languages, and of every tongue, and of every color” into the temple that they would start to build the following spring. Phase 2. Sadly, that open…

Susa and Alma’s Divorce

In Saints, volume 2, one of the key players was Susa Young Gates. A prominent daughter of Brigham Young who went on to do a lot of notable activities herself, Susa is a relatively well-known figure in Latter-day Saint history. One aspect of her story that received attention in Saints was Susa Young Gates’ divorce with Alma Dunford. The  was an important part of both of their life stories, and an aspect that was the focus of a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk with Lisa Olsen Tait. What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). One of the great difficulties in talking about any divorce is that they affect many parties and involve many different factors. To make matters more difficult in this case, as Lisa Olsen Tait observed, “we have to remember that in those days, divorce was an adversarial process—one party had to file a complaint against the other party establishing grounds for divorce. There was no such thing as ‘no-fault’ divorce.” It can also be difficult to write about situations that lead to divorces when domestic abuse is involved, as was the case for Susa and Alma. People are complicated and have many aspects in their lives to consider, but abuse is also abhorrent and should not be excused. With all of that in mind, Tait wrote that she recently published a study of the…

Ken Adkins and Belle Harris

Belle Harris‘s experience in prison is an interesting story from late nineteenth-century Latter-day Saint history. Part of why it’s fascinating is that she kept a record of her time while she was in prison. Recently, Church historian Ken Adkins talked about the Belle Harris prison journal at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, partly due to the recent online publication of the journal by the Church Historian’s Press. What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). Who exactly was Belle Harris? Ken Adkins explained that: Belle Harris was raised in rural southern Utah. She wasn’t wealthy and didn’t come from a particularly prominent family. But she had ambition, loved to read, and was taught by her family to speak her mind. I tend to think generationally—for better or worse—and I think it is important to note that she is the same generation as Heber J. Grant. They are the first generation of saints to be born in the Utah territory, and they are the last to practice polygamy in the states. Her parents are Joseph F. Smith’s generation, they were born and raised in the faith, but came across the plains as children. So, we are talking about a third-generation Latter-day saint. He added that, at the time: The Edmunds Act was passed in March 1882, and the federal district courts were eager to test it out. Famously, Rudger…