Category: Features

Sunday School lessons – Book Reviews – Interviews

Mother in Heaven: The Quotes Behind the Essay

On the Saturday evening session of General conference, Elder Renlund stated that: “Very little has been revealed about mother in heaven but what we do know is summarized in a Gospel Topic found in our Gospel Library application. Once you have read what is there, you will know everything that I know about the subject.” While there were cautions he offered that have raised concerns in some sectors of the Church, there is also a strong affirmation for the Gospel Topics essay on the subject. In that light, I felt that it was appropriate to collect and present all of the quotes about Heavenly Mother that were referenced in that article to make them more easily accessible. (With the caveat that the Paulson and Pulido BYU article that is referenced is extensive enough that the quotes referenced in that essay will be presented in a separate post.)   Susa Gates on a Zina D. Young recollection from 1839: An interesting sidelight is given to this time through a possible glimpse of the thought-kernel which grew into such fragrant bloom in the full-voiced poem of Sister Snow [“O My Father”].  It was told by Aunt Zina D. Young to the writer [Susa Young Gates] as to many others during her life.  Father Huntington lost his wife under the most trying circumstances.  Her children were left desolate.  One day, when her daughter Zina was speaking with the Prophet Joseph Smith concerning the…

On Winter Quarters

Sometimes called the “Valley Forge of Mormondom”, Winter Quarters was the primary (thought not exclusive) location that Latter-day Saints in the United States of America lived between their forced exodus from Nauvoo and their efforts to move westward to the Great Basin region. In a recent interview with Richard Bennett, Kurt Manwaring discussed the history and legacy of Winter Quarters with the president of the Mormon Trail Center at Winter Quarters.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a shorter post with quotes and some discussion), but feel free to also read the full interview here. As the Latter-day Saints planned to leave Nauvoo due to increasing hostility from their neighbors, they had to explore options for where to go next.  Richard Bennett explained some of what their plan was when they began to evacuate Illinois in 1846: The original Latter-day Saint plan of exodus, as laid out by Brigham Young and his colleagues of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, and with advice from various members of the Council of Fifty, was to locate a new “Zion” home for the Saints somewhere “over the Rocky Mountains.” The Prophet Joseph Smith may have indicated on different occasions that the Saints would have to go west to escape mounting persecution, but he never specified a precise location. Nor did Brigham Young announce a firm destination, although he clearly felt that he would know the site when and where he laid eyes…

The Book of Abraham Book

I once had a teacher who loved to say that: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”  To some degree, this is not infrequently the case when it comes to studying issues in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Let’s Talk About the Book of Abraham is an easy-to-read summary of the important scripture text from the Pearl of Great Price. Egyptologist Kerry Muhlestein recently discussed the book with Kurt Manwaring.  What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a shorter post with quotes and some discussion), but feel free to read the full interview here. There are a lot of interesting questions to ask about the Book of Abraham, its origin, and nature.  For example, one question is whether or not the text of the Book of Abraham is directly based on the text that was on the papyrus or not.  Muhlestein shared his view that ultimately: We cannot tell for sure. There is some evidence that it was. Joseph Smith certainly spoke of it that way, and that is pretty weighty evidence. Further, the more I research the life and interests of the priest who owned the papyrus fragment which contains the original of Facsimile One, the more I become convinced that this priest would have been very interested in the text of the Book of Abraham. That is circumstantial evidence that the text of the Book of…

Of Brigham and Bridger

Jim Bridger and Brigham Young are two very important people in the Euro-American colonization of the American west. Their relationship with each other, however, was complicated. Kurt Manwaring recently discussed that relationship with Jerry Enzler in connection with Enzler’s biography, Jim Bridger: Trailblazer of the American West. What follows here is a copost to the full interview (a shorter post with quotes and some commentary), but feel free to hop on over to the full interview here. Young and Bridger only met on one occasion–June 28, 1847, as the vanguard company of Latter-day Saints settlers made their way west. Bridger was an experienced trapper and frontiersman that the Saints consulted for information about the areas they were considering settling. As Enzler summarized: Jim Bridger gave them a lengthy description of the lands ahead as well as his recent trip to California. Young and other members of the Church had been studying Frémont maps and journals, and Bridger pointed out that Frémont was in error when he depicted Great Salt Lake connected to Utah Lake as one continuous body. Several Latter-day Saints recorded Jim Bridger’s extensive description of the Great Basin and surrounding area. Bridger told them that the Indians south of Utah Lake grow corn, wheat, and other grains in abundance. One common story from this meeting is that Bridger was quite negative about the prospects of settling along the Wasatch Front in what is now Utah, going as far…

Margarito Bautista – A Forgotten Revolutionary in Latter-day Saint History

Elisa Eastwood Pulido’s biography, The Spiritual Evolution of Margarito Bautista (Oxford University Press, 2020), provides a fascinating glimpse into one of the more significant but controversial figures in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mexico.  An important founding figure among Mexican Latter-day Saints, Bautista was a successful missionary who helped to spread the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in Mexico, Arizona, and Utah; the father of family history efforts among Mexican Latter-day Saints; the most prolific indigenous author of Mormon literature to date; and a ceaseless advocate of empowering Mexican Latter-day Saints.  Yet, despite his promise as a charismatic teacher and leader in the Church, his criticism of Euro-American leaders of the Church for their paternalism born of racial prejudice and staunch loyalty to the vision of Mormonism he was taught when he converted in 1901 (including ideals of communalism and plural marriage) led to his ultimate excommunication from both the Church and from a splinter movement in Mexico known as the Third Convention.  His efforts within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Third Convention, and his own fundamentalist Mormon group mark him as a worthy candidate for a biography and Elisa Eastwood Pulido delivers beautifully in sharing his remarkable story and life. The biography is billed as a spiritual biography, following Bautista’s religious life and thought as he flirted with Methodism and then journeyed through various…

Open Questions in Latter-day Saint Doctrine

Recently, Kurt Manwaring let me know that there was an issue of BYU Studies that had recently come out that I feel like will be a very impactful issue moving forwards.  The issue–also published as a book entitled Yet to be Revealed–focuses on unanswered questions in Latter-day Saint theology and brings an impressive array of big names in the Latter-day Saint studies field as authors of the discussions.  It covers topics like defining doctrine, how did Satan seek to destroy the agency of humankind?, How does God progress?, Was Jesus married?, the foreknowledge of God, and much more.  More recently, however, Kurt Manwaring discussed the volume with Eric Eliason (one of the two editors for the issue) for a 10 Questions interview.  What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion from the interview), but, as always, feel free to read the full interview here. When asked, Eliason explained the background of the volume as follows: Back in the early 1990s, I read in The Encyclopedia of Mormonism (which passed through rigorous scrutiny from Church headquarters) that the Restoration tradition had two main schools of thought on the nature of God’s progress. Even though there had been strongly expressed views on both sides, neither point of view had been promulgated as official doctrine; and neither had been officially declared anathema. This was a new perspective to me! Before then, my young brain was pretty…

Studying the Words of The Relief Society Presidency

If the 5-year cycle for Relief Society General Presidencies that has been followed for 20 years holds true, the current Relief Society Presidency is likely to be released at this upcoming general conference.  With that in mind, I recently decided to go through and read all of the general conference talks given by members of the current presidency.  It was a depressingly short exercise, especially given the quality of materials presented.  These talks proved to be very meaningful to me, and after reviewing them, I wish that the full Relief Society General Presidency had been allowed to speak at every general conference.  That would have allowed them to each share 10 messages rather than the 3-4 that they have been able to share during their tenure so far.  In any case, I wanted to share some of my favorite quotes and stories from each of the members of the presidency. Jean B. Bingham President Bingham gave a number of hard-hitting statements in her talks, addressing unity, ministering, finding joy, and family relationships.  Her talk on ministering was given in the same meeting as the revamped program was announced and provided, for me, the clearest direction as to what fulfilling that program looked like.  For, me, though, the most meaningful quote came her talk that dealt with seeking unity between the sexes in the Church and in the home: Today, “we need women who have the courage and vision of our…

Let’s Talk about the Book of Abraham–a Review

Kerry Muhlstein’s Let’s Talk about the Book of Abraham Is the latest entry in a series that Deseret Book has been publishing to address controversial or touchy topics in the Church.  Based on my experience with Brittany Chapman Nash’s Let’s Talk About Polygamy (the previous volume in this series of books), I had expected something like the Very Short Introduction series by Oxford University Press, with a scholarly discussion of the topic.  Muhlstein’s work does indeed follow this pattern, presenting a concise, readable, and informative in discussing the Book of Abraham.  Unlike the Very Short Introduction series, though, it is written from an overtly faithful perspective and is apologetic in its orientation.  It is a good, fast-paced introduction for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the ongoing discussion of this controversial entry in the Pearl of Great Price. The book is divided into three sections.  The first explores the history of the Book of Abraham, looking at Abraham, the papyrus scrolls that Joseph Smith would later purchase, the translation project, and eventual publication of the book.  The second section explores a series of questions about the Book of Abraham, including questions about the process of translating the Book of Abraham, the facsimiles and explanations offered in the published Book of Abraham, and historical evidences that align with the contents of the Book of Abraham.  The final section is small (less than 10 pages) and briefly…

Translating the Kinderhook Plates

The Kinderhook plates provide an interesting incident in Church History that provide an interesting test case for how Joseph Smith approached translation.  What are these plates?  What can we learn about Joseph Smith from the incident?  Well, Mark Ashurst-McGee and Don Bradley recently sat down with Kurt Manwaring for an interview to discuss what they found during their scholarly analysis of the Kinderhook Plates story.  What follows here is a co-post, a shorter post with some quotes and discussion, but feel free to hop on over to full interview here. They explained the story of the Kinderhook plates as follows: Mark Ashurst-McGee: It was in early 1843 that Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of Mormon Christianity, translated a portion of the Kinderhook plates. These six small plates of brass—each covered on both sides with mysterious inscriptions—have become known as the “Kinderhook plates” because they were extracted from an Indian burial mound near the small village of Kinderhook in western Illinois. Kinderhook was about seventy miles downriver from Nauvoo, then the center of gathering for the Latter-day Saints. Over the years since the publication of the Book of Mormon in 1830, Joseph Smith had become widely known for his claim to have been led by a heavenly messenger to an ancient record inscribed on a set of gold plates, buried in a hill in western New York, and to have translated the record by means of a spiritual gift from God. Given…

The Contradictory Commands, Part 1: Isn’t It About … Time?

One Sunday while I was on my mission, I was asked to teach the Gospel Principles class.  The class was very small (just the missionaries and one part member family we’d been teaching), and the subject was the Fall of Adam and Eve.  I remember this lesson, because I was explaining conditions in the Garden of Eden and the results of the Fall.  The manual summarizes the scriptures and doctrines by stating that: “When Adam and Eve were placed in the Garden of Eden, they were not yet mortal. In this state, ‘they would have had no children’ (2 Nephi 2:23).  There was no death.”[1]  Yet the very next paragraph taught that: “God commanded them to have children. He said, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth…’ (Moses 2:28). God told them they could freely eat of every tree in the garden except one, the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Of that tree God said, ‘In the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.’ (Moses 3:17).”[2]  I did my best to explain these ideas, and one of the people in the class pointed out that these two things seem to contradict one another—In the garden, they couldn’t have children. God commanded them to have children but also commanded them to not do the thing that would allow them to have children—partaking of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  I didn’t have…

“As we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ”

Of all the Christmas carols in the English hymnbook, the one with the longest association with the Church’s hymnals is “Joy to the World.”[1]  It’s probably fitting, then, that the “Come, Follow Me” materials for this week reference it.  The reading material for the week is the document “The Living Christ,” published by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve on 1 January 2000, “as we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ two millennia ago.”  The document covers the mission of Jesus Christ before, during, and after his mortal life.  In one section, it states that: “We testify that He will someday return to earth. ‘And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together’ (Isaiah 40:5). He will rule as King of Kings and reign as Lord of Lords, and every knee shall bend and every tongue shall speak in worship before Him.”[2]  Asides from some nice references to the Biblical texts behind George Frideric Handel and Charles Jennens’s Messiah (which President Gordon B. Hinckley was fond of quoting), this paragraph is brought up in the “Come, Follow Me” manual because it addresses the Second Coming of Jesus Christ: “Christmas is a time both to look back on the day Jesus Christ was born and to look forward to the day He will come again. … It might … be interesting to read, sing, or listen to Christmas hymns that teach about…

Peace and Zion

For me, one of the most beautiful concepts in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the idea of Zion. Yet, to achieve that ideal, we are going to have to think and act radically differently than we are accustomed to thinking and acting. In a recent interview with Kurt Manwaring, Patrick Mason and David Pulsipher discuss their book, “Proclaim Peace: The Restoration’s Answer to an Age of Conflict” and some of what that book covers to help Latter-day Saints think about proclaiming peace to work towards Zion. What follows here is a co-post (a shorter post with excerpts and discussion), but feel free to hop on over to read the full interview here. Mason and Pulsipher explained the purpose of the book as follows: In a world increasingly filled with contention and violence, most Latter-day Saints don’t realize that our Restoration scriptures contain rich resources for transforming conflict and achieving peace…. More than anything, we hope to initiate a conversation among our fellow Latter-day Saints about principles of peace. But we also believe the Restoration has something important to contribute to a larger conversation that has been going on among other faith traditions, including other Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims. We’ve benefited from their remarkable insights, and so we’ve tried to offer unique insights from the Restoration in return. When asked what those insights are,  they responded: Too many to enumerate here (thus a book-length treatment was necessary).…

“The long-promised day has come”

Official Declaration 1 has some supplementary materials included in the Doctrine and Covenants in the form of three excerpts from different addresses where he explained the reasoning for the change.  I’ve often mused on the idea of what would an analogous set of supplementary quotes look like for Official Declaration 2.  At one point, I even created my own insert in my scriptures to fill that function.  Admittedly, the addition of an introduction to the section in 2013 provides the key information, but I enjoy playing with hypotheticals for updates to the scriptures, so what would I include if I were to prepare the additions for the declaration?  And, while I’m sharing in the post, I’d be interested in hearing folks’ thoughts about what they would or would not include and their thoughts about my selections as well. My version would probably look something like this: EXCEPRTS FROM THREE STATEMENTS REGARDING THE PRIESTHOOD REVELATION We have revelations that tell us that the gospel is to go to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people before the Second Coming of the Son of Man. And we have revelations which recite that when the Lord comes he will find those who speak every tongue and are members of every nation and kindred, who will be kings and priests, who will live and reign on earth with him a thousand years. That means, as you know, that people from all nations will have the…

“All that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and … that he will yet reveal”

A few years ago, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf shared the following thoughts in general priesthood session: Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us—Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he received priesthood keys, the Church was organized. In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. It includes “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,” and the “many great and important things” that “He will yet reveal.” Brethren, the exciting developments of today are part of that long-foretold period of preparation that will culminate in the glorious Second Coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.[1] Drawing on the nineth Article of Faith, President Uchtdorf talked about the Restoration of the gospel as an ongoing process, even today.  Since then, the idea of ongoing Restoration has caught on as a paradigm to discuss changes in the Church that result from continuing revelation and changing circumstances in the world. One of the paradoxes of the Restoration of the Gospel that I’ve discussed before is that there are both concepts that the Church has to change and adapt through continuing revelation and that there is a “perfect state” that needs to be restored (and thus must also stay static to maintain that perfect state after it is achieved).  The goal of restoration in general is to return something to a former condition.  Joseph Smith looked…

John Sillito’s B. H. Roberts: A Life in the Public Arena (book review)

In traditional Christianity, there are significant figures known as the Early Church Fathers who are noted as influential Christian theologians and writers who established the intellectual and doctrinal foundations of Christianity as we know it today.  While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is still a form of Christianity and is indebted to these early Christian thinkers, Mormonism is its own movement and I’ve often pondered on who we would consider to be the Church Fathers (or Parents) of the Latter-day Saints.  Certainly many of the presidents of the Church fall in this category—all three Joseph Smiths, Brigham Young, and Wilford Woodruff among them.  Beyond that, however, who would be considered a part of that category?  Certainly Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, Eliza R. Snow, James E. Talmage, and Bruce R. McConkie stand out as candidates.  Emmaline B. Wells and John A. Widtsoe come to mind as well.  It’s probably no surprise to anyone who has been reading my writing for a bit, however, that the first candidate I would suggest is B. H. Roberts. Over the course of the almost 90 years that have passed since his death, Elder Brigham Henry Roberts (1857-1933) has received the high praise of being called Mormonism’s most eminent intellectual,[1] the best officially accepted theologian that Mormonism has known,[2] one of our most important historians,[3] and the most prolific and most effective defender of the Church.[4]  Imagine my delight, then, to find…

“To Whom It May Concern”

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, that I find it odd that Official Declaration 1, Official Declaration 2, and the Articles of Faith are all crammed into one week while The Family: A Proclamation to the World gets its own week.  I mean, the Articles of Faith alone has two major classic Latter-day Saint books that focus on discussing and extrapolating from the document in great detail, each of which could function as a manual for Sunday School for a year on their own.  Official Declarations 1 and 2 both deal with major topics in Church history.  Official Declaration 2, for example, provides a great opportunity to discuss racism and address the issue.  It’s a lot to merely gloss over in one week, particularly in a year where there really isn’t an overabundance of material to read through. In any case, I’m working on some more substantive posts to cover this week’s topics, but for now, here are some of my major posts relating to the topics of each of the sections we’re discussing in “Come, Follow Me”   Articles of Faith: Fundamental Principles of Mormonism Official Declaration 1: Embracing Jacob’s Sermon Official Declaration 2: All Are Alike Unto God Reconsidering the Curse of Cain Reconsidering the Curse of Ham The Family: A Proclamation to the World: “Come, Follow Me” and The Family: A Proclamation to the World

Hearing leaders teach in their own languages: October 2021 General Conference edition

Do you remember that time when speakers in General Conference were allowed to speak in their own languages? In September of 2014, the Church put out an announcement that “General Conference Speakers Now Can Use Native Language”! But it didn’t last long. A year later, a Church spokesperson told a news outlet that the First Presidency had “decided that all talks for this weekend’s sessions will be given in English.” However, if you know where to look, you can still hear many leaders speaking in their own languages. Since long before 2014, some leaders have pre-recorded their talks in other languages, usually (but not always) in their native language. I remember Elder Richard G. Scott talking about prerecording his talks in Spanish when he visited my mission in the Dominican Republic in the 1990s.  As I relistened to the October 2021 General Conference, I checked for every leader who seemed like she or he might have a different native language. I found seven examples of leaders giving talks in their home tongues. (When you listen to the talk, if it’s interpreted, then you can still hear the English track faintly in the background; not so with the prerecorded talks.) If you want to refresh your General Conference study and you speak another language, here are some opportunities.  Élder Ulisses Soares, “A eterna compaixão do Salvador” (Portuguese). The talk is “The Savior’s Abiding Compassion” in English. Elder Soares also recorded his…

Brian and Laura Hales on Polygamy

‘Tis the season … to talk about polygamy, apparently.  Kurt Manwaring recently sat down with Brian and Laura Hales for a question and answer session about polygamy.  They have spent decades researching and writing about plural marriage (past and present), approaching the subject as faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It’s a very interesting interview to read through, so I recommend hopping on over to read it here.  What follows on this page is a co-post to the one over at Kurt Manwaring’s site, with excerpts and some discussion on the subject. One topic they discussed early on was the “Latter-day Saint Perspectives” podcast that they run.  Laura discussed the origin of the podcast, stating that: The idea for the podcast arose from a conversation I had with a Swedish member of the Church. In 2016, Brian and I gave a presentation in Gottingen, Sweden, on Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. After the conference, an attendee approached me about the need for better resources on Church history for members living outside the United States. At the time, these members only had easy access to information that presented polar views. My new friend reinforced the point that struggling members lose trust in resources produced by the institutional Church, only leaving antagonistic sources as a place to reach out for answers to their questions about Church history and doctrine. More books were not the solution because of…

“I saw the hosts of the dead”

President Joseph F. Smith’s Vision of the Redemption of the Dead is one of the most recent documents to be included in our cannon (only followed by Official Declaration 2).  Experienced on 3 October 1918 and recorded shortly thereafter, the vision outlines the underlying theology behind proxy work for the dead that we perform in the temples.  Received against a dramatic backdrop of death, the vision gives hope for all of humankind.  Yet rather than breaking new ground, the document is a capstone of years of theological development in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  That doesn’t undercut its significance, however, since its later inclusion in the scriptures canonized those developments for the Church. Received over 100 years ago, this important vision came at a time of wide-spread death and destruction.  WWI was just a month away from its official end, after four years of carnage that resulted in millions of deaths.  Similar to today, a deadly pandemic was raging at that time that would kill tens of millions of people.  Joseph F. Smith himself had experienced loss not long before the vision.  In that year alone, his eldest son, a son-in-law, and a daughter-in-law had all died at young ages.  In addition, as his great-grandson stated: “During his lifetime, President Smith lost his father, his mother, one brother, two sisters, two wives, and thirteen children. He was well acquainted with sorrow and losing loved ones.”[1]  It was…

An Interview with Reverend Dr. Andrew Teal

Have you ever met anyone who, through their example and experiences, leads you to seek deeper for God and Christ in your own life?  Reverend Dr. Andrew Teal (a chaplain, fellow, and lecturer in theology at Pembroke College, Oxford University) is one of those types of people.  Recently, he has been a visiting resident scholar with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU to focus on writing a book about Joseph Smith, and sat down with Kurt Manwaring for an interview about his experiences and life.  For the full interview, follow the link here.  What follows on this page is a co-post (a shorter piece with excerpts and some discussion). One of the early questions Kurt asked was about when Rev. Dr. Teal realized that “his life’s work was going to be centered on teaching about Christ.”  The response was that: I lived with my grandparents as parents divorced at an early age, and they gave stability and direction for which I am really grateful. When I was 13, my grandmother died, and I found to my surprise that everyone at school was suddenly kinder. I wondered why it was that it took someone’s death to make us more human. We were reading Mark’s Gospel at the time, and suddenly the drama and power of the death of the Son of God made immediate and relevant sense. I was confirmed and from that point knew that Charles…