Category: Latter-day Saint Thought

Doctrine – Theology – Philosophy

Misinterpreting “Large in Stature”

By Mike Winder   When Nephi says he is “large in stature” does that mean he is merely “tall and muscular” or something else? Sometimes in the Bible stature means height, such as “a man of great stature” in 2 Samuel 21:20 speaking of the man born to the giant of Gath.

“As the Gods”: Pre-Sapiens Hominids and God’s Plan

When it comes to human evolution or deep human history, there’s a sort of begrudging acceptance in Church culture of its possibility, or it’s used as some cudgel in a broader debate about biblical errancy or how symbolic Adam and Eve were, but very few have taken it any further and really sat down and thought through its theological implications and extensions on its own terms.  The fact is that for much if not most of our time on earth we lived alongside, and had children with, entire other species that looked like us and could have also been religious and spoken to God as well. One of the few attempts to really think through the implications of pre-Sapiens hominids is Hugh Nibley’s excellent “Before Adam” (note: saying that I think it’s excellent does not mean that I agree with everything in it), where he points out  Do not begrudge existence to creatures that looked like men long, long ago, nor deny them a place in God’s affection or even a right to exaltation—for our scriptures allow them such. Of course, the first question that is typically raised is how these creatures relate to our own existence. At what point did we become “as the Gods”? As Nibley points out, for large swaths of humankind’s existence we only see the most rudimentary tools and very slow technological innovation and dispersion, on the order of thousands of years. He argues that…

On Martha Hughes Cannon

Martha Hughes Cannon was a notable, if complicated, woman in Utah history. Although somewhat forgotten (partly due to her son burning all her journals, at her request), she has become more widely remembered in recent years. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog, From the Desk, biographer Constance L. Lieber shared some of her thoughts on this fascinating individual. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Notes on Revelation

[As I was going through my files, I found this draft that written four years ago. As it has about 24 hours of relevance left, I’m publishing it now. Happy New Year.] When I teach Revelation 1-11 to my youth Sunday School class, I’ll probably start off by saying something about gasoline.

The Vatican’s Same-Sex Blessings: Latter-day Saint Translations and Lessons

Catholic priest giving a blessing to Latter-day Saint/Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o (Source: Juvenile Instructor, who got it from the WSJ) The Catholic world has been abuzz about a recent directive from the Vatican condoning blessings (but not marriages, and not liturgical blessings, kind of) of same-sex couples. The document has engendered a lot of confusion, hair splitting, and myriad interpretations by people who are much more knowledgeable about Catholic thought than I, so I will refrain from claiming to know the One True interpretation of it, but a few high-level thoughts from a Latter-day Saint perspective.  The African bishops’ very negative responses to the Vatican, in clear defiance of the Pope, is another data point (the revolt against the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican Communion and the tensions between United Methodist Church and its African contingent over gay ordination being others) for the argument that, erstwhile conventional wisdom to the contrary, moving in a more liberal direction in regards to LGBTQ issues comes at a significant cost, especially in regards to affiliated congregations in the Global South. In the Latter-day Saint context, any move towards same-sex sealings would almost certainly be very costly in terms of Church growth in Africa, which in all likelihood will become the primary engine of Church growth this century. I’ve made this point before, but when people talk about how a certain change in Church policy would make the Church more popular, they…

Come, Follow Me: Book of Mormon Resources

As Jonathan has been pointing out in his posts about Reading the Book of Mormon in wartime and Book of Mormon historical revisionism, we are only a few weeks out from starting the next year of the reading cycle. Come, Follow Me 2024, will focus on the Book of Mormon. We’ve had posts and discussions about what are some good resources in the past, such as the one David Evans put up about this time during the previous reading cycle that are worth looking over in preparation. But there are some good resources that are more recent that are worth discussing as well.

Book of Mormon historical revisionism

As we study the Book of Mormon next year, there will be suggestions to read between the lines, to resist the surface or official or dominant reading, to see through the authoritative narrative to the unvarnished reality behind it – like the standard works, these suggestions too come around every four years. The instinct is understandable, as that’s how scholars are trained to read, and a lot of us have different varieties of scholarly training – but attempts at historical revisionism are misguided.

Why I Don’t Care About the Doctrine/Practice Distinction

Dalle-3 depiction of “Legalistic religion” One of those interminable discussions we members like to get into is whether a particular teaching is a “doctrine” or “practice.”  The issue behind the issue is what is changeable or not. Presumably if something is defined as core then stakes are placed in the ground and it is beyond discussion. At the same time if the “doctrine” label is used as conversation stopper for current teachings, the “practice” label is imputed to past teachings that did change, even if leaders at the time specifically said they wouldn’t change. At times it feels like it’s an attempt to have a cake and eat it too, to be able to dismiss past teachings that aren’t followed anymore, while granting privileged permanence to the current ones.  People occasionally claim there’s some system very clearly demarcating the two: if it’s presented to the Church as a sustaining vote as canon, if it has passed through the correlation committee, if it’s a revelation that says “thus saith the Lord,” if it’s in the quad, whether Joseph Smith taught it, etc., but taking a step back I’ve always gotten the sense that these are post-hoc parameters that are thrown up to try to turn the gospel into some sort of systematic, legal schematic. Besides, they beg the question of what those rules are based on, and in many cases you can find disconfirming counterexamples that checked a particular box but…

Brigham Young’s Early Journals

While the Joseph Smith Papers project is, in many respects, wrapping up, other presidents of the Church—including Brigham Young— have begun to receive more attention and papers projects of their own. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Ronald K. Esplin discussed some of his observations about the first volume of the Brigham Young journals to be published by what could be called the Brigham Young Papers Project.

2024 Church History Symposium

2024 Church History Symposium “Shall the Youth of Zion Falter?” The Young Women?and Young Men Organizations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Reading the Book of Mormon in wartime

Next year, the focus of scripture study in Sunday School and Seminary classes will cycle again to the Book of Mormon. Compared to previous years when the Book of Mormon has been the focus, war will loom larger in the background than it has since at least the 1960s, even including the messy realities of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2004.

Stay Thou Nearby: A Review

The 1852–1978 priesthood and temple ban on Blacks in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a bitter pill to swallow, especially for those affected most directly by it. I have been grateful, however, for efforts in the Church to address the issue more openly in recent years, including several publications from Deseret Book relating to the subject. These include both My Lord, He Calls Me and Let’s Talk About Race and Priesthood, with the most recent contribution to the subject from Deseret Book being Stay Thou Nearby: Reflections on the 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood. 

George Q. Cannon was far too Helpful and Talented

It is not an uncommon experience in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve other than the president of the Church to functionally run the Church or to have a huge impact on the Church. In the twentieth century, for example, J. Reuben Clark, Harold B. Lee, and Gordon B. Hinckley played that role when the older members of the First Presidency were in poor health. In the nineteenth century, the most prominent example is George Q. Cannon. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Kenneth L. Cannon spoke about his George Q. Cannon biography and why George is so important. What follows here is a copost to the full interview.

Lowell L. Bennion: A Mormon Educator, a Review

I have to say that I’m a fan of the trend towards short, accessible biographies of notable figures in Latter-day Saint history. Between University of Illinois Press’s “Introductions to Mormon Thought” series and Signature Books’s “Brief Biography,” there is a lot of excellent work being published. One of the most recent, Lowell L. Bennion: A Mormon Educator by George B. Handley (University of Illinois Press, 2023), is a stellar addition to the library of any Latter-day Saint.

Premortal Existence, Foreordination, and Abraham

The Book of Abraham, chapter 3 is, in many ways, the most important foundational text for the Latter-day Saint concept of a premortal existence. In it, Abraham is shown his own foreordination to be a leader in God’s work as well as the events of the War in Heaven. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog, From the Desk, Stephen Smoot discussed the foreordination of Abraham. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Thomas Wayment on the KJV

Why do Latter-day Saints regard the King James Version as the official English translation of the Bible for the Church? It’s a question that has been asked many times by different people, especially since there are translations in modern English that have a better textual basis in Greek manuscripts. In a recent co-post at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Thomas Wayment discussed why Latter-day Saints use the King James Version (KJV). What follows here is a copost to the full interview.

Diné dóó Gáamalii: Navajo Latter-day Saint Experiences in the Twentieth Century: A Review

Alicia Harris—an Assistant Professor of Native American Art History at the University of Oklahoma—wrote that “If the LDS Church really can work for all peoples, we need to more attentively listen, hear, and be represented by a much greater variety of voices. We must more actively prepare a place for dual identities to be touched and nurtured in the culture of the gospel.” Farina King’s Diné dóó Gáamalii: Navajo Latter-day Saint Experiences in the Twentieth Century (University Press of Kansas, 2023) provides a great opportunity to do just that by listening to the experiences of the Diné dóó Gáamalii (Navajo Latter-day Saints).

Temple Architectural Heritages: Mexico City

The Mexico City temple is unique architecturally in that it draws on the Mayan Revival Style. From Wikipedia “Though the name of the style refers specifically to the Maya civilization of southern Mexico and Central America, in practice, this revivalist style frequently blends Maya architectural and artistic motifs ‘playful pilferings of the architectural and decorative elements’ with those of other Mesoamerican cultures, particularly the Central Mexican Aztec architecture styling from the pre-contact period as exhibited by the Mexica and other Nahua groups. Although there were mutual influences between these original and otherwise distinct and richly varied pre-Columbian artistic traditions, the syncretism of these modern reproductions is often an ahistorical one.” Evidently Frank Lloyd Wright, among others, drew on this style, but frankly when presented with examples of Mayan Revival Style I can’t really draw much of a common thread between them (probably due to my own lack of artistic sense), so to be more direct I just asked GPT-4 to list me some examples of Mesoamerican architecture that look like the building in the picture. It just give me the greatest hits of Mesoamerican architecture in general, but still the comparisons are elucidating. The LDS temple in the image is the Mexico City Mexico Temple, and it has been mentioned that its design is influenced by ancient Mesoamerican architecture. Here are a few Mesoamerican structures that share similarities with the architectural style of the Mexico City Mexico Temple: Teotihuacan: The ancient…

A Catholic-to-LDS Dictionary

Pope Francis recently dismissed a US bishop from his post. This is a pretty big deal in the Catholic world, but in the Latter-day Saint chatter I’ve been privy to there is some confusion about why this should be newsworthy. After all, if an area authority 70 was openly snarking about President Nelson to the press, nobody would or should be surprised if he was released.  However, in my experience there is a tendency among members to draw simple one-to-one analogies between us and Catholics. After all, we are both hierarchical, centralized faiths that believe in an ordained priesthood. However, such one-to-one equivalences have a tendency to gloss over fairly significant distinctions.  Therefore, here I am providing a Catholic-LDS institutional dictionary of sorts; providing the closest equivalent terms but then describing the ways in which one doesn’t exactly mean the other. Priest=Bishop In Catholicism the head of a congregation is a priest, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the head of a congregation is a bishop. Of course, the former is professional clergy and the latter is lay clergy.  Bishop= Apostle or Stake President Diocese= Stake or Area During the Romney campaign the media loved to compare a stake to a diocese. If you were forced into a 1-to-1 equivalency I guess this is true in the sense that both are the next higher level of organization after a congregation, but again that papers over a lot…

The First Vision in Two Churches

The recently-published Restorations: Scholars in Dialogue from Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a fantastic glimpse into the similarities and differences between the two largest churches that emerged from the legacy of Joseph Smith, Jr. One of the highlights was a discussion between Keith J. Wilson and Lachlan E. Mackay about the First Vision. An interview over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk with Keith J. Wilson highlighted some of what they had to say on the topic. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Pure Language and Egyptian Language Documents

One of the articles to have recently been published in the Journal of Mormon Studies that has generated a lot of buzz is about a Pure Language Project and the Grammar and Alphabet documents produced by Joseph Smith and his associates in Kirtland, Ohio. And while the article by Michael MacKay and Daniel Belnap is, as the authors put it, “limited to the ivory tower of university journal access,” they did do a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

The Value of Education

Guest post by Caleb Griffin. Recently, I listened to an interesting round table discussion from leaders of the Church of Latter-day Saints of Jesus Christ on the value of education. Throughout the course of the discussion and the post-discussion lecture, the speakers seemed to place the value of education on its ability to bless the lives of others, with a lesser emphasis on providing for one’s own family, and an even lesser emphasis on the fact that education has some sort of eternal value. Furthermore, one of the speakers, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said that we should be thinking of education as a means to an end, rather than an end itself.

Temple Architectural Heritages: Los Angeles

The Los Angeles is an example of a “modern single spired design” like the Bern, Switzerland Temple and the London, England temple. It is also one of eight temples that have an assembly room. Being in the priesthood assembly hall–a large, cavernous room in the bright, holy context of a temple–is a special experience that I was able to have during the Washington DC temple rededication.

Waiting for Saints, Volume 4

Saints, Volume 3 came out on April 22, 2022. Given the estimated biannual cadence of releases for the series, we are likely to see Saints, Volume 4: Sounded in Every Ear come out sometime next year. Now, I hope by now that it’s clear that I am a fan of the series and when we were approaching the release of Saints, Volume 3, I published a post discussing what we could likely look forward to from the history. I would like to do the same for Volume 4. The intention here is not to publish a wish list of what I want in the book, but to have some fun taking educated guesses at what is likely to be discussed in the history.

The Miracle of Forgiveness: Experiences from President Kimball’s Journal

Journal text selected by Dennis B. Horne.   Some liberal dissidents of that day and this take issue with Elder Kimball’s book The Miracle of Forgiveness, thinking Elder Kimball to have been too hard and harsh on those who indulge in sin and won’t repent. For this reason I have included many diary entries documenting his writing the book and the highly influential results of its publication—including what certain of his Apostolic associates thought of it. Also what President Dallin H. Oaks thought of it.

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 21: Maya

As the Church became strongly established in Mexico, it spread from the historic epicenters in Mexico City and the northern colonies to reach across the full country—including among the Maya peoples of southern Mexico.