Category: General Doctrine

Elder Cook and Theodicy

My last year at BYU, I sat through an Elders Quorum lesson where the teacher discussed the etymology of “atonement.” I was skeptical that it actually derived from “at-one-ment,” and, immediately after church ended, I walked across campus to the Writing Center, keyed in my code, and pulled out the Center’s OED.[fn1] And, to my surprise, I learned that, although it looks suspiciously convenient, atonement does come from “at-one-ment.” Fast-forward a decade or more. I continue to be skeptical of stories that seem a little too pat and convenient, including Elder Cook’s story of the missionaries who didn’t board the Titanic. It felt a little too much like the story of the missionaries who called off their meeting in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.[fn2] Thrown off, I didn’t catch the profundity of his remarks. After Conference, I quickly Googled and discovered (a) there is credible evidence, predating Elder Cook’s remarks, that Elder Sonne, et al., did, in fact, cancel their fateful tickets, and (b) there is also credible evidence that Sister Corbett did, in fact, believe that Mormon missionaries would be on the Titanic with her. As a result, the second time I listened, I actually listened. And I realized that I had entirely misheard Elder Cook’s talk. His was not a laundry-list of Mormon cliches—rather, he complicated our simplistic view that righteousness = happiness.[fn3] Elder Cook says that [t]he scriptures are clear: those who are righteous,…

Creationism and LDS Seminary

It’s late September and LDS high school students really should be back at school … and back at seminary. This year’s course of study is the Old Testament, which covers (or has already covered) Genesis 1 and the Creation. I hope LDS seminary teachers can teach Creation without teaching Creationism. But I fear some LDS teachers won’t or can’t make that distinction, so it is likely some LDS seminary students are going to go home this week thinking Creationism is the LDS view about Creation. That is very sad and sets up LDS kids to have a bad experience when they inevitably take high school or university science courses. Let’s briefly consider two questions: What is the LDS position on Creationism? Regardless of that position, is Creationism nevertheless taught to LDS youth as the LDS position? These are important questions. We need to teach our children well. First, a couple of caveats. The topic of interest is Creation and the age of the earth, not evolution. Second, I am not really concerned with what Joseph Fielding Smith or Bruce R. McConkie taught a generation or two ago — that is about as relevant to LDS high school students in 2011 as sermons by Orson Pratt or Brigham Young in the Journal of Discourses. I am more interested in what the CES manual for seminary teachers says, what contemporary LDS publications say, and what LDS seminary teachers (both CES full-timers and…

Books of Interest to the LDS Nerd

A few of these are forthcoming, a few have appeared recently. I am compelled to read them all, as soon as I can get to them. Now Available Charles Harrel,“This Is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology (Kofford Books) “In this first-of-its-kind comprehensive treatment of the development of Mormon theology, Charles Harrell traces the history of Latter-day Saint doctrines from the times of the Old Testament to the present.” I have my doubts that someone who does not equally control original Biblical sources and LDS history, as well as the vast amounts of secondary literature on historiography, exegesis, etc. can give LDS doctrine a truly comprehensive diachronic treatment, and compress it into 597 pages. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to Harrel, an engineering professor, for making the attempt and I look forward to reading it. Too many LDS labor under the assumption that the status quo sprang fully formed from Joseph Smith. I don’t recall which of my friends said, but it’s in my Evernote file, “If there’s one thing Mormons excel at, it’s enshrining the status quo and assuming that if we do anything, there must be a good reason for it, and if there’s a good reason, it must have been revealed as the only way to do it, and if so, then it must have always been that way in all dispensations. And a lot of people’s faith can be shaken when it turns out not to always…

Doctrine and Practice

I enjoyed Alison’s post from a couple of weeks ago, Does Gender Matter?, but I’m a little confused how the pieces fit together. The post appears to accept the nonscriptural, uncanonized Proclamation at face value, stating: “Gender is part of who we are and who we have always been. It is important. It matters.” That makes it difficult to argue for reform of what is identified as a problem: “The church uses gender to delineate authority, callings, and roles.” However, there is a different way to see the issue.

Taking Section 89 Seriously

Which revelations we cherish and consider central, and which one’s we sideline and (sometimes literally) forget is surely a result of a complex host of variables. Local culture and politics are obviously a huge deal. The Word of Wisdom is a revelation that is particularly interesting

Making Mormons in the 21st Century

Jan Shipps always has something interesting to say about Mormonism. An essay you might not have run across is “Making Saints: In the Early Days and the Latter Days,” in Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives (Univ. of Illinois Press, 1994). It turns out that becoming a Latter-day Saint (or acquiring the characteristics of Mormon ethnicity) involves more than just conversion or joining the Church.

Sunday Morning Session

President Henry B. Eyring conducting. Discourses by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder Paul B. Johnson, Bishop H. David Burton, Sister Silvia H. Allred, Elder David A. Bednar and President Thomas S. Monson. Perhaps even more so than previous sessions, the theme of this session was the Church Welfare program. President Eyring mentioned the 75th anniversary of Church Welfare in his opening remarks, and the remarks of both Bishop Burton and Sister Allred focused on Welfare.

Saturday Afternoon Session

Pres. Uchtdorf conducted again, and following the customary audit report and statistical report, talks were given by Elder Boyd K. Packer, Elder Russell M. Nelson, Elder Russell J. Maynes, Elder Cecil O. Samuelsen, Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder M. Russell Ballard.

Balancing Political Positions with the Church and the Gospel

My earliest memory of conflict over Church decisions came because of a local stake division and boundary changes.I remember my mother venting about how one high councilor in one stake prevented the boundary change from following local political boundaries, which would have, in my mother’s view, give Church members a more unified voice in local politics.


I am sure that many of you have been following the stunning events in Japan: earthquake, tsunami, meltdown. Our first personal reaction to such events is always concern and sympathy for those swept up in the ongoing human tragedy. The first LDS institutional response, when resources are available, is to forward relief supplies and helping hands to those in need of assistance. But at some later point comes personal and institutional reflection. Is this just the sort of natural tragedy that happens from time to time, or is it a divine sign of the end times? Or both?


Sometimes unintentional mistakes lead to interesting lines of thought. A few weeks ago I misheard a speaker in an LDS meeting. The speaker was quoting John 14:27, and either because of the speaker’s mispronunciation or my imperfect hearing, I heard the word “live” instead of the word “leave.” This lead me to think about what it means to live in peace.

Notable Race-Related Changes to Footnotes and Chapter Headings in the Standard Works

Marvin Perkins is a Latter-day Saint music producer who is currently the Public Affairs Co-chair for the Genesis Group and who has worked to nurture understanding between African Americans and Latter-day Saints and attack misconceptions (see our 12 Questions series with Brother Perkins from 2009).  This morning, Brother Perkins circulated the following email to his “Blacks in the Scriptures” listserve (which is re-posted here with his permission): ______________________________ Friends, Many of you have recognized the new website.  Some of you have recognized that with the new site also came changes to chapter headings and footnotes in the scriptures.  Not nearly as significant in number as the changes that were made in the 1981 edition of the LDS scriptures, but equally confirming on the messages being conveyed.  Here are a list of the changes that I’m aware of, along with some thoughts and two very compelling short videos below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts as you prayerfully review the changes asking “what would the Lord have me understand about these recent changes?” 1. 1 Nephi 12:23– The footnotes for “dark” have been removed (Jacob 3:3 and Alma 3:7 (6-19)) and replaced with 2 Nephi 26:33 2. 2 Nephi 5– the words in the chapter heading “the Lamanites are cursed, receive a skin of blackness” were changed to “the Lamanites are cut off from the presence of the Lord, are cursed…” 3. 2 Nephi 5:21– The footnotes for “curse” (2…

Church and Family

After a flurry of posts related to the new edition of the CHI (now titled Handbook 1 and Handbook 2), the Bloggernacle has fallen silent. (The Salt Lake Tribune has followed up with a helpful article.) One of the new features of Handbook 2 (“H2”) highlighted in the worldwide training broadcast is the three introductory chapters that provide a foundational and doctrinal context for the guidance given in the balance of the book. I am going to note a few statements given in the four pages of Chapter 1, “Families and the Church in God’s Plan,” with short comments following each statement. The bold titles are my own; all quotes are from H2.

Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?

It’s a vexing question, asked frequently and nearly always plaintively. President Boyd K. Packer asked it rhetorically this week, supporting and strongly affirming the church’s stance on sexuality and marriage. He stated: We teach the standard of moral conduct that will protect us from Satan’s many substitutes and counterfeits for marriage. We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong. From The Book of Mormon we learn that wickedness never was happiness. Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! And then the question: Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, he is our father.1 But what if we all stepped back for a bit and genuinely asked that question? What if, instead of using it as a rhetorical device to support our position (and make no mistake, we all do it, no matter which side of the gay marriage debate we stand), we sincerely pondered and sought guidance? Perhaps we should consider the most vexing questions to be gifts. Perhaps they are opportunities for us to come together and really wrestle, to deepen our grasps on what we hold dear and not retreat into comfortable, shallow rhetorical positions. Consider that this question can be just as easily asked about us. Why, in His creation, is sexuality manifested…

An Apostle on Muslims

Yesterday, I read the following comments on Muslims by an LDS Apostle: I am aware it is not without a great deal of prejudice that we as Europeans, and Americans, and Christians in religion and in our education, so called, have looked down upon the history of Muhammad, or even the name; and even now we may think that Islam, compared with Christianity as it exists in the world, is a kind of heathenism, or something dreadful…

The End of the World

I took a stroll through the End of the World last week. Brought the wife and kids and a picnic lunch. It was beautiful, as always. But one of these days (and it won’t be long) it will be gone. Maybe us too.

How to write a revelation

I have been working on a paper looking at the Doctrine and Covenants, and my research has me thinking about how the texts of modern revelation were produced.  I think that there are a lot of Mormons who assume that the words of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were dictated word for word to Joseph.  On this model, the Doctrine and Covenants is rather like the Qua’ran, which also consists of a series of revelations given to a prophet over a period of years in response to concrete historial circumstances.  Pious Muslims affirm that the Qua’ran was dictated word for word in classical Arabic to the Prophet Muhammed and transmitted without error to the present.  Some Islamic theologians have gone farther, declaring that the Qua’ran is uncreated in time.  Rather, it is an eternal emanation of the Divine mind, the Word that was in the beginning with God incarnate in the world.  (There are problems with this story of the Qua’ran’s text of course.  The verses inscribed in the Dome of the Rock, for example, which represent one of the earliest extant Islamic texts vary slightly from the current version of the Qua’ran.)  Despite flirting with it in a couple of places in our scriptures, Mormon metaphysics isn’t especially congenial to such a super-charged version of textual inerrancy, but I don’t think that it is a stretch for many Mormons to see the texts of the Doctrine and Covenants as…

Reincarnation, Mormon style

In a PEW survey a few months back, 24% of American adults indicated that they believed in reincarnation (ie, that people will be reborn into this world again and again). Apparently many Christians don’t have a problem overlapping their Christianity with Eastern beliefs.