Jan 21

Poll: What Gets Most Emphasized by the Church?

In your experience, what is most emphasized by the church? (select up to three)
What do you personally see as the most important? (select up to three)
Jan 19

Discernment

As a kid in primary, I was in awe of the bishop. He was the trusted authority figure, the one who knew how things should go. The awe faded somewhat as I became a teenager, but I still remained firmly convinced of his inspiration. If he felt that we needed a talk on morality (the code word for chastity), for example, it was because that was what God wanted. Full stop. To some degree, I saw church leaders as infallible. Continue reading

Jan 15

Local Leaders, Apostasy, and Ecclesiastical Discipline

The current situation with April Young Bennett, who had to choose between renewing her temple recommend and leaving up her posts on female ordination, brings up a troubling aspect of church governance: the extent to which local leaders can define apostasy. As anyone in the church can tell you, bishops and stake presidents can vary widely on a number of issues, and life in one stake can be quite different from life in another. I’m not saying that this is necessarily in and of itself a bad thing. But I do think it causes problems when it comes to particular issues, such as the way in which cases of apostasy are handled. Continue reading

Jan 13

Thinking About the Nicene Creed

This is a paper I wrote when I was just beginning my theological studies, titled “A Few Thoughts for Mormons on Approaching the Nicene Creed.” It was for a class on the Mystery of God. I thought it would be a fun follow-up to my most recent post. I’d probably come up at the subject a bit differently now, but it’s interesting to see how I was thinking about it when I was first grappling with the notion of the Trinity.

I do not know how many Mormons are familiar with the Nicene Creed, but those who are, I suspect, are likely to be more than a little wary of it. From an LDS point of view, it is perhaps easy to dismiss it as coming from an apostate Christianity, as reflecting too much theological formulating instead of plain and simple gospel truths. It is clearly outside the bounds of our tradition, reflecting a theology alien to us, and I am certainly not out to dispute that fact. Yet I wonder if we can nonetheless learn to better understand what it means to those who do accept it as basic doctrine, if we can engage the challenge of not merely viewing it as something faintly ridiculous but of attempting to appreciate the meaning it has for traditional Christianity. Continue reading

Jan 08

The LDS Godhead and the Traditional Christian Trinity: Which is More Confusing?

According to Nephi, many “plain and precious truths” were taken out of the Bible. When the question is posed in Gospel Doctrine as to what exactly these truths might be, people often bring up the nature of God. Other Christians have a completely confusing understanding of God, it is said, as opposed to our straightforward one. What is with this whole three-in-one Trinity, anyhow? This is perhaps the most common complaint I hear about mainstream Christianity—their understanding of God is far too complicated.

I agree that the Trinity is a difficult doctrine. However, I’m not persuaded that the LDS take on the Godhead is actually any clearer. Continue reading

Jan 05

Nacle Notebook 2014: Funny Comments

This post is a list of some of the funniest comments I read on the Bloggernacle last year. (Here are links to collections from previous years, in case you enjoy this one and haven’t seen them before: 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008.)

Most of the quotes are excerpts from longer comments. Also, I’ve made a small change from previous years: this time in addition to comments, I’ve included a few post excerpts, in cases where the excerpts can be appreciated as standalone comments. I haven’t included any of the many funny posts I’ve read that were funny end-to-end, since excerpting from such posts would mean losing the context and the full effect of the humor.

I’ve made each commenter’s name a link to the original so you can go read them in their full glory and original context if you wish. I’ve put the quotes in roughly chronological order.

Continue reading

Jan 01

Sources of Mormon Feminism

Mormon feminists, like Christian feminists more broadly, are posed with the difficulty of making sense of the patriarchal aspects of a tradition which they believe to be inspired. One of the most challenging questions for both groups is this: if one is to reject particular aspects of the tradition (for example, female subordination), on what basis can such a rejection be made?

Some feminists have concluded that Christianity and patriarchy are too closely intertwined for them to be ever pulled apart, and have therefore abandoned Christianity. (Interestingly, a similar assumption is made by those conservatives who see Christianity as inherently patriarchal, and therefore argue that real Christians must abandon feminism). However, a number of others have proposed ways to maintain serious commitments to both Christianity and feminism, looking for creative ways of negotiating the tensions. Some propose drawing on contemporary experience, while others look to liberating elements within the tradition. And in an LDS context, I would add the approach of drawing on personal revelation. Continue reading

Dec 24

Good Tidings of Great Joy

A sacrament meeting talk I gave this year

“Fear not,” says the angel to the shepherds, in the familiar words of Christmas Eve: “for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”1 Put another way, grace has broken into the world.

“Fear not,” begins the angelic message. Rather, we are called to have faith—to be open to the word of God. “In the face of [Christmas],” writes the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, “we bravely open our hearts so that it may also happen to us and through us.”2 This offer of grace in some sense constitutes us as human beings—to be human is to be confronted by the sometimes disconcerting and disorienting love of God. We can run from this, or we can take the risk of faith. In refusing to close ourselves off from love and from life, we emulate a passible God, who is likewise open to us, and we emulate Christ, who came to experience life fully. And the message of Christmas is that ultimately, we have nothing to fear: God’s goodness and love can be trusted. Continue reading

  1. Luke 2:10-11 []
  2. “Christmas: Ever Since I Became Your Brother” in Karl Rahner, The Great Church Year -The Best of Karl Rahner’s Homilies, Sermons, and Meditations (New York: Crossroad, 1993) []
Dec 22

Porn Preaching Patterns

In her post last week on Mormon fixation with small issues at the expense of larger more important ones, Jana Riess pointed out that the majority of all references to pornography that have ever been made in General Conference have occurred just since the turn of the millennium. I thought it might be interesting to look at the data in a little more detail, because it was my impression that discussion of porn might be declining.

I looked up the yearly rates of usage of the word “pornography” in General Conference at the LDS General Conference Corpus site. Here’s a graph showing the yearly rates and the five-year moving average. The graph starts in 1959 because that’s the first year pornography was mentioned in Conference.

porn refs in conferenceIt looks like usage might have flattened out again after a big bump in the 2000s. I would guess that the big bump occurred as the internet grew and internet porn grew with it. I wonder if its usage then declined again because no one issue can be the hot topic forever. Maybe something like gay marriage took its place as the topic of the moment.

Continue reading

Dec 11

Comparative Polygamy

I was sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Cairo when a man came up to me. He commented on what I was wearing, suggesting that I wear red more often.

I was used to this. Egyptian culture, unlike the culture that I grew up in, encourages men to have opinions about things like the colors that women wear. Men will accompany their wives to makeup counters, and even go alone to department stores to purchase high-end cosmetics and perfume for their wives, mothers, and sisters.

We fell into conversation. His English was excellent. As we spoke, he mentioned Islam and asked if I was married. I was used to this, too. Muslim men in Cairo – even married Muslim men – would often approach single women and flirt with or proposition them. A common line was “I should take you as my second wife.” It was always a bit jarring to me, as an American woman, to have men approach me in an obviously lusty, flirtatious way when they were already married. But this particular man in the lobby had not yet married. He was planning on working a few more years before he did so. Continue reading

Dec 09

A Correlated Mormon Gender Issues Survey

It has come to the attention of the Church Correlation Department that a so-called group of so-called academics has undertaken to do a so-called survey on so-called gender issues among so-called members of the so-called Church. As internet information (including surveys) do not have a truth filter, the Correlation Department has undertaken to edit the survey so that it may be more faith promoting, and less tainted by the philosophies of (wo)men.

Please tell us a little about how you heard about this survey. Who referred you to it?

  • The Holy Ghost whispered to me that I should take it.
  • The Three Nephites exhorted me to take it while they were changing my flat tire.
  • The spirit of a just man made perfect appeared to me and made known unto me that I must take it. I know that I was not deceived, as he refused to shake my hand.
  • Other.

Of course your name is on the records of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On which other organizations’ records is your name also recorded? (Mark all that apply.)

  • The Republican Party
  • The Church of the Firstborn
  • The Quorum of the Anointed
  • The Council of Fifty
  • The Lamb’s Book of Life

What is your eternal gender?

  • Presider
  • Nurturer

How active are you in the Church?

  • Fully active
  • Fully active, but struggling with being less active

Continue reading

Dec 04

On Faith Transitions and Rejecting the Binary

Ever since the new essays dealing with more complex bits of Mormon history appeared on lds.org, almost daily I encounter facebook statuses and posts in private groups of people reeling, overwhelmed and disoriented, unsure of what to do. These are good people, people who have devoted their lives and their talents and their faith to the Church, many of them deeply orthodox. Their statuses are, for me, an unsettling echo of the statuses of many of my more liberal and progressive Mormon friends last summer when Kate Kelly and John Dehlin were facing Church discipline. It seems it’s been a hard year for Mormons of most stripes.

For a while I didn’t look too closely at the statuses. They reminded me of the numbness and shock I felt, over a decade ago before social media existed, when I pored over books in the Harold B. Lee library shortly after taking out my endowments as a younger, pre-mission-age single woman at BYU. I didn’t know then where to turn, whom to talk to. When I did bring up the information I found in those books to close friends and family – secret “spiritual wivery” and polyandry, blood atonement, racist pronouncements said over the pulpit in the name of the Lord – even the least dogmatic immediately told me not to worry about it or not to read it. My protestations that I wasn’t reading anti-Mormon materials but historical documents and books written by LDS scholars fell on deaf ears, and, even more unnerved, I realized that this was not something I could talk about with any of my LDS friends. It was many, many years before I did. My faith transition was achingly alone.

And so, when John Dehlin issues a request, as he frequently does, for people to offer their advice and stories for how they handle their own faith transitions, I find myself wondering what advice I or any one of us can give. Continue reading

Dec 03

More On Modesty

By all appearances, I was a modesty success story as a teenager. For whatever reason, I was naturally inclined to cover up, squeamish even about changing in front of friends, and by 16 I was, without much prodding, essentially dressing for BYU and, later, garments. I owned no skirts above the knee, nothing too tight, nothing sleeveless, and, through the throes of the 90s midriff craze I layered colorful tank tops under my shirts to ensure no one saw a flash of my stomach.

Continue reading

Dec 02

Does the Church Have Room for Doubters?

A few weeks ago I was on a plane to India, visiting the subcontinent for the first time, excited for this grand adventure but a bit anxious about the success of our business meeting and the possibility of acquiring a nasty bout of Delhi belly. Arriving in Paris Charles De Gaulle airport, I turned on my phone and saw a text message from my daughter saying that my wife, Lilian, had been struck by a drunk driver, sending her car spinning down the interstate.

Before continuing, let me explain that for several months I haven’t felt like blogging (I know–there was much rejoicing), my feelings too raw from Kate Kelly’s excommunication and its implications for members like me. Frankly, I just haven’t been able to bring myself to care as much anymore about the Church and my relationship to it. Deep inside me something has been broken, like the shattering of an intricate vase whose rebuilding completely confounds me, and my hope that the institution will repent and evolve–becoming something that is less hurtful to some (e.g., women, LGBT, singles, people of color, non-Americans) and more welcoming to all–sometimes feels like a foolish dream. Continue reading

Nov 24

Toward a Relational Understanding of Salvation

In his popular book Believing Christ, Stephen Robinson relates a parable which at least in my experience has become quite influential in LDS discussions of grace. In this story, Robinson’s young daughter asks if she can have a bicycle. Robinson replies, save your pennies until you have enough. Some time later, he discovers that his daughter has diligently followed his instructions, and has managed to save all of sixty-one cents. They go to look at bicycles, but his daughter is devastated to realize just how much more the bicycle costs than she is able to contribute. Robinson, however, tells her that if she gives all that she has, he will pay the rest, and he purchases the bicycle.

The parallels here are fairly obvious. We cannot achieve salvation on our own—but we are still required to contribute however much we can, no matter small it may be. In this approach, 2 Nephi 25:23—“it is by grace that we are saved after all we can do”—describes a situation in which we do what we can, we contribute what we have, and grace makes up the (vast) difference.

I think this parable has good to offer, particularly in its stress that we are not expected to do more than we can, and its focus on Christ’s ability to save us. In this, it serves as an important corrective to an over-emphasis on works. However, I have some serious reservations about it. Continue reading

Nov 20

Joseph’s (First) Wife, Emma

How would you describe Emma Hale’s relationship with Joseph Smith? They were married, so she was his wife. But now that the Church is being somewhat more open about Joseph’s polygamy, shouldn’t we be a little more accurate and describe Emma as Joseph’s first wife?

This question occurred to me while reading BHodges’s post at BCC where he lists a bunch of references to Joseph Smith’s polygamy in Church sources. He points out that of course he’s not listing Church source references to Emma and Joseph that do not mention Joseph’s polygamy, because they’re much more common than the references that do talk about polygamy. I thought it might be interesting to go back and look at some of these sources, though, to see if Emma is ever referred to as Joseph’s first wife. More generally, I wanted to look at these sources because even though we know in a general sense that they’re probably numerous and that they probably gloss over or ignore Joseph’s polygamy, seeing the particulars might give us a better sense of just how common they are and how much glossing and hiding they do.

Continue reading

Oct 30

Most Liked Conference Talks (Now with better data!)

I wrote a post last year in which I tried to assess which Conference talks were most liked by Church members. The method I used was very much a kludge: I looked at the change in Facebook likes for each speaker during the session in which he or she gave a talk. Fortunately, a friend pointed out to me that there’s a much simpler way to measure this. The individual web pages for each Conference talk have a count of how many people liked the talk itself on Facebook. So of course this was data that I was interested in going back to look at.

The Facebook like buttons were added to all Conference talks, going back to 1971. Beyond a couple of years ago, of course, there aren’t many likes since most old Conference talks (other than a few classics) probably aren’t referred to all that often. I might go back later and look at the older talks, but for now I was just interested in the Conferences recent enough that someone could hear a talk in Conference, and then later in the week look it up on lds.org and click like, so I limited myself to 2012 through 2014–the last six Conferences.

There are three things to note about the data. First, I got the like counts a couple of days ago, so they’re already out of date. Second, for like counts over 1,000, the like button shows a count in thousands. I got exact counts by querying Graph Search directly. (I found this on stackoverflow somewhere, but now can’t recall where. The method is to point your browser to the URL http://graph.facebook.com/?id=<URL of talk>.) Third, the like counts for the most recent Conference are lower than for previous Conferences, probably because it has only been a few weeks since Conference occurred, and people haven’t had lots of chances to re-read or re-hear a talk and go back and like it.

Here are the ten most liked talks from the past six Conferences.

top 10 talks by likes

Continue reading

Oct 19

The Problem of Evil, Church Edition

The classic formulation is of the problem of evil is that (1) God is all-powerful, (2) God is good, and (3) evil exists. How is it possible that (3) is the case if both (1) and (2) are true? Mormons, I think, tend to question (1), to posit a God who is not all-powerful, and to emphasize that humans have genuine agency and God rarely appears to override it. (Some also seem to move in the direction of questioning (3), saying things like “everything happens for a reason” or framing everything, including the negatives of life, as engineered by God, and thus essentially making evil illusory. I think this is hugely problematic, but that’s a tangent.)

I’m generally sympathetic to the move to make divine omnipotence limited (whether inherently, or because God chooses to make space for agency.) But here I want to consider the question in a context I find particularly challenging: the church. How do we make sense of it that God seems to be allowing all kinds of problems in the church? Just to clarify, I’m not talking about the kind of problems that arise in any human community, as flawed people with different temperaments and opinions do their best to work together. I’m talking about problems in the structure, in teachings and practices, in the scriptures and prophetic statements—the things that, if you take the church at its word, God is directly engineering. Continue reading

Oct 17

Feminism, Pain, and the Atonement

I’ve recently come across the troubling accusation that LDS feminists deny the atonement, expressed both in this post, and in comments in various places. A few thoughts in response.

First of all, I note that this discussion primarily focuses on negative encounters with individuals. LDS feminists are upset, it is so often assumed, because they’ve had negative experiences with priesthood holders. Obviously, this happens. But two points about this:

1) There are so, so many ways you can encounter painful aspects of the church—in scriptures where females barely appear, in a prohibition on prayer to Heavenly Mother, in temple covenants which differ by gender, in the historical and possibly eternal practice of polygamy, in the denial of priesthood to women, in the depressing fact that women are an “auxiliary” and not ecclesiastically necessary. The problems are much deeper than simply having a bad experience with one’s bishop.

2) Negative encounters with priesthood leaders always take place within a broader setting of structural inequality. They wouldn’t be nearly so fraught if this weren’t the case.
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