An Agenda for President Nelson’s First 40 Days in Office

Day 1: Demote Dieter F. Uchtdorf to regular old member of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Day 2: Talk to the staff at the Ensign and lds.org, and tell them to get the women out of the centerfold in the Conference issues and off the General Authorities page.
Day 3: Get to work editing hymns. In verse 2 of “In Humility, Our Savior,” change the beginning of the second verse from “Fill our hearts with sweet forgiving; Teach us tolerance and love” to “Make our hearts obedient to thee; Teach us who we must not love.”
Day 4: Schedule a tour to promote Sister Nelson’s book The Not Even Once Club.
Day 5: Compose a letter to be read in all sacrament meetings that exhorts members to leave some positive reviews of The Not Even Once Club on Amazon.com.
Day 6: Work with Sister Nelson on her manuscript tentatively titled The Don’t Even Think About It Club.
Day 7: Announce a new, improved exclusion policy that bans the children of parents in a gay marriage from entering meetinghouses.
Day 8: Demote Dieter F. Uchtdorf to Seventy.
Day 9: Talk to the facilities management staff about getting those pesky “Visitors Welcome” signs taken down from meetinghouses.
Day 10: Send out a decree that all sacrament meetings must include a reading of the Proclamation on the Family.

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Whither Mormonism?  

Two Mormon-related events in the past week have shaken me up a little. On one level, neither of them were particularly surprising—but on another, I found them both unsettling and at least a little unexpected. The first was the release of the Gallup poll which found that the Mormon approval of Trump was, at 61 percent, the highest of any religious group surveyed. The second was the decision of incoming church president Russell M. Nelson to move Dieter F. Uchtdorf out of the First Presidency and replace him with Dallin H. Oaks. I also found the comments made at the press conference about the leadership transition, especially the ones about women, to be quite jarring. And I’ve found myself asking: whatever has happened to my church? (Yes, I know that it’s not technically mine anymore, since I’ve found a new religious home. But it’s still the church I grew up in, the church that shaped me. I don’t feel all the way disconnected from it.) Read More

Bringing the Good I Have, and Moving Forward

President Hinckley once encouraged those not of the LDS faith, “ . . . we say in a spirit of love, bring with you all that you have of good and truth which you have received from whatever source, and come and let us see if we may add to it.”  It might seem odd, but I’ve actually thought a lot about that quote this year, because it speaks to something about my current religious journey, as I take a significant step in a new direction. This coming Sunday, the day after Epiphany, I’m going to be baptized in the Episcopal church. Read More

Yearly Church President Probabilities for Current Q15 Members

As a supplement to yesterday’s post, I’ve made the graph below that shows the year-to-year probabilities of each Q15 member being President.

The values come from the same mortality table that I used to run the simulation to find the likelihood of each Q15 member ever becoming Church President. This graph doesn’t require any simulation, though. For each Q15 member, I just used his yearly probabilities of survival to come up with yearly cumulative probabilities of survival (i.e., how likely is he to live through this age). Then for each Q15 member, his yearly probability of becoming President is the probability that he survives the year and that all the members senior to him do not. This is found by multiplying probabilities, so for example for Elder Ballard, who is junior only to President Nelson and Elder Oaks, his probability of being President in a particular year is this:

(Ballard cumulative probability of living)*(1 – Nelson probability of living)*(1 – Oaks probability of living)

The results look similar to what we’ve seen in the past with graphs like this, in that there are big probabilities across periods of years for Elders Oaks, Holland, and Bednar. The one big difference is that, as el oso noted yesterday, President Nelson jumped from a pretty low probability for most of his time in the quorum to 100% when President Monson died. I guess this just illustrates that applying a mortality table that gives general trends to a small group of people as I have here is bound to be wrong in big ways at times.

 

Church President Probability Changes with President Monson’s Death

As you are no doubt aware, President Monson passed away Tuesday evening. As I have before when a member of the Q15 passes away, in this post I’ll show how the probabilities of becoming Church President change for the other members as a result.

All the probabilities come from a simulation I did for a post back in 2015. It’s a straightforward simulation: it uses an actuarial table and each Q15 member’s age and seniority in the quorum as inputs, and it draws a series of random numbers to simulate different possible life expectancies for each member. The life expectancies are then compared to find in what fraction of the simulations each member outlives all other members senior to him to become President. I did 100,000 replications for each run. That is, 100,000 times I drew random numbers for each Q15 member and compared them to his survival probability each year, and then worked out whether each member would become President or not in that scenario, and how many years he would serve if he did. For a more detailed description of the process, see my earlier post.

I realized when writing this post up that I had never done a post to show changes in the probabilities after Elder Hales passed away last October. I’ll start with that. This table shows the changes in probabilities and average number of years serving as President for the other Q15 members after Elder Hales died. Note that all the numbers, including ages, are as of October, 2017.

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Nacle Notebook 2017: Funny Comments

This post is my annual compilation of the funniest comments I’ve read on the Bloggernacle in the past year. In case you’ve missed them, here are links to previous years’ posts: 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008. I’m very good with numbers, so I can tell that the fact that there are nine old ones and one new one means that this is my tenth annual post! It seems like this calls for a celebration of some kind, but I’m not sure what form that should take.

Anyway, back to the comments. Most that I’m quoting are excerpts from longer comments or posts. I’ve made each commenter’s name a link back to the original comment or post. The comments are roughly in chronological order.

fbisti, commenting on LDS_Aussie’s post “Lies, Damn lies and Statistics?: Growth and Decline in the LDS Church Membership Numbers” at W&T:

God is fickle (depending on who is the stake president).

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Ring Out, Mild Bells!

The Curriculum Department has received a number of complaints that Hymn #215 was promoting wildness among Church members, particularly some of the youth. There have even been reports of unwholesome recreational activities linked to singing of this hymn. We are pleased to offer this newly revised version, which will replace the existing version when the hymnbook is next revised in 2045.

Ring out, mild bells, but be restrained,
Keep decibels low, keep echoes brief.
The year is leaving like a thief;
Ring out mild bells, but keep noise contained.
The year is leaving like a thief;
Ring out mild bells, but keep noise contained.

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The Reckless Love of God  

I suspect that a message that most human beings absorb growing up is that we should exercise some caution in our love. That love is always a risk, that it opens you up to being vulnerable, that you can get deeply wounded if you get too drawn in by love’s currents and run into troubled waters. That the people whom you love the most are also the ones who can hurt you the most. So we learn to hesitate, to look before we leap, to take care, to think in advance about what might go wrong. Sometimes we may let ourselves get swept up in it despite all this, an experience which can be both giddy and terrifying. But we also often build walls, sometimes as thick as we can make them, in hopes of protecting ourselves from getting too invested, from caring too much.

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A Faith Less Angsty

For most of my life, my religious beliefs have been both deeply meaningful to me, and a source of intense turbulence. I agonized over my relationship to Mormonism for decades, over what it meant to stick with a tradition that did things I so deeply disagreed with but which was such a profound part of my identity, and had played such a foundational role in shaping my spirituality.  I don’t know how many hours I spent writing about those questions, talking endlessly to friends and family about them, even bringing them up in therapy. And because of all that, I think I developed the idea that genuine faith was meant to be difficult, and by “difficult” I meant, something that regularly drove you crazy.

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Leaked Memo on the Effects of Non-Priesthood Cooties (NPC)

In the wake of the Church’s recent announcement that young women will be allowed to hand out towels in the temple (and that priest-aged young men will be able to perform and witness baptisms for the dead), the following memo to the First Presidency that preceded the change has been leaked by an unnamed source in the Church hierarchy.

Executive summary

Recent research and revelation indicates that infection with Non-Priesthood Cooties (NPC) would not prohibit young women from handing out towels in the temple, and it is recommended that the current restriction on them doing so be lifted. No other changes in women’s or young women’s participation in priesthood ordinances are recommended, as NPC infection continues to be a serious concern in all other such situations.

Background

As the adornment of humanity, women and girls are, from birth, infected with Non-Priesthood Cooties (NPC) that prevent them from participating in priesthood ordinances in any way. (Note that NPC infection also makes it possible for women to become pornography.) Women’s NPC may even threaten the efficacy and validity of the ordinances themselves if women and girls get too close to them. The threat of NPC extends even to serving as a witness, a fact which has been known to prophets ancient and modern. For example, it is recorded in the New Testament that when the Savior was resurrected, and well-meaning female disciples attempted to convey this information to authorized priesthood leaders, Peter rightly doubted their testimony and believed it only when he had verified the event for himself. Although the women testified truthfully in this case, Peter was doubtless responding to previous situations in which the women’s NPC infection had prevented them from witnessing correctly.

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Pay Attention. Keep Watch. A Post for Advent.

This is my first year observing Advent. To be honest, in the past I only had a rather vague idea of what it was all about. I associated it with the Advent calendars we had in my family growing up (only one each year, which meant that if you had six siblings, you only got a chocolate every seventh evening and had to suffer the indignity of watching a sibling eat the chocolate on the other six). And I’d been to Lessons and Carols on multiple occasions. But my general impression was that Advent was just the time of excitement and fun leading up to Christmas. Read More

Christmas Classics, Mormonized

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Ostracized by his family and friends because of his freakish red nose, Rudolph the reindeer runs away to the Island of Misfit Toys. While there, he learns about the Unwritten Order of Things and realizes that even though Santa’s secret Reindeer Handbook explicitly says that nose color doesn’t matter when reindeer are chosen to pull his sleigh on Christmas Eve, what this actually means is that nose color conformity is absolutely essential. Armed with this knowledge, Rudolph decides to undergo a painful operation to permanently change the color of his nose. He is welcomed with open hooves when he returns to his family and friends, and he secures a coveted spot on Santa’s reindeer team.

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Toward a Less Micromanaging God

I grew up with two related beliefs about making decisions. The first was that in most cases, there was a right decision, a choice that you were supposed to make. “There’s the right and the wrong to ev’ry question,” asserts the hymn. The other was that with enough asking, God would reveal to you what that correct choice was. I heard again and again what a wonderful blessing this was, that God had a clear plan for your life and would guide you along that path, that you wouldn’t ever be left on your own to figure out what you were supposed to do. In fact, figuring out and then following God’s will for you was the entire point of this life. “And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them,” explains the book of Abraham. Read More

The Cost of Making Women Ecclesiastically Superfluous

It first dawned on me that women weren’t necessary in church when I went to BYU Education Week as  a teenager and heard what were meant to be faith-promoting stories about believing LDS women behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, who were unable to have an ecclesiastical organization because there wasn’t anyone with the priesthood to run it and who therefore didn’t get to take the sacrament for decades, but who nonetheless personally kept the faith. Rather than being inspired, I was somewhat taken aback when it occurred to me that for all the importance Latter-day Saints place on having an organized church, it is secondary to the importance of maintaining strict gender divisions. I realize that in the particular situation of the Cold War, there were added complications affecting what was possible. But a principle nonetheless became clear to me: if the choice was to ordain women, or to not have a church at all, Mormons would opt for the latter. (This led me to wonder: what if the only way to restore the church had been to work through a woman? Would the Mormon God simply decided to not have a Restoration rather than to allow a woman to act in his name and with his authority?) Read More

How to Get Those Darn Gay People to Stop Being So Obsessed With Their Gay Identities

One of the complaints I’ve heard numerous times from Latter-day Saints is that we gay people are way too obsessed with our gayness, that we get caught up in some outlandish homosexual identity (which might eventually lead to the dreaded “gay lifestyle”), and that we need to just stop thinking about sexual orientation as being that big of a part of who we are. We’re discouraged from even using the word “gay,” because it might swallow up our identities and make us think that there’s nothing else to us. Mormons who claim to be especially enlightened have informed me that they just don’t think about people in those terms, that they’ve transcended even being aware of such details about a person, and then complained about gay people who “force” their orientation on others by talking excessively about it, and thereby making everyone feel unnecessarily awkward and uncomfortable. Others have objected to an idea put forth by some church members that gay Mormons have a particularly challenging trial, pointing out that everyone has difficulties in life, and asking, when did we decide that gay people should get all this special attention? Read More

What fraction of missionaries are sisters?

It has been five years since President Monson announced the change in minimum ages at which missionaries can serve. It’s clear that much of the increase in the number of missionaries that followed that announcement came from an increase in how many women were choosing to serve. For example, a 2015 ABC News article on sister missionaries reports (I assume quoting a Church spokesperson) that there were 22,000 sister missionaries at the time, that they made up more than a quarter of all missionaries, and that their numbers had nearly tripled since the age change was announced. Along similar lines, a Deseret News article from one year after the age change reports that there had been increases of 10,000 elders and 11,000 sisters in the previous year. There’s also a Deseret News article from 2014 that gives actual percentage breakdowns: 64% single men, 28% single women, and 8% senior couples.

This increase matches my anecdotal experience. I haven’t tracked anything systematically, but just from following friends on Facebook, it seems like a lot more families who I would have thought were pretty conventionally Mormon have sent daughters on missions in the past few years than did before. I note that they’re conventional because my impression is that having women serve missions before the age change always seemed to me to be a little out of the norm. Like the thinking was that it was a nice thing to do and all, but really shouldn’t women be getting married instead?

It’s great that the news articles I mentioned give some point-in-time snapshots of how many women are serving missions, but what I’m really interested to know is what the trend over time is. For example, I wonder if the number of women serving increased suddenly right after the age change, but then leveled off. Or perhaps it increased at that time, and has continued to increase since then. Or maybe there was a temporary spike and then the number of women serving have decreased.

Like with so many other questions about Church-related data, I’m sure the numbers are available somewhere in the COB, but I’m never going to get to see them. So I did the next best thing and gathered a little data from what I could find. I considered possibilities like counting women and men in missionary alumni Facebook groups, or on a website like LDSMissions.com that allows returned missionaries to register and join a group of others who served in the same mission (although it doesn’t look like the site has been updated in a while). I ended up, though, choosing to gather data from MyMission.com, though, for a couple of reasons. First, it has lists of links to missionary blogs in a nice standard format that was relatively easy to grab. Second, it has missionaries listed as “Sister” or “Elder,” so I didn’t have to make any assumptions about whether someone with a particular first name was female or male.

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95 Theses

1. Taking the sacrament with your left hand is basically saying that you’re okay with being a goat on the left hand of Jesus.

2. When people who disagree with me share their political views in church, that’s inappropriate and should be discouraged. When people who agree with me do it, they’re just speaking common sense about moral issues.

3. Luther was a hero inspired by God. Also, people who criticize the church today should be swiftly excommunicated.

4. Before you doubt, doubt the doubt that leads you to doubt whether your doubts are actually doubts.

5. We don’t talk about Heavenly Mother much because she doesn’t matter for our salvation. It’s preferable to have sacrament meeting talks that focus on the essentials, like BYU football.

6. If you run into a show involving mummies and Egyptian papyri, do some comparison shopping before purchasing them as a potential source for new scripture. You might be able to get a better deal if you’re open to instead using the texts accompanying traveling zombie exhibits.

7. When you do your visiting or home teaching before the last week of the month, it feels really awkward for everyone involved. Better to play it safe and show up in the last 24 hours.

8. This high council talk is so good that I don’t mind that sacrament meeting is going twenty minutes over, said no one ever.

9. The most righteous people know that the church is true with every fiber of their being. The somewhat less righteous only know it with the finely woven threads of their existence.

10. Mormons don’t make a big deal out of Easter because they think about Jesus every week during the sacrament. (Churches that make a big production of Easter don’t actually think about Jesus during Communion, but instead about a different Messiah figure named Alfred.) Read More

Stepping Out of the Big Tent: The Possibility of Leaving Mormonism

I’ve been reading with interest the lively conversation taking place right now at Wheat and Tares about why people leave the church. This is of course a topic that has been extensively discussed over the years, and this thread has lots of classic elements, including a thoughtful original post that brings up a wide variety of factors, and people in the comments speculating about the extent to which those who end up leaving were ever truly converted. I’ve been reading these sorts of discussions for a long time now, but they’ve become interesting to me in a new way this past year, for reasons that are probably obvious to anyone familiar with my current religious situation.

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Chastity and Consent

CW: General discussion of sexual assault 

When I was a teenager, my Utah County ward had a “morality talk” for the youth about every six months. (It was only years later that I learned that in other contexts, “morality” had a much broader meaning, and wasn’t just code for “chastity.”) Often they wouldn’t tell us the topic in advance, guessing (probably correctly) that pretty much no one had a great desire to hear yet another morality talk. We would asks our leaders suspiciously, is this going to be about morality again, and they would dodge the question. The talks, usually given by the bishop, tried to emphasize to us the seriousness of engaging in “immorality.” We heard a lot about the sin next to murder, and why sex outside of marriage was so terrible (not, of course, that the word “sex” was ever uttered). Often we would be allowed to submit anonymous questions, most of which turned out to be variants of “how far is too far?” and “how do I know when I need to confess?” There were no clear answers given to these questions, though we did get to hear about the dangers of “necking” and “petting,” terms which no one seemed able to quite define. We watched what we called the river movie a lot (the one in which a bunch of teens go river rafting, and one reckless young man neglects to wear a life jacket, while the voice of Spencer W. Kimball warns about evil.) At the end we would hear about the atonement and the possibility of repentance, with encouragement to come talk to the bishop if necessary. To my leaders’ credit, I don’t recall hearing analogies suggesting that engaging in sexual behavior would cause irreversible spiritual damage that even the atonement couldn’t fix (e.g., leaving you as chewed-up gum or a board with scars from nails). On the other hand, I wasn’t paying all that much attention. One of my friends in a different stake told me that her YW leader had bought them all crystal temples, which, if they remained pure, they were to present to their husbands on their wedding nights. If they slipped, they were supposed to smash the temple. I wasn’t overly aware of the problems in this discourse at that point in my life, but even I thought that was a little weird. Read More