Zelophehad’s Daughters

Joseph’s (First) Wife, Emma

Posted by Ziff

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.

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Most Liked Conference Talks (Now with better data!)

Posted by Ziff

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 First, I got the like counts a couple of days ago, so they’re already out of date.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

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The Problem of Evil, Church Edition

Posted by Lynnette

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. Read more…

Feminism, Pain, and the Atonement

Posted by Lynnette

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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The Correlated Story of Zelophehad’s Daughters

Posted by Ziff

It has come to the attention of the Church Correlation Department that many of the stories told in the Bible have not passed Correlation review prior to being included in the scriptural canon. Rather than go through a lengthy and complex process of decanonization, the Correlation Department has undertaken to simply rewrite the unreviewed stories to smooth off the rough edges. The resulting stories will preserve the gospel truths present in the original, but will remove the false philosophies of men that have been inserted by evil and conspiring scribes.

Our first rewritten scripture story comes from Numbers 27.

Then came the daughters of Zelophehad to petition Moses. For their father died in the wilderness, and had no sons. They desired that Moses bring their cause before the Lord, that perhaps the inheritance of their father might pass unto them. And these are the names of the daughters of Zelophehad: Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah.

But Nadab spake unto them, saying, Surely Moses shall not consider such a small matter. And he turned them away.

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Tuesday’s Twice-Baked ZD: Please, Don’t Love Me

Posted by ZD Past

In today’s edition of that good ol’ Bloggernacle comfort food, Twice-Baked ZD, Lynnette makes the startling assertion that she doesn’t want to be loved.

I’ve had various encounters throughout my life with anti-Mormons who were out to save me from this terrible cult in which I am a member. Needless to say, this is an attitude I find extremely off-putting—in fact, as an unorthodox Mormon who engages in plenty of my own critiques of the Church, there are fewer things that rekindle my loyalty and connection to it more than encountering people on a mission to rescue Mormons from their delusions. But this is the thing that really gets to me. That if you ask these people why they’re behaving this way, often they say that it’s out of love. That they love Mormons. All I can say is, please oh please save me from this version of love. Read more…

Monty Python’s The Meaning of Mormon Feminist Life

Posted by Petra

Did you spend your weekend on General Conference?

****

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Temple talk trends

Posted by Ziff

Over at fMh yesterday, Sara Katherine Staheli Hanks introduced a new series, “When the Temple Hurts.” I was particularly interested in a point she made in the post about how often we discuss the temple in lessons and talks at church:

The temple is a regular focus of meetings, lessons, talks, and discussions in church settings. I’d estimate that, in my experience, 1 out of every 4-5 Sundays in my adult life as a church member has included a talk or lesson where the temple was a primary focus.

I’ve been teaching primary now for a couple of years, and my memory of adult classes is maybe suffering from a bit of haziness, but Sara’s numbers sound good to me. This would mean an average of at least one temple-related lesson or talk per month, with of course lots of variation where there is a cluster of them, and then maybe no mentions for a longer period of time.

I would be interested to know how well that matches up with other people’s experience. It seems like this would be a difficult thing to measure well. Sure, we have correlated lesson manuals, but we also have locally chosen topics for things like sacrament meetings, first Sunday meetings in RS and priesthood quorums, and Teachings for Our Time lessons. And for that matter, even how correlated lessons are taught varies a lot from ward to ward and from teacher to teacher (much to the frustration of the Correlation people, I’m sure).

So I thought I would look at a related question that’s easier for me to answer, which is whether talk about the temple at the general level of the Church has been increasing or decreasing over time. If there’s a noticeable change over time, this is probably felt by people in their local experiences, as general-level material like Conference talks are not only used directly in the preparation of lessons and talks, but they also likely help drive local leaders’ perceptions of what topics are important at the moment.

I used the ever-wonderful Corpus of General Conference Talks to look at how often the word temple has been used in Conference since 1900. This graph shows the result. The dark purple line is the 10-year moving average, and the faded purple line shows the year-to-year rates.

temple refs in conference 1900-2013 Read more…

Behold! A Little Fact’ry!

Posted by Ziff

It’s almost Conference time again, and although it has only been six months, I can hardly remember what was said in April. Perhaps Conference talks would be easier to remember if they were set to music. It seems appropriate to set them to the music of hymns, since Conference talks and hymns both inhabit that space of being sorta kinda but not really completely scripture.

I’ll start with an easy one. Here’s a singable version of then-Elder Boyd K. Packer’s classic “To Young Men Only,” given in the Priesthood Session of October 1976 Conference. Sing to the tune of “Behold! A Royal Army.”

Behold! A little fact’ry
Is in you; it begins
To make a sacred substance,
But opens you to sins.
Your fact’ry will run slowly,
And when it makes too much,
It opens a release valve:
This valve you must not touch!

Tamper not! Tamper not!
Do not touch that release valve!
Tamper not! Tamper not!
If tempted, sing a hymn!
Tamper not! Tamper not! Tamper not!
Your fact’ry lights keep dim.

 

The Incredible Shrinking Statistical Report

Posted by Ziff

If you look back through Church statistical reports released in every April Conference (and who hasn’t?), you find that it’s not exactly the same information that gets reported each year. I don’t mean that the numbers change; I mean that which categories of numbers even get reported change. There has been less change in recent years, but if you look back to the 80s, you’ll find lots of categories of information that used to be reported that aren’t anymore. For example, you’ll find number of babies blessed (last reported in 1988), number of boys and men who hold different priesthood offices (1986),  number of proxy temple ordinances (1984), marriage rate (1983), and number of women in the Relief Society (1977).

I thought it might be interesting to look at what categories of information have been reported in statistical reports at different times, as well as how many total categories of information have been reported. This first graph shows how many line items (separate numbers representing different pieces of information) were in the statistical report each year from 1971 to 2014.

This graph shows the number of line items in the statistical report each year from 1971 to 2014.

line items in statistical reports 1971-2014

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I Loved to See the Temple

Posted by Petra

Encouraged by Primary, I grew up imagining God like my father: brilliant and impressive, but with a lively sense of humor and a deep affection for me; he could alternate easily between interviews with distinguished newspapers and a chatty phone conversation with me about whatever was on my mind. I felt close to my dad, growing up, in part because he was a loving father who dedicated time to his children and in part because we are so similar in personality—we make the same jokes, have the same competitive streak, and geek out about some of the same topics. I’m lucky in this, but I was comfortable and happy with the idea of a heavenly father, thanks to the example of my own. “Divine nature” made sense to me, and it was easy for me to take my concerns to God in prayer, in the same way I’d take my thoughts about an interesting math problem to my earthly father.

Then I went to the temple. Read more…

Tired of Pep Talks

Posted by Pandora

Because I was born and raised a Mormon, it seems only right to begin this post with a definition:

Pep Talk

n. Informal

1. A speech of exhortation, as to a team or staff, meant to instill enthusiasm or bolster morale.

2. An enthusiastic talk designed to increase confidence, production, cooperation, etc.

Now  watch this video.

For the last 5 years or so, I think we have seen a definite uptick in the number of pep talks us LDS women have been getting. We’ve been told how incredible (!) we are. How needed we are. How moral we are. How important we are. And it seems to me we can’t go even one General Conference (not to mention a single Sunday) without being told how equal we are 10 times. It is clearly a priority that we be buttered up.

And you know, there is a reason for this rather manic upswing in compliments. You may have heard of Kate Kelly—excommunicated not necessarily for believing that women should be ordained, but rather for being the ring leader of a very large and PR savvy group of people who agreed with her. Plus the rumblings of mid 20’s (my own demographic) leaving the church in droves. Women especially. Thinking of my own group of friends from BYU, I see the migration. I would estimate that only 40% of the women in my different groups of friends are still active in the church (interestingly, my friends from the Women’s Studies minor and feminist clubs have a higher activity rate than those from my major, ward, or work groups. Stereotype busted!) Read more…

Tuesday’s Twice-Baked ZD: Called of God

Posted by ZD Past

In this trip to the ZD archives, Lynnette discusses those of different faiths who see their church participation, whether through ordination or otherwise, as a vocation.

An acquaintance of mine was ordained in the Episcopal church last month. She’s a warm, lively person, probably around the age of my mother, who despite not knowing me well stopped to give me a hug the night before my comps defense. The path to ordination is a long one, with a lot of requirements along the way, and even for me as an outside observer it was kind of exciting to see someone finally make it to the end of it. Read more…

Do women’s patriarchal blessings mention a career?

Posted by Ziff

Several months ago (in May, I think), there was a discussion at the Mormon Hub that turned to whether women’s patriarchal blessings mentioned a career or not. Heather (who blogs at Doves and Serpents) and I thought it would be interesting to see if we could get a little data on the question. Heather put together a brief survey, and we asked for responses in the Hub and in the fMh Facebook group. For purposes of comparison, we asked for men to respond too, although we got far more responses from women.

We got a total of 422 responses (actually slightly more, but a few were incomplete and couldn’t be included): 359 from women, and 63 from men. The years they reported receiving their patriarchal blessings ranged from 1941 to 2013.

This graph shows overall results, ignoring year of the blessing:

patriarchal blessings mentioning career by sexNot surprisingly, patriarchs mentioned career far more often for men than they did for women.

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The Commenting Olympics

Posted by Petra

The Bloggernacle has always been a competitive place—witness the fiercely contested Niblets—so it’s about time we added some formality to our favorite way of proving we’re better than everyone else: the comments section.

Want to compete, but specialize in a particular style of obnoxious commenting? Never fear; with multiple events, the Comment Olympics offer a way for everyone to win gold! You can try:

  • Wrestling with your trials (which are so much larger than everyone else’s)
  • Shooting down others’ attempts to talk about their problems
  • Boxing someone else into a corner
  • Sailing through conversations without really listening
  • Cycling through the same old arguments again
  • Swimming in your tears over other people’s unrighteous choices
  • Skating on thin ice of people’s limited tolerance
  • Curling your lip in disdain, then rapidly trying to turn it into a fake-nice smile
  • Mental gymnastics
  • And, of course, the passive-aggressive triathlon: sulk, blame, run.

Start training today!

We don’t need no stinkin’ dictionary!

Posted by Ziff

This is an exchange between Jane Little and Michael Otterson in Little’s BBC piece “Sister Saints – Women and the Mormons” (starting at about 11:20; also see the accompanying article here):

JL: Just to deal with Kate Kelly, just to clarify, was she excommunicated for apostasy?

MO: The letter that went out, that they actually published on their website, briefly, at least they released it to the media, indicated that the reason why that disciplinary action was taken was for apostasy. I’m not sure it actually used the word, but apostasy is seen as repeated and deliberate advocating to doctrines contrary to the Church, especially encouraging other people to take the same position.

JL: So you would say she is an apostate, under that definition?

MO: Yeah.

JL: The dictionary definition says it’s renouncing your faith, which is somewhat different.

MO: Well, I don’t think I['m] particularly obligated to worry about what it says in Oxford or Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. Our definition of apostasy is repeated open advocacy of doctrines contrary to the Church.

It’s not surprising that Otterson would want to use an unconventional definition of apostasy. It allows him to use a more serious-sounding word than “insufficient submissiveness in the face of leaders’ demands” in explaining why Kate Kelly had to be kicked out. I realize, of course, that he was taking his definition from the Handbook, but that just means it’s the Church leaders who wrote or commissioned the Handbook who are making up a new definition to allow them to borrow strength from an existing weighty word.

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For the Ones Who Never Wanted a Fight

Posted by Apame

I’m a rare presence around these here parts.  But I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about something particular for a few months now–enough that I thought perhaps I could write something little (and by little I mean personal and rambling) about it.

The thing is that, well, I’m a person with some pretty solid beliefs and standards, but I’m not a fighter.  And I never have been a fighter.  Mostly, I just want to live a quiet, peaceful, content life away from fights of any kind if I can help it.

So, if someone comes at me wanting a fight, I’ll probably panic a bit, shake a little, attempt a response, most likely do some kind of cry session at some point, but ultimately, I will simply walk away and do everything in my power to never encounter that person or thing or place again.

I’ve rarely witnessed a fight where one or both parties actually changed their minds or apologized so, sometimes I just think, “Why?”  Why do that and feel like crap when I could be talking with nice people or making a pie or kayaking or giving a hug or…practically anything else?

I know, I know.  You want to tell me things like, “Some things are worth fighting for!”  and “If you don’t fight for x, then who will?” or “We need people like you in the church!” or “Stay.  Stay and make change happen.”

But…you see…I can’t make change happen.  I thought, once upon a time, that I might, that I could.  But, no.  Maybe someone else can….  But not me.  And the only thing that my tiny, microscopic attempts have gotten me…are fights.  Fights and judgement and anger and vitriol and self-righteousness and denials and a more intense, deep, visceral pain than I have ever known in my life.

And what is the point of wasting so much precious time in my short, small life… on that?

This is the voice of the silent ones who leave.  The ones who don’t want to tell anyone else that they know better (we don’t claim to, really)…  But, from their side, see a disintegrating community with no options.  With no one listening.  With no one even caring.  And still…we don’t want to make anyone feel too bad about it.  We can’t assume we know what other people need, after all.

We just don’t want a fight.  We just want to live a couple Sundays (or all the rest of our Sundays) without getting slapped across the face.

And we disappear.  So many of us are disappearing.  And do you even notice?  Do you?  I’m not really sure, but maybe it doesn’t matter to us anymore.   And sometimes that makes us sad.  Because we miss our old sense of belonging to a community that once existed in our hopes.  But we’ve discovered, miraculously, that when we walked away, we didn’t have to fight anymore.

And it was okay. And joyful.  And right.

Because there’s no time for meanness and fighting.  Not in our short, small, beautiful lives.  No time at all.

What Do LDS Men Get?

Posted by Beatrice

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, what do men get? That’s a pretty good question. What do we get? I was thinking about that question a month or so ago, when I had occasion to be interviewed by a reporter representing a major magazine in Europe, and this reporter was very, very fun to talk to. I liked her immensely. But I was just waiting and ticking off in my head, I wonder when she asks me how it feels to be an oppressed Mormon man, and like on cue, she said, “Now, in most of the major talks from your leaders directed at LDS church membership I hear about how incredible Mormon women are, while men are mostly chastised for their shortcomings. I’m assuming you feel oppressed about that, so how do you deal with that?” Read more…

Insider/outsider language in President Hinckley’s “there’s no agitation” statement

Posted by Ziff

In a 1997 interview with Australian reporter David Random, President Hinckley said that there was “no agitation” for women to receive the priesthood. Ordain Women cites this comment in their FAQ as a motivation for agitating for ordination. (Dane Laverty also earlier cited this comment as his rationale for his similar project, Agitating Faithfully.)

I’ve seen some argument in the Bloggernacle about what President Hinckley meant when he said this. OW’s FAQ calls it a “challenge” to agitate. Opponents of OW have responded that of course he didn’t mean that he wanted people to agitate for ending the female priesthood ban. He was just pointing out a simple fact: nobody was agitating.

I think a useful way to think about this argument is to consider President Hinckley’s comment in the framework of insider language versus outsider language. Read more…

Who Speaks for the Trees?

Posted by Mike C

At the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows and the wind smells slow-and-sour when it blows and no birds ever sing excepting old crows…is the Street of the Lifted Lorax. And deep in the Grickle-grass, some people say, if you look deep enough you can still see, today, where the Lorax once stood just as long as it could before somebody lifted the Lorax away.

For several years I have wondered what the future holds for the Church. Before then, I’d always envisioned the stone carved out of the mountain without hands, rolling forth to fill the earth. That is what I observed on my mission in Brazil nearly 25 years ago, where once we caught two buses and trekked up a big hill for 20 minutes to reach the chapel for the baptism of my friend Antonio; now, due to the growth of the Church, Antonio lives a five-minute walk to the chapel and a ten-minute drive to the temple.

What was the Lorax? Any why was it there? And why was it lifted and taken somewhere from the far end of town where the Grickle-grass grows? Read more…