The March 2015 Ensign includes a BYU-I devotional from Elder Dallin H. Oaks titled, “Stand as Witnesses of God,” which divides the world into believers and unbelievers. Oaks pulls no punches in critiquing the latter, using the term “anti-Christ” to describe atheists, and asserting that the Great and Abominable Church is “any philosophy or organization that opposes belief in God.” I find this framework to be troubling, and this characterization of atheists to be unfair.
Oaks isn’t sure that atheists really have moral standards. He is worried that “today many deny or doubt the existence of God and insist that all rules of behavior are man-made and can be accepted or rejected at will.” But this doesn’t necessarily follow. You can believe that rules are (human)-made without seeing them as something to be cavalierly rejected or accepted. You can still take ethics seriously. Oaks acknowledges that atheists are not necessarily moral relativists but raises the concern that “absolute standards not based on belief in God are difficult to explain.” The moral values of atheists are suspect, in other words, because he fails to find any persuasive reason for them. But unbelievers could make a similar move, critiquing believers by making the case that their moral principles are based on something imaginary and are therefore not to be trusted. I think we would all do well to acknowledge the ability of people to make genuine moral commitments regardless of their status as believers or unbelievers.
Agency is central to LDS theology. We fought a war in the pre-mortal existence to preserve it, and it is an essential part of becoming like God. For this reason, one of the aspects of patriarchy that I find most disturbing is the way in which it affects agency, particularly female agency.
To make sense of this assertion, I need to start with a discussion of the nature of freedom. Mormons as well as other moderns tend to have what is called in theology a Pelagian understanding of freedom, as advocated by the early fifth-century Christian thinker Pelagius in his ongoing dispute with the well-known theologian Augustine. For Pelagius, freedom means the absolute ability to choose good or evil. The will is neutral, un-inclined in either direction, and entirely autonomous. Although in reality all humans fall short, perfection is in fact within human reach—there is no reason why a human being could not in theory make all the right choices. Sin is external to the will, something we choose; it does not infect the will itself. Continue reading
I play the piano for a small Methodist congregation on Sunday mornings. They meet in one of the oldest Methodist churches in the South, a small, lovely brick building in a sleepy old town. It is not large enough to house a pipe organ. The pastor, who interviewed, auditioned, and ultimately hired me, is a young, 40-something woman, recently ordained. She and her husband – he sits in the pews with their three children every Sunday – are fugitives from a much stricter Baptist tradition.
I took the job for purely practical reasons; I needed a form of income that was not too time consuming but would enable me to help support my family while writing my dissertation. Yet, increasingly as time passes, I find myself surprised at my weekly reactions – emotional, intellectual, and spiritual – to the experience of having a woman preside. Her sermons bring up ideas that refuse to leave my mind, and everywhere in her speech are inclusive metaphors of female experience. Although, of course, some of the basic teachings and traditions of Methodism are distinct from Mormonism – the examples below will make that obvious – the parallels are striking enough that, while listening to her, I feel I am beginning to develop a vision of what real female leadership from ordained women would look like in an LDS setting. Here are two examples from sermons that have remained with me: Continue reading
This guest post comes to us from Jonathan Cannon, who blogs regularly at Rational Faiths and Exploring Sainthood.
A recent speaker in my local Sunday services quoted a recent reminder from one of our Twelve Apostles: We Latter-day Saints haven’t been persecuted for many years, but scripture foretells the day will return when we again will be. Of course, I believe we might yet avoid this, and both we and the rest of humanity could repent of our various evils and avoid destruction–as Nineveh did after Jonah’s call to repentence–but if this is true (and I don’t doubt it is a possibility) then I want to say what I hope we will be persecuted for. Continue reading
I detest strawberries. I shudder when I see my sisters eating them by the handful, or chopping them up for their cereal. I pick them out of salad so as not to ruin the flavor of the other ingredients. And I am horrified when people waste perfectly good chocolate by slathering it on strawberries. Since I’m also not fond of raspberries or tomatoes, a friend once accused me of having a phobia of red fruits. This is demonstrably false, as I will cheerfully eat a cherry or a red delicious apple. But keep the strawberries far from me. Continue reading
This post is a follow-up to my post last week, where I looked at how much members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (Q15) quote from each of the five books of scripture in the LDS canon in their Conference talks. In the previous post, I showed one breakdown for each Q15 member, aggregating his citations of scripture in all his Conference talks, across whatever period of years he served in the Q15. In this post, I’ll show trends across time for each individual Q15 member. The previous analysis would miss it if a GA changed over time from preferring the Book of Mormon to preferring the New Testament, for example. This analysis might be able to show such changes (if they’re large enough). As for the previous post, my data source is the LDS Scripture Citation Index.
The graphs below show seven-year moving averages for the percentages of citations each Q15 member took from each book of scripture. There’s nothing special about seven years for the moving average. I chose it by eyeball. The year-to-year data often jump around a lot, which isn’t surprising given that for Q15 members who aren’t in the First Presidency, one year’s worth of Conference talks is typically just two talks. Seven years of aggregation looked like a good compromise that smoothed out the yearly variation but didn’t smooth so much that it made changes over time disappear. One other note is that I’ve only made graphs for members who have at least 16 years of data. This allows for 10 years worth of seven-year moving averages to be shown (because the first six years are combined into the initial seven-year moving average).
Graphs for Q15 members are shown in the order they were called, which is the same ordering I used in my previous post. Also, to make it easier to look back and forth between the two posts, I’ve used the same color to represent data for each book of scripture as in the previous post. One warning with these graphs is that the scaling of both the horizontal and vertical axes changes from person to person to best display each Q15 member’s data, so be careful if you’re looking at comparisons across graphs.
Does D&C 132 make you a little confused?
And/or a little angry?
I wrote a post last year that looked at which books of scripture members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (Q15) quote from most in Conference. In an article published last week, Peggy Fletcher Stack briefly referred to my work in a discussion of the Book of Mormon taking priority over the Bible in Mormon thought. She specifically talked about the influence of Ezra Taft Benson, and it occurred to me that it would be easy to expand my post from just looking at the living members of the Q15 to including past members as well, so we could actually see what President Benson’s numbers looked like. In this post, I’ll look at which books of scripture members of the Q15 back through Spencer W. Kimball quoted most in Conference. Unfortunately, I can’t go farther back than that because the LDS Scripture Citation Index, from which I’m pulling data, only goes back as far as 1942, so Q15 members called before then have incomplete data. President Kimball was called to the Q15 in 1943, so he is the oldest member for whom I have complete data. Continue reading
My ward is getting divided this Sunday. Or as you can probably guess from my title, it’s not actually a straight-up split of my ward. It’s that I’m in one of three wards that will have its boundaries realigned, and the result will be four new wards.
I’ve been through this process only twice that I remember. One time was when I was about sixteen. My family had lived in the same place for eight years or so, and I was felt pretty comfortable in my ward. Between the time that the realignment was announced and the release of the actual details of who would end up in which ward, I remember being extremely worried about having the ward split cut me off from my best friends in the ward. As I recall, the change ended up making very little difference, at least to me. All my best friends were still in my ward after the split. And in retrospect, it’s kind of odd that I was that concerned. I lived in Utah Valley and the ward was geographically tiny, so even if my friends had been divided away from me, I could have still easily walked the short distance to their houses to visit them.
The other ward division I recall going through was just a couple of years ago, when my wife and I lived in a college town that had two wards that were realigned to make three. I was less worried than I had been as a teen, but I still recall worrying that the people I liked most in the ward would end up split away from me. Again, for me the outcome was very little change. All the people I liked most stayed in the ward with me.
What strikes me about the process of ward boundary realignment is that I know so little about it. The process of how such things come about is pretty much completely opaque to me. So what I’d like to do is pose a few questions about the process and speculate a little about the answer to each, and then hope you, dear reader, will be so kind as to share any knowledge you have in the comments.
The following is an imagined conversation between Kate Kelly and Dallin H. Oaks.
Do you do apology?
We do not do it, Kate Kelly!
We do not do apology. Continue reading
This is the text from a recent talk I gave in sacrament meeting. Try not to get too excited.
When I was 16 years old, my Utah ward put on a road show. I don’t remember much about the plot, but I do remember that it had a comedy dream sequence that included some dancing circus ballerinas. For some reason none of the young women wanted to be the ballerinas, so my buddy Rich and I volunteered. My mom and other ladies in the ward sewed us full-body ballerina suits, complete with tutus and ballet slippers. As cross-dressing ballerinas, we were the stars of the show. Continue reading
In April 1971, President Spencer W. Kimball quoted some of the shocking proposals he had recently encountered. One unnamed church, he discovered, had “approved recommendation that homosexuality between consenting adults should no longer be a criminal offense. …” These are ugly voices, he warned.
In a news conference in January 2015, the LDS church announced that it was “publicly favoring laws and ordinances that protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment.”
It’s been an interesting few decades. Continue reading
The median age of the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (Q15) is currently about 83. Even for a group that’s often thought of as being old, this is unusual. In fact, the Q15 is older now than it has ever been before.
Here’s a graph showing the age of the Q15 since 1835. The blue line shows the median age. The orange lines show the age of the oldest Q15 member; the green lines show the age of the youngest. The dashed black line shows the age of the Church President. The data come from ldsfacts.net.
Which hymns are sung most often in General Conference? My impression is that the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is always opening Conference with “The Morning Breaks,” and every other congregational hymn is “Redeemer of Israel,” but I’ve never actually looked to see if that’s true.
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
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
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
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