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

Remembering Katie

 I don’t actually remember the first time I met Katie. I know what time period it would have been, probably sometime in the fall of 1999. But I’d heard about her long before I met her, because her older sister (who blogs here as Seraphine) and I were roommates at the University of Illinois, where I was a grad student. Seraphine and I were in the habit of talking late into the night, and in the course of our many conversations, we traded a lot of information about our respective families. When Katie showed up, then, it just meant putting a face with a person with whom I already felt somewhat familiar. Our time at that university and in the small singles branch connected to it overlapped by a year, but I can’t say I got to know her very well.

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Heartbreaking News

As many of you have heard, one of our bloggers was killed by a drunk driver last night. We are stunned and heartsick to have lost Vada. Not all of you may have known her well from just here. But in addition to her thoughtful public posts, she was an active member of our backlist, and contributed immeasurably to our small ZD community. She was also very involved in the online Mormon feminist world in various other places, and we know many people were positively impacted by her. She will be terribly missed.

Vada leaves behind a husband and six children, including preemie twin girls who are still in the NICU. A YouCaring account has been set up for her family; if you’d like to donate, please go here.

Book of Mormon people’s names my parents give to me!

In my last post, I looked at how often children in Utah, Idaho, and Arizona are named after the current Church President. I thought it also might be interesting to look at how often children are named after people in the Book of Mormon. One advantage of looking at Book of Mormon names is that it doesn’t require me to limit myself to states with lots of Mormons. If you’re naming your child Nephi, you’re probably Mormon, regardless of where you live. The downside, of course, is that this rules out names that are not unique to the Book of Mormon. For example, someone naming their child Benjamin may be thinking of the Book of Mormon king, but there are many other Benjamins out there that their choice was more likely inspired by.

Because using a Book of Mormon name is a clear marker of Mormonness, there’s even good reason to have a hypothesis beforehand about what the data will look like. In The Angel and the Beehive, Armand Mauss talks about the Church’s shift between the 1960s and 1990s from leaning toward assimilation with the broader world, toward more retrenchment. I think it would make sense to expect that Mormons would use more distinctly Mormon names during a period of retrenchment, when drawing bright lines between the Church and the world is an important practice, than during a period of assimilation. Therefore, I expected to see increasing usage of Book of Mormon names between the 1960s and 1990s.

I got data from the same sources as I did for my last post: the Social Security Administration (SSA) name database for counts of how often names are used by state and year from 1960 to 2014, and CDC Vital Statistics reports for counts of total births by state and year for the same time period. Here is an alphabetical list of the Book of Mormon names I checked:

Abinadi, Abish, Helaman, Jarom, Lehi, Limhi, Mahonri, Mormon, Moroni, Mosiah, Nephi, Omni, Sariah, Teancum, Zeniff

I looked at the girls’ names first: Abish and Sariah. Unfortunately, Abish only shows up in three of the years (1999, 2000, and 2003). The SSA database doesn’t report counts of less than five (for either a state or the entire country), so it’s likely that the name was used in other years, but just fewer than five times. For Sariah, I ran into a different problem. I thought it was a uniquely Book of Mormon name, but while the SSA data shows elevated levels of usage in Utah, Idaho, and Arizona, the name also appears in lots of other states. Overall, Utah, Idaho, and Arizona account for only 11% of uses of the name. I wonder if it isn’t being used by people not referring to the Book of Mormon as an alternative spelling of Saria or another takeoff on Sara(h). In any case, given that the name doesn’t appear to be an indicator of Mormonness, I put it in the non-unique bin with names like Benjamin.

For three of the boys’ names, I found no hits at all: Limhi, Mormon, and Zeniff. Because of the reporting threshold of five, this doesn’t mean these names are never used, but if they are, it’s clearly very rare.

The remainder of my analysis looks at just the remaining ten names. Here’s a graph showing how often they are used in the full US data.

To me, the big surprise here is Jarom. I would never have guessed that it would be used most among the list of names I started with. I included it kind of as an afterthought, since he’s such a minor character.

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New Gospel Topics Essay

ZD is pleased to share this post from Moss.

In theology and practice, BYU Dining Services embraces the universal beverage spectrum. Latter-day Saint scripture and teachings affirm that God loves all of His children and makes refreshment available to all. God created the many diverse drinks and libations and esteems them all equally. As the Book of Mormon puts it, “all are alike unto God.”

The structure and organization of BYU encourage a variety of beverages. Latter-day Saints attend eateries according to the geographical boundaries of their local ward, or congregation. By definition, this means that the culinary composition of Mormon diets generally mirrors that of the wider local community. The Church’s lay ministry also tends to facilitate integration: a Pepsi-drinking bishop may preside over a mostly Sprite congregation; a woman with a Dr Pepper in each hand may be paired with another woman who enjoys Coke Zero to visit the homes of a thirsty membership. Church members of different levels of caffeination regularly minister in one another’s homes and serve alongside one another as teachers, as youth leaders, and in myriad other assignments in their local congregations. Such practices make The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a thoroughly hydrated faith.

Despite this modern reality, for much of its history—from the mid-1950s until 2017—BYU did not serve caffeinated beverages anywhere on its campus.

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15 Observations from a Compulsive Church-Hopper

As some of you know, I’ve recently found myself engaged in the project of visiting as many churches and other religious groups in my local community as I can. I have a spreadsheet which currently has 143 entries; thus far, I’ve visited 41 of them. (My hope is to see another 60 or so in the coming year, but I’ll have to see how long my energy holds up.) I’ve seen Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Church of Christ, Presbyterians, Mennonites, Lutherans, Jews, Seventh-Day Adventists, Pentecostals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Eastern Orthodox, Muslims, Christian Scientists, Unitarians, Pagans, Buddhists, and lots of nondenominational Protestants. These are some random observations arising from my experiences thus far. Read More

Follow the Prophet(‘s Name)

Do Mormons name our kids after the current Church President? I’ve known some people who have (or at least I’m assuming that was their inspiration–Hinckley seems like an unusual name to use for any other reason), but I wondered if it was a more general phenomenon.

Unfortunately, I don’t have Mormon-specific naming data, nor do I have data from outside the US. What I do have is the Social Security name database, which gives yearly counts of names used by state. So I thought it might be interesting to at least look at whether states with lots of Mormons use names of Church Presidents more often than other US states, especially starting around the time a Church President is called. I assembled the name data and the yearly birth count data from the CDC’s Vital Statistics reports as described in this post from last year. As in that post, I got data for the years 1960 through 2014.

I checked the first and last names of all Church Presidents since David O. McKay, although as he became Church President in 1951, I couldn’t check whether there was a change at that time. I compared the percentage of babies given those names in Utah, Idaho, and Arizona, and also the percentage in the rest of the US. The Social Security data reports counts separately for girls and boys, so I checked each name for both.  For nearly all the Presidents’ names, I couldn’t see any evidence of the pattern I was looking for. Either the states with lots of Mormons used the name less than the rest of the country, or they hardly used the name at all, or there was no change around the time the President having the name was called.

There are three exceptions, where there is at least a hint that something is going on. All (not surprisingly) are for boys. The names are Spencer (W. Kimball), (Howard W.) Hunter, and Thomas (S. Monson). Here is the graph for Spencer.

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A Correlated Excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount

It has come to the attention of the Church Correlation Department that many parts of 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 parts to smooth off the rough edges. The resulting updated scriptures 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. The resulting version, when completed, will be called the Sacred Holy Inspired Translation.

Today’s updated scripture comes from Matthew 5.

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery:

But I say unto you, That whatsoever woman causeth a man to look on her to lust after her by any means hath forced him to commit adultery already with her in his heart. And the blame for this adultery shall be on the woman for not covering herself: the man is blameless.

And if the right shoulder of a woman thou seest causeth thee to lust, cover it up: for it is profitable for thee that thy women should be covered, that thou lust not, that thou should not be cast into hell.

And if the right knee of a woman thou seest causeth thee to lust, cover it up also: for it is profitable for thee that thy women should be covered, that thou lust not, that thou should not be cast into hell.

(Previous entry in this series: The Correlated Story of Zelophehad’s Daughters)

 

Sacrament Hymns, Ranked (by length)

I have a priest-aged son, and seeing him administer the sacrament has made me pay more attention to the process than I had since I was a priest myself. One issue that I noticed last week was that the sacrament hymn seemed really short, and my son and the other priest hadn’t finished breaking the bread by the time it was over. Of course this isn’t all that unusual. The organist just played through the hymn again while they finished. It was only a matter of a few seconds, but it brought to mind that when I was a priest, I always worried about this happening, because I could feel the pressure of everyone in the congregation waiting for me to just hurry up and finish.

This got me to wondering, though, about how long the sacrament hymns actually are. I looked up the 30 hymns listed under the topic “sacrament” in the back of the hymnbook. (They are all grouped together between hymn numbers 169 and 197, except for #146, “Gently Raise the Sacred Strain.”) I calculated the length of each hymn given its time signature, number of measures and verses, and suggested tempo (I used the midpoint of the lengths implied by taking the fastest and slowest of the suggested tempos.) I included only the verses actually printed in the music because, at least in my experience, it’s typically only those verses that are sung. I didn’t make any adjustment for fermatas.

Here’s the result. It looks like most sacrament hymns are between 1:30 and 3:00 long. A few are shorter. A few are quite a bit longer.

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Madness in Charlottesville

I imagine I’m not the only one to find myself suffering from what I might call outrage fatigue this year. Every week seems to bring some new preposterous happening, whether just the White House administration and our clown-in-chief doing or saying something else ludicrous, or scarier things coming from so many places. Nuclear threats. Cover-ups in high places of collusion with foreign powers. The health care of millions on a precipice. People being shot by police officers for the color of their skin. Official resistance to combating climate change. The list goes and on and on. And I feel like with every week, my ability to be horrified by something completely awful gets deadened a little more. Read More

A Thought about Faith-promoting Stories

Every faith-promoting story is also a faith-destroying story. I don’t mean just stories that are passed off as faith promoting but that are more about something else (like over-controlling parents) or stories that turn out to have been embellished. I mean all of them. A faith-promoting story has a conflict to it–someone is stuck in some difficult situation–and that conflict is resolved miraculously. The level of drama involved in the miracle varies a lot, of course. Some miracles are definitely showier than others. Some are quieter, perhaps boiling down to the person realizing that what they thought was a conflict actually wasn’t when they approached it a different way. The reason that faith-promoting stories are also faith-destroying is that for any particular conflict a person faces in such a story, multitudes of other people have faced the same conflict and have not gotten the same miraculous resolution. (It’s the fact that most people don’t get the miracle that makes it a miracle; if it were commonplace, it wouldn’t be miraculous.) This raises the obvious question of why the miracle comes to the one person and not to the others. And there typically isn’t a good answer to this question. God can seem awfully fickle when doling out miracles.

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Credit, Blame, and the Influence of the Church

Think about these scenarios.

—A man expresses gratitude that his experience serving in various callings in the church has given him leadership skills that have helped him in many areas of his life.

—A teenager navigates high school without trying drugs and alcohol, and credits church teachings.

—Two young adults marry in the temple, after years of hearing how important that is.

—An LDS woman is asked how she survived a very difficult situation. She says that the teachings of her faith were what sustained her.

—A couple is recognized for their humanitarian efforts. They explain that this came from the values they got from a church which emphasizes service. Read More

Does This Life Matter?

Many of you are doubtless familiar with the object lesson in which you hold up a rope or a long string, and point to a tiny bit in the middle as representing this life, with eternity stretching in both directions, both before and after it. We did this more than once in church classes when I was a teenager, as a way of emphasizing the importance of having an eternal perspective. In Mormon cosmology, mortal life is just a speck of time, infinitesimal in comparison to the eternities. Read More

Look Who’s Talking

I got into a discussion recently (and by “recently,” I mean “about a year ago, because time apparently flies when you’re an adult) in which I made an assertion that the conversations in the mainstream Bloggernacle are mostly male-dominated. (I defined mainstream as “aside from the feminist blogs,” since the writerly voices at FMH and Exponent are mainly female.) My interlocutor pushed back, pointing to such mainstream luminaries as Peggy Fletcher Stack and Jana Riess as evidence of Mormon women writing and speaking publicly. The whole conversation made me curious, and so I asked: these days in the Bloggernacle, who’s really talking?

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Why steal a sculpture of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young?

Four people stole a sculpture of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young from a Salt Lake business park earlier this week. The sculpture, which depicts the two men sitting together on a bench, has already been recovered, but the thieves’ motive remains unknown.

Here are ten theories for why the thieves might have stolen the sculpture. Please share yours in the comments.

  • They were acting on behalf of Jon McNaughton, who had plans to sculpt Donald Trump sitting on the bench next to Joseph and Brigham. Read More

I am not a mother

I’ve heard the “all women are mothers” line at church so many times that they mostly blur together in a haze of Ideas I Wish Would Go Away, but there is one time that stands out in my memory: once, in a ward conference, a stake Relief Society leader was teaching a lesson about the special roles and gifts of women, and, focusing on the nurturing powers of women, started listing examples of how mothers nurture their children: they feed theme, bathe them, clothe them, clean up after them, heal them, love them. She then asserted, as usual, that even women without children are really mothers who can nurture the children in their lives. “For example,” she said, with an entirely straight face,   “you can lift a child who needs it up to a water fountain so they can get a drink.”

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Toward a More Straightforward Expression of Female Desire

When I was a freshling at BYU, I lived in a Heritage Halls apartment with five other girls.  Then, as now, I had little interest in attending social events with hordes of people. The dorm held a variety of such events, and I did my best to steer clear of them. One event which I particularly remember was a dance in which your roommates selected a date for you. I told my roommates I had no interest in attending, and planned to spend the weekend back at my parents’ house doing other activities. I was standing in the hall one afternoon when I overheard them talking about me in the kitchen, trying to figure out if I really didn’t want to go, or if it was merely an act, and they should override my expressed wishes and find me a date. Read More