Jul 22

Respecting the Legitimacy of Experiences Foreign to Us

One of the most vexing problems for any religious tradition which asserts exclusivity claims is the problem of sincere believers in other faiths. Evangelicals are confronted by Mormons with firm convictions that the Book of Mormon is authentic scripture. Mormons must grapple with situations in which people report a witness that the Catholic church is the true one. Christians who hold that Christ is the only way to know God are posed with the problem of people who report encountering God in Islam. And so forth. Continue reading

Jul 19

Help Thou Mine Unbelief

As I’ve journeyed through my faith transition these past few years, I’ve pondered much on the importance of belief. Some things I no longer believe (e.g., polygamy was given by God), and some other things I believe differently from most orthodox Mormons (e.g., the Brethren get some important things wrong). And with most of my beliefs, my level of certainty is not anywhere near what it once was (e.g., I hope and long for a heaven that, in my darker moments, I fear does not exist). I feel this loss acutely, yet I do not regret who I have become. Continue reading

Jul 16

What Does the Church Want Non-LDS Gay People to Do?

I’ve read a lot of posts on gay marriage in the last few weeks, and seen a lot of arguments. But I have a question about the subject that I haven’t ever really seen directly addressed. So I’m going to jump into the fray, and ask it. My question is: what, exactly, does the church want non-LDS gay people to do? For members, the requirement is currently either celibacy or a mixed-orientation marriage. Though I find this situation problematic, I want to set it aside, and ask what the church might realistically hope for when it comes to the vast majority of gay people who aren’t LDS.

Here are the options I can come up with:

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Jul 14

Triggers and Tolerating Negative Feelings

I used to be one of the admins for an internet community that dealt with mental health issues. A lot of people in that community had dealt with abuse, and one of our goals was to keep it a safe environment for them. So we asked people to use trigger warnings when they brought up certain topics. It seemed perfectly reasonable to me. But while we did our best to enforce this policy, inevitably people ended up reading stuff that was triggering. And we emphasized that while we did what we could, ultimately it was their responsibility to learn to take care of themselves when that happened. Continue reading

Jul 09

The People Behind the Abstractions

Early in our blogging years, a memorable incident involved one of my sisters sharing a personal experience. Another blogger came by to inform her that she could not have had the experience she reported. Why not? Because he had in his mind a neat system of how life worked, and her experience didn’t fit his system.

There is a tendency that troubles me in some popular LDS theological discourse to make theology into nothing more than an intellectual game. Don’t get me wrong; I think theological speculation can be quite interesting. But I think we lose something vital when it gets disconnected from the actual experience of living human beings. Continue reading

Jul 07

Contemplative Spaces

When I was at the University of Notre Dame, one of my favorite spots on campus was the Grotto, a small replica of the French Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. It was a small cave built of rock and filled with candles, and you could go there anytime, day or night, for prayer and reflection. I found it invaluable as a respite from some of the turbulence of my life. And I often reflected upon the fact that there was nothing similar at the other religious university I attended, that BYU seemed a model of efficiency but had no place on its campus for religious contemplation. Continue reading

Jul 05

Church President Probability Changes with President Packer’s Death

President Boyd K. Packer died on Friday at the age of 90. As I did when Elder Perry died, I thought it would be interesting to look at how this changes the probabilities of becoming Church President for the other members of the Q15

Here are their probabilities and average predicted years of being President before and after President Packer’s death. These come from the simulation I posted about a few months ago where I used a mortality table to run 1000 scenarios and see in how many each Q15 member would become Church President.

change in probabilities of becoming president with president packer's death Continue reading

Jul 01

Same-Sex Marriage and Respecting Gay People

While I disagree with the church’s position on same-sex marriage, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that those who hold that position are simply evil homophobes bent on ruining the lives of gay people. My observation is that this opposition largely comes not from a particular animosity toward gay people—though that certainly may play a role at times—but from the fact that the contemporary church heavily emphasizes obedience and the importance of following the prophet. For Latter-day Saints who equate faithfulness with a willingness to strictly comply with the instructions of General Authorities, the question of same-sex marriage is simply not up for debate. Continue reading

Jun 21

A Mormon Voyage

In his brief history of India’s geography, Land of the Seven Rivers, Sanjeev Sanyal describes how India’s maritime prowess fell into decline beginning at the end of the twelfth century.

Indian merchants had once been explorers and risk-takers who criss-crossed the oceans in their stitched ships. They could be found in large numbers in ports from the Persian Gulf to China…Suddenly…they almost all disappeared.

What happened? Continue reading

Jun 18

Practicing Polygamy Versus Being Polygamous

How do we describe Mormon polygamy? I’ve often seen it said that 19th century Mormons “practiced” polygamy. For example, here’s President Hinckley on Larry King Live in 1998:

The figures I have are from — between two percent and five percent of our people were involved in [polygamy]. It was a very limited practice; carefully safeguarded. In 1890, that practice was discontinued.

There’s lots to criticize here, but what I’m concerned with is his use of the word “practice.” The word is used to minimize how central polygamy was, to demote it to just a minor incidental thing that some Church members did.

Continue reading

Jun 15

Mainstream Christian and LDS Feminism

This is a basic overview of feminist theological issues. I have a vague memory that I wrote it for a specific purpose, but I don’t remember what. In any case, I found it hiding in the depths of our queue, so I figured that I’d might as well blog it.

Though it’s not my particular specialty, in the course of my studies I’ve encountered a fair amount of Christian feminist theology. As I’ve thought about the various issues raised by feminist theologians, a recurring question for me has been that of to what extent and in what ways these issues are applicable in an LDS context. In comparison to mainstream Christian teachings, how might LDS beliefs either be supportive of, or pose challenges to, feminist ideals? Here I’d like to look at a few distinctive aspects of LDS teachings in this context. Continue reading

Jun 12

The Covenant Keeper’s Guide to Attending Church While on Vacation

You may have heard that it has been said by them of old time that covenant keepers will attend the full three-hour block of Sunday church meetings, even while on vacation. But I say unto you that that’s not nearly enough. Simply attending the three-hour block is for slothful, lukewarm covenant breakers who were clearly less valiant in the pre-existence. If you want to demonstrate that you’re a true covenant keeper, you’ll be sure to do the following while on vacation:

Continue reading

Jun 05

Church President Probability Changes with Elder Perry’s Death

Elder L. Tom Perry died on May 30th at the age of 92. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that one question that I immediately wondered about on hearing the news was how this would affect the other Q15 members’ probabilities of becoming Church President.

Here are their probabilities and average predicted years of being President before and after Elder Perry’s death. These come from the simulation I posted about a couple of months ago where I used a mortality table to run 1000 scenarios and see in how many each Q15 member would become Church President.

change in probabilities of becoming president with elder perry's death Continue reading

Jun 03

Quote . . . Close Quote

I make the Sunday bulletins for my ward. I typically put a quote from a scripture or a Church leader that’s related to the theme of the sacrament meeting on the front. I often look for quotes from Church leaders by looking through recent Conference talks on related topics. Recently while I was doing this, I was reading a talk given by a member of a general auxiliary presidency, and I was struck by how much of her talk was made up of quotes of other sources. This reminded me of David Evans’s excellent post at T&S a few months ago where he looked at which speakers in Conference quote which types of sources. One of his findings was that higher-authority speakers quoted less from high authority sources than did lower-authority speakers.

What I wondered is whether higher-authority speakers quote other sources in general less than lower-authority speakers, regardless of the level of authority of the sources being quoted. An advantage of this question is that it didn’t require me to figure out authority levels of sources. Instead, I could just count words in talks and count how many of the words were in quotes.

I got data from all the talks in the last ten Conferences (October 2010 – April 2015). For each talk, I noted the speaker’s calling, the number of words in the talk, and the number of words in the talk that were part of a quote. Here are results by calling group.

Position Talks Percent quotes
 First Presidency  88  14.8%
 Quorum of the Twelve  118  21.8%
 Quorums of Seventy  99  21.5%
 Other – men  19  20.8%
 Other – women  50  24.1%

Continue reading

Jun 01

A Mother There or Multiple Mothers There? A look at whether GA statements about Heavenly Mother leave the door open for polygamy

I’ve always thought that a big positive of the Proclamation on the Family is that it mentions Heavenly Mother. Or to be more precise, it mentions Heavenly Parents. Here’s a quote from the section where they’re brought up:

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.

I have always read “heavenly parents” here to mean a heavenly couple: Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. But I was part of an online discussion recently in which Nancy Ross (who you might know from the papers she has co-written on Mormon feminism) pointed out that the wording here is completely compatible with the possibility of a polygamous Heavenly Father married to many Heavenly Mothers. “Heavenly parents” could be two (as I’ve always read it) or it could be 50 or 10001. Another participant in the discussion, Melissa Mayhew (who you may know from her blogging as Rune at Feminist Mormon Housewives), suggested that it would be interesting to look at other statements GAs have made about Heavenly Mother to see if they’re also compatible with a multiple-Heavenly Mother reading. I thought that was a great idea, so that’s what I’ll be doing in this post.

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May 27

Alzheimer’s Prevalence in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve

How many of the fifteen men in the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve are currently suffering from Alzheimer’s disease? Of course I don’t know the answer to this question. I can give you an estimate, though. Since I’ve been crunching numbers recently to predict which Q15 members might become Church President, I have all these data on their ages and life expectancies lying around, and given that age is a strong predictor of Alzheimer’s, I thought it would be an interesting exercise to match up the age data with an Alzheimer’s prevalence table to see what proportion of the quorum might suffer from it in the past, present, and future.

The major data sources I used are (1) ldsfacts.net for birth, calling, and death dates for historical Q15 member ages, (2) the simulations I did for my post last month on predicting who will become Church President, for future Q15 member ages, and (3) this paper from the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia for the Alzheimer’s and dementia prevalence rates. If you’re interested, I’ve described the process I followed in more detail at the end of this post.

Here’s a graph showing the average age of the Q15 and the age of the Church President from 1835 to 2014 (taken at the end of each year), and predicted ages for the Q15 and for the Church President for the next 15 years. I calculated predicted ages in two ways, one using the SOA mortality table that I used for my post last month about predicting which Q15 members would become Church President (labeled “not adjusted” in the graph, with darker colored lines), and the other (labeled “adjusted,” with lighter colored lines) with the mortality rates in the SOA table multiplied by 0.89 because I found in analyses for another post that this provided better fit to actual historical mortality rates of Q15 members.

president and q15 age Continue reading

May 26

She Shall Be an Ensign: A history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told through the lives of its women.

Ardis Parshall, who you probably know as the author of the Mormon history blog Keepapitchinin, is planning to write a history of the Church told through the lives of women. She is asking for support through a Kickstarter campaign. I believe this is important work because I think the book will serve as a great counterweight to the overwhelmingly male-narrated and male-focused histories we currently tell in the Church. I hope it will help both women and men to have a broader vision of what women have done in the Church, and as consequence a broader vision of what women might be doing now and in the future. I have made a pledge, and I’m posting to ask you to also consider pledging. For a pledge of $10 or more, you’ll get a copy of the ebook version of the book, and for a pledge of $25 or more, you’ll get a hard copy.

Continue reading

May 24

Placement of Scriptures vs. Conference in Menus at LDS.org

Last week, the Church rolled out a redesigned version of the navigation menus at lds.org. The new menus rearranged links to parts of the site in order to make it easier for site visitors to find what we’re looking for.

One change in particular that seems unrelated to usability caught my eye, though. In the old menus, scriptures appeared in their own menu, and General Conference was in a menu labeled “Teachings.” Here’s a screenshot that shows the old menus. I’m sorry it doesn’t show General Conference under “Teachings,” as the old menus aren’t available anymore so I can’t take a new screenshot. I’ll just have to ask you to trust me that it was there. Also note that the callout calls the menus “new” because this image is from 2012, when the old menus were introduced.

lds.org old menus Continue reading