Aug 26

“Youth” = Boys

The Church released a statement today saying that it will continue to be a chartering organization for the BSA. This came as a little bit of a surprise given the huffy tone of the Church’s “we’re re-evaluating our relationship” statement of less than a month ago.

What’s interesting is what’s consistent across the two statements: the equation of “youth” in the Church with boys only. From the earlier statement:

As a global organization with members in 170 countries, the Church has long been evaluating the limitations that fully one-half of its youth face where Scouting is not available.

And from today’s statement:

With equal concern for the substantial number of youth who live outside the United States and Canada, the Church will continue to evaluate and refine program options that better meet its global needs.

A lot of people commented that last month’s statement read like a first draft, written in frustration, that somehow slipped through and saw the light of day. Today’s statement does sound more measured. It’s disappointing, then, that even after having calmed down and re-considered things, the writers still don’t imagine that the Church’s youth include girls.

Aug 20

Priesthood Leaders of Good Report

The caricature of the Mormon feminist is that she gets hurt by a priesthood holder exercising unrighteous dominion, and gives up on the system altogether, without realizing that the system is actually benevolent and there are unfortunately a few bad apples. Or to use Elder Oaks’ analogy, she has a bad experience with a particular electrical appliance and gives up on electricity.

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Aug 14

What doctrines of the Church forbid openly gay scout leaders?

In the Church’s Newsroom statement a couple of weeks ago where they expressed dismay at the BSA’s vote to start allowing gay scout leaders, there was the following puzzling line:

[T]he admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church

I’m trying to figure out which Church doctrines are being referred to here. I’m not even concerned with the virtually impossible task of nailing down exactly what subset of prophetic statements, scriptures, talks, teachings, manuals, or whatever constitute Church doctrine. Even casting a wide net and using a broad definition of what qualifies as doctrine, I’m having a hard time figuring out what Church teachings forbid having gay scout leaders.

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Aug 08

With God, Nothing is Impossible…Except Choir

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I am our ward choir director. If you knew me in real life you might find this shocking—I am no great musical talent, I have no formal training, and most importantly, I sport no distinguished-looking facial hair—no mutton chop sideburns or flamboyant goatee—the true mark of a virtuoso conductor.

What I can do is read music and play the piano passably well, and that is about it…which apparently qualifies me as choir director. I am a warm body who can keep a beat and carry a tune. Praise the Lord and pass the earplugs! Continue reading

Aug 03

Sunstoning

I was kind of ambivalent about attending Sunstone this year. I hadn’t been in a few years, and I wasn’t sure I was up to making it through a conference—especially after the chaos of having a family reunion earlier that week. But after I got asked to be on a fun-sounding panel, I figured that I’d might as well do all three days. And I have to say, I’m so glad that I did. I really enjoyed myself.

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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.

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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:

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