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 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:

Continue reading

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 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 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

Apr 30

Deep Doctrine

“Deep doctrine” is one of the phrases I most dislike in Mormonism. It’s usually used with reference to questions like the location of Kolob, the Lost Ten Tribes, the role of other planets in the Plan of Salvation, the characteristics of different phases of existence, the meaning of various symbols in the book of Revelation, and so on and so forth.

If people want to spend their time exploring such subjects, I have no objection. I have plenty of my own strange interests. What I dislike, however, is the framework in which these topics are “deeper” than more central teachings, or that they are for the spiritually sophisticated. “Deep” all too often gets used as a synonym for “esoteric.” And one might ask, all right then, what are the “shallow” doctrines? Faith, repentance, the atonement? Are those doctrines that you grasp before moving on to the more advanced ones? Something seems more than a little off in such a model. Continue reading

Apr 02

Stories

I’m eating Cheerios for breakfast, and contemplating the small plastic pill box sitting in front of me. Seven days of psychotropic magic. Unlike my evening meds, the morning ones are small and easy to swallow. But the thought crosses my mind, as it so often does—why am I doing this, exactly?

—————

After too many of them, the hospitalizations start to blur together. Sparse double bedrooms with doors that you’re not allowed to shut. Showers that turn themselves off every minute or so, so that you have to keep pushing a button to keep them going. Rules against having anything sharp, against shoelaces, against pens, against personal electronic devices such as cell phones or laptops. That last one makes life particularly challenging. One or two payphones for the unit, with stiff competition and time limits. A common area with a television which, except during groups, is on almost constantly. If you aren’t all that fond of television, it’s likely to drive you crazy. Crazier, I mean. Continue reading

Mar 17

Pitting Believers Against Unbelievers

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.

Continue reading

Mar 05

Patriarchy and Agency

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

Feb 25

Strawberries and Patriarchy

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

Jan 31

Church Discourse on Homosexuality

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.1

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.”2

It’s been an interesting few decades. Continue reading

  1. Spencer W. Kimball, Conference, April 1971 []
  2. Neil Marriott, News Conference,  Jan 27, 2015 []
Jan 21

Poll: What Gets Most Emphasized by the Church?

In your experience, what is most emphasized by the church? (select up to three)
What do you personally see as the most important? (select up to three)
Jan 19

Discernment

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

Jan 15

Local Leaders, Apostasy, and Ecclesiastical Discipline

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

Jan 13

Thinking About the Nicene Creed

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

Jan 08

The LDS Godhead and the Traditional Christian Trinity: Which is More Confusing?

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

Jan 01

Sources of Mormon Feminism

Mormon feminists, like Christian feminists more broadly, are posed with the difficulty of making sense of the patriarchal aspects of a tradition which they believe to be inspired. One of the most challenging questions for both groups is this: if one is to reject particular aspects of the tradition (for example, female subordination), on what basis can such a rejection be made?

Some feminists have concluded that Christianity and patriarchy are too closely intertwined for them to be ever pulled apart, and have therefore abandoned Christianity. (Interestingly, a similar assumption is made by those conservatives who see Christianity as inherently patriarchal, and therefore argue that real Christians must abandon feminism). However, a number of others have proposed ways to maintain serious commitments to both Christianity and feminism, looking for creative ways of negotiating the tensions. Some propose drawing on contemporary experience, while others look to liberating elements within the tradition. And in an LDS context, I would add the approach of drawing on personal revelation. Continue reading

Dec 24

Good Tidings of Great Joy

A sacrament meeting talk I gave this year

“Fear not,” says the angel to the shepherds, in the familiar words of Christmas Eve: “for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”1 Put another way, grace has broken into the world.

“Fear not,” begins the angelic message. Rather, we are called to have faith—to be open to the word of God. “In the face of [Christmas],” writes the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, “we bravely open our hearts so that it may also happen to us and through us.”2 This offer of grace in some sense constitutes us as human beings—to be human is to be confronted by the sometimes disconcerting and disorienting love of God. We can run from this, or we can take the risk of faith. In refusing to close ourselves off from love and from life, we emulate a passible God, who is likewise open to us, and we emulate Christ, who came to experience life fully. And the message of Christmas is that ultimately, we have nothing to fear: God’s goodness and love can be trusted. Continue reading

  1. Luke 2:10-11 []
  2. “Christmas: Ever Since I Became Your Brother” in Karl Rahner, The Great Church Year -The Best of Karl Rahner’s Homilies, Sermons, and Meditations (New York: Crossroad, 1993) []