Nov 17

Church Leaders Can Choose Their Actions, Not the Consequences

The For the Strength of Youth booklet makes a good point about agency:

While you are free to choose your course of action, you are not free to choose the consequences. Whether for good or bad, consequences follow as a natural result of the choices you make.

There have been a couple of notable instances recently of Church leaders appearing to not believe in this connection between their own choices and consequences of those choices.

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Nov 11

Top 12 Handbook Policies You Must Have a Testimony Of!

  1. Church members should not seek the autographs of General Authorities or Area Seventies, including signing in their scriptures, hymnals, or programs. (link)
  2. The Church’s official logotype . . . . may not be used as a decorative element or a computer screen saver. (link)
  3. Using the piano and organ at the same time is not standard for Church meetings. (link)
  4. Church parking lots should not be used for commuter parking without permission from the director for temporal affairs. (link)
  5. Members should not participate in hypnosis for purposes of demonstration or entertainment. (link)
  6. The priesthood music director recommends and conducts the hymns for the opening exercises of priesthood meetings. (link)
  7. Artwork in meetinghouses should be properly framed. (link)
  8. Members may not direct the antenna [of a church satellite dish] from one satellite or transponder to another without authorization from Church headquarters. (link)
  9. The Church strongly discourages the donation of sperm. (link)
  10. In the United States and some other countries, it is a violation of postal regulations to place any material without postage in or on mailboxes. This restriction applies to ward or stake newsletters, announcements, flyers, and other Church-related materials. Church leaders should instruct members and missionaries not to place such items in or on mailboxes. (link)
  11. If needed, the stake presidency may call a brother to serve as stake Sunday School secretary. (link)
  12. In extreme situations, local leaders may cancel Sunday meetings. (link)
Nov 06

“Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled”

On the Mormons and Gays website, Elder Cook is quoted as saying this:

“As a church, nobody should be more loving and compassionate. Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion and outreach. Let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender.”

That sounds nice, doesn’t it? Well, talk is cheap. Especially when you make policies like excommunicating gay members for getting married, and barring their children from being blessed or baptized. Then that kind of stamps baloney on all the nice and conciliatory things you might have said.

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Nov 05

Follow the Members

Where do ordinary Church members’ beliefs diverge from General Authorities’ beliefs? I think this is an interesting question that the latest Pew report on American religious belief and behavior can at least hint at some answers to. Of course the report only tells us about American Mormons, and it’s not a terribly big Mormon sample, but still, it’s fun to speculate using its results. I looked through the report and pulled out questions where I thought the responses for Mormons would be most out of line with the results you would get if you put the same questions to GAs. In this table, I also offer my guess as to whether the percentage for GAs would be higher or lower.

Item American Mormons GA
Absolutely certain about belief in God 87% Higher
Scriptures should be taken literally. 32% Higher
There are clear and absolute standards for what is right and wrong. 58% Higher
Abortion should be legal in all or most cases. 26% Lower
Homosexuality should be accepted by society. 36% Lower
Favor or strongly favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry 25% Lower
Having more women in the workforce has been a change for the better. 49% Lower
Humans evolved over time. 42% Lower
Republican/lean Republican 71% Higher
Describe political views as conservative 61% Higher

Note: Percentages are taken from the “Latter-day Saints” lines in the tables in Appendix C, except for the question about women in the workforce, which is taken from the “Mormon” line in a table in Chapter 4 (where there is no separate “Latter-day Saints” line).

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Nov 02

“Latter-day Saints . . . do not pray to Heavenly Mother.”

The Church’s new gospel topics essay on Mother in Heaven says the following:

Latter-day Saints direct their worship to Heavenly Father, in the name of Christ, and do not pray to Heavenly Mother.

I think it’s interesting that this is a descriptive statement and not a prescriptive one. It doesn’t say that we should not pray or must not pray to Heavenly Mother. It doesn’t say that if we pray to Heavenly Mother, we’ll face Church discipline. It just says that we do not pray to her.

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Oct 20

I’m a Mormon Apostle

The Church PR department’s “I’m a Mormon” campaign, which highlighted the diversity of Church membership, generated a lot of buzz. Inside information has it that the PR department is now working on a similar campaign that turns the spotlight on members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. Here are their profiles.

monsonMy name is Thomas. I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah. I was raised in Utah. I got a business degree at the University of Utah and an MBA at BYU. I served in the US Naval Reserve. In my career, I was a business professor and a newspaper executive. I am a widower. My deceased wife and I are the parents of three children. And I’m a Mormon apostle.



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Oct 11

Predicting Who Will Be Church President (Updated with new Q15 members!)

Knowing that three new members of the Q15 were going to be called at the same time this Conference, I was interested not only in who would be called, but also in how old the new members would be. The Quorum is old: its youngest member going into Conference was Elder Bednar at 63. If a whippersnapper the age of Elder Bednar at the time of his calling (52) or Elder Oaks at the time of his (51) had been called, such a person would have entered the Quorum with a very high probability from day one of eventually becoming Church President.

But, as we’ve seen, no whippersnappers were called. Elder Rasband is 64; Elder Stevenson is 60; Elder Renlund is 62. Elder Bednar did finally lose his position as youngest man in the Q15 to Elder Stevenson, though. He had held this title since he was called over a decade ago.

Here’s an updated look at probabilities of becoming Church President for each Q15 member.

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Sep 23

Church President Probability Changes with Elder Scott’s Death

Elder Richard G. Scott died yesterday at the age of 86. As I did when Elder Perry and President Packer died, in this post, I’ll show how this changes the probabilities of becoming Church President for the remainder of the members of the Q15.

All the probabilities come from a simulation I did for a post back in April. It’s a straightforward simulation: it uses an actuarial table and each Q15 member’s age and seniority in the quorum as inputs, and it draws a series of random numbers to simulate different possible life expectancies for each member. The life expectancies are then compared to find in what fraction of the simulations each member outlives all other members senior to him to become President. For a more detailed description, see my April post.

Here are the changes with Elder Scott’s death:

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

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 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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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

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 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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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%

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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) 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.

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