Apr 13

Verses of Scriptures Most Often Quoted in Conference

Which of the Ten Commandments gets quoted most often in General Conference? In this post, I’m going to look at some lists in the scriptures (like the Ten Commandments, the Articles of Faith, etc.) and show the relative popularity of the items in the list in terms of how often they’ve been quoted in Conference.

As I so often do, I got data from the LDS Scripture Citation Index to answer this question. They have data from Conferences from 1942 to 2013. Unlike with my other recent posts using their data, I took data not just at the level of book of scripture, but all the way down at the verse level, which of course was required to allow me to look at comparisons between individual verses.

So let’s get started. Which of the Ten Commandments is cited most? (For simplicity, I just looked at references to Exodus 20, and not to any other places in the scriptures that the Ten Commandments appear.)ten commandments Continue reading

Mar 30

Patterns Teach

What do patterns in Church practice and patterns in the stories we hear in Church teach us? I was thinking about this question recently after reading the #VisibleWomen series at the Exponent. The question of how patterns teach was brought to my mind because the whole series seems to be built on this idea. The purpose of the series is to make suggestions to Church leaders about ways that women could be made more visible in areas like Church art, in giving talks, and in conducting their own session of Conference. The subtitle explains the reason: “You can’t be what you can’t see.” The suggestion of this line is that patterns of practice in the Church like how infrequently women are portrayed, how rarely Heavenly Mother is mentioned, and how women aren’t even allowed to conduct their own Conference session, are conveying messages to women that are limiting their view of themselves.

I used to be a statistics teacher, and in that role, I often thought about how patterns can teach. One way the issue came up was when I used example data to teach my students about a statistical test. They would sometimes draw conclusions from irrelevant patterns in my examples. For example, if I illustrated use of a test using two examples, one where the data were temperatures in degrees Fahrenheit, and the other where the data were temperatures in degrees Celsius, students might conclude that the test could only be used when the data were temperatures, but not if they were shot put distances or cell phone provider preference ratings or rat body sizes or any other type of data. Or if the data I showed were all rounded to the nearest ten, students might conclude that the test could only be used with data that had been similarly rounded.

I’m not at all surprised that my students did this. People are great at finding and generalizing patterns. The upside of this is that it made teaching easier: students picked up on many real patterns in how different tests could be used without my ever having to state them explicitly. This generalizes far beyond the classroom. Much of what we learn (probably most of it) comes from observing patterns in what other people do, rather than from having people explicitly explain things to us.

What I tried to do with my students to avoid accidentally teaching things I didn’t intend to with irrelevant patterns was to vary the characteristics of my examples as much as possible to break up the incorrect patterns. For example, if I wanted to avoid conveying that a test could only be used for temperature data, I might show one example that used temperature data and another that used something completely different, like elephant tusk length data. If I wanted to avoid conveying that a test required values rounded to the nearest ten, I would show data where values were rounded at different points.

In case my statistics-related examples are too dense, here’s one that might be more straightforward. If I were teaching someone about parts of speech, and I introduced adjectives with the examples “orange,” “blue,” and “green,” it wouldn’t be surprising if the person I was teaching concluded that only colors qualified as adjectives. I would be better off using a set of examples that broke up the pattern I didn’t want to convey, so something like “orange,” “hairy,” and “difficult.”

Getting back to my opening question, there are many obvious patterns in what we do in the Church, and these patterns convey clear messages, even without anything being stated explicitly. I thought it might be interesting to list some of these patterns and briefly outline what they’re teaching. Many of them come not even from our practice but from the types of stories that are taught (in Conference, Church magazines, and in lesson manuals). Continue reading

Feb 23

Which GAs Prefer Which Books of Scripture? (Take 3)

This post is a follow-up to my post last week, where I looked at how much members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (Q15) quote from each of the five books of scripture in the LDS canon in their Conference talks. In the previous post, I showed one breakdown for each Q15 member, aggregating his citations of scripture in all his Conference talks, across whatever period of years he served in the Q15. In this post, I’ll show trends across time for each individual Q15 member. The previous analysis would miss it if a GA changed over time from preferring the Book of Mormon to preferring the New Testament, for example. This analysis might be able to show such changes (if they’re large enough). As for the previous post, my data source is the LDS Scripture Citation Index.

The graphs below show seven-year moving averages for the percentages of citations each Q15 member took from each book of scripture. There’s nothing special about seven years for the moving average. I chose it by eyeball. The year-to-year data often jump around a lot, which isn’t surprising given that for Q15 members who aren’t in the First Presidency, one year’s worth of Conference talks is typically just two talks. Seven years of aggregation looked like a good compromise that smoothed out the yearly variation but didn’t smooth so much that it made changes over time disappear. One other note is that I’ve only made graphs for members who have at least 16 years of data. This allows for 10 years worth of seven-year moving averages to be shown (because the first six years are combined into the initial seven-year moving average).

Graphs for Q15 members are shown in the order they were called, which is the same ordering I used in my previous post. Also, to make it easier to look back and forth between the two posts, I’ve used the same color to represent data for each book of scripture as in the previous post. One warning with these graphs is that the scaling of both the horizontal and vertical axes changes from person to person to best display each Q15 member’s data, so be careful if you’re looking at comparisons across graphs.

books of scripture quoted across time - kimball Continue reading

Feb 17

Which GAs Prefer Which Books of Scripture? (Updated!)

I wrote a post last year that looked at which books of scripture members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (Q15) quote from most in Conference. In an article published last week, Peggy Fletcher Stack briefly referred to my work in a discussion of the Book of Mormon taking priority over the Bible in Mormon thought. She specifically talked about the influence of Ezra Taft Benson, and it occurred to me that it would be easy to expand my post from just looking at the living members of the Q15 to including past members as well, so we could actually see what President Benson’s numbers looked like. In this post, I’ll look at which books of scripture members of the Q15 back through Spencer W. Kimball quoted most in Conference. Unfortunately, I can’t go farther back than that because the LDS Scripture Citation Index, from which I’m pulling data, only goes back as far as 1942, so Q15 members called before then have incomplete data. President Kimball was called to the Q15 in 1943, so he is the oldest member for whom I have complete data. Continue reading

Feb 13

Three wards enter. Four wards leave.

My ward is getting divided this Sunday. Or as you can probably guess from my title, it’s not actually a straight-up split of my ward. It’s that I’m in one of three wards that will have its boundaries realigned, and the result will be four new wards.

churchI’ve been through this process only twice that I remember. One time was when I was about sixteen. My family had lived in the same place for eight years or so, and I was felt pretty comfortable in my ward. Between the time that the realignment was announced and the release of the actual details of who would end up in which ward, I remember being extremely worried about having the ward split cut me off from my best friends in the ward. As I recall, the change ended up making very little difference, at least to me. All my best friends were still in my ward after the split. And in retrospect, it’s kind of odd that I was that concerned. I lived in Utah Valley and the ward was geographically tiny, so even if my friends had been divided away from me, I could have still easily walked the short distance to their houses to visit them.

The other ward division I recall going through was just a couple of years ago, when my wife and I lived in a college town that had two wards that were realigned to make three. I was less worried than I had been as a teen, but I still recall worrying that the people I liked most in the ward would end up split away from me. Again, for me the outcome was very little change. All the people I liked most stayed in the ward with me.

What strikes me about the process of ward boundary realignment is that I know so little about it. The process of how such things come about is pretty much completely opaque to me. So what I’d like to do is pose a few questions about the process and speculate a little about the answer to each, and then hope you, dear reader, will be so kind as to share any knowledge you have in the comments.

Continue reading

Jan 26

Aging of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve

The median age of the members of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (Q15) is currently about 83. Even for a group that’s often thought of as being old, this is unusual. In fact, the Q15 is older now than it has ever been before.

Here’s a graph showing the age of the Q15 since 1835. The blue line shows the median age. The orange lines show the age of the oldest Q15 member; the green lines show the age of the youngest. The dashed black line shows the age of the Church President. The data come from ldsfacts.net.

GA age 1835-2014 Continue reading

Jan 05

Nacle Notebook 2014: Funny Comments

This post is a list of some of the funniest comments I read on the Bloggernacle last year. (Here are links to collections from previous years, in case you enjoy this one and haven’t seen them before: 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008.)

Most of the quotes are excerpts from longer comments. Also, I’ve made a small change from previous years: this time in addition to comments, I’ve included a few post excerpts, in cases where the excerpts can be appreciated as standalone comments. I haven’t included any of the many funny posts I’ve read that were funny end-to-end, since excerpting from such posts would mean losing the context and the full effect of the humor.

I’ve made each commenter’s name a link to the original so you can go read them in their full glory and original context if you wish. I’ve put the quotes in roughly chronological order.

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Dec 22

Porn Preaching Patterns

In her post last week on Mormon fixation with small issues at the expense of larger more important ones, Jana Riess pointed out that the majority of all references to pornography that have ever been made in General Conference have occurred just since the turn of the millennium. I thought it might be interesting to look at the data in a little more detail, because it was my impression that discussion of porn might be declining.

I looked up the yearly rates of usage of the word “pornography” in General Conference at the LDS General Conference Corpus site. Here’s a graph showing the yearly rates and the five-year moving average. The graph starts in 1959 because that’s the first year pornography was mentioned in Conference.

porn refs in conferenceIt looks like usage might have flattened out again after a big bump in the 2000s. I would guess that the big bump occurred as the internet grew and internet porn grew with it. I wonder if its usage then declined again because no one issue can be the hot topic forever. Maybe something like gay marriage took its place as the topic of the moment.

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Dec 09

A Correlated Mormon Gender Issues Survey

It has come to the attention of the Church Correlation Department that a so-called group of so-called academics has undertaken to do a so-called survey on so-called gender issues among so-called members of the so-called Church. As internet information (including surveys) does not have a truth filter, the Correlation Department has undertaken to edit the survey so that it may be more faith promoting, and less tainted by the philosophies of (wo)men.

Please tell us a little about how you heard about this survey. Who referred you to it?

  • The Holy Ghost whispered to me that I should take it.
  • The Three Nephites exhorted me to take it while they were changing my flat tire.
  • The spirit of a just man made perfect appeared to me and made known unto me that I must take it. I know that I was not deceived, as he refused to shake my hand.
  • Other.

Of course your name is on the records of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On which other organizations’ records is your name also recorded? (Mark all that apply.)

  • The Republican Party
  • The Church of the Firstborn
  • The Quorum of the Anointed
  • The Council of Fifty
  • The Lamb’s Book of Life

What is your eternal gender?

  • Presider
  • Nurturer

How active are you in the Church?

  • Fully active
  • Fully active, but struggling with being less active

Continue reading

Nov 20

Joseph’s (First) Wife, Emma

How would you describe Emma Hale’s relationship with Joseph Smith? They were married, so she was his wife. But now that the Church is being somewhat more open about Joseph’s polygamy, shouldn’t we be a little more accurate and describe Emma as Joseph’s first wife?

This question occurred to me while reading BHodges’s post at BCC where he lists a bunch of references to Joseph Smith’s polygamy in Church sources. He points out that of course he’s not listing Church source references to Emma and Joseph that do not mention Joseph’s polygamy, because they’re much more common than the references that do talk about polygamy. I thought it might be interesting to go back and look at some of these sources, though, to see if Emma is ever referred to as Joseph’s first wife. More generally, I wanted to look at these sources because even though we know in a general sense that they’re probably numerous and that they probably gloss over or ignore Joseph’s polygamy, seeing the particulars might give us a better sense of just how common they are and how much glossing and hiding they do.

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Oct 30

Most Liked Conference Talks (Now with better data!)

I wrote a post last year in which I tried to assess which Conference talks were most liked by Church members. The method I used was very much a kludge: I looked at the change in Facebook likes for each speaker during the session in which he or she gave a talk. Fortunately, a friend pointed out to me that there’s a much simpler way to measure this. The individual web pages for each Conference talk have a count of how many people liked the talk itself on Facebook. So of course this was data that I was interested in going back to look at.

The Facebook like buttons were added to all Conference talks, going back to 1971. Beyond a couple of years ago, of course, there aren’t many likes since most old Conference talks (other than a few classics) probably aren’t referred to all that often. I might go back later and look at the older talks, but for now I was just interested in the Conferences recent enough that someone could hear a talk in Conference, and then later in the week look it up on lds.org and click like, so I limited myself to 2012 through 2014–the last six Conferences.

There are three things to note about the data. First, I got the like counts a couple of days ago, so they’re already out of date. Second, for like counts over 1,000, the like button shows a count in thousands. I got exact counts by querying Graph Search directly. (I found this on stackoverflow somewhere, but now can’t recall where. The method is to point your browser to the URL http://graph.facebook.com/?id=<URL of talk>.) Third, the like counts for the most recent Conference are lower than for previous Conferences, probably because it has only been a few weeks since Conference occurred, and people haven’t had lots of chances to re-read or re-hear a talk and go back and like it.

Here are the ten most liked talks from the past six Conferences.

top 10 talks by likes

Continue reading

Oct 09

The Correlated Story of Zelophehad’s Daughters

It has come to the attention of the Church Correlation Department that many of the stories told in 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 stories to smooth off the rough edges. The resulting stories 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.

Our first rewritten scripture story comes from Numbers 27.

Then came the daughters of Zelophehad to petition Moses. For their father died in the wilderness, and had no sons. They desired that Moses bring their cause before the Lord, that perhaps the inheritance of their father might pass unto them. And these are the names of the daughters of Zelophehad: Mahlah, Noah, and Hoglah, and Milcah, and Tirzah.

But Nadab spake unto them, saying, Surely Moses shall not consider such a small matter. And he turned them away.

Continue reading

Oct 02

Temple talk trends

Over at fMh yesterday, Sara Katherine Staheli Hanks introduced a new series, “When the Temple Hurts.” I was particularly interested in a point she made in the post about how often we discuss the temple in lessons and talks at church:

The temple is a regular focus of meetings, lessons, talks, and discussions in church settings. I’d estimate that, in my experience, 1 out of every 4-5 Sundays in my adult life as a church member has included a talk or lesson where the temple was a primary focus.

I’ve been teaching primary now for a couple of years, and my memory of adult classes is maybe suffering from a bit of haziness, but Sara’s numbers sound good to me. This would mean an average of at least one temple-related lesson or talk per month, with of course lots of variation where there is a cluster of them, and then maybe no mentions for a longer period of time.

I would be interested to know how well that matches up with other people’s experience. It seems like this would be a difficult thing to measure well. Sure, we have correlated lesson manuals, but we also have locally chosen topics for things like sacrament meetings, first Sunday meetings in RS and priesthood quorums, and Teachings for Our Time lessons. And for that matter, even how correlated lessons are taught varies a lot from ward to ward and from teacher to teacher (much to the frustration of the Correlation people, I’m sure).

So I thought I would look at a related question that’s easier for me to answer, which is whether talk about the temple at the general level of the Church has been increasing or decreasing over time. If there’s a noticeable change over time, this is probably felt by people in their local experiences, as general-level material like Conference talks are not only used directly in the preparation of lessons and talks, but they also likely help drive local leaders’ perceptions of what topics are important at the moment.

I used the ever-wonderful Corpus of General Conference Talks to look at how often the word temple has been used in Conference since 1900. This graph shows the result. The dark purple line is the 10-year moving average, and the faded purple line shows the year-to-year rates.

temple refs in conference 1900-2013 Continue reading

Sep 18

Behold! A Little Fact’ry!

It’s almost Conference time again, and although it has only been six months, I can hardly remember what was said in April. Perhaps Conference talks would be easier to remember if they were set to music. It seems appropriate to set them to the music of hymns, since Conference talks and hymns both inhabit that space of being sorta kinda but not really completely scripture.

I’ll start with an easy one. Here’s a singable version of then-Elder Boyd K. Packer’s classic “To Young Men Only,” given in the Priesthood Session of October 1976 Conference. Sing to the tune of “Behold! A Royal Army.”

Behold! A little fact’ry
Is in you; it begins
To make a sacred substance,
But opens you to sins.
Your fact’ry will run slowly,
And when it makes too much,
It opens a release valve:
This valve you must not touch!

Tamper not! Tamper not!
Do not touch that release valve!
Tamper not! Tamper not!
If tempted, sing a hymn!
Tamper not! Tamper not! Tamper not!
Your fact’ry lights keep dim.

 

Sep 16

The Incredible Shrinking Statistical Report

If you look back through Church statistical reports released in every April Conference (and who hasn’t?), you find that it’s not exactly the same information that gets reported each year. I don’t mean that the numbers change; I mean that which categories of numbers even get reported change. There has been less change in recent years, but if you look back to the 80s, you’ll find lots of categories of information that used to be reported that aren’t anymore. For example, you’ll find number of babies blessed (last reported in 1988), number of boys and men who hold different priesthood offices (1986),  number of proxy temple ordinances (1984), marriage rate (1983), and number of women in the Relief Society (1977).

I thought it might be interesting to look at what categories of information have been reported in statistical reports at different times, as well as how many total categories of information have been reported. This first graph shows how many line items (separate numbers representing different pieces of information) were in the statistical report each year from 1971 to 2014.

This graph shows the number of line items in the statistical report each year from 1971 to 2014.

line items in statistical reports 1971-2014

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Sep 04

Do women’s patriarchal blessings mention a career?

Several months ago (in May, I think), there was a discussion at the Mormon Hub that turned to whether women’s patriarchal blessings mentioned a career or not. Heather (who blogs at Doves and Serpents) and I thought it would be interesting to see if we could get a little data on the question. Heather put together a brief survey, and we asked for responses in the Hub and in the fMh Facebook group. For purposes of comparison, we asked for men to respond too, although we got far more responses from women.

We got a total of 422 responses (actually slightly more, but a few were incomplete and couldn’t be included): 359 from women, and 63 from men. The years they reported receiving their patriarchal blessings ranged from 1941 to 2013.

This graph shows overall results, ignoring year of the blessing:

patriarchal blessings mentioning career by sexNot surprisingly, patriarchs mentioned career far more often for men than they did for women.

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Sep 01

We don’t need no stinkin’ dictionary!

This is an exchange between Jane Little and Michael Otterson in Little’s BBC piece “Sister Saints – Women and the Mormons” (starting at about 11:20; also see the accompanying article here):

JL: Just to deal with Kate Kelly, just to clarify, was she excommunicated for apostasy?

MO: The letter that went out, that they actually published on their website, briefly, at least they released it to the media, indicated that the reason why that disciplinary action was taken was for apostasy. I’m not sure it actually used the word, but apostasy is seen as repeated and deliberate advocating to doctrines contrary to the Church, especially encouraging other people to take the same position.

JL: So you would say she is an apostate, under that definition?

MO: Yeah.

JL: The dictionary definition says it’s renouncing your faith, which is somewhat different.

MO: Well, I don’t think I[‘m] particularly obligated to worry about what it says in Oxford or Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. Our definition of apostasy is repeated open advocacy of doctrines contrary to the Church.

It’s not surprising that Otterson would want to use an unconventional definition of apostasy. It allows him to use a more serious-sounding word than “insufficient submissiveness in the face of leaders’ demands” in explaining why Kate Kelly had to be kicked out. I realize, of course, that he was taking his definition from the Handbook, but that just means it’s the Church leaders who wrote or commissioned the Handbook who are making up a new definition to allow them to borrow strength from an existing weighty word.

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