Jan 03

“What is God really like?”

When Beatrice and I were serving together as missionaries, we were lucky enough to be in a district that included the mission offices.  The APs and office Elders were in our district, so more often than not we held district meetings in a cozy conference room in the main mission office building, giving us frequent occasion to see the Mission President and his wife.

Throughout our companionship, Beatrice mentioned to me that she had questions about the role of women as depicted in the temple endowment. We discussed it a few times in companionship study, and then – taking advantage of our proximity to the mission leaders – one day we decided to take the issue to the wife of the MP. To be clear, we didn’t openly dissect elements of the endowment that are considered private or sacred. We talked about the sorts of things that are commonly parsed on fMh, Exponent II, and here at ZD: the hearken covenant; women veiling their faces; the almost complete silence of Eve and lack of other female characters in the pre-mortal realm; and other, similar issues. Continue reading

Nov 26

Gratitude and Grace

A couple of years ago, I wrote a Thanksgiving post about my ambivalence about gratitude, and why, while I see the value of it, I think it’s a problem to dictate it, or to use injunctions like “be grateful” as a weapon against those who dare to express unhappiness about anything. I’ve been thinking about the subject again this year, but perhaps from a somewhat less psychological and more theological angle. I’ve been wondering—why, religiously speaking, is gratitude important?

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Sep 13

The Pitfalls of Pluralism

When it comes to religion, I have strong pluralist sympathies; one of the aspects of the LDS church I personally find the most challenging is the “only true church” claim. I’ve blogged before about why I think it’s a mistake for Mormons to assume that we have nothing to learn from other traditions, or to conceptualize them as–at best–less developed versions of ourselves. In my own life, I have found that serious engagement with the teachings and ideas of other traditions has tremendously enriched my faith.

Nonetheless, there are ways of talking about pluralism that I find problematic. Continue reading

Mar 03

Thoughts on LDS Feminist Theological Work

A question which has been on my mind recently, as I have been contemplating some of the theological questions involved in LDS feminism, is that of methodology. In particular, what are the sources of authority which might be used in feminist approaches to the tradition? Too often, I think, LDS feminists—including myself—have a tendency to simply import norms and values from the varieties of feminism which are prominent in contemporary secular discourse, and then measure the Church against them. This inevitably leads to the criticism that feminists are advocating “worldly” values, and these are irrelevant in the realm of revealed religion. For example, popular terms like “rights” and “equality” may have deep resonance when invoked in the context of Western liberal democracy, but some question the usefulness of these terms in a Christian context. Continue reading

Apr 23

God’s Ways Are Not Our Ways

This post was inspired by the CK debate happening here.

I’ll confess that I find a certain amount of comfort in the idea that God is in some ways a different kind of being than we are. Humans, for all their beauty, are kind of messed up sometimes, and I love the idea that there is a being out there who is perfect and “good” and who doesn’t have the same kind of imperfections as the rest of us. I also love scriptures such as Moses 7:33–the moment when Enoch asks God why he weeps, He responds, “And unto thy brethren have I said, and also given commandment, that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood.” The idea that there is a perfectly loving and good being who weeps at the cruelty that we inflict on one another appeals to me. Continue reading

Jan 25

Using Human Reason to Think About God

A question which often arises in theological discussion is that of whether we mere mortals are in any position to make sense of these kinds of topics in the first place. One common argument is that the things of God are incomprehensible to mortal understanding, and we shouldn’t expect to understand them with our finite brains. If particular religious teachings appear nonsensical or even morally problematic, then, this is merely due to the limits of human reason.

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Aug 13

How Studying Theology Has Impacted My Faith

A question I get a lot at church is that of how studying theology has impacted my testimony. Sometimes people make comments along the lines of how studying the beliefs of others must be quite faith-promoting, with an apparent assumption that the musings of non-LDS religious thinkers are likely so self-evidently ridiculous or confusing that they could only result in my having a greater appreciation for the simple clarity of the restored gospel. Others wonder, by contrast, whether engaging religion academically might be dangerous, might undermine my belief in the LDS church. I am not comfortable, however, with either of these paradigms. What I study has in fact profoundly influenced my faith, but in complex ways. Continue reading

Jun 17

Parenthood and the Imago Dei

In honor of having made it through another year of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day celebrations (and/or firestorms), I’d like to consider some issues related to parenthood, and how we talk about it in the Church. Though I admittedly do have my qualms about some of the language related to gender, I have to say that the LDS emphasis on the importance of parenting is something I actually quite appreciate, and generally see as positive. At the same time, as a single adult member of the Church, I’m all too aware of how this emphasis can leave a large segment of the community feeling somewhat like second-class citizens. So I find myself coming back to the question, is there a way to talk about the importance of parenthood that doesn’t marginalize the non-parents? Or is that simply one of the costs of keeping the role of parent as central as we want it to be? I honestly don’t know the answer to that one. Continue reading

Apr 06

Reflections on Good Friday

I’ve always been a bit ambivalent about the stories surrounding Easter. I remember as a child listening to adults talking in solemn and hushed tones about the death of Jesus, and wondering how I was supposed to react. Should I be feeling guilty, since as a sinner I shared part of the blame for his suffering? Should I be feeling horrified? (Some of those who went into excruciating and grisly detail seemed to be hoping to provoke a bit of that reaction.) All too often, hearing the story of Good Friday left me with an image of a Jesus who quite possibly resented me for having messed up so badly that he had to pay for it, and who was now scrutinizing my every action to see if I was good enough to be worthy of his help. Continue reading

Mar 16

History and Faith

A couple of recent discussions have gotten me thinking about the relationship between history and faith. Not every person takes the same approach to navigating the challenges posed by historical problems, of course, and I respect that there are a variety of ways of conceptualizing the interplay betwen the two. What I can’t quite make sense of, however, is the idea that they can be completely separated, that one can talk about faith without reference to history or dismiss history as being irrelevant to faith. (In other words, the “if you have a testimony, then history doesn’t matter” line of thought.) Continue reading

Feb 25

Toward an LDS Theology of Religions

“Theology of religions” has been a particularly pressing concern in Christian thought since at least the middle of the twentieth century. The term refers to the effort to make theological sense of other religions. It involves questions like, from the perspective of a Christian, is God involved in other religions, or are they merely human constructions? Is Christianity the only true faith–and if so, why hasn’t God revealed it to everyone? As I’ve posted about before, theologians often speak of three general approaches to the problem: exclusivism (Christianity is the one true faith and there is no way to salvation outside of membership in it), inclusivism (only Christ can save, but explicit belief in or knowledge of Christ is not necessarily required for this to happen), and pluralism (there are multiple true paths and ways to salvation, and Christianity is only one of them.)

I’ve often thought about what an LDS theology of religions might look like. Continue reading

Feb 21


When I look at the religious conversations I’ve had again and again, the papers I’ve written, the books I’m fascinated by, I can’t help noticing how frequently I find myself coming back again and again to some of the same themes. There are certain questions which have haunted me for years; I feel almost compelled to keep returning to them, to explore them further, to try approaching them from yet another angle. When it comes to these particular problems, you might fairly accuse me of being somewhat obsessed (my siblings and friends could certainly attest to this). Some examples: Continue reading

Jan 21

The Value of Theology

“It is very strange. But we Christians often seem to be completely unconvinced of the power of thought with regard to our Christian faith.” (Karl Rahner)

I’m currently in my sixth year of studying academic theology. (I’ve posted before about how I ended up in this area.) Despite those inevitable moments of feeling tired of it all, on the whole I honestly can’t imagine doing anything more engaging. However, I’m all too aware that from the point of view of many Latter-day Saints, what I’m studying is worthless at best, and possibly even downright harmful. It’s nothing but the philosophies of the world, I repeatedly hear. It denies the value of revelation. And so on. Continue reading

Jan 10

Augustine, Pelagius, and Questions of Grace

One of the theological conundrums in Christianity concerns the relationship between God’s grace and human freedom. What role does God play in the process of salvation, and what do humans contribute? Views ranges from one extreme in which everything is done by God, with humans only playing a passive role, and another extreme in which salvation is entirely merit-based, a reward for our works. Continue reading

Oct 01

Thinking About the End of the World

I have to confess that I’ve never been terribly interested in eschatology (the study of “last things.”) I remember being anxious about the Second Coming when I was younger, but by the time I was attending Seminary, I found the extended discussion of “signs of the times” and detailed speculations about events described in the book of Revelation to be, quite frankly, boring. The first time you hear that the world is about to end it’s a bit thrilling, but for me at least, it didn’t take much repetition for the excitement to wear off. (The “imminent end of the world” thing also loses a bit of its punch when you realize for just how many years people have been making that claim.) And I found many of the doctrines related to the Second Coming to be so bizarre-sounding that it was difficult to see them as having any significance for my actual life. Continue reading

Sep 16

Doctrinal Development and Continuing Revelation

One of my Catholic professors once wryly observed that ten seemed to be the magic number for official Catholic pronouncements: after a new teaching had been repeated ten times, documents would begin with the phrase, “as the Church has always taught . . .” The comment made me laugh, because it reminded me of the LDS tendency to assert that every current notion in the Church must have existed in antiquity. Like other religious traditions, we are confronted with the challenge of theologically accounting for change while maintaining continuity with the past. Continue reading

Jul 30

The LDS View of Original Sin

Mormons, I frequently hear, reject the doctrine of original sin. Yet I am not convinced that the concept has no place whatsoever in LDS theology. I suspect that the Mormon claim that we don’t believe in original sin is frequently no more than an assertion that 1) individuals are not held personally accountable for the choices of Adam and Eve, and 2) unbaptized infants should not be seen as guilty of sin, and will not be eternally doomed should they die in their unbaptized state. If original sin is understood not in terms of personal guilt, but as some kind of negative effect on human nature resulting from the fall, I think it might actually be compatible with LDS teachings. Continue reading

Jun 06

The Universal Salvific Will of God

In 1 Timothy 2:4, God is described as one “who will have men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” The assertion that God has a universal salvific will, that he desires the salvation of every person, poses problems for any theological claim that only a certain group of people (e.g. Christians) are eligible for salvation. Augustine, who saw the majority of humanity as a “lump of sin” headed for perdition, resolved the dilemma by re-interpreting the scripture to mean that God wants salvation not for all people, but for all whom he has predestined. In the 20th century, by contrast, many have taken this verse quite seriously and re-thought the exclusive claims of Christianity in its light. Continue reading

Jan 26

(Possibly Nonsensical) Musings on Sense

The question of whether church teachings “make sense” (and to what extent it matters whether or not they do) has come up in a couple of places lately, and I’ve been mulling over my own views on the subject. I’ve always been a bit fascinated when I’ve heard people assert that they find the LDS church appealing because it makes so much more sense than any other religious system. I don’t doubt their sincerity, but my own experience has been rather different. Continue reading