Seven Deadly Heresies

I’ve been thinking recently about some of the wild theological controversies in Christian history, such as the inclusion of the word filioque in the Nicene Creed (having to do with whether the Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, or from the Father and the Son), which was one of the dividing lines between East and West; the Reformation debate over justification by faith alone; and the meaning of the Eucharist: transubstantiation, or just a symbol? (I recently read about how during a particular historical period in England when anti-Catholic sentiment carried the day, you could be outright imprisoned for elevating the Host.)  And I’ve been thinking also about Mormon disputations with other Christians, focused on issues like the nature of God and salvation by grace, as well more internal Mormon controversies over matters such caffeinated drinks, Book of Mormon historicity, and of course all kinds of questions related to gender and sexual orientation.

Those who are deemed on the wrong side of these debates might get the label “heretic.” Bruce R. McConkie famously spoke of “seven deadly heresies”: the doctrine that God is progressing, the theory of evolution, the idea that temple marriage guarantees exaltation, the notion that you can get a “second chance” in the next life, the idea of progression between kingdoms, the infamous Adam-God doctrine, and the teaching that you have to be perfect to be saved. While I might actually believe in some of McConkie’s particular heresies, or at least be open to them, I’m thinking that there are nonetheless certain teachings that I’ve heard regularly which I think are deeply destructive—in my view, much more so than not  having the “right” view of the Trinity/Godhead, or even of Book of Mormon historicity. So here’s my list of my own “seven deadly heresies”: Read More

Well, speak of the devil!

In Lynnette’s post a couple of days ago on turning to Christ in the midst of sin, she wrote about how she identified with the struggle to feel worthy to turn to Christ that Martin Luther expressed hundreds of years ago, although, she noted, Luther was more likely to attribute the difficulty of the struggle to the whisperings of Satan, while she as a product of the twentieth century leans more on the language of mental illness. This is a major tangent, but this contrast got me to wondering which GAs today are more or less likely to attribute  things to Satan.

Figuring out who’s attributing stuff to Satan is a more difficult task than I really wanted to take on, so I settled for just looking up which GAs talk about Satan the most. Fortunately for me, the LDS General Conference corpus has recently been updated to make it much easier to get results split out by speaker. This even allowed me to broaden my search a little, to include other Conference speakers such as general church officers. I searched the corpus by speaker for uses of “Satan,” as well as three fairly synonymous terms: “devil,” “Lucifer,” and “adversary.” Then I just added up the frequency for each speaker, and converted the results into uses per million words to make them easier to look at. (If you’re interested in differences between how often these terms are used here’s a post I wrote several years ago on that question.)

So who do you think holds the title for referring to Satan most frequently in Conference talks?

You’ll never guess.

Really, you won’t.

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Seven Little-known Perks of Being a GA

Since the recent leak of documents that give the size of GAs’ salaries, some of the discussion around the issue has missed the important fringe benefits that GAs also receive. For example, here are seven little-known perks of being a GA:

  • When you speak at firesides, women shriek at you in reverent voices, throw modest clothing at you, and open their coats and ask you to autograph their . . . binders.
  • An attractively bound pop-up pedigree chart that traces your genealogy back to Eve.
  • Shaves and haircuts at the barber’s shop on the hidden 13th floor of the COB. (Not transferable in cases of baldness.)
  • Initial seer app. When loaded on your phone, it displays the middle initial of anyone the phone is pointed at so you can address them in full. (To be used on mortals only. Pointing your phone at Jesus H. Christ may void its warranty.)
  • Correlation-on-your-wrist device that reminds you with a helpful electric shock any time you are about to say something uncorrelated. (Commonly known as the OmitBit.)
  • Curelom rides for you and your family at the Granite Mountain vault. (Cumom rides no longer available.)
  • Lifetime supply of cumom jerky.

Please add to the list. What other GA perks do most of us not know about?

Estimating New Q15 Member Calls by Future Church Presidents

A lot of discussion around US Presidential elections concerns what types of justices a candidate might appoint to the Supreme Court. This is of course particularly an issue when, as is the case now, some of the justices are quite old. It occurred to me that although it’s not exactly the same thing, a related Mormon question is how many new Q15 members future Church Presidents are expected to call.

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Heavenly Parents at Conference

This guest post comes to us from Christian Anderson.

It’s always nice to hear how the old folks at home are doing. It seems like we’ve been hearing more and more about Them recently.

Back in April 2013, Ziff (http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2013/04/29/heavenly-parents-are-we-really-talking-about-you-more/ and references therein) noted that there seemed to be an increasing number of references to “Heavenly Parents” in General Conference and more widely in church materials. This post discusses three aspects of that trend: 1) It has not only continued but accelerated over the last three years, 2) there has been a shift in which authorities are mentioning Them, and 3) the fraught issue of capitalization.

An accelerating trend

Few speakers mentioned Heavenly Parents in the decades before 1995, with an average of 0.48 references per year (that’s both April and October conferences combined). That all changed with “The Family: A Proclamation to the World”, which affirms in its third sentence that each human being is “a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents”, triggering seven references to Heavenly Parents that year. In the years 1996-2012, references to “Heavenly Parents” nearly tripled to 1.41 references per year (p=0.0057), but never more than three in any one year. 2013 saw a spike to a record nine references, followed by a fall back to one reference in 2014, a return to nine references in 2015, and finally a grand total of 15 references this year. Exactly half of the 56 talks that mention Heavenly Parents have been delivered in the last four years.

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Q15 Members’ Perception of Time

In the past few days, many Americans have been remembering the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. One thing that strikes me in thinking back to where I was at that time is that it sure doesn’t seem like it has been a decade and a half since that awful day. It feels like it has been a few years at most. I’m in my forties, and I think this is a common experience: time feels like it moves faster as we get older. I look at my kids, particularly my five-year-old, and how unbearably long an hour can be for her, or a week, or how wonderfully long a summer can be. For me, they’re all gone in a flash. One day it’s Memorial Day, and then I turn around and it’s Labor Day and summer is on the wane. And then I blink and it’s Christmas, while of course for my five-year-old, that same amount of time on the calendar has taken forever to pass.

One theory (attributed to the philosopher Paul Janet) for why this happens is that as we age, each successive year (or whatever unit of time you like) constitutes a smaller and smaller fraction of our lives. When you’re five, for example, the next year is as long as 20% (1/5) of your life, whereas when you’re 50, the next year is as long as 2% (1/50) of your life. The result is that each successive year feels shorter than the previous one, and this difference is particularly dramatic between the first few years of life, when the years pass relatively slowly, and most of adulthood, when they’re shorter and similar in length. Here’s an article talking about this theory in a little more detail, and here’s a cool visualization created by a designer named Maximilian Kiener that really illustrates it well.

I thought it might be interesting to use Janet’s theory to get a sense of how long ago Q15 members perceive historical events to be. From the way many of them often talk about the evil they feel is relentlessly increasing in the world, I wonder if part of what they’re feeling isn’t just caused by the perception that time speeds up as you get older. If bad things happen at a fairly regular pace, as time feels like it’s going faster, the bad things seem closer together in time. And as many of the Q15 are really quite old, time likely feels like it’s going extremely fast for them.

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Who Will Canonize the Family Proclamation?

I admit I breathed a small sigh of relief when this last General Conference ended without the Proclamation on the Family being presented to be added to the D&C. It seemed like it might have been an opportune time: the first annual (April) Conference following all the twentieth anniversary celebrations last year. So I was glad that it didn’t happen, but it occurs to me now that the question of the Family Proclamation getting canonized might be less about when it happens and more about who makes it happen.

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Why do Church leaders dislike the internet?

In Elder Ballard’s recent address to CES teachers, he warned his audience several times of the dangers of the internet to their students. For example, he admonished teachers to

Teach [students] about the challenges they face when relying upon the Internet to answer questions of eternal significance. Remind them that James did not say, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him Google!”

Wise people do not rely on the Internet to diagnose and treat emotional, mental, and physical health challenges, especially life-threatening challenges. Instead, they seek out health experts, those trained and licensed by recognized medical and state boards.

james did not say ask of googleWhy do Church leaders not want young people looking for for answers on the internet? One often-cited answer to this question is that they don’t like the information students might find–information that will likely contradict the carefully curated view of the Church and its history that is typically taught at Church and in seminary and institute classes. For example, students may learn that perhaps Joseph and Emma’s marriage wasn’t quite so idyllic as it is often portrayed, what with him marrying many other wives, typically behind Emma’s back.

Elder Ballard specifically mentions this problem of negative information in his address. He says that CES teachers should introduce students to faith-promoting approaches to controversial topics so that students will measure any more negative interpretations that they encounter later against what they heard first from their teachers.

I think Church leaders are concerned with more than just information when it comes to the internet, though. There are two other things that people also find there that I suspect they also dislike: validation and voice. Read More

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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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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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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Thanks for the Memories, Elder Scott

Elder Scott 580Dear Elder Scott,

I heard the news this week and immediately started grieving. Even though I haven’t stayed in touch over the years, I will miss you. I loved your gentle kindness, your good humor, your deep and sincere interest in me. Though more than 20 years have passed since my last year at BYU, I still vividly recall fighting traffic on I-15 most Thursday afternoons to reach the cavernous parking deck under Temple Square, my Portuguese grammar manual tucked under one arm and O Livro de Mormon tucked under the other, marching to the elevator of the Church Administration Building to meet with you. You were often too busy to have practiced your Portuguese during the week, but during our time together you were nonetheless a most earnest student. In addition to our grammar lessons, I enjoyed reading “as escrituras” together, and I especially loved hearing the personal stories you haltingly and then more confidently told me as your Portuguese fluency improved.

Here are some of my favorite (albeit faulty) memories of our interactions: Read More

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 Read More

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 Read More

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 Read More

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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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) ldsfacts.net 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.

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A Look at Conference Speakers’ Favorite Verses of Scripture

I thought it might be fun to look at which speakers in General Conference are most fond of quoting which particular verses of scripture. If you’re thinking you’ve seen me blog about this before, you’re right. It’s just that in my previous posts, I’ve only looked at the level of book of scripture, but now I’m getting all the way down to the verse level. I apologize in advance; I don’t have any interesting hypotheses to examine here. This is another post where I’m just looking at some data descriptively and saying, “Isn’t this cool?”

I took scripture reference data from the LDS Scripture Citation Index. I used the current version of their site and not the new beta version because it was easier for me to pull data from the current version. Unfortunately, this means that what I have is only updated through 2013. The Conference data begins in 1942.

The table below lists the top five verses cited for speakers in Conference since 1942. I’ve limited it to showing top fives for two groups of people: Q15 members who have at least 500 total verses cited, and female auxiliary leaders who have at least 100 total verses cited. Many of the speakers have a tie in their #5 spot, so I’ve extended the table to show all tied verses, except in a few cases where it would have made the table ridiculously long (e.g., Julie B. Beck has a 25-way tie at #5). I’ve also included a brief quote or summary note on each verse to help jog your memory for verses that are less well-known, and I’ve linked each verse reference to the scriptures at lds.org so you can go read them in full if you’re interested.

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Predicting Who Will Be Church President: Fit of Actuarial Mortality Table to Historical Data

Last month, I wrote a post where I used a mortality table and the current ages of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve to see who among them would be most likely to become Church President. One question that was raised on the post and in some Facebook discussions was how well that mortality table matched up to historical mortality rates of Q15 members. In this post, I’ll try to answer that question.

I looked at historical data from January 1960 to April 2014. Each month1, for each current Q15 member, I noted two pieces of information: his age at the beginning of the month, and whether he was still living one year later. When I aggregated all the data together, they made an empirical mortality table. For any age that at least one Q15 member during that time period lived to, the proportion of such members who died within one year was the empirical mortality rate. Of course, there’s more data for the table at some ages than others, as few Q15 members during this time period were as young as their forties, but many have been in their sixties, seventies, and eighties.

Here’s a graph showing the mortality rate for Q15 members (in red), along with the mortality rate for the Society of Actuaries mortality table I used (in blue). I included only ages for which I had at least 120 person-month observations (or 10 person-years).

one year mortality rate by age for q15 members 1960-2015 Read More