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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Placement of Scriptures vs. Conference in Menus at LDS.org

Last week, the Church rolled out a redesigned version of the navigation menus at lds.org. The new menus rearranged links to parts of the site in order to make it easier for site visitors to find what we’re looking for.

One change in particular that seems unrelated to usability caught my eye, though. In the old menus, scriptures appeared in their own menu, and General Conference was in a menu labeled “Teachings.” Here’s a screenshot that shows the old menus. I’m sorry it doesn’t show General Conference under “Teachings,” as the old menus aren’t available anymore so I can’t take a new screenshot. I’ll just have to ask you to trust me that it was there. Also note that the callout calls the menus “new” because this image is from 2012, when the old menus were introduced.

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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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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 Read More

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 Read More

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. Read More

Which RS/YW/Primary Presidency Members Prefer Which Books of Scripture?

I blogged a few days ago about which books of scripture Quorum of 15 members cite more or less frequency in Conference. BethSmash asked to see results for women leaders.

Unfortunately, getting trends over time for the women leaders requires more work than I have the energy for right now. I would need to get not only distribution of citations by book of scripture for each person, but for each person in each year. Sorry, BethSmash! But I did get counts of citations for each person ignoring when the talk was given, and I’ve done the same adjustment I did for the Quorum of 15 members in the other post, adjusting for the prevailing citation norms at the times the people were in their callings. I’ve put these in this post, in case they’re of any interest.

I looked in the LDSSCI for citation counts for all members of a Relief Society, Young Women’s, or Primary General Presidency since the mid-1970s. I didn’t look back any further because if I remember right, women didn’t speak regularly in Conference before the 1980s, and there weren’t General Women’s meetings (which the LDSSCI includes) before the late 1970s.

Here are counts for all RS, YW, and Primary Presidency members who had at least 10 scripture citations in their talks (regardless of how many talks it took them to use that many references). There are 42 women who meet this criterion. I’ve put them in order by calling year.

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Which GAs Prefer Which Books of Scripture?

Thanks to the handy LDS Scripture Citation Index (LDSSCI), it’s easy to get data to answer this question. I looked up each of the current members of the Quorum of 15 to see how often he cited the Old Testament, New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price in his Conference talks. For example, for President Monson, the counts are 332, 818, 184, 255, and 32, respectively. Here are counts for all Quorum members:

Member OT NT BoM D&C PGP Total
Monson 332 818 184 255 32 1621
Packer 125 312 559 470 96 1562
Perry 95 116 141 106 74 532
Nelson 399 695 910 945 209 3158
Oaks 149 538 504 386 60 1637
Ballard 26 139 133 111 32 441
Scott 25 57 203 144 34 463
Hales 77 336 291 187 78 969
Holland 70 243 140 74 24 551
Eyring 27 97 162 135 16 437
Uchtdorf 56 166 126 121 28 497
Bednar 19 60 148 87 15 329
Cook 27 57 73 82 9 248
Christofferson 11 129 139 118 26 423
Andersen 17 98 102 59 11 287

Next, to adjust for the fact that Quorum members differ in the total number of scripture citations they put in their talks, I converted the counts of citations to percentages of all citations by the member. Using President Monson as an example again, this means dividing each of his counts by book (332, 818, 184, 255, and 32) by his total (1621) to get his percentages. Here are percentages for all Quorum members:

Member OT NT BoM D&C PGP
Monson 20% 50% 11% 16% 2%
Packer 8% 20% 36% 30% 6%
Perry 18% 22% 27% 20% 14%
Nelson 13% 22% 29% 30% 7%
Oaks 9% 33% 31% 24% 4%
Ballard 6% 32% 30% 25% 7%
Scott 5% 12% 44% 31% 7%
Hales 8% 35% 30% 19% 8%
Holland 13% 44% 25% 13% 4%
Eyring 6% 22% 37% 31% 4%
Uchtdorf 11% 33% 25% 24% 6%
Bednar 6% 18% 45% 26% 5%
Cook 11% 23% 29% 33% 4%
Christofferson 3% 30% 33% 28% 6%
Andersen 6% 34% 36% 21% 4%

(Note that the percentages do not add to 100 for some members because of rounding.)

Finally, I did one more adjustment to account for the norms of how often the different books of scripture are cited in Conference by all speakers during the years each Quorum member served. What I mean here is that at different points in time, different books of scripture were cited more or less by all speakers in Conference. Because members have been in the Quorum for different amounts of time, some of the differences between them can be accounted for by the different norms in Conference at the times they were giving talks.

The biggest shift in the time current Quorum members have served has been an increase in citations of the Book of Mormon. Here’s a graph showing the percentage of all citations of scriptures in Conference that came from each of the five books of scripture since 1942 (as far back as the LDSSCI has Conference talk data).

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New Scripture Mastery: Now With 40% Less Prooftexting!

The list of scripture mastery scriptures that seminary students are asked to memorize last September. Over a third of the 100 scriptures (25 for each book of scripture / year of instruction) were replaced. NoCoolName Tom has some fascinating discussion of the scriptures that were dropped at his blog (from the Old Testament only: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

I thought it also might be interesting to look at the changes that were made in terms of how useful the scriptures are for prooftexting. The reason I thought of this is that I served a mission in Texas, and looking back at the scriptures I had learned in seminary, it seemed like a fair number of them had been included solely as ammunition for prooftexting arguments with other Christians. I think a prototypical example of this is 1 Corinthians 15:29:

Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead?

I know doing ordinances for the dead is an important doctrine, but really how important is it to know that there’s this offhand reference to it in a single verse in the New Testament? It seems to me that it’s only important if the goal is to teach seminary students to have prooftexts ready for an argument, where they could (in theory) show up their opponents by whipping this verse out to show that yes indeed, baptism for the dead is mentioned in the Bible, so nyah nyah nyah!!

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Are gospel doctrines more vague when they are applied to women?

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is built upon the idea that we can seek answers to fundamental questions about ourselves and our relationship with God.  Many celebrate the peace they find in the church through having answers to life’s deepest questions. However, I would contend, that many of the essential doctrines of the church are much more clear when they are applied to men than when they are applied to women. Subsequently, among members of the church, there appears to be a wider variety of opinions about how these doctrines apply to women, while the application of these doctrines for men is much less contended. Below, I have listed three essential areas of doctrine in which I think this is the case. Read More

Doctrinal Density of the Scriptures

We just finished talking about the war chapters at the end of Alma a couple of weeks ago, in my ward’s Sunday School anyway. Discussion of these chapters sometimes brings up an argument about whether all scriptures are equally valuable, since of course if you don’t believe they are, these chapters are perfect examples to cite.

I got to thinking that it might be fun to try to answer this question  empirically. To do so, I looked at how much time the Sunday School manuals spend on each chapter of the scriptures. This can tell us how doctrinally important each chapter is. Of course it’s a pretty crude measure and it’s just one class in church, but at least it’s a starting point.

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You Talkin’ to Me, Mormon?

I’m in favor of modifying the scriptures to give them gender-inclusive language. I’ve always thought that the strongest argument for this is that gender-exclusive language makes them insulting to women. But I recently encountered another argument that I also find quite persuasive: women find it more difficult to read the scriptures as addressing them.

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Does the design of our scriptures make them more difficult to read?

LDS scriptures can be difficult to read. One reason is that their language is unfamiliar. The argument has often been made that we should quit using the KJV Bible, or at least supplement it with a more recent translation (for example, here’s Steve Evans, here’s Julie M. Smith, here’s DKL, and here’s Grant Hardy on the topic). But I’m thinking of a different reason our scriptures can be hard to read: their design.

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Mothers in the Book of Mormon

It’s Mother’s Day on Sunday and I would like to bet that at least one person in every ward is going to read the one mother-related scripture in the Book of Mormon. “Yea, they had been taught by their mothers, that if they did not doubt, God would deliver them. And they rehearsed unto me the words of their mothers, saying: We do not doubt our mothers knew it.” (Alma 56:47-48) Have you ever wondered who those faithful women are? Read More

Words of the Heart

My favorite part of the Joseph Smith story has always been this passage:

While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. Read More