Jan 31

Church Discourse on Homosexuality

In April 1971, President Spencer W. Kimball quoted some of the shocking proposals he had recently encountered. One unnamed church, he discovered, had “approved recommendation that homosexuality between consenting adults should no longer be a criminal offense. …” These are ugly voices, he warned.1

In a news conference in January 2015, the LDS church announced that it was “publicly favoring laws and ordinances that protect LGBT people from discrimination in housing and employment.”2

It’s been an interesting few decades. Continue reading

  1. Spencer W. Kimball, Conference, April 1971 []
  2. Neil Marriott, News Conference,  Jan 27, 2015 []
Jan 21

Poll: What Gets Most Emphasized by the Church?

In your experience, what is most emphasized by the church? (select up to three)
What do you personally see as the most important? (select up to three)
Jan 19

Discernment

As a kid in primary, I was in awe of the bishop. He was the trusted authority figure, the one who knew how things should go. The awe faded somewhat as I became a teenager, but I still remained firmly convinced of his inspiration. If he felt that we needed a talk on morality (the code word for chastity), for example, it was because that was what God wanted. Full stop. To some degree, I saw church leaders as infallible. Continue reading

Jan 15

Local Leaders, Apostasy, and Ecclesiastical Discipline

The current situation with April Young Bennett, who had to choose between renewing her temple recommend and leaving up her posts on female ordination, brings up a troubling aspect of church governance: the extent to which local leaders can define apostasy. As anyone in the church can tell you, bishops and stake presidents can vary widely on a number of issues, and life in one stake can be quite different from life in another. I’m not saying that this is necessarily in and of itself a bad thing. But I do think it causes problems when it comes to particular issues, such as the way in which cases of apostasy are handled. Continue reading

Jan 13

Thinking About the Nicene Creed

This is a paper I wrote when I was just beginning my theological studies, titled “A Few Thoughts for Mormons on Approaching the Nicene Creed.” It was for a class on the Mystery of God. I thought it would be a fun follow-up to my most recent post. I’d probably come up at the subject a bit differently now, but it’s interesting to see how I was thinking about it when I was first grappling with the notion of the Trinity.

I do not know how many Mormons are familiar with the Nicene Creed, but those who are, I suspect, are likely to be more than a little wary of it. From an LDS point of view, it is perhaps easy to dismiss it as coming from an apostate Christianity, as reflecting too much theological formulating instead of plain and simple gospel truths. It is clearly outside the bounds of our tradition, reflecting a theology alien to us, and I am certainly not out to dispute that fact. Yet I wonder if we can nonetheless learn to better understand what it means to those who do accept it as basic doctrine, if we can engage the challenge of not merely viewing it as something faintly ridiculous but of attempting to appreciate the meaning it has for traditional Christianity. Continue reading

Jan 08

The LDS Godhead and the Traditional Christian Trinity: Which is More Confusing?

According to Nephi, many “plain and precious truths” were taken out of the Bible. When the question is posed in Gospel Doctrine as to what exactly these truths might be, people often bring up the nature of God. Other Christians have a completely confusing understanding of God, it is said, as opposed to our straightforward one. What is with this whole three-in-one Trinity, anyhow? This is perhaps the most common complaint I hear about mainstream Christianity—their understanding of God is far too complicated.

I agree that the Trinity is a difficult doctrine. However, I’m not persuaded that the LDS take on the Godhead is actually any clearer. Continue reading

Dec 24

Good Tidings of Great Joy

A sacrament meeting talk I gave this year

“Fear not,” says the angel to the shepherds, in the familiar words of Christmas Eve: “for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”1 Put another way, grace has broken into the world.

“Fear not,” begins the angelic message. Rather, we are called to have faith—to be open to the word of God. “In the face of [Christmas],” writes the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, “we bravely open our hearts so that it may also happen to us and through us.”2 This offer of grace in some sense constitutes us as human beings—to be human is to be confronted by the sometimes disconcerting and disorienting love of God. We can run from this, or we can take the risk of faith. In refusing to close ourselves off from love and from life, we emulate a passible God, who is likewise open to us, and we emulate Christ, who came to experience life fully. And the message of Christmas is that ultimately, we have nothing to fear: God’s goodness and love can be trusted. Continue reading

  1. Luke 2:10-11 []
  2. “Christmas: Ever Since I Became Your Brother” in Karl Rahner, The Great Church Year -The Best of Karl Rahner’s Homilies, Sermons, and Meditations (New York: Crossroad, 1993) []
Dec 11

Comparative Polygamy

I was sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Cairo when a man came up to me. He commented on what I was wearing, suggesting that I wear red more often.

I was used to this. Egyptian culture, unlike the culture that I grew up in, encourages men to have opinions about things like the colors that women wear. Men will accompany their wives to makeup counters, and even go alone to department stores to purchase high-end cosmetics and perfume for their wives, mothers, and sisters.

We fell into conversation. His English was excellent. As we spoke, he mentioned Islam and asked if I was married. I was used to this, too. Muslim men in Cairo – even married Muslim men – would often approach single women and flirt with or proposition them. A common line was “I should take you as my second wife.” It was always a bit jarring to me, as an American woman, to have men approach me in an obviously lusty, flirtatious way when they were already married. But this particular man in the lobby had not yet married. He was planning on working a few more years before he did so. Continue reading

Dec 04

On Faith Transitions and Rejecting the Binary

Ever since the new essays dealing with more complex bits of Mormon history appeared on lds.org, almost daily I encounter facebook statuses and posts in private groups of people reeling, overwhelmed and disoriented, unsure of what to do. These are good people, people who have devoted their lives and their talents and their faith to the Church, many of them deeply orthodox. Their statuses are, for me, an unsettling echo of the statuses of many of my more liberal and progressive Mormon friends last summer when Kate Kelly and John Dehlin were facing Church discipline. It seems it’s been a hard year for Mormons of most stripes.

For a while I didn’t look too closely at the statuses. They reminded me of the numbness and shock I felt, over a decade ago before social media existed, when I pored over books in the Harold B. Lee library shortly after taking out my endowments as a younger, pre-mission-age single woman at BYU. I didn’t know then where to turn, whom to talk to. When I did bring up the information I found in those books to close friends and family – secret “spiritual wivery” and polyandry, blood atonement, racist pronouncements said over the pulpit in the name of the Lord – even the least dogmatic immediately told me not to worry about it or not to read it. My protestations that I wasn’t reading anti-Mormon materials but historical documents and books written by LDS scholars fell on deaf ears, and, even more unnerved, I realized that this was not something I could talk about with any of my LDS friends. It was many, many years before I did. My faith transition was achingly alone.

And so, when John Dehlin issues a request, as he frequently does, for people to offer their advice and stories for how they handle their own faith transitions, I find myself wondering what advice I or any one of us can give. Continue reading

Dec 03

More On Modesty

By all appearances, I was a modesty success story as a teenager. For whatever reason, I was naturally inclined to cover up, squeamish even about changing in front of friends, and by 16 I was, without much prodding, essentially dressing for BYU and, later, garments. I owned no skirts above the knee, nothing too tight, nothing sleeveless, and, through the throes of the 90s midriff craze I layered colorful tank tops under my shirts to ensure no one saw a flash of my stomach.

Continue reading

Nov 24

Toward a Relational Understanding of Salvation

In his popular book Believing Christ, Stephen Robinson relates a parable which at least in my experience has become quite influential in LDS discussions of grace. In this story, Robinson’s young daughter asks if she can have a bicycle. Robinson replies, save your pennies until you have enough. Some time later, he discovers that his daughter has diligently followed his instructions, and has managed to save all of sixty-one cents. They go to look at bicycles, but his daughter is devastated to realize just how much more the bicycle costs than she is able to contribute. Robinson, however, tells her that if she gives all that she has, he will pay the rest, and he purchases the bicycle.

The parallels here are fairly obvious. We cannot achieve salvation on our own—but we are still required to contribute however much we can, no matter small it may be. In this approach, 2 Nephi 25:23—“it is by grace that we are saved after all we can do”—describes a situation in which we do what we can, we contribute what we have, and grace makes up the (vast) difference.

I think this parable has good to offer, particularly in its stress that we are not expected to do more than we can, and its focus on Christ’s ability to save us. In this, it serves as an important corrective to an over-emphasis on works. However, I have some serious reservations about it. Continue reading

Oct 19

The Problem of Evil, Church Edition

The classic formulation is of the problem of evil is that (1) God is all-powerful, (2) God is good, and (3) evil exists. How is it possible that (3) is the case if both (1) and (2) are true? Mormons, I think, tend to question (1), to posit a God who is not all-powerful, and to emphasize that humans have genuine agency and God rarely appears to override it. (Some also seem to move in the direction of questioning (3), saying things like “everything happens for a reason” or framing everything, including the negatives of life, as engineered by God, and thus essentially making evil illusory. I think this is hugely problematic, but that’s a tangent.)

I’m generally sympathetic to the move to make divine omnipotence limited (whether inherently, or because God chooses to make space for agency.) But here I want to consider the question in a context I find particularly challenging: the church. How do we make sense of it that God seems to be allowing all kinds of problems in the church? Just to clarify, I’m not talking about the kind of problems that arise in any human community, as flawed people with different temperaments and opinions do their best to work together. I’m talking about problems in the structure, in teachings and practices, in the scriptures and prophetic statements—the things that, if you take the church at its word, God is directly engineering. Continue reading

Oct 17

Feminism, Pain, and the Atonement

I’ve recently come across the troubling accusation that LDS feminists deny the atonement, expressed both in this post, and in comments in various places. A few thoughts in response.

First of all, I note that this discussion primarily focuses on negative encounters with individuals. LDS feminists are upset, it is so often assumed, because they’ve had negative experiences with priesthood holders. Obviously, this happens. But two points about this:

1) There are so, so many ways you can encounter painful aspects of the church—in scriptures where females barely appear, in a prohibition on prayer to Heavenly Mother, in temple covenants which differ by gender, in the historical and possibly eternal practice of polygamy, in the denial of priesthood to women, in the depressing fact that women are an “auxiliary” and not ecclesiastically necessary. The problems are much deeper than simply having a bad experience with one’s bishop.

2) Negative encounters with priesthood leaders always take place within a broader setting of structural inequality. They wouldn’t be nearly so fraught if this weren’t the case.
Continue reading

Oct 07

Tuesday’s Twice-Baked ZD: Please, Don’t Love Me

In today’s edition of that good ol’ Bloggernacle comfort food, Twice-Baked ZD, Lynnette makes the startling assertion that she doesn’t want to be loved.

I’ve had various encounters throughout my life with anti-Mormons who were out to save me from this terrible cult in which I am a member. Needless to say, this is an attitude I find extremely off-putting—in fact, as an unorthodox Mormon who engages in plenty of my own critiques of the Church, there are fewer things that rekindle my loyalty and connection to it more than encountering people on a mission to rescue Mormons from their delusions. But this is the thing that really gets to me. That if you ask these people why they’re behaving this way, often they say that it’s out of love. That they love Mormons. All I can say is, please oh please save me from this version of love. Continue reading

Sep 10

Tired of Pep Talks

Because I was born and raised a Mormon, it seems only right to begin this post with a definition:

Pep Talk

n. Informal

1. A speech of exhortation, as to a team or staff, meant to instill enthusiasm or bolster morale.

2. An enthusiastic talk designed to increase confidence, production, cooperation, etc.

Now  watch this video.

For the last 5 years or so, I think we have seen a definite uptick in the number of pep talks us LDS women have been getting. We’ve been told how incredible (!) we are. How needed we are. How moral we are. How important we are. And it seems to me we can’t go even one General Conference (not to mention a single Sunday) without being told how equal we are 10 times. It is clearly a priority that we be buttered up.

And you know, there is a reason for this rather manic upswing in compliments. You may have heard of Kate Kelly—excommunicated not necessarily for believing that women should be ordained, but rather for being the ring leader of a very large and PR savvy group of people who agreed with her. Plus the rumblings of mid 20’s (my own demographic) leaving the church in droves. Women especially. Thinking of my own group of friends from BYU, I see the migration. I would estimate that only 40% of the women in my different groups of friends are still active in the church (interestingly, my friends from the Women’s Studies minor and feminist clubs have a higher activity rate than those from my major, ward, or work groups. Stereotype busted!) Continue reading

Sep 01

The Commenting Olympics

The Bloggernacle has always been a competitive place—witness the fiercely contested Niblets—so it’s about time we added some formality to our favorite way of proving we’re better than everyone else: the comments section.

Want to compete, but specialize in a particular style of obnoxious commenting? Never fear; with multiple events, the Comment Olympics offer a way for everyone to win gold! You can try:

  • Wrestling with your trials (which are so much larger than everyone else’s)
  • Shooting down others’ attempts to talk about their problems
  • Boxing someone else into a corner
  • Sailing through conversations without really listening
  • Cycling through the same old arguments again
  • Swimming in your tears over other people’s unrighteous choices
  • Skating on thin ice of people’s limited tolerance
  • Curling your lip in disdain, then rapidly trying to turn it into a fake-nice smile
  • Mental gymnastics
  • And, of course, the passive-aggressive triathlon: sulk, blame, run.

Start training today!

Aug 29

For the Ones Who Never Wanted a Fight

I’m a rare presence around these here parts.  But I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about something particular for a few months now–enough that I thought perhaps I could write something little (and by little I mean personal and rambling) about it.

The thing is that, well, I’m a person with some pretty solid beliefs and standards, but I’m not a fighter.  And I never have been a fighter.  Mostly, I just want to live a quiet, peaceful, content life away from fights of any kind if I can help it.

So, if someone comes at me wanting a fight, I’ll probably panic a bit, shake a little, attempt a response, most likely do some kind of cry session at some point, but ultimately, I will simply walk away and do everything in my power to never encounter that person or thing or place again.

I’ve rarely witnessed a fight where one or both parties actually changed their minds or apologized so, sometimes I just think, “Why?”  Why do that and feel like crap when I could be talking with nice people or making a pie or kayaking or giving a hug or…practically anything else?

I know, I know.  You want to tell me things like, “Some things are worth fighting for!”  and “If you don’t fight for x, then who will?” or “We need people like you in the church!” or “Stay.  Stay and make change happen.”

But…you see…I can’t make change happen.  I thought, once upon a time, that I might, that I could.  But, no.  Maybe someone else can….  But not me.  And the only thing that my tiny, microscopic attempts have gotten me…are fights.  Fights and judgement and anger and vitriol and self-righteousness and denials and a more intense, deep, visceral pain than I have ever known in my life.

And what is the point of wasting so much precious time in my short, small life… on that?

This is the voice of the silent ones who leave.  The ones who don’t want to tell anyone else that they know better (we don’t claim to, really)…  But, from their side, see a disintegrating community with no options.  With no one listening.  With no one even caring.  And still…we don’t want to make anyone feel too bad about it.  We can’t assume we know what other people need, after all.

We just don’t want a fight.  We just want to live a couple Sundays (or all the rest of our Sundays) without getting slapped across the face.

And we disappear.  So many of us are disappearing.  And do you even notice?  Do you?  I’m not really sure, but maybe it doesn’t matter to us anymore.   And sometimes that makes us sad.  Because we miss our old sense of belonging to a community that once existed in our hopes.  But we’ve discovered, miraculously, that when we walked away, we didn’t have to fight anymore.

And it was okay. And joyful.  And right.

Because there’s no time for meanness and fighting.  Not in our short, small, beautiful lives.  No time at all.

Jul 17

CFP for the Fifth Biennial Faith and Knowledge Conference

The Faith and Knowledge Conference has just issued its Call for Papers. If you’re in a relevant discipline, you should definitely consider participating; it’s an awesome conference.

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The Faith and Knowledge Conference was established in 2007 to bring together LDS graduate students in religious studies and related disciplines in order to explore the interactions between religious faith and scholarship. During the past four conferences, students have shared their experiences in the church and the academy and the new ideas that have emerged as a result. Papers and conversations provided thought-provoking historical, exegetical, and theoretical insights and compelling models of how to reconcile one’s discipleship with scholarly discipline. Continue reading