Year: 2013

Vote for Mormon of the Year 2013

This post opens the voting for Mormon of the Year. Votes will be taken until midnight Eastern Time on Tuesday, January 7th, at which time the voting will close. The voting mechanism will attempt to restrict votes to one per person. The order of the choices is set at random, and is different each time the form is presented. THE WINNER OF THE ONLINE VOTE IS NOT NECESSARILY THE MORMON OF THE YEAR!!!

Update: Nominations for 2013 Mormon of the Year

For the past two weeks readers have made nominations and seconded nominations for the 2013 Mormon of the Year designation. So that the status of nominations and seconds are clear, I’ve compiled the list below of those who have been nominated and seconded (and who will therefore appear on the popular vote ballot), those who have been nominated, but not seconded. Please see the original post for rules and qualifications.

Leaders are Fallible (No, Really)

The changes at the Gospel Topics section of (which I wrote about two weeks ago) and especially the Church’s new Race and the Priesthood article have rekindled questions about the fallibility of Church leaders. After all, the Church’s current position completely disavows the past practice of denying the priesthood to blacks and all but explicitly states that the practice was an error from the start. Chalk it up with Adam-God and blood atonement and poor Brother Brigham seems to be batting 0.000 at theological innovation. It’s difficult to reconcile such grave errors with the statement, canonized in Official Declaration 1, that “The Lord will never permit me or any other man who stands as President of this Church to lead you astray.” It’s possible that President Woodruff had in mind an even more grave contravention of God’s plan when he spoke and so is still correct, baseless priesthood ban notwithstanding. But if institutionalized racism is not “astray”, then what is? The simpler solution is that he was mistaken. I don’t think that suggestion should come as a mighty shock. The Book of Mormon (also canon, after all) specifically talks about its own mistakes in, eg, the title page (“if there are faults they are the mistakes of men”), Alma (“but behold, I mistake”), and 3 Nephi (“if there was no mistake made by this man in the reckoning of our time”). Just as no book in the Bible claims that the Bible is inerrant, no work in the broader…

My Beef with Goals

According to the de facto Mormon liturgical calendar, it is the time of year to talk about goal-setting. Most Mormon discussions of goals make me want to poke myself in the eyeball with a fork–a reaction I initially did not understand, since I set goals for myself all of the time. But after thinking about it for a while, I figured out a few reasons why the standard Mormon discourse on goals and goal-setting aggravates me so much.

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #02: A Stranger Star O’er Bethlehem

The second lesson in the Joseph Fielding Smith manual, used in Priesthood and Relief Society lessons in the coming year, discusses the life of Jesus Christ and his role in the plan of salvation; quite a lot to cover in a single lesson. In the texts included, Smith ranges from Christ’s birth as the only begotten son of God, to his role establishing a pattern for us to follow, to how we are His sons and daughters through the atonement and through our obedience to His teachings. Fortunately, Mormon poetry, like our teachings, emphasize the role of Christ, making it relatively easy to find poetry that covers similar territory, like the following text, once a hymn included in LDS songbooks.

Literary OTGD #02: Shadows and Whisperings

Mormon beliefs about the pre-existence are an important part of our understanding of our purpose in this life and the meaning of the life to come. The beliefs covered in the second lesson in the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual, “fore-ordination” and the “war in heaven,” are no exception. But, it is also worth remembering that what happened in the pre-existence is veiled from our memories. The details most relevant to individuals are something we don’t know. Our own specific missions aren’t clear. We are left with “shadows and whisperings.”

BYU-Idaho: the next ten years (II)

To keep the rest of this post in context, let me repeat that I think Rexburg is a fantastic place, that BYU-Idaho has gotten the most important things right in its transformation from a junior college into a four-year university, and that its dress code is not a terribly important issue. The university’s path forward to becoming the kind of university it hopes to be, although not simple, is clear enough. Another tricky question for the future of the university is how to strike the right balance between local heritage versus consistency with the system flagship in Provo: How much BYU, and how much Idaho?

Partaking of the Fruit of the Tree

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is sitting in the darkened living room, gazing at the lighted tree. There is something magical and transfixing about the warm, gentle light, the fragrance of pine, and the palpable presence of nature that fills my home with its incongruous beauty. I have many memories of reading Scripture by the light of the Christmas tree. Usually we read from Luke, with Matthew’s bit about the Wise Men added in; sometimes we expand into Isaiah, either spoken or set to Handel. This year, though, when I stole a moment of stillness out of the hectic holiday rush to sit beside the tree, the words that came to my mind were Nephi’s: “I looked and beheld a tree . . . and the bbeauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the cwhiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.” It had never struck me before how much meaning the Book of Mormon adds to our celebration of the Christmas tree. Scripture is rife with references to the Tree of Life, and the notion of everlasting life certainly accords well with what I was taught as a child: that the evergreen Christmas tree was a symbol of the eternal life brought to us by Christ. But Nephi’s education about the interpretation of the tree in 1 Nephi 11 is more specific. In answer to his query about the meaning of…

2014 Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture: The History of the Mormon Family

In the summer of 2014, the Neal A Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, with support from the Mormon Scholars Foundation and the Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley Institution, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and junior faculty on “The History of the Mormon Family.” The seminar will be held on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, from June 15 to July 26. Admitted participants will receive a stipend of $3000 with an accommodations subsidy if needed. The seminar continues the series of seminars on Mormon culture begun in the summer of 1997. In 2014, the seminar will be conducted by Richard and Claudia Bushman. The question we will address is: how did the Church move in the course of a century from the most unconventional marriage system in the nation to a model of family stability? Mormons were criticized in the nineteenth century for their assault on family values. By the mid-twentieth century, they were lauded for the strength of their families. What resources could Mormons draw on to accomplish this transformation? Despite the bad reputation of plural marriage, what principles of family life were established in the nineteenth century that could ultimately produce the strong families of the twentieth century? What teachings and programs shaped Mormon family life and brought about the change in public opinion? Each participant will be asked to prepare a paper on some aspect of this general subject area for presentation in…

This Is War Like You Ain’t Seen

I’m spending time moving my family into our new home and getting ready for Christmas, so here’s a song from Dustin Kensrue’s Christmas album This Good Night Is Still Everywhere. It’s not the usual sound, but that’s part of why I like it so much. (And now I’m going to get some Mannheim Steamroller going…)

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #01: O My Mother

The new Joseph Fielding Smith manual for the Relief Society/Priesthood lessons presents a minor logistical problem—it has 26 lessons, which may mean teachers will have to drop two of the lessons (since two lessons each month are taught from the manual). Because of this I will post poems for the next few weeks so that teachers can choose from at least 4 of the lessons each week. The first lesson focuses on God, his attributes and nature, and our relationship with him. But while we have poems and hymns that discuss this, I though the following poem would be a different way of introducing and thinking about this subject.

Literary OTGD #01: Metamorphosis

For the coming year, I’ve decided to post poetry for use in Sunday School and Priesthood/Relief Society classes two weeks ahead of when they would normally be used, instead of a week ahead as I’ve done in previous years. I’m doing this to allow teachers a bit more time to prepare and integrate the poetry into their lesson plans (if they wish to use the poetry), and because, in the case of the Priesthood/Relief Society manual, there are more lessons than can be covered in a year. Working two weeks ahead will give the teacher time to decide which lessons to drop, and still (I hope) have the poetry available on time.

Same-Sex Marriage Bans and Tax

The District of Utah has had a busy week. As I’m sure you heard (and if you haven’t, you ought to read Kaimi’s post first), Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage has been struck down as unconstitutional. A week ago, in the wake of the decision that didn’t actually legalize polygamy, I looked at the potential tax consequences of that decision and, fairly anti-climatically, determined that there were none. Plenty of electrons will be spilled going over this decision but, again, I suspect that the tax consequences will be underexplored.

Arm in Arm

We were headed to the car. As we left the building, my wife slid her arm in mine, in part because the sidewalk was still slick after the snowstorm earlier in the week. And when we reached the curb and waited for the light to cross the street, my personal space was invaded.

Gay Polygamy in Utah!

By now you’ve heard the news. A federal judge in Utah just ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. This follow on last week’s ruling, from a different judge, that portions of Utah’s polygamy statute were also unconstitutional. What does it mean? Obviously, it means the advent of gay polygamy!! It won’t stop until everyone is married to everyone else, in one giant gay-polygamous-mega-wedding. Let the festivities begin! Okay, maybe not. Let’s go through the rulings, piece by piece, to see what they say, and what their effects may be.

Gospel Topics at, A Change of Direction?

I told my Gospel Doctrine class yesterday afternoon that since we had run out of lesson manual for the year we were going to go rogue. Then I proceeded to give the first lesson I’ve ever given (I think) in which I exclusively used officially-approved Church materials[1].  I could pick anything I wanted to teach about, and I choose to cite three videos and four articles from the Gospel Topics section of And yet I did feel like there was something quietly revolutionary about the material we covered in the lesson. The article that has riveted the Bloggernaccle and even the world beyond this week is the article Race and the Priesthood [2], and that’s where I got started. I’d heard vague mentions about efforts on the part of the Church to revise the curriculum and/or to start addressing difficult issues head on. I even think I’d heard something about the article on the First Vision accounts, but I sort of figured that if there was a major policy shift I’d hear about it in General Conference or some other official outlet. I hadn’t heard anything definitive, but I went to the Gospel Topics section of (where Race and the Priesthood is posted) and started poking around in preparation for my lesson. Still under the impression that if anything significant was afoot I would have heard about it elsewhere, I started watching the three videos posted there. The first one, featuring Elder…

God, the Necessity of Scholars, and the Old Testament: A Long Post and a Short Announcement.

Among laypeople, one sometimes finds a distrust of scholarship as it applies to the Bible, particularly if that scholarship runs against a traditional interpretation, or if tells you an obvious face-value reading you favor doesn’t really mean what you think it does. LDS have competing traditions towards serious scripture study. On the one hand, we are not a Bible-based (or even Book of Mormon-based) religion, where doctrine comes primarily through exegesis and interpretation. No sir, we’ve got prophets! We make an end run around all that stuff. We don’t believe you must attend college and be trained for the ministry to preach the orthodox religion! If you’ve read the Ensign and served a mission, or you grew up in Utah, most weeks you don’t need to bother preparing anything at all to participate fully in our Sunday lessons. A great pity, indeed. So there can certainly be an anti-intellectual strain, the expression of which varies greatly by ward and geography. In tension with that, LDS have “the glory of God is intelligence”, “study out of the best books” “obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms, and laws of God and man.” “Thy mind, O Man… must stretch as high as the utmost Heavens, and search into and contemplate the lowest considerations of the darkest abyss, and expand upon the broad considerations of eternal expanse.” Joseph Smith thought it worth the cost and trouble to import a Hebrew…

Deadline – New Summer Seminar in Mormon Theology

Just a reminder that the deadline for applications for the First Annual Summer Seminar in Mormon Theology, co-spsonsored by The Mormon Theology Seminar and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, is December 15, 2013.

Decriminalizing Polygamy (and, of Course, Tax)

On Friday, December 13, the Judge Waddoups, a district court judge in the District of Utah, held that Utah’s criminalization of polygamy was unconstitutional. Partly, anyway.

More on that in a minute. I suspect that this opinion will reverberate throughout the blogosphere and the mainstream media, with the reporting displaying various levels of accuracy. The question I suspect won’t get much play, though, is, what are the tax consequences of this decision?

The Old Testament, Scripture, Apostles, the Priesthood Ban, and Theological Diversity: Calibrating Our Expectations

(I’m probably cramming too much into this mishmash of a post, but frustration over certain conversations has collided with academic stress and lack of time to refine it. I may regret it, so consider this a preview, a beta.) The expectations we bring to reading scripture can radically affect our reading, our faith, and our communities. One frequent assumption, traditional in many religions, is that revelation (and scripture, as a subset of revelation) must be monolithic, unified, in harmony, univocal, internally consistent. This is not the case, and it is not an accident. Let’s back up, though, particularly as we get in to the Old Testament, and ask, what are our expectations of scripture? Are they properly calibrated? I think we tend to read the scriptures for three reasons, devotional (performing piety and seeking communion with God), doctrinal (stripping away the “irrelevant cultural dross” to extract “True Doctrine”), and moralistic (expecting to find simple models of modern LDS principles and standards). Certainly, those are worthwhile things to do, though the last two are problematic in their assumptions. The Old Testament wasn’t written for those reasons. (Heck, it wasn’t really “written” at all, but no time to get in to that.) The last two goals in particular, because of the the faulty assumptions on which they are built, are likely to be thwarted unless you are highly selective in choice of passage and stick with KJV. The first qualification for judging any piece of workmanship…

Evangelicals Need Inoculation Too

I hope you have seen the recent public announcement of the initiative to use the Gospel Topics section of to essentially do what we have been calling “inoculation” for the last ten years (see here for a list of links to Bloggernacle posts on the topic). The three short video interviews of General Authorities listed at the top of the Gospel Topics page (identified with titles like “How will Gospel Topics be enhanced?” rather than identified as GA interviews) give additional details about the initiative. While there is a lot of ground to cover, this is a very promising development. We should nominate whoever championed this initiative for Mormon of the Year.

The Wrongness of Being Right

It seems to me that any time you turn something into a point of conflict, you risk being in the wrong. It becomes more important to be right than it is to understand your fellow brother, to exercise compassion, to be humble and teachable.

Zion, Mortal Loneliness, and The Hall of Records

In my imagination there is a hall of records in the future Celestial Zion where anyone can review the mortal life of any other person as seen from their perspective. It is an imposing structure in its own right, one part great library and one part museum, but it lies in the shadow of grander and more glorious edifices. The business of Zion will be eternal progression, and so the hall of records receives fewer visitors than the other communal spaces of learning. It is vast and solitary place. A person could enter and spend an entire day walking between the towering shelves on the buildings many levels. Outside the sun would roll across the sky, and inside that person would encounter only a couple of other souls, and those at a distance, as each quietly pursued answers to their own questions. The shelves are loaded with the weight of a hundred billion human lives. The impressions, the thoughts, the fears, and the hopes. All that is learned and all that should have been learned. The fading echoes of all the confusion and glory and darkness of humankind’s brief but pivotal period of mortal existence reverberate quietly within that building. Mormon 5:8 And now behold, I, Mormon, do not desire to harrow up the souls of men in casting before them such an awful scene of blood and carnage as was laid before mine eyes; but I, knowing that these…

Responding as Mandela

Driving [1] to work Friday morning the news reports were of course all about Nelson Mandela who had passed away the night before. Mandela was unquestionably a savior on Mt. Zion in the Mormon sense