Year: 2023

Notes on Revelation

[As I was going through my files, I found this draft that written four years ago. As it has about 24 hours of relevance left, I’m publishing it now. Happy New Year.] When I teach Revelation 1-11 to my youth Sunday School class, I’ll probably start off by saying something about gasoline.

Prosper in the Land

In a long-ago post, John Fowles referred to a Book of Mormon couplet as the book’s thesis: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence (2 Nephi 1:20)

The Vatican’s Same-Sex Blessings: Latter-day Saint Translations and Lessons

Catholic priest giving a blessing to Latter-day Saint/Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o (Source: Juvenile Instructor, who got it from the WSJ) The Catholic world has been abuzz about a recent directive from the Vatican condoning blessings (but not marriages, and not liturgical blessings, kind of) of same-sex couples. The document has engendered a lot of confusion, hair splitting, and myriad interpretations by people who are much more knowledgeable about Catholic thought than I, so I will refrain from claiming to know the One True interpretation of it, but a few high-level thoughts from a Latter-day Saint perspective.  The African bishops’ very negative responses to the Vatican, in clear defiance of the Pope, is another data point (the revolt against the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican Communion and the tensions between United Methodist Church and its African contingent over gay ordination being others) for the argument that, erstwhile conventional wisdom to the contrary, moving in a more liberal direction in regards to LGBTQ issues comes at a significant cost, especially in regards to affiliated congregations in the Global South. In the Latter-day Saint context, any move towards same-sex sealings would almost certainly be very costly in terms of Church growth in Africa, which in all likelihood will become the primary engine of Church growth this century. I’ve made this point before, but when people talk about how a certain change in Church policy would make the Church more popular, they…

Forecasting the Church for 2023: How I Did

“Future of Mormonism” per Dalle-3 It’s common for pundits to make all sorts of predictions far enough in the future that people don’t really hold them accountable if they don’t pan out, so in the spirit of accountability I thought I would revisit some predictions I made last year for the Church in 2023 and see how well I did.  The Church’s membership, on-the-books growth rate will be below 1% as reported in the April 2023 Conference.  My probability: 80% WRONG The growth rate was 1.17%. I misjudged the impact of the post-COVID bump.  There will be another scandal involving local level Church leadership and sexual abuse, either perpetrated by or confessed to the local leader.  My probability: 80% CORRECT Michael Rezendes of “Spotlight” fame has continued to write on this topic in the Latter-day Saint context. There will be a major, sex- or sexuality-related Latter-day Saint story carried by more than one major news outlet (excluding Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, and excluding sexual abuse addressed in the category above).  My probability: 70% KIND OF CORRECT This one was probably too vague to be demonstrably falsifiable or confirmable, but the Tim Ballard and Housewives of SLC sagas arguably fit into this.  There will be a significant policy change. Here “significant” means that it is addressed or referenced in more than one general conference talk.   My probability: 50% (so both CORRECT and WRONG) There have certainly been policy changes…

Why My Children Will Be Reading Jesus the Christ

  It has become popular in some circles to disparage Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage because it’s too simplistic when it comes to its gospel harmonization approach, and the scholarship is very out of date. These things may be true, but it still holds up in ways that matter. Synthesizing the devotional with the intellectual can be difficult, and I do feel like a lot of the material in the Latter-day Saint market lands either on the side of being purely devotional or primarily intellectual with a patina of devotion. This isn’t surprising, as the latter are written by people who have received training in being objective academic writers, and all of sudden they have to get into touch with their internal seminary teacher. Consequently, it feels like a lot of the more academic Latter-day Saint biblical commentary that gets published isn’t that different from standard biblical commentary, but with a few Book of Mormon references thrown in for good measure. (One relatively unknown gem of an exception I have enjoyed, at the risk of being syncopathic, is President Holland’s book on the Psalms).  Of course there is a place for both of these genres. None of this is to say that I’m opposed to reading non-devotional scholarship like Bart Ehrman or Alter. We love them; we have their books at our house. Still, before my children deconstruct scriptures I want them to read them with commentary that…

Chad’s Top 10 Book List from 2023

In case it’s of use to anyone, I’ve prepared a list of my top 10 books that I’ve read this last year. (That can include books that were not published within the last year, though the majority of them were published in 2023 or 2022):

Sabbath Day Media and Touched by An Angel

I have fond memories of Sunday evenings spent watching Voyager and Deep Space Nine with the family growing up. My wife’s home was more restrictive in regards to Sabbath day media, but that paradigm has been adopted by our own home as I’m gradually realizing the benefits of being more intentional and explicitly devotional for Sunday night movie night in terms of helping set the mood of the sabbath as the day dedicated to God.  Lately we’ve been going through Touched by an Angel which is now free on Amazon Prime. TBAA can err on the side of being a little saccharine at times, but I’m willing to put up with a little syrup for media that at least takes a chance at trying to create something profound and moving even if they slightly miss, as opposed to just giving into the nihilistic cynicism that has become ubiquitous in any film that tries to be more artistic than a Marvel superhero reboot. Additionally, TBAA threaded the partisan needle in a way that is hard to pull off nowadays. It had obvious appeal to conservative Christian types, while being ecumenical enough to incorporate non-Christian religious perspectives, and having highly diverse casting and narratives back before diversity was just another parameter to adjust in pursuit of an Emmy.   I churned through the different episodes while cleaning (there are lot), and was able to select the particularly moving and profound ones for…

Advent Songs in the Latter-day Saint Tradition

When I played handbells as part of the music ministry of a local Presbyterian church, I was surprised to learn that in the traditional liturgical calendar, most of December isn’t Christmas time. Instead, it is a season called Advent that looks forward to Christmas time. Christmas itself begins on Christmas Eve and lasts through January 7. And by the same token, I learned that Advent has its own music tradition while playing in the bell choir. What has surprised me, however, is that some of those pieces of Advent music have found their way into Latter-day Saint hymnals over the years. 

Are Latter-day Saints More Republican Because of Where We Live?

“Democrat Mormon” per Dalle-3 “Republican Mormon” per Dalle-3 I’ve always had this hypothesis in the back of my mind that Latter-day Saints actually aren’t as politically red as we might think, and that some of our Republican-ism is an artifact of the fact that we live in Republican areas. If Latter-day Saints all lived in, say, Manhattan they’d be liberal, if they all lived in Alabama they’d be conservative. I finally got around to running the numbers, and it looks like no, we actually are just very Republican. **Wonk start** I used the 2022 Comprehensive Election Study data to test the mediating effect of geography on the Latter-day Saint coefficient in a logit model for predicting whether somebody self-identified as a Republican. Below are the regression analyses. As seen, it barely moved the Latter-day Saint coefficient at all. Additionally, switching out Republican for Independent yields insignificant results (not shown), so we’re actually not any more likely to be Independents. So at least at this 30,000 foot view, there isn’t evidence for much of an anti-Trump, disgusted former-Republican Latter-day Saint effect. **Wonk end** So hypothesis rejected. We really are just Republican, and not just because we happen to largely live in the non-urban West. In this sample about 31% of the respondents identified as Republican when presented with the options of Republican, Democrat, Independent, and Other, whereas for Latter-day Saints it was 51%. ***Code df <- read_dta(“~/Desktop/CCES22_Common_OUTPUT_vv_topost.dta”) df$LDS<-ifelse(df$religpew==3, 1, 0) df$Republican<-ifelse(df$CC22_433a==2…

Come, Follow Me: Book of Mormon Resources

As Jonathan has been pointing out in his posts about Reading the Book of Mormon in wartime and Book of Mormon historical revisionism, we are only a few weeks out from starting the next year of the reading cycle. Come, Follow Me 2024, will focus on the Book of Mormon. We’ve had posts and discussions about what are some good resources in the past, such as the one David Evans put up about this time during the previous reading cycle that are worth looking over in preparation. But there are some good resources that are more recent that are worth discussing as well.

Book of Mormon historical revisionism

As we study the Book of Mormon next year, there will be suggestions to read between the lines, to resist the surface or official or dominant reading, to see through the authoritative narrative to the unvarnished reality behind it – like the standard works, these suggestions too come around every four years. The instinct is understandable, as that’s how scholars are trained to read, and a lot of us have different varieties of scholarly training – but attempts at historical revisionism are misguided.

Why I Don’t Care About the Doctrine/Practice Distinction

Dalle-3 depiction of “Legalistic religion” One of those interminable discussions we members like to get into is whether a particular teaching is a “doctrine” or “practice.”  The issue behind the issue is what is changeable or not. Presumably if something is defined as core then stakes are placed in the ground and it is beyond discussion. At the same time if the “doctrine” label is used as conversation stopper for current teachings, the “practice” label is imputed to past teachings that did change, even if leaders at the time specifically said they wouldn’t change. At times it feels like it’s an attempt to have a cake and eat it too, to be able to dismiss past teachings that aren’t followed anymore, while granting privileged permanence to the current ones.  People occasionally claim there’s some system very clearly demarcating the two: if it’s presented to the Church as a sustaining vote as canon, if it has passed through the correlation committee, if it’s a revelation that says “thus saith the Lord,” if it’s in the quad, whether Joseph Smith taught it, etc., but taking a step back I’ve always gotten the sense that these are post-hoc parameters that are thrown up to try to turn the gospel into some sort of systematic, legal schematic. Besides, they beg the question of what those rules are based on, and in many cases you can find disconfirming counterexamples that checked a particular box but…

Brigham Young’s Early Journals

While the Joseph Smith Papers project is, in many respects, wrapping up, other presidents of the Church—including Brigham Young— have begun to receive more attention and papers projects of their own. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Ronald K. Esplin discussed some of his observations about the first volume of the Brigham Young journals to be published by what could be called the Brigham Young Papers Project.

New Apostle

It’s not a terribly novel insight, but the recent calling of Elder Kearon to the Quorum of the 12 is another sign that the Church is breaking out of the relatively limited geographical Mountain West area in spirit as well as in raw numbers, and that the increased diversity of the Church is trickling upwards into the highest rungs of leadership. An adult convert from overseas was called to replace a multigenerational blue blood from pioneer leadership stock in a quorum that is increasingly made up less of multigenerational blue bloods from pioneer leadership stock. (Very pointed note: pointing out this fact is not in any way meant to disparage President Ballard). 

2024 Church History Symposium

2024 Church History Symposium “Shall the Youth of Zion Falter?” The Young Women?and Young Men Organizations of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Gospel Plan of Happiness Explained in Movie Quotes

If we listen carefully, and squint hard enough, we can find the gospel plan hidden throughout Hollywood. There, on the big screen, we can find nuggets of truth, or at least, poetic lines to illustrate the plan of happiness. Consider:

Reading the Book of Mormon in wartime

Next year, the focus of scripture study in Sunday School and Seminary classes will cycle again to the Book of Mormon. Compared to previous years when the Book of Mormon has been the focus, war will loom larger in the background than it has since at least the 1960s, even including the messy realities of Iraq and Afghanistan in 2004.

A Book worth tracking down: “Drat! Mythed Again”

Drat! Mythed Again: Second Thoughts on Utah by: Steve Warren Most people, I find, have never heard of this book, but it’s one I referenced often growing up, as we had a copy in my house. My parents weren’t sure exactly when they picked it up, but it’s 1986 copyright date indicates it had to be after they moved to Alaska.

How Much Longer Will President Nelson Live?

President Nelson could very well become the first centenarian President of the Church. But what’s the chance of that? What about the chance of reaching 101?  For him to be the oldest General Authority of all time he would have to live to be over 106, the age that Patriarch Emeritus Eldred G. Smith reached. And of course, there is the chance that he could reach “supercentenarian” status at 110, and be the President of the Church when my grandchildren are born.  While many public life tables are “right censored” at the high end, e.g. they stop at a certain number and then just say “and above,” there is some data on year-by-year longevity at extreme ages. While the work below is not nearly as complex and sophisticated as, say, the excellent work done over at Zelephohad’s Daughters, it provides more detailed insight into a single individual.  A disclaimer: I firmly believe that President Nelson will pass on when God decides it is time for him to pass on, and I don’t mean to be macabre. Still, that is not to say that dynamics discussed here are irrelevant. God works through the natural world and natural trends.  So let’s get into it. The “Risk of dying during age X” column is taken directly from the Social Security Administration numbers linked above. I then chained the probabilities of survival from year to year to get the probability of living until age x…

Stay Thou Nearby: A Review

The 1852–1978 priesthood and temple ban on Blacks in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a bitter pill to swallow, especially for those affected most directly by it. I have been grateful, however, for efforts in the Church to address the issue more openly in recent years, including several publications from Deseret Book relating to the subject. These include both My Lord, He Calls Me and Let’s Talk About Race and Priesthood, with the most recent contribution to the subject from Deseret Book being Stay Thou Nearby: Reflections on the 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood. 

Cutting Edge Latter-day Saint Research, November 2023

Phillips, Tommy M., Jennifer R. Smith, Alice C. Long, Brandan E. Wheeler, Loren D. Marks, Michael Goodman, Trevan Hatch, and Sterling K. Wall. “Family Home Evening as a Model for Promoting Family Health.” International Journal of Latest Research in Humanities and Social Science (IJLRHSS) Volume 06 – Issue 11, 2023

George Q. Cannon was far too Helpful and Talented

It is not an uncommon experience in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve other than the president of the Church to functionally run the Church or to have a huge impact on the Church. In the twentieth century, for example, J. Reuben Clark, Harold B. Lee, and Gordon B. Hinckley played that role when the older members of the First Presidency were in poor health. In the nineteenth century, the most prominent example is George Q. Cannon. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Kenneth L. Cannon spoke about his George Q. Cannon biography and why George is so important. What follows here is a copost to the full interview.

Lowell L. Bennion: A Mormon Educator, a Review

I have to say that I’m a fan of the trend towards short, accessible biographies of notable figures in Latter-day Saint history. Between University of Illinois Press’s “Introductions to Mormon Thought” series and Signature Books’s “Brief Biography,” there is a lot of excellent work being published. One of the most recent, Lowell L. Bennion: A Mormon Educator by George B. Handley (University of Illinois Press, 2023), is a stellar addition to the library of any Latter-day Saint.

The Future of Religion and Partnered Sexual Satisfaction

Midjourney’s interpretation of “Married Mormon couple.” It’s uncanny how well it visually taps into stereotype. Deseret News published another piece of mine, this time about evidence that shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, religious people report more satisfying sex lives. So now for my post-game, more casual, more speculative blogosphere analysis.  First off. Yes, I did check, and no, it doesn’t look like Latter-day Saints have better or worse sex lives on average, but this isn’t surprising since there were so few of them in the sample I was using that the effect would have to have been huge for me to pick it up.  I suspect some of the finding that religious people have better sex lives is because religious people have rose-colored glasses about things in general. I’m open to the possibility that highly sex-negative, religious upbringings could affect sexual functioning, especially in women, and I would not be surprised if some future research found that certain types of early-life religiosity are associated with aorgasmia, for example (but would also not be surprised if there was no such effect; a lot of people have sexual hang-ups, not just religious people).  However, I still suspect that a conservative Church upbringing is a net positive. For every person who can’t switch into marital sexy mode after a teenagerhood of chastity lessons, there’s another one whose religious upbringing helped them avoid highly negative early life sexual experiences, where the structure and…

Premortal Existence, Foreordination, and Abraham

The Book of Abraham, chapter 3 is, in many ways, the most important foundational text for the Latter-day Saint concept of a premortal existence. In it, Abraham is shown his own foreordination to be a leader in God’s work as well as the events of the War in Heaven. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog, From the Desk, Stephen Smoot discussed the foreordination of Abraham. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Latter-day Saints’ Bigger Families and Church Growth

Midjourney: Descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore, in the style of Van Gogh A recent piece of mine about how many more children US Latter-day Saints are having was recently published by the Deseret News. The TLDR is that we are still having more children than the average American, but here I will take advantage of the added flexibility of blogging to derive some estimates about what that means for Church growth in the US.   How many more children are we having? It’s hard to know for sure given sample size issues, but a rough, reasonable estimate is about twice as many. However, this isn’t as much as one might think given that the US’ fertility rate has tanked and is now solidly below replacement-level (1.64 children per woman). How does this translate into growth? One way of translating TFR into generation-by-generation growth is by converting it into what’s called the Net Reproductive Rate, which takes sex ratios at birth and mortality rates into account to derive an estimate for how many daughters each woman can be expected to have.  Why daughters and women? Basically, the math is simpler if you assume women reproduce asexually, and with a little intuition you can see that the NRR is equivalent to the proportion by which a population will grow from generation to generation. If the average woman has 1.1 daughters, then the…

Thomas Wayment on the KJV

Why do Latter-day Saints regard the King James Version as the official English translation of the Bible for the Church? It’s a question that has been asked many times by different people, especially since there are translations in modern English that have a better textual basis in Greek manuscripts. In a recent co-post at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Thomas Wayment discussed why Latter-day Saints use the King James Version (KJV). What follows here is a copost to the full interview.

Diné dóó Gáamalii: Navajo Latter-day Saint Experiences in the Twentieth Century: A Review

Alicia Harris—an Assistant Professor of Native American Art History at the University of Oklahoma—wrote that “If the LDS Church really can work for all peoples, we need to more attentively listen, hear, and be represented by a much greater variety of voices. We must more actively prepare a place for dual identities to be touched and nurtured in the culture of the gospel.” Farina King’s Diné dóó Gáamalii: Navajo Latter-day Saint Experiences in the Twentieth Century (University Press of Kansas, 2023) provides a great opportunity to do just that by listening to the experiences of the Diné dóó Gáamalii (Navajo Latter-day Saints).

Temple Architectural Heritages: Mexico City

The Mexico City temple is unique architecturally in that it draws on the Mayan Revival Style. From Wikipedia “Though the name of the style refers specifically to the Maya civilization of southern Mexico and Central America, in practice, this revivalist style frequently blends Maya architectural and artistic motifs ‘playful pilferings of the architectural and decorative elements’ with those of other Mesoamerican cultures, particularly the Central Mexican Aztec architecture styling from the pre-contact period as exhibited by the Mexica and other Nahua groups. Although there were mutual influences between these original and otherwise distinct and richly varied pre-Columbian artistic traditions, the syncretism of these modern reproductions is often an ahistorical one.” Evidently Frank Lloyd Wright, among others, drew on this style, but frankly when presented with examples of Mayan Revival Style I can’t really draw much of a common thread between them (probably due to my own lack of artistic sense), so to be more direct I just asked GPT-4 to list me some examples of Mesoamerican architecture that look like the building in the picture. It just give me the greatest hits of Mesoamerican architecture in general, but still the comparisons are elucidating. The LDS temple in the image is the Mexico City Mexico Temple, and it has been mentioned that its design is influenced by ancient Mesoamerican architecture. Here are a few Mesoamerican structures that share similarities with the architectural style of the Mexico City Mexico Temple: Teotihuacan: The ancient…

Judging and Being Judged By Church Leaders

Dalle-3 image. I tried to make a highly watercolor-ish version of Christ washing the Apostle’s feet, but in the end couldn’t get rid of the halos.  There is a certain class of very online member and ex-member that seems to have a particular relish for finding the faults of leaders. Of course, relishing in the personal failings of others is by definition anti-Christian. We are required to grant grace to people unconditionally.  But even if it’s wrong and can lead to soul-cankering spite, I still kind of get it.  When a particularly elitist or judgmental leader gets his comeuppance and his failings are laid bare there can be some understandable schadenfreude, or even a schadenfreude-by-proxy when it happens to one of his colleagues. A derivation of JST Matthew 7 is that if you judge others unrighteously (and sometimes righteously), then you too will be judged, sometimes by those you presume to judge. You can’t hold leaders up to some ethereal plane of existence but then ask for understanding of their humanity when the awkward subject of serious leadership failings comes up; you can’t have your cake and eat it too.  When I was a missionary my then-mission president (who I do not think reads T&S, plus with visa waiting I had three mission presidents, plus besides some silly little things was a spiritually powerful man I was privileged to serve under) would ask me the question “why are you on…