Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Fireside canceled out of concern for Senator Reid's safety

Excerpts of Political Ranters Need Not Apply by DeNaeby

Now, Senator Reid was invited to speak in our stake... on the subject of "Why I Believe". Invited. Did not lobby for the opportunity.

The entire content of his message - which has been delivered several times in other stakes - was the story of his conversion to Mormonism and his desire to share his love for God and his faith with his family, something he rarely gets to do in public.

As soon as word got out that Senator Reid was speaking in our stake, the e-mails and phone calls began pouring in. Furious complaints about the "political" nature of this presentation. Righteous indignation over the Senator's politics. Messages, threats, that if he were permitted to speak, members of my church would heckle him from the audience. Would load signs into their pickups with the words "Mormons Against Harry Reid" painted on them, and park the trucks outside the chapel.

One man said, "If I see Harry Reid in the temple, I'm going to hit him." Another told our stake president, "Harry Reid is the most evil man on the earth, and you and your counselors are next."

There were even people weighing in from out of state. One woman called from St. George, Utah; my husband took the call, and she gave him a message for our stake president: "You're a wicked man for allowing this to happen."

The outcry was so virulent, they cancelled the fireside. For security reasons. The man was fearful for the safety of his family.

Fearful! Of his fellow Mormons!

One guy e-mailed me and said, quote: I would rather hear from a minion of Satan himself than from Senator Harry Reid.

Book of Mormon geography wars

Excerpts of Mormon geography conferences to compete this weekend by Michael De Groote, Deseret News

They call it the "heartland" model of Book of Mormon lands. Within the movement, phrases like "Joseph Smith knew" are almost holy mantras and the word "Mesoamerica" is a cussword.

The name and face of this geographic theory is Rodney Meldrum, the founder and president of a for-profit organization called the Foundation for Indigenous Research and Mormonism, or simply the FIRM Foundation.

The heartland theory holds that the bulk of the Book of Mormon took place in North America. Most LDS scholars, however, think the evidence places the ancient civilizations of the Book of Mormon in the areas of Mexico and Guatemala called Mesoamerica.

The heartland group has splintered in two, and a battle is about to take place in the form of dueling conferences this weekend.

On one side, you have Meldrum, described on his Web site,, as a "Book of Mormon DNA researcher, lecturer and author."

On the other side, you have LDS Travel company, LDS Promised Land company and two of Meldrum's comrades-in-arms, Bruce H. Porter and Wayne May, publisher of the long-running Ancient American magazine.

On Thursday and Friday, Meldrum will host the fourth semi-annual National Book of Mormon Prophecies Conference: A Celebration of the Prophet Joseph," at the Zermatt Resort and Conference Center in Midway.

At the same time, LDS Travel and LDS Promised Land are presenting a competing conference, "Joseph Smith and Book of Mormon Geography," an hour away in Sandy at the South Towne Expo Center.

Meldrum accepted an invitation to speak at the conference, but after a few weeks and questions over sharing profits, Porter said a mutual decision was made for Meldrum to withdraw. Meldrum organized and promoted his own conference.

Whether the Book of Mormon heartland geography theory market can bear two competing venues remains to be seen.

Monday, March 29, 2010

temple weddings & non-Mormon relatives

Temple wedding off limits to non-Mormon family by Jaimee Rose - Mar. 29, 2010, The Arizona Republic

She raised her son to be sensitive, to be Catholic, to be her friend. When he was 18, he joined the Mormon Church.

She fought it. He fought back. They worked to stay close anyway. There were years of long talks on the phone: sometimes awkward, sometimes just like before.

He went on a church mission. He went to college. She went on working, coordinating weddings.

Last fall, another blow: He was in love, getting married - in the Mormon temple - and she couldn't come.

It hurt them both, but the mother more deeply than the son.

She knew all of it, already. When her son told her he was converting, Cheri Richardson studied his church. She knew that temples are the Mormon religion's most sacred places and only Mormons who obey the church's teachings are allowed within.

She knew that her son, Chase Richardson, held temple marriage among his most important goals: Mormons believe a temple wedding seals a marriage for eternity, to last even after death. It is a treasured cornerstone of the faith.

It would be a sacrifice for Chase to ask his family to stay away, to leave his father, sister and grandparents out.

His mother knew he'd do it anyway.

"His response is that God comes before all of that," says Cheri, 52, "and that's what I taught him, too."

The irony stung: As a wedding coordinator, Cheri had been to hundreds of ceremonies, but she would miss her son's.

Still, she knew that he would need her.

Chase was 22, marrying young, as many Mormons do. She had always been his confidante, his coach, his comfort.

He'd need help proposing, paying for a honeymoon, picking out a tuxedo.

And on his wedding day, Cheri knew Chase would want her to be outside the temple, waiting. He would come out after the ceremony and look for his mother's smile - a silent assurance that everything was OK.

That, Cheri knew, was something she couldn't do.

Because somewhere on the other side of the temple's concrete facade, there would be a moment when her son faced his bride and promised to love her. Cheri longed to see it, to memorize his face.

She couldn't stand and wait outside a place that promised eternal families, but stood between her and her child.

Her God would never ask this of a mother, Cheri says, "or a son."

Baptized by ire

Before they moved to Arizona, the Richardsons knew little about the Mormon religion, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Salt Lake, Donny Osmond - that's all I knew," Cheri says.

Cheri and her husband, Steve, raised their two children in Peoria, Ill., and sent them to Catholic school, though Steve is Methodist.

Steve's job moved the family to Scottsdale during Chase's junior year. He enrolled in public high school and met a girl, a Mormon.

Chase, a quiet type who likes music and his guitar, asked his girlfriend about her faith.

"It really intrigued me," he says. He considered Catholicism to be a culture, a habit.

"I went through the motions," he says, "but I didn't believe."

His girlfriend referred his questions to Mormon missionaries, and Chase met them weekly at her house to talk about their church.

"I felt a calmness, a peace," Chase says. "These words were comforting to me . . . that I am already saved, in a way, and I could be saved if I followed him. I felt a new hope I hadn't felt in a while."

He did not, however, feel hopeful in regard to sharing this news with his parents.

Chase says he told his mom he was learning about Mormonism. Cheri says she wasn't aware of it until "he came home one day and said, 'I want to be baptized.' "

She balked. He'd been baptized. She had pictures. She told him she'd need to talk to his father. She told Chase to slow down and give her time to learn about this new church, too.

The rules

Cheri found out as soon as she began her research. She Googled her way into an online support group called "Mormons have my child" and learned that if her son converted, a likely path would follow: He would leave college at 19 to serve a two-year proselytizing mission. He would look for someone to marry soon after he returned. The wedding would take place in a temple, and as non-members, Cheri, Steve and Chase's older sister, Danielle, 25, could not attend.

Cheri learned that U.S. couples are discouraged from having a civil ceremony before a temple wedding, even if only to include their families: Couples who do so must wait a year before being allowed to "seal" their marriage for eternity in a temple.

But in countries like England, France, Japan and Mexico, where Mormonism is not recognized as a legal marriage authority, a civil ceremony is allowed the same day.

"Temple worship is the highest form of religious expression for Latter-day Saints," says Kim Farah, a church spokeswoman. "In these sacred structures, members of the church make formal commitments to God . . . including the marriage of couples for eternity.

"No other type of wedding can take its place as one of the crowning sacraments of the faith."

Cheri learned about the interview required of church members before temple admittance: questions about chastity, honesty and whether they were paying 10 percent of their income to the church. Each member must be found "worthy," church language says, of the temple. Cheri learned that non-adult siblings
aren't allowed at temple weddings, either.

Online, she read accounts from parents across the country. It happened often: non-Mormons turned away from temple weddings, and also Mormon parents who had violated church standards.

"It is easy to understand how feelings of exclusion can develop, but exclusion is never intended," says Farah, the church spokeswoman, citing the Mormons' "deep concern for those of other faiths who cannot attend the temple marriage of a loved one."

The church allows a family gathering, often called a "ring ceremony," to be held before or after a temple wedding. Rings are not a part of a temple wedding and can be exchanged informally inside or outside a temple, Farah says, as long as vows are not exchanged, also.

Cheri read enough about ring ceremonies to know the moment would feel forced and empty.

"I was livid, dumbfounded," Cheri says. Her son wouldn't want a wedding without his family. "I thought, 'This is going to be the "aha" moment, the thing I can tell Chase that will make him see.' "

The day she confronted him, Cheri remembers, her voice breaking, "he looked at me and said, 'I know, and that's OK with me.' "

Scriptures and video games

Chase was 17.

Cheri repeated it to herself to salve her feelings.

"What does he know about parents wanting to be at a wedding?" she thought.

Chase needed his parents' permission to be baptized. They declined.

Faced with his mother's scorn, Chase felt embarrassed of his faith.

"I had a feeling that she wouldn't believe like I had believed," Chase says. "She thought of it as a phase - something I'd get over, like a video game."

He worked to strengthen his testimony so he could combat his mother's objections. He found a scripture in the Bible - "Hey, you believe this, too," Chase told her - that he felt supported his plight.

He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.

Matthew 10:37. Chase had it memorized.

Cheri didn't think the scripture applied to weddings.

"I don't believe that God is in support of separating families," she maintained.

On weekends, working the weddings she'd been hired to coordinate, Cheri liked to watch the groom's face as his bride walked down the aisle.

This moment, she thought, this expression - awe and nerves, weightiness and love: This was what she would miss if Chase was married in a temple. Sometimes, during the processional, Cheri would tap the groom's mother and tell her to look back at her son. A mother shouldn't miss this, Cheri thought.

"It hasn't happened yet," she told herself. "It's not here yet. There's always a chance."

Chase turned 18.

He was baptized into the Mormon Church. He went to the University of Arizona, turned 19, and left for a church mission to Mexico City.

His mother e-mailed him every week: missives to challenge his faith, at first, and then mostly reminders that she loved him.

Chase wrote that he loved her, too. He missed her cooking, her listening ear.

"I think about you every day," he said.

While he was gone, Chase's high-school girlfriend married someone else.

While he was gone, Cheri's Internet research turned up the Temple Wedding Petition, started in 2007 by former Mormons. The petition asks church leaders to be more inclusive of families by allowing civil ceremonies before all temple weddings, on the same day, and not only in countries where required by law. The petitioners have collected more than 250 signatures, says co-founder Jean Brodie, 66, of Edmonton, Canada, and half are from faithful Mormons.

Cheri signed the petition.

After two years in Mexico, Chase came home in October 2008. He went back to school, got a job as a valet.

In May, at church, he met Annie.

The bride

At first, Chase loved Annie Fuge because she was pretty. Then he loved her because she seemed to love him back.

In the end, he loved her because she reminded him of someone he'd loved for years.

"She's everything that my mom is, really," says Chase - driven, smart, sociable and sassy.

Cheri liked Annie, too: "the strength of her handshake, the way she looked me right in the eye."

Chase proposed in November and was talking about a March wedding. Annie was 20, and Chase 22. Cheri and Steve thought they were too young to be married. Chase was still in school. So was Annie. How would they afford rent?

And then there was the location of the wedding ceremony itself, an unspoken pall hanging over all of them.

Cheri knew. Chase knew she knew.

No one told her. Cheri read about it on Annie's Facebook page: Chase and Annie would be married on March 12, 2010, in the Mesa temple. Beneath Annie's announcement, a few friends from church had already responded with excitement: "We'll be there!"

Cheri didn't know them. They'd be at her son's wedding. She wouldn't.

Cheri hoped Chase and Annie would consider a civil ceremony.

She called her son, shouting into his voice mail through her tears.

"You have no idea what you've done to me," she cried.

Still, she wasn't really angry at Chase, though she wished he had delivered the news himself.

"What is hurtful to me is that because of his beliefs, it feels like we're being forced out," Cheri says, "and the reason we can't be there is probably the most hurtful - that we're deemed 'unworthy' " by the church to enter the temple.

"You're there for 3 a.m. feedings. You're there at every single game and headache and shot and broken bone and parent-teacher conference. You hug him when he's got his heart broken for not making the basketball team, and to be told you're not worthy to be there on his most important day?

"He believes," Cheri says, "in a different God than we do."

That night, Chase came home to find his mother. They sat on barstools in the kitchen and cried together. Cheri told him about that moment  •  she loves at weddings, watching the face of the groom, and how she'd miss having that memory of her son.

Chase said he was sorry. Of course he wanted her to be at his wedding.

"I wish I could make everyone happy, but I can't," he told his mother. "I love the Lord. It's a commandment, and I try my best to put him above everything.

"I've had to, and it has been hard."

But also, Chase explained, he had to honor his love for Annie. This was her day.

"She has always wanted to get married in the temple," Chase said, "and not only sealed in the temple, but married, and that's what's really important."

His mother knew he was right.


The velocity of the wedding took hold. On the hardest days, Cheri clung to advice from her daughter, Danielle.

"Focus on the bond you and Chase have had for 22 years," Danielle had said. "The church is not going to take that away from you unless you let it."

Cheri promised herself not to.

Steve and Cheri met Annie's parents for dinner, lunch. At one meeting with Cheri after an emotional week, Kent and Susan Fuge delivered a shock: They had decided to spend Chase and Annie's wedding with Cheri and Steve, waiting outside the temple. They were Mormon and could attend, but wouldn't.

"We wanted to do whatever we could to help," says Kent, 48, of Phoenix. "We wanted to support them, and help them understand that it was a concern for us, what they were going through.

"Also, we wanted to help them understand that from our perspective, the really important part was that (Chase and Annie) were getting sealed in the temple, and that was more important, even, than Susan and I getting to see the actual ceremony."

Cheri was stunned by their mercy and integrity, but she insisted they attend. Their absence wouldn't make her feel better, but worse.

It "felt like two wrongs," Cheri said, and she had decided against waiting outside the temple. It would feel as if the church had won, as if she were following its rules.

From January to March, Cheri steel-jawed her way through conversations about registries, bridesmaids, invitations. She went to Annie's bridal showers, wrote down Chase's favorite recipes, did the calligraphy on place cards for the post-ceremony lunch she and Steve were hosting - the Mormon equivalent of a rehearsal dinner. She ordered a dress for the reception - a party at a friend's house the day after the wedding.

On the weekends, she worked other weddings, always watching the groom.

With a week left to go, Cheri invited Annie and Chase over for pasta. During dinner, Cheri teased Chase for acting lovesick, his fingers in Annie's hair.

"Chase Alan," Cheri said, "Can you possibly keep your hands off of her?"

Annie made everyone promise to cross their fingers it wouldn't rain.

Steve joked that he might bring his own alcohol to the reception.

Annie followed Cheri to the back of the house to go through old photos of Chase for the wedding slide show.

Cheri showed Annie her favorite, a black-and-white portrait.

Chase was 16, smiling in a way that made his eyes look exactly like his mother's.

He looked so happy. Cheri sighed.

"I love that face," she said.


The rain stopped the day of Chase and Annie's wedding.

Orange and pink poppies bloomed around the Mesa temple. Chase and Annie arrived late, and still, he'd forgotten his tuxedo. He called his mom and caught her and his dad on their way out the door.

They were coming to the temple, to wait outside for their son.

The day before, on the phone, Cheri had heard something in Chase's voice. Loneliness, she thought.

"My heart was breaking for him," Cheri says. "Before he could even ask, I said, 'Please. Please, Chase. Don't ask me. Please. You know I can't.'

"He said, 'I understand, Mom, I really do, but do you think Danielle will come?' "

Cheri hung up, sobbing.

Chase called his sister, in tears.

"I know Mom and Dad want to be there, and I feel horrible that they can't," he told Danielle. "If they could just come, if they could just wait outside."

After they hung up, Chase sought the comfort of Annie. She realized, suddenly, how hard it all was - fighting his parents, committing to his beliefs, and doing it alone. She had grown up in the church.

"I felt a little selfish - guilty, maybe, that I had all of that so easily," Annie said. "He doesn't get to have them there, just as much as they don't get to be there.

"I admired his certainty."

Cheri and Danielle ran last-minute errands. In the middle of Target, Cheri had a breakdown.

"I have to go," she told her daughter. "It's the right thing to do."

Danielle echoed her mother.

"You have to go," she said.

Later, at home, Cheri thought about the wedding moment she had wanted for Chase, but also about the moment he would have - walking out of the temple holding Annie's hand, looking for his mom.

"He's still our son," Cheri told Steve that night. "He should have somebody there to share that moment, and we can't get it back.

It would be humiliating, she knew, "to stand outside that place, knowing what's going on, knowing we're not allowed in, and who's judging.

"Putting aside the emotional part," she said, "it is absolutely absurd."

It would feel as if the church had won, Cheri said, had kept her from her son's wedding by leaning on a God she couldn't believe required it.

"It's the principle versus love," Cheri told her husband, "but love should outweigh the principle every time."

The next morning, when Chase walked out of the temple after his wedding, Cheri stood to one side, watching the groom's smile. It never faded.

She waited, wringing her hands, twiddling a silver cross she wore on her wrist, until he saw her.

"Mom," he said. "Come, stand right here."

Cheri climbed the temple steps toward him, and he reached his arms out for a hug.

She cried into his jacket and held onto him as long as he let her. There was no space between them.

"Thank you," he whispered.

"I couldn't not be here," Cheri told him. "I couldn't not come."

They turned to face the camera for a picture, the temple wall behind them.

Chase smiled, his arms around Annie.

His mother stood awkwardly at his side, her expression changing as she took in the moment.

It was on her face that onlookers could see everything: nerves-worry-anger-pain-relief, but also joy.

To unsubscribe from this group, send email to or reply to this email with the words "REMOVE ME" as the subject.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament (reviewed by Jeffrey Needle)


Title: Jesus Christ and the World of the New Testament
Author: Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, Eric D. Huntsman and Thomas A. Wayment
Publisher:  Deseret Blook
Genre:  Biblical Studies
Year Published: 2006
Number of Pages:  327
Binding:  Large Hardcover
ISBN10:  1-59038-442-3
ISBN13:  978-1-59038-422-8
Price:  $39.95

Reviewed by Jeffrey Needle for the Association for Mormon Letters

The world of Mormon biblical studies seems to be in something of a
state of transition these days.  And it can't come too soon, for my

For decades, New Testament study was dominated by Talmage's "Jesus the
Christ," to be supplemented by Bruce R. McConkie's Messiah series.
Together, they seemed to have sucked all the air out of the halls of
Mormon academia.  Yes, there was the occasional venture outside the
Talmage/McConkie continuum, but there were few really significant
breakthroughs in New Testament scholarship.

Our reviewers Lisa Olsen and Blair Hodges previosulysubmitted very
positive reviews of the companion volume, "Jehovah and the World of
the Old Testament."  These can be read on our site.  There was some
thought that it didn't go as far as some would have liked in fleshing
out the impact of critical studies on our understanding of the Old
Testament, but there was general agreement that it went beyond what
had generally been produced by Church presses.

As with the Old Testament volume, this very fine book tiptoes into the
territory of ideas not often discussed in LDS circles.  In previous
reviews, I have speculated that the Church may not have confidence in
the membership's ability to absorb new ideas that we in the literary
community celebrate.  It appears that this may be changing.  If so, I,
for one, will be very happy.  Enough of the plain vanilla,
reductionist studies.  Bring on the good stuff!

There is some good stuff here.  For example, they discuss Matthew's
genealogy of the Savior in his first chapter, wherein he selects which
forebears he mentions in order to arrive at 14 generations in each
period, and why Matthew chose to do this.  The authors flesh out
opinions on  the authorship of Hebrews, giving reasons for assigning
authorship to Paul as well as reasons for assigning authorship to
other writers.  Their discussion on the Sermon on the Mount, however,
lacks mention of the critical discussions surrounding its composition
and Matthew's possible role in collecting sayings and accumulating
them in one place for teaching purposes.

All of this simply illustrates that there are some innovative and
interesting diversions from accepted orthodoxy, as understood by most
members of the Church), while other areas that merit discussion are
left unexplored.,

But let's be very clear.  The authors themselves explain that this
book was not intended to be a comprehensive biblical commentary.  It
was not their purpose to dust off the tomes of biblical scholarship
and produce a graduate-level text.  I may be reading between the lines
here – there is no direct statement to support what I'm about to
write.  But, reading between the lines, one can almost sniff at the
happiness the authors are experiencing as they anticipate the
excitement that many readers will experience as they discover new
depth in the text, new life in the times of Jesus the Christ.  They're
not out to produce doctors of theology; they don't want to overwhelm
the reader with prose.  They do, however, want to breathe new life
into the Latter-day Saint's Scripture study.

If, as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, then there is a
veritable flood of verbiage in this book.  So many illustrations, so
little time.  Some are eye candy, but most are informative and
educational.  There's nothing quite like seeing pictures of the Holy
Land, photos of coins and ruins, images of temples and artifacts, to
bring the New Testament alive to the reader.

There is so much in this book, including an interesting treatment of
the apostle Paul's views of salvation (he had several!), a discussion
about whether charges of anti-semitism leveled against the Apostle are
justified, and so much more!

Add to this a very good treatment of the first-century church, and you
get an idea of what this book is all about.

This isn't Sunday School stuff.  But neither is it the kind of thing
you'd find in the classroom of Princeton's Theological Seminary.
Somewhere in between, there can be found those wonderful kinds of
works you can find in any serious Christian book store.  Fully
accessible, compulsively readable, "Jesus Christ and the World of the
New Testament" brings the reader fully into that world.

Gosh, I can almost smell the lamb cooking on the hot stones.  The dust
is making my eyes tear; the press of the crowd is making me vaguely
uncomfortable.  But, amid all this, there appears something we all
have wanted – some clarity, some idea that we can internalize and make
our own.  The Scriptures are great, but they can be a little like a
Twinkie without the filling.  I want the whole sweet experience.

You really should take a look at this volume.  It may change the way
you've understood the Scriptures.  Maybe it's time for some fresh air
in the world of LDS biblical studies.

Jeffrey Needle
Association for Mormon Letters

To unsubscribe from this group, send email to or reply to this email with the words "REMOVE ME" as the subject.

No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized (reviewed by Blair Dee Hodges)


Title: No Other Name: An Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized
Author: John Sanders
Publisher: Wipf & Stock Publishers
Genre: Theology
Year: 2001 (reprint)
Pages: 334
ISBN10: 1579108342
ISBN13: 9781579108342
Binding: Paperback
Price: $34.00

Reviewed by Blair Dee Hodges - Association for Mormon Letters

I was on my mission when the issue really hit home: there were,
believe it or not, great people who loved God (and some who didn't
even believe) who weren't Mormon. Certainly I had been raised to
believe that there were good people all over the world, great people
of other faiths, but I had also learned that the fulness of the gospel
was found in my own religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day
Saints. That teaching becomes more acute when faced with honest,
God-loving, God-fearing people outside my Church. What about those
C.S. Lewis called "virtuous unbelievers"?[1]

The more I studied the issue the more comfortable I became with Mormon
views of the afterlife and the assurance that none will be left
without the opportunity to honestly evaluate Christ's invitation to
come unto Him and make a decision. I believe the solutions revealed to
Joseph Smith (including post-mortal missionary work and proxy
ordinances for the dead) are consistent, fair, even graceful. They are
also surprisingly unique, considering the history of Christian thought
on the subject--a subject I didn't know had occupied other Christians
for centuries going back as far as the written record shows. LDS views
are unique in important respects, but they grow out of concerns common
to many other Christians. John Sanders explores the history of
Christian perspectives on this subject in "No Other Name: An
Investigation into the Destiny of the Unevangelized."[2]

Sanders's book is a systematic overview of how different Christian
thinkers have handled the problem of salvation only through Christ.
Jesus Christ said "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one
comes to the Father but through Me" (John 14:6, NAS). How can the
billions of people who have never heard of Christ, before and after
his mortal life, come to the Father? This appears to call into
question the justice and mercy of God. Considering the billions of
people who have not learned about Jesus Christ through no real fault
of their own, in addition to the countless persons who lived on the
earth before Jesus Christ was born, it seems not many people will
receive salvation. Sanders says Christians today face "plural shock"
when they encounter other religions, leading some to abandon
completely the "finality and particularity" of salvation through
Christ, much like I encountered on my mission (3).

Sanders is something of a non-traditional Evangelical Christian, an
"Open Theist."[2] His book is grounded in assuming the ultimate
authority of the Bible, using subsequent Christian tradition as a
guide (3). On page 25 Sanders describes "two essential truths" which
cause the tension for Bible-believers. First: God has a "universal
salvific will." ("God...desires all men to be saved and to come to the
knowledge of the truth," 1 Timothy 4:12.) Second: "the particularity
and finality of salvation only in Jesus" ("And there is salvation in
no one else, for there is no other name under which we
must be saved," Acts 4:12). Each position has support in other verses
throughout the New Testament. Sanders notes that "Holding both sets of
texts together without neglecting either set requires a careful
theological balance...We must hold to both sets of texts and seek to
arrive at a theological formulation that does justice to both"

Sanders is a systematic thinker with the ability to express complex
topics accessibly and fairly. He clarifies the main point over which
Christians disagree by "distinguishing between the ontological and
epistemological necessity of Jesus Christ for the salvation of
individuals" (30). His book takes for granted the *ontological*
necessity-- that is, that Christ had to, and in fact did, atone for
the sins of the world. Those who do not believe this point are not
addressed in this study (nor are Calvinists who believe in the
"limited atonement" of Christ; that Christ only died for an elect
group rather than for all humankind, 30, 50). The question of
*epistemological* necessity is where the positions in the book differ;
"the question of whether [and when] a person must know about Jesus in
order to benefit from the salvation he provided" (30).

The book is divided into three parts. In part one Sanders formulates
the issue and situates it in the history of Christian thought. In part
two he describes "the two extremes," Restrictivism (all unevangelized
are damned) and Universalism (all unevangelized are ultimately saved).
In part three Sanders offers a third view he calls "Wider Hope," which
is where the Latter-day Saint position would fit in. Surprisingly,
given the depth of research in the book and its attempt at being
comprehensive, Latter-day Saints are not mentioned at all.[3]

Each chapter is well organized. Sanders begins with the key biblical
texts while taking care not to simply proof-text. Next he covers
"theological considerations," the assumptions made by those holding
that position. Then he gives an overview of leading defenders of the
position. Finally, he evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the
position. A bibliography of important texts concludes each chapter.
The book concludes with an Appendix on "Infant Salvation and

The salvation of the unevangelized weaves in and out of a striking
number of theological considerations; christology, the nature of
faith, justice, grace, the problem of evil, revelation, hell,
judgment, and the love of God. Sanders is a model for inter-faith
discussion; he treats differing perspectives with deference, trying to
outline them in a way acceptable to those who hold them. He believes
that the debate boils down to differing "control beliefs," which
"guide and control the way we investigate and interpret
evidence...Control beliefs can be extremely powerful in influencing
what we 'see' in a text or the way we interpret our experiences" (31).
Sanders knows that everyone has control beliefs, "it would be
impossible to live meaningfully without them. They give us stability
as we encounter new ideas and experiences. But sometimes we need to
examine and modify--even reject--certain of our control beliefs" (32).
He outlines his own control beliefs and calls for readers to be
self-aware of their own. Only then can they reasonably analyze the
different positions and hope to find the best answer to the problem of
the unevangelized.

Despite overlooking the LDS position, Sanders has put together a
remarkable book. Philosophy, theology, and history interweave to
examine a question at the heart of the mission of Jesus Christ: "For
God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that
whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting
life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world;
but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3: 16-17).

FOOTNOTES [1] I investigate C.S. Lewis, the "virtuous unbeliever," and
LDS thought in a forthcoming issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon

[2] The book was originally published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
Co. (1992). I am reviewing the paperback edition from Wipf & Stock
Publishers (2001). Sanders is currently professor of religion at
Hendrix College. See his wiki for more info,

[3] A more in-depth analysis of the positions Sanders outlines is
Brent Alvord and David L. Paulsen, "Joseph Smith and the Problem of
the Unevangelized," FARMS Review 17:1 (2005), 171-204.

To unsubscribe from this group, send email to or reply to this email with the words "REMOVE ME" as the subject.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Historical Setting for Joseph Smith's Ohio Revelations

Table of Contents

Preface and Acknowledgments
A Selective Chronology of Significant Events in Ohio's LDS History

Part One: Ohio's "Mormonites"
Chapter 1 Black Pete
Chapter 2 The Shout Tradition and Speaking in Tongues in the Black Community
Chapter 3 Barton Stone, Alexander Campbell, and the Foundations of Black Pete's Religious Involvement in Ohio
Chapter 4 Freedom and Authority
Chapter 5 Owenites and the Morley Community
Chapter 6 The Morley Family in Kirtland
Chapter 7 The Book of Mormon Comes to Ohio
Chapter 8 Black Pete and Early Mormonite Religious Enthusiasm
Chapter 9 Dissension in Ohio's Mormonite Family
Chapter 10 The Law of the Church
Chapter 11 Joseph Smith and the Gifts of the Spirit
Chapter 12 The June Conference and Authority to Discern Religious Ecstasy
Chapter 13 A New Understanding of the Gift of Tongues in Kirtland and Missouri

Part Two: Consecration
Chapter 14 "To Manage the Affairs of the Poor": N. K. Whitney and Company
Chapter 15 Sidney Gilbert as an Independent Entrepreneur
Chapter 16 N. K. Whitney & Co.
Chapter 17 The Whitneys and the Latter-day Saints
Chapter 18 Whitney's Role as Bishop
Chapter 19 At the Whitney Store

Part Three: "It Came from God": The Johnson Family, Joseph Smith, and Mormonism in Hiram, Ohio
Chapter 20 From Vermont to Ohio
Chapter 21 Hiram Township in Portage County
Chapter 22 Ezra Booth and the Johnson Family
Chapter 23 The Apostasy of Ezra Booth and Symonds Ryder
Chapter 24 Joseph Smith at the Johnson Home
Chapter 25 Continuing Revelation and the Seeds of Violence
Chapter 26 Reactions to "The Vision"
Chapter 27 The Mobbing of Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon
Chapter 28 Last Days in Hiram
Chapter 29 The Johnson Family's Epilogue

Part Four: Kirtland's Economy and the Rise and Fall of the Kirtland Safety Society
Chapter 30 The Foundation of Kirtland's Economy
Chapter 31 The Lyman and Loud Mills, Arnold Mason's Tannery, and the Means to Build a House of God
Chapter 32 A Plan to Get out of Debt
Chapter 33 The Kirtland Safety Society
Chapter 34 The End of Kirtland's Banking Experiment
Chapter 35 Epilogue

Appendix: Sermons
George A. Smith      November 12, 1864
Brigham Young        November 12, 1864
Brigham Young        Two Sermons, November 13, 1864
George A. Smith      November 13, 1864
George A. Smith      November 14, 1864
Brigham Young        November 15, 1864
George A. Smith      November 15, 1864

To unsubscribe from this group, send email to or reply to this email with the words "REMOVE ME" as the subject.

Review: "Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader's Guide"


Title: "Understanding the Book of Mormon: A Reader's Guide"
Author: Grant Hardy
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Genre: Religion/Literature
Year: 2010
Pages: 346
ISBN13: 9780199731701
Binding: Hardcover
Price: $29.95

Reviewed by Blair Dee Hodges - Association for Mormon Letters

In one corner "Skeptical-Critic" shuffles his feet, knocking his
gloves together. In the other corner "Believer- Apologist" ghosts
jabs, bobbing up and down. At the back of the arena,
"Indifferent-Non-believer" and "Didactic-Believer" glance in the
direction of the main event, feeling a little out of place. Standing
at center ring is the Book of Mormon, America's most unique and
prolific scriptural production. In the middle of this epic bout Grant
Hardy calls a time-out with his new book "Understanding the Book of
Mormon: A Reader's Guide." He attempts the double-task of convincing
non-Mormons that the Book of Mormon is worth the effort of serious
analysis while convincing Mormons that searching their sacred book can
yield more than didactic homilies or proofs of ancient authenticity.
Granting the importance of the main event, he offers a different venue

Hardy appreciates the difficulty of speaking to such disparate groups,
sensing that many believers and non-believers tend to "misrepresent or
distort what the book actually says" by mining evidence from the text
to support their respective positions. Critics like Dan Vogel have
offered unique and creative readings to reveal the book as a
19th-century fiction (overlooking striking parallels for weaker
guesses. Believers like Richard Rust have pointed to its structure and
voices, showing it as inspired literature (missing much of the
awkwardness that outsiders are confronted with in the book. Hardy
believes such studies can "miss much of what makes the book both
coherent and unique" (xii-xviii). He wants to offer something new:

"There has never been a detailed guide to the contents of the Book of
Mormon that meets the needs of both Latter-day Saints and outsiders,
undoubtedly because they come to the text with such different
perspectives and expectations. In this study I suggest the Book of
Mormon can be read as literature—a genre that encompasses history,
fiction, and scripture—by anyone trying to understand this odd but
fascinating book…. [M]y goal is to help anyone interested in the Book
of Mormon, for whatever reason, become a better, more perceptive
reader" (xiv, xvi).

Audaciously titled, this reader's guide is not merely a synopsis of
the Book of Mormon's main characters, events and themes. It is an
effort to help make sense of what one very early reviewer of the Book
of Mormon called "mostly a blind mass of words, interwoven with
scriptural language and quotations, without much of a leading plan or
design" (xiv). Hardy realized the short-sightedness of such an
evaluation while editing a "reader's edition" of the Book of
Mormon.[1] Distinct patterns and styles emerged from the narrators of
the book. Now, using the tools of literary analysis, Hardy seeks to
demonstrate a method of reading that will help readers make better
sense of the intersecting plots and strategies of Nephi, Mormon, and
Moroni—the book's main editor/narrators. A close reading illuminates
key meanings in the text, and the literary identity of each narrator
is manifest not only in what they say, but how they say it (266).[2]

The complexity of the book, considering the apparent circumstances of
the production of the Book of Mormon (Joseph Smith dictating the text
to scribes, one time through) perhaps gives a little more weight to
Smith's claims of angels and divine assistance. At the very least,
Hardy argues, the complexity strongly signals deliberate design and
careful construction. But Hardy is not making the argument that
"Joseph Smith could not have written this book." He believes the
"parallels and allusions in the Book of Mormon are deliberate and
meaningful rather than coincidental," but freely acknowledges that
"literary analysis does not compel belief" (xvii).

By reading closely, Hardy guides readers through novel readings not
found in other studies of the Book of Mormon. For instance, he
observes that "Alma or Mormon (or Joseph Smith) has structured the
first two-thirds of the book of Alma according to a series of
parallels" (304). Alma 4-16 includes three sermons delivered to three
different cities. Alma 36-42 includes Alma's three detailed letters to
three different sons (Alma 36-42). The sermons and letters overlap in
theme, respective length, order, and source (primary documents are
utilized in each case). This city/son parallel is even more
interesting considering Alma preached in five cities but only three
accounts are included in the narrative. Altogether, this indicates
remarkable coincidence or deliberate construction: Zarahemla/Helaman
(morally ambiguous), Gideon/Shiblon (clearly righteous, shortest),
Ammonihah/Corianton (clearly wicked, longest).

Impressively, the book is so full of detailed analysis that this
particular discovery in Alma is actually relegated to a footnote!
Overall, the book follows the structure of the Book of Mormon itself
tracing the styles and stories of each narrator, as well as the gaps
they leave for perceptive readers to fill in. Not only does this allow
Hardy to present an overview of the entire Book of Mormon, it also
places some of his most powerful chapter parallels in the "3 Nephi 11"
spot, which Hardy argues was deliberately situated within the
structure of the Book of Mormon to properly emphasize Christ's visit
to the Nephites (267). Without calling attention to it, Hardy's book
seems to enact what it demonstrates from the Book of Mormon itself

At times Hardy moves quickly through bits of the Book of Mormon. His
tracing of its complexity may lose outsiders who aren't as familiar
with Lehi's vision of the tree, or the Nephite monetary system, or
other (relatively incidental) details. Similarly, some Latter-day
Saints may feel slightly disoriented with occasional technical jargon.
These difficulties are explained by Hardy's desire to reach a broad
audience. The book invites critics to attempt a "willing suspension of
disbelief" so they might see more fruitful readings despite doubts of
authorship. Latter-day Saints, he adds, may need a "willing suspension
of belief, that is, to think of the Book of Mormon as a work of
literature, with an emphasis on its creativity and artifice" as
opposed to proofs of ancient origin or teachings for our times
(28).[4] Latter-day Saint readers will enjoy fresh approaches to the
narrator's uses of King James phrases (255), Mormon's editorial
interruptions (97-102), Captain Moroni's apparent character flaws
(174) and many, *many* other things.

This book makes a strong case that when examined closely, the Book of
Mormon "exhibits a literary exuberance that frustrates quick judgments
and reductive analysis" (267). By shifting "attention away from Joseph
Smith and back to the Book of Mormon itself, a common discourse
becomes possible" through literary analysis (xvi). Readers who try to
play by Hardy's rules will be richly rewarded. It will change the way
you read the Book of Mormon forever. "A Reader's Guide" is a knockout
punch in ink and paper; I can't recommend it enough.


[1] Grant Hardy, "The Book of Mormon: A Reader's Edition," University
of Illinois Press (2005). Hardy is well-attuned to the aesthetics of
book reading. His Reader's Edition aims to make the book more
comfortable to read, using better formatting, size, new punctuation,
charts and tables, headings, and other devices to increase
readability. Right down to the layout of the print on a page, Hardy
recognizes the power of a book itself: "Perhaps because they most
often encounter the Book of Mormon in a verse-by-verse format,
[Latter-day Saints] rarely read in terms of large-scale narrative
contexts or weigh the parts against the whole" (xix). "Reader's Guide"
and "Reader's Edition" both aim to increase readability of the Book of

[2] Because Hardy adopts the "internal perspective" of the book he
"write[s] about the narrators as if they were actual people with
complex motivations and developing understandings." Non-believers "are
welcome to place virtual quotation marks around the names Nephi and
Mormon whenever they appear in the chapters that follow" (xvii-xvii).

[3] A similar point about the structure of the book has been made in
Brant Gardner's "Mormon's Editorial Method and Meta-Message," FARMS
Review, 21:1, 83-105. Hardy interacts with (and sometimes counters)
many LDS scholars, including John Welch and others, in the footnotes
(see 248, 297, 301, 303, 313 for examples). Even The Book of Mormon
Movie gets a shout-out, however unsympathetic (312).

[4] Those interested in the Book of Mormon debates aren't too far from
Hardy's mind. He includes enough information for believers and
skeptics (citing many of the most substantive positions and
publications) throughout the footnotes.

To unsubscribe from this group, send email to or reply to this email with the words "REMOVE ME" as the subject.

Journals of Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff, & Eliza R. Snow on display

"Treasures of the Collection Open House"

Come enjoy a rare and unique display of historical items from the
archives of the Church History Library.

Friday April 2, 2010 5:00 pm-9:00 pm

Saturday April 3, 2010 12:00 pm-2:00pm and 4:00 pm-9:00 pm

See the journals of Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff, Eliza R. Snow and
other Latter-day Saints. Learn about the scriptures, including the
Book of Mormon manuscript and the rare 1833 Book of Commandments. View
photographs of Mormon pioneers and early Mormon scenes. Experience
Church history through these and other treasures of the collection.

To unsubscribe from this group, send email to or reply to this email with the words "REMOVE ME" as the subject.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Is The Bible More Violent Than The Quran?

Excerpts of Is The Bible More Violent Than The Quran? by Barbara Bradley Hagerty

In preparation for the suicide attack, [the 911 hijackers'] handlers had told them to meditate on two chapters of the Quran in which God tells Muslims to "cast terror into the hearts of unbelievers."

When Osama bin Laden declared war on the West in 1996, he cited the Quran's command to "strike off" the heads of unbelievers. More recently, U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Hasan lectured his colleagues about jihad, or "holy war," and the Quran's exhortation to fight unbelievers and bring them low.

Given this violent legacy, religion historian Philip Jenkins decided to compare the brutality quotient of the Quran and the Bible.

"Much to my surprise, the Islamic scriptures in the Quran were actually far less bloody and less violent than those in the Bible," Jenkins says.

Violence in the Quran, he and others say, is largely a defense against attack.

"By the standards of the time, which is the 7th century A.D., the laws of war that are laid down by the Quran are actually reasonably humane," he says. "Then we turn to the Bible, and we actually find something that is for many people a real surprise. There is a specific kind of warfare laid down in the Bible which we can only call genocide."

It is called herem, and it means total annihilation. Consider the Book of 1 Samuel, when God instructs King Saul to attack the Amalekites: "And utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them," God says through the prophet Samuel. "But kill both man and woman, infant and nursing child, ox and sheep, camel and donkey."

When Saul failed to do that, God took away his kingdom.

"In other words," Jenkins says, "Saul has committed a dreadful sin by failing to complete genocide. And that passage echoes through Christian history. It is often used, for example, in American stories of the confrontation with Indians — not just is it legitimate to kill Indians, but you are violating God's law if you do not."

Jenkins notes that the history of Christianity is strewn with herem. During the Crusades in the Middle Ages, the Catholic popes declared the Muslims Amalekites. In the great religious wars in the 16th, 17th and 19th centuries, Protestants and Catholics each believed the other side were the Amalekites and should be utterly destroyed.

But Jenkins says, even though the Bible is violent, Christianity and Judaism today are not for the most part.

"What happens in all religions as they grow and mature and expand, they go through a process of forgetting of the original violence, and I call this a process of holy amnesia," Jenkins says.

They make the violence symbolic: Wiping out the enemy becomes wiping out one's own sins. Jenkins says that until recently, Islam had the same sort of holy amnesia, and many Muslims interpreted jihad, for example, as an internal struggle, not physical warfare.

Andrew Bostom calls this analysis "preposterous."  .....

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Maps of Christian Denominations

Click on a picture to see an enlarged version.

American Religions, Politics, and Pornography: Where is the Moral Majority?

Excerpts of  Highlights from BYU Studies 50th Anniversary Symposium,  Meridian Magazine

American Religions, Politics, and Pornography: Where is the Moral Majority? By Cheryl B. Preston, Brigham Young University
If you've questioned how people of faith can hold any clout in today's political atmosphere, Cheryl Preston provided convincing statistics: over 100 million North Americans affiliate with Christian churches. Preston claimed we are standing at a crossroads. Right now religious rhetoric is excluded from the public square unless it is framed on secular terms, and the threat may soon arise that any issue with moral implications will be lacking in credibility because of its roots in a belief system. With this threat in mind, Preston asked, how do religious organizations' moral doctrines on pornography translate, if at all, into political or legal reform?

Churches contribute to public policy through generating belief among congregants--and voters--that pornography is wrong, helping to rehabilitate those who are addicted, and participating in legal activism to restrict access to pornography. However, activism among religious organizations has been relatively low and ineffective. Historically, religious people have organized to create the movie rating system, fuel the civil rights movement, and pass California's Proposition 8; why haven't they succeeded in uniting to fight for pornography regulation? Preston provided some likely reasons, including fears of tackling sensitive First Amendment issues, apathy toward pornography in the face of more pressing social problems, an attitude of tolerance for those who do not have religious views, or sentiments that people should exercise freedom of choice to avoid pornographic material rather than fighting to have it restricted. Preston noted that among those who are interested in political activism, perhaps they have yet to find a compelling story to rally around or an effective way to combine efforts.

Environmentalism and Mormonism

Excerpts of  Highlights from BYU Studies 50th Anniversary Symposium,  Meridian Magazine

God's Machinery: Brigham Young and the Formation of Latter-day Saint Environmental Thought by Bryan V. Wallis

Bryan Wallis seeks to show how Mormonism differs from Judeo-Christian views of nature and the world, which are complex and often contradictory, suggesting, for instance, that human beings "must cultivate enough detachment from the world to understand that they [have] no permanent habitation on earth." Joseph Smith, by contrast, conceived of a much more amicable relationship between humans and the earth, teaching, among other things, that this earth will be glorified and become the celestial kingdom for those who gain exaltation. Brigham Young drew much of his philosophy about humanity and nature from Smith. Young taught, for instance, that the spirit world, where the spirits of men and women go when they die, is right here on the earth. Young spoke in terms of love for the world: "Let me love the world as He loves it, to make it beautiful, and glorify the name of my Father in heaven."

In an effort to articulate a uniquely Mormon environmental ethic, says Wallis, various Latter-day Saint thinkers have appealed to the teaching of Brigham Young. The first to do so was Hugh Nibley. Nibley quoted Young on a variety of subjects "ranging from clean air, the role of the earth in the plan of salvation, reverence for God's creations, nature aesthetics, use of the earth's gifts, denouncing the myth of the west as a place of inexhaustible resources, and the sin of waste."

The Science and Ethics of Climate Change: An LDS Perspective
Richard Gill

Richard Gill provides a scientific perspective on climate change. Moses, after seeing the earth in vision, exclaimed that now he knew that man is nothing, something he never supposed. Mormon scripture suggests a metaphor of interconnection for the earth and its systems. He uses the term biogeochemistry, which he defines as the study of how power is preserved or lost within various systems. Only in the last 30 years have scientists understood how global systems are interconnected. Throughout an 800,000-year period recorded in glacial ice, we see evidence of cycles between glacial and interglacial eras. One would expect the transitions between these eras to be smooth and gradual. But the record suggests abrupt transitions, suggesting that changes in one system spill over into other systems, effecting rapid and dramatic change. The various earth systems are very responsive to each other. Changes chemical, biological, and physical systems affect each other.

The 800,000-year high for carbon dioxide of 240 parts per million has been exceeded by current levels of well over 300 parts per million. This is human caused. The earth itself has not been capable of such an increase. Changes in the atmospheric system affects all other systems.

Environmental issues lie at the most fundamental levels of gospel understanding. \We are commanded to love our neighbors, but we cannot love others if we do not support actions that will preserve a healthy environment for them.

George Handley

George Handley provides an ethical perspective on climate change from an LDS perspective. He suggests that ethical values are missing from our discussions on environmental issues. Global climate change is an issue of great complexity, which is a cause of confusion for many. Since 2008, those who believe in human-caused climate change have dropped from 71 percent to 54 percent. This is not because the science has changed, but because of political and ideological reasons. There is more scientific evidence than ever for human-caused climate change and 97 percent of scientists accept this position, but there is also more disagreement among the populace than ever.

Because of the overload of information in our modern society, there is a tendency for people to be confused by the sheer amount of information. They would rather quote a sound bite than read a graph. Passive trust in the market, that the market will take care of the greatest number of people, has led many people to ignore its effects on certain portions of society or the environment. The market is inherently amoral, but for some reason society has turned the market's amorality into a moral good. What defines a good society? Is a good society merely one with the fewest restraints? Climate change is so complex because it suggests that society must be more morally good than the market can facilitate.

Mormonism has yet to produce an official stance on environmental issues. The fact that most Mormons do not consider climate change a moral issue is evidence of a moral failing. Our theology of stewardship over the earth is at odds with the political ideology we espouse that promotes economic growth with little concern for its environmental impact.

Status, Roles and Existential Appeal of Heavenly Mother in Mormon Discourse

Excerpts of  Highlights from BYU Studies 50th Anniversary Symposium,  Meridian Magazine

"I've a Mother There": Status, Roles and Existential Appeal of Heavenly Mother in Mormon Discourse by David Paulsen and Martin Pulido

David Paulsen and Martin Pulido's presentation, "A Mother There" begins by tracing the idea that the identity of a Mother in Heaven has been kept hidden due to the sacred nature of her name, attributes, and character. There is a tradition within the Church that explains how Heavenly Father shields and protects Heavenly Mother from the profane oaths and blasphemies of this world. Some scholars, feminist thinkers, anthropologists, and the like, find such a view offensive or at least problematic. They blame the Church for promulgating an attitude that places the divine feminine "in a role of a silent and unseen helpmate and mother" and a woman "not quite up to taking care of herself." Some even complain that the Church has helped along the idea that the men will be out having adventures creating worlds while the women stay home with the babies. "Our investigation leads us to conclude these claims are mostly false," say Paulsen and Pulido.

Obviously there is a tradition that explains why the divine feminine is hidden, but the tradition does not originate from Church pronouncements. Also, the idea that Mother in Heaven and hence all exalted women will only fill a narrow childbearing role and never encroach on male privileges is, again, one of those mysterious myths that make the rounds in the Church but have little to do with actual revealed religion. In fact, statements from the First Presidency and other general authorities paint a very different picture; Paulsen and Pulido thoroughly culled the sources and compiled all these statements that, in a nutshell, say the following:

1. Heavenly Mother is a Procreator and Parent.
2. Heavenly Mother creates worlds. Future Eternal Mothers will be "prepared to frame earths like unto ours," in the words of Brigham Young. Creating the earth is not some exclusive priesthood ordinance only the men get to do, but both men and women enjoy the "power to create and organize mortal worlds."
3. Heavenly Mother is a nurturer, trainer, tutor, and teacher.
4. She is a fully exalted God of like stature to the Father.
5. She is the Queen of Heaven.
6. She interacts vitally with the Godhead (in fact there would be no Son without her).
7. Male Exaltation and Godhood is impossible without her.
8. She is a co-framer of the Plan of Salvation.

I have often wondered, if the "focus" issue plays a role in the sparse talk about the divine feminine. The great operational aspect to the plan of salvation in our lives on this earth is the Atonement. Come to think of it, not much has been revealed about our Heavenly Father either, accept through the Son. So the focus of our faith is on the power and efficacy of the Son's Atonement.

But I must say that it only makes sense that the above eight points are spot on. To relegate women to a lesser role in the plan of salvation creates serious problems in Mormon theology. All things have there likeness on earth and in heaven, and as far as I can see women are every bit as smart and creative as men. And although there bodies obviously testify to a childbearing role, their minds obviously testify to a creative force that extends beyond childbearing alone. They will thus will be creators of varied kinds in the next life.

Looking for God’s Hand in History

Excerpts of  Highlights from BYU Studies 50th Anniversary Symposium,  Meridian Magazine

Looking for God's Hand in History

By Brian Q. Cannon, Brigham Young University

Brian Cannon, professor of history at BYU, described "providential history," which is written with the assumption that God governs human events; the writer identifies the hand of God in wars, politics, disasters, and discoveries. From the 5th to the 17th century, the dominant histories of the Western world were providential, modeled on the Bible. In the Enlightenment, writers such as Voltaire derided providential history because it depended on the supernatural rather than reason and naturalism. In the early 1800s providential history made a slight comeback, but by 1900 it was completely disregarded.

In the 1930s, 40s and 50s a small group of American historians and philosophers responded to the cataclysmic developments of their era – the Great Depression, World War II and the Cold War -- by returning to providential history. Then in the 1950s, Princeton professor Harris Harbison expressed a moderate view regarding the relationship of Christian belief to historical scholarship. He expressed caution in seeing a literal intervention by God in events and identified the "essence of a Christian understanding of history" as "the strange paradox that God both reveals and conceals Himself in history." A historian might look for God with "a sense of pondering and wondering more than of either dogmatizing or doubting" ("The Marks of a Christian Historian," 355).

Historian George Marsden wrote, "The very nature of spiritual reality is mysterious, so that we have only the most general notions of its meanings." "One of the most common mistakes of Christian thinkers has been to fail to recognize the limits of their own knowledge of the mysterious spiritual realm. For instance, Christians have often confused the belief that the Holy Spirit is working in history and in our lives with the ability to tell precisely how the Spirit works" (The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship, 82, 95-96). Other historians warn against assuming any ability to write about God with the authority and inspiration that biblical historians did.

But latter-day scripture and prophetic discourse provide Latter-day Saints with inspired sources that other Christian historians could only dreamed of. These documents both enrich and complicate the work of the thoughtful LDS historian.

Joseph Smith and a Relational Definition of Sin

Excerpts of  Highlights from BYU Studies 50th Anniversary Symposium,  Meridian Magazine

Joseph Smith and a Relational Definition of Sin
by Josh E. Probert, University of Delaware

"Joseph Smith questioned the foundation of Protestantism that salvation is an event that takes place between two people alone, namely God and man. He replaced this ethic of individualism with one of community, interrelatedness, and interdependence and made religious community the condition of the possibility of salvation." Although Joseph would agree with the biblical notion that sin "ruptures one's relationship to deity," he built upon this idea and added to it.

The Protestant worldview of self-scrutiny and being saved by grace may have driven Joseph into the Sacred Grove, but the religion that grew from Joseph's encounter with Deity was one based on relationships, particularly covenant relationships. Joseph's revelations, says Probert, resulted in an effort "to make concrete an impulse manifest across the millennia of Christianity, namely the desire to construct the city of God, . . . Zion."

Community was not just for this world either. Joseph recast heaven, too, as a place of "eternal work among eternal associates" and not merely a destination where the Saints experience "a beatific reprieve from the cares of this world in which all surround the throne of God and do nothing but chant, 'sanctus, santus, sanctus.'" Joseph believed in a heaven where "the same sociality, which exists among us here will exist among us there" (D&C 130:2).

Probert suggests we need to better understand "what Joseph Smith was getting at when he taught that friendship is one of the 'grand fundamental principles of Mormonism.' It is at least clear that he was arguing for something more robust than inviting the Whitneys and the Kimballs over to the Mansion House for a game of loo and whist." Friendship, community, and relationship provide a different context for sin.

Sin becomes more than merely the breaking of a rule; it is the violation of a covenant community. This idea that sin occurs within relationships leads to Probert's pivotal point: "This contextualization of sin helps provide a measure of stability in the subjective relativity of defining what is and is not sin. One can use behavior's effects on relationships as a rubric. In a most important way, seeing sin as behavior that damages saving relationships gets us beyond Pharisee-like judgment of others for things that do not matter and reorients our focus to love, especially the agape-type love that was central to primitive Christianity.

Wilford Woodruff’s 1897 Testimony in Context: New Discoveries

Excerpts of  Highlights from BYU Studies 50th Anniversary Symposium,  Meridian Magazine

Wilford Woodruff's 1897 Testimony in Context: New Discoveries
by Richard Neitzel Holzapfel, BYU

Richard Neitzel Holzapfel spoke on Wilford Woodruff's March 12, 1897, testimony—the first testimony of a Latter-day Prophet to be audio recorded. Of all the experiences Woodruff had and all the doctrines he knew, what did he choose to record for posterity, both in writing and on the first sound recording? He emphasized his testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and that fact that Smith revealed priesthood ordinances and conferred priesthood keys on the Twelve.

Throughout Wilford Woodruff's life, he frequently referred to the last meeting the Quorum of the Twelve had with Joseph Smith before leaving on their missions and Smith's martyrdom. Yet Woodruff, one of the best diary keepers in Church history, recorded little about this event on March 26, 1844: "A rainy day. I met in council with the brethren." Joseph Smith's diary mentions he was in council from 9:00 to 12:00 and again from 2:00 to 5:00, and William Clayton's diary also notes a meeting on that day.

Later, during the succession crisis following Smith's death, Woodruff began to speak about the charges Joseph Smith gave to the Twelve in that meeting. For the next fifty-four years, he regularly referred to this event. If it was so life-changing and truly established the authority of the Twelve to lead the Church, why did Woodruff omit the details of the meeting from his diary? Holzapfel shared what seems to be an insignificant journal entry from his own diary as an example: "Went on date to Wilkinson Center." When talking about that date, he fills in more details from his memory. That is because he later married the woman whom he took on that date, so what seemed insignificant took on added meaning.

Perhaps Woodruff did not recognize the true significance of the meeting until Smith's martyrdom. However, a more likely theory is that no one took minutes because of the sacred nature of so many of Smith's teachings. In his recorded testimony, Wilford Woodruff did not address his witness of the Book of Mormon, the First Vision, or anything else that was not disputed at the time. He was partly responding to rumors and questions regarding the origin of the endowment. But he was also preparing his testimony for future, unseen generations. As the last Apostle living who had been in the meeting with Joseph Smith, he felt a responsiblity to encapsulate what he felt was the Smith's legacy---priesthood, temple ordinances, and the resulting blessings. Through his teachings and revelations, Joseph Smith clarified why the Savior taught that "great shall be your reward in heaven"--not that heaven itself is the reward. Joseph Smith and Wilford Woodruff believed there is more and that it had to do with eternal families and exaltation.

While historians prefer to work with contemporary sources, often these sources are fragmentary and participants' recordings of memories after the fact must be used to help fill in the gaps. Holzapfel argued that Woodruff's memories of that important meeting are reliable, even if they are colored and shaped by retrospect, because the core of the story never changed, including the date, the participants, the location, and Joseph Smith's appearance (his face shone "like amber"). He especially recounted Joseph Smith placing the burden of the kingdom on the Twelve's shoulders, warning them to bear off the kingdom or be damned.

Hozapfel pointed out, "Our memory challenges us on nonessential points. but on events that change our lives, our memory is magnified." Wilford Woodruff was not a detached observer in that Nauvoo meeting but a participant in something that deeply affected himself and his understanding of his life's mission. Holzapfel said, "It's not surprising that his memory would allow him to recall specific points about that day throughout his life."

Finally, Holzapfel revealed an exciting possibility. Wilford Woodruff recorded the same testimony twice, on two different dates, in order to get a better sound recording. Why, then, did the Church have a third cylinder in its archives? Holzapfel read a statement from George Q. Cannon, explaining that both he and Joseph F. Smith also recorded their witnesses that they were present to hear Wilford Woodruff's testimony. What if the third cylinder holds the only recording of George Q. Cannon and the earliest recording of Joseph F. Smith? If there is a way to extract the audio from those cylinders and re-record them, it will be exciting to find out what they hold.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology: “The Measure of Their Creation—Theological Anthropology"

Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology Seventh Annual Meeting
March 25-27, 2010
Utah Valley University, Orem, Utah

2010 SMPT Annual Meeting Schedule

Theme:  "The Measure of Their Creation—Theological Anthropology"
Location:  Library Lecture Hall (LI 120)
Utah Valley University, Orem, Utah
Host:  UVU Religious Studies Program
  • Panel: Remembering Truman Madsen: Patriarch of Mormon Philosophy
  • "Re-thinking Grace and All We Can Do" Sheila Taylor, Graduate Theological Union
  • "The Natural Man and Enmity to God" Graham Stott, Arab American University
  • "Mormonism Dysembodied: Placing LDS Theology in Conversation with Disability" Anne Leahy, independent scholar and ASL translator
  • '"Which Thing I Never Had Supposed": The Problem of Evil and the Problem of Man' Loyd Ericson, Claremont Graduate University
  • "Pre-existence, the Problem of Evil, and Two Kinds of Freedom" Benjamin Huff, Randolph-Macon College
  • "Finding the Divine in Man: Romantic Angst and the Collapse of Transcendence" Terryl L. Givens, University of Richmond
  • "Are Mormons Pelagians?" Brian Birch, Utah Valley University
  • "Reflections on Justification, Theosis, and Grace in Christian and Mormon Discourse" Grant Underwood, Brigham Young University
  • "The Life of the World" Adam Miller, Collin College
  • "Dual Innocence and the Preparatory Redemption" Rob Line, LDS Institute, University of Utah
  • "Internal Landscapes: Considerations On the Role of the Body As a Map For Environmental Awareness" Pat Debenham, Brigham Young University
  • "Approaching Justice: Toward a Mormon Conception of the Difference Principle" Chris Henrichsen, Brigham Young University
  • "Subjectivity and Truth: Towards a Basic Mormon Anthropology" Joseph Spencer, Utah Valley University
  • "Subjection, Mastery, and Discipleship" Jennifer Lane, Brigham Young University - Hawaii, Elizabeth Sewell, Brigham Young University
  • "The Implications of Evolution and Consciousness for Key LDS Doctrines" Steven Peck, Brigham Young University
  • "The New God Argument" Lincoln Cannon and Joseph West, Mormon Transhumanist Association
  • "Divine Anthropology: Translating the Suprahuman Chain" Sam Brown, Intermountain Medical Center, Salt Lake City
  • "Plato, Purity, and the Iconoclast Temptation: A Catholic Imaginarium" David K. O'Connor, University of Notre Dame
  • "The Prodigal Son" Kevin Hart, University of Virginia
  • "I've a Mother There" David Paulsen, Brigham Young University
  • "Literal Spirit Birth" Eric Nielson, mechanical engineer, Sturgis, Michigan
  • "Religious Certainty and Uncertainty in Kierkegaard's Authorship" Keith Lane, Brigham Young University-Hawaii
  • "Anthropology as Epistemology: A Kierkegaardian Basis for Mormon Testimony Claims" Blake Ostler, attorney, Thompson Ostler & Olsen
  • "Pre-Existence and Chaos: The Struggle for Order" Jim McLachlan, Western Carolina University
  • (title TBA) Laurence Hemming, Institute of Advanced Studies, Lancaster University

BYU Studies turns 50

Excerpts of Journal-on-LDS-scholarship-celebrates-50-years,  by Sara Israelsen-Hartley, Deseret News
"This is a special event," said the journal's editor John Welch, a BYU law professor and a scholar of history and classical languages, "to celebrate, bring people together and do what we like doing best, which is exploring academic insights into Mormon topics."

Those insights abound in BYU Studies, the university's multi-disciplinary journal published four times a year.

It's a place where scholars write about things that appeal to the LDS community, and share insights from their disciplines through the lens of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Welch said.

The journal began in 1959 in the English department as the "Wasatch Review," but then-BYU president Ernest Wilkinson saw the need for a university-wide outlet for scholarly work and broadened its scope, Welch said.

For details about subscriptions, past editions or the upcoming symposium visit:

Charity-based churches upset with Glen Beck

Excerpts of Glenn Beck's Advice on 'Social Justice' Churches Sparks Outrage by Jennifer Riley, Christian Post

Anti-poverty Christian groups are up in arms after popular political commentator Glenn Beck urged Christians to leave their church if it talks about social justice.

Beck, a Mormon, said the word "social justice" is code for communism and Nazism.

In his radio and television show last week on Fox News, Beck urged Christian viewers to talk to their pastor or priest about the word social justice if their church uses the term. If the church leader refuses to change the church's commitment to social justice, then they should leave, Beck continued.

"Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!" he exclaimed.

Later in the show, Beck held up cards with a hammer and sickle on one and a swastika on the other. He said communism and Nazis both have the same philosophy and in America "social justice" is the code word for both.

Meanwhile, anti-hunger ministry Bread for the World said it does not usually feel compelled to respond to Beck's outrageous statements. But it said his recent comments had "gone too far."

"[W]e say Jesus called us to care for 'the least of these,'" wrote Jim McDonald, managing director of Bread for the World, in an e-mail to The Christian Post. "No matter where you fall on the political spectrum, it is impossible for biblically-literate people to deny the thousands of verses in the Bible about hunger and poverty."

Sojourners and Bread for the World are calling on Christians to send Glenn Beck a message to protest his comparison of church-based social justice and communism.

Notably, Beck's religious group, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or the Mormon church, is widely regarded by Christians as either a heretical Christian sect, a cult, or another Abrahamic religion.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New Torah For Modern Minds

New Torah For Modern Minds By MICHAEL MASSING, New York Times

Abraham, the Jewish patriarch, probably never existed. Nor did Moses. The entire Exodus story as recounted in the Bible probably never occurred. The same is true of the tumbling of the walls of Jericho. And David, far from being the fearless king who built Jerusalem into a mighty capital, was more likely a provincial leader whose reputation was later magnified to provide a rallying point for a fledgling nation.

Such startling propositions -- the product of findings by archaeologists digging in Israel and its environs over the last 25 years -- have gained wide acceptance among non-Orthodox rabbis. But there has been no attempt to disseminate these ideas or to discuss them with the laity -- until now.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which represents the 1.5 million Conservative Jews in the United States, has just issued a new Torah and commentary, the first for Conservatives in more than 60 years. Called ''Etz Hayim'' (''Tree of Life'' in Hebrew), it offers an interpretation that incorporates the latest findings from archaeology, philology, anthropology and the study of ancient cultures. To the editors who worked on the book, it represents one of the boldest efforts ever to introduce into the religious mainstream a view of the Bible as a human rather than divine document.

''When I grew up in Brooklyn, congregants were not sophisticated about anything,'' said Rabbi Harold Kushner, the author of ''When Bad Things Happen to Good People'' and a co-editor of the new book. ''Today, they are very sophisticated and well read about psychology, literature and history, but they are locked in a childish version of the Bible.''

''Etz Hayim,'' compiled by David Lieber of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, seeks to change that. It offers the standard Hebrew text, a parallel English translation (edited by Chaim Potok, best known as the author of ''The Chosen''), a page-by-page exegesis, periodic commentaries on Jewish practice and, at the end, 41 essays by prominent rabbis and scholars on topics ranging from the Torah scroll and dietary laws to ecology and eschatology.

These essays, perused during uninspired sermons or Torah readings at Sabbath services, will no doubt surprise many congregants. For instance, an essay on Ancient Near Eastern Mythology,'' by Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, states that on the basis of modern scholarship, it seems unlikely that the story of Genesis originated in Palestine. More likely, Mr. Wexler says, it arose in Mesopotamia, the influence of which is most apparent in the story of the Flood, which probably grew out of the periodic overflowing of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. The story of Noah, Mr. Wexler adds, was probably borrowed from the Mesopotamian epic Gilgamesh.

Equally striking for many readers will be the essay ''Biblical Archaeology,'' by Lee I. Levine, a professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. ''There is no reference in Egyptian sources to Israel's sojourn in that country,'' he writes, ''and the evidence that does exist is negligible and indirect.'' The few indirect pieces of evidence, like the use of Egyptian names, he adds, ''are far from adequate to corroborate the historicity of the biblical account.''

Similarly ambiguous, Mr. Levine writes, is the evidence of the conquest and settlement of Canaan, the ancient name for the area including Israel. Excavations showing that Jericho was unwalled and uninhabited, he says, ''clearly seem to contradict the violent and complete conquest portrayed in the Book of Joshua.'' What's more, he says, there is an ''almost total absence of archaeological evidence'' backing up the Bible's grand descriptions of the Jerusalem of David and Solomon.

The notion that the Bible is not literally true ''is more or less settled and understood among most Conservative rabbis,'' observed David Wolpe, a rabbi at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles and a contributor to ''Etz Hayim.'' But some congregants, he said, ''may not like the stark airing of it.'' Last Passover, in a sermon to 2,200 congregants at his synagogue, Rabbi Wolpe frankly said that ''virtually every modern archaeologist'' agrees ''that the way the Bible describes the Exodus is not the way that it happened, if it happened at all.'' The rabbi offered what he called a ''litany of disillusion'' about the narrative, including contradictions, improbabilities, chronological lapses and the absence of corroborating evidence. In fact, he said, archaeologists digging in the Sinai have ''found no trace of the tribes of Israel -- not one shard of pottery.''

The reaction to the rabbi's talk ranged from admiration at his courage to dismay at his timing to anger at his audacity. Reported in Jewish publications around the world, the sermon brought him a flood of letters accusing him of undermining the most fundamental teachings of Judaism. But he also received many messages of support. ''I can't tell you how many rabbis called me, e-mailed me and wrote me, saying, 'God bless you for saying what we all believe,' '' Rabbi Wolpe said. He attributes the ''explosion'' set off by his sermon to ''the reluctance of rabbis to say what they really believe.''

Before the introduction of ''Etz Hayim,'' the Conservative movement relied on the Torah commentary of Joseph Hertz, the chief rabbi of the British Commonwealth. By 1936, when it was issued, the Hebrew Bible had come under intense scrutiny from scholars like Julius Wellhausen of Germany, who raised many questions about the text's authorship and accuracy. Hertz, working in an era of rampant anti-Semitism and of Christian efforts to demonstrate the inferiority of the ''Old'' Testament to the ''New,'' dismissed all doubts about the integrity of the text.

Maintaining that no people would have invented for themselves so ''disgraceful'' a past as that of being slaves in a foreign land, he wrote that ''of all Oriental chronicles, it is only the Biblical annals that deserve the name of history.''

The Hertz approach had little competition until 1981, when the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the official arm of Reform Judaism, published its own Torah commentary. Edited by Rabbi Gunther Plaut, it took note of the growing body of archaeological and textual evidence that called the accuracy of the biblical account into question. The ''tales'' of Genesis, it flatly stated, were a mix of ''myth, legend, distant memory and search for origins, bound together by the strands of a central theological concept.'' But Exodus, it insisted, belonged in ''the realm of history.'' While there are scholars who consider the Exodus story to be ''folk tales,'' the commentary observed, ''this is a minority view.''

Twenty years later, the weight of scholarly evidence questioning the Exodus narrative had become so great that the minority view had become the majority one.

Not among Orthodox Jews, however. They continue to regard the Torah as the divine and immutable word of God. Their most widely used Torah commentary, known as the Stone Edition (1993), declares in its introduction ''that every letter and word of the Torah was given to Moses by God.''

Lawrence Schiffman, a professor at New York University and an Orthodox Jew, said that ''Etz Hayim'' goes so far in accepting modern scholarship that, without realizing it, it ends up being in ''nihilistic opposition'' to what Conservative Jews stand for. He noted, however, that most of the questions about the Bible's accuracy had been tucked away discreetly in the back. ''The average synagogue-goer is never going to look there,'' he said.

Even some Conservative rabbis feel uncomfortable with the depth of the doubting. ''I think the basic historicity of the text is valid and verifiable,'' said Susan Grossman, the rabbi of Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia, Md., and a co-editor of ''Etz Hayim.'' As for the mounting archaeological evidence suggesting the contrary, Rabbi Grossman said: ''There's no evidence that it didn't happen. Most of the 'evidence' is evidence from silence.''

''The real issue for me is the eternal truths that are in the text,'' she added. ''How do we apply this hallowed text to the 21st century?'' One way, she said, is to make it more relevant to women. Rabbi Grossman is one of many women who worked on ''Etz Hayim,'' in an effort to temper the Bible's heavily patriarchal orientation and make the text more palatable to modern readers. For example, the passage in Genesis that describes how the aged Sarah laughed upon hearing God say that she would bear a son is traditionally interpreted as a laugh of incredulity. In its commentary, however, ''Etz Hayim'' suggests that her laughter ''may not be a response to the far-fetched notion of pregnancy at an advanced age, but the laughter of delight at the prospect of two elderly people resuming marital intimacy.''

In a project of such complexity, there were inevitably many points of disagreement. But Rabbi Kushner says the only one that eluded resolution concerned Leviticus 18:22: ''Do not lie with a male as one lies with a woman; it is an abhorrence.'' ''We couldn't come to a formulation that we could all be comfortable with,'' the rabbi said. ''Some people felt that homosexuality is wrong. We weren't prepared to embrace that as the Conservative position. But at the same time we couldn't say this is a mentality that has been disproved by contemporary biology, for not everyone was prepared to go along with that.'' Ultimately, the editors settled on an anodyne compromise, noting that the Torah's prohibitions on homosexual relations ''have engendered considerable debate'' and that Conservative synagogues should ''welcome gay and lesbian congregants in all congregational activities.''

Since the fall, when ''Etz Hayim'' was issued, more than 100,000 copies have been sold. Eventually, it is expected to become the standard Bible in the nation's 760 Conservative synagogues.

Mark S. Smith, a professor of Bible and Near Eastern Studies at New York University, noted that the Hertz commentary had lasted 65 years. ''That's incredible,'' he said. ''If 'Etz Hayim' isn't around for 50 years or more, I'd be surprised.''

Its longevity, however, may depend on the pace of archaeological discovery.