Thursday, December 30, 2010

Wilford Woodruff's 1875 reflections

Excerpts of Wilford Woodruff's 1875 reflections,

...Throughout his life he kept an extensive journal, and at the end of some years, summarized his religious views.

Below are Wilford Woodruff's reflections at the end of 1875 (to read his thoughts at other times, see here). 
Thus Ends 1875 the End of the Centaury of the American Independance.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Faith and Modernity

Excerpts of Faith and Modernity by ALAN WOLFE, New York Times
...  Over the past few years, a number of theories have been offered about the rise of fundamentalism. Roy proposes the most original — and the most persuasive. Fundamentalism, in his view, is a symptom of, rather than a reaction against, the increasing secularization of society.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Dant, "Adventures of the Soul" (reviewed by Jonathan Langford)


Title: Adventures of the Soul: The Best Creative Nonfiction from BYU Studies

Thursday, December 23, 2010

LDS History -- Dreams

 LDS-Church-History just completed its second topical analysis.  Actually, the first was  a general history of the church.  The second was on the history of tithing

The next topic will cover Dreams.

Dreams were an important component of early Latter Day Saint spirituality.

Should women have the priesthood? Men much more open to the idea

Excerpts of Why Do Mormon Men Want Women to Have the Priesthood More Than Women Want It for Themselves? by Jana Riess, Belief Net

Authors Robert Putnam and David Campbell asked a wide variety of Americans their opinion about women leading churches. They report that "by 2006 majorities of every religious tradition except Mormons had come to favor women clergy," including 93% of both Mainline Protestants and Jews, and 75% percent of "Anglo" Catholics (p. 243). Even 66% of Evangelicals agreed, as compared with 30% of Latter-day Saints. In fact, only 10% of Mormon women favor female clergy in their church, which in an LDS context means giving women the priesthood. As Putnam and Campbell note, "Mormons, and especially Mormon women, appear to be the only holdouts against the growing and substantial consensus across the religious spectrum in favor of women playing a fuller role in church leadership."

Yet the most remarkable finding is that within Mormonism itself, there is a significant split by gender on this question. The number that looks the most extraordinary to outsiders--that only 10% of Mormon women want the priesthood--seems pretty predictable to those inside the faith. But the finding  that 48% of Mormon men say they favor female LDS clergy is truly startling.

Continue reading

Review: Joseph Smith, Jesus & Satanic Opposition

Excerpts of Review: Joseph Smith, Jesus & Satanic Opposition

Douglas J. Davies, Joseph Smith, Jesus and Satanic Opposition: Atonement, Evil and the Mormon Vision (Farnham: Ashgate, 2010).

Davies argues that Mormonism's force as a religion is intelligible through a relational trinity (Jesus, Satan and Joseph Smith) evoked in three paradigmatic scenes: the Grand Council, Gethsemane and the Sacred Grove.  This intelligibility makes Mormonism Plan of Salvation both accessible and appealing.  Davies' attempts to speak to and through a form of Mormonism which is now fading, or at least shifting, gives this text a liminal quality.  He attributes some of the major shifts in LDS ecclesiology and theology to the reconfiguration of this trinity.  And yet, despite being focussed upon Mormonism's past, his book sensitises members of the Church, and interested observers, to those changes currently occurring.

Continue reading

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Gay Activists Attend Mormon Christmas Concert As Invited Guests

Excerpts of Gay Activists Attend Mormon Christmas Concert As Invited Guests by Nick Mattos,

In an act of goodwill towards gays, the Mormon Church invited a group of prominent gay activists to attend the Church's annual Christmas concert.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints issued a formal invitation to a group of gay Mormon activists, including Milk director Dustin Lance Black and WordPerfect creator Bruce Bastian, to attend the Church's official Christmas concert last week.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The FAIR Journal: December 2010

Excerpts of The Fair (The Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research) Journal, December 2010
  • Communication theorist John Durham Peters; Latter-day Prophecy and Revelation
  • Infallibility and Blind Obedience
  • North American setting for The Book of Mormon?
  • What constitutes LDS doctrine? Does it constantly change?

Mountain Meadows may become national landmark

Excerpts of Mountain Meadows Massacre site may become national landmark by JENNIFER DOBNER, Associated Press
The southern Utah site where Mormons massacred the members of a 19th Century Arkansas wagon train is on its way to becoming a National istoric Landmark.

Loosing faith because of the Internet

Stories like the one below have become common.  I've heard surprisingly high estimates of the numbers of those leaving the church or going inactive because of exposure to troubling information on the Internet.  The following illustrates this phenomena.

Excerpts of Why I Chucked My Mormon Faith and Became an Atheist by Ted Cox, AlterNet

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hedges and Holzapfel, "Through the Lens: The Original 1907 Church History Photographs of George Edward Anderson" (reviewed by Steve Eccles)


Title: Through the Lens: The Original 1907 Church History Photographs of
George Edward Anderson
Author: Andrew H. Hedges & Richard Neitzel Holzapfel

Bigelow and Langford, "The Latter-Day Saint Family Encyclopedia" (reviewed by Reed Russell)


Title:  The Latter-Day Saint Family Encyclopedia
Author:  Christopher K. Bigelow and Jonathan Langford (edited by Don L.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Church softens racial elements in the Book of Mormon

Church removes racial references in Book of Mormon headings
The LDS Church has made subtle — but significant — changes to chapter headings in its online version of the faith's signature scripture, The Book of Mormon, toning down some earlier racial allusions.
The words "skin of blackness" were removed

Friday, December 17, 2010

The American Covenant: Fulfilling the Gospel Promise of One Nation Under God


Title: The American Covenant: Fulfilling the Gospel Promise of One Nation Under God
Author: Timothy Ballard

Mormon Chronicles for mobile devices

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Jesus as creator, Triassic period

Food for thought.

Picture: Jesus holding and petting a baby dinosaur

Wilford Woodruff's 1868-69 reflections

Excerpts of Wilford Woodruff's 1868-69 reflections,

Significant events occurring during this time frame include:
  • 1869, March 1 -- Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI), a cooperative business system, began in Salt Lake City.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Senators work against Swiss missionary ban

The Mormon temple in Zollikofen, near Bern after its inauguration in 1955
Image Caption:

A group of senators and representatives in the United States is calling on Switzerland to allow Mormon missionaries to continue working in Switzerland after 2012, despite a de facto ban.

The new regulations stem from a

Monday, December 13, 2010

Expound symposium

PictureThe  first  annual   - EXPOUND - symposium will be held on Saturday, 14 May 2011 at the historic Brigham Young Academy building in Provo, Utah.

Come join us for engaging and insightful presentations related to the rich heritage of LDS history, scripture and belief.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wilford Woodruff's 1863-67 reflections

Excerpts of Wilford Woodruff's 1863-67 reflections
Significant events occuring this time frame include:
  • 1862, July 8 -- Morrill antibigamy bill became law, designed to prevent practice of Polygamy in U.S. territories.
  • 1863 August 22 -- Wilford Woodruff predicts the building of the Logan temple
  • 1865 April 14 -- Abraham Lincoln assassinated
  • 1866 October 7 -- First meeting in new Salt Lake tabernacle
  • 1867 December 2 -- School of the Prophets reinstituted
  • 1867, December 8 -- Relief Society program reemphasized by President Brigham Young, under President Eliza R. Snow.
Wilford Woodruff's year-end reflections:
Thus Ends the year 1863. Joseph the Prophet said whoever lived to see 1860 would live to See the Commencement of the downfall of the United States.

The current state of American teenage belief; and how Mormon teenagers are different

...American teenagers follow a mutant creed best understood as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." Almost Christian, a popularization of the results of the 2002-05 National Study of Youth and Religion, attempts to help Christian parents, youth pastors, and others who are alarmed at the shakiness and incoherence of most teens' faith.

The content of that faith is simple and as American as a smile in an airport. The tenets of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) include belief in a god who watches over us and orders life on earth, and whose major moral concern is that humans should be nice to one another

Hedges and Holzapfel, "Within These Prison Walls: Lorenzo Snow's Record Book, 1886-1897" (reviewed by Blair Dee Hodges)


Title: Within These Prison Walls: Lorenzo Snow's Record Book, 1886-1897

Saturday, December 11, 2010

LDS Singles over 30 Survey

LDS Singles 30+ Survey

LDS singles over the age of 30 please take this survey. The information is being gathered to create the documentary "Thirty Seconds to Thirty," which is film about being single and over thirtyin the LDS faith. It tells the story of those who have never married,been widowed or who are divorced.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Wilford Woodruff's 1862 reflections

Excerpts of Wilford Woodruff's 1862 reflections

1862 Has past and left its trace upon the Historians Record. It has been a vary important year. It has fulfilled the Historians predictions & the predictions of the prophets

Monday, December 06, 2010

Marriage in middle America in trouble

Executive Summary: In middle america, marriage is in trouble 
In middle America, marriage is in trouble. Among the affluent, marriage is stable and appears to be getting even stronger. Among the poor, marriage continues to be fragile and weak.
But the newest and perhaps most consequential marriage trend of our time concerns the broad center of our society, where marriage, that iconic middle-class institution, is foundering.

Mormon Feminism: A Patheos Symposium

Excerpts of Mormon Feminism: A Patheos Symposium--

Kathryn Soper
As Sisters in Zion: Mormon Feminism and Sisterhood
by Kathryn Soper
It's a good time to stop worrying so much about who's a feminist and who's not, and instead focus on how women who care about gender issues can better cooperate by emphasizing similarities and respecting differences.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Wilford Woodruff's 1861 reflections

Excerpts of Wilford Woodruff's 1861 reflections,
... This year has brought to pass much of the fulfillment of the predictions of the Ancient and Modern Prophets of God. See this Journal Jan 1st 1861. I there declaired as a Prophetic Historian that this year would be the most distressing year America Ever saw since they were an independant Nation. Time has proven it so.

Swinton, "To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson" (reviewed by Larry Jackson)


Title:  To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson
Author:  Heidi S. Swinton

Friday, December 03, 2010

New Release: The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy

Just released, The Persistence of Polygamy: Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormon Polygamy edited by Craig Foster and Newell G. Bringhurst, published by John Whitmer Books in association with the John Whitmer Historical Association.

Description: The first of three volumes dealing with the controversial topic of polygamy and its history in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Proposition 8 case will be televised Monday

Monday on CSPAN-1 at 10 a.m. pacific / 1 p.m. eastern
Justices hear arguments in the case Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the Proposition 8 (or the California Marriage Protection Act) case. The 9th Circuit is hearing an appeal of an August ruling by U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who presided over a trial that examined such questions as whether homosexuality could be changed and whether same-sex parenting harmed children. Walker wanted to broadcast the trial on the Internet, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 to ban cameras on the grounds that witnesses could be intimidated during testimony. The December hearing will involve legal arguments by lawyers, not testimony by witnesses. The 9th Circuit has said the first hour of the hearing will examine whether the sponsors of Proposition 8 and Imperial County have legal authority, or standing, to appeal Walker's ruling. Standing generally requires an appellant to have been directly affected by a court decision. The state has standing because it enforces Proposition 8, but Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declined to appeal. The second hour will be spent discussing whether the gay marriage ban violates equal protection rights. Judges: Judge Michael Daly Hawkins Judge Stephen Reinhardt Judge N. Randy Smith 


"New and Improved" Now Fully Live
LDS Newsroom

In September, Newsroom published a story about -- a new version of one of the Church's primary websites that, until now, has been in test form. Beginning today, becomes the official

This latest revision, which includes changes in content, processing and online appearance, also includes upgrades to the search functionality.

Author Interview: James D'Arc, ...The History of Moviemaking in Utah

For nearly a hundred years, the state of Utah has played host to a number of Hollywood films, from potboilers on lean budgets to some of the most memorable films ever made, including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Searchers, Footloose, and Planet of the Apes.

When Hollywood Came to Town - The History of Moviemaking in Utah gives you the inside scoop, telling how each film was made, what happened on and off the set, and how audiences reacted.

To learn more about movie making in Utah, check out this Interview of  James D'Arc by Donnie Morris, owner of Confetti Antiques & Books in Spanish Fork

NOM Demanding Prop 8 Appeals Judge Recuse Himself

Excertps of Mormon-NOM Demanding Prop 8 Appeals Judge Recuse Himself,  by Eric at

Note also that one of the three judges who will hear the case is a BYU alumni.

The Mormon-controlled National Organization For Marriage is calling for Judge Stephen Reinhardt to recuse himself from the Prop 8 Appeals Trial because his wife works for the ACLU. Despite the fact that his wife has no significant involvment in the case.
Judge Stephen Reinhardt, prop 8, nom, recuse, gay marriage

Judge Stephen Reinhardt

Judge Reinhardt's wife is the executive director of the Southern Chapter of the ACLU, which has not been involved in the Prop 8 case whatsoever. However because the national organization of the ACLU has been involved, and Mrs. Reinhardt made a personal contribution to the "No On 8″ campaign,  . . .

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Review: Avery, "Hidden Wives" (reviewed by Russell Y. Anderson)


Title: Hidden Wives
Author: Claire Avery (a pseudonym for sisters Mari Hilburn & Michelle Poché)
Publisher: Forge Books
Genre: fiction
Year Published: 2010
Number of Pages: 336
Binding: Paperback
ISBN10: 0765326892
ISBN13:  978-0765326898
Price: $14.99

Reviewed by Russell Y Anderson for the Association for Mormon Letters

(Editor's note: an additional review, by me, will be sent out soon. Russell caught much of the idea of the book; I will have a few additional thoughts.  JN)

Hidden Wives is an engaging story about two sisters and their lives in a polygamous society. The older (by a few months) more beautiful sister Rachel must be "placed" into a marriage before Sarah can be married. Now that they are approaching their 16th year, events are moving forward for those marriages. Sarah is promised to her father's half brother and the prophet must decide which of the 16 men who have received a testimony that they are supposed to marry Rachel will actually be her future husband. That leads to an interesting twist where the prophet decides it should be a 17th man.

I would think that this story is a composite of several real-life stories of people that are living a polygamous lifestyle. However, there is no room in this story for a foundation of faith and religion. For Hidden Wives this is simply an example of lecherous men who let their evil motives control the lives of wives and innocent children.

Even though the Blood of the Lamb church is obviously based on the Mormon church, this book seems to depart from that foundation unnecessarily. No Mormon church would ever have a "massive pine cross suspended from the ceiling above the lectern." (p. 34) Nor would you expect Rachel to have been "soothed" by the cross. Normally, after an opening hymn, there will be a prayer, but one of the apostles gives a short speech instead of a prayer that concludes that a wives duty "is to bear the fruit of your husband's seed" (p. 34). Applause is also very out of place in a Mormon meeting, but it was very common for the Blood of the Lamb meeting.

It would seem that positions of power and influence can be bought in the Blood of Lamb church. I have known of one person who joined a polygamous group in Manti, Utah, who was also ordained an apostle for what seemed to be a response to his large donation. So I suppose that even though this is very foreign for LDS church leadership, this does seem to occur for fundamentalist groups.

We are treated to a short history of Joseph Smith as one of the wives is required to teach school. The facts about Joseph Smith are not always accurate, but that might have been intentional to show the limits of the teacher. For example she says that the Book of Mormon was written in Egyptian, instead of the more accurate "reformed Egyptian" because Hebrew would have taken too much room.

I also find it amazing that just to satisfy a teenager, both he and the two sisters are allowed to participate in a full temple ceremony. But I suppose this could also be an attempt to show the separation from LDS practice of the Blood of the Lamb group.

The girls' father and the prophet are very clearly the villains in this story. The father whips Rachel because other men found her attractive and interesting. They are so easy to hate as they make decisions that violate normal social norms and marriage practices.

It is very interesting to see the process of first Sarah and then eventually Rachel seeing the false foundation of prophet Silver's teachings and decisions. Overcoming racism also find its way into this story as the process of education and growth continues to the point that both Sarah and Rachel are able to escape.

This is a believable story of overcoming indoctrination and limited experiences. It moves well and draws you into the action and events.

Although this is a fun book to read, I think it takes an approach that is too simplistic. It is easy to see polygamy as simply evil men who are guided only by passion. But that doesn't explain the reason for all those that have desired to live in polygamy. If you watched the recent reality TV show "Sister Wives", you saw a very different perspective that showed a loving father and husband that tried hard to live a difficult lifestyle. I think it is too easy to simply assume the worst for the people that practice this type of marriage and family life. It would be more honest to examine the spiritual foundational reasons that lead people to do something that is very much against their cultural background.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Edward Leo Lyman to speak on the publication of a Mormon Apostle's diarie

    ...  CANDID INSIGHTS OF A MORMON APOSTLE: THE DIARIES OF ABRAHAM H. CANNON, 1889-1895, edited by Edward Leo Lyman, published by Signature Books in association with the Smith-Pettit Foundation. In a limited edition of 500 numbered copies this handsome book is the twelfth volume in the prestigious Significant Mormon Diaries Series. The editor will be at our store on Wednesday, December 1, 2010 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. to talk about and sign his book. He will speak at 6:00 p.m. and answer questions from the audience, signing books before and after that time.
            Many men have made their mark in the leadership of the LDS Church, but few have done as much at such an early age as Abraham H. Cannon, son of apostle and First Presidency member, George Q. Cannon. Called to be a member of the First Council of the Seventy in 1882 at age 23, he went on to serve as an apostle seven years later until his death in 1896 at only age 37. He was founder or director of over twenty companies and enterprises in Utah's formative period. He was instrumental in operating the Church's Juvenile Instructor and Contributor magazines as well as writing for both publications. Cannon also proudly served time in prison for polygamy.
            Cannon kept a detailed and candid diary in which he recorded, as historian D. Michael Quinn notes, "details of everything from the plots of plays performed at the Salt Lake Theatre to confidential meetings of the LDS leadership, from board meetings of major businesses to the complaints and unhappiness of his plural wives . . . to Abram's decision to marry a new plural wife in July 1896." B. Carmon Hardy states that "Cannon's personal record really opens to our view the inner sanctum of Church leadership in late-nineteenth-century Mormon life." Lyman writes that Candid Insights of a Mormon Apostle "contains the deliberations and decisions of the First Presidency and apostles prior to the Manifesto ending polygamy, which are found nowhere else."
            Edward Leo Lyman is an award-winning historian who has written scores of books and articles on Mormon and western history. This year he won the Utah Historical Society's Best Book Award for his biography, Amasa Mason Lyman, Mormon Apostle and Apostate, A Study in Dedication.
            We hope you will be able to attend this event which is sure to be fascinating and informative....

Benchmark Books
3269 S. Main St., Ste. 250
Salt Lake City, UT  84115
801-486-3452 (fax)
800-486-3112 (orders)
Hours: Mon. - Fri., 10-6; Sat., 10-5
We accept Visa, MasterCard, Discover, check, or Money Order

Monday, November 29, 2010

Mike Lee, Cleon Skousen and Radical Constitutionalism

Excerpts of Radical Constitutionalism by JEFFREY ROSEN, New York Times

Of the newly elected Tea Party senators, Mike Lee, a 39-year-old Republican from Utah, has the most impeccable establishment legal credentials: the son of [former BYU president] Rex Lee .... But on the campaign trail, especially during his heated primary battle with the three-term Republican incumbent Bob Bennett, Lee offered glimpses of a truly radical vision of the U.S. Constitution, one that sees the document as divinely inspired and views much of what the federal government currently does as unconstitutional.

Lee proposed to dismantle, on constitutional grounds, the federal Departments of Education, and Housing and Urban Development. He insisted that "the Constitution doesn't give Congress the power to redistribute our wealth" and vowed to phase out Social Security. He proposed repealing the 16th Amendment, which authorizes the progressive federal income tax, and called the 17th Amendment, which allows senators to be elected by popular vote rather than by state legislatures, a "mistake." He pledged to end "the unauthorized federal occupation" of Utah land, insisting that Congress lacks the constitutional power to designate federally protected wilderness unless the relevant state legislature approves. He embraced "nullification," the idea that states have the right — and indeed the duty — to disregard federal laws, like the new health-care-reform bill, that they say are unconstitutional. Lee, who is a Mormon and a social conservative, also has equated the founding fathers' invocations of a deist God with the moral values of the Mormon Church. "As your U.S. senator," he promised during the campaign, "I will not vote for a single bill that I can't justify based on the text and the original understanding of the Constitution, no matter what the court says you can do."

Many of the positions Lee outlined on the campaign trail appear to be inspired by the constitutional guru of the Tea Party movement, W. Cleon Skousen, whose 1981 book, "The 5,000-Year Leap," argued that the founding fathers rejected collectivist "European" philosophies and instead derived their divinely inspired principles of limited government from fifth-century Anglo-Saxon chieftains, who in turn modeled themselves on the Biblical tribes of ancient Israel. Skousen, a Mormon who died in 2006 at 92, was for years dismissed by many mainstream conservatives, including William F. Buckley Jr., as a conspiracy-mongering extremist; he was also eventually criticized by the Mormon Church. A vocal supporter of the John Birch Society, Skousen argued that a dynastic cabal, including international bankers like the Rockefellers and J. P. Morgan, conspired to manipulate both Communism and Fascism to promote a one-world government.

Skousen's vision of the Constitution was no less extreme. Starting more than 60 years ago with his first book, "Prophecy and Modern Times," he wrote several volumes about the providential view of the U.S. Constitution set out in Mormon scripture, which sees the Constitution as divinely inspired and on the verge of destruction and the Mormon Church as its salvation. Skousen saw limited government as not only an ethnic idea, rooted in the Anglo-Saxons, but also as a Christian one, embodied in the idea of unalienable rights and duties that derive from God, and he insisted that the founders' "religious precepts turned out to be the heart and soul of the entire American political philosophy."

In 2009, after years of obscurity, Skousen's ideas were unexpectedly rediscovered by Glenn Beck, who was given a copy of "The 5,000-Year Leap" by a friend. As a result of Beck's endorsement, the book became a best seller and a Tea Party favorite. Beck's endorsement also revitalized the National Center for Constitutional Studies, which Skousen founded under another name in 1971 and which offered seminars on his books. During the 1990s, the center typically offered no more than a dozen seminars a year; this past year, it offered more than 200 to Tea Party groups across the country....

But during the Progressive Era, according to Skousen, America abandoned its founding principles because of the pressure exerted by "certain wealthy influential groups" that persuaded the country to embrace a "strong centralized government" with extensive regulatory power. This resulted in a large-scale, government-mandated, entirely unconstitutional redistribution of wealth. In Skousen's history, as in Tea Party politics, socialists and bankers are not opposing forces; the machinations of the wealthy and the machinations of the income-levelers are one and the same and must be resisted by defenders of liberty. Norton handed out cards enumerating the 28 "principles of liberty" that Skousen ascribed to the founders, and he urged us to memorize them.

Although Tea Party groups like Dick Armey's FreedomWorks have emphasized the movement's libertarianism and played down its social conservatism, several of Skousen's 28 principles stress the role of religious virtue. The fourth principle, "Without religion the government of a free people cannot be maintained," criticizes the Supreme Court for having misinterpreted Thomas Jefferson's metaphor of a "wall" separating church and state." Skousen argued that the First Amendment's prohibition on a federal establishment of religion wasn't intended to separate church and state but to prevent the federal government from disestablishing religion in the seven states that had officially established denominations during the founding era.

Some reputable legal scholars, like Akhil Reed Amar of Yale Law School, have made similar historical arguments. But in Skousen's view, the implications of this history are radical: Skousen would encourage the states today to require "universally accepted" religious teachings in public schools, as long as they don't favor one denomination over another. ...

Indeed, the 101 questions overlap with many of Lee's most-controversial views. In the questions, Skousen concludes that most federal regulatory agencies are unconstitutional, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Communications Commission, because they blur "the founders' division of labor between the states and the federal government." Skousen says the obscure "enclave clause" of the Constitution doesn't authorize the president "to lock up large blocks of land within a state as a 'wilderness reserve,' " or to set up national forests or national parks within the confines of a state — an eccentric view the Supreme Court has rejected. Skousen also calls for the repeal of the 16th and 17th Amendments, which he views as an affront to states' rights, and calls for the elimination of Social Security, welfare and the national debt as examples of wealth redistribution, which he considers unconstitutional because, in his words, the founders authorized the government only "to protect equal rights, not provide equal things." ...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Community of Christ joins the National Council of Churches

Excerpts of Community of Christ Sets Conditions for Membership and Joins NCC By: FireTag at Wheat and Tares
During the first 10 days of November, the Community of Christ made two historic transitions that profoundly alter its relationship with both Mormonism and Protestantism. First, the church issued new guidance entitled "Baptism, Confirmation, and Church Membership".
Then, a few days later. the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA  — accepted the application of the Community of Christ to become its 37th denominational member. The NCC is probably the premier echumenical institution of the Christian left in the United States.
Guidance was issued by the CofChrist's Prophet:
"...On several occasions the Spirit impressed on me that the church should not unnecessarily 'hinder' those who had experienced the power of baptism through the grace and authority of Jesus Christ from responding to the Spirit guiding them to membership.
The NCC report, published here, makes clear that the NCC is letting the CofChrist join because they believe the CofChrist is sufficiently far from its historical Restoration roots.
Specifically, the report states that the founder of the Community of Christ was Joseph Smith III, not — you know — that other Joseph Smith.

Another area of concern to the NCC was the Book of Mormon. Here, their opinion may be disturbingly factual:
"But it is not, in any sense, equivalent to the Bible in the life of their communion. Subscription to its teaching is not required for membership or ordination. While the Book of Mormon is sometimes used for worship, there are parts of the COC that seldom refer to it."
Read the entire article here

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Porter and Meldrum, "Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States" (reviewed by Tim Ballard)


Title: Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States
Author: Bruce Porter and Rod Meldrum
Publisher: Digital Legend
Genre: Nonfiction
Year Published: 2009
Number of Pages: 239
Binding: N/A
ISBN13: 978-1-934537-34-3

Reviewed by Tim Ballard for the Association for Mormon Letters

Last month I found myself traversing the impressive landscape of the Guatemalan countryside in a big black Suburban. I wish I could say I was there as a tourist. However, I had been sent by the United States government to investigate a heinous crime involving the kidnapping and trafficking of children. With my mind and soul weighed down by the situation, I peered out the window of the highly armored SUV. As the security driver zipped over yet another forest green mountaintop and passed through a small village, I spotted something that raised my spirits. Walking side by side were two Mormon missionaries with copies of the Book of Mormon in their hands. I immediately began reflecting on that powerful book and the ancient people and places whose story is told therein. As we began our journey that morning from the capital, we passed the ancient ruins of Kaminaljuyu—a popularly proposed site for Nephi's ancient temple. We had also driven near the beautiful banks of Lake Atitlan—the proposed site of the ancient Waters of Mormon. The reality of the ancient cascaded into my mind as I watched those Mormon elders with their copies of the Book of Mormon. My darkness turned to light as I took in the fact that I was in Book of Mormon lands.

As fate would have it, within weeks of my return from Mesoamerica, I was asked to review the book *Prophecies and Promises*—a work which would challenge my recent experience in Guatemala. In the book, the authors boldly assert that the Book of Mormon narrative did not occur in ancient Mesoamerica (as many assume), but within the borders of what is now the United States of America. They call their position the Heartland Theory. As I opened the book I realized I would make a perfect test-case for the authors' proposal; I had a personal and vested interest in a Mesoamerican theory. If they could convince me I was wrong, then I would conclude they had produced a powerful work indeed. I read the book. The result: an enlightened perspective and an expanded horizon.

The authors build their case upon a foundation of sound methodology. Instead of focusing solely on what limited geographic indicators exist in the Book of Mormon (like many theorists have done), they utilize a broader, more useful, set of sources. They go so far as to rank these sources by importance and credibility, beginning with prophetic evidence found in the scriptures and followed up by prophetic statements made by the Prophet Joseph Smith. They add depth to their case by showing how physical, geographic and scientific (DNA) evidence also supports the Heartland Theory.

The book was not written as a critique of other, more prominent theories. Nor does it feel like a defensive response to critics of the authors' theory. It simply provides evidence for its central argument. Some of the most compelling (even shocking) pieces of evidence include statements from the Prophet Joseph, in which he is reported to have said that "the last great struggle with the Lamanites and Nephites" occurred in what is now the United States. He also referred to lands of the United States as "the plains of the Nephites." Other recorded utterances from the Prophet imply a similar message. The authors explain how the Limited Geography Theory (which argues that the Book of Mormon narrative had to occur within relatively limited space), makes these statements by the Prophet especially relevant. Also compelling is the rich and detailed DNA analysis, which powerfully connects the blood of Native Americans in the Great Lakes Region to Europeans and Israelites.

If I have one critique for the book it would be the authors' failure to consider other equally logical interpretations of certain scriptural passages they cite. For example, the authors assert that the Book of Mormon's use of the demonstrative "this"—as in the Prophet Lehi's description of the Promised Land as "*this* land"—represents conclusive evidence of the Heartland Theory. Through several chapters, the authors convincingly detail how the United States of America is the latter-day land of promise prophesied over by the Prophet Lehi and others. The reason Lehi called this future Promised Land of the Restoration "this land," was to point out that he was standing precisely upon it. He was distinguishing *this* land from *other* lands (e.g. Mesoamerica) in the New World. If Lehi meant for the Promised Land to include places beyond where he was standing, he would have said *the* land or *that* land—not *this* land. Therefore, if the United States of America truly is the modern-day Promised Land (which it has proven to be) then Lehi and his people must have been residing within what was to become her borders. To interpret the phrase "this land" any other way, according to the authors, would be "to force an interpretation"(p.213).

I was surprised at the level of emphasis placed on such a myopic interpretation, as there is an alternative interpretation that is very obvious and natural. It seems just as likely (or more likely) that Lehi and other prophets referred to "this land" without a defined sense of modern-day geographical boundaries. All they knew was that they had discovered a New World unknown to the Old World. Therefore, if they stood in what is now Guatemala and described the future promised nation-state as pertaining to "this land," it is completely reasonable to assume they meant that this future nation-state of promise would emerge somewhere (anywhere) upon *this* newly discovered  New World. "This land" may have simply implied a land that was not *that* land of their fathers from whence they had come. In this light, the United States of America would be included as part of "this land," even in a Mesoamerican setting. In addition, the prophecies of Christopher Columbus in the Book of Mormon imply that he would also come to the Promised Land. He landed in the Caribbean. Other latter-day explorers found what would be the United States long before Columbus saw it.

The authors' interpretation requires us to believe that Book of Mormon prophets foresaw future, national borders.  However, the scriptures give no indication of such knowledge. The only borders and boundaries we know for sure that Lehi understood were those between the Old World and the New World. Therefore, it is very natural—not at all "forced"—to assume that his use of the word *this* was to make this single distinction. I harp upon this point only because this is a central theme throughout the book. The authors place the "this land" argument in the beginning as scriptural (even preeminent) evidence, and then refer to it throughout the rest of the book as scripturally conclusive. Yet it is not scripturally conclusive. I wish they had at least mentioned the other obvious alternative interpretation.

Similarly, the authors insist that when the Angel Moroni told Joseph that Book of Mormon inhabitants resided upon "this continent," and when Joseph stated that Christ appeared on "this continent," that it was proof positive that all these things had occurred in what is now the United States (p.212). However, while maintaining their conclusion, the authors also admit that the word "continent," even in Joseph's day, included North America *and* Central America(p.100)—it included Mesoamerica! In fact, one of the authors' references quotes Joseph in the Wentworth letter stating that "the remnant [of Book of Mormon civilizations] are the Indians that now inhabit *this country*…[and that] "Christ made his appearance upon *this continent* (pp. 99-100)." The authors offer this as proof of their theory. However, it could also be proof of an opposing theory. The reference to "the remnant [of] this country" allows for migration of Book of Mormon peoples from Mesoamerica to what is now the United States. And the reference to Christ's appearance on "this continent" could just as easily imply that his visit occurred in Mesoamerica. If Joseph was trying to convey that all these ancient events took place within the borders of the United States, why did he not use "this country" for both references, instead of "this country" for one (where the remnants ended up) and "this continent" for the other (where Christ appeared)? Once again, no attempt was made to reconcile this doubt. Strangely, it was portrayed *only* as proof of the authors' position.

Another frustration included the authors' failure to address the one geographic necessity of a Book of Mormon setting—the only geographic fixture which all readers of the Book of Mormon immediately recognize. I speak of the "narrow neck of land." Writing about Book of Mormon geography without ever mentioning this most prominent landmark is like writing about the American Revolution without ever mentioning the name Washington. Not a single reference to it is made in this study.

These critiques do not discredit the Heartland Theory. They only serve to point out how the author's arguments are somewhat lacking. They also point out the exciting notion that perhaps there is more to be discovered—that there is more to the debate to be added. And I, for one, look forward to seeing it, studying it, and reaching new conclusions and new horizons. And this brings me to the ultimate conclusion of my review. Thanks to the research provided in this book, I was tossed (for the first time) into a wonderful intellectual contest. Indeed, the book lit a fire in me to seek truth. I have already purchased and read other books on the subject. I have read articles, and I have talked with experts in the field. At this stage of my personal exploration, I admit that I no longer *know* where the Book of Mormon narrative took place. But, ironically, for all I do *not* know, I have experienced higher levels of understanding. For I have seen Book of Mormon characters more clearly than ever before. I have pictured them within various proposed settings. I have gained insights into their lives and stories. For all this, I can thank *Prophecies and Promises*. Admittedly, my new insights have been focused not on the less important question of *where* the ancients were, but on *how* they were, *who* they were, *what* they were and *why* they were. And I can't help but think this achieved the authors' ultimate goal; for they did not dedicate their book to Heartland theorists, but to "all students of the Book of Mormon whose lives have been forever altered by the truths contained within its pages (p. xv)."

Monday, November 22, 2010


Mormon-Church-History has just finished chronicling the year 1842, one of the most interesting years in the history of the church.  Posts for the year can be read here or here.

Beginning today, Mormon-Church-History will begin traversing through 1843, a remarkable year and the last full year of Joseph Smith's life.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wilford Woodruff's 1860 reflections

Excerpts of Wilford Woodruff's 1860 reflections

This is the last day of 1860 which Ends this important & momentious year, which has been looked forward to by thousands for many years as a period which would date the Commencement of great & mighty Changes in the Earth, Changes which would greatly Effet the interest & welfare of all Nations under Heaven. Now what are the facts in the Case as far as they have Come to the knowledge of the Historian. ...

Joseph Smith the Prophet of God told the people of the United States Government what awaited them & there final Destiny as a Nation because of there wickedness & abominations & because they would shed the Blood of Prophets & Saints.

He said in 1832, 28 years ago that South Carolinia would rise up in rebelion and that war would Commence at that place & that the Southern States would arise up in rebelion against the Northern States & the Northern States against the Southern States & that war would be poured out upon all Nations which would End in the death & misery of many Souls & because of these things or as the prophet has said the people of the United States have put to death the prophet Joseph the Patriarchs Apostle & many Saints and driven the Church of Christ from place to place for about thirty years and Finally have driven them into the wilderness even into these vallies of the Mountain and the Lord told us "to plead at the feet of the Judges Governors & Presidets of the United States & if they Heed us not and do not redress us of our wrongs (then the Lord says) I will arise out of my hiding place & in my fury I will vex the Nation and I will Cut off those wicked & unjust Stewards and appoint them there portions with Hipocritts & unbelievers.

1860 has laid the foundation for the fulfillment of these things. ... South Carolinia Ceceded from the Union on the 20 Dec 1860 and others are preparing to follow their example. This has caused a great Convultion throughout the United States. ... The Lord is withdrawing his spirit from the Nation and they are begining to be filled with madness towards Each other and the Southern States are arming & preparing for A Deadly Conflict against the Northern States. And whom the Lord wants to destroy he first makes mad and the people are being inspired with madness to such a degree that they are ready to devour each other.

The foundation has been laid during the year 1860 To break up & annihilate the American Government and the scenes which will follow in quick succession will be terrible & horrible in their detail. This Nation is guilty of sheding the Blood of the Lords anointed, of his Prophets & Saints and the Lord Almighty has decreed their destruction. The Lord has Commenced a Controversy with the American Government and Nation in 1860 and he will never cease untill they are destroyed from under heaven, and the Kingdom of God Esstablished upon their ruins. Let the Gentiles upon this land prepare to meet their God.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Anti-SSM group may have Mormon / Meridian Magazine ties

Despite sharing a name, numerous connections and an anti-gay marriage agenda, Iowa Family Policy Center President Chuck Hurley says the new incarnation of his organization — The Family Leader — has no affiliation whatsoever to a national group with the same name and apparent ties to the Mormon church.

IFPC's The Family Leader will be an umbrella group led by former gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats, fresh from his successful campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices for their 2009 gay marriage ruling. The new group will incorporate the Iowa Family Policy Center, the IFPC PAC and the formerly federally funded program Marriage Matters. 

According to 990 tax forms, the national Family Leader Network was founded in 2006 and is based in Fairfax, Va. However, there is no such entity listed with the Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth. The 990 was filed by a board member of The Family Leader Network based in Utah, but the Utah Secretary of State has no record of the organization either.

The national Family Leader Network recently joined with the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) to file an Amicus brief in support of California's Prop 8, a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage that was overturned by a federal judge.  NOM was instrumental in Vander Plaats' campaign to oust three Supreme Court justices, spending $635,627 in Iowa, including more than $435,000 on TV advertising. The group also spent nearly $30,000 to co-sponsor the statewide "Judge Bus" tour that capped off the anti-retention campaign.

Hurley told the Iowa Independent the two groups having the same name and similar political views was just coincidence.

The national Family Leader Network's president, Maurine Proctor, is also founder and editor in chief for Meridian Magazine, a Church of the Latter Day Saints publication.

Frank Schubert, president of Sacramento based Schubert Flint Public Affairs, was the chief strategist of the Prop 8 initiative. He was also paid a small amount – $500 — by Vander Plaats' Iowa for Freedom organization for media consulting on the anti-retention campaign.

Another Meridian Magazine columnist and independent Mormon pollster, Gary Lawrence has ties to both Prop 8 in California, serving as a grassroots organizer, and to the Iowa judicial retention vote.

Much like the IFPC's The Family leader, the national Family Leader's mission is "to develop public policy that supports traditional marriage and family" as well as fight "the homosexual agenda in the classroom."  Request for comment from the national Family Leader Network by The Iowa Independent wasn't returned.


Excerpted from IFPC denies new group has ties to national organization with same name, By Andy Kopsa, Iowa Independent

New Sociological Study on American Religion: what is says about Mormonism

From LDSpublic affairs
A new and important study of religion in America has, among other things, a good deal to say about [the church]. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, yields valuable insight to the nature and social effects of American religion. [T]he study's authors affirm that in many respects, religion in America exerts a healthy influence upon American society — one that typically promotes generosity, trust, neighborliness, and civic engagement. The study data reveals that [Mormons] play a conspicuous part in American religious life.

Among the study's findings related to Latter-day Saints are the following:

  • Mormons are among the most devout religious groups in the country.
  • Mormons are among those most likely to keep their childhood faith as adults.
  • Mormons are unusually giving.
  • Mormons are relatively friendly to other religious groups.
  • Mormons are among the most likely to believe that one true religion exists, but also that those outside their faith can attain salvation or reach "heaven."

Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religious Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).


The above was excerpted from Major New Study of Religion Has Much to Say About Mormons, public affairs

Gay rights groups critique new Handbook

Excerpts of HRC & Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons to LDS Church: You Have Further to Go by Micah Bisson.

The church has rid its new policy handbook of a call for professional counseling for those who experience same-sex attraction. This is a small, but positive step forward, as the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association have both concluded that same-sex attraction is normal and that "reparative" therapy – like the kind formerly advocated by the Mormon Church – is unhealthy and harmful.

"It is good to see the Mormon Church has finally recognized what science has told us for years – people cannot change their sexual orientation and attempts to do so are harmful," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "But the church has a lot further to go. Too many kids are struggling with their identities and self-worth. Church leaders must let them know they are loved and worthy just the way they are."

New church policy... still groups homosexual behavior with: attempted murder, forcible rape and spouse abuse. The handbook also says homosexual behavior is permanently noted in one's church records, however heterosexuals found to commit "sexual sin" outside of marriage receive no permanent annotations.

Bennett, "School of the Prophet" (reviewed by Jeffrey Needle)



Title: School of the Prophet
Author: Richard E. Bennett

Publisher: Deseret Book
Genre: Non-fiction
Year Published: 2010
Number of Pages: 163

Binding: Hardcover
ISBN10: n/a
ISBN13: 978-1-59038-996-6
Price: $21.99

Reviewed by Jeffrey Needle for the Association for Mormon Letters

The other day I was reading my favorite part of my daily newspaper, the comics.  There's nothing quite like sitting back after reading all the news and the inconsequential editorials and cracking a smile at the sometimes offbeat humor of the men and women who give us so much entertainment.  In a recent "Dennis the Menace" cartoon, Dennis and his dad are watching, I think, a new driver.  My memory fades as to the details.  But Dennis can't quite understand – he asks, "But where are the training wheels?"  In Dennis' mind, you need to have training wheels in order to propel anything!


What about religion?  Does the founder of a religion need to have "training wheels" before setting out and upsetting the religious landscape?  Or can one just dive in without preparation? Is there a need to hone one's skills before trying to improve the skills of others?


I suppose that, when you're a church built on revelation, anything is possible.  Why not just raise your head above the waters and shout, "I'm here, people!  Pay attention to me!"  I suppose this is how God might have dealt with the restoration of the gospel.  It doesn't take book learning, only openness of heart.


However, to be sure, God chose another path for Joseph Smith.  According to Bennett, God set aside the decade of 1820 to 1830 to prepare and equip Joseph Smith, to give him his training wheels.  In this brief treatise, the author sets out to document this training time.


This ten year period was marked by some of the foundational events in Mormon history – the First Vision, the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of priesthood authority, etc.  Quite a busy time!  But all of it was necessary in order for Joseph and his co-workers to accomplish the mammoth task to creating and defining what would become a major world religious movement.


While longtime historians will find little here that is new, Bennett offers this period of the Mormon story as a miraculous and wonderful act on the part of God to prepare His servant to bring the message of the gospel to the masses.  He would use a flawed human instrument (as we all are), carefully sharpening Joseph's skills and knowledge, until he was ready to emerge fully as the Prophet of the Restoration.


Without this preparatory period, one wonders how successful Joseph would have been in the coming years.  Bennett lays out this formative time in Joseph's life in ways that everyone can appreciate and understand.  And for many Latter-day Saints, his narrative will tie together these events in a cogent and consistent manner.


"School of the Prophet" is a fine effort by a fine writer.  Consider adding this book to your library.  It will be treasured for years to come.



Jeffrey Needle
Association for Mormon Letters


Davis, "In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues that Divide Us" (reviewed by Blair Dee Hodges)




Title: In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues that Divide Us 

Author: James Calvin Davis

Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press

Genre: Religion/Politics

Year: 2010

Pages: 198

ISBN13: 9780664235444

Binding: Paperback

Price: $19.95


Reviewed by Blair Dee Hodges


The subtitle of James Calvin Davis's new book "In Defense of Civility" describes an audacious pipe dream. If the book aims to tell readers "How Religion can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues That Divide Us" I would be satisfied with a book that resolves a single divisive issue! Nevertheless, given the recently heated political climate, I thought it might be well to think about a less-discussed virtue of civic engagement: civility. 


As it turns out, Davis is not offering simple resolutions for divisive issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and environmentalism. To the contrary, he bluntly states that "civility cannot guarantee consensus on any issue" (160). Instead, Davis seeks first to describe and justify an ethic of civil public dialog and second, to embody the ethic by describing seven particularly sticky moral/political issues. Above all Davis underscores not merely the legitimacy, but also the potential benefits of recognizing religious perspectives in the public sphere. My review of his book comes too late to assist in the recent political hullabaloo; things tend to get especially rancorous during election season. However, the book provides crucial food for thought for those reflecting on the tone of political dialog generally, those who aren't waiting for another election year to care about the political process, and those who think religion deserves either a stronger or weaker presence in political discussions.


The book is divided into three parts. Part one, "Public Religion and the American Moral Tradition," lays the historical groundwork by discussing the roots of religion's role in American politics. With all due respect to the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, Davis challenges the claim that America is a "Christian nation" by pointing out that "many of the most prominent men responsible for the new government professed beliefs that hardly resembled traditional Christianity" (25). After describing what Jon Meacham has elsewhere called the "American Gospel,"[1] Davis warns against misapplying "the designs of eighteenth-century patriots (however we understand them) to our very different twenty-first-century political culture" (31).


Davis also cautions against invoking the "wall of separation" argument in attempts to exclude religion from political discussion. Historically speaking, the wall has been somewhat "porous" (37), Davis explains, citing many examples which "involve regular Americans contributing" to crucial debates on issues like slavery "from explicitly religious perspectives and in intentionally religious language" (47).


In the final chapter of part one Davis admits that arguing to include religion in public debate "is a harder sell in the highly diverse society we live in today." Thus, some seek to exile religion on the grounds that it is a "conversation stopper" (54). Religious perspectives are seen as too divisive or too stupid to make any positive impact. Many issues being debated, Davis argues, are morally grounded, and religious discussion can rightfully be brought to bear on them as much as any other world-view. In a particularly relevant section of the book, Davis outlines the type of religious argument which is guaranteed to be a "conversation stopper."


Party A Claim: Bald assertion- Abortion is wrong because the Bible says so.

Party B Response: "So what? The Bible holds no authority over me."


End of discussion. 


Davis concludes: "The mistake that secular liberals [and, I would argue, some religiously inclined folk] often make, however, is assuming that this is the only form a religious argument can take...If they are not open to reason, they cannot contribute meaningfully to conversation among a religiously and philosophically diverse public" (60).


Davis again provides examples of religious thinkers who were capable of making "reasonable" and "accessible" arguments in the public sphere. Faith and reason need not exclude each other. Davis hopes to foster an attitude of mutual respect by distinguishing between being persuaded versus understanding an argument, and between understanding and accepting an argument. "If mutual respect simply requires that we work to make ourselves understood by others--and struggle to understand their points of view--then a religious argument can convey respect just as successfully as a nonreligious one" (61). Davis doesn't stop at simply arguing for the propriety of religious arguments, but lists seven positive advantages in "a political environment that is open to religious reasoning" (63). Such advantages include an increased ability to critique moral conventions, and a more open discussion of morals generally, which  is usually snuck in the back door of political conversation anyway through unstated assumptions.


In sum: part one dissects myths on the right (America is a Christian nation, etc.) and left (Separation of church and state, etc.) and then shows what religion can offer in style and argument.[2]


In part two Davis attempts to exemplify the way religion can increase the quality of political discussion. He begins by "Rethinking the Big Four." These chapters embody the tone of interchange described in part one while discussing abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, and gay marriage (interestingly, Mormonism doesn't come up in his same-sex marriage discussion).


In part three Davis takes readers "Beyond the Big Four," with discussions on war, environmentalism, and the economy. Perhaps the most fascinating should-have-been-obvious-why-didn't-I-already-think-of-that point of the book is the strange classification system Americans seem to embrace regarding "moral" issues. He cites a 2004 National Election Poll in which voters were asked to name the "most important issue facing the country." Davis explains:


The poll pitted "moral values" against war, terrorism, the environment, and the economy. Doing so implied that those other issues had nothing to do with "moral values"; they were topics of political or social importance, but they were not matters of ethics....But war *is* a profoundly moral issue, just as how we treat the natural world and how we deal with one another in our economic relationships are matters of great moral significance" (117-118). This section works well together with Davis's earlier admonition to resist the myth that moral arguments exist only one side of any given debate, whether regarding abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, or capitalism (7).


Davis's stirring concluding chapter is written "In Defense of Civility" (155), which he defines as "the exercise of patience, integrity, humility, and mutual respect in civil conversation, even (or especially) with those with whom we disagree" (159). Noting the tendency of radio and TV political coverage to favor "sexier news" over compromise and reasoned discussion, Davis still believes there are many who desire "a public dialogue that is patient, substantive, and subtle" (157). He carefully notes that he isn't calling for "simple passivity, nicety, or acquiescence," or that all conflict must be avoided. Pretending differences don't exist is as fruitless as shouting about differences. More importantly, civility is not a magic ingredient: "civility cannot guarantee consensus on any issue" (160). But Davis, citing Os Guinness, believes it promises progress: "What we are looking for [in civility] is not so much truths that can unite us as terms on which we can negotiate and by which we can live with the differences that divide us" (161). Davis again invokes history for examples of civility as a "consistent aspiration" of American leaders, albeit with imperfect execution (161). Davis encourages readers to encourage civility in the politicians to whom we write or interact with, the TV and radio programs we pay attention to, and the discussions we have with others in person, online, or anywhere else. 


Rather than sounding like a whiny diatribe or a preachy soapbox sermon, Davis's book is a reasoned description and example of the sort of civil discussion which can serve to enrich public discourse. There are a few blind spots (I would have liked a discussion of an organized religion's right to promote political platforms, for example, or a description of tax exempt implications). Davis himself seems to lean slightly left of center on some issues and right of center on others. I hope this does not distract readers from the central purpose of the book, which isn't to resolve policy issues, but to exemplify a civil and religiously inclusive discussion on them.





[1] An accessible overview is Jon Meacham's "American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation" (Random House: 2006).


[2] Davis recognizes that each argument is not necessarily confined to the right or the left; this right/left construction favors more recent trends.




HarperOne, "The C.S. Lewis Bible" (reviewed by Jeffrey Needle)



Title: The C.S. Lewis Bible
Author: Various editors

Publisher: HarperOne
Genre: Scripture
Year Published: 2010
Number of Pages: 1529

Binding: Hardcover
ISBN10: n/a
ISBN13: 978-0-06-198208-8
Price: $34.99

Reviewed by Jeffrey Needle for the Association for Mormon Letters

Was C.S. Lewis a Mormon?  Hardly.  Was he friendly toward Mormons?  I have no idea.  In any event, Mormons have had no trouble adopting Lewis as one of their own.  Full length book studies have been published, including two titles by Cedar Fort, Inc. ("C. S. Lewis: Latter-day Truths in Narnia" by Marianna Richardson and Christine Thackeray and "The Restored Gospel According to C.S. Lewis" by Nathan Jensen).  Deseret Book regularly carries Lewis titles.  And our good reviewer Blair Dee Hodges runs a webpage titled "Life on Gold Plates," in which can be found some thoughts about C.S. Lewis and Mormonism.


Why the attraction?  Why have so many Latter-day Saints latched on to a theologian whose personal views hardly reflect mainstream LDS views?  Well, in fact, some Latter-day Saints have found parallels between Lewis' writings and the beliefs of the Mormon Church.  And the enthusiasm for everything C.S. Lewis isn't going away very soon.  We can expect more scholarly works concerning this remarkable man.


Now, from HarperOne, we have "The C.S. Lewis Bible."  The idea is quite simple: take a modern rendering of the biblical text (in this instance, the New Revised Standard Version) and interweave relevant thoughts from the Lewis writings.  And make no mistake.  Selecting which of Lewis' thoughts to include had to be a gargantuan task.  He wrote so much, and wrote so deeply and sincerely, it must have been difficult to choose a limited number of his thoughts to include in this Bible.


But the editors did a fine job.  They have enhanced the text with insights from Lewis that offer the reader a deeply spiritual view of the Bible, a book that is, surprisingly, sometimes not read with spiritual eyes.  So much effort is spent on parsing the text, on finding proof-texts that support this view or another, that readers can sometimes lose sight of the deeply devotional nature of reading the scriptures.


Lewis understood the importance of the inner life, the centrality of one's personal relationship with God as the seeker looks to find God in the pages of Holy Writ.  Lewis appreciated and celebrated how the Word of God *becomes* the Word of God to each of us in a special way.  He is never doctrinaire.  Instead, he wants us to drink deeply of the Word and come to a relationship with deity through that Word.


The choice of the New Revised Standard Version is a good one.  It appeals to so many students and scholars who appreciate this rendering of the text.  Some have complained about the gender-neutral aspects of the translation.  Others mourn the loss of "thee" and "thou" without understanding that such ways of addressing God are an invention of some our predecessors.  Honest Bible scholars find much to admire in this translation.  One aspect of this Bible that is a bit disappointing is the absence of the Apocrypha.  Its inclusion would have made it a more complete resource.


What can't be denied is that, in the Mormon quest for ownership of Lewis (yes, I'm exaggerating a bit, but you get the point), it is easy to pick and choose from his writings to buttress Latter-day Saint doctrine.  What gets lost in all of this is the man's total lifework, his transcendence of doctrinal disputes and his subsequent immersion in the goodness of God and in the ever-present mystery of God's role in our lives.


Students of C.S. Lewis will do well to obtain this Bible.  It will serve in two capacities – it will give you a good contemporary rendering of the biblical text, and it will present a wonderfully encompassing view of Lewis and his work.


HarperOne is to be commended for bringing this volume to fruition.  With Christmas coming, "The C.S. Lewis Bible" would make a wonderful gift for family and friends who want, and need, this engrossing and wonderfully realized integration of scripture and Lewis.


Oh, before you ask, NO, you may NOT have my copy! <grin>



Jeffrey Needle
Association for Mormon Letters


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

One Hundred Years Hence

"ONE HUNDRED YEARS HENCE. 1945" authored by John Taylor, Parley P. Pratt or W. W. Phelps -- as reprinted in the Millennial Star (originally in the Nauvoo Neighbor), published shortly after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith in 1844.  

From the Nauvoo Neighbor.
God, through his servants the prophets, has given all men a clue to the future. In view of this, we were cogitating upon our bed the other night, what would be the state of the world a hundred years hence. In quick succession the events and periods which have filled up nearly six thousand years passed before our mind's eyes, together with the accompanying, " Thus saith the Lord, I will destroy the earth with a flood, after one hundred and twenty years. There shall be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine in Egypt. Israel shall be held captive in Babylon till the land enjoys her Sabbath's seventy years;" and then came Daniel's numbers; and the exact time when the Saviour should be was born, his crucifixion, and second coming.
While thus looking over the "has beens," we fell into a deep sleep, and the angel of our presence came to the bedside and gently said, "Arise" Now, it mattereth not whether we were in the body or out of it; asleep or awake ; on earth or in heaven ; or upon the water or in the air; the sum of the matter is like this:—Our guide, for such we shall call the angel or being that conveyed us, soon brought us in sight of a beautiful city.
As we were nearing the place, a "pillar of fire," seemingly over the most splendid building, lit the city and country for a great distance around, and as we came by, The Temple Of The Lord In Zion, in letters of a pure language, and sparkling like diamonds, disclosed where we were. Our guide went round the city in order to give ns s chance to "count the towers;" and, as it was nearly sunrise, he conducted us into one, that we might have a fair chance to view the glory of Zion by daylight. We seemed to be swallowed up in sublimity. The "pillar of fire" as the sun rose majestically mellowing into a "white cloud," as a shade for the city from heat. The dwellings, so brilliant by night, had the appearance of "precious stones," and the streets glittered like gold, and we marvelled. "Marvel not," said our guide, " this is the fulfilment of the words of Isaiah:—' For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron: I will also make thine officers peace, and thine exactors righteousness.' "
Now the eyes of our understanding began to be quickened, and we learned that we were one hundred years ahead of "common life," and we glorified. The "veil" that hides our view from the glory of the upper deep had been taken away, and all things appeared to us as to the Lord. The great earthquake mentioned by John, and other prophets before him, had levelled the mountains over the whole earth:—the "sea" had rolled back as it was in the beginning, the crooked was mode straight, and the rough places plain. The earth yielded her "increase," and the knowledge of God exalted man to the society of resurrected beings.
The melody and prayers of the morning in Zion, showed that the "Lord was there," and truly Lo ; for, after breakfast the chariot of Jesus Christ was made ready for a pleasure ride; and the chariots of his "hundred and forty-four thousand" glittered in the retinue of " earth's greatest and best," so gloriously, that the show exhibited the splendour of gods, whose Father's name they bore on the front of their crowns)
Our curiosity excited us to inquire, what day they celebrated? To which the guide replied, "This is the Feast-day of the Lord to Joseph And Hyrum Smith, for being martyred for the truth, held yearly on the 7th day of the fourth month, throughout all the tribes of Israel!"
Flesh and blood cannot comprehend the greatness of the scene; the worthy of the earth, with Adam at their head; the martyrs of the different dispensations, with Abel at their head; and honourable men from other worlds composed an assemblage of majesty, dignity, and divinity so much above the little pageantry of man in his self-made greatness, that we almost forgot that mortals ever enjoyed anything more than misery, in all the pomp and circumstance of maris power over man ! This was a feast-day for truth! This was the reward of integrity —This was the triumph of " kings and priests" unto God, and was a holiday of eternity! Who could be happier than he that was among the holy throng ? No one; and away we rode out of Zion among her stakes.
At the first city out, we found the Bame spirit—All Were One. While there, the following news, by post, came from the east. It was read from one of the papers just published that morning.
"In digging for the foundation of our new Temple in the 124th city of Joseph, near where it is supposed the city of New York once stood, a large square stone was taken from the ruins of some building, which, by a seam in it, indicated more than mere stone. The seam being opened, disclosed a lead box about six by eight inches square. This box was soon found to contain several daily papers of its time, together with some coin of the old government of the United States. It will be recollected that all the inhabitants of this city, which were spared from calamity, were 'slung out when the earth was turned upside down,' some forty or fifty years ago for their wickedness."
The account of "fires" in one of these papers was truly lamentable, destroying, as the paper said, more than twenty-Five millions worth of property in about three months. Each contained a large number of murders, suicides, riots, robberies, and hints of war expected, with columns of divisions among the sectarian churches about "slavery, Onderdonking, and the right way." The Archer of Paradise remarked, as these horrors of "old tiroes" were being read, that "all that was transacted in the last days of Babylon, before Satan was bound."
Joseph Smith said, "Lord, we will put those papers and coin in the repository of relics and curiosities of Satan's kingdom of the old world which was agreed to by all, after exhibiting the coin. The Silver coin contained the words "United States of America," and "half dollar," round the image of an eagle on one side, and a woman sitting upon the word "Liberty," and holding up a night cap, between thirteen stars over " 1845," on the other.
The only idea that could be gathered from all this was, that the government had fallen from the splendour of an eagle to the pleasure of women, and was holding up the night cap, as a token that the only liberty enjoyed then, was star-light liberty, because their deeds were evil.
Another coin had the appearance of gold, with "fire dollars" upon it, but upon close examination it was found to be nothing but fine brass.
While this was going on, the Lord said, "beware of the leven of old.—Let us enjoy our day."
In a moment this band of brethren were off, and what could equal the view? No veil, no voice; the heavens were in their glory, and the angels were ascending and descending. The earth was in its beauty; the wolves and sheep; the calves and lions; the behemoth and the buffalo; the child and the serpent, enjoyed life without fear, and all men were one.
As we were passing to another city, amid all this perfection of the reign of Jesus before his ancients gloriously, we discovered the fragment of a hewn stone, of a lightish blue colour, with an abbreviated word " Mo," and the figures "1838" upon it. To which the "Lion of the Lord" exclaimed, "The wicked are turned into hell, and forgotten, but the righteous reign with God in glory," and it seemed as if the echo came from a redeemed world—"glory."
At about two, after five hours' ride among the cities and stakes of Zion, we returned to the capital, to partake of the feast, of the martyrs.
The preparation was perfect. A table through the grove of Zion, for more than three hundred thousand saints, where Jesus Christ sat at the head of the fathers and mothers, sons and daughters of Israel, was a sight which the world, even Babylon in its best days, never witnessed. Says Jesus, as every eye turned upon him,
"Our Father, and thine,
Bless me and mine. Amen."
After the feast (the sentiments, words of wisdom, and other touching matters were to be published in Zo-ma-rah, or Pure News, and are omitted) we stepped into the News Room, and the first article in the Pure News, which attracted our attention, was, the Minutes of the General Conference, held in Zion, on the 14th day of the first month, A. D., 1945, when it was motioned by Joseph Smith, and seconded by John the Revelator, " That/forty-eight new cities be laid out and built, this year, in accordance with the prophets which have said, 'who can number Israel? who can count the dust of Jacob? Let him fill the earth with cities. 'Carried unanimously."
Twelve of these cities to be laid out beyond eighteen degrees north, for the tribes of Reuben, Judah and Levi. Twelve on the east, at the same distance, for the tribes of Joseph, Benjamin, and Dan. Twelve on the south, at the same distance, for the tribes of Simeon, Issacher, and Zebulon; and twelve on the west, at the same distance, for the tribes of Gad, Asher, and Napthali.
The paper contained a notice for the half yearly conference, as follows:
"The general half yearly conference will be held at Jerusalem, on the 14th day of the seventh month, alternately with the yearly conference in Zion.
" It is proposed that the high way cast up between the two cities of our God, be decorated with fruit and shade trees between the cities and Villages, (which are only eighty furlongs apart), for the accommodation of wayfaring men of Israel. Gabriel has brought from paradise some seeds of fruit and grain which were originally in the Garden of Eden, and will greatly add to the comfort and convenience of man."
While we were engaged in reading, a strain of music from some of the "sweet singers of Israel,” came so mellowly over our sensations for a moment, that we hardly knew whether the angels or saints of the millenium, were chanting a vesper to their Saviour. We were so delighted with the performance as we saw the "musical chariot" pass, filled with young men and maidens, all in white robes, that we only remember the following verses •—
"Death and Satan being banish'd;
And the ' veil' for ever vanish'd;
All the earth's again replenished,
And in beauty appears:
So we'll sing hallelujah’s;
While we worship our Saviour,
And fill the world with cities
Through the “great thousand years.'"
Our eye next caught a map showing the earth as it was and is. We were delighted with the earth as it is. Four rivers headed a little south of Zion, for Zion, is situated in "the side of the north." The first river is called "Passon," and runs west. The second is called "Giau," and runs south. The third is called "Haudakal," and runs north; and the fourth is called "The Fraters," and runs east. These four rivers divide the earth into four quarters, as it were in the days of Adam, and with their tributaries give an uninterrupted water communication over the face of the world, for in the beginning the earth was not called "finished" till it was "very good," for every thing.
By the paper we were reading, we learned that rain was expected in the beginning of the seventh month, according to the law of the Lord, for the promise is, "it shall rain moderately in the first and seventh month, that the ploughman may overtake the reaper."
Contemplating the greatness of the earth in its glory, with Jesus Christ for her king, president, and lawgiver, with such wise counsellors as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Peter, and Joseph, we were imperceptibly led to exclaim, "Great is the wisdom, great is the glory, and great is the power of man with his Maker"—when on a sudden our guide came in and said, "you must drink wine with the Lord in his kingdom and then return." This we did, and many things which we saw are not lawful to utter, and can only be known as we learned them, by the assistance of a guardian angel.
When we were ready to return, our guide observed, "perhaps you would like to look through the urim and thummim of God, upon the abominations of the world in the day of its sin." "Yes," was our reply, and he handed us the "holy instrument." One look, and the soul sickened. Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man what folly, corruptions, and abominations are wrought among men to gratify the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the cunning of the devil. But they shall come. We returned, and awoke, perfectly enamoured with the beauty and glory of Zion to be, as well us the splendour and harmony of the "feast of the martyrs;" determining in our mind, at some future day to give a sketch of the Temple wherein Jesus sat and reigned with the righteous, when there was "not a Canaanite in the land," nor anything to hurt or destroy in all the holy mountain—when the earth should be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea. In short, the heavenly reality of one hundred years hence.