“Questions are good. Doubt is not the opposite of faith, but absolute, antiseptic certainty is the opposite of faith.” (Phillip Barlow, professor and holder of the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, Mormon Matters podcast; episode 73, “And the survey says”)



Posted by in Faith, faith crisis, Featured, History

This was originally posted at www.mormonhistoryguy.com So you don’t really care about Mormon history. “People are people and the gospel is the gospel,” you say. What’s the point? You have a lot of things on your plate. And whether Joseph Smith used a rock, some plates, or a pink kangaroo to translate the Book of Mormon, you read them, you love them, and you live by them. What’s the point? I sympathize with you. You’ve got mouths to feed, diapers to change, and school administration to haggle with about your son’s lacking math scores. I get it. We get that you’re busy But I guarantee that you have at least one friend–a person that you love and adore–who is wading through a faith crisis right now. They’re probably not drinking, smoking, having an affair, looking at porn, or planning on doing any of the above. I suppose it’s theoretically possible that that’s the underlying reason, but there’s at least an even chance that their gravest sin is, um, reading. So what can a person do? Lots. In fact, I would suggest that you–yes, you with the spit-up on your shirt–are better disposed than anyone to help. You’ll just need to put at least as much work into helping your friend as you would into moving a family or making a Relief Society centerpiece. While I refer to this as a five-step model, it’s a little like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s Five Stages of Grief–they’re pretty interchangeable. You’ll be doing all of them at various times during your friendship with this person. Step One: Pray. Then listen. No, seriously. Please listen.   They pose no threat to you. If you go in expecting to convince them of anything–at least during the first go-around, you’ll not likely receive a welcoming reception. With a few exceptions, they’re probably scared to death that they’re facing these questions at all. They feel that the questions they pose could threaten not only their theology but also their social network, their family, their...

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On Yom Kippur

With today being Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in the Hebrew calendar, I would like to reflect on a very sacred experience that I had, and one that is very unique within Mormonism, although I was actually not yet a member of the Church when I had this experience. That said, this experience restored my faith in Christ and led to my belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet. My Jewish husband and I shared this sacred experience a year before we were married and a couple years prior to me joining the LDS church in 2010. Please forgive me if the details are sketchy, as it is never easy- and deeply personal- to recount spiritual experiences. This sacred experience would mark the beginning of my journey into the Sacred Feminine and my love for Heavenly Mother. I share these stories as I experienced them. I believe they happened because of my need at that particular time in my life – and God’s love.  Whether you believe me or not, please respect them as my sacred stories. Nevertheless, I do testify these sacred experiences are true. On this particular day in 2007, my husband and I were in the mountains of North Carolina. We were not yet married, and my husband later admitted he was about to break off the relationship since we have a significant age difference and there were just too many complications. That same day, he made it clear he had no intentions of getting married. Frustrated, I went off by myself and “yelled” at God – “You have GOT to fix this!” We drove on, and came to this beautiful waterfall called Hooker Falls in Pisgah National Forest. Shortly after we arrived, three mysterious women appeared. One was middle aged, one was a younger mother and the other a child. They all looked Hispanic. As the child splashed around in the water, middle-aged woman spoke with my husband at length, while the young mother kept me occupied....

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Wandering in the Wilderness

It has now been 9 years since I first listened to the Mormon Stories podcast with Darius Gray and Margaret Young on blacks and the priesthood and temple ban.  In it they put the priesthood ban into context of the surrounding culture.  I learned that in the beginning, there was no ban, not while Joseph Smith was alive.  I learned that the ban started under Brigham Young and came in increments.  I learned we are really missing any smoking gun revelation from God instructing that it be so.  I learned that many justifications that I grew up hearing, namely a curse as descendants of  Cain, in my isolated whiter than white small Idaho hometown were related to the same folklore white protestants used to justify slavery and then adapted to the priesthood ban.  It was a revelation to me.  For the very first time I had an answer that made the slightest bit of sense to THE question about the church that had always most bothered me.   Two years ago, much of this same information was put into the chapter heading of Official Declaration 1 of the Doctrine and Covenants and a year later went even further in the essay on the lds.org website.  That podcast was wonderful and terrible at the same time.  It gave me answers and opened my eyes and simultaneously shook the foundations of my idea of prophets, revelation and divine direction of the Church right to the core.  It launched a whole new faith journey in which old understandings were torn apart and new ones had to be built up in their place.  Never again could I accept the model of everything the Prophet says as being inspired.  Never again could it be as simple as God’s mouth to the prophets ear.  As I have mentioned before, I am able to say I came through this journey remaining a believer.  I can honestly say I think I have a deeper and richer faith.  However, it has been a monumental task to square the idea of a church...

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A Response to John Dominic Crossan, ‘How to Read the Bible and Still be a Christian’

I was invited to respond to John Dominic Crossan a few weeks ago at a book event at Writ & Vision in Provo, Utah. I was honored to spend the time getting to know Dom, and greatly respect his honesty, scholarship, and kindness in allowing me to share a few of my thoughts with him and the audience about his book. The following were my remarks that night in response to his book. –––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––––– The first session that I attended at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature was titled “Use, Misuse, and Impact of the Bible,” and its theme was “Biblical Genocide in Biblical Scholarship.” The session experienced a lively debate, especially between two of the four panelists, Eric Seibert and Hector Avalos on the topic of the conquest of Canaan by the Israelites. Dr. Seibert is a Professor of Old Testament at Messiah College and identifies as a believing Evangelical Christian. Dr. Avalos is a Professor of Religious Studies at Iowa State University and is no longer an Evangelical Christian, and identifies as an atheist. Seibert wanted to make clear that the genocide of the Canaanites and the conquest of Israel/Palestine in the Book of Joshua were morally reprehensible events, and something that the God of the Bible would not have commanded. Avalos agreed that this was not something a god would command, but for very different reasons. While Seibert walks the line of calling into question the authority of the Bible and being a traditional believing Christian, Avalos concluded that god does not exist and that we should discard texts that teach divine violence like the Book of Joshua. Although I use the example of these two scholars I do not mean to portray that there are only two paths in approaching how to understand divine violence in the Bible, or that either of those two paths is a better one over the other. John Dominic Crossan’s new book is an example of creating a different path, that I...

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Living on Flipped Mormon Standard Time

We’ve all heard the old American proverb, “The early bird gets the worm.” Well, if given the choice between being the early bird and the worm, I’d be the worm. And I think scripturally speaking; the worm has the upper edge on spirituality. Let me explain….. It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I can never make it to Sacrament meeting on time. It’s not that I’m a “party animal;” it’s just that I am convinced my internal clock is set up differently. Some nights I cannot sleep, and it is nothing to find me up at 2:00am, or even later, reading, studying, writing or watching some crazy preacher on late night TV. I am not, nor will I ever be, a morning person, unless you’re talking about 3am! I’ve tried over the years to change, but it just isn’t happening. Now that I am a grad student again, it seems I will continue to operate on “scholar time.” But wait! There is hope for those of us who operate on Mormon Standard Time (MST), and Jesus himself often seemed more concerned with the “burning the midnight oil” than with getting up with the roosters. Jesus liked to stay up all night praying; consider his appearance to the disciples on the Sea of Galilee during the “fourth watch” of the night after spending half the night in prayer (Matthew 14:25). Following the Atonement in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus chides the disciples for not staying up late and praying alongside him. Even the “foolish virgins” are shut out because they do not keep enough oil in their lamps late into the night. Evenings in biblical times were set up in increments of four major time periods called “watches.” Basically, the clock was flipped upside down from our own; this is why in the Jewish calendar, Shabbat, or the Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday night (our time). The day “watches” are also set up in similar increments. The “night watches” are set up as...

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Following The Prophet (When The Prophet Hasn’t Always Been Right)

Aug 05, 15 Following The Prophet (When The Prophet Hasn’t Always Been Right)

Posted by in Faith, Featured, Mormonism, Racism

Sitting in the pew, they sing: Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, Follow the prophet; don’t go astray. Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, Follow the prophet; he knows the way. Verse after verse goes by. I look around at all the people singing the words, each voice pronouncing each word with a profound reverence. But I can’t. Line by line, the God within cannot allow those words to leave my lips. Ultimately, the lessons I learned through working with missionaries were God is good and a prophet radiates all that is good and glorious about God. But the prophet hasn’t always been good for all of us. For some, the words of the prophet have brought spiritual exclusion and exhaustion. Let’s make one thing absolutely clear: there has never been a curse on black people. Just some very racist white people who wanted to justify how blacks were being treated. So there is bound to be some hesitancy in singing “he knows the way” with an unquestioning countenance. There are certainly those who would question my decision to stay or somehow sustain a prophet despite my convictions, however, in living my life as a Latter-day Saint, in all my interactions and frustrations with members and policies, Mormonism has revealed itself to be a journey not a destination. For me, it is an unfinished house. Stepping into the Church, I believed this journey would unfold in a straight line. However, it’s been anything but. How do I survive as a black woman in the LDS Church and a culture that is not mine? Around faces that do not look like mine. Even further, how do I thrive? As a black woman, I’ve never found comfort in a white Jesus and Heavenly Parents. Whiteness defined not only in skin color but in attitudes towards people of color. I’m somehow to believe God is a divine racist? In the years since I’ve joined, I’ve found that I cannot survive in believing that. I’ve found that I...

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How Shall We Continue in The Silencing?

Imagine how Mary Magdalene must have felt on the morning of the Resurrection, being the first person to see the risen Christ. Imagine too how she must have felt later on when she would be forever silenced for her testimony: “I have seen the Lord: such is the story of the Resurrection as told in the Gospel of John. With it begins the history of Christianity, and with it ends the New Testament history of Mary Magdalene.”(1)  And still the Church rests on a special commission given to her by Christ himself, “but go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20: 17). Tradition says Mary Magdalene did continue her earthly mission, but so much of that has been the stuff of legend. According to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Mary Magdalene finished out her years in Ephesus, a city devoted to the goddess Artemis, while the Western medieval tradition maintains that she died in France and is laid to rest at Sainte Baume. (2)  In both traditions, she remained celibate and chaste following the Resurrection. The Gnostic Gospels, more specifically the Gospel of Philip, paint Mary Magdalene in a very different light, as Jesus’ chosen successor and most intimate companion, or perhaps even his wife. Still the question remains, “If Mary were so important to Jesus, why is there no mention of her in Acts, or in the Epistles?” (3) And with that, the Mormon belief in Heavenly Mother faces the same set of challenges, except this time on a much grander scale; for in this case we are dealing with Deity. The problem here is not so much that She exists – as Latter-Day Saints we historically acknowledge as such – the problem is we operate on a stifled belief in Her that is used to perpetuate the status quo, when a doctrine of Her really should be used to promote an elevated view of women reflecting...

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“Thank you for our many blessings”

Jun 30, 15 “Thank you for our many blessings”

Posted by in Faith, Featured, prayer

As Mormons we often pride ourselves on avoiding “vain repetitions” by not reciting set prayers (except, you know, those ones we say every Sunday for the sacrament). Occasionally we also pause to consider our oft-repeated phrases – the “harm-or-accident” and “strengthen-and-nourish” that every child learns to parrot. I think it may be time to put “bless” in that same category. I started thinking about this after a recent public prayer. Out of respect, I won’t identify the speaker. But since it was recorded I can quote the key phrases. The person giving the prayer thanked the Lord on our behalf “for priesthood power which blesses all of our lives,” for “the Atonement … and the way it blesses us continually,” and for “the many blessings which the restored gospel brings to our lives.” The individual asked that the Lord would “strengthen and sustain and bless” Pres. Monson, “be with and bless all those who” participated, “and bless those” who were listening. [1] The member concluded by stating that “we ask this blessing this day.” I was left wondering what, exactly, we had just prayed for. Priesthood power, the Atonement, and the restored gospel have all improved my life, but not in the same ways. If the gifts related to them are multiple and continuous, couldn’t we list some specifically? How exactly were we hoping the Lord will bless Pres. Monson beyond strengthening and sustaining him? What were we asking the Lord to do for those who participate and listen? Described as a “blessing,” the prayer seemed to be less than the sum of its parts. Am I being overly critical of this single prayer? Certainly. But I also think there is a real loss when we adopt such unspecific language in our communication with Deity. If, as we are fond of quoting from the Bible Dictionary, “The object of prayer is … to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our...

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Back and Forth about Prophets

Jun 26, 15 Back and Forth about Prophets

Posted by in Blogs about Blogs, Faith, Featured, Obedience

Here’s my response to ldsphilosopher’s response to my response to his response to this “how to stay mormon” post. I’m going to do my best to respond to the core point of ldsphilosopher’s response: Person A says, “The prophets are wrong on X, and we need to change this.” Person B says, “I think that we should give prophetic teaching more weight than you do — it needs to pass more stringent tests than you’ve put it through before dismissing it. I also think we need to take stewardship into consideration.” Person A says, “You believe in prophetic infallibility! Don’t you know how wrong that position is?” Prophetic infallibility becomes the smear with which those who think that the prophet is wrong can slander those who think the prophet is right, despite the fact that neither party believes in it. I think this is a very useful distinction: believing that the prophets/apostles are right 100% of the time vs. believing that we should follow the prophet/apostles 100% of the time. Perfect leaders vs. perfect obedience. Because I used phrases like “agree/disagree” it wasn’t clear which of the two I was talking about. ldsphilosopher clarifies his original point succinctly: But here’s what I do believe: the Lord will hold us accountable for how we treat prophetic counsel. Even if that counsel turns out to be wrong. If we are dismissive of prophetic counsel — even if it turns out to be wrong — God is disappointed. It’s now even clearer to me that ldsphilosopher not in the perfect leaders realm (though I’m not as convinced as he seems to be that nobody is) but rather in the realm of perfect obedience. And he doesn’t go so far as to say that we need to follow them 100% of the time. Instead, he says the following: Note, this doesn’t mean that we blindly follow prophets — it simply means that we treat their words with weight, as inspired leaders. We start from the position that prophets may be right, and...

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On being chosen

1 Peter 2:9 9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: We have been taught that we are a chosen people.  What does that really mean?  As Mormons we are rather proud of our peculiarity, our royality, our priesthood.  We claim the blood and birthright of the children of Israel.  We claim a tradition as God’s chosen people.  But that tradition, that idea is fraught with peril.  I think a look at the history of the Children of Israel can be very instructive. The rabbi Abraham Heschel described Israel as a great experiment in which God takes a group of people no better and no worse than any other and sees what happens when he tries to develop a relationship with them.  In other words, being chosen does not signify a preference for a people based upon discrimination and favoritism but a people chosen and approached by God. It is not a quality inherent in the people but a relationship between the people and God.  He described Judaism as “God’s quest for Man.” As we read in the Old Testament, we find that these chosen people are typically not keeping up their end of the relationship. We are all familiar with how Israel built a Golden Calf the moment Moses left them to get the law on Mount Sinai.  We all know about how they groused and complained and spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness.  We all know about how they stoned and killed and rejected the prophets.  What we don’t seem to realize is that as “the Lord’s chosen people” all these stories are instructive to us.  They are a warning for us. Being a people in relationship with God involves boundary maintenance.  It involves receiving the law.  It involves covenant.  It involves distinctive practices to set you apart.  These are important.  Boundaries keep the people distinct but the problem is they...

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