“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”)

One in Us

John 17: 21 “That they all may be one; as thou, Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Unity in Christ is essential to the Gospel message. However, Christian unity as it is understood in the modern ecumenical movement is somewhat of a contradiction of terms. Are we speaking of a unity in belief, practice, or personal piety? For Mormons this term becomes even more ambiguous, as Latter-day Saints tend to believe our church is the “One True Church.” Furthermore, this concept is even more divisive among Mormons, considering some are declared “worthy” for the Temple, while others are not. During my studies overseas with the World Council of Churches in Geneva, I learned that John 17:21 was the key to understanding Christian unity as defined by the modern ecumenical movement; for in this verse is expressed Christ’s “ecumenical imperative,” a calling for unity among believers. However, those outside Mormonism—Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox— are even divided on what this means or how to interpret it. So what does it mean to be “one in Christ”? The seventeenth chapter of John is the great intercessory prayer for church unity. This prayer was offered up by Jesus himself just as he was about to undergo the agonizing ordeal of the Atonement. Perhaps the following verse offers a clue; “that they also may be one in us….that the world may believe….” (emphasis added). The key to unity is found in divine plurality. It is interesting to note that as Jesus is conversing with the Father all throughout chapter seventeen, he makes repeated reference to the essential unity found in divine plurality; verse eleven, “….that they may be one, as we are” and verse twenty-two, “…even as we are one.” (emphasis added) It would seem that Jesus’ repeated use of “we,” along with the reference to “us” in John 17: 21, indicate that he is speaking not only to...

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Thanksgiving therapy with the Mormon Family…

If the Mormon family came to me for therapy this week, it would be Molly, 5 adult children, and Peter, her husband, coming to talk about Thanksgiving dinner next week. Me: Hey, Molly…. Peter, it’s good to see you again. Sounds like things have changed a bit. You’ve brought some friends with you, this time? How are you? Molly: Yes, these are our children. This is Adam and his twin sister Eve.  This is Steve and that’s Amanda, they are friends of Adam and Eve’s.  This is our adopted child – Penny, her birth mother is a Colored, err, African-American… descended woman.  Kids, come on in & introduce yourselves. Adam: Oh, mother. We aren’t kids anymore. We’re all over 18 and can make our own legal decisions as upheld by the law. Hi, LaShawn. This is Steve, my spouse.  Mom isn’t quite used to the idea, yet. Eve: *raises hand* Same. This is Amanda. We had joint wedding ceremonies this summer and this is our first set of holidays together with the extended family. Me: Hi Steve, Adam, nice to meet you. Thanks for coming today. Eve, Amanda, pleasure.  And you’re Penny? Penny: Yeah, hi. I’m just here because they all keep bringing me into the conversation. They do this all the time. My spouse couldn’t come today. Me: So, help me understand what’s happening. Peter, how about you start us off. Peter: LaShawn, it’s like this… Thanksgiving is next week and we’re trying to be fair to everyone in the family with expectations about how we’ll spend the holidays with all of these changes that have been happening. We had a family meeting and came up with a decision that keeps everyone safe and establishes a standard expectation of behavior.  You know we value families. We’re trying to express to our kids that we value them and their….friends. We just have beliefs that are really important to us. We’re starting to feel attacked and disrespected, to be honest. Me: Okay, the holidays can be a...

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Flowers and Ashes

At one point in my life, I was president of my wards Young Women’s organization. I am sure that comes as a shock to many who may be acquainted with me online, but it is true- my ward trusted me with about 20 girls, aged 12-17. Among them, was a 12 year old whom I’ll refer to as Flor. Flor has blonde hair that falls in curls and a face that looks most natural when it smiles. She talks a lot with her hands, and giggles and is buoyant and energetic. I met her as a 12 year old, stick thin and pale, in a shadier part of town. The missionaries I went out with were not too sure about her, because her mother was a drug dealer, and generally always high or drunk and what were the odds of Flor staying in church anyway? Better to focus on her friend Vickie, whose overworked mother was listening too—that seemed like a better bet. It set something off inside of me- because at one point, I had been a child that was looked at as polluted (my mother had been divorced multiple times!), and as unsteady. I told those Elders that Flor needed Jesus too, and that she needed to be in church, and that she needed of a church family as a refuge from the life she led. I was stern and unrepentant. I was there for Flor’s baptism and as president gave her the official welcome, only to have her jump into my arms, wet hair burried into my blouse as she excitedly said “I am Mormon now!”. I have since moved away, but hear from Flor often- she has grown close to one of the sisters that served along with me, and 3 years later, out of Vickie and Flor, Flor is still active. She is still buoyant, still awkward, but she is still loved and she is still needed. I have thought a lot about Flor these past few days- how...

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What Manner of Healing Is This: A Conversation on Womanist & Postcolonial Healing

Nov 04, 15 What Manner of Healing Is This: A Conversation on Womanist & Postcolonial Healing

Posted by in Faith, Featured, Mormonism, Priesthood

The recent release of 2 essays (and subsequent responses) regarding Heavenly Mother as well as women and the Priesthood revealed differences between the concept of the divine feminine in LDS theology and culture versus concepts of the natural and supernatural rooted in communities of color around the world. Specifically in regards to healing, practices to maintain wellness among the latter vary along the lines of relationships individuals and communities have to the Earth, each other and oneself. These practices were also, at times, performed as an act of resistance against evil. Sometimes, that evil manifested itself in the form of white supremacy. For example, with the racism that permeated in institutional medicine and Eurocentric concepts of the body, African-Americans were led to form various folk healing techniques to address disease and treatment, many of which are still in use today. As a person of color within the Church, models and histories of healing are often erased or maintained in conjunction with one’s belief in the power of the Priesthood. While the syncretization of these beliefs may strengthen one’s knowledge of a universal God, the erasure of the work of healers, shamans, Curanderas, Taulasea (among many others) can be subsequently dismissed as they are perceived to be witchcraft or evil. However, the techniques used by these healers speak to ways of knowing the world and the self, whether it is a holistic view of disease or extenuation of the same processes that we see in the world around us. It is how some may connect to the divine. This is not a critique of the Priesthood as “the power of God upon the Earth”, however as a cultural marker, it can be argued there’s an aspect that erases the healing traditions of communities of color. In this, I want to turn this post into a conversation. In the thread below, I invite persons of color to share healing practices that exist within their respective communities and how they incorporate (or don’t incorporate) them into their...

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81: Navigating the Landscape of Online Mormonism: A Presentation From Sunstone-Kirtland Oct 2015

http://media.blubrry.com/rationalfaiths/p/rationalfaiths.com/podcast/81SunstoneKirtlandPresentation2015.mp3 Podcast: Play in new window | Download Subscribe: iTunes | Android | RSS At Sunstone Kirtland 2015 a few of the Rational Faiths folks presented on the topic of online Mormonism.  Benjamin Knoll, Thomas Hatton and Brian Dillman each presented on the topic for about 15 minutes each and then fielded a Q&A session moderated by Brian Kissell for another 20 minutes or so. It was an enjoyable and engaging experience for us and luckily we captured the audio and have made the visual presentation available below. Consider this bit a preview of a great conference. There were many other presentations at the conference (and the audio of those presentations will eventually be available on Sunstone’s archives). Please enjoy the presentation. Sunstone Knoll Hatton...

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Petitioning Heavenly Mother and the Call to Faithful Agitation

As I was reviewing the 1991 Ensign article “Daughters of God” by Gordon B. Hinckley, then First Counselor in the First Presidency, I began to see a correlation between Hinckley’s prohibition against praying to our Mother in Heaven and the later call to “faithful agitation.” The question that came to mind is are both of these challenges instead of prohibitions? Let’s examine his statement in context. In this talk/article, Hinckley is addressing the concerns of a young girl, “Virginia” who has a testimony of the Restored Gospel, but is concerned she will not make it into the Celestial Kingdom simply because she is a female. Hinckley reassures her that she will enter the Celestial Kingdom if she remains faithful to her testimony of the Gospel. However, once he finishes addressing her concern, he moves on to a more pressing matter; expressing concern that someone has “secured” a copy of his talk delivered earlier at a meeting with regional Church representatives. He reassures them that there is nothing “sinister” being hidden from the general populace, “as if it had been given in a secret and sinister manner” and then he goes on to read a portion of that same talk concerning prayer to our Mother in Heaven. In this talk, he regards it as “inappropriate” to pray to Heavenly Mother, using first the Lord’s Prayer as an example, and then moving on to the Presidents of the Church- from Joseph Smith to Ezra Taft Benson. He adds, “The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her….of whom we have no revealed knowledge.” Inappropriate, perhaps but not explicitly forbidden? First the declarations made in this talk are in response to some concerns being addressed by local authorities, that some had begun praying to Heavenly Mother in private prayer, a practice which made inroads into Sunday worship. The fact that Hinckley would feel pressured to tack this issue on to another similar issue and speak with the...

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Should Prophets Prophesy?

“Therefore when Tao is lost, there is goodness. When goodness is lost, there is kindness. When kindness is lost, there is justice. When justice is lost, there is ritual. Now ritual is the husk of faith and loyalty, the beginning of confusion. Knowledge of the future is only a flowery trapping of Tao. It is the beginning of folly.” Tao Te Ching chapter 38 What should we really expect from prophets? If God understands that knowledge of the future is the beginning of folly, and knowledge of the past is over and done, do we expect God to teach us folly? Do we expect God to speak truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, even though we know our language and comprehension are incapable of encompassing that? I have personally come to expect God to be good and loving. Being good and loving means being effective in raising us to Godhood, and Godhood is a process and a community. It is not a state of absolute being, or absolute knowledge, or absolute truth. It is a process of doing the best thing we know to do, right now. Frankly, I’m terrible at living in the now. I believe detailed understanding of the past and accurate predictions of the future are essential to making the best decisions we can about the present, but part of me tells me that isn’t always true. It’s really enough to simply have whatever stimuli will help us make the most effective, Godward decisions in this moment, then the next, then the next. Of course, a sustained sequence of effective choices in the now requires a certain amount of “true” understanding of past and future, but not an infinite amount. So are we really wise in asking our prophets to prophesy? Are we really wise in requiring that they have a perfect understanding of history? I’ll give my answer–it’s complicated. We are wisest to expect prophets to be human. We are wisest to seek their counsel for today....

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I’ll Never Tell You to Choose to Believe

Oct 15, 15 I’ll Never Tell You to Choose to Believe

Posted by in Agency, Atonement, Faith, Featured, Revelation

In college I lived down the hall from a very serious Christian. He worked hard to encourage others to be more active and outspoken about their Christianity. He was antagonistic to my Mormonism, considering it as non-Christian and me as having been led astray. We still got along well enough, but we weren’t close. One day I happened upon a scripture study he was holding with a few other students in one of the common rooms. As I recall, they invited me to share the space and eventually we began a conversation about religion. Somehow (these conversations never seem predictable), we turned to the topic of belief. While I held up Moroni’s promise as the central truth-process claim of Mormonism, he dismissed this, declaring that the Bible had replaced all such revelation. Honestly astounded by this position, I asked, “Then how do you know the Bible is true?” His response was that he just did. His position, as best I could understand it, was that one should read the Bible and simply accept it as truth. And if you didn’t? Well, then you were going to hell. There was no gray area. But there was also no revelation to buttress belief. It was just a matter of either unconscious decision (best, easiest) or conscious decision (a necessary but difficult step if you weren’t able to believe automatically). I couldn’t accept that then and I still can’t. Insisting that someone believe what they don’t, without divine help, strikes me as an unreasonable demand. I can’t imagine that being the basis for salvation. I believe because I’ve felt the spiritual confirmation that Moroni promised. I believe because, as a primary child, I felt a powerful spiritual witness while singing the song “The Spirit of God” and knew that personal revelation was real. I believe because the Book of Mormon continues to enlighten my mind as I devote myself to diligent study. I believe because I have seen the truths of the gospel reach people’s hearts and...

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Evolving Faith: Wanderings of an Mormon Biologist – A Review

Oct 13, 15 Evolving Faith: Wanderings of an Mormon Biologist – A Review

Posted by in Book Reviews, Faith, Featured, Reviews, science

Steve Peck is one eclectic dude. The same guy that uses complex computer models to study evolutionary biology and researches tsetse flies for a living also writes fictional stories featuring characters like the Oxford failed conjoined twins (with a third conscious center comprised of a neural mass) living a cowboy life in Moab Utah, or a poor Soren Johansson who died early from brain cancer to find out that Zoroastrianism was the one true religion and he was stuck in an infinitely (effectively) large library condemned to the most mundane and impossible task imaginable before he could be released from this hell.  Well beyond that he dabbles in philosophy and theology (when I say dabble I mean to indicate that his works are published in top journals/venues, even his poetry has been published in Nature). So with a guy like this I didn’t know quite what to expect in his writing for this volume. Audience By way of critique I have to say that it is not clear who the audience for this book is. An essay collection, which is precisely what Evolving Faith is, can be quite coherent if the essay writer(s) has the collected works in mind. In this case the original writings span more than a decade and come from a range of different sources. So it is understandable that some towards the beginning are suited to a group of students in a selected readings of contemporary philosophy course and others towards the end are more of a general audience type of work (accessible to all that are literate). While I can understand the variance in the type of language used in each essay as well as the expected language/understanding/education of the reader for each essay, I think this volume could have benefited from more editing/curation than it has. I have a hard time imagining the typical undergrad confused by the disparate messages of the religion courses and science courses being able to wade through the ideas, arguments/logic, and vocabulary employed in many of the first few chapters. Perhaps I don’t give enough credit...

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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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