the weakness of the Bible as an argument for an expanded canon

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A week and a half ago, I wrote a post arguing that the Bible is actually more of a weak point than the Book of Mormon for fundamentalist, literalist attitudes toward Latter-day Saint scripture. That post—like this one—was inspired by an Introduction to Scripture class that I’m currently taking through Community of Christ’s Temple School. The first lesson did a lot of work to play up the Bible as the main scriptural foundation of Community of Christ and is doing some respectful but firm downplaying of the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants.

the Bible—not the Book of Mormon—as weak point of Mormon apologetics

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Almost a year ago now, Stephen C. at the Mormon blog Times and Seasons wrote a post asking what might be an “extinction-level event” for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There’s a lot of interesting speculation in the post, but the passage that I copied down at the time was this one: Of course, the truly fatal circumstance is if the President of the Church stopped believing in the truth claims.

Novák, Orbán, and Ballard: the far right and Mormon boundary maintenance

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Next month, I’m flying to Salt Lake City to attend the Annual Meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion to present some of my work about social media, religion, and the far right. I’ll be presenting on three different projects at SSSR—this was biting off more than I could chew, but since two of them connect with Mormonism, Salt Lake suggested the possibility of a larger-than-usual audience for that work, so there you go.

the Christian symbolism of the name 'Mormon'

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preface A quick preface: This is a post that I originally wrote nearly two years ago for By Common Consent. Lately, it’s been bugging me that I don’t have a version of it up on my own site, and since I haven’t had a lot of time this week to write anything original, I’m going to repost this here. This post elaborates on one of my favorite close readings of the Book of Mormon.

things to offer vs. things to impose

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A friend of mine invited me to attend a Community of Christ worship service tonight, a brief reference during which got me thinking about what Community of Christ folks call Joseph Smith’s “grove experience” but that I grew up referring to as his “First Vision.” This got me thinking (and reading) about the different accounts of this experience, including Smith’s 1832 account, where he writes: I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy and the Lord heard my cry in the wilderness and while in the attitude of calling upon the Lord in the 16th year of my age a piller of light above the brightness of the sun at noon day come down from above and rested upon me and I was filled with the spirit of god and the Lord opened the heavens upon me and I saw the Lord and he spake unto me saying Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee.

new revelation that confirms old ideas

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I’m a fan of Dan McClellan’s YouTube channel—he posts a lot there (nearly everything is a repost from TikTok), and I watch most of what he posts. Yesterday, he posted an interesting video on the “Lucifer” name and character in the Bible, describing how traditional Christian ideas about the figure are all post-biblical innovations that don’t neceessarily line up with the text. In particular, the name “Lucifer” is an artifact of the Vulgate, and even in the Vulgate, the name itself is a reference to a Babylonian king, not to a fallen angel who became the devil.

radical early Christianity

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One of the biggest perks of working in academia is access to an academic library. Don’t get me wrong: I deeply appreciate and regularly visit my local public libraries, and kiddo and I have made a couple of visits to her school’s summer library hours (which is an amazing idea). There’s something about the breadth of an academic library, though, that can really come in handy sometimes. For example, I was recently reading an article by Dan McClellan on Bible translation in Latter-day Saint contexts and noticed with interest his reference to David Bentley Hart’s translation of the New Testament.

📚 bookblog: ❤️❤️❤️🖤🖤 for Autobiography of Elder Charles Derry, by Charles Derry

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This is a fascinating bit of history. Derry was an early convert to Mormonism who emigrated from England to Utah, became disgusted with polygamy and what he saw as an abusive system of tithing and church governance, and returned to the American Midwest, where he joined the RLDS church and became a leader and missionary in that denomination. Like The Giant Joshua, it’s odd to read something that is so clearly “a pioneer story” but isn’t uniformly positive.

technology-mediated authority in early Mormonism

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As I wrote earlier, I recently appeared on the Salt Lake Tribune’s Mormon Land podcast to discuss a recent publication in which I discuss the history of official Latter-day Saint domain names. Near the end of the interview, David Noyce (managing editor of the Tribune and one of the podcast hosts) asked me the “so what” question—sure, this history is interesting, but what’s the takeaway? Here’s (part of) how I answered:

the Book of Moses and the subjectivity of scripture

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One of the more interesting passages of scripture produced by Joseph Smith Jr. is in Section 36 of the Community of Christ Doctrine and Covenants (or the Book of Moses in the Latter-day Saint Pearl of Great Price): And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residee of the people, and he wept, and Enoch bore record of it, saying, How is it the heavens weeps and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?

media coverage of recent article on Latter-day Saint online presence

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I recently wrote about a new article of mine in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought where I trace the history of the official domain names of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This past week, I was lucky enough for the fine folks at the Salt Lake Tribune to take interest in the article. Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote a summary of my findings in this (unfortunately paywalled) article, which appeared on Sunday.

new publication: technology, naming, and legitimacy in the Latter-day Saint tradition

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I’m very excited to share that I’ve just had an article published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, a historically and culturally important journal in Mormonism. My article is entitled “The correct [domain] name of the Church: Technology, naming, and legitimacy in the Latter-day Saint tradition.” The title is a riff on Russell Nelson’s use of the phrase “The Correct Name of the Church” when leading a renewed emphasis on the full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints early in his ministry as President of the same church.

reckoning and forgiveness

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I write a lot about Mormonism on this blog, and even though I’m not shy about being critical, I think I’ve also made clear that in relative terms, I’m on pretty good terms with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Not on such good terms that I’m still an active member of that church, of course, but I still feel a lot of fondness for it, and I don’t think I’ll ever consider myself an “ex-Mormon”—the great thing about the word “Mormon” no longer being officially approved is that it makes it all the more appropriate for describing my own religious identity.

on reading scripture with an agenda

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I grew up in a faith tradition that put a huge amount of emphasis on the King James Version of the Bible. It was only four years ago (in the early phases of my faith transition), that I deliberately picked up another translation to read instead. Even then, I picked a relatively “safe” transition to venture into: Thomas Wayment’s The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints. Since it was co-published by Deseret Book and BYU, it had some tacit approval from Latter-day Saint institutions, even if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints itself still identifies the KJV as its official English language text.

on the SEC and conflating a church with God

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On January 24, 2023, Elder Kevin S. Hamilton of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gave a speech at BYU where he made the following comments: As I visit with members across the Church, I sometimes hear things like “I don’t support the Church’s policy on (you fill in the blank).” Or “I don’t agree with the way the Church does (this or that).” Could I suggest an alternative approach?

a surprising (but ultimately damning) non-apology

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Earlier today, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a statement announcing that: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its affiliated investment manager, Ensign Peak Advisors, Inc., have settled a matter with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Unsuprisingly, the Salt Lake Tribune describes the context surrounding the settlement in more detail: In a settlement announced Tuesday with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the Utah-based faith and its investment arm, Ensign Peak Advisors, have agreed to pay $5 million in penalties for failing to properly disclose past stock holdings and going to “great lengths” to deliberately “obscure” the church’s investment portfolio.

on faith transition and letting go of LDS modesty worship

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I’ve mentioned before that I support the Salt Lake Tribune’s Mormon Land podcast on Patreon, one of the perks of which is that I get access to the Tribune’s Mormon coverage without having to subscribe to the whole paper (which would be a lot of money for someone who doesn’t care about Jazz coverage or Utah politics). Thanks to this Patreon perk, I read a lot of news about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and between that and over three decades that I spent as an active member of that church, you’d think that nothing would surprise me anymore.

🔗 linkblog: my thoughts on 'BYU-I instructors fired for failing ‘ecclesiastical clearance.’ They can’t find out why.'

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This is such a frustrating story. I never wanted to work at a BYU, but as a Mormon earning a PhD, I often told myself I couldn’t afford to rule it out. This adds to the pile of reasons that I’m glad there weren’t jobs open for me to apply to. link to ‘BYU-I instructors fired for failing ‘ecclesiastical clearance.’ They can’t find out why.’

new publication: an autoethnography on French, data science, and paradigm change

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I’m pleased to share the publication of a new chapter of an edited volume. The chapter in question is “I’m a French teacher, not a data scientist”: Culture and languages across my professions, and it’s part of a volume called Cultures and languages across the curriculum in higher education. According to the CLAC Consortium, Culture and Languages Across the Curriculum (CLAC) is a: a curricular framework that provides opportunities to develop and apply language and intercultural competence within all academic disciplines through the use of multilingual resources and the inclusion of multiple cultural perspectives.

further thoughts on Jephthah's daughter

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Yesterday, I wrote a post on Jephthah, a figure in the book of Judges who makes a commitment that if God helps him out in battle, he’ll sacrifice the first thing that exits the door of his house when he returns home. Robert Alter notes that there’s been a lot of rabbinic and scholarly effort to make sense of this but that in “any case, it is a rash vow.” Indeed, the vow goes wrong, and Jephthah winds up in a situation where’s he believes he’s committed to offer up his daughter in sacrifice.

on Jephthah, Jeremiah, and David Archuleta

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Some of the most troubling passages in the Christian canon have to do with the sacrifice of children in the name of God. Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac is perhaps the most obvious example of this, but there are other examples that (ought to) raise as much concern in the mind of the believer. Perhaps the most interesting (to me) story along these lines is found in Judges 11:31 (I’m using Robert Alter’s fantastic translation throughout this post), where one of the eponymous judges, a man by the name of Jephthah:

thoughts on recent Mormon Land podcast

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The Salt Lake Tribune’s Mormon Land podcast is one of my favorites—I’ve gone so far as to support it on Patreon so that I can get all the Tribune’s religion coverage without having to subscribe to the entire newspaper. Mormon news interests me a lot, but Utah news doesn’t interest me at all. Yesterday’s episode on age and Latter-day Saint leadership was one of the most interesting episodes that I’ve listened to.

on distinctions between 'church' and gospel'

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During the last few years I spent as a practicing Latter-day Saint, one recurring pet peeve that I had was the overbroad use of the term “gospel” to refer to all Latter-day Saint doctrines, teachings, and beliefs. In hindsight, learning to separate the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ from everything that I believed was a major part of my faith transition—and my ability to continue in Christianity even when the version that I was used to started to no longer work for me.

standing the wrong way in the elevator: a response to Oaks and Gilbert

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I ride an e-bike into work, and because an e-bike is expensive, I bring it into my office rather than lock it up at one of the bike racks on University of Kentucky campus. Because an e-bike is heavy, I also take it up the elevator to get up to the third floor, where my office is. My e-bike takes up a lot of space, but I’ve figured out how to share the elevator with others as I make my way up to my office.

sticking with the Book of Mormon

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I am a big fan of the Book of Mormon. It’s one of the reasons that I stuck with Community of Christ when transitioning out of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know the book is problematic, and I doubt its historicity, but I’m still an advocate for making some religious meaning out of it. There are diverse opinions about the Book of Mormon in Community of Christ, and while there’s plenty of room to believe lots of different things, the default institutional view tends to be either indifferent or suspicious of the text.

Oaks and Benson on love of God and neighbor

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Dallin Oaks, the second highest-ranking apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gave a speech at Brigham Young University yesterday where he touched on the “two great commandments” identified by Jesus in the Book of Mark. Unsurprisingly for anyone who’s been following recent signals of retrenchment at BYU (or anyone familiar with the apostle for that matter), Oaks put the two commandments in a particular order. Here’s how the Salt Lake Tribune quotes him:

🔗 linkblog: my thoughts on 'How Mormons are addressing sex abuse: Too little, too late'

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Appreciate Jana’s perspective on this horrible story. link to ‘How Mormons are addressing sex abuse: Too little, too late’

🔗 linkblog: my thoughts on 'A Few Minor, and Hopefully Helpful Editing Suggestions on the LDS Church’s Recent Statement about Abuse | By Common Consent, a Mormon Blog'

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I’ve long lacked confidence in my own opinions (as a general rule—I can also be an opinionated jerk), so even the simplest disagreement with a position I’ve taken can take some wind out of my sails. When I read the official Latter-day Saint response to the recent AP story, I didn’t agree with it, but it still slowed me down some. “Maybe I should consider things from another point of view,” I thought.

🔗 linkblog: my thoughts on 'The Teen Who Helped Expose the Boy Scouts’ Pedophilia Epidemic, and the Mormon Church’s Cover-Up'

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This reporting is from a couple of years ago, but I wasn’t paying enough attention at the time, and recent events make me regret that. link to ‘The Teen Who Helped Expose the Boy Scouts’ Pedophilia Epidemic, and the Mormon Church’s Cover-Up’

should I stay or should I go?

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I haven’t attended the Latter-day Saint congregation I officially belong to since March of 2020, and I’m coming up on one year of being an official member of Community of Christ. It’s pretty clear to me—and, likely, to others—where my religious future is headed. Yet, I’ve always expected that I would remain a de jure—if not de facto—member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even if it’s not the right spiritual home for me or my family any more, and even if I have major disagreements with it, this church has been an important part of my life, and I’ve always wanted to preserve that by retaining my official membership.

🔗 linkblog: my thoughts on 'Mormon church sex abuse: AP investigation | AP News'

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This is a horrifying, sickening story. When it’s marriage equality, the Church is eager to say that being legal doesn’t make something right (a bad take, for the record), so to hear “it was fine because it was legal” as a defense for bishops’ failure to report child sexual abuse (at Salt Lake’s encouragement) is sickening. link to ‘Mormon church sex abuse: AP investigation | AP News’

'Belgian French' and the intentional awkwardness of LDS Book of Mormon translation

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This week and last, I’ve been reading up on Mormons’ commitment to both the language of the King James Version (Philip Barlow’s Mormons and the Bible is a fantastic read) and what is seen as the authoritative text of the Book of Mormon. In Paul Gutjahr’s The Book of Mormon: A Biography, he quotes the official Latter-day Saint Scripture Translation Manual as including the following guidelines for translators of the Book of Mormon:

🔗 linkblog: my thoughts on 'At long last, a photo of Mormon founder Joseph Smith emerges'

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Some more coverage of the (possible) photo find. This is the only news I’ve ever read related to facial recognition software that I’ve been happy rather than grumpy about 😂 link to ‘At long last, a photo of Mormon founder Joseph Smith emerges’

🔗 linkblog: my thoughts on 'Mormon founder Joseph Smith's photo discovered by descendant after nearly 180 years'

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Whoa. Big news here. My feelings about Joseph Jr. are complicated, but it’s very cool to see a possible photograph of him. link to ‘Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s photo discovered by descendant after nearly 180 years’

thoughts on an in-press article—and on names and legitimacy in Mormonism

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One of the highlights of the summer has been getting an article accepted in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. This article takes as a starting point Cragun and Nielsen’s argument (also published in Dialogue) that: what is really at play in the debate over the use of “Mormon” is legitimacy. Cragun and Nielsen are writing in 2009, at a time when Big Love is on the air and the April 2008 FLDS Temple raid is (or was recently) on the news.

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If I were allowed one religion-related time travel shenanigan, I would go to the late 1960s and arrange for very left-wing RLDS apostle Charles Neff and Bircher LDS apostle Ezra Taft Benson to be in the same room, just to see how things would turn out.