Whether the temple and priesthood restriction was mistaken

First, before we go on, let us reiterate that the First Presidency has disavowed all teachings, beliefs, and doctrines promoted by Church leaders in connection with temple and priesthood restriction against Black people, including that “black skin or dark skin is the sign of a curse.” [n1] These ideas are a pernicious cancer upon the Body of Christ.

I recently had a conversation with a friend, where I indicated that the best response to questions about the temple and priesthood restriction that endured from 1852 to 1978 was to admit that it was a mistake. This friend was uncomfortable with this position and suggested that the evidence was indicative that despite teaching false and destructive ideas about the restriction, Church leaders nevertheless were following God’s will to instate the restriction. In this post I am going to respond to the primary arguments for this.

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Managing the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in a religious vacuum

In 1937 young Gordon Hinckley, who had been charged with reforming and centralizing the mission programs as part of his job with the Radio, Publicity and Missionary Literature Committee, helped publish the Missionary’s Hand Book. Missionaries were getting younger and younger, and this was the first handbook used by all missionaries in the church (others were produced regionally for specific missions). It holds counsel, advice, regulations, and instructions on administering the liturgies of the church—the first document published by the church that did so. In just a few years, Hinckley had the additional challenge of making a small volume to be carried by a different set of young Latter-day Saints far from home. He needed to produce a handbook for living the Gospel during military service.

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Notes on practice: Folding arms during prayer

A friend emailed me a great question about Latter-day Saint “prayer posture”: “why do we fold our arms instead of folding hands like many other Christians.” The following is a preliminary response.

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“‘I Dug the Graves'” and “Brigham Young’s Garden Cosmology” (AKA “Adam-God”)

The most recent issue of the Journal of Mormon History just dropped. There are a number of articles, essays, and reviews that are very compelling. I recommend becoming a subscriber and checking it out. I have an article that I want to talk about, but first I want to point to Paul Reeve’s article in the same issue.

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“None of these offices is he to do”: priests and the administration of the sacrament

A friend shot me a note this week with a question about the “Articles and Covenants.” Revised and included in our Doctrine and Covenants as Section 20, this is the document that functioned as a sort of General Handbook of Instructions and creed for the early church. This document, like most of the Doctrine and Covenants, was crystallized in 1835, however beliefs and policy change (we do have a living church and continued revelation). That presents situations were current practice doesn’t always line up with the text. My friend asked about the duties of priests in verses 46-52, which seem to indicate (in 50-51) that priests shouldn’t administer the sacrament when an Elder is present.

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A year of Book of Mormon Study in review

Over the last two years I have joined a group of people from my ward for a regular study group. Last year was the New Testament, and we used various translations along with supplemental readings, largely drawn from Raymond Brown’s magisterial Introduction to the New Testament. We got together, shared questions and comments from the readings, and ate cheese or brownies as we discussed the intersection of our lives with scripture. As we turned to the Book of Mormon this year, things were different. I used Skousen’s Earliest Text for my scripture reading, and others largely used the Maxwell Institute’s Study Edition. But the supplemental reading was less concentrated in a single text, and the food was stripped from us as was our sociality. Zoom was a passible solution, and in many ways formed the core of my devotional life during the period my stake ended all meetings, even if they were online.

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2020 Christmas book list

Another year, another book list. Though unlike previous years, some of us have had a little extra reading time. Before diving in, we aught to recognize that the Maxwell Institute’s Brief Theological Introductions of the Books of Mormon were largely published after the curriculum had moved on, but remain highly valuable resources. Be sure not to miss them. Additionally, I have a separate post if you are looking for resources to aid in the study of the Doctrine and Covenants in 2021. As always, be sure to check out all of these volumes at local book sellers. If you are in Utah, Benchmark always does a great job, and their shipping policy is reasonable.

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The Heritage Quilt

I called my mom. It isn’t uncommon for me to take a break from reading and call her with an observation or connection. I have just started the Salt Lake City Nineteenth Ward Relief Society Minutes. A number of years ago I stumbled on the women’s prayer meeting minutes from the ward, and I’ve wanted to dig into community that produced them. Their record starts like they commonly do: the appointment of officers, the calling of teachers and deacons, and then regular meetings.

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Doctrine and Covenants: The 2021 course of study

A lot has changed in how we can approach the Doctrine and Covenants over the last decade and a half—a revolution really. And now as we think about the 2021 course of study for Sunday School, it is worth thinking about our study regimen. There are various possibilities of engagement, some more accessible than others.

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BYU Studies is looking for a new senior editor!

BYU Studies is looking for someone with both academic editing and professional marketing or business experience. The job is posted at http://yjobs.byu.edu/ under staff and administrative jobs, and the job number is 93452:

The senior editor at BYU Studies is committed to publishing impeccable scholarship that is informed by the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. She or he has a creative vision for making the scholarship published in BYU Studies both more relevant to and more accessible to well educated but non-specialist readers. The successful applicant will assist the editor in chief and the editorial director in publishing. They will also possess the ability to manage growth initiatives designed to exponentially increase awareness of BYU Studies content. The senior editor is capable and comfortable discussing scholarship in a variety of disciplines, managing student editors, editing journals, working with digital humanities, and implementing marketing principles. This position requires the candidate to work with students, staff, editorial board members, scholars, contractors, printers, and the media.

Digital prayer roll

Today the church newsroom announced that members are now able to submit names online to be included on the temple prayer rolls. Next week functionality will be added to the Member Tools app to allow members to submit names from it. I remember coming across examples of nineteenth century Saints submitting names to temple prayer rolls by letter and telegram, and it appears that this was in place from the first temple of the Utah era.

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Complicating sermon texts

One of the most important developments in the last fifteen years in the study of Mormon History and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been an increase in critical approaches to sources, particularly towards sermons of church leaders. [Read more…]

Review: Blythe’s Terrible Revolution

A number of years ago, I wrote about the church culture of my youth: “I was born in 1976, the same year that President Kimball spoke with some measure of pride in General Conference about the “garden fever” that had infected many of the Saints. The church leaders of this period were raised when the Mormon culture region had primarily an agriculture-based economy (the farm-raised missionary remains legendary). Still, there is clearly more than a fear that the children of Zion be deprived home-canned peaches in President Kimball’s words.” We gardened like champs. We had food storage in case of emergency, but we were more proto-foodies (homemade bread and freezer jam, yes please) than end-time waiters. I remember the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction. We never did bomb drills at school, though, and we soon saw the fruits of glastnost. When employment brought my family to the Kansas City area in the early-1990s, we made jokes about “the gatherers”—fringe believers drawn to the area, and who were generally cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

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A Q&A with the editors of Producing Ancient Scripture

Two of the editors of the recently published Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity fielded some questions about the project. I was a participant in the original seminar from which this project grew. My work ended out going a different direction, but I have been anxiously waiting for this volume ever since. Giddy even, you might say. If you use the coupon “MHA2020” at the linked site, it will save you $10 off the paperback.

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The Discourses of Eliza R. Snow

“Do business properly and orderly as the men so that the history of the same may be handed down to future generations of the daughters of Zion.” – ERS to the Salt Lake City Eleventh Ward Relief Society, March 3, 1869.

I have spent a lot of time in the documents of the restoration—journals, sermon reports, correspondence, meeting minutes. The things that often get public attention are items such as church leader diaries that document the activities and opinions of themselves and other church leaders. They are important, but there is something I love far more.

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Newly available shorthand transcriptions of nineteenth-century sermon texts

More than a few Latter-day Saints grew up in homes with one complete shelf full with the Journal of Discourses (preference of course for the black and gold volumes over those crappy blue ones). Missionaries through the years have variously been baffled and intrigued by snippets from them. Hardly anyone has actually read anything from them, though I know a couple of non-professionals who have made it through completely.

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Notes on the revised missionary dress standards for elders

Today the church newsroom announced new clothing standards for the missions. On an area-by-area basis missionaries may variously wear blue shirts, and go without the tie. As we are wont to do, let look at how some of this has changed over time.

Here is an advertisement in the February 1900 Young Woman’s Journal. It looks like they are trying to branch out, as missionaries buy less of them.

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Temple Closures and Church Practice

I ate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in my home with my family, and then again in the home of a friend who is in what we all see as a high risk demographic. We are making arrangements with the ward to have weekly Sunday sermons by ward members available on demand each week, and one interactive adult class by telepresence (for now, rotating through RS, EQ, and SS). The youth will be trying to interact virtually throughout the week. My regularly Book of Mormon discussion group will also shift online. My sense is that this will be the new normal for quite some time. I’m grateful for the hard work of everyone who is trying to find creative ways to meet the needs of our community. Our temple practice is, however, not so easily adjusted.
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2020 Handbook: The Lord’s Supper and the Right Hand

This week church leaders directed the release of the new general handbook of instructions (2020 v. 11/19). Among the updates are its public and digital-only availability (previously only sections were public). There have been several discussions about changes from the last iteration of the handbook. Here, I will be digging into one specifically: instructions for members to take the Lord’s Supper (generally “the sacrament”) with their right hand.
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New Handbook: Evolution of Church Liturgy and Authority

Who performs rituals in our liturgy, and what authority they invoke is at the heart, not only of our lived religion, but integral in the construction of our cosmos. It is part of how we structure the worlds in which we live. It has also been a perennial interest for me. Today, a new handbook of instructions was released, with a number of changes. Besides a throwback to the JFS-era idea of taking the sacrament with your right hand (perhaps I’ll do a follow-up post on that idea), there is an important change in the instruction on home dedication.
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A Place to Belong

I read A Place to Belong this weekend. I understand why it was written and marketed to women. Not only does it make fiscal sense for the publisher, but the editors were, I believe, correct that the women of the church need this volume. But here is the thing: the men of the church need it more. We need to listen to and internalize the experiences of women and be changed by it.

I am not the same person I was twenty years ago—the year I graduated, got married, and started graduate school. Thankfully. A large part of that change is due to the experiences and relationships that followed because of those events. A large part is also because of people, a number of whom wrote chapters for A Place to Belong, who I have come to know and love. Conversations over meals, sharing and reacting to our writing, and disorientation from trying to see through a foreign perspective.

I’m largely an unfinished project—I’m not unfrequently uncomfortable. But I believe that this is essential to the project. If you are male, pick up a copy of A Place to Belong and read it. And if you can’t empathize with every author, then try to change.

“Unwed Pregnancy” and Agency

In June of 2002, local leaders received a letter from the First Presidency to be read in high priests group, elders quorum, and Relief Society meetings. This document outlined the church’s policy on “Adoption and Unwed Parents.” [n1]
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Review: Brunson’s God and the IRS

I don’t frequently write about the intersection of religion and US taxation, but when I do, I, like a lot of people recently, point to Sam Brunson. There was no surprise when accusations of malfeasance against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints broke, that professionals of all sorts turned to Sam for his reasoned and perspicacious analysis. He is the expert, and last year Cambridge University Press published his monograph.
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A Response to Hales on “Spirit Birth”

I’ve known Brian Hales for a while now. He is a talented and dedicated researcher and author. We both work on history outside of our day jobs, and our interests overlap in a few areas. He is a good guy and I consider him a friend. At a recent conference where as a part of my presentation I had tangentially mentioned Joseph Smith’s documented teaching that God did not create human spirits, Brian and I chatted. He asked why I hadn’t responded to his JMH article arguing that JS actually did teach spirit creation AKA “spirit birth.” I generally don’t like to do this sort of public critique, but he asked and I do think I owe it to him. What follows is fairly long, and somewhat technical response.
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2019 Christmas gift book guide

There were a lot of books published this year. Good ones. But first, not included in this list are Book of Mormon related volumes in anticipation of the new curriculum. For that, see my list from earlier this week, which includes lots of book ideas. If you are in SLC area, swing by Benchmark and support your local bookseller. I hope everyone does indeed have a merry Christmas.
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2020 Book of Mormon supplemental readings

About a month ago I described the group I have met with this year to study the New Testament. Along with a regular Bible reading, we have generally included a chapter or two from Raymond Brown’s An Introduction to the New Testament. I would definitely recommend this volume for anyone doing something similar. It can be a little dense, but it consistently is helpful. As we look forward to next year’s study of the Book of Mormon (and in anticipation of my annual Christmas book list), I have started to think about what, if anything, will match the utility and perspicacity of Brown. I’d appreciate any thoughts and pointers of where to go.
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New Missionary Handbook

Last week, the church announced the publication of a new handbook for missionaries, Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ. Gone is the “White Bible” of yore. I kept one in my shirt pocket for my entire mission. I’m not exactly sure why. The new one is too big (and too blue) for that, so that is at least one change. Substantively, though, this is a really great update, and includes skads of advice I want my kids to take to heart. Also the art is pretty good.
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Come Follow Me, A Thank You

I miss three-hour church. I really do. I would switch back in a heartbeat. But I am absolutely grateful for the new Sunday School curriculum. The manuals themselves are essentially forgettable. It is instead the framework of study that has been the blessing. As I see it, there are two overwhelming goods in the curriculum. First is that the lessons are based on large chunks of scriptural text, and not random verses from all over the place. This allows for careful reading (as a side note, read Ben’s recent post on the previous generation of curriculum development). The second is that church leaders encouraged supplemental study groups. Consequently, this is a love letter to my ward.
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The Witness of Women: Historical Context

Today, church leaders announced [PDF] that women can now serve as official witnesses for baptisms (both in and out of the temple), and for sealings. In last few hours I have spoken to several friends and family members who were weeping at the news. This feels just and true, and I imagine that it would, regardless of the any historical antecedent. In this case, however, we know that women have been official witnesses in the past.
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CORRECTION: Turning our hearts

[Note: This post was written in collaboration with, and is posted by permission of Amy Tanner Thiriot.]

Earlier this month I wrote a post reflecting on Century of Black Mormons and introduced it with a short vignette about Caroline Skeen and John Butler. According to family histories, when they got married in 1831 the Skeens gave the couple two enslaved people as a wedding present. In these histories, the Butlers then freed these two individuals and converted to Mormonism. I used this rupture between generations to highlight how we choose to remember and forget. I was also wrong.
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