Author: David Evans

Loving the Book of Mormon Prophets without Accepting Their Prejudices: A Review of “The Book of Mormon for the Least of These, Volume 1”

A while back, a friend sent me an uncomfortable text. She is not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but someone had given her daughter the old illustrated Book of Mormon Stories book, and her daughter came across the passage in Second Nephi when Nephi narrates that Laman and Lemuel’s descendants are cursed because of their wickedness and become a dark-skinned people. My friend texted, “We were wondering if there is some context missing that would make it seem less racist?” It’s a troubling passage for me and many other readers, but I finally had words to formulate a response, and for that, I can thank Fatimah Salleh and Margaret Olsen Hemming’s wonderful commentary The Book of Mormon for the Least of These: 1 Nephi – Words of Mormon, which the authors dedicated to “those who seek God and work for justice.” In this volume, Salleh and Hemming show a deep love and respect for the individuals in the Book of Mormon while also examining the challenges they experienced and how those may have colored some of their own perspectives, as in the passage referenced above. They invite us to not only consider the voices we hear and events we see but also those we do not: “Who is present but unheard? Who is suffering and why?” But they also invite us to question the perspectives of the narrators: “What are the assumptions this person…

Hearing leaders teach in their own languages: October 2021 General Conference edition

Do you remember that time when speakers in General Conference were allowed to speak in their own languages? In September of 2014, the Church put out an announcement that “General Conference Speakers Now Can Use Native Language”! But it didn’t last long. A year later, a Church spokesperson told a news outlet that the First Presidency had “decided that all talks for this weekend’s sessions will be given in English.” However, if you know where to look, you can still hear many leaders speaking in their own languages. Since long before 2014, some leaders have pre-recorded their talks in other languages, usually (but not always) in their native language. I remember Elder Richard G. Scott talking about prerecording his talks in Spanish when he visited my mission in the Dominican Republic in the 1990s.  As I relistened to the October 2021 General Conference, I checked for every leader who seemed like she or he might have a different native language. I found seven examples of leaders giving talks in their home tongues. (When you listen to the talk, if it’s interpreted, then you can still hear the English track faintly in the background; not so with the prerecorded talks.) If you want to refresh your General Conference study and you speak another language, here are some opportunities.  Élder Ulisses Soares, “A eterna compaixão do Salvador” (Portuguese). The talk is “The Savior’s Abiding Compassion” in English. Elder Soares also recorded his…

*Search, Ponder, and Pray* by Julie Smith: your essential guide to revisiting the gospels

“Tell me the stories of Jesus,” begins the primary song. You’ve read the stories of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. You’ve heard them in church lessons and talks. You know the stories; you probably love the stories. But what if you want more? I recently used Julie M. Smith’s Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels to revitalize my study of the first books of the New Testament, and I loved it. What Smith does more than anything else in this volume is ask questions. In Matthew 6, when Jesus recommends giving to the poor in secret, Smith asks: “Why is recognition of good works bad? Is the prohibition for the benefit of the giver or the receiver?” Or in Matthew 22, when Jesus invites Peter to “render … unto God the things that are God’s,” Smith asks: “Are humans the things that belong to God?” and then nudges the readers to take a look at Genesis 1:26 as they consider that question. One question that provoked a strong reaction for me came from Luke 6, when “the scribes and Pharisees watched [Jesus], whether he would heal on the sabbath day; that they might find an accusation against him.” Smith asks, “Do you ever find yourself acting the way the scribes and pharisees do…? What motivates them? How do you guard against developing their attitude?” As I pondered, I saw myself, in my weaker moments, looking…

Happy Mother’s Day: A Review of Carol Lynn Pearson’s *Finding Mother God: Poems to Heal the World*

I started listening to Carol Lynn Pearson read her latest poetry collection — Finding Mother God: Poems to Heal the World — and I could not stop. And now I’m listening to it a second time. It’s vibrant and healing. I find Pearson’s words in this volume (and, in the audiobook, her delivery) irresistible. Pearson eloquently, insightfully, and powerfully captures a longing for a closer connection to a Heavenly Mother—and the promise of what that connection may bring—throughout, “so that God Herself and God Himself, who were always one, can join on earth to bless the confused billions” (from “Message from Mother”).        There was one Face        and then the Face became two          like when you stare with soft vision      and one of the Faces looked like me.        She said:      It is wonderful to see you seeing me.        He said:      I am so sorry.        It never was intended that She be erased.      (from “A God Who Looks Like Me”)   The existence of a Heavenly Mother is not novel to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Our theology on this dates back to Eliza R. Snow’s 1845 hymn “O My Father” and has been echoed by Church leaders every since. (For an overview, see Paulsen and Pulido’s survey of teachings…

Hear the words of the Church’s first lady — a review of Jennifer Reeder’s *First: The Life and Faith of Emma Smith*

“I have many more things I could like to write but have not time.” Thus wrote Emma Smith in a letter to her husband, Joseph Smith. I wish she did have the time! Jennifer Reeder’s biography of Emma Smith — First: The Life and Faith of Emma Smith — left me wanting even more of Emma’s words. Emma Smith was a remarkable woman, and Reeder clearly feels a deep affection for her subject, despite their chronological separation of roughly one and a half centuries. Reeder isn’t blind to Emma’s flaws, but neither does she judge. Despite the fact that Emma left much less of a written record than her spouse (“Emma did not leave a journal or even much correspondence”), Reeder plumbs the depths of what record there is to paint a rich portrait — in Emma’s own words wherever possible — of a woman who was the “first” in many roles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the title of the book implies. Rather than a traditional, origins-to-legacy biography, Reeder opts for a thematic approach, taking the reader through each of  Emma’s major roles in her life and in the early Church: her marriage to Joseph Smith, her mothering both of her own children and serving as a mother figure to many other children in the community, her business experience and political activism, her roles as the first “presidentess” of the Church’s women’s organization (the…

The delicious detail of Benjamin Park’s book The Kingdom of Nauvoo

I recently read (okay, listened to) Benjamin Park’s book Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier. Park has produced a rich piece of scholarship with fascinating details about the period, some of them from documents released just in the past few years. Much of what I enjoy from these histories are the rich detail they provide of both important and quotidian events. For example, here’s a depiction of the first baptism for the dead: “The first vicarious ritual, which saw [Jane] Neyman baptized on behalf of her son in the Mississippi River on September 13 [1840], was haphazardly done. The man performing the ritual, Harvey Olmstead, made up the rite’s wording on the spot; the woman serving as witness, Vienna Jaques, rode into the water on the back of a horse so that she could hear what Olmstead said. Many others followed suit.” While not a surprise, it’s useful for me to remember how many of the practices that today seem so carefully regulated had more spontaneous origins. (Park talks more about the first vicarious baptism in a blog post.) Here’s another detail that I enjoyed. In 1844, Joseph Smith and others sent an emissary to speak with Sam Houston to discuss potential settlement in Texas: “After recording portions of the conversation in Smith’s diary, Richards took care to cross out the reference to Texas and Houston and instead wrote the names backward…

Nephi and the Garden Tower: A Children’s Play

This week’s Come, Follow Me lesson covers the story of Nephi praying on a tower in his garden, drawing a crowd, and revealing facts about the murder of the chief judge that he could only know through revelation. As I read the lesson, I felt like the story was highly dramatic! So, for my family, I adapted the story into a short play and added a few discussion questions at the end. I share it here in case it’s useful for your family. You can download the PDF of the play (which probably runs about five minutes) and it’s also reproduced below. Happy home church (for those still doing home church) or other family spiritual time! Nephi and the Garden Tower This dramatization is based on the events depicted in the Book of Mormon in Helaman 7-9. I have adapted the language and – in one case – added a character (Nephi’s brother Lehi) to help the dialogue flow more easily. At the end of some lines, I have included references in brackets to indicate where in the scriptures I have drawn from. Cast of characters Speaking parts (in order of speaking) Nephi Nephi’s brother Lehi [only appears at beginning, so same actor could also play Seantum] Onlookers / messengers Judges Crowd (at funeral) Seantum Non-speaking parts Chief judge (body)   Act 1: Nephi in the garden [Open on Lehi, brother of Nephi, sitting in a chair. Nephi enters, apparently…

Quotes to accompany your Come Follow Me study – Alma 30-31

This coming week’s Come, Follow Me lesson covers Alma 30-31. Here are a collection of quotes from General Auxiliary Leaders of the Church, that you can use in your family or personal study. Alma 30 The Book of Mormon warns against false teachings.   “As you use your agency to carve out time every day to draw close to God’s voice, especially in the Book of Mormon, over time His voice will become clearer and more familiar to you.” (Michelle Craig, Young Women General Presidency, “Spiritual Capacity,” General Conference, October 2019) Alma 30:6 What is an anti-Christ? “Korihor was an anti-Christ. Anti-Christ is antifamily. Any doctrine or principle our youth hear from the world that is antifamily is also anti-Christ. It’s that clear.” (Julie B. Beck, then Relief Society General President, “Teaching the Doctrine of the Family,” Ensign, March 2011) [This one is in the manual!] Alma 31:5 The word of God is powerful. “Scriptures enlighten our minds, nourish our spirits, answer our questions, increase our trust in the Lord, and help us center our lives on Him.” (Bonnie H. Cordon, Primary General Presidency, “Trust in the Lord and Lean Not,” General Conference, April 2017) “Persistence is the key. With every reading of the scriptures, unfamiliar words will take on meaning. You can read about heroes and great acts of courage. You can learn of the tender mercies of the Lord. And above all, you can feel the love of God…

General Conference Activities for Children

It’s General Conference weekend! That means ten hours of hearing from prophets and apostles and other inspired leaders of the Church. It also means eight hours of trying to keep children engaged (at best) or occupied (at least). Our household favorite is this: Before each session, each person picks a gospel word. (We don’t allow variations on the names of deity “out of reverence or respect to the name of the Supreme Being” and “to avoid the too frequent repetition of his name.”) We associate each word with a particular bowl of some small candy, like M&Ms or chocolate chips. Then the kids listen for the words: whenever a word is used, all kids get a piece of the designated candy, and we mark it on a white board to see who “wins” the session. What are your favorite activities to keep your young ones engaged with General Conference? The Church provides several printable options, include a conference notebook, conference bingo, and drawings of the Prophet and the Apostles that can be colored in. Other commercial enterprises and individuals have put together their own packets. I’ve created a coloring sheet so that kids can keep an eye out for our inspired women leaders in the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary General Presidencies and color an outline of their blouse (or top of their dress), which you can download here and see below. Happy conference!

Book of Mormon Stories: New Verses for the Liahona, Nephi’s Bow, and Building the Ship

I teach nine-year-olds for Primary, and I’ve started composing new verses to the old primary song Book of Mormon Stories as a way to recap the events before we get into discussion and activities. Here are four verses (which are arguably terrible but also instructive: I’m clearly not a songwriter) that go along with tomorrow’s Come, Follow Me lesson for 1 Nephi 16-22. At the end of many lines are optional interjections (in the style of “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer“). I share them in case they might be useful for primary or family lessons tomorrow.   The Liahona Lehi and Sariah needed guidance on their way. (in the wilderness) One day Lehi left his tent right at the break of day. (good morning!) There was a ball outside, and it did show them the way. (how curious!) The Liahona led if they lived righteously. Nephi’s Bow Nephi and his brothers went out hunting to find food. (delish!) Nephi broke his bow and his whole family did boo. (boo!) Nephi built a new bow, asked his dad where he should go. Lehi prayed, Nephi hunted, they all ate. (yay!) Building the Ship Then the Lord called Nephi, told him he should build a ship. (wow!) His brothers did make fun of him so that working they could skip. (lazy!) Nephi did remind them of all that the Lord can do! (miracles!) They got mad, then got shocked, and helped grudgingly. (fine!)…

What are the best books to accompany your study of the Book of Mormon?

Next year, we’ll be studying The Book of Mormon in the Come, Follow Me program for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. During this year’s study of the New Testament, I’ve benefited from reading complementary material, such as — as I was reading Romans — Adam Miller’s excellent Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans. What are your favorite books that you’ve read or that you are anticipating reading to accompany your study of the Book of Mormon? I’ll put some of mine in the comments below to get us started, but I’d love to hear yours.

A Tool to Make It Easier to Draw on the Wisdom of Women

In General Conference in 2015, President Russell M. Nelson stated, “We need women who have a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ and who will use that understanding to teach and help raise a sin-resistant generation.” The following year, President Neill F. Marriott of the Young Women General Presidency taught, “The Lord’s Church needs Spirit-directed women who use their unique gifts to nurture, to speak up, and to defend gospel truth.” Women who teach! Women who speak up! I believe that one way young women — like my daughter — learn to do this is by hearing women teach and hearing women speak up. I believe that hearing women teach and speak up is also essential for men to value the spiritual authority of women. In talks and lessons, members often use quotes from leaders of the Church to illustrate a point or lend authority to a teaching. I’ve found that in my own talk and lesson preparation, it’s easier to come up with quotes by men. I’m teaching about envy and remember that great talk by Elder Holland, or I want to make a point about using time well and remember that great quote from President Oaks. I believe that one reason for my tendency to think of quotes by men first — albeit not the only reason — is just because men speak so much more in General Conference. (Lest it seem that I’m criticizing these talks…

Where are the women artists in the Come, Follow Me manual?

As I started preparing family lessons using the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’s new Come, Follow Me manual, I was struck by the quantity of art. In addition to photos and screenshots from Church-produced videos, the manual includes 78 reproductions of paintings or stained-glass windows. Many lessons – particularly in the first half of the year – include two or three paintings. But as I started going through the art, noting the artists, I saw a pattern: Brent Borup, Del Parson, Walter Rane, Dana Mario Wood, Walter Rane, Tom Holdman, Greg K. Olsen, Robert T. Barrett, Jorge Cocco, Simon Dewey. They’re all men. It’s not until the 20th painting that we get to a woman artist: Liz Lemon Swindle’s Against the Wind, showing the Savior lifting Peter out of the water in Matthew 14. Out of 76 paintings for which I could identify the artist and the artist’s gender, only 9 were by women artists – that’s just under 12 percent.* What’s more, 5 of those 9 were by just one artist, Liz Lemon Swindle. Even though Walter Rane has 12 paintings and Del Parson has 6, those only make up a quarter of all the paintings by men, leaving room for a wide array of lesser known artists to be featured. Why does this matter? We want to be involved in organizations where we can see ourselves (or see what we’d like to be). In India, adolescent…

Does serving a mission in a low-income country change your commitment to the poor?

In a recent research paper, economist Lee Crawfurd seeks to answer this question by comparing missionaries who served in a predominantly high-income region – Europe – with those who served in low- and middle-income areas – Africa, Asia, or Latin America. The missionaries assigned to these different region look very similar on a range of relevant characteristics, such as the number of languages they speak or the number of countries they’d visited. Here is what he finds: We find that returned missionaries who were assigned to a low-income region are more interested in global development, years after their assignment. They are also more likely to continue to volunteer. But we see no difference in support for government aid or immigration, and no difference in personal donations. Here’s a bit more detail: We find the largest effects on interest in development for those assigned to Africa. We also see a positive effect on attitudes towards official aid for those assigned to Africa (but not Asia or Latin America). Third, those assigned to Africa are more likely to donate to international charities, more likely to volunteer for international causes, more likely to have a career in global development, but less likely to support a political campaign. There are limitations in this work, of course. Foremost, the stated objective of missionary service is not to increase commitment to the poor, beyond its role of increasing commitment to the gospel which includes a central…

5 lessons from Schmidt and Taylor’s book Carried: How One Mother’s Trust in God Helped Her through the Unthinkable

In late 2016, Annie Schmidt went hiking in the mountains of Oregon. When she didn’t reappear, a mix of professionals and amateurs, friends and relatives and strangers, searched for weeks to find her. Annie’s mother, Michelle Schmidt, teamed up with her sister, Angie Taylor, to write the story of Annie’s disappearance, the search, and the eventual conclusion of the efforts of so many in their book Carried: How One Mother’s Trust in God Helped Her through the Unthinkable. Schmidt alternates between the story of the search and the life experiences that prepared her to face this great ordeal. The book is ultimately a tale of joy amidst trial. My normal fare is more historical than devotional, but I have to admit that Schmidt and Taylor’s book carried me along: I learned from Schmidt’s story, and I couldn’t help but be moved by the end. Here are five lessons that I learned (or re-learned). 1. A literal faith in a gloriously happy afterlife affects actual behavior here on earth. On the first day of the mountain search for her daughter Annie, Michelle has a spiritual experience when she hears Annie’s voice, happily speaking to her. She then interprets that experience as meaning that Annie was in the spirit world and that she was happy. Michelle acted according to her beliefs: “When the first search began and the on-camera interviews ensured, which were so surreal and raw, I was unguarded, vulnerable, unscripted,…

Unwavering Commitment to God and the Dark Night of the Soul

A few years ago, President Rosemary Wixom of the Primary shared a story from the life of Mother Teresa in General Conference: In a 1953 letter, Mother Teresa wrote: “Please pray specially for me that I may not spoil His work and that Our Lord may show Himself—for there is such terrible darkness within me, as if everything was dead. It has been like this more or less from the time I started ‘the work.’ Ask Our Lord to give me courage.” Archbishop Périer responded: “God guides you, dear Mother; you are not so much in the dark as you think. The path to be followed may not always be clear at once. Pray for light; do not decide too quickly, listen to what others have to say, consider their reasons. You will always find something to help you. … Guided by faith, by prayer, and by reason with a right intention, you have enough.” This excerpt is from the book Mother Teresa: Come By My Light — The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta,” edited by Brian Kolodiejchuk. It’s a wonderful book, telling the story of the founding of Mother Teresa’s order in her own words, through letters back and forth between her and her supervisors. The letters begin in 1928, just before her 18th birthday, with her application to become a nun, and extend to 1994, in the last years of her life. Kolodiejchuk complements this correspondence with…

A Credible Case for Universalism — A Review of Givens and Givens’s The Christ Who Heals

In their new book, The Christ Who Heals: How God Restored the Truth that Saves Us, Fiona and Terryl Givens make the case for how “the doctrines and scriptures of the Restoration have enriched our knowledge of the rock and foundation of our faith — Jesus Christ.” The book is a delight: The Givenses draw on a rich cast of characters — from spiritual leaders in the second century after Christ to General Authorities in the present — to map out the evolution of our understanding of the Savior. Each chapter explores a distinct aspect of our restored understanding of the Savior, and I was inspired again and again as I read (okay, listened to) this book. The final chapter, “The Saving Christ,” expounds one of the boldest themes of the book. The Givenses make a credible case that every soul will have an eternity to work their way to exaltation. They suggest that “no loving parent would propose a plan that shuts the door of happiness to any of his or her children” and that “heaven isn’t a place we enjoy with other people; heaven is eternal companionship with other people.” But how then can we have both a “familial heaven” where all our loved ones are with us and “the freedom to reject heaven?” They reject the false dichotomy of either God as a “sovereign deity of vengeance and wrath” who condemns most souls OR God as a permissive being…

Reeder and Holbrook’s At the Pulpit: The book I hope becomes a fixture in Latter-day Saint homes

The first account we have of a woman speaking in General Conference is Lucy Mack Smith, speaking in Nauvoo, Illinois, in October 1845. But women were teaching in the Church long before that, and the continued long after that — not just in General Conference. In their collection At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women, Jennifer Reeder and Kate Holbrook have created a wonderful thing. They have brought us the strong, inspired voices of 54 Mormon women (plus 7 more in the e-book), from Lucy Mack Smith speaking a “gathering of emigrating saints at Lake Erie” in 1831 to Gladys Sitati speaking at the BYU Women’s Conference in 2016. The book works elegantly as both a historical document and a devotional reading. From a historical perspective, Reeder and Holbrook provide a biographical sketch of each woman before her talk, and they follow each talk with extensive footnotes providing context. They make it so easy for us: When a speaker alludes to a passage of poetry or a popular quote from the day, Reeder and Holbrook tell us where it came from. Some of the talks highlight a key historical episode in the growth of the Church, such as Judy Brummer’s 2012 fireside talk characterizing her experience translating the Book of Mormon into the Xhosa language.

Inside the mind of the Book of Mormon’s first antagonist — A review of Mette Harrison’s The Book of Laman

In the Book of Mormon, Laman and Lemuel often come across more as comic book villains more than fully fleshed out characters. As Grant Hardy put it, “In the Book of Mormon, Laman and Lemuel are stock characters, even caricatures.” In her new novel, The Book of Laman (with its cover art a stroke of brilliance), Mette Harrison implicitly poses the question: What might have been going through Laman’s head through all this? What might have led him to act the way he acted? To be clear, this is a work of fiction. Harrison makes no pretense to be doing textual inference; rather, she takes the broad events of First and Second Nephi as given and searches for a credible Laman. Her endeavor reminds me of Geraldine Brooks’s brilliant effort to flesh out David from the Old Testament in The Secret Chord. The Laman that Harrison draws for us is deeply human and relatable. He mostly wants to do right, but he repeatedly fails not in small ways but in disastrous ways (he beat up or tried to kill his brother). She constructs a back story that explains Laman and Lemuel’s ongoing reluctance to trust their father even in the face of Sam and Nephi unwavering confidence. And she plays out what might have happened to Laman and his people after Nephi and his followers left. That time that Laman and Lemuel start beating Nephi in the process of seeking the…

What’s in a name? A historical note on the title of the Mission President’s Wife

Last year, Cassler and McBaine published results of their survey on “the Naming of Women’s Positions and Organizations in the LDS Church.” Around 400 survey respondents who self-identified as LDS women answered questions about whether or not they would change the names of various women’s roles and groups, including the Young Women’s groups (Beehives, Mia Maids, and Laurels), the term “auxiliaries” (used for Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary), bishops’ wives, and mission presidents’ wives. It’s an interesting survey, with lots of expressed desire for change. (And yes, I’m aware that the people who participate in an online poll are likely not representative of the Church as a whole. Still interesting, I’d propose.) The title on which there was most consensus for change was “Mission President’s Wife,” with 96 percent preferring a change in name. As the authors put it, “The urgency for this to be changed seems to stem from the understanding that the wife is as actively engaged with mission life, if in different ways, as her husband, and is equally required to sacrifice, endure physically and emotionally challenging situations, and become intertwined in the missionaries’ lives as her partner. Furthermore, she is called and set apart, just as her husband is.” I agree in principle and in practice. The wife of my mission president gave me counsel that shaped the course of my post-mission life. So I was interested to see — in a footnote of Jennifer…