Why That New Communications Director Might Actually Be a Problem

In the latest hullabaloo about the new Communications Director for the whole Church, the UN-is-trying-to-take-over-the-government black helicopter types are being prominently platformed in the media, as if the only concerns with the new Director are coming from people in Northern Idaho with stockpiles of weaponry who are concerned with his past employment by the UN Foundation (which, incidentally, isn’t even run by the UN).   However, there are some real concerns with having upper-level management who are not “on-mission.” The fact is that for a variety of reasons the Church often finds itself in the maelstrom of hot-button, sexuality-related topics (although maybe that’s fading in the mirror? In the next few years there will be college students who weren’t even alive during Prop 8…), and it needs somebody in its corner on these issues that it can trust will actually promote its own interests, even if it might reflect poorly on him among the cocktail scene as he works for what is fundamentally, and will be for the foreseeable future, a heteronormative faith.   Of course I’m sure that he will say one thing when the brethren are in the room, but there are a thousand little decisions in strategy, hiring, promotions, and the like where there is enough plausible deniability where he could be running interference on those exact issues where the Church is in conflict with the conventional wisdom of the cocktail crowd (which are going to be the exact…

Pioneer Utah and Gender Inequality in Education

Back in the day, the census would record the literacy of respondents (in any language), so I used the IPUMS data (that I have used in several posts before) to access the complete censuses of pioneer Utah and look at literacy across time by gender. The complete US census data across all the years literacy was asked was big enough that it would have taken hours for my computer to crunch the numbers, so I selected Texas and Vermont (the two states on either side of Utah in terms of FIPS codes).The jump in illiteracy in 1870 is an artifact of the fact that that was the year when they began asking the question to anybody 10+ instead of 20+. As seen, Utah actually had relatively high literacy, higher than Vermont during the same time. Additionally, the gender gap in literacy was negligible, while in Vermont men were more literate, while in Texas women were more literate. Code is here.

I once was Lehi

In the scriptures, we find (among other things) stories we slip into in order to make sense of our lives. We are Adam and Eve, Joseph preparing for a famine, David facing Goliath, Alma the Younger looking back at his choices. We teach people to seek answers by earnestly praying like Joseph Smith in the Sacred Grove. I’ve never been the rich young man, but I’ve been a good Samaritan a time or two. And I was once Lehi, warned to take my family and flee. I mean that metaphorically, but not figuratively.

Moral Luck and Homosexuality in the Church

Most of us have at some point checked our phone while driving. However, for a small minority of cases somebody walks in front of us and gets killed. We then (somewhat rightfully) blame the distracted driver for the death, even though most of us have inadvisedly checked our phone while driving, and it’s just the bad luck of being in the wrong place at the wrong time that led to it being much more serious than a peccadillo of checking our phone when we know we shouldn’t. This principle is known in philosophy as “moral luck.” We often blame people for things that they do not in fact have control over. In this case, we have control over checking the phone, but not in somebody being in the wrong place and the wrong time and interacting with the phone checking leading to an accident. A while ago I had a conversation with a friend where the issue came up whether we would prefer if our child was “Actually Gay”™ or “Fashionably Queer”™. (As I’ve mentioned before here, this discussion is less theoretical for me, since given what we know about fraternal birth order effect on male homosexuality, and my own family structure, I have about an even chance that at least one of my sons will be gay.) After thinking it over, I decided the former. If I had a son that was biologically gay, I’d assume that the moral…

Misinterpreting “Large in Stature”

By Mike Winder   When Nephi says he is “large in stature” does that mean he is merely “tall and muscular” or something else? Sometimes in the Bible stature means height, such as “a man of great stature” in 2 Samuel 21:20 speaking of the man born to the giant of Gath.

“As the Gods”: Pre-Sapiens Hominids and God’s Plan

When it comes to human evolution or deep human history, there’s a sort of begrudging acceptance in Church culture of its possibility, or it’s used as some cudgel in a broader debate about biblical errancy or how symbolic Adam and Eve were, but very few have taken it any further and really sat down and thought through its theological implications and extensions on its own terms.  The fact is that for much if not most of our time on earth we lived alongside, and had children with, entire other species that looked like us and could have also been religious and spoken to God as well. One of the few attempts to really think through the implications of pre-Sapiens hominids is Hugh Nibley’s excellent “Before Adam” (note: saying that I think it’s excellent does not mean that I agree with everything in it), where he points out  Do not begrudge existence to creatures that looked like men long, long ago, nor deny them a place in God’s affection or even a right to exaltation—for our scriptures allow them such. Of course, the first question that is typically raised is how these creatures relate to our own existence. At what point did we become “as the Gods”? As Nibley points out, for large swaths of humankind’s existence we only see the most rudimentary tools and very slow technological innovation and dispersion, on the order of thousands of years. He argues that…

Bayes’ Theorem and Testimony

  Where I actually am while writing this as a Boltzmann Brain When I was younger there was a chain of thought I had regarding my testimony that hinged on Bayesian logic (although I didn’t know the term at the time).  Bayesian statistics and logic is a field that incorporates prior probabilities into current probabilities. For example, I heard (I don’t know if this is true) that most positive HIV tests are false positives, even though the false positive rate is low, say 5%. This is because, while the false positive rate is low, the chance that somebody actually has undetected HIV is quite a bit lower. Therefore, while the chance of you getting a positive HIV test when you don’t have HIV is low, the chance of you getting a positive HIV test when you don’t have HIV conditional on you already having a positive HIV test is high.   In terms of testimony. For me personally I haven’t had one huge Moroni’s promise experience, but rather a lot of accumulated ones and the occasional big one (usually when things are hitting the fan). Of course, motivated reasoning and feeling is a thing, so there is always the possibility that since I have been raised to believe that I would feel spiritual confirmations of the truth claims of the Church, then in some subconscious level I produced such confirmations.  (Of course, if that were the case my testimonial route would…

On Martha Hughes Cannon

Martha Hughes Cannon was a notable, if complicated, woman in Utah history. Although somewhat forgotten (partly due to her son burning all her journals, at her request), she has become more widely remembered in recent years. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog, From the Desk, biographer Constance L. Lieber shared some of her thoughts on this fascinating individual. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Notes on Revelation

[As I was going through my files, I found this draft that written four years ago. As it has about 24 hours of relevance left, I’m publishing it now. Happy New Year.] When I teach Revelation 1-11 to my youth Sunday School class, I’ll probably start off by saying something about gasoline.

Prosper in the Land

In a long-ago post, John Fowles referred to a Book of Mormon couplet as the book’s thesis: Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land; but inasmuch as ye will not keep my commandments ye shall be cut off from my presence (2 Nephi 1:20)

The Vatican’s Same-Sex Blessings: Latter-day Saint Translations and Lessons

Catholic priest giving a blessing to Latter-day Saint/Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o (Source: Juvenile Instructor, who got it from the WSJ) The Catholic world has been abuzz about a recent directive from the Vatican condoning blessings (but not marriages, and not liturgical blessings, kind of) of same-sex couples. The document has engendered a lot of confusion, hair splitting, and myriad interpretations by people who are much more knowledgeable about Catholic thought than I, so I will refrain from claiming to know the One True interpretation of it, but a few high-level thoughts from a Latter-day Saint perspective.  The African bishops’ very negative responses to the Vatican, in clear defiance of the Pope, is another data point (the revolt against the Archbishop of Canterbury in the Anglican Communion and the tensions between United Methodist Church and its African contingent over gay ordination being others) for the argument that, erstwhile conventional wisdom to the contrary, moving in a more liberal direction in regards to LGBTQ issues comes at a significant cost, especially in regards to affiliated congregations in the Global South. In the Latter-day Saint context, any move towards same-sex sealings would almost certainly be very costly in terms of Church growth in Africa, which in all likelihood will become the primary engine of Church growth this century. I’ve made this point before, but when people talk about how a certain change in Church policy would make the Church more popular, they…

Forecasting the Church for 2023: How I Did

“Future of Mormonism” per Dalle-3 It’s common for pundits to make all sorts of predictions far enough in the future that people don’t really hold them accountable if they don’t pan out, so in the spirit of accountability I thought I would revisit some predictions I made last year for the Church in 2023 and see how well I did.  The Church’s membership, on-the-books growth rate will be below 1% as reported in the April 2023 Conference.  My probability: 80% WRONG The growth rate was 1.17%. I misjudged the impact of the post-COVID bump.  There will be another scandal involving local level Church leadership and sexual abuse, either perpetrated by or confessed to the local leader.  My probability: 80% CORRECT Michael Rezendes of “Spotlight” fame has continued to write on this topic in the Latter-day Saint context. There will be a major, sex- or sexuality-related Latter-day Saint story carried by more than one major news outlet (excluding Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, and excluding sexual abuse addressed in the category above).  My probability: 70% KIND OF CORRECT This one was probably too vague to be demonstrably falsifiable or confirmable, but the Tim Ballard and Housewives of SLC sagas arguably fit into this.  There will be a significant policy change. Here “significant” means that it is addressed or referenced in more than one general conference talk.   My probability: 50% (so both CORRECT and WRONG) There have certainly been policy changes…

Why My Children Will Be Reading Jesus the Christ

  It has become popular in some circles to disparage Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage because it’s too simplistic when it comes to its gospel harmonization approach, and the scholarship is very out of date. These things may be true, but it still holds up in ways that matter. Synthesizing the devotional with the intellectual can be difficult, and I do feel like a lot of the material in the Latter-day Saint market lands either on the side of being purely devotional or primarily intellectual with a patina of devotion. This isn’t surprising, as the latter are written by people who have received training in being objective academic writers, and all of sudden they have to get into touch with their internal seminary teacher. Consequently, it feels like a lot of the more academic Latter-day Saint biblical commentary that gets published isn’t that different from standard biblical commentary, but with a few Book of Mormon references thrown in for good measure. (One relatively unknown gem of an exception I have enjoyed, at the risk of being syncopathic, is President Holland’s book on the Psalms).  Of course there is a place for both of these genres. None of this is to say that I’m opposed to reading non-devotional scholarship like Bart Ehrman or Alter. We love them; we have their books at our house. Still, before my children deconstruct scriptures I want them to read them with commentary that…

Sabbath Day Media and Touched by An Angel

I have fond memories of Sunday evenings spent watching Voyager and Deep Space Nine with the family growing up. My wife’s home was more restrictive in regards to Sabbath day media, but that paradigm has been adopted by our own home as I’m gradually realizing the benefits of being more intentional and explicitly devotional for Sunday night movie night in terms of helping set the mood of the sabbath as the day dedicated to God.  Lately we’ve been going through Touched by an Angel which is now free on Amazon Prime. TBAA can err on the side of being a little saccharine at times, but I’m willing to put up with a little syrup for media that at least takes a chance at trying to create something profound and moving even if they slightly miss, as opposed to just giving into the nihilistic cynicism that has become ubiquitous in any film that tries to be more artistic than a Marvel superhero reboot. Additionally, TBAA threaded the partisan needle in a way that is hard to pull off nowadays. It had obvious appeal to conservative Christian types, while being ecumenical enough to incorporate non-Christian religious perspectives, and having highly diverse casting and narratives back before diversity was just another parameter to adjust in pursuit of an Emmy.   I churned through the different episodes while cleaning (there are lot), and was able to select the particularly moving and profound ones for…

Advent Songs in the Latter-day Saint Tradition

When I played handbells as part of the music ministry of a local Presbyterian church, I was surprised to learn that in the traditional liturgical calendar, most of December isn’t Christmas time. Instead, it is a season called Advent that looks forward to Christmas time. Christmas itself begins on Christmas Eve and lasts through January 7. And by the same token, I learned that Advent has its own music tradition while playing in the bell choir. What has surprised me, however, is that some of those pieces of Advent music have found their way into Latter-day Saint hymnals over the years. 

Are Latter-day Saints More Republican Because of Where We Live?

“Democrat Mormon” per Dalle-3 “Republican Mormon” per Dalle-3 I’ve always had this hypothesis in the back of my mind that Latter-day Saints actually aren’t as politically red as we might think, and that some of our Republican-ism is an artifact of the fact that we live in Republican areas. If Latter-day Saints all lived in, say, Manhattan they’d be liberal, if they all lived in Alabama they’d be conservative. I finally got around to running the numbers, and it looks like no, we actually are just very Republican. **Wonk start** I used the 2022 Comprehensive Election Study data to test the mediating effect of geography on the Latter-day Saint coefficient in a logit model for predicting whether somebody self-identified as a Republican. Below are the regression analyses. As seen, it barely moved the Latter-day Saint coefficient at all. Additionally, switching out Republican for Independent yields insignificant results (not shown), so we’re actually not any more likely to be Independents. So at least at this 30,000 foot view, there isn’t evidence for much of an anti-Trump, disgusted former-Republican Latter-day Saint effect. **Wonk end** So hypothesis rejected. We really are just Republican, and not just because we happen to largely live in the non-urban West. In this sample about 31% of the respondents identified as Republican when presented with the options of Republican, Democrat, Independent, and Other, whereas for Latter-day Saints it was 51%. ***Code df <- read_dta(“~/Desktop/CCES22_Common_OUTPUT_vv_topost.dta”) df$LDS<-ifelse(df$religpew==3, 1, 0) df$Republican<-ifelse(df$CC22_433a==2…

Come, Follow Me: Book of Mormon Resources

As Jonathan has been pointing out in his posts about Reading the Book of Mormon in wartime and Book of Mormon historical revisionism, we are only a few weeks out from starting the next year of the reading cycle. Come, Follow Me 2024, will focus on the Book of Mormon. We’ve had posts and discussions about what are some good resources in the past, such as the one David Evans put up about this time during the previous reading cycle that are worth looking over in preparation. But there are some good resources that are more recent that are worth discussing as well.

Book of Mormon historical revisionism

As we study the Book of Mormon next year, there will be suggestions to read between the lines, to resist the surface or official or dominant reading, to see through the authoritative narrative to the unvarnished reality behind it – like the standard works, these suggestions too come around every four years. The instinct is understandable, as that’s how scholars are trained to read, and a lot of us have different varieties of scholarly training – but attempts at historical revisionism are misguided.