Category: Uncategorized

Once More on Stephen Webb

Every now and then I think about Professor Webb. He was such an astounding person. Very kind and passionate. He was also a prolific writer, and his words filled my mind with deep thought.

in light of this, my friend Tarik shared this regarding Webb. I hope my readers find this interesting:

 

http://tarikdlacour.blogspot.com/2017/09/friday-traditio-stephen-h-webb.html

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Don Bradley and Daniel Peterson Talk About Polygamy and The Book of Mormon

I was listening to a great podcast this morning and was looking for something good by Don Bradley. I happened to find this fantastic podcast with Don Bradley and Daniel Peterson that does a great job thinking clearly about polygamy and other topics.

 

Don Bradley is one of my favorite authors and historians regarding Mormon history. He writes clearly, and understands the difficulties that are in Mormon history. He also talks about how his views of Joseph Smith have changed. He once viewed Joseph as a man who simply wanted money, sex, and power. But as he continued to study history and documents regarding Joseph Smith, he came to the conclusion that his initial working model did not hold up for himself.

A Beautiful Story

I recently found this powerful story regarding a gay couple’s struggle to find peace and serenity in their life. I often wonder about how sometimes we as humans are so wanting to find black and white answers to all of our questions: what is truth? what does it mean? Patience and love, is my answer. And charity. According to Christ, this is the greatest of all love.

I invite my fellow Latter-day Saints to love on another, even as Jesus loved you. And show kindness.

I believe we can learn a lot from the stories of these strong and faithful women:

 

Also, along these same lines, I think sharing the longer story of Bennet and Becky will be inspirational to my readers as well which I found through Robert Boylan’s wonderful blog.

Enjoy!

Book Review: Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis-Deuteronomy

“No matter how inspired, prophets are tied to their time and culture.” – David Bokovoy.

Bokovoy Authoring the Old Testament
Authoring the Old Testament

In conversation with a friend of mine on the internet, we were talking about the Bible and Book of Mormon, and how something called Historical Criticism was a challenge for some believers. Somewhere in this mix, David Bokovoy’s article regarding the Isaiah issue in the Book of Mormon was raised, and his blog from Rational Faiths was brought up. I had not thought very thoroughly through this issues. What was this Higher Criticism that people spoke of here and there an the annals of the internet? What did it have to do with Isaiah in the Book of Mormon? With these questions in mind and through Bokovoy’s blog, I decided to purchase his book Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis-Deuteronomy from my local Deseret Book.

Bokovoy’s book is made up of ten chapters. The first five chapters basically set up what Historical Criticism is, and how it applies to the Hebrew Bible (or the Christian Old Testament). the next four chapters applies Historical Criticism to uniquely Mormon scripture, save the Doctrine and Covenants.

In the first five chapters, Bokovoy introduces Historical Criticism and explains how it makes it into the Hebrew Bible. He points to four main sources or schools of thought that are identified as The Priestly Source (P), The Yahwistic Source (J), The Elohist Source (E), and The Deuteronomic Source (D). All of these are documents that Bokovoy and other scholars have identified as sources for the Hebrew Bible. One can tell that these documents are different because of the contradicting narrative the Bible gives us [1].

Within the book, Bokovoy tells his audience that “Scriptural texts are neither produced in a cultural vacuum nor created ex nihilo” (pg 163). Evidence is provided for this in great detail regarding the Hebrew Bible. For instance, he points to the great amount of Mesopotamian influence that the Bible has. He also applies this to the Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, and the Book of Moses. This, of course, does not mean that these are not inspired works. Even Nephi himself, Bokovoy points out, admits that he is imperfect and that “if I do err, . . . [it’s] because of the weakness which is in me, according to the flesh” (1 Nephi 19:6; pg 219-220 in Authoring the Old Testament). 

Through this wisdom, Bokovoy answered questions I had which I do not think he sought to answer: The role of prophets, and how continuing revelation exists within the Mormon world view. “No matter how inspired, prophets are tied to their time and culture,” Bokovoy asserts (pg 217). Mormonism is not a philosophy built upon dogmas. “I do not believe that there is a single revelation,” Bokovoy quotes Brigham Young, “among the many God has given to the Church that is perfectly in its fullness.” Indeed, revelation, scripture, and truth aren’t bestowed upon us in a cultural vacuum or via sola scriptura. God works through imperfect fallible human beings in order to share inspired words, scripture, revelation, etc…

In reading this book, I would also advise precaution for Latter-day Saints to not accept everything written herein without a healthy dose of criticism. Tread carefully and read carefully. Spend time thinking about what is being said, and what it means for scriptural works.

In short, I think David Bokovoy’s Authoring the Old Testament serves as a good introduction to Historical Criticism from a faithful Latter-day Saint Perspective. I would recommend it for Latter-day Saints who take the Old Testament seriously, and want to learn about it’s place in our time. I would certainly welcome this book among my bookshelf of the many great books that I have. And I eagerly await his next two volumes.


Notes

  1. See Bokovoy’s analysis regarding this in chapters one and two.

Book Review: The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History

I have been noticing a lot of talk about issues regarding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and it’s relation to race and the priesthood. [1] The Salt Lake Tribune, for instance, has posted two related articles on the topic: “39 Years Later, Priesthood Ban is History, but Racism Within Mormon Ranks Isn’t, Black Members Say” and “Steps the Mormon Church Could Take to Enhance Race Relations Within the Faith.” LDS Living has also posted a blog in regards to this: “A Black Mormon Man’s Thoughts on Race, Priesthood, and the Church’s Essay.” And both Daniel Peterson and Tarik LaCour have posted useful responses to the Salt Lake Tribune’s article: “Race and Mormonism, Thirty-Nine Years after the Revelation on Priesthood” and “Response to Salt Lake Tribune Article Concerning LDS Race Relations.” I think all of these articles are pretty good. I think the Salt Lake Tribune articles are, however, a bit problematic in some respects (but overall worthy of consideration and well written).

In light of all this talk of race and Mormonism, I decided to write a review of The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History edited by Matthew L. Harris and Newell G. Bringhurst. The Mormon Church and Blacks

Before I write anymore on this topic, however, I want to note that the issue of Mormon relations regarding race has been one of the most sensitive topics for me to address. Since I was a young child, I had been a huge admirer of well known historical figures such as Martin Luther King Jr, Rosa Parks, and Frederick Douglass. I have also written an eleven part series in my blog dedicated to “Black History Reading” and have also written elsewhere on black related issues.  Indeed, this has been a topic that I’ve been wrestling with for many years.

In light of this, I also want to note that this isn’t simply an issue that Mormon historians need to deal with. In the larger context of American civilization, blacks were treated as dirt, garbage, and no more worthy than slaves. So while this issue hurts my soul in regards to “Mormonism,” it also hurts my soul in the larger American context.

Anyways, getting back to the book. I first found this book while strolling through the Deseret Book Store located in Gilbert, Arizona. I noticed the copy in the historical section. Intrigued, I picked up the book to examine the cover. On the back, as with all books, there were reviews praising the book’s accomplishments. Distinguished historian W. Paul Reeve called the book “long overdue.” Darius Gray, another fantastic person, called the book “A great resource for the serious inquirer.” These two praises convinced me that I ought to buy the book and read it.

The book was relatively short (144 pages) and was split up into seven chapters. The first chapter deals mainly with Mormon scripture that talk about black skin. The next two to seven chapters showcase documents that represent general Mormon attitudes regarding race chronologically from the time of Joseph Smith to post 1978 priesthood revelation.

Overall, I thought the book was pretty revealing. And I think it’s useful for some to seriously wrestle with this issue. It’s tough (as I believe it should be) for Latter-day Saints to deal with the difficult heart wrenching history. Leaders, it would seem, haven’t always been stalwart advocates for racial equality (putting it mildly). And conspiracy theories involving communist plots were certainly present in some circles of Mormons.

In the chapter on Mormon unique scripture, it quoted every Mormon scripture that might have something to do with race. Past interpretations of Mormon scripture were also included in some of the notes. “LDS officials,” one note read, “considered the Book of Abraham to be the main “proof text” justifying priesthood denial . . . but they sometimes associated the Book of Mormon with their racial teachings.” (pg. 151) While I agree that it was completely necessarily to point out historical/traditional readings of the “skin of blackness” found within the Book of Mormon, I also wish the authors had included more recent interpretations of the text that point out better exegesis of the Book of Mormon text. [2] Overall, I felt this particular chapter was lacking.

Dealing with historical ramifications, the book discusses the views of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the priesthood ban, civil rights, the 1978 revelation, and how the church deals with these historical issues today. It rightly states that “It is no longer acceptable to teach that blacks were cursed by God or that they were “fence sitters” in a previous life. These prior assumptions have been replaced by a new position.” (pg 118-119).

Sometimes, I talk with some of my LDS friends who say something along the lines of, “The past teachings of the church weren’t necessarily racist.” These Mormons, it seems, aren’t familiar with the problematic teachings that came from LDS leaders, official or otherwise. For instance, Apostle Ezra Taft Benson thought that the civil rights movement had communistic undertones: “Before I left for Europe,” Benson spoke at general conference, “I warned how the communist were using the Civil Rights movement to promote revolution and eventual take-over of this country. When are we going to wake up?” Mormon leaders also faced fears of interracial marriage between “negros” and whites. Mark E Peterson, for example, said the following: “Now what is our policy in regard to intermarriage? As to the Negro, of course, there is only one possible answer. We must not intermarry with the Negro.” (pg 70)

With all the negative, horrific stereotypes that existed among some of the Mormon hierarchy regarding blacks, there were also some more understanding voices. For instance, in stark contrast with Peterson and Benson states above, Apostle Hugh B. Brown said in general conference that “We call upon all men, everywhere, both within and outside the Church, t commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God’s children. Anything less than this defeats our high ideal of the brotherhood of man.” (pg 76)

I think this book is good for those curious about race and Mormonism or, more specifically, “blacks” and the Mormon Church. It’s certainly a tough one for believing Latter-day Saints such as myself. But it offers a more nuanced view of Mormon history that I think serious readers ought to consider.


  1. For those of you unaware of the history behind this topic, see the Church’s essay “Race and the Priesthood” and Lester E Bush Jr’s “Mormonisms Negro Doctrine: An Historical Overview.”
  2. For example, see Ethan Sprouts “Skins as Garments in the Book of Mormon: A Textual Exegesis.

Book Review: A Reason For Faith

When I first heard about Laura H. Hales’ book A Reason for Faith: Navigating Church History and Doctrine, I was very pleased that she was compiling essays from some of Mormonism’s best scholars to defend the faith. The most note worthy contributors, in my opinion, are Richard Bushman, Brant Gardner, Don Bradley, W Paul Reeve, and Neylan McBaine. All of these authors have done a great amount of work in regards to Mormon scholarship. And all of their opinions are worth hearing.

A Reason For Faith
A Reason for Faith

The book covers a series of hot button topics regarding Church history and doctrine, such as polygamy, Book of Mormon historicity, science and religion, among others, all written by experts in their field. Brian Hales, for instance, contributed the essay “Joseph Smith’s Practice of Plural Marriage” and is also the author of the cutting edge Joseph Smith’s Polgamy, vol 1-3. Another example is W. Paul Reeve who wrote “Race, the Priesthood, and Temples.” Reeve is also the author of the wonderful volume Religion of a Different Color: The Mormon Struggle for Whiteness, which he references liberally in “Race, the Priesthood, and Temples.” Like Hales and Reeve, the authors of these essays have put in a large amount of study and writing that has given them a great deal of insight to LDS History.

My favorite essay, by far, has had to be Don Bradley’s and Mark Ashurst-Mcgee’s “Joseph Smith and the Kinderhook Plates.” This essay does a find job answering the accusations many critics make regarding the Kinderhook Plates. Basically, they argue convincingly, that Joseph Smith attempted to translate the Kinderhood plates, not as a prophet, but as an amateur linguist.

My next favorite essay following that has been Ty Mansfield’s essay titles “Homosexuality and the Gospel.” Mansfield talks about the complexity of sexuality, and how it’s more for one to simply be “gay.” Gay, for some, means one thing, and for others, means something else.

In short, I think A Reason for Faith is an excellent example of how Mormon scholars answer criticisms. The essays found therein are fantastic, and give deeper meaning to Church History and Doctrine. I think Latter-day Saints would do well to read and study this book.

Book Review: Atheism: A Very Short Introduction

Curious about Atheism, I sought to find a book that argues atheism’s position from a scholarly perspective. Before this, however, I had run into Oxford’s excellent series of Very Short Introductions. These books offer introductions to various topics. For my Mormon readers, Oxford has published books like Mormonism: A Very Short Introduction by Richard Bushman and also The Book of Mormon: A Very Short Introduction by Terryl Givens. I highly recommend both of these works for those who would like to read a good over view of these topics.

Atheism A Very Short Introduction
Atheism: A Very Short Introduction

Similar to these books, Jullian Baggini’s Atheism: A Very Short Introduction was a well argued work and one worthy of consideration. Baggini, in short, has sought to create a positive case for atheism. Does he succeed? In my estimation, I would say mostly yes. He has certainly given me a lot to think about. Questions such as, “Where does morality come from, and why is it good?” were answered in incredibly thought provoking ways.

Another good feature of Baggini’s book was the fact that he was not interested in simply stating that religion is stupid, therefore atheism. Some of his interpretation of scripture, however, are a bit problematic. Baggini also dislikes militant atheism. Unlike Richard Dawkins who thinks we should ridicule large groups of people while simultaneously treating them like idiots, Baggini recognizes that ” Intelligent atheists often have much more in common with undogmatic theists than one might suppose” (pg 25) and that there are “many intelligent people [who] are religious and it is not good enough for atheists to simply dismiss religious belief as foolish superstition” (pg 92).

Baggini’s Atheism: A Very Short Introduction offers a challenging discussion that I believe theists should sometime consider. Baggini is both a bright and friendly atheist, and his book adds yet another fine piece to Oxford’s Very Short Introductions.