Category Archives: Leadership

An American Prophet

Mormons are not the only prophetic tradition in America. The African American spiritual community also has its own prophetic roots, and Martin Luther King, Jr. is the paradigmatic figure from that tradition. It is true that these two traditions define prophetic leadership differently. For Mormons, today even more so than in our past, the prophetic mantle is held by right of institutional authority. The prophetic responsibility is to testify to the world of Christ, and to teach the faithful. This vision of prophesy hearkens back to ancient prophetic schools which saw prophesy as a vocation, and moreso in recent times, as a tool for the preservation of traditional social values. In the African American tradition, the prophetic tradition takes the role of charismatic cultural critic, especially around issues of injustice. This tradition hearkens back to a biblical tradition of speaking out against authority in the hopes of transforming society.
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Filed under Book of Mormon, LDS Church History, Leadership

Righteous Dissent?

Paul’s bitter dispute with Peter and James poses a problem for thinking about LDS notions of authority because it puts into tension church authority and moral and doctrinal issues. When true doctrine and church leadership are in conflict, how are we to make a choice between them? When our sense of what is moral conflicts with our leaders’ sense of what is moral, what are we supposed to do? Paul found himself in exactly this situation, and had to make a choice between his own sense of what was right and the views of his leaders who had been commissioned directly by Christ to take care of the church.
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Filed under Bible, Doctrine, Leadership

Spiritual Twinkies and Acceptable Criticism

In the 1990’s, I recall a strong movement against a pernicious offense in church education. The spiritual twinkie was soundly criticized as a useless item of spiritual nourishment, bringing only temporary satisfaction, but failing to build a solid diet. (It is likely that such discourse persists today, but I am not in those circles, so I speak here in the past tense). Like the the milk before meat metaphor, the twinkie came to occupy a particular kind of spiritual nourishment that was seen as neither preparatory, nor advanced, but somehow negative. This kind of spiritual junk food described, well, faith-promoting rumors, false stories, non-scripturally based teachings, etc.
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Filed under Doctrine, Leadership, Theology

Uzzah Killed For Blind Obedience

Let me start out by saying I’m a big, big fan of obedience. And I also see many instances where the scriptures teach we should not criticize our leaders. I’ve got no problem with that – IMHO our leaders deserve all the support we can give them.

However, I think that we have been badly misinterpreting a story that is commonly used to support these concepts. The traditional Mormon interpretation of the story of Uzzah and the ark in 2 Samuel 6 and 1 Chr 13 is familiar to most of us: Uzzah reaches out to steady the ark during its transport and is killed for touching it. The modern-day interpretation for us has been that we should not correct Church leaders or Church policy, for despite our good intentions, the leaders of the Church are in charge and it is not our place to correct them. To quote from the D&C Student Manual for Religion 324/325, p188:

“’Uzzah was therefore a type of all who with good intentions, humanly speaking, yet with unsanctified minds, interfere in the affairs of the kingdom of God, from the notion that they are in danger, and with the hope of saving them.’…In modern revelation the Lord referred to this incident to teach the principle that the Lord does not need the help of men to defend his kingdom (see D&C 85:8). Yet even today there are those who fear the ark is tottering and presume to steady its course. There are those who are sure that women are not being treated fairly in the Church, those who would extend some unauthorized blessing, or those who would change the established doctrines of the Church. These are ark-steadiers. The best intentions do not justify such interference with the Lord’s plan.”

Or, in the shorter Seminary version (p97 of the Seminary D&C study guide),

“The phrase ‘steady the ark’ has come to refer to those who lack faith in the Lord and His servants and instead do things based on their own wisdom.”

However, a close reading of the text supports just the opposite: Uzzah was likely killed for NOT correcting his priesthood leaders, who themselves were not following the scriptures. This conclusion is based on three items in the text:

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Filed under Bible, Guests, Leadership

The Holy Person in Mormonism?

Eve’s recent post at ZD on the magical GA got me thinking about how such a phenomenon fits in the larger history of Christianity. The LDS conception of religious potency is so closely intertwined with hierarchical leadership that it is not surprising that these businessmen and lawyers are able to receive such devotion by those seeking ecstatic or thaumaturgic experiences. What is interesting to me is whether or not the religiously potent can exist outside of the structures of LDS authority, as it has in so many other Christian traditions. If such a condition does not presently exist, can we expect it as a phenomenon that inevitably spills over?
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Filed under Leadership, Mormon Culture, Speculation

Elder Holland’s Subversive Message?

At the risk of stirring controversy against my absolute favorite Apostle, I want to ask a few questions stemming from his engaging discussion of Scripture and modern prophecy and his dialogue with biblical studies.

Elder Holland’s talk in General Conference was part II of his discourse on Mormonism’s place with respect to “Christianity”. He begins by giving justifications for an open canon, namely, why the various statements about not adding to or taking away from a given book (Revelation) don’t apply to the whole Bible. These arguments are, for the most part, old, but what is new is his recourse to mainstream biblical scholarship in making the arguments. Most biblical-studies types were ecstatic, I’d venture, to hear eminent New Testament scholar N.T. Wright quoted by Elder Holland. Continue reading

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Filed under Doctrine, Leadership, Scripture

What if…?

What if someone ordained their wife to the priesthood? Let’s say that this husband wanted to have his wife assist in priesthood blessings in the home, or be able to perform blessings in his absence. She would not be ordained to any particular office, but given the priesthood power for specific ordinances. Let us also say that this woman received it, but never in fact used it. Let us also say that this husband is a bishop, and interviewed the candidate and determined her worthiness. If he did so without claiming that such a practice is or should be church doctrine, how would we understand this practice? A few things to consider:
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Filed under Doctrine, Feminism, Leadership, Speculation

BYU Religion Dean on Premortal Life, Part I: Race and Nobility

Last week Terry Ball, Dean of the College of Religious Education, gave BYU’s weekly devotional address (mp3 file available here, Daily Universe report here). His talk raises many issues relevant to recent discussions here and elsewhere. My reaction to his talk will be divided into two posts: first, a discussion of some of the problematic themes that Ball raises, and second, an analysis of the way this Professor of Ancient Scripture handles scripture. Continue reading

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Filed under Bible, BYU, LDS Church History, Leadership, Speculation

The DeMcConkie-izing of the Church

Elder McConkie, I think, made large contributions to the Church. He systematized and provided the only real encyclopedic Gospel reference book in a time when computers filled rooms.  I think he provided some things the Church needed at a particular time. That time appears to have passed.

The following should be taken with a grain of salt. I have sources, but most of them are shadowy people I’ve met in dark parking garages.

Mormon Doctrine, written by a member of the 70 in 1957, has outlived its usefulness. High church leadership intended The Encyclopedia of Mormonism to replace it (which has unfortunately not come to pass), and Deseret Book will not republish it after the current printing sells out.

The introduction to the Book of Mormon, penned at least in part by Elder McConkie, has recently been modified. (See discussion and links here and here.)*

New Institute manuals are being written, and for at least one volume, the writers have been instructed not to use Elder McConkie (among others) as a source.

The man’s testimony still stands, but his intellectual contributions have been surpassed.

*Frankly, I don’t see this as a tempest in a teapot, and it changes very little. The intro as written (“primary” “principal ancestors”) still allows for the presence of peoples other than those in the Book of Mormon, something Elder McConkie believed. As changed, it still allows Book of Mormon genes and descent to Native Americans whether in North or South America. It’s not doctrinal revisionism, nor is it messing with any canonized text. I don’t see much of a difference, except that it diffuses absolutist misreadings.

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Filed under Doctrine, Leadership

Holiness and Housework: The Sacred and the Mundane

One of the most influential theories for explaining religion over the last 50 years has been that religion is a system which divided people, places, and things into essentially two categories: the sacred and the profane. This view, popularized by Mircea Eliade, held that the sacred was a locus of holiness, where God could be encountered. Temples, churches, special times of the day for prayer, holy days, priests and priestesses, etc were examples of the sacred. The profane was everything else. Sometimes the profane was forbidden, but usually the profane was just the ordinary. This way of thinking about religion has come under some scrutiny for various reasons, but it is a useful way for thinking about Sister Beck’s controversial Conference talk.
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