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New Year's Ebook Flash Sale December 27 2021

As we welcome 2022, we are pleased to offer discounted prices on select ebooks on scripture and doctrine. This sale runs from January 1–7 and is available for Kindle and Apple ebooks.

Sale ends Friday, Jan 7.

 

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Q&A with Joseph M. Spencer, author of The Anatomy of Book of Mormon Theology November 14 2021

 
Available paperback and ebook November 16, 2021

 


Q: Can you give us a brief background into this project? How did it begin?

A: Well, in a lot of ways, to answer that question would be to tell you my whole story! The two volumes of Anatomy collect essays I wrote between about 2008 and about 2018, a decade of work on the Book of Mormon. The earliest several were my very first forays into writing theologically about the Book of Mormon. Other essays came at different points over the course of a decade. Taken together, they punctuate the story of my own coming of age as a Book of Mormon scholar. When I set out to write about the Book of Mormon, I don't think it could be said that there was such a thing as Book of Mormon theology---certainly not as a recognizable field! Ten years later, I could say I had an intellectual home as a Book of Mormon theologian. It was while I was writing that this approach to the Book of Mormon began to take shape. I watched that happen, contributing what I could. And so Anatomy is something like an archive that documents one scholar's perspective, witnessing something new be born.

That's not it, though. What I slowly figured out how to articulate for and to myself over the course of that decade was what it means even to speak of Book of Mormon theology. What does it mean to do theology with the Book of Mormon? My earliest essays found me beginning to work out an answer to that question, even though I didn't know I even had that question. As time went on, and as I found myself with a variety of interesting interlocutors (not all of whom were doing theology, to be clear!), the question itself, along with my answer (or answers!) to it, became clearer to me. And so Anatomy is divided up into essays I wrote that help to articulate the various ways one might go about doing theology with the Book of Mormon.

Q: Can you explain what you mean by “the anatomy” of Book of Mormon Theology?

I settled on this title only eventually, but I hope it captures something important. I like the idea that Book of Mormon theology is a living thing, with a lot of deeply interconnected parts. The word "anatomy" is privative—that is, the "an-" at its beginning means "not." The word applies to things where it's inappropriate to speak of smallest units, of "atoms" (in a sense different from the way we talk about atoms in modern physics, obviously). Anatomy is at issue wherever we can't break something down into fully separable building blocks, where there's something organic about the thing that requires us to see how a massively complex living thing can't be taken apart without depriving it of life. Book of Mormon theology feels to me like that. It isn't the sort of thing we could just break down into a few fundamental topics (the nature of God, how the Spirit works, what salvation means, etc.) or a few fundamental approaches (philosophical theology, pastoral theology, historical theology, etc.), hoping then to put them back together into some kind of whole.

It's for this reason precisely that it's useful simply to look at a dossier of theological essays, a set of productions emerging on so many different occasions over the course of a decade. I couldn't ever have begun with some overarching vision of what all had to be done, theologically, with the Book of Mormon and then simply executed the program. Different interests and various concerns had to draw the theological relevance of the Book of Mormon out of me while the project was feeding, breathing, growing. But looking back over things after ten years of work, I find it possible to start to give names to different systems of thought---to different organs in this living body, so to speak---and so to make some sense of things. It becomes especially clear to me where the center of the body lies, where the heart is that's pumping life-giving oxygen to everything else. And that's something I hope comes clear to every reader of these volumes.

Q: For those less familiar with theology, can you offer a basic definition?

I'm always hesitant to give theology a strict definition—for all the reasons I've been talking about already! At the very least, though, someone does theology when she takes the demands of reason as seriously as possible while nonetheless always ultimately submitting them to what God reveals. When someone does theology with the Book of Mormon, then, she has to do a number of things. She can't just read the Book of Mormon quickly, assuming that she understands the meaning of the text. She has to do (or at least borrow from) intense interpretive work, sorting out the way the book is organized, how its story unfolds, what its various prophecies and sermons and narratives have to say, and so on. She also has to do (or at least draw on) good philosophical work, of a sort that probes beneath the surface of things and makes them more interesting than we often take them to be. With the real depth of the Book of Mormon on display, and with the best thinkers as her interlocutors, she might begin to let the Book of Mormon speak in a richly theological way.

That's not very basic, I'm afraid. It's also probably the best I can do. It's no simple thing to do theology, and to do it well. We have to get far more serious than we usually are about what the Book of Mormon itself has to say, in its own name. And we have to get far more serious than we usually are about ideas in general. Then theological work on this sacred text begins in earnest. And I should note, then, that doing theological work on the Book of Mormon is rather different from studying the book doctrinally or with an eye to application, although it's related to both of these things. To study the Book of Mormon doctrinally is to look at how the book clarifies the official doctrines of the Church. To study the Book of Mormon with an eye to application is to ask how its words might immediately shape my everyday life. These are questions I might be asking when I do theology as well, but they don't need to be.

Q: How are the two volumes organized?

The first volume of Anatomy gathers essays that I think fit most easily into traditional notions of what it would mean to do theology with a book of scripture. It's worth saying that, along with a handful of colleagues, I labored over the years covered in these two volumes on developing a rather novel approach to doing theology with scripture---and with the Book of Mormon in particular. We didn't set out with the idea of doing any such thing, but that's what indeed happened. Along that peculiar pathway, however, I took plenty of opportunities to write more traditional theological essays as well. It's those that make up most of the first volume of Anatomy. That first volume comes, in fact, in four parts. The first handful of essays represent my earliest forays, which I gather under the title "Halting First Steps." A second handful of essays explore a variety of resources for doing theology in whatever fashion. These appear under the title "Running toward Theology." And then there are two gatherings of essays titled "Traditional Theology": a first gathering of essays specifically focused on the atonement of Jesus Christ, and a second gathering of essays focused on a variety of theological topics, approached in a way anyone might expect.

The second volume of Anatomy turns to the kinds of theological work I and others developed over the course of a decade. It opens for that reason with a transitional essay, a reflection on theological method. There then follow two gatherings of essays in each of two novel theological styles, to which I give the respective names of microscopic and macroscopic theology. Most of the examples of microscopic theology grew directly out of my work with Adam Miller and others in the Latter-day Saint Theology Seminar (what used to be called the Mormon Theology Seminar). There we forged a style of excruciatingly acute analyses of scriptural texts, put in the service of theological and philosophical reflection. The examples of macroscopic theology all touch on what's been a central point of interest in my work from the beginning: the status of Isaiah in the Book of Mormon. A further section in the second volume of Anatomy includes my theological responses to others' work on the Book of Mormon, and then the volume concludes with a kind of bonus essay, one that examines the Book of Mormon in film (including Napoleon Dynamite).

Q: What developments have you seen in the field of Book of Mormon scholarship over the past decade?

In my view, contemporary Book of Mormon studies began with the publication of Terryl Givens's By the Hand of Mormon in 2002. That book is an astonishing thing, a masterpiece. I think it's safe to say that it placed a capstone on the two decades of work dominated by FARMS (the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies), largely by announcing that that project had fulfilled the measure of its creation. That created enough breathing room to allow for other approaches to the Book of Mormon to gain a place alongside traditional apologetics. Over the two decades or so since Givens published his book, I'd say that three emergent approaches have emerged and gained serious traction. Obviously, the one that interests me the most is the theological angle, the one I've tried deliberately to help craft and to which I've most consistently contributed. (Even when I've approached the other emergent methods, I've consistently put them to theological use---sometimes to the consternation of those working on the Book of Mormon in other ways!)

The other two emergent approaches, though, deserve a great deal of attention. I have nothing but good to say of them, even if I always find myself wanting to push their insights over into the realm of theology. One of these is the project of placing the Book of Mormon within the category of world scripture and so of approaching the book from within the discipline of religious studies. This approach is best represented by Grant Hardy. For a time, it looked as if Hardy was pushing for a literary approach to the Book of Mormon---he himself put it that on occasion---but over time it's become clear what he's after, and the results are spectacular. The other emergent approach is in fact literary, and it's best represented, I think, by Elizabeth Fenton and Jared Hickman. The angle here is to ask about how the Book of Mormon functions in the historical flow of American literature, in which context it presents itself as a fascinating point of resistance to the domination of secularity. There's much to learn from this sort of work, work that's beginning to proliferate, even if it sometimes asks questions that understandably make believers squirm.

Q: Where do you see the field of Book of Mormon scholarship going in the future?

It's always hard to predict what's coming, of course. Rather than guess at what might or will come, then, I'd prefer to say something about what I hope will come, about what ought to come, in my humble view. With growing interest in the Book of Mormon from a variety of disciplinary angles---and let's be clear that historical work will continue, and that there are other less dominant approaches I haven't mentioned in these brief answers!---there's much need right now for basic resources for research. Royal Skousen has done essential work on establishing the text of the Book of Mormon; Grant Hardy has labored to put basic study resources in the hands of average readers; Nick Frederick has developed an aspiringly comprehensive list of interactions between the Bible and the Book of Mormon; Brant Gardner has sifted the Book of Mormon scholarship of the twentieth century in his commentary; and the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies has begun publishing bibliographies and reviews of literature to sort out what's going on right now in the field. These are, though, just the beginning of what's needed for Book of Mormon studies to flourish.

I'd like to see dictionaries and analytical concordances, full-blooded commentaries written from a variety of methodological approaches, a robust conversation about the critical text of the Book of Mormon, annotated bibliographies of the best work from the past and from the present, handbooks to guide research on specific subjects or particular books within the Book of Mormon, outlines of Book of Mormon reception history, and other things of this sort. Amy Easton-Flake has recently argued that we're currently in a period that's strikingly similar to the late nineteenth century when it comes to the Book of Mormon. The last quarter of the nineteenth century saw the first student-oriented edition of the Book of Mormon (Orson Pratt's 1879 edition), the first dictionaries and concordances for the book (George Reynolds's work), the first survey treatments of the narrative (the work of George Reynolds and Janne Sjodahl), and the first efforts at systematic commentary (especially by Janne Sjodahl). We're again in such a period, and if that kind of thing continues, the next generation of Book of Mormon scholars will have plenty to work with as they move forward.

Q: How does The Anatomy of Book of Mormon Theology enter into the scholarly conversation?

Well, in a lot of ways, Anatomy is meant to plant the flag of the theological approach squarely in the sand. I and a handful of others have been doing theology with the Book of Mormon for years, but it's only in the last couple of years that the stakes of what we've been doing have become clear---even to us! In some sense, then, Anatomy is meant to be a kind of announcement that something has been happening. It's meant to give a name to an event that's been unfolding for some time. And it's meant to gather an archive that can illustrate just how the various sequences of that larger event have followed one another. I might mention that each essay in Anatomy opens with a couple of paragraphs in which, looking back, I comment on what triggered that particular contribution, thus telling the story of Book of Mormon theology's emergence in bits and pieces. This is, I think, profoundly needed.

Of course, someone might naturally object to what I've just said by pointing out that a far more visible flag of this sort was planted last year, when the Neal A. Maxwell Institute published its twelve-volume Brief Theological Introductions series. I wouldn't at all disagree with that. (And I should probably note between parentheses that I was heavily involved in that series---not only authoring a volume in it but serving as one of the series editors.) I think the Brief Theological Introductions very much announce that something has been stirring. What they don't do, however, is sort through the process of Book of Mormon theology's emergence. They put on display some of the fruits that the theological tree now bears. Anatomy goes back to look at the planting of the seed, at the work of caring for the sapling, and at the labor involved in picking the fruit that has eventually come. 

Q: What are some of the key questions tackled in these volumes?

I outlined the contents of Anatomy above, but I might note some of the most prominent themes among the many essays gathered here (there are thirty-eight of them!). As I've already indicated, readers can expect to encounter a lot of Isaiah---in treatments that go beyond and in other directions than my books on that subject. I've also already mentioned that there are several essays on the atonement of Christ, but it's worth specifying that there's an emphasis in those essays on the idea of grace, a theme that naturally recurs in essays in volume two where I interact with the thought of Adam Miller. There's frequent reflection also, though, on gender (a subject of current research for me), as well as on the nature of time as the Book of Mormon conceives of it (always a point of interest for me). There's a stronger emphasis on pneumatology (the study of the Holy Ghost's nature) than readers might expect, and on the body and materialism in various ways. Drawn by the interest of Hardy and others (especially Jad Hatem) in putting the Book of Mormon in conversation with world scripture, there are several places in these volumes where I ask questions about the Book of Mormon and other religious traditions (especially Hinduism).

Above all, though, what every essay in these two volumes shares is an investment in what it means to read theologically. Many essays ask questions about where other approaches to the Book of Mormon end and theology begins. How might theology be relevant to the apologetic enterprise, and how might apologetics be relevant to theology? How might theology be relevant to literary work on the Book of Mormon, and how might literary work be relevant to theology? How much exegesis---that is, how much labor just on making the basic meaning of the Book of Mormon text clear---is necessary before theological work can begin in earnest? What themes from traditional theology and from the philosophical tradition might be useful in doing theological work on the Book of Mormon, and where do such themes actually stand in the way of doing theology well in this case? These questions I'm asking at every turn in this book.

Q: What do you hope readers will gain by reading these volumes?

Above all, to be honest, I hope readers will simply begin to get a sense for how much remains to be done with the Book of Mormon. One danger in traditional apologetics---despite all the good it has done and can still do, to be clear!---is that it can give the impression that all the hard work is done once we feel like the Book of Mormon is intellectually defensible. The very real need we feel to defend the Book of Mormon against its detractors lends intensity and urgency to apologetic labor, and then it can feel as if every other sort of work on the Book of Mormon is simply unimportant or simply devotional. I hope, though, that the kind of work I've done in these two volumes---pressing in all kinds of directions at once---shows that there's a great deal of serious work to do on the Book of Mormon that's valuable and of intense interest in its own right. It's crucial to make clear that we aren't fools to give our faith to this book. But it's crucial also to make clear to ourselves just what this book we believe in actually has to say.

My heart skips a beat when I think about the Book of Mormon, and I hope these essays, taken together, show my love for the book, and maybe show what it means to love the book well. I'm thrilled by the efforts being made to show the Book of Mormon's relevance in the fields of literature and religious studies, and I've long kept a close eye on the labors of those defending the book's claim to antiquity. But there's another way of loving this book intensely, and of talking to one another about its truth and depth. I hope that's clear in The Anatomy of Book of Mormon Theology. We can love this book theologically, just as much as we can love it in other ways.

 

Joseph M. Spencer, November 2021


Q&A with Trevan G. Hatch, co-editor of "The Learning of the Jews": What Latter-day Saints Can Learn from Jewish Religious Experience August 03 2021

 
Available paperback and ebook August 10, 2021

 


Q: Can you provide a little background about the editors and your decision to do this project together?

A: I participated with Leonard Greenspoon in several Jewish Studies seminars in Chicago from 2012 to 2018. In 2016 I approached him about getting Jewish scholars and LDS scholars together for this writing project. As a prolific scholar in Bible and Jewish Studies for forty years, Leonard has participated in these types of interfaith interactions many times, but never with Latter-day Saints. Leonard and I then contacted several scholars to participate. Many of the Jewish scholars were excited to write essays due to the unique nature of the project.

Q: What makes this book unique among interfaith dialogues? 

A: Traditional interfaith dialogues are very common. So why do I call this project “unique”? Customarily, the purpose of interfaith dialogue is for two groups to come together and discuss commonalities. The “Kumbaya” nature of these interfaith dialogues serve to foster understanding and empathy. This project is unique because we did NOT want to follow the typical style of each group learning from each other. In other words, we did not want to tell Jews that Latter-day Saints want to learn from them, but that they must learn from Latter-day Saints as well. Christians have forced Jews for 1,500 years to learn about Christianity (or even convert to Christianity). In this volume, we sought to give Jews “the microphone” so-to-speak and let them talk about their own experience without imposing an agenda on them. Our intent was to discuss and examine Judaism on Jewish terms (as best we can) and subsequently wrestle with how Latter-day Saints might benefit from 3,000 years of the Jewish experience. Our purpose is not to suggest that Latter-day Saints must adopt various Jewish practices and beliefs. Rather, we hoped that the discussions in this volume may assist readers in adopting strategies, mentalities, and approaches to religious and cultural living as exemplified by Jews and Judaism. The chapters are meant to serve as catalysts for further introspection and learning, not as the end-all-be-all for how Latter-day Saints might learn from Jewish religious experience.

Q: How is this book organized?

A: This volume brings together fifteen scholars, seven Jewish and eight Latter-day Saint, with a combined academic experience of over four hundred years. We have structured the volume around seven major topics, two chapters on each topic. A Jewish scholar first discusses the topic broadly vis-à-vis Judaism, followed by a response from a Latter-day Saint scholar. These Latter-day Saint scholars are trained in various fields of study and disciplines including history, sociology, family studies, religious studies, biblical studies, and literature. This wide array of experience and training illustrates the various approaches and perspectives of learning from another group. With the primary purpose of this volume being for Latter-day Saints to learn from Jewish religious perspectives and experiences, the essays are generally different from what you might expect in an interreligious dialogue. For the most part, the Jewish essays were not written with Latter-day Saints in mind but are simply broad overviews that could be helpful for any non-Jewish readership. Likewise, the Latter-day Saint responses are not trying to find commonalities as the primary goal; rather, their purpose is to explore any strategies, mentalities, motives, etc., of Jews that might serve as a catalyst for Latter-day Saints to look introspectively and enhance their own lived religious experience.

Q: Can you highlight some of the main topics discussed in the book? 

A: The seven topics include scripture, authority, prayer, women and modernity, remembrance, particularity, and humor. Most of these topics are salient in Jewish discourse today. It so happens that Latter-day Saints focus on several of these topics with a great amount of zeal, especially scripture, authority, prayer, and women & modernity.

Q: What are you hoping that readers will take away from this book?

A: We hope that the reader will not only learn a great deal about Judaism and the Jewish experience while reading this volume, but also use what they learn to enhance their own cultural and religious experience. 

Trevan Hatch, August 2021

 

 

 


Women's History Month Sale March 02 2021

During Women's History Month, we are pleased to offer 30% off select titles on Latter-day Saint women's history, social topics, and personal essays!

Sale ends Wednesday, 3/31/2021* 

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New Year's Ebook Flash Sale December 29 2020

As we welcome 2021, we are pleased to offer discounted prices on select ebooks on scripture, doctrine, and community. This sale runs from January 1–4 and is available for both Kindle and Apple ebooks.

Sale ends Monday, Jan 4.

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2020 Holiday Gift Guide November 11 2020

This holiday season, we are focusing on themes of scripture, doctrine, and community. Below is a holiday buyer's guide highlighting a few of our most popular titles.

To see our Black Friday Sales, click here.

Scripture

With the Doctrine & Covenants being the 2021 focus for Come Follow Me, Mark Lyman Staker's award-winning history, Hearken, O Ye People, is the perfect gift for those interested in the historical context behind the revelations Joseph Smith received in Ohio. A perfect compliment to your Come Follow Me study.

One of our most popular titles! The Lost 116 Pages does more than tell the history behind the missing manuscript pages from the early translation of the Book of Mormon, it also uses the best scholarly tools available to analyze internal and external evidence and piece together what may have been in the lost pages. The result tells us as much about the existing Book of Mormon as it does the lost pages. Perfect for those who enjoy taking deep dives into scripture and history!
Award-winning Book of Mormon scholar, Brant Gardner, looks at Joseph Smith's translation process of the Book of Mormon. The Gift and Power analyzes not only the mechanics of the translation process, but also asks how closely Joseph Smith followed the original Nephite writings. This is the perfect book for those interested in how the Book of Mormon was produced, affirming that it is an ancient text miraculously brought forth by the gift and power of God.
The Second Witness series by Brant Gardner is lauded as the most comprehensive Book of Mormon commentary in existence. Brant uses his extensive knoweledge and backgroud into Mesoamerican anthropology and intertextual studies to bring the Book of Mormon to life for modern readers. Second Witness can be purchased as a set or individual volumes. A must have for the serious student of the Book of Mormon.
Authoring the Old Testament launched our Contemporary Studies in Scripture series, which utilizes the best tools of biblical scholarship to speak to a Latter-day Saint audience. Authoring the Old Testament introduces Latter-day Saint readers to the documentary hypothesis and offers a faith-affirming approach to Hebrew Bible authorship in line with contemporary scholarship.
Continuing with the Contemporary Studies in Scripture series, The Vision of All by Joseph Spencer has been a consistent top seller. The Vision of All analyzis Nephi's use of Isaiah writings in the Book of Mormon, offering a reader-friendly explanation of these challenging prophetic passages. Perfect for readers who want to understand more about Isaiah's writings as well as Nephi's inclusion of them in the Book of Mormon.

 

Doctrine

Blake T. Ostler's Exploring Mormon Thought series is the first series ever published by Greg Kofford Books and is still considerd the standard by which faith-affirming Latter-day Saint philosophy is measured. For readers interested in deep philosophical questions regarding the nature of God, human agency, mankind's divine potential, and the problem of evil and suffering in the world, this is the series to get!
Perhaps of all questions asked about Latter-day Saint doctrine and history, the historic practice of plural marriage is the most divisive. Brian C. Hales's Joseph Smith's Polygamy series is the most in-depth source of research avaiable on the origins of polygamy. Joseph Smith's Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding, condenses this research into a reader-friendly format. This is essential reading for those who want to better understand the topic of plural marriage while affirming their belief in Joseph Smith's prophetic calling.
In For Zion, Joseph M. Spencer, assistant professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, picks up where Hugh Nibley's Approaching Zion left off. In this approachable and inspiring text, Joseph expands the concept of consecration beyond the material and economic into one of transformation of the human heart. An excellent book for those who enjoy Latter-day Saint teachings about the promise of Zion and the writings of High Nibley.
Considered a classic examination of Latter-day Saint doctrine by many, This is My Doctrine by Charles R. Harrell looks closely at the development of key Latter-day Saint teachings and the ongoing conversation between ancient belief and modern-day revelation. This book challenges its readers to see God's hand at work in the evolving nature of doctrine. The perfect book for those who enjoy studying Latter-day Saint doctrine and belief.

 

Community

One of our most popular titles, Bridges by David B. Ostler, speaks to faithful members about the topic of faith crisis. The book takes an empathetic approach, teaching its readers how to build bridges of compassion and understanding with those whose faith has been challenged by historical or social issues within the Church. Read widely by teachers of Church Seminaries and Institutes, Bridges is a must-have for anyone who knows of family members, friends, or ward members who struggle with faith.
Miracles Among the Rubble by Carol R. Gray is one of the most loved books by reviewers. In heart-wrenching and inspiring chapters, written with her poetically unique style of expression, Carol shares her experiences of organizing and transporting relief aid for victims of the Balkan War during the early 1990s. Her stories are a testament to the extraordinary achievements of an ordinary mother, who was able to do remarkable things with nothing more than unwavering faith, the help and guidance of the Holy Ghost, and her relationship with the Savior.
A best-seller, Women at Church by Neylan McBaine has been passed along to numerous local ward and stake leaders who seek ways to more fully include women at the local level. This eye-opening book is perfect for anyone who would like to better understand why many Latter-day Saint women feel marginalized in church settings and what can be done to improve women's visibility and voices in wards and stakes without challenging current doctrine or policies.
Whom Say Ye That I Am? by James and Judith McConkie utilyzes up-to-date historical scholarship to explore Jesus in the context of first-century Palestine and Jewish culture. This book helps Latter-day Saint readers better understand the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth, and how he responded to social institutions and issues in his day, all of which is still relevant to a modern audience. Perfect for readers who enjoy historical Jesus scholarship.
Although united in faith, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are diverse in their cultural, social, and political perspectives. Common Ground—Different Opinions offers a collection of essays on varying topics from same-sex attraction, femisim, and race, to political partisanship, war, human evolution, and more. This is the perfect book for readers who like to carefully consider arguments from both sides of complex social issues in a ways that maintain civility, respect towards faith, and commitment to the Church.
The Garden of Enid Vols. 1 and 2 collect Scott Hales's much-loved coming-of-age comic series about fictional teenager, Enid Gardner, as she explores her faith and questions in light of personal and cultural challenges. Funny, charming, sincere, and moving, The Garden of Enid is perfect for teens or anyone who remembers what it was like to be an akward teenager wondering where they fit into the world and the Gospel.

Q&A with Blake T. Ostler, author of Exploring Mormon Thought, Vol 4: God's Plan to Heal Evil October 23 2020

 
Exploring Mormon Thought, Vol 4: God's Plan to Heal Evil is available paperback, hardcover, and ebook

 


Q: For those unfamiliar with the Exploring Mormon Thought series, can you give us a general overview of the previous volumes?

A: Exploring Mormon Thought is an exploration of the philosophical and theological implications of various views entertained in the Mormon tradition. The first volume, The Attributes of God, addresses the attributes of God from a Mormon perspective. I argue that God cannot know what acts a person will freely do in the future. I also assesse the attributes of divine power, divine mutability, divine pathos (or emotions and feelings), divine temporality, and human and divine nature. The first volume also expounds a Mormon Christology or theory of Christ as both fully human and fully divine at once.

The second volume, The Love of God and the Problems of Theism, addresses Mormon soteriology or theory of salvation. I address whether God's love can be properly called "unconditional" in Mormon thought. I also address the problems of petitionary prayer—why would we ask God to do anything when God is already committed to doing what is best and knows far better than we do what is good for us? I develop a theory of ethics based upon a modified agape (love) theory of ethics and address and critique salvation by grace and predestination in classic Christian thought.

The third volume, Of God and Gods, addresses the relation of the Israelite council of gods, the early Christian view of the Godhead and the angel of Yahweh, and finally analyzes the Mormon view of the Godhead as a social trinity that reconciles these views.

Q: The fourth volume is titled God’s Plan to Heal Evil. Can you briefly describe what you mean by that?

A: In the 4th volume I review numerous approaches within the traditional Judeo-Christian-Muslim theism to the kinds of moral and natural evils that plague us. In light of these attempts to explain how evil is consistent with God's existence, I present at length an explanation of how God's purposes for us—framed within what Mormons call "The Plan of Salvation"—places our experience of evil into a context that not merely justifies God's permission of evil (a standard theodicy) but how evil functions in our lives to fulfill God's plan. The answer to the problem of evil is not as much a defense of God, but an insight into how evil works to refine us and give us the opportunity to learn to love in the way that God loves us, and in so doing to heal the evil so that it serves a redemptive purpose.

Q: Can you give us a brief overview of how this volume is organized?

A: The 4th volume begins by looking at what I consider to be the best responses to the argument from evil against God's existence. I conclude that the fact of the amounts and kinds of evil that we experience show that the omni-God in the Calvinistic and Molinist traditions does not exist. I then look at Open Theism and present a new argument based on the option that God had to create virtually omniscient creatures that Open Theism cannot answer. I then develop finitist and process theodicies based on views held in the Mormon tradition and conclude that they are live options but are not persuasive. I then present a view of God's purposely using evil as a part of his plan to achieve His purposes to bring us to the status that we can love as He does and to be fit for a relationship with the persons of the Godhead that fully deifies us.

Q: For readers unfamiliar with the problem of evil from a philosophical perspective, can you briefly explain it

A: The problem is evil is both a philosophical and an existential problem. How can we believe that God exists when such belief entails that God is all powerful and therefore can have a world without evil, is all-good and therefore desires a world without evil, and we are then led to ask: why is there evil? The further question arises that even if we could show that belief in God is logically consistent with the fact of evil, how could we trust in God when he leaves us subject to evils like the Holocaust or murder, rape, and child abuse?

Q: Can you briefly describe the Christian theological frameworks you address in this volume?

A: I discuss the issue of evil from the perspective of those who believe in an all-controlling God (e.g. Calvinsts, on some interpretations Thomists and Muslims), a God who exercises meticulous providence or that can create any feasible world (e.g. Molinists and Open Theists), a limited God who is like a super-advanced scientist (Finitism), or a God who can influence everything but not unilaterally control anything (Process thought), and a God who can control whether there are natural laws but not what those natural laws shall be if He chooses to have an ordered world (the Relational Agape view of God).

Q: You argue in the fourth volume that a God who creates ex-nihilo does not exist. Can you give us a taste of your support for this argument?

A: If God creates ex nihilo (out of nothing) then He can have a world without moral evils and diseases and the best explanation for how that could be is that we do not have sufficient cognitive grasp to judge God's purposes. However, such a view entails that everything must be for the best and so we can just allow anything at all to happen and be satisfied that it is all for the best. Given such a view, personal moral decisions and acts are never necessary. But no Christian, Jew, or Muslim could accept that. Or, in the alternative, God could have created us virtually omniscient so that we could rid the world of many natural evils that occur such as infectious diseases. God's failure to do so shows that God is not all-good because He did not avail himself of morally superior options.

Q: Does Mormonism add anything new to the problem of evil?

A: Mormonism makes possible a view that God must work within a pre-existing natural framework that explains why God has to deal with just the kinds of natural laws and persons who actually exist and how we are not thrown into the world against our will and can consent to confront the kinds and amounts of evils that actually occur. Most importantly, Mormonism explains how confronting a world with the kinds and types of evils that actually occur is worth it in light of the fact that it is the only way to achieve the superlative and crowning good of participating fully in the relationship of loving divine unity—the greatest possible good. Mormonism provides a framework where evil can be the mentor of Gods by being redeemed through learning to love one another because we live in a challenging world.

Q: What are you hoping readers will gain from reading this volume?

A: A theodicy is an explanation of how it is possible that there is genuine evil in the world if there is a loving God. There are several live options for viewing God's permission of evil in the Mormon tradition. However, the Relational Agape theodicy suggests that the world is lovingly ordered to serve us to learn to be as God is by learning to love as God does. The world is not hostile to us but serves as an environment suited to mentoring gods. The people in our lives are loving angels who serve us, even when it appears that they are doing evil to us and it is really difficult to deal with them. The evils that we experience are a call to redeem evil by healing it through love—even (or especially) when it is gut-wrenching and doing so goes against our set human nature. The Agape theodicy is a recognition that love is the greatest power in the universe.

Blake T. Ostler
October 2020


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Q&A with Samantha Richardson, co-editor of Miracles Among the Rubble September 08 2020

 
Miracles Among the Rubble is available paperback, hardcover, and ebook

 


Q: For those unfamiliar with Carol Gray, what can you tell us about her? 

A: Carol Rosemary Gray was born in Sheffield, England, to parents Rosemary Addis, born in Glasgow, Scotland, and James Addis, born locally in Sheffield, England. 

Carol met Stuart Gray at church in Sheffield when they were 16 or 17 years old and a few years later they married and were eventually blessed with seven children. Sadly, because of illness, my Nana was never able to have more children, so Mum remained an only child. Mum always said that when she started her own family, she would fill the house with children. She loved babies and loved to love; being a mother made her so happy. 

As the years went by and her children grew, mum felt a niggling sense that she had another purpose, which at this point she could not articulate. She was not aware of how strong her desire was to fill this purpose until she saw the atrocities on television of the war in the former Yugoslavia in the summer of 1992. The day my mother was galvanized into action was after watching a news report where a mother, running like a terrified rabbit and clinging to her three young children while dodging an onslaught of army vehicles, bullets, shells, and fire, tried desperately to get them to safety.

Q: Can you give us a brief overview of Carol's humanitarian work?

A: The death of Yugoslavian President Josip Tito in 1980 ended a six-decade-long coalition between the republics of Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Macedonia, and Montenegro. In 1991 Serbian nationalist groups called for independence in Croatia and Slovenia, leading the Serb - dominated Yugoslav army to lash out in both countries. The ensuing civil war soon engulfed the whole region spilling over into Bosnia. In 1995 NATO intervention brought the war to an end, which divided Bosnia into two self-governing entities—a Bosnian Serb republic and a Muslim-Croat federation.

At the height of the war in late 1992, mum and I joined a mile-long aid convoy to Zagreb, Croatia, in what would be the first of many convoys to these devastated regions. During the following three years, Carol took convoys to Croatia and Bosnia more than twenty times, visiting refugee camps and orphanages, rebuilding schools and hospitals, and clearing the land of mines to allow people to plant donated seeds, using donated shovels. In Karlovac, Croatia, Carol took much-needed aid to orphanages. On the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia, she and other convoy members rebuilt a school in Rovanska and delivered supplies to suffering civilians on the front line in Zadar. In Sarajevo, Bosnia, she delivered surgical equipment to a hospital. Also, in Sarajevo, her convoy members renovated and furnished a school for orphans. In Kupres, Bosnia, Carol’s convoy worked with locals to clear the city of trash and renovate the hospital. Impressive as the work projects and donations were, Carol maintained that the most important service she and other convoy members gave was their love, manifested through hugs, and a readiness to listen. 

After the war in Bosnia ended in December 1995, Carol carried on taking convoys of hope. With her last convoy in 2001, she had been to Croatia and Bosnia more than forty times. 

Q: You accompanied your mother on some of her humanitarian trips. What are some of your memories from these trips?

A: As I reflect on the aid trips I undertook with mum, there are a number of experiences that stand out. I’m not sure whether it was naivety, ignorance, or that part of me that yearns for adventure, but I never gave it a second thought when mum and I had a discussion about how to get the aid to those who needed it most, which meant going to the front lines of the fighting. Getting the aid into the country was one thing; getting it to front line crisis areas in Croatia to make sure it was delivered directly to those in desperate need was another thing entirely.

On one occasion, as I drove the truck to the next village where we were to deliver aid, we could hear gunfire and explosions close by. As we passed homes and buildings in ruins, the destruction, devastation, and the residents’ heart-wrenching pain at the loss of their loved ones clawed at our hearts and followed our every move. Mum felt very nervous and worried about my safety. I wore a hat constantly, so I didn’t stand out so much because of my long blonde hair. On one occasion we stopped at a village that had its own soldiers, feeling we had some protection. We delivered the aid, told stories, and hugged a lot. What small rations of food they had they gladly shared with us. The soldiers invited us to see their home and ushered us to a bedroom shutting the door behind us. Just as I was about to react in defense, the soldiers noticed the shock and worry on our faces and started to laugh. They reached for the weapons they had hidden away. All they wanted was to show us the weapons they had used to defend their village. They were proud of what they had achieved. The Serbians had tried to occupy their land but were not successful. As they told their stories, gradually mum and I began to relax and joined in the laughter as we quietly listened to their tales of heroism.

There were moments where we laughed so hard at the silliest things, which brought small moments of respite and healing. On our return home, we had 1500 miles to drive to reach a comfy bed and normal food! We had delivered all our aid supplies, so the van was empty. Mum was exhausted and for the first time in days had managed to get a few hours of sleep in the back. As I drove, I noticed we were nearing the Croatian/Slovenian border. I called out to mum that the ID checkpoint was coming up. She jumped up half-asleep, diving around the back of the wagon like a crazy person, wobbling around because—surprise, surprise—she had lost her small backpack, which contained all our money and her passport. I pulled up to the border window while mum was still in the back frantically looking for her ID. To my astonishment, they just waved me through without checking. Breathing a sigh of relief, we realized she now couldn’t join me in the front seat—they might think I had a stowaway. As I drove on, I heard mum giggling and squealing in the back as she swung from side to side and rolled around, falling over, her legs in the air, then her behind, lunging back and forth. I couldn’t drive in a straight line as tears of laughter filled my eyes. When we were far enough away from the border, I stopped to let mum out so she could sit with me in the front. Shortly after we got underway, something hit me on the back of the head—it was mum’s missing bag.

Q: How did Carol raise the money and donations she used for humanitarian relief? 

A: Initial donations came from Carol’s appeal to local church members from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. What started out as a local project soon turned into a regional effort, which then grew into a national humanitarian project. The national newspapers, moved by the idea of a mother of seven spearheading such a project, became involved. Nationwide appeals went out on television inspiring others to donate in any way they could. 

As the project grew, Carol traveled throughout the United Kingdom and the United States, devoting her time tirelessly to speaking at conventions, colleges, and other events in order to raise funds for the convoys. She was met with such generosity and was so grateful to all who gave of their substance and to those who donated anonymously.

Q: When did you decide that you wanted to publish her personal writings? What was the process of putting them together and seeking publishing? 

A: Mum spent many years writing a manuscript by hand that she eventually wanted to publish. Sadly, her illness took hold and in 2010 she was taken from us. A year or so later, my father gave me a typed draft of the manuscript, along with many handwritten notes and additional writings, and asked if I would take this on as a project. Having never before published a manuscript, I was nervous and procrastinated, unsure where to start. However, the real reason I held off moving forward with the manuscript was my inability to read through more than a few pages without tears rolling down my cheeks. I could hear her voice in every word I read. I finally chided myself and was able to move through the book with a sense of purpose, one of a longing to bring mum’s manuscript to life and fulfill her desires for it to be published. Around the same time, I received a call from my co-editor Rebecca Johnson asking if she could assist with editing. Having Rebecca to assist me spurred me on and I began searching for a publisher. I researched publishers that might be interested in taking on the manuscript and was delighted to find that Loyd Ericson from Greg Koffords Books knew of my mother and, after reading our proposal, was happy to assist me in preparing the manuscript for publishing. 

Q: What do you feel your mother's legacy is?

A: One could say that my mother is a bit of an anomaly—she was strong but also vulnerable. She was never judgmental and had a courageous naivety that allowed her to seemingly float past danger. As a consequence, many doors opened up for her that otherwise may have remained closed. 

My mother called herself an ordinary woman, but she would demonstrate time and again that her spirit and determination could move mountains. She believed unflinchingly that any one of us is capable of effecting change and can achieve anything they put their mind to.

My siblings and I always say that mum had a super glue effect with everyone: she had charisma, was fun, and just drew people toward her like a moth to light with her healing hugs. Most importantly, and in simple terms, my mother (indeed, both my parents) left a legacy of love for others. 

Q: What do you hope readers will gain from reading this book?

A: Carol had a huge heart—she loved openly and generously shared that love in many ways. Her hugs had the power to heal. She was deeply grateful to her Heavenly Father and threw herself into serving others, promising that she would give a portion of herself “to provide a listening ear, an understanding heart and hands, and feet that would not weary in service.” We cried together, we laughed together, we hugged and consoled others, and our hearts ached for the families who had lost so much. We fell to our knees and prayed together, we faced down many frightening challenges together and rejoiced with grateful hearts at coming out the other side alive. Each convoy presented the volunteers with opportunities to overcome new challenges, experience amazing moments of learning, and discover along the way how truly capable and extraordinary we can all be. I hope readers will believe they too have a tremendous capacity to effect change, whether in their own lives or in the lives of others. Many of us, particularly women, can feel reticent to make the leap into the unknown, afraid to take that first step beyond our comfort zones. This book shows what incredible personal growth could be waiting for us if we take that leap of faith.

Samantha Richardson
September 2020


Back to Church Sale: 30% off Select Titles in Print and Ebook May 26 2020

As in-person church services slowly and carefully begin to reopen, we have an opportunity to reconnect with our neighbors and ward families. Below are several titles that will help you engage with deeper gospel learning and strengthen our commitment to serving others as we participate in a community with different needs and expressions of faith.

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Q&A with Richard G. Moore, editor of The Writings of Oliver H. Olney April 1842 to February 1843 — Nauvoo, Illinois May 11 2020

Book Description: Oliver H. Olney, an early convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, fled to Nauvoo, Illinois, following persecution in Missouri. In Nauvoo, Olney became disgruntled with church leadership and viewed Joseph Smith as a fallen prophet. His writings, consisting of journal entries, letters, and booklets, express his concerns about what he viewed as serious iniquity within the Church. Despite his opposition to church leadership resulting in his excommunication, Olney remained in Nauvoo and wrote about the things he witnessed.

The handwritten papers of Oliver Olney are housed in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University and are made available in published form for the first time. They offer historical researchers and interested readers of the early Latter-day Saint movement a unique glimpse from the margins of religious society in Nauvoo. Olney’s writings add light to key events in early Mormonism such as rumors of polygamy, the influence of Free Masonry in Nauvoo, plans to migrate westward to the Rocky Mountains, as well as growing tensions with disaffected church members and rising conflict with Nauvoo’s non-Mormon neighbors.
 

 


Q: How did you discover Oliver Olney and what made you decide to transcribe his writings?

A: Some years ago, I was looking for a topic for a paper to present at the John Whitmer Historical Association Conference. The theme that year had to do with the divergent paths of belief that some early converts to the Restoration took. I remembered reading a Times and Seasons editorial called “Try the Spirits” that mentioned a number of people who had left the church founded by Joseph Smith after receiving their own revelations. Returning to that article, I found the name of Oliver Olney. I didn’t know if there was enough information about him to write a paper but was surprised to discover that there were over four hundred-fifty pages handwritten by Olney housed at Yale. I obtained a copy of his writings, transcribed much of what he had written, and was able to present a paper at the conference. After my presentation, Greg Kofford approached me and said that he would like to publish all of Olney’s writings. I began the work of transcribing everything that I could find written by Oliver Olney.

Q: Can you describe Oliver Olney? Who was he and why is he a significant source for the Nauvoo era?

A: Oliver Olney joined the Latter-day Saint movement in 1831 while living in Ohio. He and his wife moved to Kirtland where he became president of the Teachers Quorum. His wife was the daughter of John Johnson and the sister of Luke and Lyman Johnson, two of the Restoration’s first apostles. He and his wife later moved to Missouri and experienced the anti-Mormon violence there. They eventually moved to Nauvoo. Oliver was on a mission to the Eastern States when his wife, who had remained in Nauvoo, passed away. Returning from his mission, he became disaffected with the Church and its leaders. However, after being excommunicated, he remained in Nauvoo and wrote down what he observed taking place there. His writings are first-hand accounts, albeit biased, of a person living in Nauvoo during the early 1840s.

Q: Can you give us a brief overview of how this documentary history is organized?

A: Olney wrote something of a dated journal for several years. However, he often wrote more than one version for a particular date. His papers were in numbered folders at Yale University’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Unsure which version Olney wrote in what order, the book is arranged by date, in order of the folder in which they appear. In other words, if he wrote three entries for June 3, they would be arranged like this: June 3 [folder 2], June 3 [folder 5], June 3 [folder 7]. Also included in the book are two complete booklets that Olney had published.

Q: What are a few big takeaways that we get from Oliver’s writings?

A: Olney had heard rumors spreading around Nauvoo about polygamy among Church leaders and he wrote about what he had heard. He also noted the establishment of a Masonic chapter in Nauvoo. He said that he was unsure about the virtue of Masonry and claimed that the Mormon version of Masonry being practiced in Nauvoo was an immoral thing—even connecting the Danites to what he referred to as “new-fangled” Masonry. Olney also viewed the formation of the Relief Society as Masonry for women. In 1842 he stated that the Mormons were already making plans to move to the Rocky Mountains and establish a kingdom there.

Q: Can you share a few issues Olney had with church leadership? Why do you think he remained in Nauvoo after his excommunication?

A: Some of the biggest issues that Olney had with church leadership were financial. At the time he was writing, he viewed himself and others in Nauvoo as being poverty stricken while church leaders lived in luxury. He viewed tithing and the law of consecration as gouging the Saints for the benefit of church leaders. He was also troubled by rumors of plural marriage being practiced by church leaders. He felt that the Restoration had gone off the track. Olney did stay in Nauvoo for several years after his excommunication, even though he said in a few of his writings that he believed his life to be in jeopardy. I believe he stayed at first because he thought a reformation could take place within the Church and he saw himself as the person who could help that reform take place. After coming to believe that there was no hope for church leaders to repent, I believe he stayed to get more dirt or ammunition for his attack on Mormonism.

Q: Can you give us a little insight into Olney's claimed visions and heavenly visitations?

A: Olney recorded visits of heavenly messengers, giving him instructions for building God’s kingdom on the earth in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. Prominent in these visits were the Ancient of Days, twelve prophets from Old Testament times that would meet with him quite often. Olney claimed that these twelve, who lived on the North Star, called him to choose a new Quorum of the Twelve. He was ordained to a special priesthood by them and was told where to find a buried Nephite treasure to fund the building of the kingdom. He also said that he was visited several times by the deceased apostle, David W. Patten.

Q: Do we know what became of Oliver Olney after Nauvoo?

A: Prior to leaving Nauvoo, Olney remarried a Mormon woman, a believer who was assistant secretary in the first Relief Society. Very little is known about him after he left Nauvoo. He returned to Nauvoo after the death of Joseph Smith and, according to his own writing, hoped to be able to receive his endowment in the Nauvoo Temple. I was unable to find anything about him after that except the assumption that he died in Illinois sometime in 1847 or 1848.

Richard G. Moore
May 2020


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****NOTE: Due to an error, the discounts for the Kindle ebooks of Second Witness volumes 5 and 6 were not applied. They should be available at the discounted rate by Sunday*****

 

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$20.99

Kindle, Nook, Apple

$29.99
$20.99

Kindle, Nook, Apple

$29.99
$20.99

Kindle, Nook, Apple

$29.99
$20.99

Kindle, Nook, Apple

$29.99
$20.99

Kindle, Nook, Apple


Q&A with David B. Ostler for Bridges: Ministering to Thos Who Question July 23 2019

 

 

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Q: Give us a brief background into who you are and why you decided to write this book.

A: I’m a retired father and husband, with six children and five, almost six, grandchildren. My children are wonderful and some no longer believe in basic principles and doctrines of the Church. I’ve been a leader in the Church and with my wife, served two full time and two church service missions. Our last mission was in our stake, working with leaders to better understand why people disaffiliate from the Church.

As we worked with our stake leaders, we research and studied the frequency and causes why people, particularly previously faithful adults, choose to disaffiliate. We found that Church-wide most leaders see disaffiliation as a very important concern in their ward, stake and particularly in their family. We also found that many leaders were not fully aware of the underlying reasons and didn’t feel they fully understood how to help. They probably feel the same in their homes.

So, after completing that calling, I decided that I could take what we learned and create a resource for members to better understand why people leave so that we could find common ground, build understanding and truly minister to those who no longer worship with us. I conducted some original research, interviewed leaders and disaffiliated members, and studied the words of our Church leaders as well as experts in the field. In this research, I learned that the pain of disaffiliation isn’t just felt by that person’s family or leaders, but also by the disaffiliating member. They often feel isolation, fear, anger and other hurtful emotions; often unintentionally caused by their family, friends, and leaders.

I hope this book can bridge that misunderstanding and give us a better understanding to build trusting and meaningful relationships with those who no longer believe as we do.

Q: Who is your intended audience for the book and how do you hope it will be used?

A: I think there will be two readers for the book. I wrote the book for fully believing members so that they can better understand their friends, ward member, or family member who no longer believes in the truth claims of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I hope it gives each reader understanding on how to build a trusted relationship with that person. With that understanding, I hope that some of the pain, fear, and hurt that is felt on both sides can be turned into love and acceptance. Perhaps in some cases, that understanding will create an opportunity for someone to “come back” or to have someone “stay.” For believing members, I hope that reading this book will help build a bridge with a better understanding as they minister to those who doubt.

I also realize readers will include some who no longer believe. I hope that this book will give them hope that we are trying to be more understanding and that their relationship with their families, friends and Church members can be strong and rich, even with differences in belief.

This isn’t a leadership book. But knowing that each leader is also a member and that we rotate in and out of ward and stake callings, I include some ideas that leaders can use with their callings. The principles are the same and can be applied in families, with friends, as church members, and when we serve in church callings.

Q: We hear numerous reports of religious disaffiliation in our modern age, particularly in Western society. How are these trends reflected in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

A: All churches and denominations are experiencing a drop in membership and participation. Younger Americans, particularly Millennials and Gen-Z, see little need to participate in organized religion. In fact, the fastest-growing group of religious identification is “spiritual, but non-religious.” As Latter-day Saints, we are experiencing these same trends. The underlying reasons include society’s broad acceptance of those who are non-religious, people being comfortable going it alone, less trust of institutions in general and of religions specifically, more opportunities to find friends and like-minded people through social media and other settings, and more. The reasons are many.

For the Church in the United States, data from social scientists show that disaffiliation for those born after 1970 is about 39% and, although the sample size is low, that 55% of millennials have disaffiliated. Most of those who disaffiliate remain on the rolls of the Church, but no longer think of themselves of Latter-day Saints. And they disaffiliate younger than previous generations. The average age of millennial disaffiliation is 18.4 years while for boomers it was 23.7 years.

Q: What are a few root causes for religious disaffiliation among Latter-day Saints?

A: Latter-day Saints experience all the same issues as other religions, but there are unique issues which we face. Some leave because they become aware of issues in our history which are controversial or seem inconsistent with our values. They may have concerns about particular Church policies, like our teachings about LGBTQ issues. They may disagree with the way in which women and men serve and experience the Church. Church culture and what they experience in their wards and classes may feel judgmental and perfectionistic. They may be different in some way, like being childless, or being single, experiencing mental illness, being politically liberal. Others just don’t feel the Church addresses the areas which are meaningful to them, including issues of social justice, poverty, racism, sexism or violence.

Q: What are a few typical responses among families and congregations towards those who disaffiliate or become disaffected with the Church’s teachings?

A: As I interviewed members and read their comments and experiences in my surveys, I was frankly surprised by the disconnect between fully believing members and local leaders and those who doubt, question, or have left the Church. Many believing members feel the primary reasons why people leave is because they are offended, have sinned, or are lazy. They sometimes blame the disaffiliating member for having not studied scriptures, prayed, or attended the temple often enough. Those members who are struggling with their faith often have serious doctrinal, historical, or cultural concerns about the Church. When members or local leaders don’t have a true understanding of why these people leave or struggle to stay, their efforts are often ineffective, or worse, hurtful, and push members further away.

Sometimes it is because they don’t understand, but also, it causes fear when a family member learns their child, sibling, or spouse is struggling with belief. It threatens their hope for an eternal family as they worry about their spiritual welfare.

Without thinking about it, we make a snap judgment as to why they have left and assume that it is because they have been offended or because of secret sin. We may be afraid to ask them because we don’t want to offend them. We might keep them at arm’s length and be afraid that they will infect us with doubt. Some disaffiliated members feel that they are labeled as “anti-Mormon” or “apostates” and don’t feel that they are welcome. We may exclude them from our social life because we are uncomfortable with them or with having our children associate with them. Leaders may release them from their callings even though they are willing to serve.

Sometimes in our interactions with disaffiliated members, we seek to testify or explain away their concerns when they just want to keep their close relationship, friendship, or continue to worship even with their doubts.

Q: What are a few ways we can minister to disaffiliated and disaffected members, both individually and as congregations?

First and most important, we need to learn to listen to them individually and collectively. We really don’t know their concerns unless we take the time to listen. Listening is hard—it means that we suspend trying to explain their decision and instead really let them share with us what they are feeling and why. Our minds will naturally try and explain it away and find the fault in their logic or life that lead them to their new beliefs. As they are talking, our minds might be filled with how we can counter their concerns. We might be tempted to encourage them to read more scripture, pray harder, or go to the temple. But first, we need to just listen to understand their concern and why it is important to them. Giving unsolicited advice rarely works.

While listening, we need to take their concerns seriously. These issues are very real to them and we should never try and minimize their concerns. We need to validate, even if we disagree. Later, after they know that we really care about their concerns and how it impacts them, perhaps we can discuss ways to think about the issue or even more forward without a clear resolution.

Q: What brief message can you offer to family members or friends of individuals who have become disaffected with the Church’s teachings or who have chosen to disaffiliate?

A: As we listen and validate, we can answer some questions; and when we can’t, we can mourn and comfort our family or friend who has become disaffected. We can find common ground, even if we aren’t 100% united in the values we live and in our spiritual beliefs. Our relationships can be meaningful, close, and full of love, even with these differences.

If they come back, that’s wonderful. If they don’t, we can trust the Lord and enjoy every moment, even within our differences. I take great comfort from Elder Orson F. Whitney, who said, “Our Heavenly Father is far more merciful, infinitely more charitable than even the best of his servants, and the everlasting gospel is mightier in power to save than our narrow finite minds can comprehend.” Our Heavenly Parents love our family member or friend far more than we can comprehend. They want their happiness too, today and forever.

David B. Ostler
July 2019

 


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Jedediah Morgan Grant’s voice rises powerfully in these pages, startling in its urgency in summoning his people to sacrifice and moving in its tenderness as he communicated to his family.

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“Bleak’s annals are a lasting tribute to the early settlers of Southern Utah and will yet influence many thousand more in our day. The wonderful work in this volume makes that possible.” —Elder Steven E. Snow, LDS Church Historian and Recorder

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Q&A with Aaron McArthur and Reid L. Neilson for The Annals of the Southern Mission June 24 2019

 
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Q: When did this project begin and how did you two connect?

A: [Aaron] The project began around 2004 when I was a graduate student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. While working on my master’s thesis on the significance of tabernacles in the development of LDS communities, I discovered the Annals. That exposure came at Special Collections at BYU, where they had essentially a photocopy of the record. Many of the copies were of very low quality. When you consider that there was no index, it made them very hard to work with. Despite the problems involved with accessing the record, I realized that it was a gold mine of information.

To support my research agenda for my dissertation, the UNLV History Department used a sizable portion of their yearly book budget to purchase a $1,000 collection of scanned documents from the Church archives, which included the Annals. Given what an incredible resource the Annals are, I was amazed that they were so hard to access and resolved to rectify that situation. While working on my dissertation, I undertook a detailed transcription from the scans the library purchased. When I needed a break from the dissertation, I relaxed by transcribing.

Reid contacted me in my last semester of graduate school about working together to bring the Annals to print. He brings a vast amount of experience and resources to the table, and I was very glad to work with him.

Q: What challenges (if any) did you face while compiling this volume?

A: [Aaron] The biggest challenge with this project has simply been time. I did the bulk of the transcription while writing my dissertation and working full-time at UNLV Special Collections. Once the transcription was complete, I knew that we needed two independent verifications and we would eventually need an index. Arkansas Tech approved a professional development grant to pay for students to assist in the process. One of these students helped finish one verification even after grant funds were exhausted. I was very grateful that Reid took care of the index.

Q: Who was James Bleak and what makes his annals so valuable for historical research?

A: James Bleak was the historian for the Southern Mission. What makes the Annals so amazing is how he went about fulfilling his duties as a historian. Firstly, he created a sizable archive of records as events happened. When he actually started writing the history, he had decades of records to work with instead of having to conduct research. Second, is when he was writing, he was careful to include an in-text citation whenever he quoted sources. As a practicing historian, I love that I can tell what text belongs to who. Third, he quoted huge numbers of records in their entirety, not just selections that promoted his narrative. As a concise narrative, it is a 2200+ page nightmare, but it is an absolute goldmine for historians, genealogists, etc.

Q: What do we learn from the Annals about Latter-day Saint pioneer relations with Native Americans?

A: There are some major things that the Annals have to offer in regard to relations with Native Americans. The first is that it covers such a long period of time. This allows us to see some longer-term interaction patterns. This is especially important because those interactions were complicated by the fact that the Saints in southern Utah were interacting with Southern Paiute, Navajo, Ute, and Hopi, each of which had their own internal politics that influenced those interactions.

Overall, Brigham Young’s attitude towards Native Americans was that it made more sense to “shoot them with biscuits” than fight with them. Compared to most groups of white settlers, the Saints had much better relations with Native Americans in general. The Annals, unfortunately, has some very good examples of how some of those interactions went wrong.

Q: What were some of the struggles that pioneers faced in settling southern Utah?

A: Any time people build communities from scratch, there are going to be lots of struggles. The one that stands out the most to me for the Saints in southern Utah is their fraught relationship with water. There is a saying in the West that “whiskey is for drinkin’, and water is for fightin’ over.” The Saints didn’t drink whiskey, so that only left water. This is not to say that they were always fighting about it, but it was clearly never far from their minds. All of the settlements in the Southern Mission were in the desert, and all were reliant on agriculture. Getting enough water for crops was a constant challenge, except for when there was too much water that was washing out those crops that the irrigation works that fed them.

Q: What role did spiritual matters play in the actions and decisions of the southern Utah pioneer settlers?

A: As far as the Annals are concerned, spiritual matters were the things that mattered. You need to recognize that Bleak's position as historian was in an ecclesiastical organization, so the kinds of records he collected and used were influenced by that. Evidence indicates, however, that the average settler was similarly motived by spiritual matters. What indicates that to me is that ecclesiastical leaders were consistently elected or chosen for secular leadership positions.

Q: For each of you, what was one of your big takeaways from the Annals?

A: [Aaron] I have a few takeaways from the Annals project. The first is that you can accomplish some very cool things if you just keep plugging away on it. I worked on the project for nearly fifteen years. Second, you can never have too many friends. It is amazing how many people will jump in and help finish a worthy project if they are given the opportunity. Finally, Bleak’s work inspires me as a historian. I can only hope that more than a century from now that people will look at histories that I have written and find them as worthy as Bleak’s work is today.

[Reid] That James Bleak was so committed to getting the history of his people down in ink. That he was thinking generations ahead of his contemporaries who were barely eeking out a living and in survival mode. But he was looking to the future and appreciated that it was up to him as the designated historian to keep a record, just as the LDS scriptures commanded him to do (D&C 21:1). I marvel at his persistence and am grateful for his attention to detail.

Aaron McArthur and Reid L. Neilson


Q&A with Gordon and Gary Shepherd for Jan Shipps: A Social and Intellectual Portrait May 27 2019

 

 

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Q: For those unfamiliar with Jan Shipps, what can you tell us about her and why she is important within Mormon studies?

A: In the mid-to-late 1970s, Jan Shipps began to emerge as an important new scholarly voice in Mormon history circles. She was not a Latter-day Saint (LDS), and she was a woman claiming the right of place in a field dominated by men. Yet she proved she could more than hold her own with the male scholars who constituted the inner circles of both the LDS-based Mormon History Association and its RLDS counterpart, the John Whitmer Historical Association. Her scholarly work was fresh and insightful, she rapidly ascended to positions of leadership and made meaningful organizational contributions within both groups, and she helped mediate differences between scholarly proponents of these two historically antagonistic camps of Mormonism. These men respected, accepted, and encouraged her. By the early to mid-1980s Jan’s reputation for unbiased and nonpolemical writing and speaking on Mormon topics also earned her the confidence of both the national media (who consulted her constantly for her take on news stories related to Mormons and the LDS Church) and upper echelon authorities of the LDS Church (who gave her unprecedented access to them and their views on the same topics). She was simultaneously instrumental in persuading many prominent religious studies scholars and American Western historians of the significance of Mormonism as a case study in their own disciplines that had previously trivialized or dismissed the serious study of Mormons, past and present. Her 1985 book, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition, received widespread critical acclaim and cemented her reputation as an authoritative scholarly interpreter of both Mormon history and contemporary Mormon culture. In succeeding years, her reputation and influence remained strong, and she continued—well into her eighties—as an active scholar, mentor to a new generation of women historians, and as an organizational participant within the expanding field of Mormon studies that she had herself helped to legitimate.

Q: What made you decide to write a book about her?

A: Although the two of us are only marginally connected to Mormon history circles, we had known Jan professionally for a number of years. This connection was due mostly to Jan characteristically reaching out to people like us who demonstrated a manifest interest in the scholarly study of Mormonism from other perspectives (sociology in our case), and we were well aware of her important contributions to the related fields of Mormon history and Mormon studies. Five years ago, she invited us to her home in Bloomington to confer for two days on a then-current project of ours that she found interesting while soliciting our views on a current project of her own. Our natural inclination is to ask a lot of biographical questions in the process of interacting with other people, and we quickly became a lot more familiar with her as a person on this occasion (and on others that subsequently followed). We reflected on what a remarkable transformational story her life presented—a life that merited telling at least in terms of how she had transitioned from unpromising beginnings growing up in Depression-era Alabama, to entering into adulthood as a post-World War II housewife and mother without a college degree, to eventually emerge, in middle age, as a pre-eminent scholar of Mormonism. It didn’t take long for such reflections to crystallize into a conviction that we could, should, and would attempt to tell her story.

Q: Can you briefly explain what kind of analysis this book provides beyond a typical biography?

A: We have not tried to write a thorough, conventional biography that explores every known pertinent fact about our subject in detailing the full arc of her life. We call our project a “social and intellectual portrait,” laying out a basic summary of what we perceive as life-shaping experiences, personal characteristics, role model and mentor relationships, and environmental circumstances—from early childhood through mid-adulthood—that shaped, prepared, and eventually propelled Jo Ann Barnett into improbable prominence as Jan Shipps, the “outsider-insider” Mormon observer par excellence. We also make a detailed argument that Jan’s Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition merits inclusion with Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows My History, and Juanita Brooks’s Mountain Meadows Massacre as the three most impactful scholarly books thus far written on Mormon topics. Hand in hand with this argument, we also show how Jan’s deep and extensive participation in professional academic circles—both Mormon and non-Mormon—significantly advanced the stature of Mormon studies as a legitimate and important field of scholarly inquiry. Finally, we suggest how Jan’s own evolving religious beliefs and attitudes regarding contemporary feminist issues have interacted with her understanding and interpretation of Mormonism.

Q: Give us a brief look into Jan Shipps background. When did she decide to start researching and studying Mormonism and what prompted her?

A: Jan arrived in Logan, Utah in the summer of 1960, accompanying her husband, Tony, who had just been hired as the new assistant head librarian at Utah State University. Jan was 30 years old, mother of an 8-year old son, had a number of credits earned at women’s colleges in Alabama and Georgia (but had not completed an undergraduate degree) and knew virtually nothing about Mormons. But she was naturally tolerant and curious about Mormons and immediately began to read as much as she could find about them, including Leonard Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdom (Arrington was then professor of history at USU but on sabbatical at the time). Jan registered for classes at USU to obtain teaching credentials so she could supplement the meager family income. She changed her degree from music to history to facilitate this aim and serendipitously took a historiography course from visiting professor, Everett Cooley (who was temporarily filling in for Arrington). Cooley recognized Jan’s potential as a student and gave her an assignment to research and write about a Mormon topic from primary source materials to which Cooley had access. Jan succeeded brilliantly in this assignment while pursuing a self-directed crash course in readings on Mormon history. When Tony was hired for a new library position the subsequent year at the University of Colorado, Jan opted to enroll in a master’s degree program in history at UC, again with the intention of gaining additional required credentials to become a public-school teacher. Given her recently acquired experience at USU, she chose to write a course paper on a Mormon topic and produced what later became her first published article: “Second Class Saints,” an analysis of Black Mormons. She followed up this paper by expediently writing on another Mormon topic for her master’s thesis, “The Mormons in Politics. 1839–1844.” When Jan was subsequently (and unexpectedly) encouraged by CU history faculty to continue graduate studies as a Ph.D. student, she was by now committed by intellectual passion and commitment (and not just convenience) to write her dissertation on “The Mormons in Politics: The First Hundred Years,” and to continue pursuing a scholarly focus on Mormon topics.

Q: Above, you heralded Jan Shipps’s 1984 book, Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition, as one of the most significant books in Mormon studies. For readers who are less familiar, can you give a brief description of her book and offer a few reasons for its significance?

A: In spite of Jan’s subtitle, “The Story of a New Religious Tradition,” the story she tells is not a conventionally detailed or comprehensive narrative of Mormon history and the organization of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jan’s approach is to instead understand the rise of nineteenth-century Mormonism using comparative, analytical, and theoretical religious studies methods. While the seven chapters of her book can all be read as separate essays, combined they sustain a coherent thesis about the relatively rare emergence and organizational transformation of a new religious tradition in the context of nineteenth-century American history and religious culture. Jan’s central thematic argument requires that we not only consider early Mormonism in the context of American religious history but that we also see it in broader historical comparison to the rapid rise of Christianity as a new religious tradition from its initial incarnation as a Jewish sect. By new religious tradition, Jan means explicitly that the theological beliefs and associated religious symbols, rituals, and religiously mandated practices diverge so much from the parent religious tradition that they burst the bounds of the old and must be grasped as something fundamentally new and distinctive.

The insights about the emergence and subsequent development of Mormonism that Jan produced began with an analogy to early Christianity. Analogies are heuristic devices that stimulate possible solutions to unresolved problems or debated questions. The debated questions about Mormonism are: What kind of religion is it? Is it Christian or non-Christian? How and why did it emerge and spread so rapidly when and where it did in nineteenth-century America? How did it not only survive furious resistance as a perceived Christian heresy but ultimately flourish to become a rapidly expanding international religion in the twentieth century? And in the process of doing this, what kind of religion did it consequently become for its adherents both at home and abroad? These are the kinds of questions that concern Jan’s analysis of Mormonism and not merely a descriptive, chronological account of its history and most prominent leaders.

In short, Mormonism is not written to be either faith promoting or faith debunking. It is not a conventional history. It is a comparative and analytical treatise that positions Mormonism within larger historical, cultural and social contexts. It commanded the attention and respect of eminent scholars and conferred increased recognition and legitimacy on the scholarly field of Mormon studies. 

Q: You mentioned that Jan Shipps became a go-to expert for the national media whenever they covered a Mormon-related topic. How did Jan achieve this status? And how did her national media presence affect her relationship with the leaders of the LDS Church?

Jan not only became deeply involved with “insider” LDS and RLDS scholarly organizations (The Mormon History Association and the John Whitmer Historical Association), she also presented and published her work on Mormonism in a number of nationally prestigious outlets while simultaneously assuming active leadership roles in the professional organizations that sponsored these same scholarly conferences and journals (e.g., The National Historical Society, the Western History Association, the Center for American Studies, and the American Academy of Religion, among others). Prominent participation in these organizations gave national exposure to her scholarly work and advocacy of Mormon studies and garnered the attention of the media at a time that coincided with escalating interest in Mormons and the LDS Church due to such issues as Blacks and the priesthood, the Equal Rights Amendment, the Hoffman bombings, and the rapid growth and increasing influence of the LDS Church and prominent individual Mormons around the world. Given her growing reputation in national scholarly circles, It didn’t take long for the media to discover Jan as a non-Mormon expert on Mormons, who could provide unbiased but authoritative information and analysis on these and many other issues of interest. At the same time, through both local and national network sources, LDS Church officials reciprocally came to appreciate Jan’s unflagging promotion of detached but non-polemical scholarship on Mormon subjects. This appreciation was particularly facilitated through the savvy efforts of LDS Church Director of Press Relations and Public Communications, Jerry Cahill, to arrange Jan’s access to Church leadership as a mutually trusted bridge between them and national news outlets.  

Q: How did Jan's Methodist faith evolve through the years that she studied Mormonism? How do you feel her religious tradition affected her writings on Mormonism?

A: Jan grew up as a dutiful, simple believer but a not very pious Methodist. The most important religious principles she acquired from her childhood were tolerance of others’ religious beliefs and the notion that the primary purpose of religion was to help people in need. Her religious tolerance has matured into an active curiosity about diverse religious perspectives and genuine respect for the legitimacy of religious beliefs that are sincerely held in different religious traditions. This outlook came into its maturity as she studied Mormon history, beliefs, and practice—all completely unknown to her at the outset of her academic career. Jan’s detached, analytical, but respectful treatment of Mormonism’s beginnings and development as a new religious tradition was a hallmark of her early, acclaimed work. Ongoing, increased contact with ordinary Mormons, Mormon scholars, and LDS Church leaders have deepened her appreciation of Mormonism as a valid religious tradition. But she is not a convert to Mormonism and remains committed to the organizational expression of her Methodist beginnings. However, Jan’s private religious beliefs are more complicated, diverse, and universal than those proclaimed either by conventional Methodism or Christianity in general. She prays for others because she knows it brings them comfort. But Jan does not pray for herself, because she believes in her own ability to cope with life’s problems and in a just God who knows her heart.

Q: What are you hoping readers will gain from this book?

A: We hope all readers will come to appreciate—as we did in conducting our research—the truly remarkable, utterly unanticipated unfolding of Jan Shipps’s life and career. This is a life that should inspire us all. But it should particularly inspire the aspirations of many young LDS women who struggle to strike a working balance between their deeply felt religious and family commitments and the full development of their intrinsic talents, potential to grow, and ability to see and take advantage of life opportunities on an equal par with men. And we hope readers with a scholarly interest in Mormon studies, particularly younger students and scholars whose awareness and interests have developed since the heydays of Jan’s seminal contributions, will become more appreciative of the foundational role Jan played in promoting Mormon studies as an important field of study.

Gary and Gordon Shepherd


Free ebook offer: Knowing Brother Joseph Again: Perceptions and Perspectives May 16 2019

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Book description:

This collection of essays by renowned historian Davis Bitton traces how Joseph Smith has appeared from different points of view throughout history. Bitton wrote: "People like Joseph Smith are rich and complex. . . . Different people saw him differently or focused on a different facet of his personality at different times. Inescapably, what they observed or found out about him was refracted through the lens of their own experience. Some of the different, flickering, not always compatible views are the subject of this book.”

“A thoughtful and thought-provoking introductory text for someone wanting an overview of Joseph Smith.” — Improvement Era


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