Contesting Truth through Mutual Openness July 18 2018

by Charles Randall Paul

Charles Randall Paul will be speaking on the topic of religious diplomacy and signing copies of his book at Weller Book Works (Salt Lake City) on Tuesday, Aug. 7th at 6:30 PM and at Writ & Vision (Provo) on Thursday, Aug. 9th at 7PM. Both events are free to attend.

Humans are social influencers by their very existence. They are always intentionally persuading each other in some fashion. All human life includes continual negotiation of social activities from “pass the salt” to “should we get married?” When one of us believes a purpose is good and an action right, that influences a response from others—and the response influences further responses.

While the ideal might be complete social unity or unconstrained freedom for all, human groups and societies should expect continual religious and ideological contestation. Within our interconnected societies, conflicting world-views and purposes are inevitable. No social program for peace will succeed that requires adamant believers to compromise or dilute their core values. Instead, we sustain peaceful tension within our societies through co-resistance and collaboration with our ideological rivals. Crucial to this is the absence of ill-will in our collaborative contestation.

Let me now make a distinction between these terms: Enemy, antagonist, agonist, ally, and friend. An enemy desires and acts to eliminate, enslave, or diminish others by passive or aggressive means. An antagonist acts like an enemy but does not desire to be one. If she presumes you are an enemy, she might be reacting defensively with no intent to harm you otherwise. An agonist is a fellow contestant who desires to win an ideological contest through persuasion. An ally is on your side because of shared interests. A friend desires your love and well-being and will self-sacrifice to promote it. It is possible to be an ally that is also really an enemy, but it is impossible to be a real friend and an enemy. However, your agonistic rival can also be your friend—but enduring (much less enjoying) this relationship is an acquired taste and skill.

If you have a real enemy, you need to defend yourself accordingly. But we need to determine first if antagonists are true enemies or agonists. An agonist desires to contest differences in order to bring about positive change for both sides, rather than the destruction of their rival. Sportsmanship is a common attitude of agonists. Persuading agonists to your side may make them allies; but converting agonists to trust and love can make them friends even while they remain persuasive agonists. The path forward lies in vulnerable openness between rivals with an open and honest disclosure of motives and beliefs. This requires courage to exchange critical and offensive ideas and ideals without taking offense. Let there be no mistake: openness that is truly open to change is always a dangerous experiment, especially for those who are concerned about diluting true orthodoxy (on the left or right) with relativism.

To prepare for inevitable contestations over religious, political, or ideological differences, I present ten useful attitudes and methods to remember when the pressure to either disengage or eliminate our fellow agonists becomes intense. I call this The Way of Mutual Openness:

Be Honest

Honesty begins when you look in the mirror. Who do you really think you are and who do want to become? When you are deeply honest, you acknowledge your motives for doing things and express your thoughts and feelings without faking it. Your honesty prompts others to respond the same way, and with open hearts and minds real communication results.

Be Kind

Kindness goes further toward building trust than the other practices listed here. It is not weak, naive, or mere politeness. Kindness is a language easily recognized and understood by everyone. Sincere kindness is a powerful way to influence others to desire to hear you. But, be wise: nothing shatters trust more than phony, manipulative kindness, or false respectfulness.

Listen Well

It is hard to listen well when you focus more on your feelings and thoughts than those of the person addressing you. Listening well is not remaining quiet before you insert your response; it is intense focus on a unique person with a desire for understanding. By listening like this to others you offer the gift of respectful empathy that everyone craves to receive. In return others feel like they should listen well to understand you.

Share the Floor

If you want to be taken seriously you must take others seriously. Sharing the floor means allowing others equal time to speak even when you “know” you are right and they are wrong. It acknowledges the mutual dignity of those engaged in conversation. Hogging the floor is disrespectful and rude, and it always undermines your persuasive ability when you appear dismissive or fearful of what others have to say.

Presume Good Will

We often presume that others do not have our best interests at heart. Sometimes they don’t. But you sabotage any honest communication with someone you presume to be stupid, duped, or ill-intentioned. Presuming good will is not agreeing with others’ beliefs or values. It means that you grant that others are clear thinking and good hearted unless they prove otherwise.

Acknowledge the Differences

Each human is uniquely different with a unique history and perspective. Acknowledging our important differences openly frees us to know where we stand without having to guess. It creates a tone of trust for real conversation. You cannot feel whole or honest if you focus only on similarities and avoid facing differences in deep beliefs and values.

Answer the Tough Questions

With genuine differences come tough questions—especially if the goal is a trusting relationship. When you answer tough questions in a straightforward way, sharing the floor equally and presuming good will, you build strong mutual trust. You can then face offensive issues without taking offense. However, diving deeper for better understanding has a limit. Aggressive interrogation or pushing for private details destroys trust.

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

Any compliment feels good, but a sincere compliment from an unexpected source such as a rival or critic can move our hearts powerfully toward trust. By openly admiring the excellence or good on “the other side” you demonstrate your honesty and fairness, and your confidence that your side can handle the truth. But be cautious—insincere compliments to manipulate or disarm others disastrously undermine any grounds for trust.

Speak Only for Yourself

Each of us is unique and we don’t like others—especially outsiders—to stereotype us or claim they know what we really believe or value. So, ask rather than tell others what they think and feel. It is tempting to speak for your friends and tribe members as if they all share the same view as you do. Except when you have been authorized to speak on behalf of others, speak only for yourself and encourage others to do likewise.

Keep Private Things Private

Humans are social beings, but their thoughts and feelings are private unless expressed. Personal dignity is based in large part on your freedom to choose when and where to share your inner self with others. Being open, honest, and trustworthy does not require you to disclose all things to all people. Keeping private things private means that you strictly honor someone’s choice to say something to you alone. If you cannot keep it private, you should ask the person not to share it.

These are the times that try our souls. In our increasingly polarized society, we will doubtless continue arguing over political, ideological, and religious differences. Based on years of experience in religious diplomacy, I believe the ten attitudes above will sustain with confidence anyone using them to actively engage in challenging and rewarding conversations that build healthy trust.

 Charles Randall Paul is board chair, founder, and president of the Foundation for Religious Diplomacy. He has lectured widely and written numerous articles on healthy methods for engaging differences in religions and ideologies. He is the author of Converting the Saints: A Study of Religious Rivalry in America.

Author Spotlight: Blake T. Ostler July 16 2018

Conversation with Blake T. Ostler

We sat down with Blake Ostler for a short interview just in time for the paperback re-issue of Exploring Mormon Thought, Vol. 1: The Attributes of God. Blake is an attorney and independent scholar residing in Salt Lake City, Utah, and the author of the multi-volume Exploring Mormon Thought series along with over forty published articles.

Q: What began your interest in studying philosophy and theology?

A: I was a young whippersnapper when I ran into Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig who died earlier this year.  Because I had raced motorcycles and often rode motorbikes with my Dad, it was the perfect intro to philosophy—and it is still the best-selling book related to philosophy of all time. I was only a Junior in High School student, but for some reason I thought I could tackle Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. I was foolish but did it anyway. I became fascinated with Kant's view that our consciousness depends on an organizational unity and categories that are not present in the things we experience, but that, in effect, we create the unity of consciousness and provide the categories to make sense of our experience and any concepts presented to us.

Q: In your course of studying some of the greatest thinkers who ever lived, what are some of the most important questions about existence that we can ask?

A: The first question to be asked is: How is it possible that questions can be asked? Implicit in this question is: Who or what is doing the asking? How is it possible to formulate questions for a response at all? Can I come up with these questions through insight and the creativity of imagination, or I am just a conduit for all of the causes that came before? Is there an "I" asking questions or is it just a mechanism with the appearance of unity of identity? And the ultimate question: How am I aware at all to ask questions and aware that questions need to be or can asked? Is it morally obligatory to ask questions and seek knowledge? Finally: Of whom am I asking questions? Does this other have a mind that can understand the question? How would I or could I know the answer to that question?

Q: What are the differences between theology, philosophical theology, and what we do in Sunday School? How can members of the Church benefit from each?

A: Theology is the attempt of a person who has belief (and the faith that those beliefs are true) to make sense of those beliefs in the world circumstances in which that person resides. Philosophical theology is the critical assessment of religious beliefs and systems in the widest sense using the tools of philosophical inquiry. Sunday School is the participation in community interactions seeking to dialogue regarding various subjects of shared importance or imposed importance.

It is a mistake to think that these three must necessarily intersect. The communal sharing of inquiry within a Sunday School class need not involve either theology or philosophical theology. It could consist of just sharing news about each other’s lives. But Sunday School necessarily is done in a communal setting and usually by folks who share enough commonality in belief to make genuine sharing of our deeply held commitments possible and meaningful. To the extent that theology or philosophy may provide insights to enrich and edify, they are appropriate in Sunday School. To the extent that arguing for or elucidating a position using the categories and tools of theology or philosophy is done in good faith and with positive regard for others in the class, it seems to me to be valuable—because the immersion in these disciplines is given as a gift to others out of love. To the extent that it creates tension and contention, these disciplines can interfere with the communal purposes of sharing life together along a journey of exploration that only gets in the way of the very community that fosters the very endeavor in the first place.

It is a very serious mistake to think that what must happen in Sunday School is a high-level discussion of the philosophy of religion or Biblical scholarship. Like other disciplines, such learning can be used as a tool for self-aggrandizement or fostering a sense of superiority or just plain old snottiness. That is inimical to Christianity. Others may feel intimidated and unable to join the discussion. That can even happen unintentionally. Any Sunday School class that excludes in any way is something to be avoided.

Q: You have a fourth volume in the pipeline. Can you give us a sneak peek at what its focus will be?

A: The Fourth Volume (boy that seems pretentious) focuses on the problem of evil from three very different perspectives that are all live-options in Mormon thought. I elucidate a Naturalistic Finitist Theodicy that departs from the view that God is after the universe. That is, the universe existed before God became God fully divine and He grew up in an already fully-ordered cosmos and became divine by following the natural moral laws that lead to divinity. I also present a fully-developed Process Theodicy—that is the view that God is with the cosmos and in each moment of the cosmos' existence has provided an Initial Aim to lure the cosmos to reflect His desires for it. I also present a theodicy departing from the view that God is before the universe in the sense that God ordered the cosmos and all order depends on God's prior creative acts.

Thanks, Blake! We're looking forward to your next volume!

Don't miss our podcast interview with Blake on the Greg Kofford Books AuthorCast!

Exploring Mormon Thought, Vol 1: The Attributes of God
By Blake T. Ostler

Now available in paperback!

542 pages
$30.95 paperback

Part of the Exploring Mormon Thought series




Preview The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism and Sacred Texts July 06 2018

The Expanded Canon:
Perspectives on Mormonism and Sacred Texts

Among the most distinctive and defining features of Mormonism is the affirmation of continuing revelation through modern day prophets and apostles. An important component of this concept is the acknowledgement of an open canon—that the body of authoritative scriptural texts can expand as new revelations are made available and presented to the membership for ratification.

This first volume from the UVU Comparative Mormon Studies series brings together both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars to examine the place, purpose, and meaning of the LDS Standard Works (Christian Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and Pearl of Great Price) in the Mormon tradition, as well as the extra-canonical sources that play a near-scriptural role in the lives of believers. Approaching LDS scripture from a variety of disciplines, methodologies, and perspectives, these scholars offer new insights into both the historical and contemporary understandings of Mormon continuing revelation.

Available September 4, 2018, in hardcover, paperback, and ebook.
Preorder the volume here.

Download the pdf here

Q&A with Charles Randall Paul for Converting the Saints: A Study of Religious Rivalry in America July 06 2018

278 pages, Paperback $26.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-756-4)
Hardcover $49.99 (ISBN 978-1-58958-747-2)
Available August 7, 2018

Pre-order Your Copy Today

Q: Give us some insight into your background, how you chose to write about this topic, and your involvement with religious diplomacy.

A: I was raised in northern New Jersey where my high school of 400 kids consisted of three major cliques: Jewish, Roman Catholic and Mainline Protestant.  There were four Mormons.  I was surprised to find how solid and happy my friends’ families were.  How could they be so good without The Truth?  In mid life I became interested in how religious and secular societies faced unresolvable conflicts over truth and authority and right values.  It seemed God had set up the world for pluralistic contestation, and I tried to figure out why.  These issues led me to develop interreligious diplomacy as a mode of interaction that included persuasive contestation between trustworthy advocates.

Q: Tell us briefly about the three case studies in this book. Who are these individuals and how did they differ in their tactics from one another?

A: In the early twentieth century after Utah had been accepted as a state, the major Protestant churches wanted to assure that Mormonism was not accepted as another Christian denomination.  John Nutting, a freelance pastor, evangelical/preacher came to Utah with young college age missionaries to save souls that, after hearing his revival teaching or door-to-door witnessing, simply confessed the true Jesus and stopped attending the Mormon church.  William Paden, a Presbyterian, educator/activist, helped set up 1–12 grade schools that taught LDS students “true” Christianity along with math and English. He also tried to discredit the LDS leadership, close down the Mormon Church, and educate its youth in the right way. Franklin Spaulding was an Episcopal Bishop intellectual/diplomat that aimed to educate LDS college students in the inconsistences of some of the Mormon Church claims.  He hoped to convert the Saints in their pews—urging church leaders that he befriended to change just a few doctrines and join the mainline churches.

Q: You state that ongoing debate between religious ideology is at the heart of what it means to be a pluralistic society. Can you elaborate on this?

A: Humans in societies live by stories that order their lives.  Ideological or religious traditions provide the comprehensive order and hope for a better world.  These religious stories can seriously challenge the veracity of their rival claimants to truth and authority—making for conflict.  Contemporary social conflict theorists have focused almost exclusively on conflicting economic and security interests as the engines for conflict, neglecting the cultural driver that religious tradition provides.  I am bringing into focus the potency of conflicting formational stories in any society.

Q: Why isn’t tolerance always the desired outcome? How can two opposing people or groups find meaningful ways of collaboration?

A: Tolerance is a weak social virtue (devoid of trust or good will) that collapses when economic and security crises lead societies to seek for scapegoats.  We have found that ideological opponents who engage honestly by means of persuasion actually can come to trust and “enjoy” each other’s bothersome presence.  People engage in collaborative co-resistance n many forms—sports being the most obvious—legal, legislative, scientific and commercial realms also absorb non-violent conflict managing procedures.  When religion is involved, there is no room for compromise solutions, so some form of sustaining the ideological contest in a mode of persuasion is needed.  This is healthy intolerance because it allows critics and rivals to be authentic and to have conversations that matter.

Q: For Latter-day Saints, contention is a particularly discomforting word. In your book, you say that you prefer the term “contestation.” Can you explain what you mean?

A: This is a key to understanding how the LDS can lead in the goal of peace-building in split families or societies.  We rightly learn that Jesus and Joseph thought contention—a term based on a root of forcing, twisting, coercing others—was the devil’s work.  It includes anger and contempt and resentment and revenge.  On the other hand, those who stand for something as witnesses need to elevate the term contestation that means to witness with, for or against something—the root being the testimony of a witness.  The design of heaven and Earth seems to include many intelligences with different experiences to which they can respectfully testify without fear or anger.  They have different viewpoints and experiences that bring them to conflicting contestants; honestly speaking the truth they see.  This is what the Holy Spirit prompts us to do.  It is the opposite of contentiousness even though the conflict of interpretation and ultimate concern or story remains.  Peaceful tension results from contestation—and that is enough for Zion to thrive.  Oneness cannot be identical interpretation and understanding of everything that would make individual existence redundant. 

Q: We live in an age of intense ideological polarization. What are you hoping that readers will learn from the case-studies presented in this book?

A: I want them to read the book in the broad context of the problem of pluralism that began, narratively speaking, when Eve was different than Adam.  I trace the American system of managing religious conflict as a living aspect of society.  As long as it remains in the persuasive mode, it allows free expression in the balancing of ideological drives for hegemony.  America is based on a foundation of continually contested foundations.  Our culture can thrive on pluralism, not because we follow laws of procedural conflict management, but because we have a deep belief in the value of a worthy rival in religion as well as any other aspect of life.  The case studies I show will hopefully move a reader to understand how the desire for a trustworthy opponent is a precious thing that does not come naturally but is essential to the success of a pluralistic society.

Pre-order Your Copy Today

Preview Converting the Saints: A Study of Religious Rivalry in America June 21 2018

Converting the Saints:
A Study of Religious Rivalry in America

Missions are attacks no matter how benign the motive. The history of religious missions is replete with complex social, political, economic, and religious conflict. This historical study of how Americans have managed or mismanaged past religiously-influenced conflicts can provide practical wisdom for our time when many social, political, and economic conflicts are strongly influenced by religious factors. We live in local and global societies that are deeply troubled if not torn apart by the perennial problem of religious or ideological conflict between uncompromising rivals that desire mutually exclusive religious and political ends.

Converting the Saints focuses on American religious history and particularly on the early-twentieth-century Protestant missions to Utah to convert Mormons to traditional Christian belief. After the Mormons acquiesced to federal laws against polygamy and federal pressure to secularize Utah’s governance, the religious conflict over Mormonism’s Christian legitimacy remained unresolved. This was a religious conflict that, in true American style, was engaged as a contest of persuasion held on the figurative battlefield for the human heart. Both rivals understood this, and while unsettled by their mutual opponent’s aggressive criticisms, they did not think it wrong or even strange for their rival to engage them. Centering on the cases of three Protestant missions in Utah, this study explores the crucial understanding at the center of the American experiment: that persuasive contestation over religion, ideology, or founding principles is normal in our secular State, and even healthy for free citizens to flourish within a diverse society.

Available August 7, 2018, in paperback, hardcover, and ebook.
Preorder the volume here.

Download the pdf here

Author Spotlight: Jessie L. Embry June 14 2018

Conversation with Jessie L. Embry

Jessie L. Embry is a former associate director of the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies and an instructor of history at Brigham Young University. She is the author of several books and over eighty articles dealing with Mormon, western, and Utah history. She is currently the editor of the Journal of Mormon History.

Q: Can you give us a little background into your academic training and your interest in Mormon studies?

A: When I graduated from high school, I thought I would become a secondary school history teacher. After a number of twist and turns, I ended up as Brigham Young University majoring in history with a goal to study Native Americans and teach college. Ted Warner told me that I was right gender but wrong color. Still, he mentored me through a senior seminar paper on Indian relocation. He also gave me a scholarship for a master’s program. Then Tom Alexander hired me as a research assistant to study Wilford Woodruff. As we read books about spiritual experiences and Woodruff’s diaries, I learned research skills. Also as a graduate student, I took an oral history class from Gary Shumway. When I could not think of a thesis topic, Leonard Arrington suggested Relief Society grain storage. It sounded boring, but I learned that it was the perfect case study to learn about the changing roles of women in the LDS Church. After a mission (that I went on because I could not find a job), James B. Allen hired me to work on the Genealogical Society history. Following an Utah State Historical Society preservation internship, Tom hired me to direct the oral history program at the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies. He supported my efforts to plan oral history projects and write books and articles. Lavina Fielding Anderson helped me become a better writer. And James B. Allen allowed me to teach history classes and other department chairs continued to assign me classes.

That is the long answer. The short answer is I stumbled into history and Mormon studies, but my great mentors peaked my curiosity and taught me the value of understanding the LDS past.

Q: You have written books and articles on a wide variety of topics from Mormon polygamy, race and Mormonism, Mormon studies historiography, regional histories, and more. If you were given unlimited research funding and open access to the archives, what topic would you pick and why?

A: Sometimes people ask me what my favorite project is, and my answer is the one I am working on. Kent Powell told me that I could take the most boring subject and make it interesting. As with my master’s thesis, I have been open to suggestions and then dove in. At times in my career unlimited research funding would have been great, but that is not a problem any more. And while open access would always be nice, I am not sure that there is always the information that I would want to find.

But to answer the question, I would like to research why changes have taken place in the LDS Church and what motivated those changes. Along the same lines, I would like to know if there is a cause and effect between what happened and what was going on in the United States and the world. Since that is pretty abstract, let me give some examples. I researched LDS recreation programs which included all-church sports tournaments and dance festivals. I learned a lot about how those programs developed and why they were discontinued. I learned how the programs affected the buildings. I have some answers of why the changes, but I wish I had more. When I worked for Gordon Irving and the James Moyle Oral History Project in the late 1970s, I interviewed women about their reactions to the Women’s Lib Movement of the time. I would like to know more about the reactions of Church leaders and members to that movement. And that is my current project.

Q: As the current editor of the Journal of Mormon History, you have come across articles by numerous up-and-coming scholars of Mormonism. What trends are you seeing emerge from younger scholars and where do you imagine the future of Mormon studies to be headed?

A: I am trained as a historian, but I also learned from other disciplines. That is what I taught BYU students, and it is very gratifying to see former students become great historians. Many of them and the younger scholars are more focused on Mormon studies/religious studies than just straight history. I think that Mormon studies will include more comparative studies and focus more on theories. I hope in that change that young scholars remember that history is stories. I hope they will gather the stories and then look for the theories that might work rather than trying to make the data fit the theories. 

That being said, I am excited that there are so many young scholars interested in the Mormon past. I started my career during the New Mormon History period. Because of the negative reactions, I believe that we lost a whole generation of people studying Mormon history/Mormon studies. It is refreshing to know that we can overcome what Roger Launius called the graying of the Mormon History Association. It is good to see new faces, and I look forward to publishing these scholars in the Journal of Mormon History. I learn so much from them.

Thanks, Jessie!

Mormon Polygamous Families: Life in the Principle
By Jessie L. Embry

318 pages
$24.95 paperback




Free ebook offer: Dead Wood and Rushing Water: Essays on Mormon Faith, Culture, and Family June 05 2018


Book description:

For over a decade, Boyd Petersen has been an active voice in Mormon studies and thought. In essays that steer a course between apologetics and criticism, striving for the balance of what Eugene England once called the “radical middle,” he explores various aspects of Mormon life and culture—from the Dream Mine near Salem, Utah, to the challenges that Latter-day Saints of the millennial generation face today.

"Petersen should be considered among the preeminent essayists of this moment in Mormon history.” — Mark Brown, BYU Studies Quarterly



**Ebook file must be downloaded onto a laptop or desktop computer. After download, the file can be transferred to your ebook reader, tablet, or smartphone app. If you are already a newsletter subscriber, you should have received an email with this free ebook offer and instructions to download.**

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30% off Saints, Slaves, and Blacks and For the Cause of Righteousness June 01 2018


In commemoration of the fortieth-anniversary of the LDS Church's lifting of its temple and priesthood restrictions on black Latter-day Saints, we are pleased to offer discounted prices on two titles dealing with the topic of race and Mormonism. This sale is valid from June 1 through June 9.



Retail: $27.95
Sale: $19.57

“An excellent treatment of an important part of American religious life. Bringhurst succeeds in showing the Mormons as a microcosm of the American population.” 
— The American Historical Review



For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830–2013
By Russell W. Stevenson

Retail: $32.95
Sale: $23.07

2015 Best Book Award, Mormon History Association

“Scholars will for many years refer to and build upon Stevenson's insights.” 
BYU Studies Quarterly




Author Spotlight: Craig L. Foster May 03 2018

Conversation with Craig L. Foster

Craig L. Foster earned a MA and MLIS at Brigham Young University. He is also an accredited genealogist and works as a research consultant at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City. He has published multiple books and articles about different aspects of Mormon history, including co-editing the Persistence of Polygamy series with Newell G. Bringhurst. Craig is also on the editorial board of the John Whitmer Historical Association Journal.

Q: You have published on a wide variety of topics from Mormon historiography, anti-Mormon literature, politics, and polygamy. What made you interested in writing about Mormon topics?

A: From the time I can remember, I have been interested in Mormon history. While growing up, I was very aware of plural marriage given that my grandmother was from the fifth wife and number twenty-six out of thirty children. So I had an interest in that topic at a very young age. The other topics I researched and wrote about out of curiosity or at the suggestion of others.

Q: With Church-led initiatives such as the Joseph Smith Papers, many say that we have entered into an age of increased openness in analyzing and discussing Mormonism’s past. Some fear, however, that discussing more sensitive topics such as race or polygamy can lead to a struggle with faith. What advice would you give to faithful members who are beginning to look more closely at difficult historical topics?

A: As our own children grew up, my wife, Suzanne, and I would tell them to never, ever put the prophet or any other church leader on a pedestal thinking they were perfect. No one but the Lord was perfect. Joseph Smith made mistakes; sometimes really stupid mistakes. But he was still a prophet of God and that should be a faith-building thing. Heavenly Father works with and through imperfect people to establish and spread His gospel. It gives all of us hope. So my suggestion to others would be the same as to our children. Keep in mind that the early Saints and church leaders were imperfect people trying to build up the Kingdom of God and not always succeeding.

Q: Let’s talk politics. With Mitt Romney announcing his bid for the Senate, we will undoubtedly be hearing much about his Mormon faith in the news once again. Similarly, other Mormon politicians, such as Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) have been in the news quite frequently. Are we experiencing another “Mormon moment?” And what unique values or perspectives should Mormon political leaders bring to Washington?

A: I don’t think we are yet experiencing another Mormon moment. We still could. It all depends upon what happens in the next few years. I think Mormon political leaders could help usher in a resurgence of personal and public morality that we have not seen for some time. But they will need to rise above the simple party politics and the temptation to say whatever they think will help them win. Neither of those are easy. The easier way is to just go along with the status quo. The word courage is bandied about to the point where it is almost ridiculous. But true courage would be for our politicians like Romney, Flake and others to have honor, integrity, and actually stand for something whether or not it is popular. That would make them stand out and I think would certainly bring on another Mormon moment.

Thanks, Craig!

A Different God? Mitt Romney, the Religious Right, and the Mormon Question
By Craig L. Foster

“Foster encapsulates an impressive amount of Romney coverage, which makes the book worth reading for anyone interested in public and media perceptions of Mormonism during Romney’s run. His account also gives readers an idea of what they might expect from pundits, politicians and journalists in the coming election should Romney announce his candidacy.”
— Blair Hodges, 
Life on Gold Plates


Newell G. Bringhurst Speaking Events April 13 2018

Author Newell G. Bringhurst will be traveling to Utah and speaking at several locations about the history of race and Mormonism, including Mormonism and slavery and how the development of a Mormon ethnic identity affected early-Mormon views on race.


All events are free to attend. Please RSVP through the links below.


Date & Time Location
Tue April 24 at 5:30 PM Benchmark Books, SLC
Thur April 26 at 7:00 PM Writ & Vision, Provo
Fri April 27 at 5:00 PM Main Street Books, Cedar City
Sat April 28 at 4:00 PM Home of Doug Bowen, St. George


“An excellent treatment of an important part of American religious life. Bringhurst succeeds in showing the Mormons as a microcosm of the American population.” — The American Historical Review 

“In many regards Bringhurst established the terms on which subsequent scholars would engage race and Mormonism”  W. Paul Reeve, author of Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness


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about future events and book releases

Five Times Mormons Changed Their Position on Slavery March 28 2018


Mormonism and Black Slavery:
Changing Attitudes and Related Practices, 1830–1865
By Newell G. Bringhurst

Mormon attitudes and practices relative to black slavery shifted over the course of the first thirty-five years of the Latter-day Saint movement, evolving through five distinct phases.

Phase 1 – Opposition to Slavery in the Book of Mormon

Initially Joseph Smith expressed strong opposition to slavery through the pages of the Book of Mormon. While not specifically referring to black people, Mormonism’s foundational work asserted that “it was against [Nephite] law” to enslave those less favored than themselves, namely the dark Lamanites (Alma 27:9; Mosiah 2:13). In fact, the idolatrous Lamanites were the ones who practiced slavery, making repeated efforts to enslave the light-skinned, chosen Nephites. Lamanite slaveholding was cited as proof of this people’s “ferocious and wicked nature” (Alma 50:22). Nephite resistance to the Lamanites was described as a struggle for freedom from bondage and slavery.

Phase 2 –Detachment towards Slavery in Ohio and Missouri

Mormon attitudes toward slavery entered a second phase of deliberate detachment following the formal organization of the Church in 1830. Through the pages of the Church’s official newspaper, the Evening and Morning Star, Joseph Smith and others avoided discussion of this increasingly controversial topic. No mention was made of Book of Mormon verses condemning slavery. A major reason for such deliberate detachment was the establishment of Mormonism’s Zion in Missouri, a slave state. Church officials sought to disassociate themselves from the fledgling Abolitionist movement.

Despite this, the Church found itself compelled to speak out on the issue on two important occasions. The first involved Joseph Smith’s “Revelation and Prophecy on War” brought forth on 25 December 1832 and ultimately canonized as Section 87 in the Doctrine and Covenants. In this apocalyptic document, Smith prophesized that “wars…will shortly come to pass, beginning at the rebellion of South Carolina [and]…poured out on all nations” (D&C 87:1–2). It further declared that the “slaves will rise up against their masters, who shall be marshalled and disciplined for war” (D&C 87:4). Given its explosive implications, this revelation was not disclosed to the general Church membership until two decades later.

By contrast, a second Mormon statement, “Free People of Color” written by W. W. Phelps and published in the July 1833 issue of the Evening and Morning Star, received immediate exposure resulting in dire consequences. Prompting Phelps’s statement was a dramatic four-fold increase in the number of Mormons settling in Jackson County. The article’s stated purpose was “to prevent any misunderstanding . . . respecting free people of color, who may think of coming to . . . Missouri as members of the Church.”[1] However, it had the opposite effect, angering local non-Mormons who expelled the Latter-day Saints from Jackson County.  

Phase 3 – Pro-slavery Sympathies in Missouri

By the mid 1830s, Church attitudes toward slavery shifted yet a third time, Church spokesmen affirming support for slavery. In August 1835, the Church issued an official declaration stating that it was not “right to interfere with bond-servants, nor baptize them contrary to the will and wish of their masters” nor cause “them to be dissatisfied with their situations in this life.” Ultimately this statement was incorporated into the Doctrine and Covenants as Section 134. Eight months later, in April 1836, Joseph Smith reaffirmed Mormon pro-slavery sympathies through a lengthy discourse published in the official Latter-day Saints Messenger and Advocate. Smith raised the specter of “racial miscegenation and possible race war” if abolitionism prevailed.[2] He further stated that the people of the North have no “more right to say that the South shall not hold slaves, than the South have to say the North shall.”[3] He referenced the Old Testament, specifically the “decree of Jehovah” that blacks were cursed with servitude.[4] Other church spokesmen echoed Smith’s sentiments, in particular Oliver Cowdery and Warren Parrish. This Mormon shift reflected an increased Mormon presence in the slave state of Missouri during the late 1830s, along with a desire to carry the Mormon message to potential converts in the slaveholding South. But most importantly, it represented strong Mormon reaction against the establishment of a chapter of the American Anti-slavery society in the Mormon community of Kirtland Ohio.

Phase 4 – Anti-slavery Position in Nauvoo

By the early 1840s Smith and his followers shifted their position yet a fourth time, assuming a strong anti-slavery position, most evident during the Mormon leader’s 1844 campaign for U.S. president. In his “Views on the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States” Smith advocated the abolition of slavery through gradual emancipation and colonization of the freed blacks abroad.[5] He called for the “break down [of] slavery” and removal of “the shackles from the poor black man” through a program of compensated emancipation financed through the sale of public lands.[6] Smith predicted that his proposal could eliminate slavery by 1850. Motivating this changing position were two major factors: one was the Mormon’s forced expulsion from the slave state of Missouri in 1838-39. The second involved demographics, namely the fact that the majority of church members hailed from non-slaveholding regions north of the Mason-Dixon line and from Great Britain. By contrast, a relatively limited number of new converts were drawn from the slaveholding South.

Phase 5 – Pro-slavery Position in Utah Territory

Mormon attitudes and related practices relative to slavery shifted yet a fifth and final time following the death of Joseph Smith in 1844 with the emergence of Brigham Young as the principal leader of the Latter-day Saints who migrated west. Young’s evolving position represented “a bundle of contradictions.”[7] Initially, he advocated a “free soil”[8] stance in a June, 1851, sermon, rhetorically stating, “shall we lay a foundation for Negro slavery? No, God forbid!”[9] Six months later in the wake of his appointment as Utah Territorial Governor, Young retreated from this position. Despite his assertion that “my own feelings are that no property can or should exist in slaves,” Young called on the territorial legislature adopt a form of benevolent indentured servitude to regulate Utah’s small but visible black population.[10] Two weeks later, addressing that same body, he proclaimed himself “a firm believer in slavery,”[11] urging legalization of the Peculiar Institution.[12] On February 4, 1952, the Utah Territorial Legislature passed “An Act in Relation to Service” which Young signed into law, making Utah the only Western territory to allow black slavery. Justifying his action, Young delivered a lengthy discourse in which he promoted a direct link between black slavery and black priesthood denial—the latter practice which he announced publicly for the first time. He further asserted that the two proscriptions were both intertwined and divinely sanctioned.

Four factors prompted Young to promote “An Act in Relation to Service.” First, the measure represented a response to the presence of sixty to seventy black slaves in the territory belonging to twelve Mormon slave owners. Among the most prominent were Apostle Charles C. Rich, William H. Hooper (an important Mormon merchant who served as Utah’s Territorial delegate to Congress), and Abraham O. Smoot, Salt Lake City’s first mayor. Second, Young hoped to secure southern support for Utah statehood. Young noted that there were “many [brethren] in the South with a great amount [invested] in slaves” who might migrate to the Great Basin if their slavery property were protected by law.[13]

Of crucial importance in motivating the Mormon leader was a third factor: his strong, unyielding belief that blacks were inherently inferior to whites in all respects and thus naturally fit for involuntary servitude. He accepted, uncritically, the traditional biblical genealogy that present-day Africans came through the so-called accursed lineage of Canaan and Ham back to Cain, thereby providing divine sanction to their servile condition. Further legitimizing black inferiority was the denial of priesthood ordination to black males, which Young affirmed as “a true eternal [principle] the Lord Almighty has ordained.” He stated: “If there never was a prophet or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain, I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the priesthood.”[14]

A fourth, seemingly counterintuitive factor activated Young: his desire to discourage slaveholding in the territory. A careful reading of the statute’s provisions indicates that it consisted primarily of rules to control and restrict slaveholders, and only, incidentally, proscriptions on black slaves themselves. For example, the act required Utah slaveholders to prove that servile blacks had entered the territory “of their own free will and choice.”[15] It also stated that slaveholders could not sell their slaves or remove them from the territory without the so-called servants explicit consent. In general, “An Act in Relation to Service” contrasted sharply with Southern slaveholding statutes in that it was more akin to the practice of indentured servitude. Later that same year, Young reflected on the act’s impact, claiming that it had “nearly freed the territory of the colored population.”[16] Ultimately, Utah Territorial slavery was completely outlawed through a federal statute enacted in 1862, affecting not just the Mormon-dominated region but all other federal territories as well.


The LDS Church’s ever shifting encounter with the institution of black slavery during the thirty-five years from 1830 to 1865 represents a complex, often contradictory odyssey. This perplexing journey profoundly affected Mormonism’s relationship with black people in general. While the number of blacks that Latter-day Saints actually held in bondage was miniscule, the fact that Brigham Young sanctioned the practice of black slavery in conjunction with his imposition of black priesthood and temple denial underscores slavery’s seminal impact on the now-defunct proscription on black people—such practice viewed as Church doctrine for over one hundred and twenty-five years.

Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People Within Mormonism, 2nd ed.
By Newell G. Bringhurst

Available April 10, 2018
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[1] Evening and Morning Star, July 1833.

[2] Joseph Smith, “Letter to the Editor,” Latter Day Saints Messenger and Advocate, April 1836

[3] Smith, “Letter to the Editor.”

[4] Smith, “Letter to the Editor.”

[6] Smith, “Views on the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States.”

[12] Peculiar Institution is another term for Black Slavery.

[13] “Speech [sic] by Gov. Young in Counsel on a Bill relating to the Affican [sic] Slavery.”

[14] Brigham Young, Discourse, February 5, 1852, Bx 1 Fd. 17, Brigham Young Papers, LDS Church Historical Department.

[15] “AN ACT in relation to Service,” Acts, Resolutions and Memorials of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah (Salt Lake City, 1855), 160–62.

[16] Brigham Young, “Message to the Joint Session of the Legislature,” 13 December 1852, Brigham Young papers.

Q&A with Newell G. Bringhurst for Saints, Slaves, and Blacks, 2nd ed. March 14 2018

302 pages, Paperback $27.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-649-9)
Available April 10, 2018

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Q: When it was first published (1981), was Saints, Slaves and Blacks the first comprehensive book-length study published on the topic of race within Mormonism? Give us a timeline and little information behind your decision to write the book?

A: Yes, Saints, Slaves, and Blacks was the first comprehensive book-length study published on the topic of race within Mormonism. Although an earlier monograph, Stephen G. Taggart’s cursory Mormonism’s Negro Policy: Social and Historical Origins published in 1970, postulated that Joseph Smith implemented the black priesthood ban during the 1830s in response to Mormon difficulties in the slave state of Missouri. My own work which rejected Taggert’s limited “Missouri Thesis” is much more comprehensive. It took eleven years to complete, going through a two-stage process. The first stage involved producing a doctoral dissertation at the University of California, Davis, with the research and writing taking five years to complete, from 1970 to 1975. The second stage involved transforming the dissertation into a publishable book. This process involving further research and extensive re-writing that took another six years, from 1975 to 1981. Prompting my 1970 choice of this topic for a dissertation was the intense controversy surrounding the LDS Church’s priesthood and temple ban on black members, during the turbulent decade of the 1960s.

Q: What was the initial reception of Saints, Slaves, and Blacks when it was first published? Did its reception change over time?

A: Initial reception of the book can be best described as “mixed.” It attracted limited notice both within and outside the Mormon community. The Mormon Church’s owned-and-operated Deseret News completely ignored it, as did all other official LDS publications, including the academically-oriented BYU Studies. The book was the victim of bad timing given its publication a mere three years following the Church’s 1978 revelation that reversed the policy on race-based priesthood and temple restrictions. Mormons of all stripes were anxious to forget the now-embarrassing practice of black priesthood and temple denial, previously promoted as essential doctrine.

Reviews of the book were also mixed. On the negative side, one scholar, an active Latter-day Saint, who had written on black slavery in Utah, excoriated the volume for what he perceived as its “extreme anti-Mormon bias” claiming that it “continually [berated] Mormonism for blatant racism.” By contrast other Mormon academics offered a more measured response. Stanford J. Layton, then-editor of the Utah Historical Quarterly, praised the volume’s “heft and feel of scholarship …apparent on every page,” and a second, Lester E. Bush, Jr., who had written extensively on blacks within Mormonism, affirmed the validity of its central thesis—i.e. that the priesthood ban was the product of an emerging sense of Mormon “whiteness,” as contrast to the blackness assigned Cain, Ham, and other so-called Biblical counterfigures. Non-Mormon scholars also weighed in with generally positive evaluations pointing to the work’s “wealth of primary research,” and its “full discussion” of the “origins and development of Mormon racial doctrines.”

More recently other scholars who have written on race within Mormonism have affirmed the validity of the volume’s central thesis that the black ban emerged largely as the byproduct of an emerging sense of Mormon ethnic whiteness, wherein Latter-day Saints viewed themselves as a divinely chosen lineage—the literal descendants of the House of Israel, while proclaiming blacks a divinely cursed race given their alleged descent from accursed Biblical counterfigures—Cain, Ham, and Canaan.

Q: Briefly explain Mormon shifts in views on slavery from the time of the of the Saints sojourn in Missouri in the 1830s down to early 1850s in the wake Mormons’ migration to Utah or the Great Basin?

A: Latter-day Saint views on slavery dramatically shifted over the period from the 1830s to the early 1850s. Initial views on slavery as manifested through the pages of the Book of Mormon were in opposition, specifically asserting that “it was against [Nephite] law…” to hold slaves, while it was the dark, idolatrous Lamanites who practiced slavery.

From the formation of the Church in 1830 until 1844, Mormon attitudes toward slavery went through three distinct phases. Initially Joseph Smith and other Church leaders avoided any and all direct discussion of this increasingly controversial topic during the early 1830s. No mention was made of those Book of Mormon verses condemning slavery and/or human bondage. By the mid-1830s, however, the Church affirmed support for slavery in an official 1835 statement. Such change reflected an increased Mormon presence in the slave state of Missouri, a desire to carry the Mormon message to potential converts in the slaveholding South, and also by a desire to avoid identifying with the fledgling abolitionist movement.

By the early 1840s Smith and his followers shifted their position yet a fourth time, assuming a strong anti-slavery position, most evident during the Mormon leader’s abortive 1844 campaign for president. Motivating this change were two major factors. First was the Mormon’s forced expulsion from the slave state of Missouri in 1838–39. Second, the vast majority of church members hailed from non-slaveholding regions north of the Mason-Dixon line and from Great Britain, whereas a relatively limited number of new converts were drawn from the slaveholding South.

After 1844, Mormon attitudes toward slavery changed yet a fifth time, assuming a pro-slavery stance. Following the Mormon migration to the Great Basin, the Mormon-dominated Utah territorial legislature legalized the practice of black slavery, doing so at the direction of Brigham Young in 1852. Young’s rationale was driven by his belief in black racial inferiority, further reflected in his fateful decision to implement a ban of black priesthood ordination and temple ordinances.

Q: What were the primary reasons behind Brigham Young’s decision to impose the priesthood/temple restrictions on black Latter-day Saints?

A: Two major factors drove Brigham Young to implement the Church’s black ban by 1852. Most important was a developing sense of Mormon “whiteness,” wherein the Latter-day Saints identified themselves as divinely chosen people, reaffirmed by a belief that they were of Abrahamic descent, specifically the favored linage of Ephraim. Conversely these same Saints viewed blacks to be a divinely cursed race due to their alleged descent from the accursed Biblical counterfigures of Cain, Ham, and Canaan. The second factor motivating Young was his embrace of black slavery, which he considered divinely sanctioned. Thus, as Utah Territorial governor he called for its legalization—this occurring in 1852, thereby making Utah the only western territory to legalize black slavery. Furthermore, Young in calling for this statute claimed a divinely-sanctioned link between black servitude and black priesthood denial.

Despite the abolition of black slavery following the Civil War, the Church continued to deny its black members priesthood ordination and access to temple ordinances, such practice continuing until 1978. Several factors enabled Church leaders to both justify and perpetuate the practice. First, and perhaps most important, was acceptance of the historical myth that Joseph Smith was the actual author of the ban—such process starting immediately following the death of Brigham Young. Second was the use of the Pearl of Great Price as a scriptural proof text to justify the practice, specifically the crucial Book of Abraham verse suggesting that blacks were “cursed as pertaining to the priesthood.” A third factor was an increased sense of the Mormons’ ethnic self-identity as an “Israelite people” most favored by God. These same Saints further believed that they stood at the top of a divinely sanctioned ranking of all the lineages of humankind. Whereas blacks, as the accursed “seed of Cain,” stood at the bottom.

Q: What factors led to the rescinding of the priesthood/temple ban for black Mormons in 1978?

A: Several factors led to the lifting of the priesthood/temple ban in 1978. First of all, the ban was undermined by the Civil Rights movement, which gained momentum following World War II, reaching its peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Civil Rights activists assailed the ban in protests during the 1960s. A second factor involved the emergence of prominent critics within the Church who raised their voices in opposition to the ban. Particularly prominent were sociologist Lowry Nelson and Sterling M. McMurren, a University of Utah Professor and U. S. Commissioner of Education under John F. Kennedy. Thirdly, the increasingly offensive ban came under intense scrutiny thanks to the prominence of three Latter-day Saints as national political figures. They were Michigan Governor George Romney—a Republican Presidential contender in 1968, Stewart Udall, who served as Secretary of Interior from 1961 to 1969, and US Congressman Morris Udall, a major Democratic Presidential candidate in 1976.

Of primary importance in ending to the ban was a fourth development—the dramatic growth of Mormonism abroad, particularly in non-white regions of Asia, the South Pacific, and Latin America. The diversification of Mormonism’s racial ethnic composition undermined traditional Mormon white ethnocentric ideas and concepts used to justify the ban. The final push for change arrived with the emergence of Spencer W. Kimball as LDS Church President. Kimball was increasingly concerned about the Church’s limited ability to expand into those parts of the world with large non-white populations, most especially Brazil with its large bi-racial population and sub-Sahara Africa, overwhelmingly black. Thus, all the elements facilitating the lifting of the ban were in place by June 1978.

Q: How have Mormon attitudes on this topic changed over the past few years? How is this reflected in contemporary scholarship?

A: In recent years, Latter-day Saints of all stripes, from the Church’s top leaders all the way down to rank-and-file members have become increasingly willing to confront various aspects of Mormonism’s problematic racial past. The Church’s official “Race and the Priesthood” Gospel Topics essay issued in December 2013 reflects such openness. The essay ascribed the priesthood/temple ban to racism rather than divine revelation. It singles out Brigham Young as the primary author of the ban, motivated by the “racial discriminations and prejudice” of his day. The essay further repudiates the Church’s decades old teachings of divine curses placed on black people, and white racial superiority, and condemnation of interracial marriages.

Such openness has been further reflected in the flood of books and articles dealing with varied aspects of Mormonism’s problematic racial past; such works produced by a corps of outstanding scholars both within and outside of the Church. Most notable is a continuing stream of seminal studies produced over the past forty years. Among the most outstanding are those written individuals both within and outside the Church, most especially: Jessie Embry, Armand Mauss, Russell Stevenson, Angela Pulley Hudson, W. Paul Reeve, and Max Muller. The outpouring of significant scholarship on this topic shows little signs of abating any time soon.      


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Preview Saints, Slaves, and Blacks: The Changing Place of Black People Within Mormonism, 2nd ed. March 07 2018

Saints, Slaves, and Blacks:
The Changing Place of Black People Within Mormonism,
2nd ed.

By Newell G. Bringhurst

Originally published shortly after the LDS Church lifted its priesthood and temple restriction on black Latter-day Saints, Newell G. Bringhurst’s landmark work remains ever-relevant as both the first comprehensive study on race within the Mormon religion and the basis by which contemporary discussions on race and Mormonism have since been framed. Approaching the topic from a social history perspective, with a keen understanding of antebellum and post-bellum religious shifts, Saints, Slaves, and Blacks examines both early Mormonism in the context of early American attitudes towards slavery and race, and the inherited racial traditions it maintained for over a century. While Mormons may have drawn from a distinct theology to support and defend racial views, their attitudes towards blacks were deeply-embedded in the national contestation over slavery and anticipation of the last days.

This second edition of Saints, Slaves, and Blacks offers an updated edit, as well as an additional foreword and postscripts by Edward J. Blum, W. Paul Reeve, and Darron T. Smith. Bringhurst further adds a new preface and appendix detailing his experience publishing Saints, Slaves, and Blacks at a time when many Mormons felt the rescinded ban was best left ignored, and reflecting on the wealth of research done on this topic since its publication.

Available April 10, 2018, in paperback and ebook.
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A Very Brief History of D&C Section 132: The Plural Marriage Revelation February 14 2018

By William V. Smith

Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants was the last of Joseph Smith’s formal written revelations and it was a watershed in Mormonism for many reasons. Like many of Joseph Smith’s early revelations, the revelation was given to an individual, not a community. Its target was his own wife, Emma Hale Smith, largely in response to her rejection of plural marriage. Polygamy, the main theme of the July 1843 revelation, is a complex subject in Mormonism. This short work can only hope to discuss a few aspects that relate specifically to what is now Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants, and the impact that this revelation has had on Mormonism.

Mormon polygamy essentially began in Nauvoo. One of its functions was to serve as a threshold of loyalty to Joseph Smith. Taking the step of participating in polygamy was a high-cost social commitment for women and men. Polygamy not only tested loyalty to Smith, it might have even increased it—and not just while he lived. Joseph Smith took enormous risk in introducing polygamy to any individual. While he generally selected men and women who were already close to him and had demonstrated their commitment to Mormonism, it was dangerous to challenge some of the most fundamental boundaries of the religious and social landscape. Some dissented, such as first presidency counselor William Law and his wife Jane Law, both who later publicly opposed Smith. That opposition joined a sequence of events terminating in Smith’s assassination. After Smith’s death, church leaders who were among the insiders of plural marriage became his de facto successors.

In Utah, the Church faced increasing public opposition to the practice of “plurality.” Controversy flared as Utah transitioned from its hoped-for independent nation status into a territory of the United States. The territorial selection of officials brought federal appointees to the Mormon stronghold. Shocked by polygamy and Mormon control of the political process, those federal appointees left the territory with stories of obstructionism and wives in abundance among elite Mormon men. Those tales led LDS leadership to publish two relatively secret texts up to that point: the plural marriage revelation (now D&C 132), and an April 3, 1836 vision of Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery in the Kirtland, Ohio temple (now D&C 110). This public reveal of polygamy in 1852 solidified Washington’s opposition to Utah’s statehood. That building opposition (later called the “Raid” for the practice of U.S. Marshalls hunting polygamists) ultimately led the First Presidency to curtail the practice and preaching of plural marriage in Utah at the end of the 1880s. Public claims that the Church was still allowing new plural marriage in abundance placed heavy pressures on Church President Wilford Woodruff. After prayerful and careful consideration, Woodruff produced a document that denied current authorization of plural marriages in Utah. After meeting with fellow leaders over the document, it was edited to the succinct “Manifesto” (now Official Declaration 1), a press release statement that advised the abandonment of contracting plural marriage where it violated the law.

The statement was not intended to give the idea that D&C 132 was now void. And the psychological, sociological, metaphysical, and religious structures founded on it would take time to move and modify. Minutes and diaries of LDS apostles of the period show that many leaders thought the 1890 announcement must be temporary, that God would open the way to public polygamy once again. They, like Joseph Smith before them, saw their religious obligation as superior to their public political stance. Their commitment to the revelation and its claim as a part of the “restoration of all things” made it difficult to universally abandon the practice. Former Church President John Taylor and Woodruff himself had produced written revelations encouraging continued plural marriage. The result of these cross-pressures was that church-leader-sponsored polygamy continued through the next two decades, though in small and ever dwindling numbers. Complete termination seemed on the order of abandoning baptism or the temple endowment. The election of apostle Reed Smoot to the U.S. Senate firmed the LDS Church’s public opposition to post-manifesto polygamy, an opposition fueled strongly by Smoot himself. The plural marriage revelation formed a paradoxical cornerstone of Mormon belief in this environment as its sealing subtext became the core logic of the doctrine of eternal family over against its placing of polygamy as the higher law. Gradually, church leaders came to complete unity over ending all exceptions to public bans of the practice.

As Mormonism publicly forgot polygamy and embraced the role of quintessential clean-living white Americans, their position as an Intermountain West institution was accepted as the home of teetotaling, disciplined, and largely ordinary folk with quaint beliefs in an enchanted past. It was when LDS temples began to invade Christian fundamentalist home turf in places like Dallas and Atlanta that the plural marriage revelation again became a source of criticism among counter-cult ministries and a growing ex-Mormon publishing industry.

Section 132 never underwent the same textual expansion-contraction cycle that marked many of Smith’s other revelations during his lifetime. His life ended too soon for any revisions. It is nevertheless true that in many ways the July 12, 1843 plural marriage revelation has affected the course of Mormonism for nearly two centuries; and it was redacted, not with pen and ink, but with selective reading that shifted its focus from plural marriage onto eternal monogamous marriage. Yet, many important themes in current Mormonism are based on narratives derived from the plural marriage revelation. Section 132 is a deeply-embedded component of Church teachings on eternal family, the approach of the Church towards gay rights and marriage, and social issues such as the role of women within the Church and family life. It is not an exaggeration to say that the revelation on polygamy is one of the cornerstones that underlies what Mormonism is today.

William Victor Smith received a PhD in mathematics at the University of Utah, where he also studied history under Davis Bitton. After post-doctoral work at Texas Tech University, he worked at the University of Mississippi, the University of Pau, and Brigham Young University. He has been published in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and is the admin for the Book of Abraham Project website. He currently lives with his wife Gailan in Orem, Utah. Together they have six children.

Mark your calendar

Please join us on Tuesday, March 13th at Writ & Vision in Provo for a special roundtable discussion of Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation. Panelists include Bill Smith, Lindsay Hansen Park, and Don Bradley. The event begins at 7:00 PM and is free to attend. Writ & Vision: 274 W Center Street, Provo, UT.

Textual Studies of the Doctrine & Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation 
By William V. Smith

Part of the Contemporary Studies in Scripture series

Available February 27, 2018
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Q&A with William V. Smith for Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation February 07 2018

270 pages + Index, Paperback $26.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-690-1)
Available February 27, 2018

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Q: Give us a little background into how you became interested in researching plural marriage?

A: Section 132 is Joseph Smith’s final revelation text and in some ways, it had a greater influence over his subsequent legacy than any other text aside from the Book of Mormon. My main historical interest in Mormonism is its preaching texts. Joseph Smith’s revelation texts, together with his own sermon corpus, are connected in many ways to that broader Mormon and Protestant sermon culture. The revelation had deep influence in the relationships between Territorial and statehood Utah and the United States; and made for interesting common ground narratives with other segments of the social landscape in America, as well as indelibly marking the boundaries between Mormon faithfulness and Protestant America even into the twenty-first century. Those stories fascinated me.


Q: It's a common misconception that Joseph Smith first learned about polygamy through the plural marriage revelation, when, in fact, he had already been practicing it for a few years prior to receiving it. If not to introduce it, what was the purpose of the revelation when it was received?

A: The revelation arises from a request by Hyrum Smith, but that story has multiple axes. His brother Hyrum seems to have been convinced of the virtue of polygamy out of its promise of being eternally with his deceased first wife, Jerusha Barden, while not abandoning his second wife, Mary Fielding. This domestic concept of heaven was the logic of polygamy for Hyrum. Emma Smith, first wife of Joseph, was deeply opposed to her husband’s polygamy for a multitude of reasons. Jealousy was at issue, but perhaps more-so the state of the Mormon community and its political and social predicament. Hyrum apparently believed his own adaption to polygamy could convince Emma of its virtue and bring Joseph and Emma into harmony. The result was a text largely directed to Emma Smith and very much a contemporary construction, yet it served to drive future social, religious, legal, and political tensions—including various schisms within the Church and the Smith family, the rise of Brigham Young and the apostles, and the long territorial status of Utah.


Q: In your book you show how the revelation points to new theological ideas and priesthood structures that Joseph introduced during the Nauvoo period. What are some of these new ideas, and why are they important to understanding the revelation?

A: The revelation brings to a climax many threads from 1830s Mormonism. For example, a refined picture of heaven, church hierarchy, and the Abrahamic story. It also reflects significant discourse in Nauvoo regarding coping with loss, heavenly progression, etc. Some of the theological threads originated with an event in June 1831. It was during a conference of that month that Joseph Smith introduced the “high priesthood.” Together with this introduction came the concept of “sealing up to eternal life.” Could a person, even a whole congregation, be guaranteed a seat at the Throne of Grace in this life? The high priesthood had the power to do this. I take some time in the book to explore the relationship of the high priesthood and its divisional office of patriarch with the idea of sealing, and how this idea became fully realized with the Nauvoo incarnation of sealing and priesthood. The plural marriage revelation draws on some elements of Smith’s Nauvoo preaching in public and private, some of which shows an interesting contrast between Smith’s public sermons and later interpretations that were prominent in Utah.


Q: What are some of the lasting impacts of the plural marriage revelation that are affecting Mormonism today?

A: Many important themes in current Mormonism are based on narratives derived from the plural marriage revelation. One of these is serial polygamous marriages where a man may remarry after the death of a spouse and have hopes that both households will be intact in the heavens. Women are not eligible for such practices. Temple practices of sealing, marriage, and family are traced to section 132, though not explicitly. The “Proclamation on the Family” is largely founded in nineteenth-century values that find textual support in the plural marriage revelation. The long defense of polygamy through the beginning of the twentieth century shaped the Church’s political attitudes in Utah to a great extent. Utah’s reaction to that political struggle was to position Mormons as ultra-Americans, rather than members of a dissenting sect of outsiders. These are just a few areas where the plural marriage revelation has had a large impact on Mormons historically and in the present.


Q: What are you hoping that readers will gain from reading Textual Studies of the D&C: The Plural Marriage Revelation?

A: My hope is that readers will come away with an increased respect for the early Mormons (especially women) who lived during the time of the practice of polygamy and its ending; as well as the power the revelation had over Mormon teaching and thought. The revelation is rarely quoted or referenced in the LDS church of the last nearly one hundred years, which was influenced by the political tension between Washington and Utah. I hope readers will gain a greater understanding of the roles that culture, the migration westward, public perception, and social change had on the public views of Latter-day Saints. Section 132 is a deeply-embedded component of Church teachings on eternal family, the approach of the Church towards gay rights and marriage, and social and political issues like the ERA and the role of women within the Church. It is not an exaggeration to say that the revelation on polygamy is one of the cornerstones that underlies what Utah and the LDS church are today.


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Please join us on Tuesday, March 13 at Writ & Vision in Provo, UT, for a special roundtable discussion and book signing for Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation. The roundtable discussion will feature Bill Smith, Don Bradley, and Lindsay Hansen Park. The event begins at 7:00 PM and is free to the public.

5 Things We Learned About the Jesus of Nazareth January 22 2018


Consider the many different ways Jesus has been portrayed over the centuries or the ways his name has been employed in support of this or that cause. N. T. Wright, a prominent Jesus scholar and Anglican Bishop, observes that he is “almost universally approved of” but for “very different and indeed often incompatible reasons.” If this is the case, then we wondered what Jesus were we worshiping and whether that Jesus was one of our own making?

During the past half-century historians have made significant strides examining the most recently discovered source materials in order to think once again about existing documents like the four Gospels. The aim was to reconstruct the Jesus who the men and women in first-century Palestine would recognize and follow. Jesus was born into an ancient society constrained by millennia of social, theological, and political practices perpetuated by the minority ruling elite and facilitated by a vast majority of souls who knew of no other way. Periodically prophets would rail against the system in the name of God. But the great, colossus of ancient Rome remained sustained through the oppression of individuals, the very individuals that Jesus came to invite into a new, righteous Kingdom.

The Jesus of history and the Gospels largely displaced the conventions of his day with regard to women and the family, as well as the social standing of the poor, the wealthy, and the outcast.

On Women:

In the twenty-first century, when issues regarding the roles of men and women in religious environments are alive and controversial, Jesus’s treatment of women was prescient. His example and the privileges afforded the first female Christians provide important perspectives. The subject takes on added significance as we appreciate the meaning of the priestly roles that women play in Latter-day Saint temples. Echoing what N. T. Wright suggests in his recent book Surprised by Scripture, we must “think carefully about where our own cultures, prejudices, and angers are taking us, and make sure we conform not to the stereotypes the world offers but to the healing, liberating, humanizing message of the gospel.” He continues, “[we live in a time when] we need to radically change our traditional pictures of what men and women are and of how they relate to one another within the church, and indeed of what the Bible says on this subject.”

On the Family:

What little Jesus had to say about the family is jarring to modern ears. He replaced the household of his day with a new universal family called the Kingdom of God where all were brothers and sisters. All were welcome: the poor and the rich, men and women, bond and free, high and low, Jew and Gentile. Members were asked to live in a communal order where everyone had what they needed.

On the Poor:

At the end of Jesus’s ministry, his priorities had not shifted from those he announced by way of the Isaiah text he read as he stood in the synagogue in Nazareth. Prior to his betrayal, Jesus spoke about the Final Judgment. He reminded those who heard him then, as well as those who hear him today, that when our lives are weighed in the balance, we will be judged not on what we know, or how many things we owned, or on how many church meetings we attended; rather, we will be judged on the basis of how well we loved our neighbors, and how well we fed the hungry, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited those in need (Matt. 25:31–46).

On the Wealthy:

Matthew’s Gospel records that Jesus spoke to a “rich young man” who, by his own report, kept all the commandments in Torah, the Mishnah, and the Oral Traditions. Jesus asked him to go one step further and distribute all his wealth equally amongst the poor in order to be a part of God’s kingdom (Matt. 19:21-22). The apocryphal Gospel of Hebrews records that when the young man could not take that step, he “began to scratch his head because he did not like that command.”  But then, Mark’s Gospel says, “Jesus felt genuine love for [this man]” (Mark 10:21 NLT).

Father James Martin, in a memoir on his pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2014, writes about his encounter with the story, standing on the supposed spot where Jesus told it: “Jesus ‘loved him’? Where did that come from? I had heard this Gospel story dozens of times. How had I missed that line? . . . Those three words . . . altered the familiar story and thus altered how I saw Jesus. No longer was it the exacting Jesus demanding perfection; it was the loving Jesus offering [agency]. Now I [and we] could hear him utter those words with infinite compassion for the man. . . . Jesus explicitly offers a promise of abundance to everyone” (Jesus: a Pilgrimage, 271).

Jesus invited all to be bound to him by the “covenant of salt.”

The Covenant of Salt is a three-part obligation. The meaning of the name of the covenant would have been obvious to the men and women who followed him: salt was and is the root word of salvation and it was an enormously valuable commodity in their day. At the end of our study, we came to understand a little better what N. T. Wright observes – that what mattered most to Jesus was that his true disciples were “the kind of people through whom the kingdom will be launched on earth.” Being like Jesus meant that each of us qualified for heaven through serving his “lambs.” Being like Jesus was about loving others and thereby transforming the earth, making it a Godlike place. It was what Jesus earnestly prayed for and by example asked us to pray for: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10 KJV; emphasis added). God’s ultimate rule on earth will come about because we, as true disciples of Jesus Christ, are the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matt.5:13, 14 KJV). We have covenanted. We have come away from this pilgrimage with a resolve to “have salt in ourselves, and have peace one with another” (Mark 9:50 KJV).


James and Judith McConkie will be speaking and signing books at Writ & Vision in Provo, Utah, on Tuesday, January 30 at 7 pm, and at Benchmark Books in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, February 7 at 5:30 pm..These events are free to the public.


James W. McConkie has JD from the S. J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah. His practice has focused in the area of torts and civil rights for more than four decades. He has been an adjunct professor at Westminster College teaching Constitutional law for non-lawyers. He has taught Church History and New Testament courses for BYU’s Division of Continuing Education for over 15 years with his wife Judith and is the author of Looking at the Doctrine and Covenants for the Very First Time. In 2017 he and his law partner Bradley Parker created the Refugee Justice League, a non-profit organization of attorneys and other professionals offering pro-bono help to refugees who have been discriminated against on the basis of their religion, ethnicity, or national origin.

Judith E. McConkie has an MFA in printmaking from BYU and a PhD in philosophy of art history and museum theory from the University of Utah. She has taught art history at the secondary and then university levels for over 40 years. She was the Senior Educator at BYU’s Museum of Art and Curator of the Utah State Capital during its major renovation project from 2004–2010. During that time she authored With Anxious Care: the Restoration of the Utah Capital. She continues to teach in BYU’s Division of Continuing Education with her husband James. She has published in Sunstone and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Though and has presented at Sunstone’s annual symposium. Her prints and watercolors have been exhibited nationally and in the Henry Moore Gallery in London, England. She and James are the parents of three children and 12 grandchildren. 

Whom Say Ye that I Am? Lessons from the Jesus of Nazareth
By James W. McConkie and Judith E. McConkie

Available Jan 30, 2018

Preview the book

Pre-order your copy

Preview Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation January 09 2018

Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants:
The Plural Marriage Revelation

Joseph Smith's July 12, 1843, revelation on plural marriage was the last of his formal written revelations and a transformational moment in Mormonism. While acting today as the basis for the doctrine of eternal nuclear families, the revelation came forth during a period of theological expansion as Smith was in the midst of introducing new temple rituals, radical doctrines on God and humanity, a restructured priesthood and ecclesiastical hierarchy, and, of course, the practice of plural marriage.

In this volume, author William V. Smith examines the text of this complicated and rough revelation to explore the motivation for its existence, how it reflects this dynamic theology of the Nauvoo period, and how the revelation was utilized and reinterpreted as Mormonism fully embraced and later abandoned polygamy.

Available February 27, 2018, in paperback, hardcover, and ebook.
Preorder the volume here.

Download the pdf here

5 Things to Know Before Studying the Old Testament December 29 2017

Welcome to the study of the Old Testament! Latter-day Saints are about to undertake an exciting journey this year in Gospel Doctrine. The Old Testament is a fascinating book that has had a tremendous influence on the development of LDS scripture and doctrine.  As we begin this journey, I have been invited to share some of the main points I would hope readers would keep in mind. For both ancient and modern Judaism, the spiritual foundation of the Hebrew scriptures is the Torah or “Law” (i.e. the opening five books traditionally ascribed to Moses). As a reflection of this tradition, I have chosen five things that I would encourage LDS readers to keep in mind—my own personal “torah,” if you will, for a religious study of the Old Testament.

1. Genesis

The Old Testament is not a book. It is a library. What I mean by that statement is that readers should not treat the Old Testament as they would a contemporary history book or even the Book of Mormon. The Old Testament does not contain a clear beginning, ending, or central thesis (in fact, the books appear ordered differently in Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish Bibles.) Instead, the Old Testament is a collection of separate books written by different authors over a thousand-year period with different views on God, history, morality, and culture.

    The Old Testament contains a variety of distinct literary genres such as law codes, proverbs, satire, erotic poetry, genealogical lists, prophecy, chronicles, and parables (just to name a few). This means that readers of the Bible should not approach a book like Chronicles, for instance, with its emphasis on sources and verisimilitude, in the same way they interpret a book such as Job or Jonah. Without a basic understanding of a text’s specific genre, readers inevitably misinterpret its intended meaning.

    For example, in the King James Bible, the book of Job begins with the statement: “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job” (1:1). Yet this is not the way books typically begin in the Bible. In fact, the uniqueness of the literary construct in Hebrew led one recent scholar to render the verse as, “Once upon a time, in the land of Uz, there was a man named Job.” That opening completely changes the way readers approach the book. Reading the book of Job as a parable or a fable, rather than a historical account, changes the entire way readers relate to the story and poetry of Job. I believe that it is important, therefore, to remember that the Old Testament is not a single book, meant to be interpreted in a single manner. Rather, it is a collection of distinct literary genres from ancient Israel that should not be read as a single volume in the way a person typically reads a novel or history book.

    2. Exodus

    Since the Old Testament is not a single book, it does not contain a single perspective on almost any topic of importance. It is wrong, therefore, to ever speak of such issues as the biblical perspective on marriage or the biblical perspective on God. Since the Old Testament is a diverse collection of documents conveying the interests of separate groups, readers encounter a variety of unique and often contradictory perspectives on almost every subject of importance from the nature of God, to God’s corporeality, to the proper relationship between men and women, to the way in which we should see foreigners. Simply put—there is almost never a single “biblical” perspective on any issue.

      For example, parts of the Bible relate well to the LDS view concerning the corporeal (bodily) nature of God. Exodus 24:9–11 presents an account where Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel ascend Mount Sinai and literally see the “God of Israel” (v. 10). According to that narrative, these men not only saw God’s feet and hand, God literally joined them in eating a communal meal. In this story, God was physical, had a body, and could use it just like a human.  

      Yet God appears much less physical and human-like in Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 4:12 tells its readers that when Israel approached the holy mountain, they did not see a God with a body; they only heard a voice: “ye heard the voice of the words, but saw no similitude (tmwnh); only ye heard a voice.” The Hebrew word in this passage translated as “similitude” literally means “form,” and it refers to a physical manifestation. From Deuteronomy’s perspective, God does not have a physical body and no one could see him.  Latter-day Saints will therefore find some sections of the Bible to accord with their own theological views and others, perhaps, a little less so.

      3. Leviticus

      Since the Bible contains a variety of unique and contradictory perspectives written by separate authors over a thousand-year period, I believe that it is best for religious readers to treat the work as a sourcebook rather than a textbook. Like an anthology, a sourcebook presents readers with multiple perspectives. In order to make sense, a textbook typically presents a single specific point of view. Unfortunately, this is the way that most religious readers have traditionally approached the Old Testament.

      If, however, a reader approaches the Old Testament in the way that it truly appears (i.e. as a sourcebook presenting multiple perspectives), then the collection can serve as a springboard for enlightenment, helping readers to define their own relationship to divinity. In other words, the Old Testament does not define God. Instead, it defines the way that specific groups of ancient Israelites living in a different time and place understood God.

      Adopting this critical approach can help a religious reader when she feels uncomfortable about the way a specific law treats a female rape victim or when a contemporary reader feels uncomfortable with the way God commands the Israelites to completely annihilate the indigenous population of Canaan. If that perspective troubles a reader then the text can serve as a springboard helping him to define his own moral and religious convictions independent from the text.

      But readers should also keep in mind that the Old Testament presents contradictory views that will perhaps fall greater in line with the contemporary reader’s own religious convictions. For example, many readers feel troubled by the way the book of Joshua depicts God ordering the destruction of a foreign people without giving them a chance to even repent. Interestingly, that is a view that seems to have also troubled the author of the book of Jonah who constructs a folktale to describe a time where God showed compassion to non-Israelites and gave foreigners a chance to repent, much to the chagrin of the book’s protagonist. The book almost reads as a response to the theology presented in the book of Joshua. 

      Thus, rather than a manual that perfectly defines God, religion, and morality, the Old Testament should be used as a springboard lifting its readers to further levels of enlightenment as we consider the various ways different groups of Israelite authors understood divinity.

      4. Numbers

      Unlike the Book of Mormon, the Old Testament was not written for our day. Its writers were not concerned with the far distant future. They were concerned with conditions that affected their own time and people. This can be an especially confusing issue for Latter-day Saint readers since our own unique scriptural texts often adopt and reuse Old Testament material.

      A classic illustration of this trend would be the prophecy in Isaiah 29. This text is often presented in LDS scripture as a prophecy concerning Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Hence, when LDS readers actually read the chapter in Isaiah they may feel confused trying to fit the entire chapter into their understanding of LDS scripture. Instead, it is helpful to remember that by adopting and transforming sacred writings to fit a new context connected with the Restoration, LDS scripture follows the same trend we see happening in both the New Testament and early Jewish writings.

      It is common for later authors to actualize a piece of earlier sacred material into their own time and place, giving the original text a new religious meaning. We see this happening, for example, in the book of Matthew. Matthew presents a total of 14 citations of Old Testament texts that the author links directly with Jesus. He begins with a citation of Isaiah 7:14 concerning a virgin who will conceive a son, and the child’s name will be Emmanuel. However, when that passage is read in its entire context in Isaiah 7 it is clear that Isaiah was not originally referring to Jesus.  

      The child is specifically presented as a sign to the Judean king Ahaz in order to prove correct Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the kings of Syria and Israel. According to the actual prophecy, before this special child (presumably Hezekiah) reached the age of accountability (i.e. knew how to refuse the evil and choose the good), the land before those two kings would be deserted (v. 16). This was Isaiah’s prediction and the sign he gave to establish its validity.

      Jesus, who was born hundreds of years later, could not have fulfilled this specific prophecy. But this does not mean that Matthew got it wrong when he linked the passage with Jesus, anymore than it means that LDS scripture is mistaken to connect Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon with Isaiah 29.  This is simply an illustration of a long, venerable tradition in holy writ where a later author recontextualizes an earlier scriptural text to apply to another community or context. To get the most out of these texts, readers should first identify the original Sitz in Leben or “Setting in Life” in which an Old Testament passage appears and then consider the various ways later authoritative works recontextuallize and adopt that passage in order to give the scripture new religious meaning.

      5. Deuteronomy

      The final point that I would hope readers would keep in mind when studying the Old Testament is to have fun. In fact, many of these stories and traditions were no doubt originally created for that specific purpose. Take for instance the wonderful account in Judges 3 of the fat “Jabba-the-Hutt” like character Eglon who is killed in his outhouse by the left-handed Ehud. Ehud is from the tribe of Benjamin, a tribal designation which means “A Right-Handed Person”—so this makes Ehud a “right-handed left-hander.” The story of Ehud and Eglon’s “filth” that came out of fat belly when he was jabbed in his own outhouse was probably told time and time again around the campfire by Israelite soldiers making fun of their enemies, and now it appears in the book of Judges. These types of stories are indeed fun, and they were meant to make their audience laugh. So enjoy them; laugh with them—be inspired by them.

      The Old Testament is a wonderful collection of ancient material with some of the most exciting stories ever told—stories that have had a tremendous effect upon contemporary forms of entertainment from novels to movies. Have fun. Enjoy the process. Learn about biblical poetry. Learn about type scenes and literary genres, prophecy, and proverbs. I believe that making the Old Testament fun can lead readers to serious reflection upon this material. And that reflection can inspire contemporary readers in the same way it did the New Testament authors and the prophet Joseph Smith.

      So there you have it. My own personal “torah” for religious study of the Old Testament. I hope it helps and that you enjoy a wonderful year.

      David Bokovoy holds a PhD in Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East and an MA in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies both from Brandeis University. David has published articles on the Hebrew Bible in a variety of academic venues including the Journal of Biblical LiteratureVetus TestamentumStudies in the Bible and Antiquity, and theFARMS Review. He is the co-author of the book Testaments: Links Between the Book of Mormon and the Hebrew Bible and the author of Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis — Deuteronomy as well as the forthcoming Authoring the Old Testament: The Prophets, both part of the Contemporary Studies in Scripture series.

      Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis — Deuteronomy
      By David Bokovoy

      Part of the Contemporary Studies in Scripture series

      “This book should be basic reading for serious LDS students of the Bible.” — Eric D. Huntsman, Coordinator of Ancient Near Eastern Studies, Brigham Young University

      Authoring the Old Testament: The Prophets
      By David Bokovoy

      Part of the Contemporary Studies in Scripture series

      COMING IN 2018

      Q&A with James and Judith McConkie for Whom Say Ye that I Am? Lessons from the Jesus of Nazareth December 19 2017

      309 pages, Paperback $27.95 (ISBN 978-1-58958-707-6)
      Available January 30, 2018

      Pre-order Your Copy Today


      How did both of you become interested in writing about Jesus from a cultural perspective?

      For over 15 years we have taught CES together and have enjoyed an ongoing conversation about the gospel. Our daughter attended the BYU study abroad program in Jerusalem. When she returned she started an even more intensive discussion with our family about Jesus -- what he stood for and what he did. This conversation culminated in our desire to write this book together. We have always taught classes together and are stronger when we work as a team.


      What do you feel distinguishes Whom Say Ye? from other work written about Jesus, particularly for an LDS audience?

      All of us create a Jesus in our own image—a self-validating Jesus. What we mean by that is that there are as many versions of Jesus as there are religions. He is wheeled out in support of almost any “good” cause: socialism, capitalism, pacifism, use of force, government programs to help the poor and not help the poor. He was even used by the South to support slavery during the Civil War and by the North to oppose it.

      During the last 20 years or so historical Jesus scholars have stripped away centuries of assumptions about Jesus in an attempt to reveal more closely who he really was, what he thought, what motivated him (made him angry or sad) and what kind of a community he was trying to establish. This book examines the historical Jesus literature and what its implications may be for the Mormon community and other Christian faiths. 

      We did not want to devise a self-validating Jesus who just happened to agree with our view of things—a Jesus that could make us feel good about whatever we happened to be thinking or doing at the time. Making Jesus in our own image was no God at all, and certainly not one who could save us.


      What sources did you rely on for this study?

      We decided to use only the four Gospels and preeminent Jesus scholars such as N. T. Wright, Marcus J. Borg, John Dominic Crossan, Bart Ehrman, Raymond Brown, Michael White, Lisa Sergio, Karen Torgesen, Anthony Salderini and others. We also consulted newer alternate translations of the Bible, history texts and a number of respected commentaries.


      What is the major focus of Whom Say Ye?

      In general, we focus on how Jesus treated and interacted with individuals and then with the institutions of his day: the Jewish religious establishment and the Roman Empire. Almost without exception he was inclusive, compassionate, and forgiving with individuals, and angry and confrontational with institutions that exploited the poor and caused unnecessary human suffering—the social misery caused by cultural structural systems of society.


      How has the book changed your understanding and appreciation for Jesus? 

      In writing this book, we found it reinforced the idea that all men and women everywhere, no matter what religion, culture, race, or background are equally important and valuable in the sight of God. We witnessed in the pages of the four Gospels the deep compassion Jesus had for humankind.


      What do you hope readers will take away from the book?

      We hope those who read this book find a clearer of view of who Jesus is and what he stands for and a greater desire to be more like he him.


      Pre-order Your Copy Today

      Preview Whom Say Ye That I Am? Lessons from the Jesus of Nazareth December 13 2017

      Whom Say Ye That I Am?
      Lessons from the Jesus of Nazareth

      The story of Jesus is frequently limited to the telling of the babe of Bethlehem who would die on the cross and three days later triumphantly exit his tomb in resurrected glory. Frequently skimmed over or left aside is the story of the Jesus of Nazareth who confronted systemic injustice, angered those in power, risked his life for the oppressed and suffering, and worked to preach and establish the Kingdom of God—all of which would lead to his execution on Calvary.

      In this insightful and moving volume, authors James and Judith McConkie turn to the latest scholarship on the historical and cultural background of Jesus to discover lessons on what we can learn from his exemplary life. Whether it be his intimate interactions with the sick, the poor, women, and the outcast, or his public confrontations with oppressive religious, political, and economic institutions, Jesus of Nazareth—the son of a carpenter, Messiah, and Son of God—exemplified the way, the truth, and the life that we must follow to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven.

      Available January 30, 2018, in paperback and ebook.
      Preorder the volume here.

      Download the pdf here

      Ebook Flash Sale on Mormon titles starts December 12th! December 11 2017

      Greg Kofford Books is pleased to announce our second annual EBOOK FLASH SALE on select titles on Tuesday, December 12th and Wednesday, December 13th! Pick up a few titles that have been on your reading list for as low as $2.99!

      Click image below to purchase. Offer is valid for Kindle ebooks only.

      Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology
      By Adam S. Miller

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      The Mormoness; or The Trials of Mary Maverick: A Narrative of Real Events
      Edited by Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall

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      For Zion: A Mormon Theology of Hope
      By Joseph M. Spencer

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      Who Are the Children of Lehi? DNA and the Book of Mormon
      By D. Jeffrey Meldrum and Trent D. Stephens

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      Fire on the Horizon: A Meditation on the Endowment and Love of Atonement
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      The End of the World, Plan B: A Guide for the Future
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      Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics
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      Twelve Days of Kofford 2017 November 21 2017

      Greg Kofford Books is once again pleased to offer twelve days of discounted holiday shopping from our website!

      HERE IS HOW IT WORKS: Every morning from Dec 1th through the 12th, we will be posting a DISCOUNT CODE on our Facebook or Twitter pages. Use this discount code on the corresponding day to receive 30% off select titles. The final day will be an e-book flash sale on

      To help you plan, here are the dates, titles, and sale prices we will be offering beginning Dec 1st. These sales are limited to available inventory. You must follow our Facebook or Twitter pages to get the discount code. Orders over $50 qualify for free shipping. Customers in the Wasatch Front area are welcome to pick orders up directly from our office in Sandy, UT.

      Day 1 — Brant Gardner collection

      Second Witness, Vol 1: First Nephi
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      Second Witness, Vol 2: Second Nephi through Jacob
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      Second Witness, Vol 4: Alma
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      Second Witness, Vol 5: Helaman through Nephi
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      The Gift and the Power: Translating the Book of Mormon
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      Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History
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      Day 2 — The Garden of Enid

      The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl
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      by Scott Hales

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      The Garden of Enid: Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl 
      Part Two

      by Scott Hales

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      Day 3 — The Mormon Image in Literature

      The Mormoness; Or, The Trials of Mary Maverick:
      A Narrative of Real Events

      Edited by Michael Austin and Ardis E. Parshall

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      Boadicea; the Mormon Wife: Life Scens in Utah
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      Dime Novel Mormons
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      Day 4 — Women's topics

      Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact
      by Neylan McBaine

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      Mormon Women Have Their Say: Essays from the Claremont Oral History Collection
      Edited by Claudia L. Bushman and Caroline Kline

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      Voices for Equality: Ordain Women and Resurgent Mormon Feminism
      Edited by Gordon Shepherd, Lavina Fielding Anderson, and Gary Shepherd

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      Day 5 — Polygamy titles

      Joseph Smith's Polygamy, Vol 1: History
      by Brian C. Hales

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      Joseph Smith's Polygamy, Vol 2: History
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      Joseph Smith's Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding
      by Brian C. Hales and Laura H. Hales

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      Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto
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      Mormon Polygamous Families: Life in the Principle
      by Jesse L. Embry

      $24.95 paperback
      $17.47 sale price

      Prisoner for Polygamy: The Memoirs and Letters of Rudger Clawson at the Utah Territorial Penitentiary, 1884–87
      by Stan Larson

      $29.95 paperback
      $20.97 sale price


      Day 6 — Science titles

      Who Are the Children of Lehi? DNA and the Book of Mormon
      by D. Jeffrey Meldrum and Trent D. Stephens

      $15.95 paperback
      $11.17 sale price

      “Let the Earth Bring Forth”: Evolution and Scripture
      by Howard C. Stutz, with a foreword by Duane Jeffrey

      $15.95 paperback
      $11.17 sale price

      Mormonism and Evolution: The Authoritative LDS Statements
      Edited by William E. Evenson and Duane E. Jeffrey

      $15.95 paperback
      $11.17 sale price

      Parallels and Convergences: Mormon Thought and Engineering Vision
      Edited by A. Scott Howe and Richard L. Bushman

      $24.95 paperback
      $17.47 sale price 


      Day 7 — Biography

      Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life
      by Boyd Jay Petersen

      $32.95 hardcover
      $23.07 sale price

      “Swell Suffering”: A Biography of Maurine Whipple
      by Veda Tebbs Hale

      $31.95 paperback
      $22.37 sale price

      William B. Smith: In the Shadow of a Prophet
      by Kyle R. Walker

      $39.95 paperback
      $27.97 sale price

      LDS Biographical Encyclopedia, 4 Vols
      by Andrew Jenson

      $259.95 paperback
      $181.97 sale price 

      The Man Behind the Discourse: A Biography of King Follett
      by Joann Follett Mortensen

      $29.95 paperback
      $20.97 sale price 


      Day 8 — Political topics

      Liberal Soul: Applying the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Politics
      by Richard Davis

      $22.95 paperback
      $16.07 sale price

      A Different God? Mitt Romney, the Religious Right, and the Mormon Question
      by Craig L. Foster

      $24.95 paperback
      $17.47 sale price

      Common Ground—Different Opinions: Latter-day Saints and Contemporary Issues
      Edited by Justin F. White and James E. Faulconer

      $31.95 paperback
      $22.37 sale price

      Even Unto Bloodshed: An LDS Perspective on War
      by Duane Boyce

      $29.95 paperback
      $20.97 sale price 

      War & Peace in Our Time: Mormon Perspectives
      Edited by Patrick Q. Mason, J. David Pulsipher, and Richard L. Bushman

      $29.95 paperback
      $20.97 sale price

      The End of the World, Plan B: A Guide for the Future
      By Charles Shirō Inouye

      $13.95 paperback
      $9.77 sale price


      Day 9 — Personal essay

      Dead Wood and Rushing Water: Essays on Mormon Faith, Culture, and Family
      by Boyd Jay Petersen

      $22.95 paperback
      $16.07 sale price

      Mr. Mustard Plaster and Other Mormon Essays
      by Mary Lithgoe Bradford

      $20.95 paperback
      $14.67 sale price

      Writing Ourselves: Essays on Creativity, Craft, and Mormonism
      by Jack Harrell

      $18.95 paperback
      $13.27 sale price

      On the Road with Joseph Smith: An Author's Diary
      by Richard Lyman Bushman

      $14.95 paperback
      $10.47 sale price 


      Day 10 — Church history

      Hearken O Ye People: The Historical Setting of Joseph Smith's Ohio Revelations
      by Mark Lyman Staker

      $34.95 hardcover
      $24.47 sale price

      Fire and Sword: A History of the Latter-day Saints in Northern Missouri, 1836–39
      by Leland Homer Gentry and Todd M. Compton

      $36.95 hardcover
      $25.87 sale price

      A House for the Most High: The Story of the Original Nauvoo Temple
      by Matthew McBride

      $29.95 paperback
      $20.97 sale price

      Villages on Wheels: A Social History of the Gathering to Zion
      by Stanley B. Kimball and Violet Kimball

      $24.95 paperback
      $17.47 sale price

      Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890–1930, 3rd ed.
      by Thomas G. Alexander

      $31.95 paperback
      $22.37 sale price


      Day 11 — International Mormonism

      Tiki and Temple: The Mormon Mission in New Zealans, 1854–1958
      by Marjorie Newton

      $29.95 paperback
      $20.97 sale price

      Mormon and Maori
      by Marjorie Newton

      $24.95 paperback
      $17.47 sale price

      The Trek East: Mormonism Meets Japan, 1901–1968
      by Shinji Takagi

      $39.95 paperback
      $27.97 sale price

      From Above and Below: The Mormon Embrace of Revolution, 1840–1940
      by Craig Livingston

      $34.95 paperback
      $24.47 sale price

      The History of the Mormons in Argentina
      by Néstor Curbelo

      $24.95 paperback
      $17.47 sale price

      For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830–2013
      by Russell W. Stevenson

      $32.95 paperback
      $23.07 sale price


      Day 12 — Flash ebook sale


      Black Friday Sale: 40% Off Select Scripture Titles! November 16 2017





      Beginning at noon on Thanksgiving and running through Cyber Monday, Greg Kofford Books is pleased to offer 40% off the following scripture titles. The Old Testament will be the Gospel Doctrine focus for 2018, so be sure to take advantage of this Black Friday weekend sale for your personal study, or for the teacher or student of scripture in your life.
      40% off select scripture titles



      As Iron Sharpens Iron: Listening to the Various Voices of Scripture
      Edited by Julie M. Smith

      2016 Best Religious Non-fiction Award, Association for Mormon Letters

      “An excellent study on the challenges found in the Mormon scriptural canon.”
      — Association for Mormon Letters

      $20.95 paperback
      $12.57 Sale Price

      “This is My Doctrine”: The Development of Mormon Theology
      by Charles R. Harrell

      “Because he does not attempt to square circles by making Mormon doctrine consistent over time, Harrell’s encyclopedic survey of Mormon doctrine is more stimulating and more insightful than most other books on Mormon doctrine.” 
      — James McLachlan, Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Western Carolina University

      $34.95 hardcover
      $20.97 Sale Price

      Apocryphal Writings and the Latter-day Saints
      Edited by C. Wilfred Griggs

      This sought-after volume of essays takes an in-depth look at the apocrypha and how Latter-day Saints should approach it in their gospel study.

      $24.95 paperback
      $14.97 Sale Price

      Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Scriptural Theology
      Edited by James E. Faulconer and Joseph M. Spencer

      Each essay takes up the relatively un-self-conscious work of reading a scriptural text but then—at some point or another—asks the self-conscious question of exactly what she or he is doing in the work of reading scripture.

      $24.95 paperback
      $14.97 Sale Price

      Traditions of the Fathers: The Book of Mormon as History
      by Brant A. Gardner

      2015 Best Religious Non-fiction Award, Association for Mormon Letters

      “Gardner adds depth and nuance to the intricacies surrounding Book of Mormon historicity and provides both laypersons and scholars alike with an excellent resource on this topic.”
      — Association for Mormon Letters

      $34.95 paperback
      $20.97 Sale Price


      Contemporary Studies in Scripture series:


      Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis—Deuteronomy
      by David Bokovoy

      “A must for those seeking to incorporate the best of biblical scholarship in their personal or professional scripture study.”
      — Brian Hauglid, author of A Textual History of the Book of Abraham: Manuscripts and Editions

      $26.95 paperback
      $16.17 Sale Price

      Re-reading Job: Understanding the Ancient World's Greatest Poem
      by Michael Austin

      2014 Best Religious Non-fiction Award, Association for Mormon Letters

      “Serves as a helpful introduction to deeper study of Job.”
      — Jason Kerr, 
      Studies in the Bible and Antiquity

      $20.95 paperback
      $12.57 Sale Price

      Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels
      by Julie M. Smith

      “Allows ample opportunity for readers to plunge into the teachings of the New Testament.
       — Mormon Times Book Review, Deseret News

      $27.95 paperback
      $16.77 Sale Price

      Beholding the Tree of Life: A Rabbinic Approach to the Book of Mormon
      by Bradley J. Kramer

      “It breaks fresh ground in numerous ways that enrich an LDS understanding of the scriptures and that builds bridges to a potential Jewish readership.”
      — Terryl L. Givens, author of By the Hand of Mormon: The American Scripture that Launched a New World Religion

      $21.95 paperback
      $13.17 Sale Price

      The Vision of All: Twenty-five Lectures on Isaiah in Nephi's Record
      by Joseph M. Spencer

      “From topics small to big, Spencer makes Isaiah's writings accessible to LDS Church members who may have had difficulty with the chapters.”
      — Tara Creel, Deseret News

      $25.95 paperback
      $15.57 Sale Price


      Author Spotlight: David Bokovoy November 15 2017

      David Bokovoy, author of Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis—Deuteronomy, part of the Contemporary Studies in Scripture series.

      Can you give us a little background into your education and how you became interested in religious studies/biblical criticism?

      I majored in History and minored in Near Eastern studies at BYU. I did my graduate work at Brandeis University, a non-sectarian Jewish institution. I received my MA in Jewish Studies and my PhD in Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East. I’m currently the online professor in Bible and Jewish studies at Utah State University.

      I developed a passion for the study of Mormon history, doctrine, and theology in my late teenage years. This passion continued to develop during my two-year mission for the LDS Church in Brazil. As hard as it was, I would try to wake up an hour early to read the material I wanted, but that weren’t part of the official Mormon Missionary library—things like Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Discourses of Brigham Young, the Great Apostasy, and Doctrines of Salvation. I thought that if I was willing to sacrifice my sleep to read this unofficial material, I could justify breaking the rules a bit. Other than that, I was a very obedient missionary.
      I loved my mission, but I longed for the days when I could devote hour after hour to serious Gospel study. When I returned home, I took an LDS Institute class from a teacher who knew a little bit of Hebrew. I knew right away that I had to learn that language to improve my understanding of the scriptures.  That study eventually led to the pursuit of graduate work in the field of historical criticism and the Bible.
      How can biblical criticism compliment faith?

      I have come to believe that a critical approach to scripture is, in fact, an essential part of a spiritual journey. Historical criticism is an effort to read religious texts in their original historical context, independent from one’s own religious tradition. This allows religious readers to understand the way that people from different time periods and cultures understood divinity. Religious paradigms exist in a perpetual state of flux. So, the way we understand God today is not the same way that people in the ancient world understood God. Learning to see and appreciate their approach can provide a religious reader with new ways of appreciating the divine.

      Despite its religious merits, scripture should not be seen as an infallible manual to divinity. Instead, scripture is the textual result of a human effort to reflect the divine. Though inevitably flawed by mortal hands, scripture can inspire meaningful spiritual growth. This is true even when a reader encounters a construct in holy writ that she rejects, since that problematic paradigm has caused the reader to define her own spiritual conviction in opposition to the one held by the author. I believe that scripture is not a manual; it is a springboard. And I believe that historical critical analysis can help lift a reader to higher levels of enlightenment. Like Joseph Smith, I believe that Mormonism is a religion that seeks to embrace all truth, let it come from whatever source it may, including historical criticism.

      What are you hoping readers will gain from reading your first volume of Authoring the Old Testament?
      The first volume was a highly personal work. I had been told by a couple of my BYU professors not to pursue degrees in biblical studies because we had not ever had an LDS person pass through such a program and retain his or her testimony. I wanted to share with an LDS audience how I make sense of my faith in light of my passion for critical biblical scholarship. I wanted to show that one could be a faithful Mormon and a critical scholar.
      Can you give us a sneak peek into some of the themes you’ll be exploring in the next volume?
      In volume two of the series, I will introduce LDS readers to a critical reading of the prophetic books of the Bible. I hope to show how a critical historical approach to this material can help religious readers make sense of complicated works like the book of Isaiah.

      Thanks, David!

      Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis—Deuteronomy
      by David Bokovoy

      Part of the Contemporary Studies in Scripture series

      “Members of the Church will be introduced to some of the results of over a century of biblical scholarship they’ve likely never heard about.”
      — Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship



      Also check out David Bokovoy's chapter contribution to Perspectives on Mormon Theology: Apologetics.