Friday, February 29, 2008

BiV's Blog of the Month

This month I would like to introduce a fairly new blog called

Project Deseret

Project Deseret is written by Ashley Sanders, famous for organizing the BYU Alternative Commencement last year. She was also editor of the Collegiate Post, a progressive magazine at BYU that was shut down largely due to her article The Evolution Of Revolution, which you can find on her blog, and which I suggest that everyone should read.

Don't go to this blog for a quick blog-fix during the day on company time. This blog needs to be savored late at night when all the kiddoes are tucked safely in bed and Dear Spouse is safely occupied with some engrossing hobby. The articles are thought-provoking and current, if a bit longer than what we usually encounter on a blog. They are full of substance and well-written, as befits the English major that she is. Ashley's blog was started in connection with Sunstone magazine as a blog/podcast with a goal of social change: "building a socially, politically, and economically just community." Her vision for this project is as follows: "The podcast is divided into three parts: narrative, interview, and manifesto. It is divided that way to give history on three levels: the individual’s story, the expert’s analysis, and the dreamer’s hope. I hope that these three histories will tell us who we have been and where we can go now." Ash is exactly the person to do this. Some of her posts so far deal with pacifism versus passivism, chain stores, and liberalism and secularism. She is stirring and passionate about these causes.

"We love the revolutionary as long as he is tucked safely in the folds of history..." Ashley says. "We talk about repeating history. We worry about it; we hope we won’t. But we will if we don’t realize that ethics is always uncomfortable in the present..." In one of her posts, she explains one of the reasons why she organized Alternative Commencement: "I believe that ordinary people know what is best, and I believe that organizations that don’t allow ordinary people to improve them from the inside will be less vibrant, less fair, and less humane."

The personal stories in her articles draw me in to the author's life, and make me feel I know her and her struggles:

"I am at a class party when my professor looks at me and says, “Let me guess. You’re a vegetarian.” When I answer yes, he runs to his closet with glee and pulls out a shirt. On it, a bunch of animals are bursting out of a stuffed pot. The caption says: “For every animal you don’t eat, I’ll eat three.” My teacher thinks this is hilarious, nudging me and crowing with triumph. I think this is supremely odd: If I said I was ethically opposed to slavery, would he have run to his room and pulled out a slave?"

Another issue she addresses is one I really relate to as a Latter-Day Saint:
"A lot of people have asked me: if you disagree with what BYU or the government does, why don’t you just go someplace else? (A favorite suggested location is Berkeley.) I only know one way to answer them, which is to tell them that I love this place, and want it to be what it can be. After I answer this way, there is always another question: If you love it, why do you criticize it? My answer is the same: because I love it, and because I believe that integrity requires a mix of staying and going, charity and chastisement, and because I want to go to a school and live in a country that let me do all of the above."

I have been asked many times on my blog if I disagree with some of the policies of the Mormon Church, why don't I go to another church? Ashley articulates so beautifully what I would like to tell them.

The latest articles on "Project Deseret" reveal Ashley's personal concerns and thoughts. I've felt some of the same feelings myself. She reveals:
"I also worry about how contradictory and proliferate my thoughts are. I will write something and immediately feel the exact opposite, and then I will wonder whether I should revise my earlier writing or continue stalking the contradiction."

I'm fascinated to see the blog move in a more personal direction as she explores some of the issues she confronts in the Church. I'm looking forward to more writing in this vein.

I read Ashley's blog because she is eloquent, touching, and funny. I read it because she falls apart. Because she picks herself up and keeps on. I read it because she isn't sure yet where she is going, and I want to be part of her journey.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

5 LDS Interpretations of the Isaiah Passages that Should Not be Perpetuated

I promised some posts on upcoming Book of Mormon Sunday School lessons. But I have to warn you, I've been in a blue funk lately. So I suspect my thoughts are neither inspiring nor fit for Sunday School consumption. But maybe it will help you know what not to say.

LDS Sunday School students will soon take a quick leap through 13 chapters of Isaiah which are quoted by Nephi in 2nd Nephi chapters 12-24. All too often, some uniquely Mormon interpretations are given to these chapters which merit a critical analysis. In this post I present five Mormonisms which I believe hinder a deeper and more accurate understanding of Isaiah's writings.

1. 2 Nephi 12:2,3 Popular LDS commentary on this verse identifies it as Isaiah's vision of people from many lands coming to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Many prophecies of Isaiah are dual and can be applied to more than one time, situation or people. I am aware that latter-day prophets and apostles have related this verse to the Salt Lake temple or even to the Conference Center from which the word of the Lord is issuing forth in these days. However, if we insist too strongly on this Mormon-centric view, we can miss the primary application which this verse has to the millennial reign of the Messiah. The word "mountain" as used in the Bible is a metaphor for "nation," "government," or "political system." In verses 2 and 3 Isaiah is speaking of the millennial condition when Christ shall establish the political Kingdom of God upon the earth. This will be established "in the top of the mountains," or in other words "as the head of the nations."

2. 2 Nephi 12:3 Isaiah wrote that the word of the Lord will come from Jerusalem, and the law will come from Zion, the New Jerusalem, located in Jackson County, Missouri. There will be two distinct centers of influence for God's people.

This may be, but verse 3 should not be used as a proof-text. Here we have a synonymous chiastic parallel where

the Law = the Word of the Lord, and
Zion = Jerusalem (one and the same)

The chiastic structure of this phrase indicates that Isaiah equated Zion with Jerusalem (the one located in Israel!) If we accept this, we will be able to learn more about Zion as it relates to the ancient City of David.

3. 2 Nephi 12:9 In the Book of Mormon, verse 9 is clarified by adding the word "not" to the following statement: "And the mean man boweth [not] down and the great man humbleth himself [not], therefore forgive him not."

This verse actually makes much more sense in its original context, without the extra "not" added in the Book of Mormon version. Verse 8 speaks of idols which are found throughout the land. And the mean (common) man and the great (important) man boweth down (to these idols). This version makes more sense coming as it does right after the description of people worshipping idols, the work of their own hands.

4. 2 Nephi 12:13-17 Some Mormons still insist that this passage is an example of the restoration in the Book of Mormon of passages that were lost in the Old Testament. As noted in footnote 16a, “The Greek (Septuagint) has ‘ships of the sea.’ The Hebrew has ‘ships of Tarshish.’ The Book of Mormon has both, showing that the brass plates had lost neither phrase.”

Pike and Seely have shown the challenges of accepting this interpretation. I love the poetry of the passage and find that the addition of the extra phrase and other interjected words spoils the beauty of the chiastic tripled bicola. Isaiah used poetic conventions frequently to emphasize his points. The Book of Mormon addition does not enhance the poetic structure of the passage, but instead inhibits it. The Greek "ships of the sea" and the Hebrew "ships of Tarshish" are probably different translations of one original phrase and it is not necessary or preferable to include both. Observe the perfection of the Masoretic text with the pattern of w- (conjunction) + al (preposition "upon") followed by kol- ("all/every") and then two words (here in English translation):
For the day of the LORD of hosts shall be

upon every one that is proud and lofty,
and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low:

and upon all the cedars of Lebanon, that are high and lifted up,
and upon all the oaks of Bashan,

and upon all the high mountains,
and upon all the hills that are lifted up,

and upon every high tower,
and upon every fenced wall,

and upon all the ships of Tarshish,
and upon all pleasant pictures (fine craft)

and the loftiness of man shall be bowed down,
and the haughtiness of men shall be made low;

and the LORD alone shall be exalted in that day.

(if all this fascinates you, there is a well-reasoned apologetic view here. But I stand by my opinion.)

5. 2 Nephi 14:1 The Mormon speculation on this verse goes as follows: With so many men killed in war, righteous single priesthood holders are in short supply. Thus, plural marriage is reinstituted, with many women stating they will support themselves in order to receive priesthood covenant protection.

My examination of the Hebrew of this verse makes me confident in translating "one man" as "a certain man." The verse thus teaches that in the latter day seven women (symbolic number of completeness, denotes the covenant people) shall take hold of a certain man (guess who that would be?) and ask him "let us be called by thy name," which will take away their reproach (effects of atonement). In my view this verse is Messianic and has nothing whatsoever to do with polygamy.

Update: Our SS teacher gave 2 of these very interpretations while presenting the lesson! How about yours??


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Confession: I Just Want to Sit and Play the Harp

As an LDS woman, it really exhausts me to contemplate the afterlife. Right now I am really tired and I wish I could look forward to one day going to my eternal REST. I've always been rather partial to the idea of sitting at the feet of Jesus and playing a harp. And maybe singing in the heavenly choir.

The last thing I want to be up there waiting for me is the possibility of millions of spirit children. I don't want to be frantically laboring, running to and fro doing missionary work. It gives me a headache to contemplate sentiments such as the following:

Oh yes, it is possible to repent in the spirit world, although we are given to understand that it is much more difficult to repent there because we will not have our physical bodies to help us. Also an integral part of repentance is that we must make restitution. This means that if you have stolen five dollars, you have to return five dollars to the person whom you have robbed. This may be very difficult to do in the spirit world.

I just know that when I die I will remember the name of the drugstore from which I stole that yo-yo and will be condemned to haunt the place, moaning and trying unsuccessfully to repay the $5 restitution.

And check out this picture:

Do I have to wear one of those white things? What does a spirit personage wear? What is it made of? Spirit lycra? Who makes it, or do we just imagine it into being?

Can I opt out of all of this? I relate to King Benjamin's desire to go down in peace, with his immortal spirit joining the choirs above in singing the praises of a just God.

Does anything bother you about our uniquely LDS view of the afterlife? What do you like about it?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Incorporating Doctrinal Change into the Church--A Poll

Thoughts for discussion: Do you think the Church has a responsibility to explain to the members when a doctrinal change is made? Would it cause more or less confusion? Would it make the Church look bad if they admit that a doctrinal policy held in the past is no longer followed? Which option above would you be most likely to respond to as a member?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Evolution of Official Birth Control Teachings in the Mormon Church: From Depravity and Perversion to a Sacred Matter Between the Couple and God

It appears from comments received on my last post that some are unaware of the development of official policy of the Church regarding birth control. The purpose of this post is to clarify official teachings and to demonstrate that policy has filtered down variously in different local areas.

Since its inception in 1830, the LDS Church has maintained a positive stance toward the propogation of the human race. Due to its doctrine of premortal existence, members have been urged to welcome spirits to earth by providing them physical tabernacles. Married LDS couples today are counseled to desire children and to prayerfully decide how many they can provide for physically, emotionally, and financially. Thus, it is not always apparent that the rhetoric on having children today represents a large shift from previous policy.

Recent counsel to "decide" how many children to have presupposes that there is an accepted way to curtail the birth of children after the decided-upon number has been reached. Nowhere is it officially stated that birth control is approved. But this can be assumed by the counsel which recognizes choice in number of children. This tacit acceptance of birth control is a recent move which began tentatively in the late 1970's and did not gain momentum until the presidency of Gordon B. Hinckley.

The evidence of ancient contraceptive knowledge is impressive. A list of pre-19th century contraceptive methods include: withdrawal by the male; melting suppositories designed to form an impenetrable coating over the cervix; diaphragms, caps, or other devices inserted over the cervix and withdrawn after intercourse; intrauterine devices; douching after intercourse designed to kill or drive out the sperm; condoms; and varieties of the rhythm methods. None of these methods are new. Increased availability of mass-produced and medically sound methods of birth control was seen in the United States in the early 1800's. Modern condoms were produced in the U.S. beginning about 1830. The "womb veil," an early diaphragm, was widely used by 1860. Legislation concerning birth control began to be introduced in 1873 when Anthony Comstock pushed a bill through Congress which defined contraceptive information as obscene.

Birth control became a subject that Church leaders felt constrained to clarify, affecting as it did a doctrinal matter. I would like to emphasize that every president of the Church from Brigham Young to Spencer W. Kimball spoke strongly against birth control and unequivocally denounced the use of artificial means to stop children from coming to earth. Additionally, official statements under the auspices of the First Presidency were issued to reinforce the teaching. The following statements by the latter-day prophets are representative of their teachings on the subject:

Brigham Young

"There are multitudes of pure and holy spirits waiting to take tabernacles, now what is our duty? -- To prepare tabernacles for them; to take a course that will not tend to drive those spirits into the families of the wicked, where they will be trained in wickedness, debauchery, and every species of crime. It is the duty of every righteous man and woman to prepare tabernacles for all the spirits they can." (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 197.)

“To check the increase of our race has its advocates among the influential and powerful circles of society in our nation and in other nations. The same practice existed forty-five years ago, and various devices were used by married persons to prevent the expenses and responsibilities of a family of children, which they must have incurred had they suffered nature's laws to rule preeminent. That which was practiced then in fear and against reproving conscience, is now boldly trumpeted abroad as one of the best means of ameliorating the miseries and sorrows of humanity. Infanticide is very prevalent in our nation. It is a crime that comes within the purview of the law, and is therefore not so boldly practiced as is the other equally great crime, which, no doubt, to a great extent, prevents the necessity of infanticide. The unnatural style of living, the extensive use of narcotics, the attempts to destroy and dry up the fountains of life, are fast destroying the American element of the nation; it is passing away before the increase of the more healthy, robust, honest, and less sinful class of the people which are pouring into the country daily from the Old World. The wife of the servant man is the mother of eight or ten healthy children, while the wife of his master is the mother of one or two poor, sickly children, devoid of vitality and constitution, and, if daughters, unfit, in their turn, to be mothers, and the health and vitality which nature has denied them through the irregularities of their parents are not repaired in the least by their education.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, v. 12, pp. 120-121.)

John Taylor
"...parents are afraid to fulfill the first great law of God, "Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth;" and by desperate circumstances are almost forced to the unnatural wish of not propagating their species; while, corrupted with a correspondent depravity with that which reigns among nations, they are found using suicidal measures to prevent an otherwise numerous progeny from increasing their father's misery, and inheriting his misfortunes." (John Taylor, The Government of God, Chapter 2.)

Wilford Woodruff
"As to the lesser sin of preventing conception, no general rule can be laid down, there are so many different circumstances distinguishing one case from another and such a difference in motives that each particular case has to be judged by itself and decided by the light of the Spirit. But we believe where persons sincerely repent and cease the practice, they should be permitted to enter the Church. This is not the unpardonable sin, and like other misdeeds, can be forgiven when penitence and reformation are shown." (Wilford Woodruff and Joseph F. Smith to Job Pingree, Jan. 23, 1894.)

Joseph F. Smith
“Those who have taken upon themselves the responsibility of wedded life should see to it that they do not abuse the course of nature; that they do not destroy the principle of life within them, nor violate any of the commandments of God. The command which he gave in the beginning to multiply and replenish the earth is still in force upon the children of men. Possibly no greater sin could be committed by the people who have embraced this gospel than to prevent or to destroy life in the manner indicated. We are born into the world that we may have life, and we live that we may have a fullness of joy, and if we will obtain a fullness of joy, we must obey the law of our creation and the law by which we may obtain the consummation of our righteous hopes and desires -- life eternal.” (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 276.)

"I believe that where people undertake to curtail or prevent the birth of their children that they are going to reap the disappointment by and by. I have no hesitancy in saying it is one of the greatest crimes of this world today, this evil practice." (Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, p. 278-279)

Heber J. Grant
“Another of the great evils of the age is race suicide. This also is not consistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Providing opportunity for the spirit children of our Father in Heaven to come to earth and work out their own salvation is one of our sacred privileges and obligations. We teach that among the choicest of eternal riches are children.” (Heber J. Grant, Gospel Standards, p. 154.)

George Albert Smith
"Children are a heritage from the Lord, and those who refuse the responsibility of bringing them into the world and caring for them are usually prompted by selfish motives, and the result is that they suffer the penalty of selfishness throughout eternity. There is no excuse for members of our Church adopting the custom of the world. . . We have been better taught than they." (George Albert Smith, "Birth Control," Relief Society Magazine, Feb. 1917, p. 72)

David O. McKay
“Any effort or desire on the part of a married couple to shirk the responsibility of parenthood reflects a condition of mind antagonistic to the best interests of the home, the state, and the nation. No doubt there are some worldly people who honestly limit the number of children and the family to two or three because of insufficient means to clothe and educate a large family as the parents would desire to do, but in nearly all such cases, the two or three children are no better provided for than two or three times that number would be. Such parents may be sincere, even if misguided; but in most cases the desire not to have children has its birth in vanity, passion, and selfishness. Such feelings are the seeds sown in early married life that produce a harvest of discord, suspicion, estrangement, and divorce. All such efforts, too, often tend to put the marriage relationship on a level with the panderer and the courtesan. They befoul the pure fountains of life with the slime of indulgence and sensuality. Such misguided couples are ever seeking but never finding the reality for which the heart is yearning.” (David O. McKay, Relief Society Magazine, v. 3, no. 7, July 1916)

Joseph Fielding Smith
“Those who attempt to pervert the ways of the Lord, and to prevent their offspring from coming into the world in obedience to this great command, are guilty of one of the most heinous crimes in the category. There is no promise of eternal salvation and exaltation for such as they, for by their acts they prove their unworthiness for exaltation and unfitness for a kingdom where the crowning glory is the continuation of the family union and eternal increase which have been promised to all those who obey the law of the Lord. is only a matter of time before those who so strongly advocate and practice the pernicious doctrine of ‘birth control’ and the limiting of the number of children in the family, will have legislated themselves and their kind out of this mortal existence.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Relief Society Magazine, v. 3, no. 7, July 1916.)

"Birth control is wickedness. The abuse of this holy covenant has been the primary cause for the downfall of nations. When the sacred vows of marriage are broken and the real purpose of marriage abused, as we find it so prevalent in the world today, then destruction is inevitable.

No nation can endure for any length of time, if the marriage covenants are abused and treated with contempt. The anger of the Almighty was kindled against ancient nations for their immorality. There is nothing that should be held in greater sacredness than this covenant by which the spirits of men are clothed with mortal tabernacles.

When a man and a woman are married and they agree, or covenant, to limit their offspring to two or three, and practice devices to accomplish this purpose, they are guilty of iniquity which eventually must be punished. Unfortunately this evil doctrine is being taught as a virtue by many people who consider themselves cultured and highly educated. It has even crept in among members of the Church and has been advocated in some of the classes within the Church.

It should be understood definitely that this kind of doctrine is not only not advocated by the authorities of the Church, but also is condemned by them as wickedness in the sight of the Lord." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation, Vol. 2, Pg. 85-9

Harold B. Lee
“We declare it is a grievous sin before God to adopt restrictive measures in disobedience to God's divine command from the beginning of time to ‘multiply and replenish the earth.’ Surely those who project such measures to prevent life or to destroy life before or after birth will reap the whirlwind of God's retribution, for God will not be mocked.” (Harold B. Lee, Conference Report, October 1972, p. 63.)

Spencer W. Kimball
"I have told many groups of young people that they should not postpone their marriage until they have acquired all of their education ambitions. I have told tens of thousands of young folks that when they marry they should not wait for children until they have finished their schooling and financial desires. Marriage is basically for the family, and there should be no long delay. They should live together normally and let the children come. . ." (Spencer W. Kimball, "Marriage is Honorable," Speeches of the Year, 1973, p. 263)

"The tendency for many of our girls and many of our married women to put off or to reduce their families is not pleasing to your Heavenly Father, for He said, 'multiply and replenish the earth,' and He knew what He was doing, and any of our personal opinions don't amount to much as compared to the wisdom of God. And he said as he concluded this great effort of creation, 'And I . . .saw everything that I had made, and behold, all things which I had made were very good . . .' He stood off and looked them over. He had made no errors; He had made no mistakes; He had created man and woman for a purpose. That purpose was not fun; that purpose basically was to live together in harmony and peace and to rear children in righteousness . . ." (Spencer W. Kimball, Address to Special Interest Fireside in Tabernacle, 29 Dec. 1974, pp. 4-5)

Ezra Taft Benson
The world teaches birth control. Tragically, many of our sisters subscribe to its pills and practices when they could easily provide earthly tabernacles for more of our Father's children. We know that every spirit assigned to this earth will come, whether through us or someone else. There are couples in the Church who think they are getting along just fine with their limited families but who will someday suffer the pains of remorse when they meet the spirits that might have been part of their posterity.” (Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, April 1969, p. 12.)

"Young mothers and fathers, with all my heart I counsel you not to postpone having your children, being co-creators with our Father in Heaven. Do not use the reasoning of the world, such as, "We will wait until we can better afford having children, until we are more secure, until John has completed his education, until he has a better paying job, until we have a larger home, until we have obtained a few of the material conveniences," and on and on. This is the reasoning of the world and is not pleasing in the sight of God. Mothers who enjoy good health, have your children and have them early. And, husbands, always be considerate of your wives in the bearing of children. Do not curtail the number of children for personal or selfish reasons. Material possessions, social convenience, and so-called professional advantages are nothing compared to a righteous posterity. In the eternal perspective, children -- not possessions, not position, not prestige -- are our greatest jewels." ("To the Mothers in Zion," Parents' Fireside, Salt Lake City, Utah, 22 February 1987.)

“True to form, many of the people who desire to frustrate God's purposes of giving mortal tabernacles to His spirit children through worldwide birth control are the very same people who support the kinds of government that perpetuate famine. They advocate an evil to cure the results of the wickedness they support.” (Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, p. 539.)

Howard W. Hunter
“Honor your wife’s unique and divinely appointed role as a mother in Israel and her special capacity to bear and nurture children. We are under divine commandment to multiply and replenish the earth and to bring up our children and grandchildren in
light and truth (see Moses 2:28; D&C 93:40). You share, as a loving partner, the care of the children. Help her to manage and keep up your home. Help teach, train, and discipline your children” (Howard W. Hunter, Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 67; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 50.)

The earlier statements of these latter-day prophets may have been somewhat euphemistic, but there was clearly no provision for a couple "prayerfully considering" how many children to have. These sentiments were echoed by many other Apostles and General Authorities, too numerous to list here.

There has always been a percentage of Church membership which has had difficulty with the absolute proscription of any kind of family planning. By the early 1900's, the issue of what to do when childbirth took a toll on the health of the mother was beginning to be discussed. Elder Orson F. Whitney of the Quorum of the Twelve wrote:

"The only legitimate 'birth control' is that which springs naturally from the observance of divine laws, and the use of procreative powers, not for pleasure primarily, but for race perpetuation and improvement. If this involves some self-denial on the part of the husband and father, so much the better for all concerned." (Orson F. Whitney, Relief Society Magazine 3, no. 7 (July 1916).)

In a similar statement, Joseph Fielding Smith announced that even in cases of sickness, "no prevention is legitimate except through absolute abstinence." (Joseph Fielding Smith, Improvement Era 11:959-61.)

There were several official statements which were circulated in the Church under the auspices of the First Presidency. One such statement appeared in the Relief Society Magazine in February of 1917 from the office of Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, and Charles W. Penrose:

“Officers, members of the Relief Society, herein you have the word of the Lord, on this subject. Can anything be clearer or more emphatic? It is a very strange thing that people can believe that the Lord of Life could countenance for one moment, the refusal of his children to comply with the first commandment given to Adam and Eve. It is so easy to avoid parenthood, if people wish to do so, and that, too, innocently, even if selfishly. Men and women can remain unmarried. That is all there is to it.” (First Presidency {Joseph F. Smith, Anthon H. Lund, Charles W. Penrose}, Relief Society Magazine, v. 4, no. 2, February 1917, pp. 68-69.)

Despite these types of official Church statements, the feelings of Church members and local leaders varied from ward to ward and from stake to stake. Many members had made their own decisions about birth control. A 1935 poll of 1,159 BYU students showed that 89% believed in birth control in some form. Church leaders were aware of this and continued to warn members. In 1942 the official Church magazine, the Improvement Era, included an article entitled, "Should Birth Control Be Practiced?" In it, John A. Widtsoe made a strong case against artificial means of birth control. He warned of dire consequences accompanying the use of contraceptives:

"Since birth control roots in a species of selfishness, the spiritual life of the user of contraceptives is also weakened. Women seem to become more masculine in thought and action; men more callous and reserved; both husband and wife become more careless of each other." (John A. Widtsoe, Improvement Era, Dec 1942.)

Nonetheless, Widtsoe demonstrated an understanding that at times a mother's health might be a consideration for limiting family size. In exceptional cases he suggested, "careful recognition of the fertile and sterile periods of woman would prove effective in the great majority of cases. Recent knowledge of woman's physiology reveals the natural method for controlling birth."

When McConkie's Mormon Doctrine was published in 1958 the entry on birth control quoted from Joseph Fielding Smith, "Those who practice birth control...are running counter to the foreordained plan of the Almighty. They are in rebellion against God and are guilty of gross wickedness." (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, first ed., 1958, p. 81.) For about 20 years, Mormon Doctrine remained one of the most authoritative sources most Mormons had on their bookshelves. But family size among active Latter-day Saints continued to shrink.

In 1979 a seminal article on the subject of birth control appeared in the Ensign magazine. The article was not written by a General Authority. It was composed by LDS doctor Homer Ellsworth, but its appearance in the Church's official magazine necessitated approval by Church authorities. In the article, Ellsworth gave his opinion that decisions regarding the number and spacing of children were to be made by husband and wife righteously and empathetically communicating together and seeking the inspiration of the Lord. He cited the then current counsel of the First Presidency in the General Handbook of Instructions and testified that he was inspired by this statement that "the health of the mother and the well-being of the family should be considered." The entire text of the First Presidency Statement Ellsworth referenced reads as follows:

“Presidents of Stakes, Bishops of Wards, and Presidents of Missions
Dear Brethren:
The First Presidency is being asked from time to time as to what the attitude of the Church is regarding birth control. In order that you may be informed on this subject and that you may be prepared to convey the proper information to the members of the Church under your jurisdiction, we have decided to give you the following statement:
We seriously should regret that there should exist a sentiment or feeling among any members of the Church to curtail the birth of their children. We have been commanded to multiply and replenish the earth that we may have joy and rejoicing in our posterity.

Where husband and wife enjoy health and vigor and are free from impurities that would be entailed upon their posterity, it is contrary to the teachings of the Church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children. We believe that those who practice birth control will reap disappointment by and by.
However, we feel that men must be considerate of their wives who bear the greater responsibility not only of bearing children, but of caring for them through childhood. To this end the mother's health and strength should be conserved and the husband's consideration for his wife is his first duty, and self control a dominant factor in all their relationships.

It is our further feeling that married couples should seek inspiration and wisdom from the Lord that they may exercise discretion in solving their marital problems, and that they may be permitted to rear their children in accordance with the teachings of the gospel.” (First Presidency {David O. McKay, Hugh B. Brown, N. Eldon Tanner}, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Office of the First Presidency, April 14, 1969.)

This letter has been called a "master of diplomacy." This is because the statement can and has been used to justify both sides of the birth control debate. Notice however, that it is made clear that artificial means of curtailing the birth of children is contrary to the Church's teachings, and that "self control" is advocated when considering the mother's health and strength to bear further children.

As can be seen in the comments to my last post, this Ensign article was hailed by members all over the Church as a signal that the Church position on birth control had relaxed. In fact, this was far from the case. Church president and prophet Ezra Taft Benson continued to make many strong statements against contraception throughout his ministry. But the tide could not be held back. Throughout the seventies and eighties, Stake Presidents and Bishops freely expressed varying views in private to their respective flocks. By the time President Gordon B. Hinckley took office, the Church's historical position regarding birth control had been largely forgotten. Since 1984, a subtle shift in rhetoric has allowed members to feel comfortable with their own prayerful decisions regarding family size:

Gordon B. Hinckley
"Of course we believe in children. The Lord has told us to multiply and replenish the earth that we might have joy in our posterity, and there is no greater joy than the joy that comes of happy children in good families. But he did not designate the number, nor has the Church. That is a sacred matter left to the couple and the Lord." (Gordon B. Hinckley, Cornerstones of a Happy Home, Satellite fireside broadcast, Jan 29, 1984, then distributed in the pamphlet of the same name)

Proclamation on the Family
The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. (Proclamation on the Family, Ensign, Nov 1995, 102.)

Church Handbook of Instructions
It is the privilege of married couples who are able to bear children to provide mortal bodies for the spirit children of God, whom they are then responsible to nurture and rear. The decision as to how many chldren to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter.

Married couples also should understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a means of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife. (Church Handbook of Instructions, January 1999)

True To the Faith--a Church published booklet referencing a number of gospel principles:
When married couples are physically able, they have the privilege of providing mortal bodies for Heavenly Father’s spirit children. They play a part in the great plan of happiness, which permits God’s children to receive physical bodies and experience mortality.

If you are married, you and your spouse should discuss your sacred responsibility to bring children into the world and nurture them in righteousness. As you do so, consider the sanctity and meaning of life. Ponder the joy that comes when children are in the home. Consider the eternal blessings that come from having a good posterity. With a testimony of these principles, you and your spouse will be prepared to prayerfully decide how many children to have and when to have them. Such decisions are between the two of you and the Lord.

As you discuss this sacred matter, remember that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved. While one purpose of these relations is to provide physical bodies for God’s children, another purpose is to express love for one another—to bind husband and wife together in loyalty, fidelity, consideration, and common purpose. (True to the Faith: A Gospel Reference, 2004, p. 26.)

Thus we see a subtle but important shift in the doctrinal teachings of the Church on the subject of birth control. Official statements by the Church continue to be careful in their wording. Unequivocal pronouncements such as "birth control may be used for the spacing of children" are absent from official sources, but may form counsel given by local leadership or members. At present, it is generally accepted that any Mormon couple, while encouraged to have children and create a family, may make their own inspired decisions in regards to contraception and family size.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Can I Put My Earrings Back In Now?

As I grow older, I'm not getting wiser, I'm just getting more confused. I spent a lot of time and energy as a young mother coming to terms with strange doctrines such as God was once a man and the literal conception of Jesus, only to have these demphasized twenty years later. It took a lot of faith and struggle to follow the counsel of Church leaders back then not to use birth control and to have as many children as possible (not to mention their counsel on sexual practices between married couples!). Now it feels like the sacrifice I made has no meaning. Young couples today are told to pray about the decision of how many children to have. I wonder what my family would look like if that had been the counsel I was given. How would it have affected my strained relationship with my husband, my years of depression? How much better could I have done as a mother and as a member of the community?

As time goes by and I measure the years of my Church membership in decades, I see big changes. I welcome many of these, but struggle with feelings of anger. Why was my marriage and my Church membership burdened with the hard patriarchy rhetoric while men and women enjoy much more equality today? What would my choices and opportunities have been if the emphasis on education for women had been preached when I was 21?

Some of the changes are not welcome. I don't see the need for us to defend our status as "Christians." When I joined the Church, I worked for and gained a testimony of our distinctive doctrines, and I don't like to see them watered down so that we can fit in better with evangelical interest groups.

I've seen the reorganization of 5 First Presidencies now, and it will be interesting to see what new directions they will take us. I'm excited about the Church today. I see more acceptance of diversity. I see more openness in dealing with Mormon history. There is an effort at distinguishing between Mormon culture and doctrine. I see a better understanding of international issues. But I fear I'm becoming an LDS dinosaur.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

JS # 4--How to Conjure Moroni

The visitation of Moroni to the young Joseph Smith was preceeded by a fervent prayer regarding his status before the Lord. There are interesting similarities in Joseph's account of his vision of Moroni and his First Vision almost four years before.

In 1820, Joseph became concerned for the welfare of his immortal soul. His mind become distressed for he became convicted of his sins. Likewise, in 1823, the repentant Joseph was seeking reconciliation with the Lord concerning his sins and follies. Our JS manual tells us that he "desired a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him..." (p. 57)

Latter-day Saints tend to emphasize the results of these two prayers relating to the future organization of the Church. The First Vision is seen as important because the Lord told Joseph that no Church currently on the earth held the fulness of the gospel. Moroni's visit is significant because of the information the angel imparted about the Golden Plates that Joseph would later translate. But I believe that to Joseph personally, the greater significance in these manifestations was in uncovering his status before the Lord and the forgiveness of his sins.

In the third Lecture on Faith, it is taught: "Let us here observe, that three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God, unto life and salvation: First, the idea that he actually exists. Second, a correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes. Third, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his [God's] will."

Joseph's prayer was a desire for all three items in the aforementioned list. I'm beginning to see the importance of the third, and to realize that it is something I tend to neglect. I believe that God exists. I'm well aware of Church teachings regarding His character and attributes. But how often do I go before the Lord to know if my course is in accordance with the Divine Will? I recognize the value of seeking God's approbation regarding the big decisions--choosing a career, or whom to marry. But I'm perhaps a bit afraid of inquiring as to how I'm doing so far. As I pray for forgiveness of our sins, am I brave enough to ask for a view of how far I yet have to go?

Latter-day Saint teachings on prayer often emphasize its spontaneous nature and warn against repetitious and rote invocations. Thus we offer as a format for prayer something like the following:

Dear Heavenly Father,
We thank thee....
We ask thee....
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

We also deemphasize the Lord's Prayer as found in the scriptures, because many other churches have turned this prayer into a ritual instead of an example. This is unfortunate, really, because there are many aspects of the Lord's Prayer which are doctrinally important and not specifically mentioned in our latter-day prayer template. One of these things is the plea for forgiveness of sins which Joseph modeled in his exemplary prayers of 1820 and 1823. Joseph wanted to know of his standing before the Lord in relation to his personal righteousness. He had no idea what further revelation was in store for him. It takes a bit of courage to come to this point. But what glorious scenes may result!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Valentine's Day 2008, A Silver Stud

I hope DH doesn't feel offended, but I found someone to make my heart go "pitty-pat" this Valentine's Day. It's Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Ted Kooser. (hat tip: Amelia) Some of you young male bloggers can pick up a few tips from this guy! Kooser admits that he started writing poetry as a young man with the goal of gaining female attention. In those years," he said, "I desperately needed some sort of a gimmick, for I was thin and pimply, my palms sweated, and my breath was sour from smoking the Chesterfields that despite the claims of magazine advertising had failed to make me irresistible. I got the idea that being a poet might make me attractive. It didn't occur to me for a long time that in order to earn the title of 'poet,' I ought to have written at least one poem. Being a poet was looking the part.

Oh, Mariachi Me

All my life I have wanted nothing so much
as the love of women. For them I have fashioned
the myth of myself, the singing troubador
with the flashing eyes. Always for them
my black sombrero with its swinging tassels,
this vest embroidered with hearts, these trousers
with silver studs down the seams. Oh, I am
Mariachi me, as I had intended. I am success
and the price of success, now old and dusty
at the edge of the dance floor, still smiling,
heavy with hope, clutching my dead guitar.
Ted Kooser, Valentine's Day 2006

He seems to have learned a lot since his early days! Now, he gives Valentine advice such as this: "Any kind of handwritten message to anyone else is a plus, even if it isn't a great work of art. Love letters are a wonderful gift, even when poorly written." BiV can only heartily agree. (Are you still reading, DH?) Kooser said men, in particular, fall back on the old standards: a dozen roses and a box of chocolates.

"That's OK, but my guess is a handwritten letter would convey a lot more. But I wouldn't want to deprive women of roses and chocolates." That Kooser understands the secret longings and fears women experience is obvious from this tidbit:
If you feel sorry for yourself
this Valentine's Day, think of
the dozens of little paper poppies
left in the box when the last
of the candy is gone, how they
must feel, dried out and brown
in their sad old heart-shaped box...
(Excerpt of Ted Kooser poem "If You Feel Sorry")

February 14th became a special day for this romantic soul, and in 1986, Kooser mailed one of his efforts, "Pocket Poem" to 50 female friends for Valentine's Day. Kooser continued the tradition (approved by his wife), and did it for the next 21 years. He spent time and money tenderly applying little red hearts to the cards, boxing them up and sending them to a different post office just so they could be postmarked from Valentine, Neb. Isn't that just too sweet for words?? Eventually, over 2,500 women received a yearly poem from the Nebraska poet.
If this comes creased and creased again and soiled
as if I'd opened it a thousand times
to see if what I'd written here was right,
it's all because I looked too long for you
to put it in your pocket. Midnight says
the little gifts of loneliness come wrapped
by nervous fingers. What I wanted this
to say was that I want to be so close
that when you find it, it is warm from me.
Ted Kooser, "Pocket Poem," Valentine's Day 1986

What I love most about Kooser's poems is that although he is a romantic, he appreciates depth and variety in women. The woman he describes in the poem "Selecting a Reader" is priceless, and she demonstrates that his definition of beauty is nuanced:
First, I would have her be beautiful,
and walking carefully up on my poetry
at the loneliest moment of an afternoon,
her hair still damp at the neck
from washing it. She should be wearing
a raincoat, an old one, dirty
from not having money enough for the cleaners.
She will take out her glasses, and there
in the bookstore, she will thumb
over my poems, then put the book back
up on its shelf. She will say to herself,
"For that kind of money, I can get
my raincoat cleaned." And she will.

Kooser's poems avoid over-sentimentality and often have unexpected twists. There's a dark, seductive, almost ravenous side to the poem "Barn Owl" that will give you the shivers...
High in the chaffy
Taffy colored haze of the hayloft,
Up under the starry nail-hole twinkle of the old tin roof
There in a nest of straw and bailing twine
I have hidden my valentine for you

A white heart woven of snowy feathers
In which wide eyes are welcome
Open to you as you climb the rickety ladder to my love

Behind those eyes lies a boudoir of intimate darkness, darling
The silks of oblivion
And set like a jewel dead center in the heart
Is a golden hook the size of a finger ring
To hold you always
Plumpest sweetheart mouse of mine.
(Here he is reading the poem aloud, in his adorable, self-deprecating manner: (KooserBarnOwl)

And yet, although Kooser has now passed the landmark of 60 years old, he retains the sweet shyness of youth, as evidenced in the poem, "Tracks:"
Using a cobbler’s shoe last
I found one summer at a yard sale,
and the heavy leather uppers
from cast-off boots, a jigsaw,
some wood, an awl and thread,
and a few evenings sitting alone
thinking of you, I have fashioned
a pair of red valentine shoes
with heart-shaped wooden heels.
Look for my tracks on your doorstep
where I stood with sore feet
through the evening, too timid to knock.

Kooser's Valentine postcards are now available to all in the form of his newly published book, "Valentines." A review describes it thus, "Kooser's valentine poems encompass all the facets of the holiday: the traditional hearts and candy, the brilliance and purity of love, the quiet beauty of friendship, and the bittersweetness of longing." I just can't get enough of these love poems. Will you read just one more?
After Years

Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer’s retina
as he stood on the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.

So, guys, if you haven't already bought a diamond bracelet or box of chocolates, hie thyself to the nearest bookstore and pick up a copy of Kooser's book. Write your own ditty, be it ever so humble, and tuck it among the pages, where it will be cherished in years to come. And in the best of Kooser tradition, get an extra copy and send it to that older lady you home teach.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Enough About Keystones!

I'm getting bored with the obligatory lesson every time we begin a study on the Book of Mormon which involves the teacher drawing a very poor diagram of an arch on the board and explaining the importance of a keystone. This year we are subjected to the convention twice, once in Sunday School Lesson #1 and now in the JS Manual Lesson #4.

Just FYI on keystones: A keystone is the architectural piece at the crown of a vault or arch and marks its apex, locking the other pieces into position. Although a keystone is important, it serves primarily an aesthetic purpose. Some say that a keystone is not as important structurally as the voussoirs, since the removal of any of the voussoirs would cause the arch to collapse but this is not necessarily true of the keystone. A keystone is not the main load-bearer in an arch. The stresses are greatest at the bottom and least at the top. The forces along the center line are horizontal, so an arch can work perfectly well with an even number of voussoirs, and no keystone at all!

Joseph Smith's statement that the Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion is no more than a figurative and not strictly legitimate use of the term to suggest that the book is the central supporting element of the larger structure of the Church. In our lessons we are stretching the metaphor to the point of being grossly inaccurate. (Besides that, I like to think of Christ as the central element.)

Now I wouldn't have any problem if a qualified architect or mason came to SS prepared to discuss the intricacies of archwork and new applications we could bring to the metaphor. For example, here's an interesting definition:

The keystone is the block without which the structure is not whole; it receives and joins forces of upwardly-reaching members of an arch and creates a structure that soars with lightness yet with solid integrity and strength. The integrative strength of the keystone is a natural one that does not depend for its function on massiveness but rather works because everything falls into place around it and is strengthened and brought together by it, making all the components work together. A keystone is synergistic, yielding a structure that is stronger than the individual parts would be if they were merely stacked together, one on top of the other. It exists to unite structural elements.

But I think I'd rather just drop the overemphasis on this old chestnut. There are more fascinating things in this lesson to discuss. Tomorrow I will blog about one of them.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Temple Initiatories from a Faithful Feminist Perspective

Today I am home alone (Yippee!) and instead of scrubbing the bathtub my mind is wandering in all kinds of strange directions.

I've been thinking about the temple initiatory for women and wishing I could discuss it from a faithful, feminist perspective. Unfortunately, there are some obstacles which stand in my way of doing this. Number one, of course, is the proscription from discussing certain sacred aspects of the temple. I'm a bit more liberal than many in talking of my temple experiences. I think there are certain parts in the temple which we are clearly told not to discuss, and I'm willing to draw the line there. But can we talk about the initiatory? Most Mormons won't talk about anything remotely associated with the temple. Even among other endowed members. So bringing up any of my wonderings on this subject with fellow Latter-day Saints will be met with resistance.

Next obstacle is my physical distance from the nearest Temple. The last time I attended was the day before we moved to the Middle East, and my next opportunity to go will probably be in June, when we go back to the States for Summer vacation. But even had I the chance to go to the temple, would I find someone with whom I could discuss my concerns while sitting around the Celestial Room?

The quiet, meditative setting of the Celestial Room is not always conducive to a robust investigation of the sort I am contemplating. I yearn to talk about the 2005 changes to the initiatory ordinance. I loved doing initiatories before the changes, and I found a lot of spirituality, intimacy, and symbolism have been removed. I'd like to talk about these things with a faithful LDS woman who misses this as well, but isn't about to lose her recommend over it. I'd like to find someone who isn't freaked out by the presence of large tubs of water in early SLC Temple ordinance rooms and the liberal pouring of consecrated oil from large horns over the crown of the head. But I'd want her to be feminist and knowledgeable enough to also discuss the differences between the male and female versions of the pre-2005 ordinance and their implications for feminists. We'd talk about the words "having authority," "under proper authority," and "now authorized." We'd discuss esoteric, mystical, symbolist, and romantic approaches to the initiatory. We'd speak of the importance of ritual and what, if any, priesthood is exercised by women ordinance workers.

Do you think I can hold out any hope for such a discussion? Must I always hold the sacred/secret deep within a cavern in my heart, never to see the light of day? Or do you think that Dan Wotherspoon might be able to arrange a Wednesday night Sunstone temple session, complete with discussion period in the upper Assembly room, as a special part of this year's Symposium?

I can always dream...or perhaps I should go scrub that bathroom now.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Immigration Policy Based on 2 Nephi 1

Warning: Do not discuss in Sunday School Lesson #6

As a hard core pacifist, I've always wondered why Mormons don't put greater faith in Second Nephi, chapter 1. In this chapter, Lehi tells his sons that he has obtained a promise from the Lord. Whoever has been led out of the land of Jerusalem and brought to the land of promise (which we are told is the American continent) will prosper as long as they keep the commandments. In fact, no other nations will be able to molest them or take them into captivity. They will not be overrun by other nations, and they will always have a place for an inheritance.

A more careful reading of these verses reveals that this promise applies to more than just the Book of Mormon peoples. "None shall come into this land," prophesies Lehi, "save they shall be brought by the hand of the Lord." God promises to give the American continent to ALL THOSE who in the future shall be led out of other countries by his power. Thus, the promise found in verse 7 is quite comprehensive. Anyone who lives here, who is keeping the commandments shall be protected. The land is a land of liberty, and as long as we are righteous, we will never be brought into captivity.

In the past, I've wondered why Latter-day Saints who live in the U.S. support war as a necessity for protecting and defending our country. If we really believe this promise, wouldn't it be much more effective to protect our country, our homes, and our families by concentrating on our personal righteousness rather than espousing military action?

Today in Sunday School, I realized the scripture has an additional application. Lehi is told in verse 8 that the Lord is keeping the Promised Land from the knowledge of other nations, so that they will not overrun the land and keep the branch of Israel which has been led there from having place for an inheritance. Should we not apply these verses to ourselves also? Does a careful reading of this chapter suggest that we should allow the Lord to bring to this land whom he will? Will he not keep them from overrunning the land if we are righteous? If we keep the commandments, shall we not maintain an inheritance, be safe and protected, and even be blessed and prosper upon the land?

What applications does 2 Nephi 1 have to the immigration policies now being discussed in the United States?

"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses
yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of
your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless,
tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp
beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus, 1883

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The List

This year marks my 12th consecutive year of having daughters in the YW program, and I've become accustomed to having little lists lying around the house enumerating the qualities the girls would like to see in their future spouses. This ritual is a strange one which I think must be peculiar to the Latter-day Saints. I tend to view it as rather pernicious and dangerous. Perhaps its roots lie in good intentions. Indeed girls should be looking for young men to date who are following certain standards. I believe that communication should take place before young people get seriously involved so that a girl who wants 10 children doesn't end up married to a boy who doesn't want any. However, the lists I've taken out of pockets in the laundry tend to include items like "he should have blue eyes," "must be rich and have good taste in ties," or "will already have graduated from med school." Are my daughters simply being facetious in what they are writing on these lists? Or are they really culling from my future family possible brown-eyed son-in-laws?

What is the purpose of such a particular list? Should a girl who considers education important really refrain from dating a good LDS boy because he plans on becoming a mechanic rather than aspiring to a degree in medicine? What happens when she falls in love with a boy who doesn't meet every requirement on her list? Will she always feel in her heart that she lowered her standards to marry this individual? How will this girl react when (as happened in one of our Ward Standards Nights) a bright-eyed newlywed pulls a list out of her journal and gushes that the man she married fulfilled every requirement on her list?

Well, it must be that time of year again, for this week I found two lists written by each of my two teen-aged daughters. This list was a pre-printed one from some apocryphal YW materials entitled "A Future Husband" and which included several categories of inspection. The YW leader, in a burst of creativity, had the girls cross out the word "husband" and write in "wife." Apparently they were to decide what qualities they were to develop which would make them a worthy wife to the man they would someday marry. This seemed an improvement upon the standard, but upon perusal, I still became disturbed.

Following are the results of each list:

(14-year-old daughter)

Career Objective
  • Job to fall back on (lawyer?)
    Spiritual Preparation
  • Patriarchal Blessing
  • Temple Recommend
  • Mission
  • Caregiver
  • At least a college degree
  • Law Degree
  • Well Educated
    Special Skills
  • Know how to care for house and family
  • Have good work ethics
  • Selflessness
  • Good teacher
  • Kindness
  • Piano player
  • Reading
  • Play sports
    Physical Traits
  • Appreciate my body
  • Good hygiene
  • Treat body like a temple

  • (16-year-old daughter)

    Career Objective
  • Something to fall back on
    Spiritual Preparation
  • Worthy to go to Temple
  • R.M.

  • College graduate

    Special Skills
  • Good with kids
  • Trustworthy
  • Honest


    Physical Traits
  • Healthy

  • This was all quite a surprise to me. First of all--my readers will know that BiV has never taught her children that a career is "something to fall back on." Why did both of my daughters use these same words? Is this something our YW are being taught in Church? Should women look upon a career as simply "something to fall back on?" Does my intelligent 14-year-old have a passion for law? Does her question mark indicate an awareness of its unsuitability as a backup career, or is she unsure if this choice of career will fit in with the Latter-day wife expectation?

    And my amazing, multi-talented 16-year-old wrote nothing down in the space provided for talents/hobbies/interests. Did she just get bored with the activity, or doesn't she think her talents or interests would be useful in her future role as wife?

    I'm especially interested to know if any of these responses would have changed if the purpose of the list had been to describe "MY FUTURE ASPIRATIONS" instead of "A FUTURE WIFE??"

    Wednesday, February 6, 2008

    BiV's Blog of the Month

    The hottest Mormon blog I've seen in the first month of 2008 has got to be



    And I don't say that just because I have a crush on the cool and erudite John Hamer.♥
    I really think John Dehlin has another winner in this blog. First of all, he has chosen several (21 right now, and growing!) bloggers to join him on what used to be a podcast dedicated to--you guessed it--Mormon matters. The podcast was lively and entertaining, but didn't reach nearly the audience that it does now as an active posting medium. And when I say active, I really mean it. There are sometimes 3 or 4 posts a day that go up on the site. So far they have all been of interest. Mormon Matters deals with diverse topics such as Chris Heimerdinger's new film, early patriarchal blessings, non-member family members at temple marriages, and the Church's position on biblical interpretation, to name just a few. The comments are just as well-informed and fascinating as the posts.

    I'm sure most of my readers are familiar with this blog by now. But don't miss all of its awesome features:

    The handy author profile on the sidebar allows you to view Chris Bigelow in a tie-dyed T-shirt, and ponder such things as how Jeff Spector could have joined the Church in June 1982 and been sealed to his wife in the Oakland Temple in August 1982.

    The "Notes From All Over" are more numerous and comprehensive than those found on the sidebars of other blogs. They include calls for papers, announcements of retreats and conferences, studies and national coverage of the Church, as well as YouTube picks and humorous anecdotes.

    I think that with this blog, John Dehlin has accomplished his goal in having informative discussion on all aspects of Mormon history and culture from all sides of the idealogical spectrum, while remaining positive toward the LDS Church. I expect that the podcast will continue as well, and I'm hoping that John will add more females to his cast of bloggers.

    Tuesday, February 5, 2008

    Anthon H. Lund--Skeletons in the Barn

    President Joseph F. Smith with counselors John R. Winder and Anthon H. Lund

    Several observers have pointed out that Dieter Uchtdorf is not the first Apostle we have had who was born in a country outside of the U.S. One of the names being mentioned is that of the "Danish Apostle," Anthon H. Lund. This Apostle has always interested me because my maiden name is Lund. (Although my English Lunds are in no way connected to the Denmark Lunds.)

    A few years ago a Lund descendant wrote an article about the skeleton in Grandpa Anthon H. Lund's barn. President Lund kept a prolific journal which unearthed more than one corresponding skeleton lurking in our Church history, and even in his own life. It is certainly interesting to look at LDS history as informed by the experiences of Anthon H. Lund.

    Lund arrived in Utah at the age of 18 and worked as a teamster, a school teacher, and then a telegraph operator. He served in the Utah Territorial Legislature and is credited for starting USU because he introduced the legislation to start it. At the same time, he worked on the Utah Capitol Grounds Committee. Lund was used extensively by the Church in its foreign missions. He was the President of the Scandinavian Mission, President of the European Mission, and organized the Turkish Mission. He was ordained an apostle in 1889 and served in the First Presidency of the Church from 1901 until his death March 2, 1921.

    Anthon H. Lund served as Counselor in the First Presidency under President Joseph F. Smith and under Heber J. Grant. He was always "just a bit different," and not only because of his nationality. At the time of his call the the Twelve, he was the only monogamist among the Apostles. He wasn't afraid to be different.

    Lund was the one to give the first Conference Talk in 1899 emphasizing it was no longer Church policy to gather to Zion, but that Saints were to stay in their native lands and build up the Church there. I wonder how much influence he had in that decision.

    Another example of Lund's disregard of convention occurred in 1903 when Benjamin Cluff, Jr., president of the Brigham Young Academy proposed to the Board that it change the name of the school to Brigham Young University, which had been his aim all fourteen years of his administration. There followed a vigorous dispute over this proposal. Thinking the school was not qualified to become a university, Anthon H. Lund of the First Presidency vigorously opposed it but was outvoted by his brethren. In his diary for the day President Lund recorded, "I hope their head will grow big enough for their hat."

    In his diary Lund said that when President Joseph F. Smith nominated his son Hyrum in their meeting with the Twelve in October 1901 that there was talk of nepotism by some of the Twelve. A couple of the Twelve said Hyrum had not served in any major church calling and his qualifications weren't obvious. President Smith told them he didn't know why but the Lord revealed to him that his son was to be the next apostle but that was who the Lord wanted. Elder Lund spoke out in favor of Hyrum's calling saying if that was who the Prophet and the Lord both wanted then the other brethren should support the calling. A vote was called and the brethren voted to call Hyrum Mack Smith as an apostle.

    Later when the Apostle Hyrum became ill, he refused medical treatment. Hyrum maintained that the Lord would protect him and he would be cured. His father the Prophet became worried and asked him to reconsider--that the family's personal physician could operate on him immediately. It took several hours to convince him but finally he did it for his father's sake. Peritonitis had set in. When the surgeon opened him up he died on the table from the infection on 23 January 1918.

    Lund goes on to write that many general authorities expressed the opinion that Hyrum was taken early because he was needed in the Spirit World to work among the youth and that they said that mainly to try to soften the loss for President Smith. Lund stood up indignantly and opined that the needless tragedy would not have occurred had Hyrum been wise and gone to a doctor sooner.

    Lund's diaries cover his opinions on the tensions between Apostle Moses Thatcher and his colleagues; the rejection by the U.S. House of Representatives of Utah's Congressman, B. H. Roberts; his involvement in post-Manifesto polygamy and the stormy hearings over whether to seat LDS apostle Reed Smoot in the U.S. Senate. He was also a signer of the 1909 First Presidency statement on the origin of man and found himself in the thick of the 1911 evolution controversy at BYU.

    Lund was known for not being a strict follower of the Word of Wisdom. Interestingly, it was directly following his death in 1921 that Church President Heber J. Grant made adherence to the proscriptions of the Word of Wisdom an absolute requirement for entering the temple.

    Becoming a member of the First Presidency made Anthon H. Lund a part of a great deal of controversial Church history. I wonder what is in store for Dieter Uchtdorf?

    Dear Betty Toms,

    I cannot think of any way to more quickly promote the horror flick "The Book of Zombie" than to go to every blog you could think of and provide them a link to the trailer. (Of course I clicked on it! Didn't everyone?)

    Well, if you insist, I will do my part to help out in discrediting this "terrible conception of our faith." The most effective thing I can think of to do is to bring all my non-member friends with me to see it, and laugh our guts out.

    Monday, February 4, 2008

    Eliza, Adam, and the Heavenly Mother

    Eliza R. Snow holds a unique position in Mormon history. She never had children or a husband of her "own," though she was married to the first two LDS Prophets. Eliza became extremely influential in the early Church for a variety of reasons. Her situation with less family responsibility gave her free time to pursue her interests. Her calling as General Relief Society President saw her travelling among the Saints and gave her an authoritative position. Her proximity to Church leadership put her in firsthand touch with Church doctrine as it was developed. Finally, her considerable talent in writing gave her a voice among men and women alike.

    We are all aware of Eliza's contribution to LDS belief through her poem, "The Eternal Father and Mother," which became the popular hymn "O My Father." The poem was frequently reprinted, put to a number of musical settings, and sung at formal as well as informal Church settings. Eliza popularized the concept of a mother God to such an extent that by 1873 Wilford Woodruff credited her poem as the source of the doctrine, identifying it as "a revelation, though it was given unto us by a woman--Sister Snow." [1]

    The female bard Eliza treated many other principles of the Church in her poetry. One of her lesser-known poems, "The Ultimatum of a Human Life" [2] is of interest because it speaks of the Adam-God doctrine, once furiously debated, and now repudiated in the modern Church. "The Ultimatum" begins in a familiar LDS setting. The author is musing at twilight when a spirit guide appears to instruct her. This scene vividly recalls Lehi's dream in the Book of Mormon. Lehi's son Nephi likewise had the experience of entertaining an angel who had come to instruct him in religious principles. To a Mormon audience, this poetic convention gives the later instruction a powerful endorsement.

    "What would'st thou me?" the seraph gently said:
    "Tell me, and wherefore hast thou sought my aid?"

    The author asks her spirit guide to explain the cause of suffering upon this earth and what will be the end result of human life--"its ultimatum in Eternity." The angel tells her that it is not necessary for her to know the secrets of the worlds on high, the Councils, decrees, organizations, laws formed by the Gods on high. These took place before her great Father came forth from their great courts to tread upon this new world and stand as it's royal head. Instead, the angel explains to her the ordeal and purpose of life. But in various places in the poem we learn more about this behind-the-scenes view of Eternity:

    Adam, your God, like you on earth, has been
    Subject to sorrow in a world of sin:
    Through long gradation he arose to be
    Cloth'd with the Godhead's might and majesty...
    By his obedience he obtain'd the place
    Of God and Father of this human race.

    A second poem written by Eliza, "We Believe in Our God," was also included in the LDS collection of hymns until the year 1912. This poem described God as the "prince of his race," and identified him simultaneously as Adam, the Ancient of Days, and Michael the archangel.

    We believe in our God, the Prince of his race,
    The archangel Michael, the Ancient of Days
    Our own Father Adam, earth's Lord as is plain,
    Who'll counsel and fight for His children again.
    We believe in His Son, Jesus Christ who in love
    To His brothers and sisters came down from above,
    To die, to redeem them from death, and to teach
    To mortals and spirits the gospel we preach. [3]

    In another poem, titled "To Mrs. ___ ," Eliza combines Adam-God with the couplet theology of godhood originated by her brother Lorenzo Snow:

    ...But now I’m but a child of dust;
    Thanks, thanks to Him, in whom I trust,
    I’m not without his wise direction,
    His smiles, his guidance and protection.

    Adam, our father--Eve, our mother,
    And Jesus Christ, our elder brother,
    Are to my understanding shown:
    My heart responds, they are my own.

    Perfection lifts them far from me,
    But what they are, we yet may be,
    If we, tho’ slowly, follow on,
    We’ll reach the point to which they’ve gone. [4]

    Clearly Eliza R. Snow agreed with and sought to promote the Adam-God doctrine preached by Brigham Young. Because acceptance of Adam as our Father and God implies Eve as our Heavenly Mother, some have connected this theory with the equally speculative Mother in Heaven axiom. [5] Why was the Heavenly Mother so readily absorbed into Mormon thought while Adam-God has died an ignomonious death? Joseph Smith and Brigham Young defended the concept of speculation, pondering, theorizing, and seeking the mysteries far more than is common today. Thus there were several speculative ideas preached by early Church leaders which were later refined or rejected outright by their successors. Van Hale has pointed out that Brigham Young said that his views were not official doctrine, nor mandatory for the Saints to believe. [6] Brigham and his prime supporter on Adam-God, Wilford Woodruff, experienced great opposition among their colleagues in the Twelve concerning the idea. [7] On the other hand, the Heavenly Mother idea was comforting, non-threatening and widely accepted. Every latter-day prophet has reaffirmed the existence of a Mother in Heaven. Indeed, the teaching has probably been challenged more in the past 5 years than in the 163 years since it was penned.


    [1] Wilford Woodruff quoted in Jill Mulvay Derr, "The Significance of 'O My Father' in the Personal Journey of Eliza R. Snow," BYU Studies 36:85-126.

    [2] "Poems, Religious, Historical, and Political by Eliza R(oxy) Snow. Vol. II, Compiled by the Author," Latter-day Saints' Printing and Publishing Establishment, 1877, 5-10; .

    [3] Sacred Hymns and Spiritual Songs for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 11th Edition, revised in Liverpool, 1856, by Franklin D. Richards, Apostle; p. 375. See also the 25th edition, 1912.

    [4] citation needed

    [5] Blake Ostler has opined, "I view the notion of the mother in heaven as originating in a cultural overbelief (a mere ball that got rolling with a misunderstanding of an authoritative statement), was first elucidated as part of BY’s and Eliza’s Adam God doctrine, and then got baptized by Joseph F. Smith." Comment #10 at New Cool Thang blog.

    [6] "[The] subject ... does not immediately concern yours or my welfare ... I do not pretend to say that the items of doctrine and ideas I shall advance are necessary for the people to know." (Brigham Young, Historical Department of the Church [HDC], Oct 8, 1854). See this and other statements in "What About the Adam-God Theory?" by Van Hale at

    [7] Including, most notably, Orson Pratt. Brigham allowed Orson his judgment on the matter and gave him the freedom to express his opinions publicly without sanction or punishment.

    Sunday, February 3, 2008

    The Writings of Nature's Fair Queens

    I’ve enjoyed reading the Women’s Exponent since it became available online. I’m amazed at how political and liberated many of the articles are. Their interest in the world beyond their valley surprised me. It is fascinating to read the historical information:

    “The last week of May, 1872, will be memorable in American annals as the first time since the first ordinance of secession was passed in the South, that both houses of Congress had their full list of members.” (1:1:1)

    the fashion advice:

    “News comes from France that trailing dresses for street wear are going out of fashion. So many absurd and ridiculous fashions come from Paris that the wonder is thinking American women do not, with honest republican spirit, reject them entirely. This latter one, however, is so sensible, that its immediate adoption will be an evidence of good sense wisely directed.” (1:1:1)

    on Women’s Suffrage:

    “Men are not usually frightened to let women carry about great bundles of sewing, for which, in many large cities, women only earn a bare pittance, scarcely enough to keep the wolf from the door—that is womanly work; but let her dare talk about voting, or securing equal wages with men for the same amount of work faithfully executed, and she must expect to be cried down as lacking in womanliness or propriety.” (8:13:100)

    the pieces defending plural marriage as the solution for independent women,

    “The world says Polygamy makes women inferior to men—we think differently. Polygamy, gives women more time for thought, for mental culture, more freedom of action, a broader field of labor, inculcates liberality and generosity, develops more fully the spiritual elements of life, fosters purity of thought and gives wider scope to benevolence, leads women more directly to God…” (5:6:44)

    and then the tidbits giving moral direction!

    “There are many parents who think they can bring up their children, and especially their daughters, in a large degree ignorant of the evil that is in the world. As the king in the fairy tale banished all spinning wheels from his dominions, that his daughter might not wound her fingers with a spindle, and realize the prophesy of the spiteful fairy at her christening, even so mothers withhold useful and necessary knowledge from their daughters, lest with it may be mingled something leading to harm. (2:20:154)

    A perusal of the writings of these transplanted Mormon women from 1872 to 1914 reveals great insight into the hopes and dreams they had for their lives. It appears that Mormon women of the nineteenth century were as conflicted and diverse as those today. Compare these two pieces, both found in the same issue of the Women’s Exponent:

    “It is a common saying, women talk too much; it may be that they do about that which is of no real importance, but upon subjects which should be well understood, by women possessing common intelligence, there are a vast majority who do not converse at all, to them it is all rubbish nonsense and unwomanly. They prefer to have a husband, father, or brother to think and act and speak for them; to attend to them, to support them. It is to educate this class of women upon such essential points, that it becomes more than ever necessary to speak, and write, and harangue…
    “It is a well authenticated fact, and palpable to all the world, that there are thousands of women, who have no such substantial support to cling to, as an oak in the form of a husband, father, or brother, and those who have there are many who suffer more than those who have not, from intemperance and other causes, consequently it follows that as vines they would trail upon the earth, and very naturally be trod upon just as thousands of women are, who have been taught and encouraged in dependence instead of independence.” (The Women’s Exponent, 1876-08-15 vol. 5 no. 6 p. 44)

    And here is the other:

    Learn to Keep House

    Beautiful maidens—aye nature’s fair queens,
    Some in your twenties, and some in your teens,
    Seeking accomplishments worthy your aim.
    Striving for learning, thirsting for fame;
    Taking such pains with the style of your hair,
    Keeping your lily complexions so fair:
    Miss not this item in all your gay lives,
    Learn to keep house, you may one day be wives.
    Learn to keep house.

    Now your Adonis loves sweet moonlight walks,
    Hand clasps, and kisses, and nice little talks.
    Then, as plain Charlie, with burden of care,
    He must subsist on more nourishing fare;
    He’ll come home at the set of the sun,
    Heart-sick and weary, his working day done,
    Thence let his slippered feet ne’er wish to roam,
    Learn to keep house that you may keep home.
    Learn to keep house.

    First in his eyes will be children and wife,
    Joy of his joy, and life of his life,
    Next his bright dwelling, his table, his meals–
    Shrink not at what my pen trembling reveals,
    Maidens romantic, the truth must be told.
    Knowledge is better than silver or gold;
    Then be prepared in the spring-time of health,
    Learn to keep house, tho’ surrounded by wealth.
    Learn to keep house. (The Women’s Exponent, 1876-08-15 vol. 5 no. 6 p. 43)

    Do you think the poem is satire?

    Around The Book of Mormon in 97 Days

    I'm a sucker for a challenge, especially a reading challenge. A group of Latter-day Saints is getting together to read the Book of Mormon in 97 days as a tribute to our 97-year-old Prophet who passed away this week. Their website is found at The Hinckley Challenge, and it is really cool. You log in your reading each day, and it tells you how many pages per day you must read. Right now I have to read 5.42 pages a day to finish by May 11, 2008. There is a nifty graph to put on your sidebar so as to brag about your progress.

    So far there are 3673 people who are taking the Hinckley Challenge, and I am sure there will be many more. We start tomorrow, but you can join in any time. I hope you will go check out the site.

    President Gordon B. Hinckley on the Book of Mormon:

    "I take in my hand the Book of Mormon. I read its words. I have read Joseph Smith's explanation of how it came to be. To the unbelieving it is a story difficult to accept, and critics for generations have worn out their lives writing books intended to refute that story and to offer other explanations than the one given by Joseph the Prophet. But to the open-minded, this critical writing has only stimulated them to dig deeper; and the more deeply they dig, the greater the accumulation of evidence for the validity of Joseph Smith's story. Still, as has been demonstrated for a hundred and fifty years, the truth of the Book of Mormon will not be determined by literary analysis or by scientific research, although these continue to be reassuring. The truth about the origins of the Book of Mormon will be determined today and tomorrow, as it has been throughout the yesterdays, by reading the book in a spirit of reverence and respect and prayer." ("Praise to the Man," Ensign, Aug. 1983, 4)