I was supposed to teach Sunday School yesterday, and was looking forward to it. Unfortunately I have a cold which has dragged on for a full week and didn’t want to cough, croak, and whisper my way through an hour of discussion. It is disappointing. I had prayerfully reviewed the material and prepared a lesson and we were going to discuss some very important things. The lesson material included Official Declaration 1 concerning the public cessation of plural marriage in 1890. I wanted to share here some of what we would discuss about Official Declaration 1, known as “The Manifesto,” and its surrounding material.

The Manifesto

The Declaration itself is only five short paragraphs, and appears to be a straightforward public statement disavowing the continued teaching and practice of plural marriage. There is an acknowledgment that some reports of recent plural marriages had been received and that the leaders had torn down the Endowment House in a demonstration of solidarity against providing venues for the practice to continue. In reality the practice would continue in secret until 1904, but its public disavowal in 1890 created a crisis in the Church. For 38 years the members had been taught that plural marriage was celestial marriage, and that acceptance of it was essential for individual and collective salvation. They had been taught that monogamy was one of the chief vices of apostate Christianity, and that the to abandon polygamy in the face of social or governmental pressure would be apostasy for Mormonism as well. It had been the boundary-defining doctrine of Mormonism from 1852, and so to stop the practice threw the Church and its members into an identity crisis.

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The First Council of Nicea, fresco, Basilica of St. Nicholas in modern Demre, Turkey

For over a century, Latter-day Saints have had their mental map of the gospel selectively edited by committees appointed specifically for that purpose. The majority of this work has been reductive, with doctrines and concepts being removed until what remained seemed like a more or less cohesive and coherent system. In 1921, for instance, a committee removed an entire book of scripture from our canon by fiat; so, 100 years later, the Lectures on Faith and their saving doctrines are effectively absent from Latter-day Saint discourse and practice. Daymon Smith, drawing on his dissertation research, tells of a meeting between then-Apostle Harold B. Lee and members of his relatively new Correlation Committee:

Daymon: …During this meeting, they took 72 note cards on which they wrote important “ideas.”

Brad: Abstract principles, abstract nouns.

Daymon: “Faith,” “repentance,” “obedience,” these kinds of abstractions—he organizes them on a wall in his office. This organization becomes a kind of representation of the mind of God and of the mind of the Ideal Mormon. They’re supposed to have these ideas in their head hierarchically organized.

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The Wicked Husbandmen, Jan Luyken

1 Nephi chapters 11-22 raise some threads which will wind conspicuously through the rest of the Book of Mormon. In this post, I will trace those threads only as far as I would if I were teaching it in a Sunday School class, providing a high level structural overview. These threads are worth following more deeply and closely in personal study, but the overview in this post will be a good departure point. In 1 Nephi 11-14, Nephi sees the future of Lehi’s descendants including their destruction, their dwindling in unbelief, and their restoration and triumph in the last days. Between their dwindling in unbelief and their triumph, he sees an interlude in which the Gentiles are repeatedly offered the gospel. The Book of Mormon goes on to address both topics repeatedly: the triumph of the Israelite remnant and the offer given to the Gentiles to avoid destruction. If we want to truly understand the Book of Mormon we need to see these prophecies clearly, unencumbered by vanity, flattery, and wishful thinking. If we misread them, we will miss a central purpose of the Book. Read the rest of this entry »

I believe that passages of scripture can have multiple layers of meaning, allowing people at differing levels of understanding to see the same words differently and both be correct. I don’t believe that means that any or every interpretation is correct or equally helpful. Some interpretations are incorrect. I have heard teachers  describe the fruit of the tree of life in Lehi’s vision as though any member who had received sweet and sacred spiritual witnesses had tasted of the fruit of the tree of life. Another commentator said: “Partaking of the fruit of the tree represents the receiving of ordinances and covenants whereby the Atonement can become fully efficacious in our lives” (source). The Book of Mormon gives us some significant keys to interpret the meaning of the fruit and the other symbols in the scene. It can help us evaluate the helpfulness and validity of these interpretations. Put together, these keys reveal that Lehi’s vision is a story of heavenly ascent. Read the rest of this entry »


God Inviting Christ to Sit on the Throne at His Right Hand
Pieter de Grebber, 1645

There is an interesting detail obscured by the versification of 1 Nephi 1. Here are verses 8-10 without verse divisions:

And being thus overcome with the Spirit, he was carried away in a vision, even that he saw the heavens open, and he thought he saw God sitting upon his throne, surrounded with numberless concourses of angels in the attitude of singing and praising their God. And it came to pass that he saw one descending out of the midst of heaven, and he beheld that his luster was above that of the sun at noon-day. And he also saw twelve others following him, and their brightness did exceed that of the stars in the firmament.

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There is a tension within Mormonism revealed by studying two general definitions of the word “oracle”. I alluded to this tension in my previous post, but I think the idea is worth exploring explicitly. 

The first definition is given by Webster’s 1828 Dictionary as follows:

“4. Among christians, oracles, in the plural, denotes the communications, revelations or messages delivered by God to prophets. In this sense it is rarely used in the singular; but we say, the oracles of God, divine oracles, meaning the Scriptures.”

The second definition is outlined by two other entries from the same Dictionary: 

“6. Any person or place where certain decisions are obtained.

    1. Any person reputed uncommonly wise, whose determinations are not disputed, or whose opinions are of great authority.”‘

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These are a few observations that help me frame the discussion of tithing, investment funds, and the accumulation of wealth by institutions.

To understand why these observations matter you should reflect carefully on these verses:

D&C 90:3 Verily I say unto you [Joseph Smith], the keys of this kingdom shall never be taken from you, while thou art in the world, neither in the world to come;

4 Nevertheless, through you shall the oracles be given to another, yea, even unto the church.

5 And all they who receive the oracles of God, let them beware how they hold them lest they are accounted as a light thing, and are brought under condemnation thereby, and stumble and fall when the storms descend, and the winds blow, and the rains descend, and beat upon their house. Read the rest of this entry »


Aldo Leopold, who taught us to see the difference between a “wilderness” and a “waste”

In 1 Nephi chapter 8, Lehi has a vision that begins in “a dark and dreary wilderness.”  He describes the action that follows:

5 And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me. 6 And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him. 7 And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste.

8 And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies. 9 And it came to pass after I had prayed unto the Lord I beheld a large and spacious field. 10 And it came to pass that I beheld a tree, whose fruit was desirable to make one happy.

I have noticed that it is commonly assumed that the man who approaches Lehi is an angel (For example). Some people will notice the problems with that assumption: Read the rest of this entry »

Last week a podcaster and blogger named Bill Reel was tried by his Stake President for apostasy, and yesterday was given the sentence of excommunication.

The primary cause for the trial was a recent podcast in which Bill pointed out (emphasis on pointed) that Elder Holland had made a number of untrue statements in speeches and interviews. Bill included links and references to Elder Holland’s specific statements and to facts appearing to show that Elder Holland’s statements were false.

Bill’s trial was not about whether he was correct or incorrect about Elder Holland’s dishonesty, or about any of Bill’s other views about the Church. In fact, the question of Bill’s correctness or integrity was totally irrelevant. From the transcript of the Council (retrieved here on 12.03.18): Read the rest of this entry »

Sacrament Meeting talk delivered on 08.26.2018

Text in blue omitted for time when originally delivered

The great and last promise

In 1832, only 2 years after the Church was founded, God spoke to the saints and gave them a commandment, an explanation, and a promise, now found in D&C 88. First, the commandment:

D&C 88:62 …I leave these sayings with you to ponder in your hearts, with this commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall call upon me while I am near—

63 Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

Then a word of explanation to help them understand

66 Behold, that which you hear is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness—in the wilderness, because you cannot see him—my voice, because my voice is Spirit; my Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound.

And, with that commandment and explanation in mind, they were prepared to understand what he called his “great and last promise”:

67 And if your eye be single to my glory, your whole bodies shall be filled with light, and there shall be no darkness in you; and that body which is filled with light comprehendeth all things.

68 Therefore, sanctify yourselves that your minds become single to God, and the days will come that you shall see him; for he will unveil his face unto you, and it shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.

This “great and last promise” is an invitation for every saint to awake, arise from the dust, and know God; to become prophets and prophetesses; to bear witness of him; and to have eternal life. We need no further authorization to do so. What we need is an eye single to Christ’s glory. Read the rest of this entry »