“They Call Me the Working Man”: Hints of a Mormon Theology of Work

Our fearless leader Christopher Smith recently shared an insightful bit from his forthcoming dissertation on his Facebook wall. The paragraph in part describes the use of Edenic imagery by Mormon settlers of the Salt Lake Valley and the need to restore the creation to its pre-fallen condition through labor and development. Over the last couple years, I’ve taken a growing interest in constructing a Mormon theology of work/labor.* The views expressed by early Mormon Utahns regarding the duty of Mormons to “beautify” and “cultivate” the creation are important for understanding Mormonism’s sacralizing of the mundane. Last February, I was privileged to participate in the fifth biennial Faith & Knowledge Conference at the University of Virginia and presented a paper titled “‘Labour…Is Their Religion”: Toward a Mormon Theology of Work.” Those who are familiar with my posts over the last couple years might recognize material from previous posts, some of which has been expanded and is currently under review at a couple different publications. My prevailing interest in both economics/business and Mormon Studies has pushed me into what I hope to be a fruitful and somewhat unique endeavor. So without further ado, I give you some of my first inklings of a Mormon theology of work:

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Book Review: Postponing Heaven

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Hatem, Jad. Postponing Heaven: The Three Nephites, the Bodhisattva, and the Mahdi. Translated by Jonathon Penny. Provo UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University, 2015.

BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute recently re-published a work by Lebanese philosopher Jad Hatem: Postponing Heaven: Three Nephites, the Bodhisattva, and the Mahdi. The book was originally published in French in 2007 but gained the attention of Jim Faulconer at a conference in Romania. This new edition has been translated by Jonathon Penny and published by BYU.

As Faulconer explains:

By analyzing the story of the Three Nephites, and especially by comparing it to similar beliefs in Buddhism and Islam, Jad Hatem shows us one way of thinking about the Book of Mormon: it has profound ethical and soteriological teaching about the necessity of self-sacrifice.1

The book is short (a mere 100 pages), concise, and well-written. And, while Hatem’s specific theses can be difficult to pin down, it is clear he has a command of the subject matter and is able to draw comparisons with non-Christian traditions in a way that will enrich any theological or ethical examination of the Book of Mormon text.

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Apostates and Witches

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. (Ex. 22:18)

I recently read Peter Charles Hoffer’s The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History (Univ. Press of Kansas, 1997). How could a bunch of dedicated Christians become convinced that their neighbors, some of whom were acknowledged to be fine citizens and exemplary Christians, were actually in active league with the devil to inflict harm on others? How could trials conducted by leading men of the colony solemnly conclude that dozens of men and women were in fact witches, then haul them a mile or two out of town and hang them? Right here in America? These remain troubling yet fascinating questions for most Americans, with new books on the topic coming out every year. Mormons in particular can learn something from Salem.

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Disruptive Technology: When Business As Usual Doesn’t Work Anymore (for the Church)

The purchasing counter at the Amazon Bookstore. No cash allowed.

The purchasing counter at the Amazon Bookstore.
No cash allowed.

First, an example. When I was up in Seattle last week, I stopped by the new Amazon Bookstore. Not the online site you are used to visiting — I mean the brick-and-mortar actual Amazon store with books in it. It has been open less than a month. It was packed. It was fun. I bought three books, just because. Not much has changed over the last few generations for the consumer experience of browsing in a bookstore. But it certainly feels different inside the Amazon store. It is different. There are no posted prices (book prices are synced to the online Amazon price, which changes frequently). And they don’t take cash. A consumer retailing operation that doesn’t post prices and doesn’t take cash. Interesting.

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A Message for my LDS Friends who are Considering Joining the Community of Christ

Image courtesy of cofchrist.org

Image courtesy of cofchrist.org

Through the tumult of the LDS Church’s recent policy updates regarding same-sex couples and families, I have seen many friends on social media express their determination to either resign their membership or look to the Community of Christ church as an alternative place to worship. For those who are considering the latter, I offer my brief thoughts (expanded from a response expressed on a friend’s Facebook wall) [1]:

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Clarification to The Same-Sex Policy: A Sigh of Relief? Sort of.

Image courtesy of LDS.org

Image courtesy of LDS.org

A much-needed clarification of the new policies surrounding same-sex couples and children being raised by same-sex parents was issued by the First Presidency of the LDS Church today. I will post a few excerpts from the letter and offer my own views. Let me begin by stating that, while I still have concerns regarding the new policies, I am thankful for the tone that was taken in the clarification letter:

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In Memoriam: Big Tent Mormonism

fallen_tentThe term “big tent Mormonism” has appeared frequently in online LDS discourse over the past 5 years, usually in the context of some good-natured navel-gazing on the part of liberal Mormons in regards to whether–or, to what extent–there is a place for them within the Church. It is a term that implies there is room for a wide variety of belief, practice, and diversity of viewpoint within the bonds of LDS membership. As far as I can tell, it was first coined by Greg Prince at the 2011 Washington D. C. Mormon Stories conference, though discussions on the diversity of thought found in Mormonism, especially in regards to its liberal members and members struggling with doubt, certainly pre-date Prince.

A 2013 General Conference talk by Dieter F. Uchtdorf infused the LDS community with hope that “big tent Mormonism” was something the leadership wished to encourage. In the talk, President Uchtdorf said:

None of us is quite as Christlike as we know we should be. But we earnestly desire to overcome our faults and the tendency to sin. With our heart and soul we yearn to become better with the help of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. If these are your desires, then regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!

Events of recent years have yielded a few small, hopeful signs that President Uchtdorf’s talk was not an outlier.  Continue reading “In Memoriam: Big Tent Mormonism” »

Critical Times Call for Critical Thinking: A Plea about a Policy

Photo credit: Elvert Barnes / Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: Elvert Barnes / Foter.com / CC BY

Worlds Without End is pleased to present this guest contribution from Benjamin Kelsey. After 35+ years in the LDS Church, Benjamin is now a member of Community of Christ and attends the Salt Lake City, Utah congregation.  The only things he loves more than music, movies, Diet Mountain Dew, and musing about Mormonism are his wife Melanie and his three intermittently charming sons.

A sincere message to my LDS family and friends:

On Facebook, I recently posted a response to the change in LDS policies that deny baptisms, baby blessings, etc. to the children of same-sex couples.  I was angry, and it showed.  I was not angry with any of you personally, as I trust you know.  But regardless of all of that, I hope you will hear me out now.  This is not a message of anger.  It is a heartfelt plea.  I do not ask you to be any more or less scrutinizing of my message than you would be of anyone else’s, nor than I myself would hope to be of another’s argument, whether that argument defended or opposed my own personal viewpoints.

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Pain and Suffering

10527862_510828575730612_47922564812444333_nWorlds Without End is pleased to present this guest contribution from Viliami Pauni. Viliami is married with four daughters and currently resides in South Jordan, Utah. He loves Bob Marley more than Brigham Young, but not as much as Joseph.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” —Viktor Frankl

I chose to become inactive a little more than a year ago. It was a good choice. It has brought me a great deal of freedom and happiness. Lately, most of my spiritual experiences have been within a Zen Buddhist context. That said, there hasn’t been a day since that I haven’t thought about Mormonism. I watch Mormonism from the sidelines as I suspect many others do. I see the struggle for equality. I know more than a few who agitate for change within the Church and they suffer as the fight wages on. I often wonder if the Brethren are listening. I’m sure they hear the cries of the Saints as they plead for relief but I don’t think they are actively listening. I sometimes wonder why these good people don’t just walk away from the Church as I did? Their participation is voluntary and so is their suffering. Why not simply choose to distance themselves from the source of their pain? I groan within myself and scream, “Just leave! Be done with it all!”

Pain is mandatory but suffering is optional. Suffering within the Church is definitely optional. Just choose to leave and the suffering will end.  Why not? Why? Why? Why?!?!

For more than a year I struggled to find answers to these questions. None came…until this week. When the changes to the Church Handbook were leaked I was driving to dinner with a friend. From the passenger seat he read the changes aloud. I felt like I had been kicked in the heart. I masked most of my emotions. The friends we had dinner with that night are all involved in Mormon Studies in some form or another so it was natural for us to talk about the changes. Our discussion was mostly cerebral. I don’t think any of us were ready and willing to discuss our innermost feelings. I wish I would have said more. I wish I would have shared feelings and not just thoughts. I left unsettled and unsatisfied.

I couldn’t sleep that night. I got up quietly from my bed and went downstairs. I sat down, put my head in my hands, and began to weep. I stayed like that for some time. I asked myself why I was suffering? My soul was troubled. Something was very wrong. Why was I choosing to suffer when the suffering was optional? Why not just disengage? The suffering could end anytime I wanted it to. Why? Why? Why? The answer came in a moment of inspiration and clarity.

Because I am Mormon! I will always be Mormon. I may not go to Church anymore but these are my people. In baptism I was sealed to all Mormons in a covenant relationship:

Behold, here are the waters of Mormon . . . and now, as ye are desirous to come into the fold of God, and to be called his people, and are willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death.

I may not understand your suffering completely, but I will suffer with you. I will love you. I will comfort you. I will succor you. I will support you. I have not gone too far away. I am near enough to offer you the right hand of fellowship, and if needs be, a shoulder to catch your tears.

Pain is mandatory. Suffering is optional, but when it comes to my brothers and sister in the gospel, I choose to suffer with you. We are a family—and families are forever.

All my love,

V-

“Suffer the Little Ones”: The LDS Church’s Recent Policy Updates Regarding Same-Sex Families

christ-childrenEase back from the ledge. Like many who follow developments within the LDS Church online, I too felt as if the wind were taken out of my sails following the recent news of policy shifts regarding same-sex couples and children in same-sex family homes. Let me upfront by stating that I support same-sex marriage as a legal right. However, I also support the right of religious institutions to define their sacraments according to their creeds.

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