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,


“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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Leaders Have Lied about Church History, but Maybe It’s Not Their Fault


“Maybe we should stop saying we’ve been lied to by the Church,” Brian Whitney recently argued here on WWE. Church leaders have been wrong, Brian admitted, but maybe not intentionally dishonest on historical issues.

Konden Smith’s pointed rejoinder to Brian last Friday showed that in fact some modern leaders have explicitly pressured historians to misrepresent the Church’s past. Konden argued that Joseph Smith taught a doctrine of pious deception that still shapes the administrative culture of the Church.

I’d like to offer a third perspective that navigates a middle course between Brian and Konden: Modern Church leaders have indeed lied about Church history, but it may not be entirely their fault.

I don’t think it’s Joseph Smith’s fault, either. He did teach some of his followers to lie in service of the Gospel, including under oath. But that teaching mostly has not survived as part of the LDS tradition and does not explain modern leaders’ behavior.

No, the real causes are systemic. They’re rooted in the very structure of organizational dynamics and testimonial talk.

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Costume Drama in the Early Endowment Ceremony

Content warning: This post discusses the dramatic portion of the early temple endowment.


In an 1863 letter to Brigham Young, the great Mormon hymn-writer W. W. Phelps enumerated the callings he had received from Joseph Smith. One in particular stands out. “My sixth office, As King’s Jester and Devil,” he wrote, “I have performed as well as I could for twenty years. Hope to do better when more spirit comes.”[1]

At least one historian dismisses this remark as a symptom of dementia. But in fact Phelps wasn’t out of his mind when he wrote this—at least, no more than usual. The eccentric author of “If You Hie to Kolob” had always been a little crazy, to Mormonism’s great enrichment. His expansive mind pushed the boundaries of Mormon thought into territory both brilliant and bizarre.

But Phelps’s “sixth office” was no delusion of a demented mind. It was a very real calling that he took quite seriously: his comic role as Satan in the temple drama.[2] It was a “jester’s” role perhaps because, as Martin Luther once said, “The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not go for texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.”[3]

Anyone else might have resented such a calling, but Phelps was strange and devout enough to treasure it. Once in 1853 Brigham Young mentioned the devil from the Tabernacle pulpit. Phelps called out from his seat in the stand, “We could not do very well without a devil.” “No, sir,” Brigham replied, “you are quite aware of that; you know we could not do without him. If there had been no devil to tempt Eve, she never would have got her eyes opened. We need a devil to stir up the wicked on the earth to purify the Saints.”[4]

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The Doctrine of Divinely Approved Deception

Joseph and Emma Smith sculpture outside the Church Office Building.

Joseph and Emma Smith sculpture outside the Church Office Building.

Historian Brian Whitney recently wrote a piece about honesty and the Church (click here), arguing that much of the bad history in the Church was less about purposeful dishonesty, and more about devotional goals and a lack of foresight. This is not Church leaders lying to us, but just a reminder that ecclesiastical authority does not extend to the craft of historical analysis. Brian brings up an important point, but I think this argument is only one part of a larger conversation we should be having about how Church leaders have dealt with Church history(1). Let me add another dimension: the doctrine of divinely approved deception as restored by Joseph Smith.

It is either a lack of understanding of this doctrine, or a refusal to accept it, that pits Mormon ecclesiast against Mormon historian, and that ultimately confuses the Mormon faithful. In the Book of Abraham, the Genesis story of Abram lying to Pharaoh in order to save his life was clarified as an act of obedience to God (See Gen. 12:10-20; Abr. 2:22-25). Joseph Smith heavily relied on this restored truth of deception as he acted in obedience to God’s command to marry multiple women, many of who were already married, and some of who were barely teenagers.

Though there are many points where we can see this doctrine play out in Church history, I’m focusing here on Nauvoo polygamy, the Church’s response to historians who wrote about it, and a brief note about how the Church today is seeking to control that narrative through its recent LDS.org essay on the topic.

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