The Gospel Checklist: Crowding Out the Spirit?

[T]he Final Judgment is not just an evaluation of a sum total of good and evil acts—what we have done. It is an acknowledgment of the final effect of our acts and thoughts—what we have become. It is not enough for anyone just to go through the motions. The commandments, ordinances, and covenants of the gospel are not a list of deposits required to be made in some heavenly account. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a plan that shows us how to become what our Heavenly Father desires us to become. – Dallin H. Oaks[1]

Toward the end of my mission after yet another district meeting in Carson City, Nevada, my district met together for lunch at a member-owned Wienerschnitzel. The conversation turned into a discussion about a relatively new (i.e. the past year) mission quota: 2 hours of door-to-door tracting and 10 street contacts a day. Some of us expressed skepticism toward the effectiveness of this new expectation. It seemed strange that what were considered the two least productive methods of missionary work according to the Church’s own Missionary Handbook were given so much emphasis. Elder Oaks had pointed to studies just prior to my mission that showed the baptismal rate of member-based missionary work was ten times that of missionary efforts (i.e. tracting and contacting).[2] My zone leader countered this skepticism by pointing out that the baptisms and confirmations mission-wide had reportedly been increasing over the past year, the assumption being that this increase correlated with the implementation of the new quota. My zone leader stated as a matter-of-fact that “obedience” to the new quota had brought about the “blessings” of increased baptisms. I countered that a more likely explanation was the increasing percentage of experienced missionaries. The influx of new missionaries at the beginning of my mission was huge, making the Las Vegas West mission overwhelmingly green in a matter of months (I think at one point 60-70% of the missionaries were out only 6 months or less). I was part of several big waves of newbies. During this time, baptisms dropped. However, by the time of our friendly debate, the pendulum had swung the opposite direction. The mission majority now had less than 6 months to go. It seemed more likely to me that the increased experience and talent of missionaries had more to do with increasing success than any quota, especially since (if I remember correctly) very few baptisms were coming from tracting or contacting.

I predicted that the mission would see another downturn in baptismal rates as the veterans went home and the mission became largely green again. I also noted that the reported stats of tracting and contacting were likely unreliable. I knew for a fact that over the past year missionaries had lied about their stats. I had lied about my stats on occasion. I also knew that missionaries stretched the definition of a “contact” (the mission president apparently recognized this too and attempted to define what counted as a contact) in order to boost their numbers. One could say that these missionaries (including me) just didn’t “have the Spirit” with them. Perhaps. One could also say that we were responding to incentives. These numbers supposedly represented our quality as missionaries. In an effort to avoid spiritual shaming and the (unlikely) possibility of being sent home (I’d already been threatened with that for something entirely unrelated), we missionaries fudged our numbers. This meant that the statistics were either based on fabricated numbers or so lacking in quality that they might as well have been. Instead of catching the vision, we were focused solely on making our quota. Continue reading “The Gospel Checklist: Crowding Out the Spirit?” »

Academic Job Posting from BYU

Our friends at BYU asked me to post the following job announcement for a faculty position in Church History and Doctrine, starting Fall 2015. I’m sure we have some WWE readers who are qualified and would be great for this position.

Position Information

Classification
Position Title Faculty–Church History & Doctrine Fall 2015
Posting Number 140157FAC
Desired Beginning Date Fall 2015
Department Church History & Doctrine
Number of Positions to be Filled 1
Job Type Full Time
Job Category Faculty
Job Duration
Work Location Main Campus
If other, specify
Eligibility to Apply All Qualified Applicants
Pay Level
Approximate Starting Salary Range
Part-time Pay Level

Continue reading “Academic Job Posting from BYU” »

Come Support Our Bloggers at the Sunstone Symposium!

SunstoneSeveral Worlds Without End bloggers will be presenting at the upcoming Salt Lake City Sunstone Symposium, held at the University of Utah from July 30 to August 2, 2014. If you’re in the neighborhood, we’d love if you’d show your support by attending their sessions!

The most—uh, colorful?—of the presentations will undoubtedly be Michael Reed’s “Off-Label Uses for Consecrated Oil and Holy Water.” Mike will chronicle the use of consecrated oil and water for enemas by nineteenth-century Church leaders. I have to take some of the blame for Mike presenting on this topic. I’ve been daring him to do it since he first told me about it a couple years ago. :)

On Friday at 2:00 PM, Cheryl L. Bruno will present “Sealing and Salvation in Early Mormonism: Perspectives on the Law of Adoption.” This is a long-time research interest for Cheryl, so the audience can expect a well-documented and well-polished presentation. Continue reading “Come Support Our Bloggers at the Sunstone Symposium!” »

Faith & Knowledge Conference CFP

I am very happy to announce the 5th biennial Faith & Knowledge Conference to be held at the University of Virginia February 27-29, 2015.  The CFP may be found here:

http://www.faithandknowledge.org/

The first F&K conference, held in 2007 at Yale Divinity School, was borne out of Richard Bushman’s desire to provide a venue for Latter-day Saint graduate students in religious studies (and related disciplines) to explore new ideas and discuss the challenge of studying religion critically as LDS believers.  Richard invited Taylor Petrey, Ariel Bybee Laughton, and myself to join him in organizing a conference with these specific goals in mind.

Without question, the 2007 Faith & Knowledge conference has had a profound and positive impact on both my academic and spiritual life.  I know many conference attendees from past conferences have similar feelings.  Past F&K conference attendees, have formed lasting and meaningful friendships with like-minded scholars and, speaking personally,  it has been gratifying to see so many conference attendees go on to make significant contributions not just to Mormon Studies, but to the wider academy as well.

 

Emma’s Awareness: A Response to Brian Hales’ JMH Letter to the Editor

43A-Image Emma Smith Bidamon Writing_editedIt has come to my attention that Brian Hales has commented on my article Keeping a Secret: Freemasonry, Polygamy, and the Nauvoo Relief Society, 1842-1844 which was published in the Fall 2013 issue of Journal of Mormon History. Brian’s comments appear in the Letters to the Editor section in JMH 40, no. 3 [Summer 2014]. In order to give a timely response to his remarks I reproduce them here, with my responses given in bold italics. Please join in with your observations as well!

Emma’s Awareness Continue reading “Emma’s Awareness: A Response to Brian Hales’ JMH Letter to the Editor” »

Genesis of Doubt

jesus_knocking_at_ur_door1

Matthew 7:7–11 (NRSV)

 “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Recent events in the LDS Church have caused me to reflect on both my relationship with the institutional Church, as well as how I went from being a pretty solid conservative (theologically) Mormon to holding liberal views today which differ substantially from my previously held beliefs.  Of course, having studied the phenomenon of narratives generally, and specifically how they function within social groups borne out of tension with a larger religious community/tradition, I recognize that whatever I may relate here, regardless of my sincerity and efforts to be as accurate as possible, is not a reliable source of establishing real-world happenings.[i]  This is not to say that such a recitation is completely unreliable in this regard but rather, simply an acknowledgment that for someone looking to establish real-world fact, this brief essay has the value of a memoir, as opposed to a diary. Continue reading “Genesis of Doubt” »

Miller Eccles Study Group – Texas Edition: Adam Miller and the Spirituality of Boredom

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love those who interest you, and hate those who bore you. But I say unto you, Love those who bore you…

- Matthew 5:43-44 (Adam Miller Translation)

 

This past weekend (June 27-29), Adam Miller was the speaker for the Miller Eccles Study Group here in Texas. My wife and I were able to attend the Saturday study group as well as the Sunday Fireside. The study group covered Adam’s latest book Letters to a Young Mormon and consisted of some rather intimate, interactive readings. The Sunday fireside, however, was on a completely different subject; one that Adam has covered in other conferences: boredom. Adam began with an experience familiar to most Latter-day Saints: Continue reading “Miller Eccles Study Group – Texas Edition: Adam Miller and the Spirituality of Boredom” »

Loyalty in the Church

“If you can’t follow ‘The Brethren,’ why don’t you just leave?”

Kate Kelly’s excommunication from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the many conversations surrounding it provide insight not only into current divisions and attitudes within Mormonism, but also into the meaning of Mormonism itself. For some, Kate Kelly is apostate, going against Church teachings and leading believers away from the truth; while for other believers, Kate Kelly is expressing her loyalty and sincere love for the Church by addressing important issues of gender inequality. This is a rather polarized issue within the Church, and the press and blogosphere have made it an international spectacle. This division of course is not new.

In 1938, the Improvement Era published an opinion piece titled, “As a Prophet Speaks.” Its author, Richard L. Evans (member of the IE editorial board and future Apostle), tapped into personal observations about how Mormons react to public utterances of Church leaders following General Conference or other church gatherings. There are the “faithful and undisturbed,” who essentially agree with whatever is said. Others are Satan-inspired and love to find fault. But finally, there are “the most definitely heroic,” those “who sacrifice their own inclinations and interests out of loyalty to the chosen leaders of the Lord.” In facing contradiction between Church teachings and personal conscience, such heroes “find themselves paying some sacrifice either of pride, opinion, or material advantage, notwithstanding which they are numbered among the faithful in the acts of their lives because they believe that inspiration transcends man-made thinking and planning.”[1]
Continue reading “Loyalty in the Church” »

Room for All in this Church

groupCatsDogsWe face a difficult and pivotal moment in Mormonism as LDS leaders and church members wrestle more openly with complicated aspects of our faith, its doctrine, and its history—often in spaces afforded by the Internet. In light of possible disciplinary action against prominent voices among us, we the undersigned Mormon bloggers and podcasters affirm the value of the conversations that take place in the LDS “Bloggernacle” and express our hopes for greater understanding and compassion from all of us involved in current tensions. Continue reading “Room for All in this Church” »

The Prodigal Half-Quorum of “Lost Apostles”

Lost-Apostles-682x1024Title: Lost Apostles: Forgotten Members of Mormonism’s Original Quorum of Twelve
Authors: William Shepard and H. Michael Marquardt
Publisher: Signature Books
Genre: Mormon History
Year Published: 2014
Number of Pages: 400
Binding: Hardcover
ISBN13 978-1-56085-228-5
Price $35.95

Have you ever put on your winter coat for the first time of the season, reached into the pocket, and pulled out a forgotten twenty-dollar bill? The feeling of elation upon discovering an unexpected treasure is what awaits Mormon history aficionados when they pick up “Lost Apostles,” by the two highly qualified and veteran historians William Shepard and Michael Marquardt. The book recovers the long-ignored stories of six of the original members of the Mormon Quorum of Twelve Apostles: the acquisitive Lyman Johnson, his brother and physician Luke Johnson, the intellectual John Boynton, long-misjudged Thomas Marsh, Restorationist seeker William McLellin, and the privileged libertine William Smith. Continue reading “The Prodigal Half-Quorum of “Lost Apostles”” »