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Urban Mormonism



A hub for the thoughtful and intelligent. ***NOTE: ALL POSTS HERE HAVE BEEN TRANSFERRED TO http://faithpromotingrumor.wordpress.com. IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE COMMENTS ON THESE POSTS, PLEASE GO TO OUR NEW LOCATION AND SEARCH FOR THE POST.***



Updated: 2016-10-17T07:20:04.419-04:00

 



Big news for UrbanMo-keteers!

2007-02-26T11:59:30.851-05:00

Now it's time to say goodbye, to all our company,
F-P-R, See you real soon!
Won-der-why, Why? Because we like you!
M - E - R - G' - R

Come join us at our new home!



African-American, Feminist, and Mormon Biblical Studies

2007-02-14T09:41:11.398-05:00

Recent discussions here and elsewhere have focused on the role of contemporary critical biblical studies and their relationship to Mormon biblical studies. Many have questioned not only the methods of a "scholarly" Mormon biblical studies, but also its possibility. In some circles, the dominant model for appropriation of contemporary scholarship is denominational, and the Catholic experience is taken as emblematic. I have been critical of such a model here. As a result, I hope to suggest an alternative model for what Mormon biblical studies might look like.Modern academic biblical scholarship focuses on exegesis. Such an approach has transcended denomination boundaries by attempting an "objective" accounting of the text's own theological position. Such a view is grounded in the idea that the text says something on its own that the careful reader can discern. This view often implicitly assumes that there is a single correct reading of the text that corresponds to the "author's intent."African American and feminist biblical scholarship has critiqued this view, primarily on the grounds of hermeneutics. The idea of there being a single meaning to a text, not only at the time that it was written, but through its history of interpretation, has been abandoned long ago in the philosophy of interpretation, yet the guild of biblical studies often continues to cling to such a view. There is no objective lens and the supposedly objective methods of biblical scholarship have their own history. Further, the quest for the "original" meaning is rooted in a kind of impluse for truth that makes the fundamentalist Christians and professional biblical exegetes look a lot alike. The hermeneutical framework is largely the same; the only difference are the details. As an alternative, African American and feminist biblical studies have made "ethics" into a central interpretive lens. Questions of liberation, justice, and power have become the framework for interpretation. Such an approach looks at how different communities have interpreted the text and considers these legitimate, even though, for examlple, African American slave hermeneutics were largely developed by illiterate people who only heard the text, but never read it. This approach further recognizes that all interpretations are selective, choosing to highlight some aspects of the text while ignoring others. As such, these hermeneutical approaches are not concerned with the mythical "author's intent", but with the possibilities that are produced by the text.I propose that Mormon biblical studies follow a similar model. As far as I am aware, such an approach does not yet exist within Mormonism. For Mormon biblical studies, the task is to read Mormons who have written on the Bible and the derive a set of hermeneutical principles that are at work in their interpretations. This is somewhat of a task suited for anthropology. However, for scholarly Mormon biblical studies, the goal would then be to situate these principle as they speak to the "Mormon experience." This is not a universal reading, but a historically situated reading of Mormons. The goal is not to point out that the text doesn't "really" say what they think it says, but to demonstrate the principles on which it is based and to cull from it larger reflections about ethics and Mormon experiences.As I have argued previously, the only important divisions in the feild of biblical studies are hermeneutical, not doctrinal or denominational. While these approaches I think are dying or irrelevant, feminist and African American hermeneutics have become centrally important, often taught even in introductory level courses. We have to give up on the idea that the text is going to resolve doctrinal or denominational disputes. Instead, the hermeneutical divisions rest on whether there is a single meaningful meaning to the text. The opposition I think rightly questions the possibility of such an "objective" understanding of the text, its utility, or both. [...]



Barlow going to USU

2007-02-14T09:41:28.818-05:00

It's official: Philip Barlow will fill the new Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University (see Salt Lake Tribune story here). This will likely disappoint some prospective students of Claremont Graduate University. However, it's great news for USU students. Barlow is an excellent scholar by all standards. So what are your initial thoughts on the appointment?



Sacrament Meeting Suggestions

2007-02-12T09:42:09.371-05:00

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Sacrament Meeting can be one of the most spiritually fulfilling meetings in church. The talks can be fresh, exciting, and deeply moving. They can set the tone for your spiritual outlook for the rest of the week at least. Sometimes a talk is so good that you actually remember it for years later.

It can also be one of the most painful meetings at church. Talks can be rote, predictable, and profoundly boring. My least favorite are the talks that simply quote general authorities. One of my very first posts on this blog was what I thought was a crisis of rhetoric in the church.

So, what if you (the reader) were in charge of programing for your sacrament meetings? What practical advice do you have? Would you instruct the speakers on how to speak? How would you do that? What kinds of topics would you like? Are there some topics that are necessarily interesting, no matter how bad the speaker might screw it up? I want to compile a guide here for great sacrament meeting tips and topics.

One more thing: Would the topics you would suggest change if this were a singles ward with college students and nannies? The guide that I am trying to put together here doesn't require that this be the framework, but I am especially interested in thoughts about this situation.



Trends in Gospel of Judas Studies

2007-02-06T11:54:07.179-05:00

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I know that it seems weird to identify "trends" on a document that has been out less than a year, so this post may seem a bit premature. At the same time, the fact is that two major schools have already developed regarding the Gospel of Judas. The first, following the initial release of the text, argued that Judas was the chosen disciple over all the others. The obvious shock-value of this revelation has propelled the popularity and interest in the text. The second, newer interpretation offered by Painchaud, DeConick, Emmel and Turner aims to out-shock the first in a set of new claims about what the "Gospel of Judas REALLY says."

This new interpretation argues that Judas does not "surpass" the other apostles in greatness, but in wickedness! Basing itself on a different translation of this key Coptic phrase, these scholars argue that the initial readings of Gospel of Judas played too much into the hype. Judas is not a saint in this text, but the worst sinner of all of the disciples.

The problem is that this second reading makes no sense at all. For the record, the Coptic phrase in question can technically be translated both ways. However, if we follow the second interpretation, then the text becomes an extended vision of special cosmological knowledge given to Judas, only to find out that he understands even less than the other wicked apostles. In this reading, there are no heroes. No one is saved. One reads the text only to find out that no one can be trusted. No one. This reading strikes me as absurd for two reasons. First, this is afterall the Gospel of Judas, the title given to the text by the text. There is not a single parallel example of a "gospel" being attributed to the person who turns out to be the worst sinner in its story. For post-canonical Gospels, the disciple to whom the text is attributed is often the hero of the text. Second, it makes no sense that there are no heroes at all in the text. Why would anyone read this text? It has no solution for anyone to be saved since the rest of the disciples besides Judas are unambiguously ignorant.

This debate will continue to be played out, and will hopefully be dealt with in the upcoming
Elaine Pagels and Karen King commentary (though how much time that had to respond to this new trend before their publication deadlines remains to be seen since it was really in October in Paris and November at the SBL that people started advocating this position). The easy path will be taken by those who choose to see Judas subversively for their own theological goals, and those who prefer to see Judas as the most wicked disciple for their own theological goals. No doubt the debate will continue to give scholars something to argue about, but to this reader, the second argument doesn't have much interpretive weight.



On Watchin' the Game

2007-02-05T00:34:05.062-05:00

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The health risks of American football have been getting a lot of attention in the press lately, no doubt in anticipation of the Super Bowl. Both the New York Times and the Boston Globe ran articles on the frequency of head injuries in professional football. The articles highlighted former Patriots linebacker, Ted Johnson, who received several concussions during his career. Johnson’s head injuries resulted in severe depression and drug addiction.

Like many other professional and amateur football players, Johnson felt trapped by expectations that he should play through the pain. American football inspires a culture of toughness. Encouraged by fans, coaches and other players, many continue playing even after sustaining major injuries. One study, conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina, found that N.F.L. players faced a 37% higher risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s.

Yet the kind of press that portrays the dangers of football is not commensurate with the overwhelmingly positive depiction of star athletes. The Super Bowl regularly draws audiences of between 75 and 95 million television viewers. Professional athletes are idolized.

Even successful coaches receive vast amounts of attention (and wealth). It is telling that at least 23 college football coaches are paid salaries in excess of $1 million. In several cases these coaches’ salaries far outweigh the university presidents’ annual income, let alone the professors’ and administrators’ pay. Clearly the United States has a fascination with what can at times be a very violent sport.

Are there inherit problems with this country’s massive consumption of professional football? This is an important question for Mormons. We have several members on N.F.L. teams who sometimes function as unofficial spokesmen for the church, including Ty Detmer (and his little brother Koy), Chad Lewis, and, of course, Steve Young. The LDS church has tacitly endorsed football. For example, Elder Wirthlin, who never made it into the professional leagues, was nevertheless awarded for being a “lifelong supporter” of college football.

There may be arguments both for and against the idealization of football stars (be they LDS or not). On the one hand, football is a dangerous sport. By idealizing the athletes of aggressive sports like football, don’t we become party to the inevitable injuries players sustain? On the other hand, audiences of football tend to also play football; and participation in any sport - even dangerous ones - seems preferable to inactivity. Obesity, after all, will kill a lot more people than concussions from flag football.




When to put a Child up for Adoption

2007-02-01T11:42:41.133-05:00

I recently learned that a person I know put her baby up for adoption. As I don't know all the details of this story, I won't go into to specifics; but I am familiar with a couple of other people who, aftering getting pregnant while rather young (usually in their teens) gave up their children at the encouragment of the church.

I'm wondering about the reasoning behind this encouragement (both culturally and institutionally).

One couple I met, got pregnant while in highschool and gave their baby up for adoption. When this couple turned 18 they were married, and I met them in our ward when they were in their young 20's. Not a Sunday would go past without them talking about thier baby. Wondering what he was doing, if he had been treated well. I couldn't help but wonder if adoption was the right thing for them to do.

I know this is one case, and maybe even in this circumstance adoption was right, but what I would like to question is the rationale for encouraging adoption. What I usually hear is that adoption is right when it gives the child the best home possible. It seems that what is implied by "best home possible" is two loving parents, who are active members of the church and are financially stable.

Is there more than this that comes into play?



Passivity and Practice

2007-01-27T15:04:43.082-05:00

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handle's recent and excellent post on architecture raises some connected issues that I've been struggling with lately: To what extent should the church reflect local culture, flavor, etc. and to what extent should it be Mormon? I know this is quite broad, and diahman and others have posted on related questions. The one I want to ask is more specific to architectural and temple traditions.

Are we more invested when we pay for and design our own meetinghouses? And do we understand the temple better and become more engaged with it when we are the ones doing the acting and not actors on a screen? Does a cookie-cutter temple or ceremony imply cookie-cutter practice? Is this what God wants? I am profoundly convinced that architecture (and active participation in ritual) alters the spirit.


In my hometown recently a world-famous architect designed a pedestrian bridge that cost far too much for a small town to afford, and many were justifiably angry about it (although the project was almost entirely funded by private donors). Once it was built, though, it became a focus for the community, a gathering place, and for the first time in my life I felt like there was a community.

I grew up going to a completely non-standard meetinghouse and temple. In other areas of the country I've attended regularly the cookie-cutter types (with one embarrassing story about going in the wrong bathroom because the position of male/female restrooms was one thing they decided to vary.) Now I'm back to a non-standard meetinghouse that sometimes drives me crazy, but it drives me crazy in all the ways the area I live in drives me crazy. In this building the local customs, flavor, attitudes, people are expressed, and in the end it enhances my worship experience. One would have to say the same thing about the "cookie cutter" buildings--not that the people are monotonous in their attitudes, but that their values (frugality, willingness to accept authority, perhaps even desire for unity) are expressed through this architecture. Maybe it says more about me--in both positive and negative ways--that I prefer atypical architecture.

I think similarly about the format of the temple ceremony. I realize that the video format makes it possible for scores more to attend and for more temples to be open, less staffing problems, etc., but likewise something is lost when the patrons aren't the ones participating in the ceremony--delivering the lines, playing out the drama. I worry that there is a trend toward the passive, and that some of the values the Church was built on (local sacrifice and dedication are two I'm thinking of) are fading. As the architecture becomes increasingly unremarkable (and Protestant?), are we?



Mormons and Biblical Scholarship II

2007-02-06T08:32:01.165-05:00

Over at FPR, there is an excellent discussion of Mormon biblical exegesis. I am very interested in this topic, but what I wanted to say was more than a comment's worth, so I just decided to post on it. The discussion centers on a recent Church News article by Prof. Kent Jackson at BYU who lays a brief foundation for the principles of Mormon Biblical Studies. I am certainly interested in the examination of the possibility and dimensions of this idea, but I am more interested in what are taken to be the models.

Inasmuch as Mormon Biblical Studies tries to model itself after Catholic, Evangelical, and Jewish biblical studies, I think that it is doomed to fail. There are two reasons why. First, denominational biblical studies are routinely ignored by everyone outside of that denomination. Denominational biblical studies are not properly in the field of biblical studies. They are simply parasitic works that reproduce biblical scholarship in a repackaged, often apologetic, way for their audience. There is nothing new or interesting that comes out of these hermeneutical approaches. If Catholics want to translate biblical studies for lay Catholics, and Mormons for Mormons, that is fine, but this is not biblical studies. The result will be a continued marginalization of Mormons from the larger field and simply reinforce and reproduce stereotypes of Mormons who fail to truly engage the broader world.

The second reason that this approach will fail is because is doesn't really represent the nature of the field of biblical studies. Denominational lines are essentially meaningless when it comes to evaluating the quality of other scholars' work. Instead, the fault lines in biblical studies are drawn around ideology and theology, secular and faith-based approaches. You will find all denominations on all sides of these debates. That is to say, there are no real denominational lines in contemporary biblical studies, so why are we trying to enter the field in a partisan way that doesn't map on? We would be better off dealing with the actual ideological tensions in the field rather than creating a new party that has no allies.

That said, the comments at FPR are correct in saying that Mormon Biblical Studies cannot survive outside of BYU. But I think that the reason is not simply the intellectual problems, but because the very model of denominational biblical studies is outdated and seriously flawed. Mormons who do biblical studies are better off engaging the broader field. I do believe that at some point in their careers they have the obligation of translating the wider world of biblical studies for their Mormon kin, but this is not the same as modeling oneself after another set of irrelevant biblical scholars.



Mormons and Biblical Scholarship

2007-02-06T08:34:17.911-05:00

Check out a couple of great posts at Faith Promoting Rumor: here, here and here.

Update: See the my follow-up response here.



What does architecture say about doctrine?

2007-01-21T01:41:55.768-05:00

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It was recently announced that Frank Gehry, an icon of postmodern architecture, will be designing a mixed-use development in Lehi, Utah. Gehry is famous for his radically shaped buildings such as the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. His plans for Lehi will surely break the mold of conventional Utah urbanism. Postmodern architecture is rare in the Beehive State. However, this announcement is not altogether surprising given the success of other recent developments such as the Gateway in Salt Lake City and the New Urbanist community in South Jordan (Daybreak). It seems that the predominantly LDS population of Utah is finally generating a demand for alternatives to the ‘cookie cutter’ homes which have, unfortunately, prevailed in Utah’s sprawling neighborhoods.

It is ironic that just as Utahans are embracing the aesthetic appeal of New Urbanism and postmodern architecture, the LDS church is in the middle of an ambitious building program with ‘cookie cutter’ temples as its focus.

The church has good reasons for building recent temples from a single model. By using identical architectural plans for each new temple, the church keeps building costs low and maintains a sort of equality among its members. However, there are also drawbacks to these matching temples, not the least of which is their drab uniformity.

There is a general fascination with the church’s earlier temples that would be difficult to generate for its new ones. People recognize the Salt Lake Temple, even if they don’t always understand its significance. For example, one vendor in London sells the oddest belts - they are blue with small images of European architectural icons, including the Coliseum, the Eiffel Tower, and … yup… the Salt Lake Temple. Earlier temples have a “spooky charisma,” in the words of Christopher Hawthorne, an architecture critic with the Los Angeles Times.


While it is not practical for the church to use the famous castellated gothic style in its new temples (and neither is it economically sage to build ornate buildings in remote places) there is a sort of vibrancy that the new temples lack. A temple does not have to be large or even follow a particular design theory to generate excitement; and, of course, God can be worshiped anywhere. But why not allow for more variety in the temples’ design?

Does the church’s architectural development over the years represent an increased drive for standardization? Perhaps there is something significant in the fact that leaders of the RLDS church (now Community of Christ) chose a postmodern design for their temple, whereas the LDS church has consistently used classic modern designs for recent temples.



How Much Money is Sufficient For Your Needs?

2007-01-18T10:36:14.762-05:00

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I am interested in the various ways that money gets moralized in Mormonism. While certain aspects of Mormonism moralize money in such a way as to symbolize God's favor, other sets of Mormons value frugality and even poverty as more moral. Added to this complex dynamic are various scriptures in the Book of Mormon as well as the temple. I wonder what most people consider "sufficient" for their needs. How much is too much?

One of the problems with money is that no one really thinks they have enough, no matter how much they have. There is always something out there that they can't afford, like a bigger boat, a faster plane, or ritzier vacation. We can all agree that these people who worry about such things have more than they "need," but where is that threshold? Is it the same in Ft. Lauderdale as it is in Spanish Fork?

Should the question of sufficiency be determined by annual income or by net worth? If it is annual income, how does one determine the morality of that? Should the Mormon CEO who earns a lot more simply only accept a certain amount? Or, is it simply the net worth at which one can retire without needing to work again (approx $1 million for every 10 years of life)?



On my honor I will... shave?

2007-01-15T19:53:01.125-05:00

While at BYU I often wondered why "dress and grooming standards" were subsumed under "the honor code". Can someone please explain this to me?

Why isn't dress and grooming standards in a category of it's own? I guess the reason I'm bothered by this was because, as circumstances would have it, I occasionally went off to class having forgot to shave, and was warned a few times about violating "the honor code". I couldn't help but feeling that in essence my personal "honor" was being challenged. Was my 5 o'clock shadow somehow marking me as a "dishonorable" person?

Of course some of the root issues at play here are the relation between appearance and morality, the mediation of appearance between the inner-self and outter society, the social construction of meaning in symbols, and many others.

To see BYU's honor code go here: http://honorcode.byu.edu/The_Honor_Code.htm



The Mormon Tour Industry

2007-01-13T10:52:54.925-05:00

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While looking on www.deseretbook.com this morning for something, I noticed a link to Time Out Tours. I have also noticed that Meridian Magazine has its own tour business. I am sure that there are many others out there (I'd be interested in collecting these links, so if anyone knows of one, please put it in the comments). These tours are interesting to me because they deal with not only educational tours to Book of Mormon lands, Israel/Palestine, and Church History sites, but also trips to Orlando, Cancun, cruises in the Mediterranean, etc. I am interested in the value that these tours offer to their customers, as well as the values that they express.

One of the curious aspects of the educational tours is the way that they are marketed. The tour guides' qualifications to lead tours to Israel or Gautemala are usually that they are a BYU Religion profressor or have written some humorous or devotional LDS book. Their education, relevant experience, and publications on the subject matter are never mentioned, presumably because they have none of these things. Their qualifications are that they have held prestigious church callings, are nice people, and enjoy the subject matter.
Some of these tours center around a cult of personality, like the Proctors, who advertise trips as an occasion to hang out and learn from them. I am quite sure that there is not a lack of competent LDS who work, research, and publish on matters of church history, archeology, history, etc who are perfectly qualified to run such trips. Why don't they? What is the attraction of popularizers of LDS folklore as tour guides? Is there not a market for experts (or at least competent guides) for Latter-day Saints?

While the other trips to places like Orlando don't require guides with any training or expertise, I am curious about the reasons that people would want to go to Orlando with a bunch of strangers who happen to be Latter-day Saints. I suppose that I understand the impulse to be around people that share your values and that you don't have to explain yourself or your beliefs to (you are on vacation, after all). At the same time, I am concerned that people try to bring LDS insulation with them wherever they go. Rather than have to interact with the actual location around them, including people, these tours encourage members to protect themselves within a bubble, to never have to leave home, even when you leave home.




Natural Law?

2007-01-10T23:18:47.780-05:00

If you haven't noticed yet, we're not big on modernist notions of truth around here. Thus, as you can probably guess, I am not much of a believer in Natural Law. There is certainly a strain of Mormon thinking that has attempted to identify with the Natural Law tradition. Do we do this because there is something valuable about the Natural Law tradition besides its intellectual heritage? Does this actually have anything to offer us Mormons, or is it leading us down precisely the path that the Restoration veered from in the first place?

The problem with Natural Law is that it always seems to be changing. It's representation is always mediated by human beings. However, the risk of arguing that Natural Law is simply a reflection of a particular culture's values is that there is no basis for critiquing another culture's practices. The result is relativism, which for some reason makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I tend to see relativism as simply a fact and deal with it. To me, the wrong response to relativism is to keep asserting that it isn't there.

So, is it possible to disambiguate Mormonism from Natural Law? Is this desirable? Is Natural Law really as dispensable as I assume?



Communal Judgment

2007-01-10T15:02:06.698-05:00

This relates to a post I started before going on Christmas break on the topic of idol worship. I do intend to fully respond and revive that particular issue, but in this post I would like to know others thoughts on the related topic of communal judgment. In other words, in the Bible there seem to judgments made against entire groups of people: Sodom and G., the people during the time of Noah, and many of the non-Israelite tribes in the Old Testament. In the New Testament Jesus curses a series of towns, and predicts the fall of Jerusalem. I'm sure we could find similar examples in the BoM.

I think we, as Mormons, still believe in communal judgment, yet how do we make sense of it in light of our sympathetic understanding of other civilizations/cultures/people?

Over the past year I have heard three members (in three different states) relate hurricane Katrina to the wickedness of N.O. Personally I stay far away from such statements, and I think most reading this post do as well, but in light of statements such as, "Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets," from the Proclamation how do we hold to notions of communal judgment withoutlinking something such as the natural disaster to the wickedness of the community it effects?



Is Temple Prep Really Preparation?

2007-01-08T16:08:46.502-05:00

I've thought a little about this in the past but I was reminded of it again when I ran across a couple in our ward who had gone through the temple for the first time and when I asked how it went they remarked, "Temple prep sure didn't help."

There is obviously a gap between what we are preparing new inductees for and what they experience. Now, I don't necessarily have many numbers to support such a statement, but having gone through it myself, taught it, and then watched many others go through it themselves, I can't help but notice there is a problem.

So, three questions:
1. Is this problem real, or is it just me?
2. If it is real, where does the problem come from?
3. What can be done to solve it?



Of Saints and Schemes

2007-01-14T16:01:13.567-05:00

I apologize in advance if this post is mostly anecdotal, but I have been concerned for a while about the business practices of some Mormon run companies specializing in door-to-door sales. I have several friends who have taken positions in companies selling a range of things, from pest control services and alarm systems, to knives. For the most part, their experiences have been terrible.

The companies of which I am aware tend to recruit male returned missionaries as their sales force. When they get enough people to sign employment contracts, everyone relocates somewhere for the summer (except for the knife salesmen who are encouraged to sell among family and friends). Then they begin selling. The work days can run anywhere from 8 to 12 hours depending on the salesperson. There is no direct supervision; however the salesmen are usually in competition with one another. Those who make more sales often receive random prizes like Plasma TVs and Ipods in addition to the extra money they make from commission.

Given the incentive to sell, many employees begin to lose their moral compass. Almost everyone I’ve spoken to about these companies report that the salesmen are encouraged to lie. Sometimes, the ‘team leaders,’ themselves returned missionaries, will use gospel-oriented motivations, like explaining that more money from sales equals a larger tithe for the church.

What’s amazing is that it seems to work. One person I know makes between 35 and 40K – just selling over the summer! His brother, a partner in one of the companies, has made well over a million dollars over the last few summers. However, for every success story, I have heard of several people who quit or are forced to resign, either because they don’t make enough to pay their rent, or because they dislike having to mislead people in order to make sales.

I know that unethical behavior is practically ubiquitous in many sales based organizations and, therefore, it shouldn’t matter if some Mormon companies engage in the same dodgy practices. But I worry about what it will mean to the church if in ten to twenty years these salesmen begin to assume leadership positions.

Has anyone else had experience with Mormon run summer sales companies? What about multi-level marketing, pyramid and matrix schemes? Ever get a call from an ex mission companion asking you to meet for a “reunion” in Provo?





The Loneliness of the Post-Feminist

2007-01-09T12:54:29.321-05:00

JohnR has an excellent and touching entry at FMH on the lack of male feminists in the church. While I am not convinced that not claiming the label "feminist" means that one supports wife-abuse, date rape, eating disorders, or sex trafficking (I thought that Mormons opposed all of those things regardless of whether or not they were feminists...), nor do I think that the Vagina Monologues ritual is really all that great for anybody, I am sympathetic to the sentiment of the post. However, the lack of "male" feminists is not symptomatic of a lack of interest in justice, but a product of the very divisive politics of second-wave feminism.Second-wave feminism located its ideology in a kind of gender essentialism, where men were men and women were women. Women were uniquely valuable as women. The comments in JohnR's post are filled with these views. Don't get me wrong...this kind of strategic essentialism was incredibly powerful politically and perhaps will remain so for a long time. No doubt there is still a lot to do in the second-wave agenda. However, French Feminism managed to be just as successful as American feminism without appeals to essentialized gender, so I am not convinced that essentialism is necessary for a political agenda.The problem with essentialism is that it is not descriptive of any reality, but a construct that produces certain kinds of gender binaries. The critiques of this essentialism have become increasingly vocal. Voices from different races, the Third World, lesbians, trans, and intersexed persons noted more and more that "feminism" was not made for them. It had a preconceived notion of who was a "woman" that excluded many others. I suspect that the lack of many male voices in the feminist movement is because of the gender essentialism which excludes their experiences a priori. Third wave, post-feminism, queer theory, and other movements fractured traditional feminism and it is in many ways still trying to find a central voice again.As it relates to Mormon theology, second-wave feminism posed a number of important challenges to institutional Mormonism. However, it is interesting to note that on the theoretical level of gender essentialism, Mormonism and second-wave feminism are actually quite compatible. The issue simply becomes one of working out what makes up the essential female identity. Many Mormons today are able to inhabit both worlds quite comfortably now. This reconciliation is made possible, I think, because of a shared ideological backbone. Sadly, both still exclude the voices of lesbian, Third World, other races, and others.If ever Latter-day Saints start paying attention to the challenges of third-wave feminism, it will have to grapple theologically with the central tenant of essentialized gender. The ramifications of such an examination are yet to be seen. Since Mormonism survived second-wave feminism with relatively minor bruising, perhaps it can survive third-wave feminism unscathed as well. However, at least in the academy, second-wave feminism was dealt a powerful blow. If traditional feminism couldn't survive, can traditional Mormonism? For now, we will just have to stay tuned...Update: JohnR has added a much appreciated post on the varieties of feminism.[...]



Sabbath and Sunday

2007-01-01T13:04:19.929-05:00

A refreshing post at BCC asked bloggers what they were going to do for New Year's, given that New Year's Eve falls on Sunday. (Refreshing because rather than debate the requirements of Sabbath observance they actually talked about what they were doing.) This got me thinking again about a question that came up in a class on Christian use of the Hebrew Bible.

The professor, who is a well-known expert in Judaism and early Christianity, said that Christian application of Sabbath regulations to Sunday didn't occur until the Puritans in the 1600s. While obviously Sunday (the first day of the week) as a day of worship was an early idea, the transferrence of "Sabbath" to "Sunday" didn't occur until this particular group of people started grounding their law and society in norms expressed in the Hebrew Bible.

We, of course, are heirs to this tradition, and our vocabulary shows it. It's gone so far that it's not uncommon to talk about the Jews having "their Sabbath" on Saturday. Although I'd like sometime to get into the larger question of our haphazard appropriation of laws of the Hebrew Bible (e.g. we use Leviticus to condemn homosexual acts but not the killing of those who engage therein), today I wonder about the implications of the transfer of Sabbath to Sunday. Is our interpretation and use of Sabbath law generally done by reference to the perceived "spirit" of OT Sabbath norms? My feeling is that we are somewhere between the severity of the Hebrew Bible and the recognition of our distance from this tradition. What say ye?



Immanuel = Christ?

2006-12-24T01:54:22.591-05:00

This time of year Isaiah gets more airtime than at any other point in the calendar, thanks in no small part to GF Handel. One passage used by Handel is taken ultimately from Isa 7:14: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call his name EMMANUEL, God with us." Careful readers of scripture will note that this is not exactly as Isaiah has it: "God with us" is a gloss explaining the name Immanuel, which gloss appears fully in Matthew 1:23. In fact, as is well known, the "virgin" is also slightly inaccurate, since in Hebrew "'almah" ('young woman') is used instead of "betulah" ('virgin'), the concept of 'virgin' entering via the Greek use of 'parthenos' ('virgin') in this verse.

The question I have is whether this verse need be read as Messianic at all. Without Matthew, would this ever have been read as referring to a Messiah? Is there any indication besides our later lenses that Isaiah meant anything Messianic? The verses from Isaiah that immediately surround this section are decidedly non-messianic, and refer clearly to the geopolitical conflict of 734 BC and not to events seven hundred years later.

To this question a response containing the term "dual fulfillment of prophecy" is usually applied: Isaiah was at once referring to Christ and to some child that was to be born in the immediate future. But was he?

I'm having a hard time seeing this as anything but Matthew's being a good first-century interpreter of scripture, and every Christian reading Isa 7:14 accordingly ever since. I find no evidence in Isaiah 7 that Isaiah meant anything besides his and King Ahaz's immediate context, and it strains the sense of the chapter to read with Matthew.

The reason I raise this issue is not to spread a little Christmas doubt, but to get at how we understand prophecy and scriptural authority to work. Furthermore, I have the sneaking suspicion that the concept of 'dual fulfillment' of prophecy is one we have invented to justify our appropriation of scripture, and it crosses an important line between texts being applicable to more than one situation and prophets speaking directly, intentionally to more than one situation. I rather think it's a concept that tends to impede our understanding of scripture, because it usually prevents scripture being read as anything other than it's "ultimate" fulfillment. This is why I've heard BYU profs say things like "Yeah, sure, Isaiah spoke to his time, too, but what he really meant was Christ." The problem becomes then, of course, that in Isaiah 7 we have one verse that makes sense and the rest is gibberish. Who are the two kings? Who is king Ahaz? What is "the land that thou abhorrest?" This chapter is quite specifically grounded in its historical context, and when read in any other way one encounters insurmountable difficulties. No wonder Isaiah has come to be described as a 'hurdle'.



What's wrong with idol worship?

2006-12-19T17:50:31.654-05:00

The lesson in priesthood this past Sunday was on signs of the second coming (based on the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church book on W.W.). It was a fairly uneventful lesson until we started talking about how to interpret the signs and one good elder shared the experience of his brother who lived in Sri Lanka shortly before the Tsunami. He commented, "My brother told me about how ripe the place was for destruction. With all the idol worship going on and all, it was no wonder what happened when it did."

I usually try to tone down my thoughts a notch or two before letting them escape my mouth, and fortunately in this situation someone else had their hand up befor me, so by the time it came for me to speak, I had translated the thought "I'm swimming in a Tsunami of ignorance" into something much more cordial.

Now, I think most of us would agree that such a comment is utterly ridiculous, but it did get me thinking about a few other issues that are relevant to raise here. The first is about idol worship. How do we make sense of idol worship given the injunctions against it in the Bible on the one hand, and our inclusivness of other religions on the other (most people believe in a supreme being, yet call him by different names)? Should we dismiss the Bible as culturally insensitive? Reinterpret "idol" to mean something else that qualifies the Biblical warning and yet disqualifies other sincere religious belief as "idolotrous"? Or maintain a position that much of the world are worshiping "false gods"? Or another alternative?




Pilgrimage Sites: Palmyra, NY

2006-12-17T21:51:03.200-05:00

(image)
By now, pretty much everyone recognizes that church has begun to build up its sacred historical sites by dedicating temples, new visitor centers, and redesigning the experience visitors have. This has produced and encouraged increased pilgrimage by faithful members of the church who travel to these sites for special religious experiences. An industry has built up around these pilgrimage sites including hotels, bookstores, and replica relics. For an "aniconic" culture, we certainly have gone 180 degrees. Is the movement to materiality simply an inevitable development in the history of any particular religious movement? Is this particular development religiously neutral, an act of true piety, or a substitute for true spirituality?

While it is often assumed that Mormonism was aniconic (represented in its rejection of the cross), eschewing material spirituality because of its American Protestant background, the use of the Temple produces a certain tension in this theory. In the temple, a more sacred space is created. I think that it is the temple that has provided the impulse to sacralize Mormon historical sites. The birthplace of Joseph Smith, the Hill Cumorah, Kirtland, Independence, Nauvoo, Carthage, etc. all represent something of the sacred to Mormons. They are sacred history and sacred spaces. One can receive more firm answers to prayers in the temple, but also in these locations. Like invisible magnetic fields, they are places where the veil is thin, where this world and that world meet. As such, they will function in the same way as medieval pilgrimage sites.
Will the pilgrimage sites begin to be specialized in particular ways? Will those seeking healing travel to the banks of the Mississippi near Nauvoo? Will those seeking advice about marriage travel to where Joseph and Emma were married? Will the Susquehanna river become a sacred place to be baptized?

The kitsch-industry that has developed around these sites and experiences focalizes the theological question in important ways. This is still in its infant stages, but can we imagine street vendors selling statues of Joseph Smith and the Christus, vials of dirt from the Hill Cumorah or Sacred Grove, bullet necklaces in Carthage, mosquito medallions from Nauvoo, etc? How will these objects contribute to Mormon spirituality? How will they shape the Mormon home or the Mormon body?

The questions of describing the effect of these present and future practices of course leads to reflection on their religious value. Currently, my experience with many LDS that see Catholic, Orthodox, and some Jewish and Islamic material religiosity is that they see it as strange, even a symptom of false religion. I wonder if as these practices develop in Mormonism, what the response will be as the leaders and people are more self-reflective on our own material religion.



The Fruits of the Spirit: Confusion, Honesty and Depression

2006-12-12T01:54:23.180-05:00

Someone I know very well is prone to a religious form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, called “scrupulosity.” He worries obsessively over proper religious practice, especially the internal aspects such as prayer and thinking pure thoughts. He feels an unusual amount of anxiety over his thoughts and therefore engages in certain mental rituals to clear them of “sin.” Ironically, these rituals often compound the problem since they add to his anxiety, making it more difficult to control his thoughts instead of easier. Prayer is a very powerful healing technique, but as a compulsion it looses much of its transcendence. He is accustomed to spending hours praying and worrying.

Like many suffering from scrupulosity, he would never act on the odious thoughts that pop into his head. OCD is likely a biological disorder – it is certainly not a spiritual malfunction, even though it may seem that way to patients. This has me thinking: is there an unintentional bias against church members with mental illness?
We associate the Spirit with peaceful, happy, familiar feelings. As a result, we often focus our attention inwards to gauge our spiritual wellbeing, concluding that if our emotions do not match the “fruits of the Spirit,” something must be amiss in our behavior. This may be a normal and healthy part of religion, but for someone who is clinically depressed emotions are often poor indicators of God’s loving approval. Therefore, I think we should place less emphasis on “feeling” as part of our religious experience.

It seems to me that church members with all different forms of mental illness are seldom accommodated. For example, when speakers get up to give lessons on purity, happiness and other feel-good topics, they rarely consider the implications that their comments could have for members who are mentally ill. My friend is a convert to the church; and while he enjoyed the conversion process, it was extremely difficult for him to cope with all of the church teachings on thought control.

I have suggested that we focus less on feelings and thoughts in our discourse. What else could be done to help those who are struggling with mental illness feel at ease in church?




Believing Blood: Mormonism as a New Race

2006-12-10T01:09:58.348-05:00

Mormons adopted the language of race and ethnicity to describe themselves from the very early days of the church. This post examines the rhetoric of race in Mormonism and compares it with that of early Christianity. It is inspired by Denise Buell's amazing book, Why This New Race?, which looks at "ethnic reasoning" in early Christianity. In Mormonism, I see a similar dynamic, though different in some key respects, in the process of describing and creating a new people.Up to this day, many people still see Christianity as a universalistic religion and Judaism as a particularistic religion. Christianity's success is credited with its ability to apply to all peoples. Judaism "failed" because it was ethnically exclusivistic. What Buell did was to look at the rhetoric of race and ethnicity in early Christianity. The early Christians saw themselves as a new "race," in the same category as Romans, Greeks, and Jews, only their citizenship was in heaven. As a claim to a "universal" race, it engaged in the same sorts of "particularistic" exclusionary practices as any other ethnicity. Her critique is that this new universal is simply another particular and that the claims to universalism always involve exclusion.While this critique is certainly important for the study of early Christianity, in many ways it applies to Latter-day Saints( though we are more comfortable with being labeled "exclusionary"). However, Buell's argument also tells us a lot more about Mormonism. Mormons claim lineage (literal, adoptive, symbolic, blah, blah, blah) with Israel which establishes them as a distinctive people. In some versions of this, the blood of the baptized member is said to change. In other cases, the blood of the investigator is activated and the ancient kinship bonds are rekindled when the spirit is felt, so that only those literal descendants are gathered again to the family. This diffuse blood was always seen as multi-racial biologically, but all members of the church belonged to the true family of Israel.The rhetoric of racial unity in Mormonism has died down in recent decades, perhaps as the result of the power scientific discourses of race which may problematize Mormon theories of kinship (there is a lively critique of the biological view of race as well). The result, however, is that biological views of race become the discourse of race in the church, which means that the exclusionary language of that discourse can divide the membership. Yet, our own past exclusionary practice of denying those of African descent membership in the people of Israel reminds us that our rhetoric of universalism rings hollow. Nevertheless, as we have moved away from being a race, to being simply a religion like most others should cause us to reflect on this event. Is one model more effective than another? Should we continue to be a race of Mormons, or should we be just a religion?[...]