Monthly Archives: June 2012

Mormon FAIR-Cast 94: Gay Mormon Finds Happiness in Church’s Teachings

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Joshua Johanson, a scheduled speaker at the 2012 FAIR conference on August 2-3 in Sandy, Utah appeared recently on K-Talk radio to discuss his experience as an active Mormon who experiences same-sex attraction, and who is also happily married to a woman. “Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints can find happiness in following the Church’s teachings against same-sex relationships” said Joshua.

A news article reporting on his interview can be found here. More information on the 2012 FAIR Conference, as well as how to purchase tickets, can be found here.

This recording originally aired on June 27 and is posted here by permission of K-Talk Radio. The opinions expressed in this interview do not necessarily represent the views of FAIR or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Changes at the Maxwell Institute, and “controlling the narrative”

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As many are no doubt aware by now, late last week Daniel C. Peterson was dismissed as editor of the Mormon Studies Review (formerly known as Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, FARMS Review of Books, and FARMS Review, in that order), the flagship journal of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at BYU (formerly the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, or “FARMS”).

Dr. Peterson has been the editor of the Review since its inception and first issue in 1989. At that time FARMS was a private foundation that served as a “clearinghouse” for cutting-edge research on the Book of Mormon. It also published works of an apologetic nature, typically reviews of books and other materials that were critical of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In 1998 FARMS became part of Brigham Young University, gaining some “official” status as part of the Church’s university. Although editorial freedom was promised in this arrangement, over the years there has been increasing tension at the organization between Peterson and others who believed it should defend the Church in print, and university-appointed administrators who did not agree with this approach.

Last week Dr. M. Gerald Bradford, executive director of the Maxwell Institute, fired Peterson as editor of the Review via email while Peterson was out of the country. (As far as I can tell, Peterson retains his position at the Institute as editor-in-chief of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative.) Continue reading

Review of Stephen Taysom, The Patheos Guide to Mormonism

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Stephen Taysom, The Patheos Guide to Mormonism (Series Editor Kathleen Mulhern), available in e-book formats for $2.99.  For details, see this website:

Remember when you were in high school, and you were assigned a five-page paper?  Oh, how you struggled to reach that goal of five pages!  If you got desperate enough, perhaps you played with fonts, margins and line spacing in an effort to cross the finish line with some hopefully-not-too-obvious space padding techniques made possible by the computer age.  What a relief it was when you finally achieved the assigned length.  Maybe you would even add an extra paragraph, so it wouldn’t look too obvious how much you were straining to get to five pages of text.

Those were the days, weren’t they?  Stephen Taysom, an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Cleveland State University (and a blogger at the Juvenile Instructor, was recently faced with a grown up’s inverse of this problem: He had to try to give a coherent introduction to Mormonism, a very complicated topic, in what has amounted to a mere 77 pages.  I would venture a guess that there were times during his work on this project that he sincerely wished for 500 pages to play with, rather than 77.  But the brevity of the text is a large part of its appeal (and I freely acknowledge I was much more willing to undertake a review of a 77-pager than I would have been the 500-pager), so what must have been a very challenging exercise in pruning had to be undertaken.

Does it work?  I decided before reading it that my standard would be whether I thought I could have done a better job.  It is conceivable that I might have done a better job if I had 500 pages to play with, but it is highly doubtful that I could have improved upon this effort if I were limited to less than 100 pages.  So yes, as a very concise summary of and introduction to Mormonism, especially for those with limited prior exposure to the religion, it does indeed work, and I highly recommend it.

All Patheos Guides follow the same basic structure of five chapters, each with five standardized subsections.  This is done purposefully to allow easy comparison of different religions using the respective Guides for those faiths.  Below is the Table of Contents to the Mormon Guide:


Beginnings: First Vision

Influences: Awakening and Restoration

Founders: Smith and Young

Sacred Texts: The Standard Works and an Open Canon

Historical Perspectives: Apologists and Critics


Early Developments: Mobs, Murder, and Moving West

Schisms and Sects: Challenges to Polygamy

Missions and Expansion: From New York to the World

Exploration and Conquest: Migration, Deseret, and Utah

The Modern Age: A Manifesto and Statehood


Sacred Narratives: From Michael to Lehi

Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings: From Man to God

Human Nature and the Purpose of Existence: A Training Ground

Suffering and the Problem of Evil: War in Heaven, Choice on Earth

Afterlife and Salvation: A Hierarchy of Kingdoms


Sacred Time: From the Second Coming to Eternity

Sacred Space: Chapels and Temples

Rites and Ceremonies: Fathers and Priests

Worship and Devotion in Daily Life: Sacrament, Family, and Temple

Symbolism: Signs of Hope and Promise


Community Organization: Wards and Common Care

Leadership: Presidency, Quorums, and Bishops

Principles of Moral Thought and Action: Avoiding Sin and Practicing Charity

Vision for Society: Politics, Protests, and the Apocalypse

Gender and Sexuality: Patriarchy and Heterosexuality

One consequence of this standardized format is a fair amount of duplication, since each chapter needs to stand on its own for comparative purposes with other Guides.  I read the book straight through, like a novel, so the duplicated explanations of things like the First Vision or visits of Moroni stuck out to me.  But that is simply an unavoidable consequence of the desired series structure, and once one gets beyond the early chapters the duplicative material quickly becomes much less common.  (One duplication that was probably unintentional was the repetition of the precise sentence “In addition, Mormons set aside Monday evenings as a period of family togetherness” a mere two paragraphs from each other in the first section of Chapter Four.)

A couple of illustrations will show Taysom’s skill at conveying complex information in a succinct and understandable way.  First is this explanation of the First Vision from the first section of Chapter One:

In 1820, at age 14, his prayer for guidance led to an experience that became the founding event of Mormonism and gave rise to his career as a prophet. In his accounts of this event, recorded many years later, Joseph wrote of being nearly overwhelmed by darkness and then seeing a pillar of light encircling two beings, God the Father and Jesus. He was told that he was forgiven of his sins and that he was not to join any church, since none embodied the true faith; all had gone astray.

Second, from the first section of Chapter Three, is this explanation of the Mormon concept of Jesus Christ as Jehovah:

Mormons take a slightly different approach to some of these stories than many other traditions, however. For example, in the Mormon version of the sacred creation narrative, Jesus Christ, who before his birth was the Jehovah of the Hebrew Bible, created the earth and all things in it at the direction of God the Father. Jehovah was assisted in this by other “noble and great” spirits, most notably the angel Michael. Michael, according to the Mormon narrative, was born on earth as Adam, the first mortal man.

Taysom has skillfully conveyed the gist of these ideas, which normally would require pages of explanation, in but a single paragraph each.

I liked the way Taysom put the origins of Mormonism into the broader religious context of the Second Great Awakening, and the specific revivalism of the burned over district.  I also appreciated how he easily and straightforwardly broached topics that some might consider controversial, such as treasure searching.  For instance, see how he discloses post-Manifesto polygamy in a very just-the-facts-ma’am, matter of fact way: “After years of attempting to establish their constitutional right to practice polygamy, the Mormons finally disavowed the practice in 1890, although it would continue to be practiced in some quarters until the second decade of the 20th century.”  Now, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

I personally have an interest in Joseph Smith’s use of Hebrew, and twice Taysom seems to reflect a certain doubt as to whether Joseph’s explanation of the origin of the place name Nauvoo as a Hebrew word was really correct.  (The applicable quotations are as follows: “named Nauvoo [after the Hebrew word for beautiful, he claimed]” and “Joseph Smith re-christened the town Nauvoo, which Smith suggested was a Hebrew name denoting a place of rest or refreshing.”)  This was not merely a claim or suggestion of the Prophet, but a demonstrable fact.  It is true that the word nauvoo is obscure, and if you ask your Hebrew-speaking friend what the Hebrew word for “beautiful” is, he surely will not say nauvoo.  But although the word is rare, it is also quite real.  In the beginning of Isaiah 52:7, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings,” the Hebrew word rendered “beautiful” is (in modern transliteration) na’wu, the pilel form of the verb na’ah.  Joseph gives the word as nauvoo, using the Sephardic transliteration method he learned at the Kirtland Hebrew School, where au represents the vowel qamets, the v is the letter waw, and the oo represents the vowel shureq.  Indeed, the word nauvoo actually appears on p. 28 of the Joshua Seixas grammar that was used at the Kirtland Hebrew School, as one can see at this page: .

Near the end of Chapter Two we read “In 2008, Mitt Romney became the first Mormon contender for the presidential nomination for a major political party,” but as written that cannot be correct, since Mitt’s own father, George, preceded him as a one-time contender for the Republican nomination.

The very tight space requirements do not allow much space for a discussion of nuance or development of Mormon ideas over time.  In the section on Ultimate Reality and Divine Beings: From Man to God, Taysom simply assumes the B.H. Roberts tripartite theory of the nature of man (intelligence, soul, body).  Now, if I were in his shoes I would have done the same thing, as to my eye that is the most common understanding today, but it is not something that has been universally held throughout the history of the Church.  I think it is proper to use things like this that historically have been majority views, but I do lament the lack of space for putting these ideas into a little bit more context in terms of their development over time.

Taysom is very careful not to overwhelm the reader with in-house vocabulary that a non-Mormon would not understand, which is I think absolutely essential in a project such as this.  One small lapse in this area was in his discussion of tithing:  “Mormons also pay 10 percent of their annual ‘increase’ as tithing to the Church.”  He put the word increase in quotation marks, but gives the reader no clue what it means.  Something like a bracketed “i.e., income” would have been helpful here.  But in the context of the book as a whole, these things are mere trifles.

Believe it or not, I actually had a dream about the first section of Chapter Four, in which Mormon worship services are described.  (How is that for my commitment as a book reviewer!)  In the dream, I was serving a mission to the Philippines (doubtless because my former bishop’s son just received his own call to that area).  I realized that we were asking people to come to Church, but we weren’t explaining to them carefully what they could expect to happen there, and no one wants to go into a strange situation without a sense of what to expect.  As they say, “If ye are prepared, ye shall not fear.”  So my companion and I put together a pamphlet that we had printed, that included our pictures, something about us such as where we’re from, and how to contact us.  We also put in there a picture of the local ward building, both external and internal maps, times of the different services, and then we actually explained what they could expect to happen in, say, sacrament meeting, much along the lines of Taysom’s own explanation.  (For instance, we should explain that there is no offertory; one simply cannot assume that people will know about something like that.)  I think we also threw some of our basic beliefs in there, maybe a copy of the Articles of Faith.  And of course we had great missionary success based on our little pamphlet (I did say it was a dream, didn’t I?).

In this current Mormon Moment, when college students are taking classes in Mormonism, journalists are struggling to wrap their arms around the faith, ordinary voters are trying to figure out what it all means for their voting decision, and on and on, this book is just what the doctor ordered to give people a much needed overview of what Mormonism is all about.  I congratulate Professor Taysom on a job well done, and hope the book receives a wide audience.

Mormon FAIR-Cast 92: Deification as understood by the Greek Orthodox Church

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Mormons have been criticized for believing that they can become like God. But are they alone among all the religions of the world in this belief? In this episode of Religion Today that originally aired on March 25, 2012, Martin Tanner interviews Dr. Tom Roberts, Academic Dean, St Elias Seminary and Graduate School. They discuss the way in which the Greek Orthodox Church views the concept of deification.

This recording was used by permission of KSL Radio and does not necessarily represent the views of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or of FAIR.

Issues of Race, Sexuality and Gender to be Addressed at FAIR Conference

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With the approaching Republican presidential nomination of Mitt Romney, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as its history and doctrines has been the focus of much media scrutiny. The annual FAIR Conference of scholars, apologists, and interested individuals will meet August 2-3, 2012 at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy, Utah. At least fourteen scholars this year will address important and potentially controversial issues that have been highlighted by the national media or are confronting Latter-day Saints, including gay marriage, the impact of California’s Proposition 8, polygamy and questions of polyandry, Black Latter-day Saints, the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, difficult issues in Mormon history, the threats to American religious freedom, and dealing with issues of faith and loss of faith.

Among the presenters are Brian C. Hales, author of Modern Polygamy and Mormon Fundamentalism: The Generations after the Manifesto and the forthcoming Joseph Smith’s Polygamy, who will discuss new evidences relating to controversies about Joseph Smith’s sexual polyandry. Kathryn Lynard Soper, founder and editor-in-chief of Segullah, a journal of literary and visual art for Mormon women, and Neylan McBaine, associate creative director at Bonneville Communications, will both discuss issues confronting Mormon women. Hannah Smith, Senior Counsel of the Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty, will discuss the unprecedented threats to American religious freedom and what Latter-day Saints can do. Joshua Johanson, an outspoken advocate for Mormons with same-gender attraction, will share insights he has gained as a faithful, married, Latter-day Saint who also experiences same-gender attraction.

Relating to ancient scripture, Royal Skousen, editor of the Book of Mormon critical text project, will speak about whether Latter-day Saints need to make changes to the Book of Mormon text. John W. Welch, who has published extensively on issues dealing with the Book of Mormon and Mormon doctrine, will discuss chiasmus in the Book of Mormon while Don Bradley, author of the soon to be published, Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Missing Contents of the Book of Mormon, will discuss those 116 pages. John Gee, a professor of Egyptology, will talk about the Book of Abraham and Rosemary Avance, a non-Mormon doctoral candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School of Communication, will discuss parallels in Mormon conversion and de-conversion stories. Hartt Wixam, a retired BYU professor and investigate reporter for the Deseret News, will give a presentation entitled “Perception and Reality: Then and Now.” And Mesoamerican scholar, Brandt Gardner, will discuss the problem of cardinal directions in the Book of Mormon.

Rounding out the conference are popular speakers like the venerable Darius Gray, one of the founders of Genesis Group for Black Latter-day Saints and co-writer of the documentary, Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons, Ugo A. Perego who will be traveling from Rome, Italy to discuss aspects of DNA research and Mormon history, and Daniel C. Peterson who will talk about the restoration of the gospel.

Members of the media are particularly invited to visit with these and other conference participants, as well as to attend this important and informative conference in August.

FAIR is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing well-documented answers to criticisms of LDS doctrine, belief and practice. Along with the annual conference, which is open to everyone, FAIR also sponsors a website that includes answers to difficult questions. FAIR has an “Ask the Apologist” option where people can pose questions to apologists and FAIR also sponsors MormonVoices which responds to public discussions and comments from public figures that misrepresent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For details on the FAIR Conference, visit the FAIR website. Tickets may be purchased at the FAIR online Bookstore, here.