Priesthood, Women, and Non-Agency

Two anecdotes: 1) Recently our bishop was teaching an Aaronic Priesthood lesson to a small group of young men that included a newly ordained deacon, the only deacon in the ward and the de facto president of the quorum. The earnest (and highly educated) bishop was zeroing in on the deacon, explaining that as the deacon’s quorum president he was one of only four people in the ward who hold the power to turn keys. 2) A (different) bishop was teaching a sharing time lesson in Primary in which some Aaronic priesthood holders were present. Speaking of Joseph Smith’s restoration of the priesthood, he said that the priesthood is the power to act in God’s name, which is perhaps the most common definition of priesthood in the church. He pointed to one of the priests in the audience and said “Matt has the power to act in God’s name, isn’t it great that Joseph Smith restored it?” I happened to be looking at my (9-year-old) daughter, and she was crestfallen.

Aside from the obvious problems of a) how this means the deacon in at least one sense trumps the Relief Society President, b) how easily adopted this kind of rhetoric is in all-male contexts, and c) how characteristically blind men are (myself included) to the way such rhetoric affects non-males, another problem strikes me: that of agency.

Continue reading “Priesthood, Women, and Non-Agency”

Peter, James, and … Lazarus?

I recently ran across a hypothesis promulgated anew by Ben Witherington III that attempts to deal with the main issues about the authorship and uniqueness of the fourth gospel.[1] There is much of interest in the problem and proposed solution. First, an overview of the problem and proposed solution, then, its implications for Latter-day Saints.

The problem:

Of crucial interest is the mention of a “beloved disciple” in this highly unique gospel. Since antiquity the author of this gospel, who according to ch. 21 is the Beloved Disciple, has been a matter of some debate. By the late second century Irenaeus made the winning case for John son of Zebedee, apparently against questions raised as to this gospel’s apostolic authorship because of its affinities to and popularity in Gnosticism. John is never mentioned in the fourth gospel, though in the epilogue (Jn 21) the “sons of Zebedee” are mentioned once. Apparently the only thing this identification has going for it is the fact that it never mentions John son of Zebedee by name and that Peter and John are often described together in the other gospels and in Acts, similar to the connection to Peter and the Beloved Disciple in the fourth gospel.

The huge problem with this identification is that John (son of Zebedee), a Galilean fisherman present in the other gospels at key events such as the transfiguration and the agony in the garden, doesn’t mention these events, nor does he mention the bulk of Jesus’ Galilean ministry! The author focuses instead on Jerusalem and its environs. And the author is clearly (at least clear to those who read Greek) not the same as the author of the book of Revelation. And the presence of Peter and John together seems in this gospel to be more of a rivalry than in the other gospels: the Beloved Disciple beats Peter to the tomb, and Peter seems to be hung up on the rumor that the BD would not die in Jn 21. It also seems that there is evidence from Papias, a church father who wrote around AD 100, that John was martyred earlier than the gospel of John was written in the 90s (see discussion in BW3’s post). Continue reading “Peter, James, and … Lazarus?”

How Like a Chevrolet a Bird Is! A recipe for Temple soup.

This recipe is so easy, anyone can follow it! No need to memorize nor even to write down the instructions! Certainly don’t attend a cooking school to learn how to prepare this—it will only confirm you in the error of your ways! And don’t bother worrying about quantities of ingredients—nay, even which ingredients to use! Such things as detail, careful measurement, and attention to processes, methods, and techniques are unimportant! So long as your final product is heartfelt, it will be as warming as chicken soup to the wondering soul. Continue reading “How Like a Chevrolet a Bird Is! A recipe for Temple soup.”

A Hospital for Those Infected with Ph.D.

Most of my advisors tell me something to the effect that they don’t know any PhD grad who doesn’t get 5 years out and hate their dissertation, think the opposite of what they wrote, etc. In BYU Religious Education, this takes an interesting form. While it is true that there is a major concern on the part of those who are thinking about a job in RelEd over whether they will lose all touch with their field, research agenda, etc., there is also an explicit attitude expressed by members of the search committees with regard to the influence of the PhD experience. I have heard from more than one source that people on the hiring committees routinely ask something like the following of potential candidates coming out of PhD programs (i.e., non-CES-track hires): “Robert J. Matthews [of blessed memory] used to say that it takes seven years for people to get the PhD out of their system. What do you think he meant by that?”

For me, the major difference between my advisors’ statements about the degree/my own feelings about it, and what I’ve heard from my sources about certain BYU RelEd faculty, is the overt pathological language: While I might think that the PhD is a stepping stone, an activity wherein the process is the important thing and not necessarily the finished product, the BYU RelEd attitude seems to be that the PhD is something you “recover from” or “get over” as you would a serious illness. It is like Chemotherapy: necessary but sickening nearly to death. Or, alternatively, it is a result of substance abuse: After the PhD you have to sober up from Dissertating Under the Influence. Serious counseling and behavior modification is necessary if the victim is to be fully integrated into healthy, normal society.

What do you think he meant?

Of Analogies, Rorschach Tests, and Elder Oaks

It might seem a little mundane to say that a single analogy can be used in contrasting ways to serve the interests of discursive power grabs, but the constant resurfacing of Elder Oaks’ BYUI talk makes me jump, Johnny-Come-Lately, into the fray. The implicit claim in the many vociferous critiques of Elder Oaks’ talk that the Left has a monopoly on Civil Rights analogies strikes me as deeply ironic. As I recall, last year several public media outlets hosted guests that questioned the link supporters of gay marriage were making to civil rights, sans the acerbic attack implicit in the objection. Continue reading “Of Analogies, Rorschach Tests, and Elder Oaks”

Why Margaret Barker is Right

It is no secret that in the past I have not pulled many punches when it comes to the assessment of Margaret Barker and her attempts to reconstruct lost Old Testament beliefs (that dovetail nicely with particular LDS concepts) from much later texts. Equally culpable, in my view, were (mostly untrained) LDS thinkers who jumped on the Barker bandwagon, culminating in a university-wide forum at BYU and other talks to faculty and students in 2003. I wondered on other blogs whether her lack of a PhD (at least one earned in the traditional manner) made her more creative but also less rigorous (in terms of sound method, not in terms of productivity–she is prolific). I delighted to hear an advisor of mine call her “diachronically crazy”.

But all that changed for me when I realized that Margaret Barker is right. Continue reading “Why Margaret Barker is Right”

Church Stance on Birth Control, Public and “Private”

Deseret Mutual Benefit Administrators (DMBA), the Church’s insurance company, does not cover prescriptive contraception, for any reason that relates to (“voluntary”) contraception. That is, any Church employee or covered spouse (including BYU employees) that wants contraception requiring a prescription must pay for it entirely out of pocket. The only exceptions for this relate to the physical (not mental) health of the woman: endometriosis, ovarian cysts, etc. Postpartum depression is not a valid medical issue that would result in an exception to this exclusion. This is clearly not an economically motivated decision.

This is not a post meant to criticize the Church; rather it is to ask about the extent to which public discourse matches the “private” (that is, non-Church-wide) practices controlled directly by the Church. Continue reading “Church Stance on Birth Control, Public and “Private””

Who sold Joseph?

technicolor dream

A friend suggested that when confronting the problems of the Pentateuchal narrative, it’s best to begin with an innocuous passage–that is, one that has low theological stakes. Part of the problem with the average person’s acceptance of the theory is that usually one starts with creation, or flood, or even, as I did earlier, covenant in Exod 34. So let’s take one such case, one that is both theologically bland and relatively straightforward in terms of narrative.

At the end of Genesis 37, Joseph tells his brothers of his portentious dreams, is given a coat, and, in a move envied by older brothers everywhere, they conspire to kill him. I quote here the KJV of Gen 37 and the first verse of Gen 39:

Continue reading “Who sold Joseph?”

Process-ease and other Linguistic Pet Peeves

I’m not a prescriptivist when it comes to language. That is, when a foreign-speaking missionary comes home from a mission correcting everyone’s grammar, people are correct (imo) to be turned off by it (this usually assumes, as prescriptivists have throughout time, that English should work like Latin, Greek, or some other language). This “correct” English itself would have been considered a bastardization not too terribly long ago. Split infinitives don’t bother me (though I try to really not use them), and I’m even okay with everyone bringing their books. You’ll hear me gleeflully postpositioning prepositions, at least when appropriate to the audience I’m speaking to, and I’ve certainly transitioned to verbing nouns.

But there are some things that I’d like to correct, for reasons other than to preserve grammar.*

Public enemy #1: “Processeez”: Continue reading “Process-ease and other Linguistic Pet Peeves”