To the Editors of the Deseret News

Dear Sir / Ma’am:

I was interested to read in your edition of Thursday, January 21st an article by Dr. Daniel C. Peterson about a book by James R. Hutchinson engaging various aspects of so-called Historical Jesus research.

I was also interested to see that Peterson does not go much beyond the description of the book as found on Amazon; following it so closely that a link to Amazon would have saved column-inches and allowed Peterson to engage more robustly with the work itself.  For instance, rather than superficially discrediting some aspects of Historical Jesus research as Peterson suggests, readers would have learned more of Hutchinson’s primary purposes.

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Our Dirty Hands

In 1973 Michael Walzer wrote an article entitled “Political Action: The Problem of Dirty Hands.” In the article, Walzer argued that involvement in politics entails confronting difficult situations where values conflict. Adjudicating between values requires making compromises; and while most compromises can be understood in terms of mutual concessions interested parties make in order to further some common good, other situations are more extreme. These situations call for compromise in the sense of harming or demeaning something valuable. Walzer explains these “dirty hands” situations, using the example of a politician making a backroom deal with a dishonest ward boss:  Continue reading “Our Dirty Hands”

Faith as a Relationship

I recently heard somebody refer to faith as a verb. While many verbs are involved in faith, I would say that faith is itself not a verb, but it is a noun.

Faith in Jesus Christ is not believing in Christ. Having faith in Christ is having a relationship with Him. A relationship is a noun. What then does this thing involve? That is a more complex issue.

What does any relationship require? We could probably come up with a long list, but I will note a few that stand out to me.

Trust. We must be able to trust that the people we have relationships will be there for us. Our relationships with colleagues and co-workers is rooted in a trust that we will see them at certain times and places. They will follow through with their duties and responsibilities. Often times my favorite colleagues are not the ones that I work with directly on specific tasks or committees, but the ones that are there to chat about a rough day, a rough class, pop culture, or maybe Foucault.

Our relationships with family are deeper, more intimate, and they usually are longer in duration. The longevity of family relationships often has to do with the fact that such relationships are not as contingent upon geography and situation as relationships with neighbors and co-workers. My relationship with my wife involves both the good times and the bad times. Landing the new job…and getting dismissed are things that I experience with her in ways that I do with nobody else. Part of what makes our relationship such a large part of my life is that what happens to one of us…happens to both of us.

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Turning Wine into Water

In a rather strange opening miracle, the author of the Gospel of John depicts Jesus as working a familiar Dionysian miracle of turning water into wine.  Mormons have undone this entirely, turning wine into water.  The modern sacrament prayers go so far as to change the wording of the revealed prayers, substituting “water” for “wine.”  This wasn’t always so.

In the early days of the Church, LDS followers drank wine from a common cup.  The founding church order given in April 1830, revised in 1833 and again in 1835 declares that wine should be used (D&C 20).  Around the end of 1832 and beginning of 1833, wine is again referenced as the drink that is used in the sacrament.

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Mormons and Wild Geese

The first line of Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” seems as at odds with Mormonism as anything can be. “You do not have to be good,” she states.

What’s that? It sounds an awfully lot like sacrilege. Of course we have to be good. Jesus admonished us to become perfect, and not only do we have the 10 commandments of other Bible-believers, we have a strict health code, a tithing requirement, and obligatory church attendance. A Latter-day Saint’s entire identity can be wrapped up in the necessity of being good. From choosing baptism and choosing the right in Primary, to serving a mission and serving our fellow man as a young adult, to marrying the right person at the right time in the right place — doing good is in our genes, and necessary for our salvation. Continue reading “Mormons and Wild Geese”

Capital Punishment and LDS Doctrinal Development

This morning my facebook and twitter feeds were inundated with declarations by my Latter-day Saint friends decrying capital punishment and the execution of Troy Davis last night. “I want to take this opportunity to voice my outright and unequivocal opposition to the death penalty,” said one. “A sad day to be a Georgian,” lamented another. I wasn’t really surprised, but I am fascinated by how the tide of public support of capital punishment has ebbed among Mormons in my own lifetime. Continue reading “Capital Punishment and LDS Doctrinal Development”

The Biologist and Her Baptism

The Friday before classes start this semester, my wife Lyndee and I attended a dinner at the college president’s house for first year faculty.

We always enjoy low-cost dates. That night, as things were widing down, I got up to get a drink and one of the other first year faculty, a biologist named Kelsey, sat next to my wife on the couch and started chatting. I had chatted with Kelsey during our earlier meetings. After all, I am Facebook friends with Steve Peck…I know biology.

When I returned, Kelsey asked, “So, what ward are you in?” Huh? This is not something we get asked often by non-members. But Kelsey is in the same department as Brother Brown, who happens to be on the stake high council. He was also heavily involved in the redrawing of the ward boundaries within the stake. Maybe she had heard of this and had picked up some Mormon lingo.

“Evert outed you as a Mormon,” she said. I sometimes sit with them in college-wide meetings and I had done so earlier in the week. Maybe Brother Brown had explained how we knew each other.

“I am getting baptized tomorrow.” I was floored. She had started taking the discussions around Christmas and this was the night before her baptism. I had no idea. But I was thrilled that somebody like her was joining our religious community.

Evert, Kelsey, and I had chatted evolution before. They are both die-hard evolutionary theorist. We have even poked fun at anti-evolution forces. Good times.

Kelsey told my wife and I that one of the things that caught her eye about Mormonism was that it is open and friendly towards evolution and science in general. I am not sure if she would have taken a closer look had it not.

My wife warned her, in a nice tone, that amongst Mormons you will find a range of people when it comes to such issues. I told her that one of the nicest people I have ever met is an evolutionary biologist at BYU.

That Saturday, Lyndee and I took the kids to watch Kelsey be baptized. Evert performed the baptism. Bishop Jacobs of Kelsey’s new ward presided over the meeting. He is a math professor at our college. I also turns out that Ben from the English department is in her ward. This was a pleasant surprise. Ben is friendly…and he also looks like a skater dude with long curly hair. I never peg the guy with the long hair as a Mormon.

After the baptism, our family went to Pizza Hut. It was a good place for finishing up our cheesy Mormon day (I had also done hospital visits earlier in the day). I told Lyndee that at that moment, I was the happiest as a Mormon that I had been in a long time. I am glad that Kelsey told us about her baptism.

Jesus in Hell!

At the end of Good Friday, we’d like to commemorate Christ’s descent into hell. Christ’s descensus ad inferno has a long history in Christian tradition. In Mormon terms, this is related to Christ’s “visit” to Spirit Prison. This tradition, and particularly the Mormon version, have an important theological message about Christ’s nature.
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