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On symbolic and racial whiteness in scripture

Over at Wheat & Tares, I wrote an article discussing the inclusion of a song “White” in the 2017 LDS Mutual themed album. The song first came to my attention through tweets by Janan Graham-Russell about the lack of racial awareness implied by the song’s sponsorship by the church.

I quickly realized that the song was meant to be a reference to Isaiah 1:18, and that got me thinking about how faithfully the song captured Isaiah 1:18, and whether Isaiah 1:18 could be interpreted in any racial way (and Mary Ann’s comments on the context have changed my understanding a bit). I definitely encourage reading the post, but the short summary would be that I have no doubt that the composer of this song (who apparently is a 17-year-old Asian American young woman) had no thoughts about race when composing. But, at the same time, I do not think it should be at all controversial to say that the legacy of Mormonism conflating symbolic whiteness (that is, “purity” or “cleanliness”) and racial whiteness (skin color) should keep everyone in the church on constant guard — and this song isn’t careful.

Well, it turns out that the church has removed the song from the LDS Mutual Album, as Peggy Fletcher Stack reports in the Salt Lake Tribune. And, you may note, I am quoted through my blog. So, I guess these are my 15 minutes of internet fame?

One of the biggest challenges in the comments section to my post was the notion that people who take issue with this song are just being oversensitive. I wanted to comment just a few things about that here.

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Nominalism, Christianity, and Donald Trump


With the election of Donald Trump, there’s a lot of discussion on who has been living in a bubble. The surprise of so many Democrats has resulted in so many thinkpieces contending that coastal, city-dwelling Democrats are just elites that are out of touch with the real America. (Interestingly, I have also seen posts to argue that it’s just the opposite — predominantly white midwestern rural communities are out of touch, which could fuel their otherization of minority concerns.)

There have been thinkpieces discussing the role of social media in this. Isn’t it well known that Facebook tends to show you what it thinks you’ll engage with (with your attention, likes, and shares)? And, even if Facebook didn’t do this (but protip: it definitely does), it’s easier to block someone or unfriend someone if they keep posting stuff you don’t like than it is to customize one’s offline relationships.

I do not unfriend or block people on Facebook. Yet, I know because of my chosen circles (such as fringe Mormon and disaffected Mormon communities), I self-select to more liberal crowds. But…I also grew up in Oklahoma. I went to school to Texas A&M. I still try to read blogs of conservative Mormons, evangelicals, Catholics, Orthodox, and so on. These are not bastions of liberalism.

So, I thought that when I read the thoughtful lamentations of conservative, evangelical friends about the state of politics that I was getting something “real” from “the other side”. These were people who couldn’t stand Hillary Clinton or the Democrats — but who also couldn’t abide Trump, because to them, he did not match their Christian or even conservative values.

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What is the point of life from a Christian perspective?

Free will

The other day, I was reading some conversation on the Problem of Evil. As usually happens, one of the responses was that evil exists because of human free will that defies God’s completely good plan, but human free will itself is something God wanted, so that’s why he allowed for it.

This led me to think about a series of questions, beginning with: what is the point of this life (with our free will and fallen natures and the risk that so many of us will end up in Hell for [possibly] eternity) from a traditional Christian perspective?

I know the basic way to answer this question from a Mormon perspective. In Mormonism, mortality is a proving ground — it is necessary for development, and such development gives one the possibility to advance to Godhood. In Mormonism, the fall isn’t entirely a bad thing…it’s a necessary part of the plan. In Mormonism as well, however, God has a more limited role in terms of creating the universe — he is more of an organizer who’s already part in the process, and we — rather than being created ex nihilo — are eternal intelligences organized to create our more corporeal selves.

But I don’t have to be an exmormon to realize that you can’t assume this answer will work for traditional Christianity. So, based on what I have learned about traditional Christianity, that led me to a series of questions and explorations.

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Contrasting traditional Christian and LDS conceptions of God

Over at Wheat & Tares, my latest post is on contrasting LDS and traditional Christian conceptions of God.

Part of my experience growing up Mormonism was learning that Mormonism had answers to things traditional Christians could only call mysteries. So, I was raised to think that the traditional Christian concept of the trinity was amorphous at best, incoherent at worst, but that Mormonism had restored the truth of the physicality of God.

And oh what implications that physicality have for Mormons! Gender roles are such a big deal in Mormonism because they represent realities about the lives that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother’s embodied existence.

However, for many folks (and including me), these explanations ended up causing more issues than they supposedly resolved. I’ll leave y’all to read the full post at Wheat & Tares.

Thoughts on Elder Christofferson & conditional love

I have a new post up at Wheat & Tares…this one is on Elder Christofferson’s recent conference remarks on God’s supposedly conditional love.

After disaffecting from Mormonism, I’ve tried to look at various concepts from the perspectives of other denominations. It has been enlightening, although I don’t know if I’m just falling into different heresies. On this point, I’m more and more inclined to think that it’s not that God’s love is conditional, but rather that we still have the choice to accept or reject. Adam Miller pointed out that we should see God’s grace as not just about the Atonement, but also about the Creation and Fall as well — in this sense, we expand our view of what is so freely given. It’s not just salvation, but also our very bodies, our planet, the universe, existence itself.

Yet we are radically free with what we do with these gifts, and because they overwhelm us, we reject them or misuse them. That was the fall, but that is also sin. At least, as far as I am thinking now.

I didn’t get a chance to post this at Wheat & Tares, but I am thinking that when we talk about sin in its various forms, we are ultimately talking about a couple of things. The first is in rejecting the gift itself: rejecting the piano or our piano teacher or our lessons or our ears or our hands (to use the analogy from Brad Wilcox’s His Grace is Sufficient). But the second is in misunderstanding the gift as a gift — which can either happen because we think we have to earn the piano or live up to our piano teacher or deserve the lessons (and so we run away from these things, thinking we haven’t done enough to deserve any of it), or because, to the contrary, we think we already have earned our skills and ability (and thus, we are where we are because of our character strengths, and those less fortunate or less skilled are where they are because of their character flaws.)

Pragmatism, Mormonism, and Expedience

Over at Wheat & Tares I have quite a lengthy post on the emphasis of “expedience” in the scriptures, and my discovery in high school that that term isn’t associated with moral principle. Since I wrote a lot there, I won’t write so much here, except to say that the main point I wanted to discuss is that these things point out that Mormonism has a way of thinking about the world that is simply different than how other modern secular philosophies think about it. Whether we agree with the “expedient” Mormon pragmatism or not, we should at least recognize when we are judging Mormonism according to its own criteria, or when we are rejecting Mormon criteria for secular criteria.

Accepting Hell

Over at Wheat & Tares (where we’ve had a facelift, if you hadn’t noticed), I have decided to write a new post on accepting the possibility of going to Hell. Check it out here.

This post has been inspired by several things I’ve read over the years, but very recently, on the Christianity sub-reddit, someone asked the question of whether someone could be a Calvinist who wasn’t part of the elect. This intrigued me greatly, since…if you’ve paid attention to the title of this entire blog, then you might have guessed that I’ve thought about that idea a lot. As I wrote back:

Although I don’t think I have similar experiences to you (I don’t want to brag or anything, but I feel pretty “OK” with my life), I do think it’s possible to be a Calvinist that is not one of the Elect. To me, Calvinism appeals to me because I am not really convinced in libertarian free will, and the Calvinist conception makes sense to me instead.

OTOH, I accept that I don’t feel persuaded to believe in God; I don’t find the arguments in favor of God convincing, don’t see evidence the same way Christians talk about it, etc., etc., etc., At best, I feel that if God exists, he basically doesn’t want to have anything to do with me (and I feel OK with this. I don’t feel “desperate” to discover God or anything, and I think that is consistent with the idea of reprobation. In other words, I feel the idea of God is “irrelevant”.)

So yeah, the idea of a non-elect Calvinist makes sense to me, at least.

A Calvinist believer found that to be a very interesting position for an atheist to have, so they asked for some followup information. And so I responded:

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Responding to thoughts about spiritual disconnection

At Zelophehad’s Daughters, Lynnette had a personal post regarding her experience of spiritual disconnection. In the post, she discusses several possibilities she’s considered for what could be the cause of the disconnection (as well as the reasons she doesn’t think those are the case). But there was one thing she posted that was particularly interesting to me:

Maybe I’m learning some empathy from this. I realize that many people go through longer dry spells than I’ve been experiencing. And I can only imagine what it’s like for members of the church who simply don’t have spiritual experiences. I’ve talked to people who say that that’s the case for them, and this gives me a glimpse of what it’s like to be in that situation, in a church that is so focused on personal revelation.

This sort of sentiment came through from certain commenters as well:

I can totally relate to this. I went through a long “dry spell” several years ago when it felt to me like God just didn’t care about me anymore. The first time I had an identifiable spiritual experience after all that silence is one of the sweetest memories of my life. And I definitely feel like the dry spell helped me understand and feel compassion for people who are going through what I went through. Hang in there. I hope the light returns soon for you.

These thoughts are interesting to me because they are entirely foreign to my experience. It’s tough for me to even say if I know what it’s like to feel spiritually disconnected because I can’t say I’ve ever felt anything that I would feel comfortable describing as spiritually “connected.” I have nothing to compare my normal experience to, and therefore no sense of disappointment or anxiety or malaise from the difference.

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CES Letter Mormonism and Pastoral Apologetics

In 2013, Seth Payne presented at the FAIR Mormon conference on the rise of “pastoral apologetics.” A lot of people (including me, inevitably) have written about pastoral apologetics, but since I’m too lazy to link to great articles, I’ll just summarize the key points here: This pastoral apologetics is often contrasted against the traditional apologetics of defeating the claims of LDS church critics (showing that the criticisms are incorrect or inaccurate, or that the critics are untrustworthy), in that it usually accepts many of the claims that critics makes, but instead bases its defense of Mormonism on a recontextualization or reconstruction of the narrative that underpins Mormonism (and its relationship to history, scripture, translation, and so forth).

So, for example, to the extent that traditional apologetics and pastoral apologetics are coherent distinctions (which can’t be taken for granted…really), an example gloss of the differences might be to say that traditional apologetics might be most concerned with establishing that the Book of Mormon is historical (and identifying potential locations that it might have occurred, defeating arguments to anachronisms, and so forth), whereas pastoral apologetics is not as concerned with those points (even if the pastoral apologist does believe the Book of Mormon to be historical) and instead focuses on developing a model of scripture that would allow Mormons to view texts as scripture regardless of the debate of historicity (in other words, that God’s inspiration and communication to humanity need not work via secular methodologies of history, archeological findings, and so on.)

Even though Seth Payne ultimately announced his resignation from the church in November of 2015 (and the date alone should give you clues as to why), it was in, I think, a decidedly pastoral rather than traditional way. It wasn’t a crisis of history, but a crisis of the sort of community that the LDS church is or that the institution promotes.

Dealing with the messiness of LDS history is one thing…but what happens when one comes to think that the LDS church is simply a hostile community for oneself, one’s family, or one’s friends? It’s the latter that threatens the pastoral model — not just that the claims of the LDS church aren’t true, but that its way of life and community environment may not be good.

Still, I think pastoral apologetics is a welcome new trend in the LDS apologetic space, because it helps increase the likelihood that the LDS church experience will be good for more people, and there are certainly other writers and speakers who are taking this approach. Today’s article actually focuses on Patrick Mason’s remarks at the 2016 FAIRMormon Conference — The Courage of Our Convictions: Embracing Mormonism in a Secular Age.

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4 Olympics related searches that tell you everything you need to know about Twitter

Maybe you haven’t really kept up with Twitter, but you should probably know that Twitter doesn’t have the greatest reputation regarding civility and harassment. I don’t want to go into all of the stories of people being harassed on Twitter, but instead I’ll just point out what happened when I clicked on a few Olympics-related Twitter trending topics.

First, let’s look at Michael Phelps:


If you look to the left here, you’ll see “Related searches.” I assume that Twitter generates these based on data of what people have searched for before. So, presumably, it thinks that a lot people are interested in his race and in his race time and in his time. Seems reasonably.

But of course, some people are also interested in his wife, and some are interested in his marijuana appreciation.

But this is fairly tame.

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