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Critiquing the Gospel Topics Essays

Between 2013-2015, the LDS Church published a series of essays dealing with sensitive topics in the LDS Church.  They are known as the Gospel Topics Essays.  Dr. Newell Bringhurst and Dr. Matt Harris have produced an anthology that will be released later this summer critiquing these Gospel Topics Essays.  In our final conversation, Dr. Newell Bringhurst will tell us more about the work that he’s been putting together on these essays.

Newell:  We go through all 13 Gospel Topics Essays.  It’s composed of 13 chapters.  I probably should pull out my notes so I can remember the name of all the contributors.  We start with the Book of Mormon and look at the historicity of the Book of Mormon, critiquing that essay, critiquing the essay on DNA and the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and of course the different accounts.  We critique the essay that was written on the various accounts of the First Vision, the historicity and authenticity of the Book of Abraham which is another very controversial topic.

We look at peace and violence along the Mormon frontier.  John Turner who did the biography on Brigham Young did the essay on that for us.  He is kind of a marquis figure.  He really did an outstanding job in looking at the whole issue of violence and how it involved the saints.  Although I think one of the strongest essays in there is Gary Bergera who presented at [Sunstone.]  He presented on Joseph Smith and his involvement with polygamy.  Of course, he has a much different spin on whether Joseph had sex with those other women.  {chuckles}

We’ll talk about the other authors as well!  Check out our conversation, and don’t forget to hear our other episodes on polygamy, blacks, and women in religion!  (A transcript of the entire interview will be available soon!)

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Naturalistic Explanation for Word of Wisdom?

We’re continuing our conversation about revelation in the LDS Church.  One of Mormonism’s most important and well-known revelations deals with the Word of Wisdom, Mormonism’s health code.  Dr. Greg Prince talks about a naturalistic view of how that revelation was received.  I think it’s pretty surprising.

Greg:  You will hear people still who say the Word of Wisdom proves Joseph was a prophet because it was a hundred years ahead of its time.  It wasn’t even a day ahead of its time.  It reflected what everybody already knew.  This was the air that they breathed.

The Temperance Movement kicked in in 1826 because there was an epidemic of drunkenness in the United States.  The consumption of distilled liquor over a 30 year period had tripled on a per capita basis.  Drunkenness became a national security issue.  That’s why the American Temperance Society was formed in 1826.

When they said “hot drinks,” it mean drinks that were hot.  It wasn’t what was in them.

GT:  Including hot chocolate?

Greg:  People didn’t drink hot chocolate.  They only drank two hot drinks:  coffee and tea.  But it wasn’t the content, it was the temperature.  It moved you out of that zone of moderation, out of temperance.

If there had been iced drinks, probably the Word of Wisdom would have said no hot drinks and no iced drinks because the whole notion was temperance, moderation.

GT:  Some would say, is that really revelation then, or is that just the thinking of the day?

Greg:  Well you get into the circular argument on that.  Is something revelation because we call it revelation, or is the nature of the something what later qualifies it as being revelation?  If you’re looking for the splitting the ceiling and the voice of the Lord dropping through-type revelation, how many instances of that do we have within the LDS Church tradition?

Hear what he has to say about meat and grains!  We’ll also tell some stories about President McKay.

Greg:  President McKay looked up at him and said, “What’s on the cup doesn’t matter so long as what’s in the cup is a Coke.”

…I was chatting with one of the secretaries who had worked in President McKay’s office…She read that and she said, “That’s not correct.”

I said, “What do you mean it’s not correct?  You know the guy who gave me that story!”

Then she said, “Well let me tell you…”

It’s going to be a very fun conversation.  I hope you join us…..


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Greg Prince on History of LDS Policy Toward Gays

Greg Prince came to Utah in September 2017 to give the Sterling McMurrin Lecture at the Salt Lake Library.  I was able to chat with him just prior to his lecture.  With November being the anniversary of the November Policy, I wanted to bump up this conversation to discuss Greg’s views on homosexuality and the LDS Church.  He notes that there is both good and bad moves by the LDS Church toward gays.

Greg:  In [2015][1] the [Utah] Legislature with a big public push from the church (otherwise it couldn’t have happened), passed Senate Bill 296 which forbade by law discrimination against LGBT people in the areas employment and housing.  That was a big step forward because Utah still is the only state whose legislature and gubernatorial chair are occupied by Republicans that has passed that kind of legislation.

GT:  Oh really?

Greg:  Yeah, but then later that year, the Church came out with “the Policy” and so it was another low point.  We just seem to be in this cycle of a step forward and a step back, and the LGBT population in particular, since they are the ones who are most affected by these things is wondering, are we really moving forward, or are we just kind of being batted back and forth?

GT:  What do you think the answer is to that?

Greg:  I don’t know yet.

GT:  I know that November Policy was hard for a lot of people. Why do you think that the policy came out in the first place?

Greg:  Oh I know why it came out because I talked to a couple of the Brethren who very clearly said it was a response to the Supreme Court decision in June of that year.  In March of that year you had SB 296.  That was a high water mark.  That was good news.

Do you agree with Greg’s point that the church has both good and bad moves towards gay members?

He has some views that may surprise you.

Greg:  Within two weeks of the announcement of the policy, I was invited by lunch with the president of Wesley Theological Seminary in D.C.  It’s the largest Methodist seminary in the country.  Subsequent to that, as in May of this year, I was elected to membership on the board of governors of Wesley Seminary, so I have a very close relationship with him.

The president who I’ve known for years said, “Am I missing something here?  I thought I had a reasonable understanding of LDS theology.”  His understanding included having been invited here to meet with the First Presidency, take the tour of BYU.  He’s done some homework and he’s fairly knowledgeable about Mormonism and he’s quite sympathetic towards it, but he said, “What it is in your theology that justifies beating up infants?”

I said, “David, there is nothing that justifies that?”

I think it’s the going after the kids, but particularly the infants that has been so distasteful both to church members and to the outsiders.  But I think that the damage that was done by Prop 8 was mostly external.  It was an explosion.

GT:  So when you’re talking about beating up infants, you’re talking about the idea that we won’t bless children of gay parents.

Greg:  Yes, the ritual of blessing in the Mormon Church, as with christening in other Christian traditions is the formal acknowledgement by the community of believers that your child exists.  Your child has a name, and it’s accepted by the community.  We have denied that to same-sex couples, so in essence we are saying, “Your child doesn’t exist.”

In his book, Greg talks about Prop 8, gays at BYU, whether gays can serve missions, gay church leaders, the Policy, and many other topics.  (Don’t forget to check out our previous episode where Anne Wilde discussed her opinion on how the Policy affects polygamists.)  Check out our conversation…..

[1] Greg misspoke.  He said 1995 but the year was 2015.