Category Archives: Media

(Face buried in hands. Again.)

Ok, if you haven’t seen the news yet, the guy responsible for the Mormon missionaries cheesecake calendar has been summoned to a disciplinary council:

Chad Hardy, the brain behind the Men on a Mission calendars, which feature topless returned Mormon missionaries doing their best to look sexy, is facing discipline and possible excommunication because of the project.

Check out this Associated Press article on the controversy.

The basics are this: Hardy got a letter from Frank E. Davie, a Las Vegas Mormon church leader. The letter summoned him to a meeting with the church’s council of elders to discuss his “conduct unbecoming a member of the church.”

Of course, all the news articles are playing up the “possibility of excommunication”, though in truth I can’t imagine that any stake president in his right mind would excommunicate someone for this calendar.

UPDATED 07/13/08: Sheesh, well, I guess I was sure wrong about that last statement.

I understand the concept of disciplinary councils to ‘protect the good name of the Church’, but in cases such as this, it appears to me to have the opposite effect. The Church looks silly and the calendar (and its creator) gets far more publicity — and, most likely, far more sales — than if the Church has just maintained a dignified silence over the whole matter.

Sigh. ..bruce..

Relief Society Magazine: January 1951

And now for something completely different.

One of my treasured books — which I begged of my mother-in-law, and which she generously gave to me — is a bound volume of all 1951 issues of The Relief Society Magazine (Vol. 38, Nos. 1-12). The Relief Society Magazine (TRSM) was a small, semi-glossy official monthly publication of the Relief Society of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like the contemporaneous general Church magazine, The Improvement Era, TSRM carried paid advertising (Orson Scott Card quipped in Saintspeak that when The Ensign replaced The Improvement Era, the advertising function was taken over by BYU Magazine). Each issue appears to be roughly 70-75 pages long.

I thought I’d reproduce the table of contents of a single issue: January 1951 (Vol. 38, No. 1); I’ve dropped the page numbers and reformatted a bit:


  • A New Year Wish — General Presidency of Relief Society
  • Ernest L. Wilkinson, President of Brigham Young University — Ivor Sharp
  • Award Winners: Eliza R. Snow Poetry Contest
    • Lot’s Wife (First Prize Poem) — Alice Morrey Bailey
    • Old Home (Second Prize Poem) — Julia M. Nelson
    • Pioneer Wagon Wheels (Third Prize Poem) — Ruth Horsley Chadwick
  • Award Winners: Annual Relief Society Short Story Contest
    • “But Covet Earnestly” (First Prize Story) — Mirla Greenwood Thayne
  • Polio Strikes Again
  • Pioneering in the Big Horn Basin — Botilda Berthelson McBlain


  • A Christmas Gift for Teacher — Fae Decker Dix


  • Sixty Years Ago [these are excerpts from the Woman’s Exponent, 1891]
  • Woman’s Sphere — Ramona W. Cannon
  • Editorial: The Old and the New — Vesta P. Crawford
  • New Serial (“For the Strength of the Hills”) to Begin in February
  • Notes to the Field: Relief Society Assigned Evening Meeting of Fast Sunday in March; Bound Volumes of 1950 Relief Society Magazines; Award Subscriptions Presented in April; Relief Society Not a Selling Agent; Pictures of all General Presidents of Relief Society Available
  • Notes from the Field: Relief Society Socials, Bazaars, and Other Activities — Gen. Sec’y-Treasurer, Margaret C. Pickering
  • From Near and Far


  • Theology: “The Long Night of Apostasy” — Don B. Colton
  • Visiting Teaching Message: “And Jesus Answering Saith Unto Them…” — Mary Grant Judd
  • Work Meeting: Pictures, Mirrors, and Wall Accessories — Christine H. Robinson
  • Literature: Oliver Goldsmith — Briant S. Jacobs
  • Social Science: The Role of Ancient Israel — Archibald F. Bennett
  • Music: Theories Underlying Singing, Accompanying, and Conducting — Florence J. Madsen


  • A Gingerbread House — Phyllis Snow
  • The Low Cost of Happiness — Caroline Eyring Miner
  • From Commode Into Buffet –Rachel K. Laurgaard
  • Crocheting Keeps Her Busy and Happy — Rosella F. Larking


  • “The Heart Will Find It” — Dorothy J. Roberts; “Boys Are Dear” — Christie Lund Coles; “Letter From a Daughter” — Calra Laster; “Rosemary” — Margery S. Stewart; “The Wild Geese Fly” — Marvin Jones; “Progress” — Anges Just Reid; “The Dying Year” — Beatrice K. Ekman; “Sketches” — Evelyn Fieldsted; “Recompense” — Matia McClelland Burk; “Mirror, Mirror” — Mabel Jones Gabbott; “My Choice” — Marion W. Garibaldi; “My Child” — Marylou Shaver; “Within My Heart” — Grace Sayer

And here’s the first prize winning poem in the Eliza R. Snow contest:

Lot’s Wife

She merely turned for one last, stolen look
Before her woman’s lingering mind forsook
The home her hands had decked, her smile made sweet,
The memories of her children on the street.
A spirit, set on right, must keep front-face
Forever rigid toward the chosen place
And eyes firm-narrowed in the lane of duty.
No wayside resting place and no lush beauty
Should tempt the soul to longing, no lost
Love or glory, and no treasure mete their cost
In nostalgic indecision, not even pity
For a wanton, doomed, and wicked city,
Lest the will be drawn into the sucking blaze,
Consumed to smoke and ash. The backward gaze
Can bend desire, compel the step to halt,
And slowly, slowly turn the heart to salt.

— Alice Morrey Bailey

All in all, the articles are interesting, and the range of topics is fascinating. Much as with The Improvement Era, the articles are often lengthier and written at a more scholastic level than what you find currently in The Ensign. I also find it interesting that many of the women use as bylines their first names followed by both what are almost certainly both maiden and married names.

Oh, and here’s the scary part: the General Relief Society President at that time (January 1951 — two years before I was born) was Belle Spafford — who was still General Relief Society President when I was an undergraduate at BYU in the 1970s. A different era, indeed.

Comments? ..bruce..

Ignorance at work

UPDATED 01/12/07: A more general critique of Feldman’s article can be found over at GetReligion.

Noah Feldman, in today’s New York Times Magazine, puts forth a thesis about “Mormon secrecy” that just is ill-informed. Feldman clearly has access to certain bits of historical information about the Church, but in his effort to establish his main thesis — that the LDS Church is committed to “secrecy” regarding its beliefs — he displays a significant lack of knowledge about the Church itself. To wit:

Like Mormon ritual, much of Mormon theology remains relatively inaccessible to outsiders. The text of the Book of Mormon has always been spread to a broad audience, but the text is not a sufficient guide to understanding the details of Mormon teaching. Joseph Smith received extensive further revelation in the nature of sacred secrets to be shared with only a handful of close associates and initiates within the newly forming church.

First, of course, is the long-standing issue (within LDS circles) as to whether a “Mormon theology” even exists (since, for the most part, there are no “Mormon theologians” nor a “school of Mormon theology”). But setting that aside, I would suspect that Feldman has not spent much time inside an LDS church or a Deseret Book bookstore; I suspect that he has not searched the online “Gospel Topics” section at, nor its on-line “Gospel Library“, including archives of LDS General Conference Addresses, various current lesson manuals, and the online version of The Encyclopedia of Mormonism. All these are freely and publicly available to anyone; indeed, the Church works very hard to promote all these sections. In short, while claiming an LDS effort at doctrinal secrecy, he appears to have failed to actually reviewed what the LDS Church says and promotes about its own doctrine.

He also appears to gloss over the fact that the LDS Church has sent out over one million missionaries to preach its message of the Restoration since its founding in 1830, with over 50,000 serving worldwide currently. My experience is that most people outside of the LDS Church complain that we try to tell them too much about our religion, rather than too little.

Beyond that, Feldman’s particulars regarding “Mormon secrecy” — a concept that comes straight out of evangelical anti-Mormon literature — are wrong and could have been easily refuted had he bothered to do a modicum of research. For example, he states:

The course was set for the Mormon religious practice of the 20th century: a process of mainstreaming, both political and theological. The less said the better about the particular teachings of the church, including such practices as the baptism of the dead and the doctrine of the perfectibility of mankind into divine form.

Actually, those two “particular teachings” have always been a key part of the missionary discussions (under “Plan of Salvation”), at least since I served my own full-time mission back in 1972-74. If Feldman had actually looked through Preach My Gospel, the standard LDS missionary discussion guide used by 50,000+ LDS missionaries in teaching investigators worldwide — publicly and cheaply ($6-$9) available via LDS Distribution Services, Deseret Book, and the BYU Bookstore, as well as downloadable as a free PDF file — he would have found the following:

The Savior loves all people and desires their salvation. Yet millions of people have died without having any opportunity to hear the message of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ or receive saving ordinances. Through His loving grace and mercy the Lord makes salvation possible for everyone who did not have the opportunity to receive, understand, and obey the gospel during their mortal lives. The gospel is preached to those deceased people in the spirit world. Members of the Church on earth perform the saving ordinances in behalf of their deceased ancestors and others. Deceased persons living in the spirit world have the opportunity to accept or reject the gospel and the ordinances performed in their behalf.

For this reason, Church members search for information about their ancestors. They complete pedigree charts and family group records and submit the names of deceased relatives who need to have saving ordinances performed on their behalf in sacred temples, This is family history work. Worthy members ages 12 and over, including new members, may receive from their bishop a recommend to perform baptisms for the dead. (p. 86)

And again:

Those who have repented of their sins and received the ordinances of the gosepl and kept the associated covenants will be cleansed by the Atonement of Christ. They will receive exaltation in the highest kingdom, also known as the celestial kingdom. They will live in God’s presence, become like Him, and receive a fullness of joy. (p. 53)

* Exaltation: Eternal life in God’s presence; to become like our Father in Heaven and live in His presence. The greatest of all the gifts of God. Exaltation comes through the Atonement of Christ and through obedience to all the laws and ordinances of the gospel. (p. 58)

So much for the “secret” doctrines.

Beyond that, Feldman appears to commit a version of the Pauline Kael fallacy (“How could Nixon have won? Nobody I know voted for him!”). He assumes LDS secrecy, probably because he — unlike literally millions and millions of people worldwide — has never actually had the missionary discussions, and he probably doesn’t know anyone who has, so he just doesn’t know what LDS missionaries actually teach. He takes the one area of LDS sacred ritual, the temple, and attempts to conflate it — without any real evidence or justification — into a general Mormon tendency towards secrecy. His unsupported (and unsupportable) thesis drives his article, when instead he should have done actual research first and spared himself some embarrassment.

I would recommend that Feldman pick up Preach My Gospel (or download the PDF version) as well as this year’s LDS Relief Society/Priesthood Study Guide, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (also available on-line), and read them both. Then maybe he’ll be a bit more qualified to talk about LDS doctrine and its public availability. ..bruce..

[UPDATED 01/06/08 1922 MST — Welcome visitors from the Deseret News LDS Newsline! Feel free to look around. ]

Grading press coverage

Joel Campbell — an assistant professor of journalism at BYU, who blogs at the LDS Newsline site — has graded (A-F) some recent efforts at press coverage of the LDS Church and its beliefs. He’s pretty blunt and not afraid to name names:

“D” Work: In news reporting classes that I teach I talk a lot about “relevance” and a “news peg.” I couldn’t find much of either in this very long piece about Mitt Romney’s involvement in the building of the Boston Temple in Belmont, Mass. Based on the article’s sheer verbosity, you would think Romney played some leading role in building the temple and selecting the site. Although it is framed with the sinister headline, “Mormon Temple Casts a Shadow,” the article doesn’t make that case. It was written by WaPo Style writer Sridhar Pappu, who appears to be assigned to provide some meaningful narratives on the candidates. This one is a dull story and not too meaningful at that. Maybe Pappu felt like he had more to write after his novella on Romney ran in the September 2005 Atlantic, in which he asked Romney “How Mormon are you?” and then quizzed him about his undergarments. It was certainly one of the low points of the coverage of the presidential campaign.

Read the whole thing. ..bruce..

A Mormon lullaby

My former wife, Marla, bought me two Marvin Payne CDs for Christmas this year: “Ships of Dust” (1971) and “Houses and Towns” (1973). Back when we were both undergrads at BYU, Marvin used to go door-to-door through the Provo student apartment complexes with his guitar and a backpack full of albums for sale — which is how Marla bought her original copy of “Ships of Dust”.

I used to sing the title song “Ships of Dust” as a lullaby to our daughters, Jacqui and Bethan, when they were about 8 and 5, respectively. I sang it again tonight as a lullaby for my 5-year-old granddaughter, Sydney. Here are the lyrics:

We wandered through the shipyards,
through the timber and the rope,
and the wise men saw the longing in our eyes.
So they made for each of us
a ship of dust, with sails of trust,
and the sun behind us vanished from the skies.

Now it’s a long time since the sunset,
and the time we raised the sails,
and the time the old shipbuilders waited for.
There are wonders in the night;
there are strange and dangerous shades of light,
but the dawn is gonna see me on that shore.

Sweet stars, mark the night.
Fair winds, arc the right waves over my prow—
I am homeward.

Wooden wheels and oaken rudders
bend like grass against the sea,
and the canvas fails and falls against our hope.
I am climbing on the mast
and I see a trace of dawn at last
and I feel a strange new feeling in the rope.

Now the sun splits the horizon
where I thought the beach to be,
and the graveyard for the ships done with the sea
But I’m on a sea of glass
and the light is more than sun can pass
and the deck is turning silver under me.

Sweet stars, mark my mind.
Fair winds, you can find me sailing your source—
I am homeward.

Words and music © 1971, Marvin Payne

Sydney fell sweetly asleep while I sang. ..bruce..

What the Book of Mormon actually says (part II)

Ran across the following quote from 1952 and thought it relevant to the flap over the change to the (non-canonical) introduction printed with the Book of Mormon starting in 1981:

“The first rule of historical criticism in dealing with the Book of Mormon or any other ancient text is, never oversimplify. For all its simple and straightforward narrative style, this history is packed as few others are with a staggering wealth of detail that completely escapes the casual reader. The whole Book of Mormon is a condensation, and a masterly one; it will take years simply to unravel the thousands of cunning inferences and implications that are wound around its most matter-of-fact statements. Only laziness and vanity lead the student to the early conviction that he has the final answers on what the Book of Mormon contains.”

— Hugh Nibley, 1952 (The Collected Works of Hugh Nibley, Vol. 5: Lehi in the Desert / The World of the Jaredites / There Were Jaredites [Deseret Book/FARMS, 1988] p. 237.)

I think that Nibley’s observation from 55 years ago not only sums up the major focus and findings of Book of Mormon research for the past half-century, it also illustrates why the vast majority of Book of Mormon criticism is (in my opinion) insipid, shallow, and unconvincing. Evangelists in particular should be aware that most of their Book of Mormon “analysis” is pretty silly to anyone who has actually studied the Book of Mormon and frankly makes the Jesus Seminar‘s critique of the New Testament look downright objective and scholarly.

“The Book of Mormon is tough; it thrives on investigation; you may kick it around like a football, as many have done, and I promise you it will wear you out long before you ever make a dent in it.”

— Hugh Nibley, 1952 (CWHN Vol. 5, p. 153)

While I’m in the middle of writing another post for this blog (“the myths of the Mormon hierarchy”), I do plan a series of posts on the Book of Mormon. I’m going to spend all next year (2008) teaching it in our ward Gospel Doctrine class, and I’ve started to re-read the 40 or so books I own about the Book of Mormon, in more-or-less chronological order. I’ll post relevant quotes and insights here as I go along. ..bruce..

I’m trying to figure out…

…where this headline (Google News, 10/10/07, 6:14 pm MDT) came from:

It doesn’t come from the article itself:

And here’s his actual quote:

Reid said people often question how he can be a Democrat and a Mormon, but called the social responsibility Democrats espouse a good fit with the beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He questioned the guidance of some LDS Church leaders, though.

In remarks to the media following his address, Reid said that, “In the past years we’ve had some very prominent members of the church, like Ezra Taft Benson, who are really right-wing people.

“Members of the church are obedient and followers in the true sense of the word, but these people have taken members of the church down the path that is the wrong path,” he said.

However, Reid says he doesn’t have to answer to those who question his faith in the LDS Church.

“I have to go get my [temple] recommend, and they’re not present,” he quipped.

So…I’m curious who along the line made the editorial decision to use the verb “slams” to characterize (on Google News) Reid’s comment about Ezra Taft Benson (who really was politically waaaay to the right, at least during much of the time prior to his becoming President of the LDS Church; he made very few political comments that I can remember once he became President). Google? The Salt Lake Tribune?

I know Harry Reid. He and I attended the same LDS ward for nearly six years (the District of Columbia Branch which became the Chevy Chase Ward) and I served in the branch presidency/bishopric for about 2+ years of that period. While he and I don’t see eye to eye on a number of political matters (and I say that as a lifelong Democrat, though one who is generally disgusted with my own party), I know he’s a faithful member of the Church. I suspect that he would be very pained to see the Google News characterization of his comments. ..bruce..