Showing posts with label Scripture Study. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Scripture Study. Show all posts

Holy Week: The Sacrament

Where is the exact moment Jesus Christ stopped being a Jew and became the founder of a new and separate religion?

Was it when the Sanhedrin rejected him? When enough other Jews decided he was a heretic, rather than a teacher? Was it the first time he claimed to be the Son of God? When he called his Twelve Apostles, and called Peter the rock upon which he would build his church?

Personally, I think it was the last time he celebrated Passover with his disciples. I'm switching over to Luke 22 for this one.

The celebration of Passover included the eating of unleavened bread and drinking wine. But what Jesus does with them here is where I think the break between Judaism and Christianity begins:

19 And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.

20 Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.

To have a new testament signifies the formation of a new covenant. This is the moment where Jesus uses the authority he has from God to form a new community with a religious identity separate and distinct from Judaism. While Jesus was a Jew, followed Jewish law, observed Jewish customs and holidays, and worshiped the same God as the Jews, he intended to create a church and a community that would break from Jewish traditions. The institution of the Sacrament (our terminology for Holy Communion or the Eucharist in other traditions) was the initiation of this break.

Because Latter-day Saints haven’t celebrated Holy Week historically, and this is something our currently leadership is inviting us to change, it’s been really special to see what other Christians do to make this time special. It has been a great reminder that Easter is the opportunity for all Christians, including us, to celebrate the relationships we've personally developed with Jesus Christ. We have more in common with other Christians than we might think we do, and it’s because we all have this common belief in how much Jesus Christ and his ministry changed the world.

I’m still contemplating what it means for me to celebrate Holy Week. I’ve thought about the choice I made at Easter time many years ago to be baptized. I went to the temple yesterday. I’ve been studying scriptures for these daily meditations, which I’ve enjoyed very much. And tomorrow, my husband and I are going to an orchestral performance of Rob Gardner's Lamb of God. There isn’t really an established program for any of this for our people now, and we’re each contemplating how to do this and make it personally meaningful.

My favorite part of sharing these has been the ways you all have shared how my thoughts are helping you to develop your own Holy Week messages and traditions with your own families. I’ve deeply enjoyed those messages, and I think this was the wisdom in having us begin participating in these traditions: the way we would help each other and celebrate our faith in Christ together. 

It truly doesn’t get better than that. And I hope that becomes a key feature of what Latter-day Saints celebrating Holy Week looks like going forward.

Holy Week: The Olivet Discourse

Holy Tuesday is also called Fig Tuesday. The events attributed to Christ on that day begins with the cursing of the fig tree in Matthew 21 and includes all of the sermons and teachings until Matthew 26.

This includes the Olivet Discourse, the portion of scripture that covers when Jesus prophesied that the temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed. This greatly disturbed the Twelve, who asked Jesus to clarify and expand what that meant. They couldn't fathom the events that would result in the temple at Jerusalem, the center of their Jewish faith, being destroyed. They felt great fear at that prospect and wanted answers for what this would mean for them.

What came from that questioning was part of Matthew 23, 24, and 25. And in Latter-day Saint tradition, we have Joseph Smith-Matthew in the Pearl of Great, the JST of Matthew 24.

Receiving difficult truth and having the courage to face a future of hardship is part of what we learn here. Jesus did not come to destroy Rome on behalf of the Jewish people, despite their expectations that this would happen when the Messiah arrived. Instead, Jesus revealed the spiritual violence and oppression that existed in his community. He gave God's power and authority to his disciples, knowing he would leave them until a later time. Even Jesus did not know when he would return to them again, to finish his work as the Messiah.

The salient parts of his instruction here that I think matters for us is what it means to wait. The kind of sacred waiting that can go on for lifetimes, maintaining hope for a future that we may never see. To be the servant of God that endures well through all the trials of life, becoming a better servant because of them. And Jesus provides instruction in Matthew 25 of what qualities those servants have.

The parable of the ten virgins teaches wisdom in planning and thinking ahead, in gathering and conserving resources that allow us to last through the night.

That parable of the talents teaches us to make the most of the talents and resources God has given to us, to multiply and magnify them in our service to the Lord.

The parable of the sheep and the goats teaches us self-awareness in ways that are only obvious if you've had the experience of working with sheep and goats. Goat are ornery and self-defeating, making messes and breaking out of their enclosures simply because they can. They resist all attempts to care for them, instead choosing to do only as they please, even when it puts them in danger. They taunt, bicker, and fight with one another constantly. They are troublemakers in every sense of the word. Every person I've known who has a herd of goats knows that to make good decisions goes against their every instinct. In a cultural agrarian shorthand that is lost on many today, the parable of the goats invites people to do self-reflection, identify those tendencies in themselves, and to confront the ways we actively resist the love and care of Christ.

And of course, one of the most important teachings of Christ in the scriptures, the contemplation of how we treat the undesirables of society. Do we understand that's who Christ was in his society, and that how we treat those people is exactly how we would treat him if we saw him? Humility and universal love are difficult and go against human reason and much of our nature. But it's impossible to be a good disciple, to withstand the difficulties of this life and maintain a sense of human dignity intact, if we reject and spurn people based on how we've been socialized. To be a good disciple of Jesus Christ, we can't judge people that way.

All of these lessons form an image of the trust Jesus has in us. While we contemplate how to deepen our faith in God, I think it's equally important during Easter to realize how much faith they have in us. They've given us so much responsibility, trusting that we are equal to the task they've given us.

We are capable of seeing the holiness in ourselves and in each other. We are capable of bringing forth good fruit, in contrast to that fig tree. To me, this is what it means to multiply and replenish the earth. It's not just about bearing children. It's bringing goodness, health, vitality, and healing into the world where it did not exist before.

Holy Week: The Cleansing of the Temple

Jesus Cleansing the Temple, Carl Bloch

I have seen multiple people on Instagram talking about Jesus cleansing the temple in the final week of his ministry and misinterpreting the motive Jesus had for doing it. So let's talk about the details we can glean from Scripture to better understanding this story.

The temple complex had merchants who would sell animals to people they could use for sacrifices. The law of Moses in Leviticus 5 (see also Leviticus 14-15) talks about how the sin offering involves sacrificing a lamb or a kid goat. In the case of extreme poverty, two doves were the acceptable alternatives. These offerings would be bled on the Temple altar and burned.

And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves. —Matt 21:13

The act of selling these animals was not the problem. It was a necessary part of the temple functioning, especially as people traveled from far distances to participate in temple worship.

The problem that caused Jesus to walk through the stalls turning over tables brandishing a whip was price gouging. Theft, of both money and access to God.

Everything that happened in the temple complex was under the direction of the high priest, the most important figure in Judaism at the time. The animals provided would've been inspected and assured that they would meet the requirements of the law. In a world where various monies were in use, weighed with scales to meet the established exchange rates, nothing would've prevented the high priest from requiring bribes from the privilege of operating in the temple market. Nothing would've prevented the scales from being turned against those who price gouged the public to provide for those bribes, as well as to line their own pockets. All of this happened at the expense of the people who were required by divine law to make these sacrifices to achieve forgiveness of their sins.

Throughout the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly demonstrates his disdain for the senior-most leadership of Judaism in his day. He had condemned the love of money and status over people so many times. He had disrupted ceremonies and insulted the priests to their faces. He had criticized their poor understanding of the law and their duties to others in their community. He had called them hypocrites, a den of vipers, vessels that were clean on the outside but filthy within, whited sepulchres full of dead men's bones, predators akin to wolves in sheep's clothing, and unprofitable servants. And here, he engages in his most pointed and unapologetic criticism yet for those in power:

And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. —Matt 21:13

The agitation of Jesus Christ culminated in this exact moment, where he struck back against the Establishment not only in thought, but in their pocketbooks. In the destruction of the temple market, he restored access to the ordinances for all by front the animals to those who were present. He liberated the money to the oppressed in society by flinging it outside the reach of those who had taken it from them. He upturned the power structure and social order which placed the high priest as a wealthy superior over, rather than a humble servant to, the Jewish community.

Make no mistake: Jesus was a Jew. He loved his community and his faith. He loved God. He respected the law, which called his people to be the best versions of themselves to serve God. But this love didn't stop him from publicly criticizing and condemning moral failure in the leadership around him. Love does not enable abuse. And it was abuse that allowed Jewish leadership at the time to limit access to the most important, the most sacred ordinances in Judaism only to those who were willing and able to pay enough money.

What do we learn from Jesus, from his destruction of the temple market?

That some evil forces in society cannot be reformed. Reasoning with abusers in ways they don't have to acknowledge, that doesn't cost them anything, isn't a solution for the powerless. That people are more important than money and the economy. That there is restorative justice waiting for the oppressed, in the form of destruction for their oppressors. And when this happens, a greater increase of faith, healing, and power from heaven will follow.

And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. Matt. 21:14

This Easter season, this is the hope and prayer for many: that God will remember those who have been shut out of their communities because of the exorbitant prices set by their leadership for their participation. That God will restore access to the holiness and forgiveness that has been stolen from them. That there is still a Savior, a Deliverer from the greed and pride that drives this world. And most of all, that there is healing and rest for those who have been exploited against their will, that all that has been stolen will be restored to them one day.

The Universal Guide to Scripture Reading for Beginners

Having participated in Scripture study with Muslims and other believers, I've realized there's a universal approach for beginners to take when they start reading Scripture for the first time. No matter what tradition they come from, there are three things that every person needs when they engage with these texts.


If you want to understand why people read Scripture, what the lasting relevance of the texts are, this is the spirit I think they all teach. Whether it's awe and wonder for God, for self, for others, or something in the world around you, this is what we're all searching for. Those of us who revere our sacred texts do so because we have experienced that awe and wonder in the past, and hope to do so again in the future.

When you're in a comparative religion space and sharing Scripture with others, giving space for the awe and wonder of other believers for their own texts and sharing in it is one of the most beautiful experiences you can share with other people. Interfaith spaces that can achieve that are truly special. And you don't have to be a believer to experience it.

If you can look at any text and recognize "this honors the dignity of the human spirit and I respect that," that is something anyone can experience.


In pursuit of that awe, there are two approaches you can take: alone or in community. And what becomes almost immediately apparent is Scripture demands to be understood in community.

"What does this mean?"

How can there be an answer to this question if there is no one to ask?

And this, I think, is also part of the value of religious texts. They can't be understood in isolation. Curiosity invites communion, which resists ignorance and isolation.

Curiosity, the spirit in which questioning becomes a sacred act, is essential to understanding any religious text. It's the act of opening oneself to new thoughts and ideas about the world, to extend a hand out into the world to see what will fill it in response.

And when you study Scripture with many people, including those outside of your tradition, the possibilities for the answers that can find their way to you greatly expands.


Not everything a person will give in terms of answered questions or communion will be consistent with sacred texts as written, or historical viewpoints and practice. Being able to handle contradictions with care, especially in a respectful way, is also a holy act. It's necessary for the pursuit of truth, which can end up being a composite of many different viewpoints. Some things will fall away. Others will be embraced. This discerning influence is impossible with skepticism, which every student of Scripture needs.

Gentle, respectful interrogation of an idea or principle is one that leaves no trace for the person being asked. It's a practice that honors consent. It leaves space for deep examination, which often takes time and ongoing consideration. It recognizes that not all people are prepared or willing to engage in that examination, and seeks out those who willingly enter that place of reasoning. It's an honor, another sacred act, to occupy that space with someone else. Honoring that space means allowing others to decide the impact you can and cannot have upon them there, and accepting that choice.

In my experience, those who study Scripture need all three of these traits to have a vibrant, healthy inner life and outward expressions of their own faith. When these three traits aren't in balance, it gives place to dogmatism, extremism, and conflict.

Part of why sharing beliefs with newcomers and seekers outside of our own communities is often such a rewarding experience is because we exercise these traits/reset these boundaries with them in ways we don't with our own communities. These are the healthy habits that matter most in seeking the sacred through Scripture.

When people ask me where to start with reading Scripture, they often ask me about which sections to read, translation recommendations, and resources to assist in the act of reading. And while those things are important, this is what I find myself wanting to explain instead.

To simply read Scripture was never the point. It's true in my religion with my texts. It's true, I think, in every religion with all sacred texts. And if giving ourselves and others access to the full power and benefit of Scripture is what we want, how we read almost matters more than what we read.

2 Nephi 5

So y'all now know where I stand on Nephi being an unreliable narrator. In one of my previous posts, I talked about this in reference to his treatment of his family and his leadership. I tackled the racism superficially, so let's go ahead and choke slam it the rest of the way.

20 Wherefore, the word of the Lord was fulfilled which he spake unto me, saying that: Inasmuch as they will not hearken unto thy words they shall be cut off from the presence of the Lord. And behold, they were cut off from his presence. 21 And he had caused the cursing to come upon them, yea, even a sore cursing, because of their iniquity. For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.
2 Nephi 5:20-21

Has this passage been used historically to enable racism in the Church, including the justification for the racial priesthood restriction? Yes. Absolutely. Curse of Cain. Curse of Ham. Less valiant in the preexistence. Slavery being perpetuated into eternity. The whole shebang. This isn't the origin, as early pro-slavery church leaders pursued biblical justifications for slavery like everyone else. What this verse did was present the opportunity for Saints so inclined to create their own Mormon flavored versions of those justifications.

How does Come Follow Me approach these attitudes and the racism that perpetuated them?

What was the curse that came upon the Lamanites? In Nephi’s day the curse of the Lamanites was that they were “cut off from [the Lord’s] presence … because of their iniquity” (2 Nephi 5:20–21). This meant that the Spirit of the Lord was withdrawn from their lives. When Lamanites later embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ, “the curse of God did no more follow them” (Alma 23:18).
The Book of Mormon also states that a mark of dark skin came upon the Lamanites after the Nephites separated from them. The nature and appearance of this mark are not fully understood. The mark initially distinguished the Lamanites from the Nephites. Later, as the Nephites and Lamanites each went through periods of wickedness and righteousness, the mark became irrelevant.
Prophets affirm in our day that dark skin is not a sign of divine disfavor or cursing. President Russell M. Nelson declared: “I assure you that your standing before God is not determined by the color of your skin. Favor or disfavor with God is dependent upon your devotion to God and His commandments and not the color of your skin” (“Let God Prevail,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2020, 94).
As Nephi taught, the Lord “denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).

I've heard theories that the skins, rather than talking about the complexions of people, refers to the clothing skins they wore, or some kind of mark they would put on their faces such as tattoos or body art. I've also heard people lean into the notion that this was meant to be metaphorical, centering the images in the text of flint or scales in their eyes. What the church is attempting to teach now in Come Follow Me is that we don't know what is meant here, but it's NOT complexion. I don't find any of these compelling and I want to talk about why.

So we don't know what it means? But we know it's not racist? So which is it? You can't have it both ways like that. So let's be honest!

We know it's not intended to be racist because the Church tried that for over a century, and it became obvious it was ungodly, abusive, false. We are willing to admit now that such attitudes contradict Scripture and the nature of God because our community existed in the ridiculous position of maintaining racist policies in the face of those scriptural contradictions that condemned us. THAT'S how we know the Lamanite "curse" is not supposed to signify complexion skin color.

We paid dearly for that lesson in how many people were denied the fullness of God and his blessings, so let's not diminish that history so we don't have to repeat it. Especially since the Church exists in cultures and societies around the world who are currently attempting to conceal this kind of history so they can go on repeating it.

Besides being disingenuous with what our experience as a community has been, my issue here is that these attitudes deserve more complex and sophisticated dismantling than this. Especially because with these justifications of alternate curses being proposed, the crucial lesson here is going unlearned.

It is counter to the nature of God and the order of heaven to punish the innocent. Curses that expand beyond the necessary bounds of punishing the perpetrator(s) are inherently unjust, regardless of the nature of the curse. We don't believe that children are punished for the sins of their parents. Period. That's what the scriptures teach. We have an entire Article of Faith dedicated to that principle. God does not curse anyone for sins they didn't commit. People do that. God does not.

The racial priesthood restriction became our Original Sin, with more steps. It was nothing short of hypocrisy, perpetuated by prophets and apostles who had every reason to know better, but didn't. It was where the leadership of our church, in the attempt to appear smart and clever, copied the homework from the rest of Christianity when they became obsessed with scientific racism and eugenics, and it took us WAY too long to admit the mistake. And in many ways, our community STILL can't openly talk about it or admit to it. Which is how we end up with weak sauce explanations like the one given in Come Follow Me for 2 Nephi 5.

I'm not afraid to say that prophets and apostles are capable of teaching false doctrine. They are imperfect human beings who are susceptible to making these kinds of mistakes and leading people astray. This is a reality we must be prepared to face as believers in community with one another.

If we can't see and condemn these failures in someone like Nephi, how can we hope to see and recognize them in someone like Brigham Young, J. Reuben Clark, or Bruce R. McConkie?

Note that Come Follow Me quotes 2 Nephi 26. These are some of my favorite verses in all of scripture. Let's realize together that Nephi had to grow into this revolutionary vision of a God who embraces all people without prejudice. By the time Nephi reaches the maturity to say that "all are alike unto God," the perpetuation of his prejudice and the attending destruction in the conflicts of his people were already set into motion. He spent his remaining years finally teaching the truth of respect and inclusion his younger self didn't know how to believe in.

At the exact moment he finally envisions the love of God, the curse he describes in 2 Nephi 5 had already taken root into the cultures of two groups who would go on hating each other until the bitter end. The prejudice Nephi taught became the defining obstacle for the Nephites and Lamanites, shaping the beliefs who came afterwards, who continue to appeal to and describe this curse throughout the rest of the narrative. Nephi created this curse, at least in part, and every generation after him found ways to perpetuate and reinforce it.

The Book of Mormon was written for our day. And it's hard to describe this curse and NOT think of racism because it is very much like a curse in our modern day. This prejudicial hatred is a destructive force in our society. It's perpetuated by people in power who seek their own personal gains by feeding into those conflicts. And like any curse, it doesn't have to come from God to have the worst kind of power imaginable. All it takes for such a curse to survive is for the people who are impacted by it to never challenge their relationship to it in any meaningful way. Like cancer, it spreads and worsens by going unacknowledged and untreated.

I Don't Like Come Follow Me

I never have. And I haven't been able to articulate why until I tried to buckle down and start with the Book of Mormon this year.

The first paragraph of the first section for 1 Nephi 1-5 ends with this sentence:

"Overall, there is power in this imperfect family’s examples of faith."

I was rocked by that a little bit the first time I read it.

I thought to myself, "Wow. Are we really going to confront the hero worship and unhealthy worldviews our community has internalized about this book because of the way the negative behaviors of the characters are never challenged or confronted for what they are? That many of the details are included because they're cautionary tales about what NOT to do, but you'd never know that based on how the material is presented and talked about by our people at large because the conversation is driven by the needless compulsion to focus on the same tired perspectives of faith promotion that the subjects sometimes don't deserve?"

Then I read the section, which is full of the same "I will go and do" about Nephi that they always do, without once confronting the conflicts, doubts, and struggles of anyone but Nephi in any serious way, some of which are exacerbated (if not cause) by Nephi being insufferable and self-righteous to everyone around him.

Nephi is an unreliable narrator, y'all. You're not supposed to believe everything he says, thinks, and does. Especially when he's younger. His view of the people around him and their motivations lack depth because he was totally unconcerned with their feelings and struggles. He was bad at helping and honoring people in their darkest moments, having nothing better to offer them for support than glib and shallow assertions that they would be struggling less if they were more like him. An attitude he learned from his father's blatant and unapologetic favoritism.

Nephi is not an example of what to do when there is conflict in your family. And it takes him until "O wretched man that I am" to realize he's not the most important man in every room. His disrespect for other people in his leadership is the reason they want nothing to do with him, and it takes him a lifetime of chasing people away from God to realize he's not as good of a person as he thinks he is. He has failed people from his need to be seen as being better than he is, better than everyone else is at loving God and knowing what that means. And this becomes a cultural artifact, a baked-in foregone conclusion in the minds of his people that ends up shaping their self-perceptions until it destroys them. His personal failures, viewed for their long-term ramifications and consequences, is part of what this book is supposed to be about.

But sure. Let's do "I will go and do" again, without pondering in any serious way if Nephi's interpretation of his interaction with the Holy Ghost might be lacking in credibility because the alternative is to say something closer to "We really botched this job and killing Laban was not a forgone conclusion or a necessary evil that I can acquit myself of because God said it was okay."

Maybe we don't have to believe that. Maybe we can examine how our culture in the modern church has perpetuated this same logical fallacy with vigilante violence, justified by appeals to this exact story.

Point being, never read the story of Nephi without keeping it firmly fixed in your mind that he's going to regret and repent of most of this later. That cross reference to 2 Nephi 4 is probably the most important thing you can have in your margins every time he says or does something totally uncalled for.

"He Lives to Hear My Soul's Complaint"


The idea that complaining is a moral failure is ridiculous. The fact that only women get this kind of criticism for it, even when they don’t deserve it, is sexist.

Why do I say that?

Because the two characters in the Bible who complain the most are David in the Psalms and Job, and never once have I ever heard anyone criticize them for complaining, even when they self-identify as complaining to God. But no one hesitates to say that about Job’s wife and Sariah.

Let’s be honest with ourselves about what the difference is.

Link this together with the importuning widow, the woman who begged crumbs from the master’s table, and Hannah who said “Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.”

God doesn’t care that we complain when we take our complaints to him. That’s where they belong. And the idea that trusting God and not complaining are mutually exclusive is a total misread of so many scriptural accounts.

To police the emotions of women when they complain, to label it as lacking faith, is abusive behavior that denies the faith out takes to formulate that dissatisfaction into words.

To say to God “I want—I deserve—better than this” is an act of faith.

Let women in Scripture teach you this lesson.

Reconciliation: the Rejection of Penal Substitutionary Atonement in The Book of Mormon

"So you're telling me that Jesus Christ is there to save you from what God is going to do to you if you don't repent?"

I've encountered this worldview many times throughout my life. Sometimes from those of other faiths outside of Christianity who don't understand the purpose of the atonement or the need for a Savior. Other times, it's from atheists or disaffected members who give it as a justification for their non-belief. The Book of Mormon contradicts penal substitutionary atonement and its underpinnings in some pretty significant ways, so I wanted to lay those out. The portions that went into this particular take down are in 2 Nephi 2 and 9, as well as Alma 12 and 34.

In this worldview, divine law and sin exist solely as the mechanisms for being punished and rejected by God. The atonement of Jesus Christ, as a result, saves people not from sin or Satan, but from a God who is tallying our wrongs to exact a punishment. The only thing stopping this God is the mercy of Christ, who nullifies the consequences of our actions through his own torment and suffering. We learn nothing, Christ suffers, and a violent God is appeased by watching an innocent man die.

Let's unpack all of this so we can throw it away because it's inaccurate theology that misunderstands and taints pretty much everything it touches.

Divine law does not exist to catch us in wrong doing, to provide the rules by which God can punish us without restraint. That's a projection onto God from the experience of dealing with horrible people. They may do this to us, but God does not.

A great way to prove this is to look at what sin actually is. Something doesn't become sinful "just because God said so." Sin, by definition, is anything that causes "temporal death" or "spiritual death." If it doesn't cause physical harm or distance us from God, it's not a sin. This is actually a really good standard for discerning and judging whether something that is being called sinful comes from God or not.

Murder? Physical harm. Sin.

Idolatry? Spiritual harm. Sin.

Refusing to ever identify myself as a Mormon or LDS again, even though they're accurate labels for myself, because of concerns and scruples I don't care about, and for a spiritual benefit that is dubious at best?

Am I saying that prophets and members of the Church have so polluted the notion of sin with their own prejudices and biases that what makes something sinful has completely gotten lost in a sea of crap that was never sinful at all?

Yes. Yes, I am.

Why is this important for answering the question of whether we have a vengeful God and a pushover Christ?

Because it means that the laws and standards by which we're trying to judge the motivations of God have been polluted by human nonsense. It means that the transactional relationship where God and Christ fight over us using fine print and technicalities is as broken as it sounds, and we're not bound by anything that relies upon that as a justification because it just isn't true. It means that if this dysfunctional relationship is what you were taught by family, church leaders, and other members of the Church, you've been taught blasphemy that doesn't even come close to being accurate.

It's impossible to repent of something that isn't sinful. That's why no matter how much you do it, it will never bring peace.

So if transactional atonement is the vestigial anxieties of Calvinism being passed along through generational trauma and it belongs in the dumpster, how should we view the atonement of Jesus Christ instead? What are God's motivations towards us if not to cause misery through setting impossible standards we'll never be able to meet?

God sent us here, in a variety of circumstances, to learn one lesson: to obtain knowledge of good and evil. More specifically, we're here to learn good from evil, and to consistently choose that which is good. We're here to have free will, to use and exercise agency. God gave us the ability to make our own choices, to know ourselves and to seek our own joy.

That's it. That's the plan.

Why is Jesus Christ necessary for God's plan? Because giving self-determination to the entire human family inevitably leads to suffering that we cannot overcome or undo the damage from on our own. We need someone to teach us how to be reconciled to God and to each other.

To put it simply, we have a Savior because we need him. We need him to teach us how to choose between good and evil in a way that no other person can. We need someone who can teach us to right wrongs, to heal wounds, to break generational curses in ways only he could do. He's not an enabler or a pushover. He is the one we depend on to teach us reconciliation. This isn't making that which is wrong or evil magically disappear. It's to resolve conflict and to be fully received again in love.

God is love. Love permeates everything God does. If love is absent, or needs to be redefined or contorted into something that neither looks nor feels like love, then it's not love. And if it's not love, then it's not from God.

Jesus Christ is the embodiment and evidence of God's love for us. That's it. There is no other reason or motivation for us to have a Savior. He doesn't just deliver us from sin. He delivers us to a greater capacity to love God and our neighbors as ourselves. He brings peace to us, the spirit of reconciliation, to everything we do.

The Story of Prophetic Fallibility in Acts 15 Everyone Skips

There are many different ways to read and study scripture. There's the daily devotional style the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has recently adopted from the rest of Christianity. There's the various reading challenges that have been established and invoked, particularly relating to the Book of Mormon. There are topical studies, which focuses the study on a theme or subject of personal importance to the reader. I've always favored topical studies over consecutive study in my personal worship. It's what makes the use of scripture to me feel personal, rather than scholarly or historical.

The weakness of that approach is that I can go decades in the Church without encountering a story that doesn't get emphasized in Church curriculum or in my personal study. I just encountered such a story in Acts 15.

Past and present church materials focus on the Jerusalem conference, in which the church leadership had to settle arguments and contentions that were occurring about whether Gentile converts needed to be circumcised and follow the Law of Moses in order to be accepted into the Church. The church leadership met together and determined that this wasn't necessary and put an undo burden upon new converts that wasn't adding anything of value to their faith. They then determine what standard of observance they wanted to keep and adapt from the Law of Moses to be followed by the disciples of Christ. It's a valuable story about how what it looks like to worship God can change over time, but the true spirit of worship never changes. An important step to having that spirit of worship is settling disagreements and laying aside preconceived notions of what worship has to look like based on the past, making space for what worship can look like in the future.

However, that's not the story I'm talking about. I'm talking about the explosive argument between Paul and Barnabas about whether or not to take John Mark with them on their travels.

Verse 38 gives the explanation for the conflict as one where Paul doesn't trust John Mark because he left them in Pamphylia and refused to work with them. But how much of this is from the earlier stages of this conflict that Paul may have caused by creating a hostile environment towards the assistants who traveled with them? The fact that Barnabas is still willing to work with John Mark, whose name is on the gospel of Mark, says we don't have all the details of this story, and not all the issue centered on or was caused by John Mark.

Verse 39 tells that "the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other." Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus, leaving Paul behind. It's the story of a conflict that arose in church leadership, largely from Paul's refusal to work with someone he didn't like, that remained unresolved as they continued forward in their ministries.

It's not the picture perfect image of total unity and fellowship between church leaders, who are able to lay aside their differences and preferences to work with each other through disagreement. I imagine that's why this story has been left out of the Church curriculum for some time.

Reviewing the Sunday School manual that was in use before Come Follow Me, nothing about this conflict was mentioned. Come Follow Me not only doesn't use this material, it seems to be actively trying to conceal it by focusing on a discussion topic (Line Upon Line) carefully crafted not to use any of that material. It also isn't included in the targeted reading, which invites members to read Acts 15:1-25. Anyone following along solely with the emphasis given in Come Follow Me isn't going to come into contact with this story.

I think that's a real loss to our community, if I'm honest. There is no sin in recognizing that church leaders are human who don't always get along with each other, who can exist in a state of ardent disagreement with each other while still accomplishing the work God has sent them to do. They can be staunchly in their own opinions about someone else, which are later proven to be wrong. (See 2 Tim. 4:11 and Col. 4:10) In their own human frailty and weakness, they can completely misjudge someone else's character and potential. Their stewardship over the Church does not give them perfect knowledge about people and who/what they have the capacity to accomplish.

It's an important lesson for understanding conflicts and dissensions that happen later to the Church in Missouri, where several members of the Quorum of the Twelve leave the Church and have to be replaced. (See D&C 114 and 118) While many of the narratives (and curriculum) relating to this time period attribute apostolic fall to sin and disloyalty, it's more accurate to say that these divisions arose from conflicts that church leadership at the time were unable to resolve.

Church leadership in the time of Acts couldn't perfectly resolve conflicts within their ranks. The restored church is no different. If we avoid and conceal prophetic fallibility continuously, we fail to prepare our people to know how to handle it and move forward through it.

If we want our people to be able to move forward in faith like John Mark when confronting that fallibility, it will help greatly if we tell that story in our classes and learn from that choice.

On Women Being Absent from Scripture

I read this post from The Exponent this morning, and I related so profoundly to what the author was describing in how we teach a male-centric view of scripture in the Church. From that place of frustration, I went to the scriptures on my own in search of women and their stories. 

Women are present in the scriptures, especially in the Old Testament. Women are not named in scripture at the same frequency as men. That's isn't the same issue as the women not being present, or being actors in the stories, especially in stories where men in those collectives also aren't named. The Book of Mormon especially is a text that focuses primarily on community impact and reactions. Women are present in every story that it tells of crowds, tribes, multitudes, and factions

We could blame these factors for why don't talk about or study women in any detail at Church, at least not to the same depth or degree that we have studied the lives of male prophets, living and dead. But when you realize the multitude of women whose lives and experiences are recorded in scripture, that's not enough of an explanation. The women's lives and experiences are there. So the questions we have to ask ourselves are: 

  • Who taught us to look at a collective of people in scripture and assume the audience is dominated by men, or that men are the actors in the stories and women are passive? 
  • Why aren't we teaching from the lives and experiences of women in the scriptures that do exist? 

There are answers about men becoming the default, specific moments in time we can point to that has had this impact, regardless of what the Church's intent was. The Topical Guide and footnote references for the 1981 edition of the scriptures were created by a mostly (if not all) male team of returned missionaries under the direction of Bruce R. McConkie. These are the same references in use today. The perspective they teach from is ignorant of, if not hostile to, the spiritual needs of women. Any woman who has ever seen the Topical Guide entries for Birth Control and Interracial Marriage, or has gone looking for an entry on Infertility, has felt that hostility.

We project what our lived experiences are in church onto the scriptures we read. We also view our scriptures through the examples we use and emphasize to teach various principles. There are plenty of scriptures featuring women that get no play time in church for teaching the principles they represent. Sometimes, this is because a man's story gets emphasized for that same principle instead.

But more often than not, I think the male default in curriculum happens year after year because the stories starring women make men uncomfortable. In many cases, they exist to detail the disrespect and violence that men have shown to women throughout time, and how God rejects and punishes men who abuse women. Some of these stories are graphic in nature, featuring sexual violence against women as a key feature. It would be impossible to study these stories without confronting those elements. 

So if you don't know that there is a story in the Old Testament where God nearly destroyed the entire house of Israel because men in the tribe of Benjamin brutally raped and murdered one woman, there's a reason for that. (See Judges 19-21)

The Levite of Ephraim, Alexandre-François Caminade

Stories featuring women in scripture often exist, at least in part, to condemn the selfish, inexcusable behavior of men. That's why men don't tell those stories. In many cases, they've never heard of them. The ones they have heard of, such as David and Bathsheba, they've grossly misinterpreted. They've been raised on a steady diet of church instruction that emphasizes the stories that entrench their own roles instead. That's all they know.

When you sit down with the standard works and read them through the lens of actively searching for women, you start to see them everywhere. They're not absent. There's a filter over the scriptures and how we've been taught to read them that makes women disappear that has to be dismantled.

When the Bishop Becomes a Stumbling Block

So, it has been several weeks since my Bishop initiated his ultimatum to force me to come back to church in person to get the sacrament. He has also discontinued all communication with me on the subject.

In the meantime, I've been reflecting a lot on what this means for my religious life in this moment. At a time in my life when I find myself wanting God and craving peace, I'm being shut out of the place I was always supposed to be able to find it.


Waters of Mormon, Lina Curley Christensen

In prayer, I've found myself repeatedly coming back to the scriptures from Romans 8 I had taped to my wall when my mother would forbid me to go to church as a new convert. Also in the story that was my first spiritual experience with The Book of Mormon: Alma 32. Where the people in power decided to expel the undesirables from their congregations. They were not allowed to worship in the churches they helped to build.

I feel that in my soul, in ways I've been struggling to fully accept. I gave my life for this church. I have given time, money, literally years of service to it because it is my spiritual home. 
I have forgotten how to find God outside its walls.

The power of Alma's message was tremendous the first time I heard it. The Book of Mormon testifies of a God who has no respect for the walls humans build between each other. A God who cannot be contained in mortal boxes.
I need to find my way back to my God and my Savior again, separate and apart from the people in this stake where I now live who do not mean me well. 
These are the prayers I've been saying. Prayers I thought I would never say.
The answers are coming slowly, mostly because I am already exhausted. But I have not been left comfortless. The way forward is becoming clear.
I am not dependent on these men to receive all the blessings of God. They are mine to claim, anywhere and at any time I need them. 
Faith. Joy. Rest. Holiness. Gratitude. Love. Healing. Dignity. 
They are my new focus. These are mine to claim. They belong to me. No one can take them away from me. They are the blessings I will give to myself through my personal devotion and worship.
The ordinances of the Church augment my search for these things. They can't replace it. That is the lesson I am learning right now.

Is the Holy Ghost also Heavenly Mother?

Some of my dearest friends believe the Holy Ghost and Heavenly Mother are the same. It's a valid question and discussion, and I thought I would share my perspective and reasoning for why I disagree.

You may think differently after all this. You may still think Heavenly Mother is the Holy Ghost. That's cool. I like being able to reason together, based on what we know and have personally experienced. You don't have to change what you believe based on what I've said. My purpose here isn't to say to anyone "You're wrong." It's to add another way of thinking about things to the discussion. Add what makes sense to you to your cafeteria tray. Or don't. It's your call.

The reason I don't share this belief is because the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit without a body, as described in D&C 130:22. That's how they can perform the essential functions of the Holy Ghost. D&C 130 explains that for the Holy Ghost to perform the function assigned to them by God, being disembodied is a crucial part of that.

Heavenly Mother is a resurrected, exalted being. For her to be a co-creator, equal with God and in full possession of her powers, she must possess a perfected body. 

One of the unique messages of Mormonism is that exaltation is inseparable from having a resurrected, exalted body. From D&C 76 and its descriptions of "bodies celestial" to the description in Abraham 3 of those who "keep their second estate" having "glory added upon their heads for ever and ever." Removing Heavenly Mother from her embodied physical state would put her into an unequal relationship with our Father in Heaven, incomplete and subject to him. That's why the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "all beings who have bodies have power over those who have not."

He, She, or They?

This point, however, does raise an interesting question I've never considered before. Is it appropriate for someone who has never received a body, and therefore never experienced gender in the flesh, to be assigned as male?

The Gift, Walter Rane

I've explored the relationship between biological sex and gender before. Being familiar with that perspective will help elaborate my comments here.

I know what the family proclamation says about gender being eternal. The language being used there has expanded and changed since 1995 when the family proclamation was given. When they said gender is eternal, they were referring to what we would now describe as biological sex. The family proclamation asserts that biological sex is eternal.

Gender is completely separate from biological sex. Gender is a social construct that is shaped by our own responses to our biological sex. Does our sex match how we perceive ourselves and our lived experiences in our own bodies, or are they incongruent with each other? That's not something that can be determined just by looking at someone. While leaders and the authors of scripture in times past have seen the Holy Ghost in vision, described him as male, or quoted Christ in teaching the Holy Ghost is male, these are secondhand accounts. I don't consider them definitive sources

Some of my dearest friends believe the Holy Ghost and Heavenly Mother are the same. It's a valid question and discussion, and I thought I would share my perspective and reasoning for why I disagree.

You may think differently after all this. You may still think Heavenly Mother is the Holy Ghost. That's cool. I like being able to reason together, based on what we know and have personally experienced. You don't have to change what you believe based on what I've said. My purpose here isn't to say to anyone "You're wrong." It's to add another way of thinking about things to the discussion. Add what makes sense to you to your cafeteria tray. Or don't. It's your call.

The reason I don't share this belief is because the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit without a body, as described in D&C 130:22. That's how they can perform the essential functions of the Holy Ghost. D&C 130 explains that for the Holy Ghost to perform the function assigned to them by God, being disembodied is a crucial part of that.

Heavenly Mother is a resurrected, exalted being. For her to be a co-creator, equal with God and in full possession of her powers, she must possess a perfected body. One of the unique messages of Mormonism is that exaltation is inseparable from having a resurrected, exalted

Some of my dearest friends believe the Holy Ghost and Heavenly Mother are the same. It's a valid question and discussion, and I thought I would share my perspective and reasoning for why I disagree.

You may think differently after all this. You may still think Heavenly Mother is the Holy Ghost. That's cool. I like being able to reason together, based on what we know and have personally experienced. You don't have to change what you believe based on what I've said. My purpose here isn't to say to anyone "You're wrong." It's to add another way of thinking about things to the discussion. Add what makes sense to you to your cafeteria tray. Or don't. It's your call.

The reason I don't share this belief is because the Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit without a body, as described in D&C 130:22. That's how they can perform the essential functions of the Holy Ghost. D&C 130 explains that for the Holy Ghost to perform the function assigned to them by God, being disembodied is a crucial part of that.

Heavenly Mother is a resurrected, exalted being. For her to be a co-creator, equal with God and in full possession of her powers, she must possess a perfected body. One of the unique messages of Mormonism is that exaltation is inseparable from having a resurrected, exalted body. From D&C 76 and its descriptions of "bodies celestial" to the description in Abraham 3 of those who "keep their second estate" having "glory added upon their heads for ever and ever." Removing Heavenly Mother from her embodied physical state would put her into an unequal relationship with our Father in Heaven, incomplete and subject to him. 

That's why the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "all beings who have bodies have power over those who have not." 

body. From D&C 76 and its descriptions of "bodies celestial" to the description in Abraham 3 of those who "keep their second estate" having "glory added upon their heads for ever and ever." Removing Heavenly Mother from her embodied physical state would put her into an unequal relationship with our Father in Heaven, incomplete and subject to him. 

That's why the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that "all beings who have bodies have power over those who have not." 

of this information because they weren't written, preserved, or translated by impartial bastions of gender equity.

Because the Holy Ghost has never had a body, they don't know what their gender is. This is why we refer to the Holy Ghost as a personage of spirit, rather than a person. It's also why I think the most accurate pronoun to use for the Holy Ghost is "they," rather than "he." There are too many ways that biological sex and gender can manifest in humans for me to ever assume I know what it'll be for someone who has never even been mortal before. That's a decision the Holy Ghost has to make for themselves once they receive a body. 

So what is it going to take for me to feel like I know the Holy Ghost enough to definitively assign pronouns to them? The same way I do with anyone else: by having the person introduce themselves to me and tell me firsthand what pronouns they prefer.

We don't have anything like that from the Holy Ghost. It's unwise to misrepresent the scriptures we have as if they are. And if the idea of the Holy Ghost deciding, in the actual experience of being embodied, to come out as queer bothers you, it might be time ask yourself why.

Having Faith in the Book of Mormon

A friend of mine was recently answering a question about the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the reality of the people mentioned within it, and whether it's necessary to prove that. We agreed that the historicity of the Book of Mormon isn't necessary, and I wanted to share my breakdown as to why that is.

To insist that the Book of Mormon be viewed as a historical text means opening the record to scrutiny and standards of proof it will never be able to meet. It's completely contradictory to the development of faith. Faith, in its most fundamental form, always comes back to a belief in events and stories that aren't knowable through evidence. No amount of historical analysis into the Book of Mormon will ever change the fundamental nature of believing as an act of faith, rather than empirical knowledge.

The purpose of the Book of Mormon isn't to provide a historical record for us to intellectually prove or disprove. The text itself points out that there was a historical record upon which the Book of Mormon is supposed to be based, and we weren't given any of that because that's not the purpose of this record.

The purpose of the Book of Mormon is to testify of Jesus Christ. It accomplishes that purpose though faith, not intellectual certainty. There is no scholarship, no physical evidence, no probative inquiry into any of the historical elements of the Book of Mormon that can replace the personal experiences Latter-day Saints have with in pursuing that purpose.

So when I say I only care about the Book of Mormon because of what it has to say about Jesus Christ, that's truly the only reason it matters to me. It serves no other purpose in my life, including as a source of historical truth. I don't care about Book of Mormon geography, the debates surrounding horses on the American continents, the Nephite coinage system, or about proving the literal existence of anyone in the text. That simply has nothing to do with the value the Book of Mormon has had in my life.

The first time I read the Book of Mormon, I had a transformative spiritual experience in which I felt like God and I were communicating, openly and uninhibited, for the first time. That's why I believe in it. It's not because of Joseph Smith, what he said he saw in the First Vision, the divine authority he claimed to have, or what he claimed the origins of the book are. Joseph Smith, has no bearing on why I believe in the Book of Mormon.  

That doesn't mean I disbelieve Joseph Smith. I just fully embrace the fact that I'm never going to know, empirically and with absolute certainty, whether what he experienced and described was literal or not. My belief is an act of faith that doesn't need to be justified by historical evidence in order to exist. It's the same allowance that exists in every religious tradition. For me to say historicity isn't central to my decision to believe, I think, acknowledges that reality.

If the only truth someone gains out of the Book of Mormon is historical proof that Joseph Smith was a living prophet and Russell M. Nelson is his modern successor, I can't imagine a more wasted opportunity. This is why I've never supported the logical progression in the missionary discussions that assert if the Book of Mormon is true, then Joseph Smith is a prophet and the Church is true. 


Because it completely distracts from the fact that Jesus Christ acts, appears, and speaks within its pages. To choose to focus on anything else, to me, is to miss the most valuable thing in the text.

A Lesson in Scriptural Literacy: Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Reading

Let's talk about something that has been on my mind since the last time someone brought up racism in the Book of Mormon in my mentions on Twitter.

There are two types of scripture reading: descriptive and prescriptive. Prescriptive reading is when we look at the text, and in an effort to apply it to our lives, we ask it to tell us what to do and think about a variety of subjects. This is in contrast to descriptive reading, which is when the text is simply telling you what happened, independent of what the human author/God intends you to take from it in terms of your actions.

This may be obvious, but not everything that happens in the scriptures is good. We're not intended to copy every single thing that we see happening in them because the scriptures are not a purely prescriptive text. So just because there were petty, judgmental, and racist characters in the Book of Mormon, that doesn't give license to us to be petty, judgmental, and racist in our day. Rather, their inclusion is a descriptive warning about the moral rot these forces caused an entire civilization.

To interpret everything that happens in the scriptures as instantly transferable lessons into absolutely any situation, with no independent thought whatever, is to ignore the endowments of intelligence and common sense God has given to us all.

If I have to explain to anyone that you're not supposed to look at the racism in the Book of Mormon and think "surely THIS is the salient information God intended for me to take from this text and apply to my life," it's because you don't understand critical reading. You're also probably a little bit racist and looking for reasons not to deal with that. And honestly, I don't think there's a worse text to justify that, because d'you remember what happens to all the racists in the Book of Mormon?

They die. Bloodily and meaninglessly.

Which is why, for most lessons in the Book of Mormon, there are prescriptive and descriptive passages that teach the same lessons. 

Sermon on the Mount/at Bountiful? Jesus is telling me exactly what he wants me to do. Prescriptive.

The moral inventory in Alma 5, where I'm supposed to engage with every uncomfortable question about the impact of my actions on others, with no appeals to my good intentions? Clearly prescriptive.

The rapes, genocide, racism, sexism, classism, dereliction of duty, slavery, exploitation of labor, addiction, prejudice, and hosts of other depraved human behavior? The scriptures do not give license for these things to exist just because they're in the record. These things are in the record to describe how they happen. They're the harm and injustices of living that we need God to save us from. They're the punishable offenses we have God's solemn oath he will punish us for if we don't repent.
These things exist in the scriptures because they exist in our lives. These are the testimonies not just of God's power, but of ours: to be better than we often choose to be. To give into our better natures in resistance to evil. To do the right thing, even when it's hard.
So the idea that there is racism in the Book of Mormon shouldn't surprise anyone. The Book of Mormon wouldn't be of much value in speaking to the evils of our day if it didn't.

Sex and Gender Identity in Scripture

One of the reasons people in the Church give for not wanting to affirm transgender, intersex, gender fluid, and non-binary members of our community is because of how these perceptions of gender allegedly conflict with scripture. So, let's take it apart, starting with some of the important terms on this front it will be helpful to define.

As I looked at each term on their list, I paused on the definition they've given for Binary: "The gender binary is a system of viewing gender as consisting solely of two identities and sexes, man and woman or male and female."

Maybe this is obvious to other people, or has been covered elsewhere before. But seeing male and female vs. man and woman written like that caught my attention. These terms are separate. They refer to sex and gender distinctly, separately.

You know what else does that? The creation story of Adam and Eve.  

Notice how Moses 2:27 refers to sex, male and female.

Gender isn't introduced until the next chapter, when Adam names Eve, "Woman." Which, yeah. How are you going to have gender before the first woman has even been created? It's a distinction and separation that is also maintained in the Genesis accounts of chapters 1 and 2.

Here's the interesting part. Nowhere, is any of this exchange, does God state that sex and gender are intrinsically tied together—that they must or will always line up as male and man, or female and woman. It's not a necessary part of the story as written.

Adam and Eve, the record makes clear, are cisgender. But there is no scriptural imperative of any kind to assume that this is the immutable order of things for all creation, according to God. There is simply no evidence for that assertion here.

I've read these stories countless times, heard them recounted countless times in the temple as both a patron and an ordinance worker, and I've never seen those layers of meaning before. It's a good reminder of what my husband says to me all the time: God can't steer a parked car. Until we ask for these insights, we may never see them on our own.

But wait! There's more.

Look at D&C 93:29. In our pre-earth life, we were spirit beings, living in the presence of God. And we were made of "intelligence," right? 
Notice how it says intelligence can't be made or created?

Hold that thought, and go back with me to Genesis 1.
What does it say God did with it biological sex? What's the verb? 
He made us male and female. But D&C 93 says intelligence, the substance from which we're made, cannot be formed or made. 
What does this mean? What does it tell us?
It means intelligence, like priesthood, has no gender. 
It means our biological sex begins when we are organized out of intelligence.
We are eternal beings, but biological sex and gender are not eternal.

"But Sister Collins! The Family Proclamation says the opposite!"

Yes, it does. It's almost like the Family Proclamation has been superimposing evangelical Christianity's political interpretation of gender and sexuality on the human family that isn't supported by scripture. And in a choice between evangelical Christianity and the health and safety of our own members, it's pretty clear whose side we should be taking.

But I'm just a returned missionary who has been a Sunday School teacher more times than I can even count. What do I know?

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