My wife and I arrived somewhat late at the South Towne Exposition Center in Sandy, and caught only the tail end of Joshua Johanson’s presentation on “Navigating the Labyrinth Surrounding Homosexual Desire.” Several of my critics will, I’m confident, attribute this to the militant hostility toward homosexuals that, they fantasize, drives much of what I do, but I would like to have heard Brother Johanson’s paper.
Wonderfully, though, I’ve just learned that the paper is already up online. The enthusiasm and efficiency of FAIR’s army of volunteers impresses and often astonishes me.
Latter-day Saints are, by the way, frequently accused by their critics of attempting to sweep difficult issues under the rug. Brother Johanson’s presentation was only the first of several on Thursday that plainly demonstrated the falsity of that accusation with regard to FAIR.
We were, however, in time to hear our long-time friend John Sorenson’s “Reading Mormon’s Codex,” in which he previewed his forthcoming book – presumably (as he said) his last major work – which will be entitled, curiously enough, Mormon’s Codex. He offered a host – though, even so, only a sampling from his book — of what he judges to be cultural, historical, and other parallels between the Book of Mormon, Pre-Classic Mesoamerica, and the ancient Middle East.
I made the mistake of going out into the foyer for a drink of water – I never got it, incidentally – just before Neylan McBaine’s presentation entitled “To Do the Business of the Church: A Cooperative Paradigm for Examining Gendered Participation within Church Organizational Structure.” I didn’t make it back until the end of her talk.
I’ve got to watch myself, lest I say too much of what I really think about certain recent events. I heard some very positive things about the presentation, and look forward to reading it. And, once again, Sister McBaine’s paper is already up online.
After a number of conversations in the hall during lunch, we came back in and listened to Royal Skousen’s very interesting presentation entitled “Do We Need to Make Changes to the Book of Mormon Text?” He went briskly through a number of passages where errors that have crept into the text, if corrected, would make a difference in its meaning. Nothing enormous. No doctrine would be changed. In fact, in at least one or two places, the changes for which he argues would bring the Book of Mormon text into even closer consistency with the teaching of the Church than it already enjoys.
Darius Gray, a former president of the Church’s Genesis Group, gave what I found a quite moving presentation under the title “No Johnny-Come-Lately: The 182-Year-Long Black Mormon Moment.” He spoke not only about the usual superstars of Black Mormon history (Elijah Able, Jane Manning James, and Green Flake) – though I learned several things about them from his remarks that I hadn’t known – but about several lesser known figures. Certainly lesser known to me, but well worth knowing.
Brian Hales addressed “Joseph Smith’s Sexual Polyandry and the Emperor’s New Clothes: On Closer Inspection, What Do We Find?” He stands pretty much alone, against Michael Quinn, Richard Bushman, Fawn Brodie, and others, but he contends that there is no good evidence that Joseph Smith engaged in polyandrous sexual relations, and considerable evidence that he didn’t. I find his reasoning persuasive, though it’s hardly a special area of focus or expertise for me.
How are we doing on avoiding all of the challenging issues? Not very well, it seems.
Finally, Ugo Perego (“Book of Mormon Genetics: A Reappraisal”) spoke on the state of the question regarding Amerindian DNA and the claims of Joseph Smith. He had some fun with a comment from a recent Sunstone claiming that the matter is now closed, that the latest science demonstrates that there is no room in the New World for the Book of Mormon, no place where the Nephites can hide. It turns out – big surprise! – that the author of that comment doesn’t actually understand what the very latest science is saying. (Dr. Perego’s dissertation in genetics was on the question, very specifically, of the peopling of the Americas. He actually knows what he’s talking about. That’s refreshing.)
Incidentally, Dr. Perego was active for many years with the Sorenson Molecular Genealogy Foundation in Salt Lake City, but, less than a year ago, moved to Rome at the request of the Church – he is an Italian native – to supervise the Church Education System there. Commenting on claims from some of the crazier anti-Mormons that he’s been exiled to Italy (what a horror!) because of research of his that the Church found embarrassing, he indicated that he’s back in Utah in disguise and under an assumed name. So I’ll say nothing. I never saw him.
As I write, I’m sitting in the hall in Sandy. I’ll report later about today’s conference, including my own remarks.