Mistakes in Mormonism; or Why the Church Handbook isn’t Doctrine

First Presidency and the Twelve, circa 1898 (Wikimedia Commons).

By Gary AshcroftLet me preface my comments with a few statements. I am Mormon. I’ve been one for my entire life. I believe that the Gospel is true and that it can bring us happiness. I also believe that the Church is led by a prophet, Thomas S. Monson, and that he speaks for God. I am proud of my membership in the Church and wish in no way to disparage it, abandon it, or equivocate as to my beliefs.That being said, I also recognize that the Church and the Gospel are not the same. The G … [Read more...]

Is Brigham Young’s Hearse Residing in Disneyland?


I recently went to Disneyland for the first time since middle school, and in the week leading up to my visit I obsessively consumed as much useless trivia about the park and its history as I could find. Being the boring adult that I am, if I’m going to commit to a day in a theme park, I better know some of its back story.So of course I read the story about how the ghostly horseless hearse parked in front of The Haunted Mansion in Disneyland is the same vehicle that carried the body of B … [Read more...]

Sister Wives’ Madison Brown’s Mormon Baptism Rejection, Explained


Confession: I actually really love the show Sister Wives. It is a pretty remarkable snapshot of American life that is uncommon, but it is also kind of an anti-reality show, designed not to hype up mundane existence into needless drama, but instead to normalize the lifestyle of the polygamist Brown family, proving that not all polygamists are cultish creeps like Warren Jeffs.The problem, it appears, is that the mainstream Mormon church isn’t buying this show’s premise. The Browns are members o … [Read more...]

On Translation Theories and the Interpretation of the Book of Mormon

Since Blake Ostler's landmark article appeared in Dialogue in 1987, there's been something of a trend among believing Mormon intellectuals. Increasingly, the tendency is to account for the English text of the Book of Mormon by positing a kind of weave of several agents operative in the production of the Book of Mormon---one of them divine (God, in some form), one of them human but ancient (the original authors of the book), and one of them human but modern (Joseph Smith). The most elaborate … [Read more...]

Ghost Stories

I'm revisiting Judith Richardson's Possessions: the history and uses of haunting in the Hudson Valley as I start thinking about nineteenth century spiritualism for a new book project, and this time I've been struck by her emphasis on place.  The tangled and broken landscape of the Hudson Valley, full of cliffs and culverts and sharp bends in the river, makes for an ideal habitat for the unquiet dead. But just as powerful is the cultural landscape, marked since the seventeenth century with the … [Read more...]

How Mormons Read the Bible

A little more than a week ago, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released an update to its online edition of the Bible and other authoritative texts, with a print edition to follow later this year.  Some of these changes reflect better historical knowledge of LDS history, as well as improved study aids, and some historical contextualizing of some important LDS texts.  The new edition of the LDS Bible is incremental, offering a few minor spelling and punctuation updates to the King J … [Read more...]

*Angels in America* at 20: Revisiting Tony Kushner’s Millennium — and His Mormons — in the 21st Century

2013 is the 20th anniversary of Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize for his groundbreaking play Angels in America, which first appeared on Broadway in two-parts in 1993. Kushner's sweeping epic critiqued conservative politics in Reagan-era America and confronted the devastating realities of HIV-AIDS for the gay community. Along the way, Angels engaged with a variety of American identities, cultures, and issues, many of which are grounded in religion and spirituality. In addition to the obvious … [Read more...]

“It’s like Methodism, only more”: Mormon Conversion and Narratives of the Great Apostasy

A couple of weeks ago in Sunday School, a middle-aged woman shared her conversion story to Mormonism. Born and raised a Methodist, she noted that she always felt like something was lacking. When she discovered Mormonism, she explained, "it was like Methodism, only more."I smiled to myself as she said this, recognizing in her own conversion narrative a common refrain that dominates the autobiographical writings of her 19th century predecessors. Among the first generation of converts to … [Read more...]