A Meditation on the Rank of Eagle Scout

This is a guest post by Mormontarian, who describes himself as a small-town Midwest transplant, who grew up on the west coast but managed to flee without turning into a pillar of salt. He is a compulsive communicator, though it helps to read his work as though you were all hanging out at a diner, chatting over greasy-spoon steak and eggs on a slow Saturday morning.

My grandfather was an Eagle Scout. His two sons (my father and uncle) are Eagle Scouts. I (and my three brothers) are all Eagle Scouts. One might call this a family tradition.

My son is not an Eagle Scout. This caused my father some concern. In a moment of “family tradition”-motivated panic, he went so far as to offer my son $1000 if he would earn his Eagle. That was when a series of realizations finally crystallized for me.

The rank itself is burdened with superfluous meaning that has been layered on for a long time. But it was clearly very important to my father, and I admit that I was pretty proud of myself when I got mine back in the day. Was I robbing my son by not pushing him to do this? I wasn’t sure.

So I sat down and took a good hard look at Eagle, breaking it down to the fundamental lessons it seems designed to teach. This required setting aside a volume of mystique and tradition. Is Eagle important because you learn first aid? How to pitch a tent? Who your elected representatives are? Those things are fine and good to know, and having a structure in place to learn those things is useful, but are they the fundamental lessons? Are they the things Eagle teaches?

Ultimately, no. In searching for those, I found three concepts that might be described as pearls of great price.

Lesson the First: Delayed Gratification Continue reading

Guest post: the Givens attack the First Vision

This is a guest post by Michael Davidson, who is a not-quite-so-young man living in Highland, Utah with his wife and kids.

At the tender age of 14, Joseph Smith went into a grove of trees near his home in New York in order to seek knowledge from the Lord. In the vision that followed, Joseph was told by the Lord not to join any churches then extant, for “they were all wrong” and that “all their creeds were an abomination in His sight” and that the preachers of these religions and creeds were “all corrupt.” It was in this First Vision that the Lord introduced Joseph, along with the rest of us, to the need for a restoration of the Gospel. The Lord makes clear that a simple reformation of existing christianity would be insufficient, driving the point home with strong language as was and is His prerogative.

In a recently published excerpt from “The Crucible of Doubt,” Terryl and Fiona Givens note that this account causes “many readers” to “feel the sting of a wide-net rebuke” in this narrative. And yet the Givens don’t seem to believe that such a rebuke was warranted. They introduce the First Vision narrative with a disclaimer that “[t]he language of Mormon culture … is fraught with contradictions” and that the “wisest and best men and women can say uninspired, ridiculous, and even reprehensible things.”

The Givens then observe that the First Vision narrative is “harsh to modern ears,” but seeks to excuse “Smith’s language” by saying it “fits right into his cultural milieu.” Further driving home their point, the Givens later bemoan the “colorful language of condemnation” in the canonized First Vision account because of its supposed “tragic influence on Mormon thinking,” including the “notion that Mormonism has a monopoly on the truth, that other churches and traditions have nothing of value to contribute, and that the centuries between the death of the apostles and the events of 1820 were utterly blighted and devoid of truth.”

Even further, the Givens argue that at least some “Mormons claim a monopoly on salvation” as well. But to them, “it grows increasingly difficult to imagine that a body of a few million, in a world of seven billion, can really be God’s only chosen people and heirs of salvation.”

It is with these two “myths” in mind, myths of Mormon monopolies on truth and salvation, that the Givens began their attack on the canonized First Vision narrative. They fault this narrative, which they claim sets the stage for the flourishing of these myths.

What purpose is being served by this attack by the Givens? Continue reading

Apology: Kurt Manwaring interviews Daniel Peterson

Kurt Manwaring was kind enough to share his interview with Daniel Peterson, part of his “10 Questions” series at FromTheDesk.org. Kurt has allowed us to cross-post a portion of that interview here.


Peterson is the president of the Interpreter Foundation, a scholar of Islam, and the founding editor of the Middle Eastern Texts Initiative at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship.

Kurt Manwaring: Welcome! Before we begin, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your involvement with Islamic studies and Mormon apologetics?

Daniel Peterson: I was born in Pasadena, California, and raised in nearby San Gabriel.  I attended Brigham Young University as an undergraduate, taking time off to serve in the Switzerland, Zürich Mission. Continue reading

Through a Glass Darkly

This is a guest post by Brother I. W. Brown.


Recently I had a conversation with a family member who is struggling to understand whether prophets are permitted to make mistakes. And if they are, well then how can we ever fully place our trust in them? How can we be certain they’re not making a mistake on any particular issue? These are reasonable questions. These questions and the answers to them are becoming increasingly important as LDS Church history is scrutinized. That got me thinking…

Naturally Joseph Smith is the primary focus of that scrutiny, and it only makes sense. After all, he made the biggest impact and certainly had the most to say about the formation of the church. So he had more opportunity than anyone to make mistakes – he had the most “at bats,” so to speak, so it’s possible that he had the most strike-outs! Incidentally, some of his critics remind me of someone who never played baseball bragging about having fewer strikeouts than A-Rod!

Unlike the prophets of our day, Joseph did not have a mentor. He had no organization or policy to perpetuate, he had to create them (or as we believe restore them) from scratch. I don’t think we can ever appreciate the enormity of that task. Think about it. Imagine the task of building a house from nothing, for example, having never seen another house or having floorpans. Now build the house – engineering, excavation, foundation, concrete, framing, plumbing electrical, flooring, framing, finish carpentry, paint, roofing, windows, etc. No doubt a critic would come inspect your home after the fact and cite you for not knowing the right size of pipe for venting a toilet!

So let’s turn to Joseph. Let’s see what we can learn about any standard he may have set for a prophet. What qualifies and disqualifies a man to be a prophet? Maybe we can use his own standard against him!

Joseph Smith makes his debut as a self-proclaimed prophet in 1830 with the publication of his opus, The Book of Mormon. It turns out that we learn quite a bit about his version of prophets in the first 5 chapters of the book, 1 Nephi chapters 1-5. Here we meet Lehi and his son Nephi who are the prophet of the story and his next-in-charge respectively.

Lehi has a vision instructing him to take his family and leave Jerusalem immediately. While Nephi is happy to comply, older brothers Laman and Lemuel are less thrilled with the idea of leaving the only home they had ever known. We might imagine that they have had experiences with their father that exposed him as less than perfect. They are put out to have to leave their lives, including all the wealth they had hoped to inherit one day. But still they reluctantly obey and follow dad into the wilderness – act of obedience number 1.

They travel for three days. Let’s say that amounts to 40 miles. Apparently, Lehi’s plans were only half-baked. Once 40 miles out of town, he’s inspired, or at least realizes that he needs the Brass Plates in Laban’s possession way back in Jerusalem. Naturally, Laman and Lemuel are irritated. Why didn’t dad think of that before we left? His oversight cost them 80 miles of grueling travel. Meanwhile Nephi is quick to comply. After expressing their frustration the brothers return with Nephi and another one of Nephi’s brothers, Sam – obedience #2.

After retracing their journey they “cast lots” and decide that Laman would be the lucky one to go meet with Laban to collect the Plates. Nephi is effectively the leader/prophet/priesthood on the ground. Laman again defers to his leader and is nearly killed for his troubles – obedience #3. Laban’s henchmen chase him out of town, back to where the brothers are hiding.

Undeterred, Nephi remembers the riches the family had left at their home. He suggests that they can trade for the Plates. This time he’s certain the plan will work. It has to because they’re on the Lord’s errand so the Lord will provide a way (1 Nephi 3:7). Finally the brothers all agree to try again – obedience #4. But again Laban doesn’t cooperate. He steals their riches and tries to have the brothers killed.

With this context in mind, it’s hard not to empathize a little with Laman and Lemuel. I’ve often thought that, at this stage of their adventure at least, they get a bad wrap. Who wouldn’t be aggravated with all they had experienced. Now I’ve never beaten my little brothers with a rod, but I’ve never been threatened and tested like Laman and Lemuel were during their trip back to Jerusalem.

So after pummeling their brothers, the two are rebuked by an angel. Tempers soon cool and Nephi decides to have a go at Laban alone, not knowing exactly what to do. But still he ventures forth.
He gets a little bloody in the process, but Nephi is finally successful. He not only collects the Brass Plates, but also adds a helping hand to the travel party, Zoram.

Next we read about the joyous reunion of the four brothers with their family. They made it back to Lehi’s camp. We can imagine the relief they felt having accomplished a difficult and dangerous series of tasks. Finally they can rest. Now imagine their reaction when maybe just days or even hours later their father, the prophet Lehi, has more news to share. There’s yet another wrinkle in his prophetic plan. Likely after clearing his throat, Lehi explains that, “it was not meet for [him, Lehi,] that he should take his family into the wilderness alone.”

‘Guess what boys, it’s time to turn around and make yet another 80-mile round trip to convince Ishmael and his family to join us in the wilderness. You boys need wives.’

But Lehi was supposed to be a prophet! Nephi too, in Lehi’s absence on the road, spoke for the prophet. Why couldn’t these men of God see the end from the beginning? Why didn’t Lehi get his act together and get all the facts before formulating a plan and demanding action?

Well, if we accept that Lehi was indeed a prophet, it appears that a prophet may operate through trial and error on occasion. He may only be given “line upon line” and even have to act without “knowing beforehand the things which [he] should do” (1 Nephi 4:6). We learn about the nature of prophets in the very first pages of the Book of Mormon. We see that prophets may stumble and fail at times even while doing prophety things. We learn that, as human being and without all the information he would like, a prophet must make mistakes. We learn that the path of a prophet will zig and zag and will end up nothing like a straight line. As we ponder this and the perfectly human nature of every prophet, we may even feel foolish for ever thinking that a prophet should always have a clear and perfect vision of his mission – start to finish. We may feel foolish for thinking that obvious missteps prove that a prophet is not a prophet.

Somehow we have developed an image of a prophet that is far removed from what the Book of Mormon and other scriptures clearly present. Lehi and Nephi are two of many prophets we read about who together display the full range of human frailties. Maybe it’s the result of too much exposure to characters in Marvel and DC comics or lessons from overly-enthusiastic Sunday School teachers, but we seem to have endowed prophets with superhuman virtues. Either way we end up forgetting their humanity.

Of course, the point of all this is that it applies to Joseph Smith. Joseph’s life and errors are so relatively recent and so well documented that it’s tempting to apply a whole new standard to him.
But such a judgment says far more about us than it does about him. And heaven forbid if his successors were to ever misstep, backtrack, or change policy or direction. The humanity of the prophets likely hasn’t changes over the millennia. Unfortunately, with respect to failing to recognize a prophet in our time, neither has ours.

At least that’s what I think.

Bio: I’m second generation LDS. My father worked for the CES with a PhD in ancient Christianity. I left the church for 6-7 years after consuming thousands of pages of criticism of the church in general and Joseph Smith in particular. I was an atheist for that period. Long story short, about 15 years ago I began my return to the faith. Ironically, some of the issues that used to trouble the most are now what I call pillars of my renewed faith in the Gospel.

LDS Perspectives: In the Beginning, with Ben Spackman

December 20, 2017: Genesis 1 – Ben Spackman


Ben Spackman talks with LDS Perspectives about what scholars believe about the Genesis creation accounts, of interest because of how scholarly research informs our understanding of the LDS creation accounts found in Moses (June 1830), Abraham (1835, published 1842) and the temple (May 1842). Ben is writing a book on the creation accounts tentatively titled Reading Scripture, Reading Creation: The Ancient Context of Genesis 1.

Benjamin T. Spackman has a Bachelor’s Degree in Near Eastern Studies from BYU. He then received a MA and did further PhD work in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations (Comparative Semitics) at the University of Chicago, where he was a Hugh Nibley Fellow. He has been an Institute teacher for over ten years and has taught at BYU.  Ben blogs at Times & Seasons, and writes Gospel Doctrine background posts at Benjamin the Scribe.