Mormon LGBT Outreach: Part I

In November of 2013, my stake president, Thomas Fairbanks, asked me to spearhead “gay and lesbian outreach” in the Seattle North Stake.  Seattle is the new San Francisco – our city has a large gay population, both inside and outside the Church.  But very few openly gay or lesbian church members attend services in our wards.  In President Fairbanks’ mind, this wasn’t an ideal state of affairs.  If the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is what it claims to be, if it contains a religious message and provides a spiritual environment that everyone can benefit from – regardless of their individual life paths and circumstances – then we should be a community that welcomes everyone into the communal life of the church.  “Everyone” includes our LGBT brothers and sisters. [Read more…]

Common Consent, A Comparative Glimpse

Archbishop of York John Sentamu ordains Right Reverend Libby Lane to the office of Bishop of Stockport, Jan. 26, 2015 (source: http://tinyurl.com/lvo4mam)

Archbishop of York John Sentamu ordains Right Reverend Libby Lane to the office of Bishop of Stockport, Jan. 26, 2015 (source: http://tinyurl.com/lvo4mam)

A few weeks ago, we were given a fascinating glimpse of the scriptural principle of “common consent” as practiced in the Church of England when the Rt Rev Libby Lane was consecrated as eighth Bishop of Stockport on January 26, 2015. It was very moving to see an action taken “by common consent” as the congregation present all shouted in unison “It is!” when asked if it was their will that Rev. Lane be ordained to the office of Bishop. This also evoked images of King Benjamin’s speech in The Book of Mormon, in which all in attendance responded in unison at certain points. [Read more…]

A Home Teaching Visit

On Sunday afternoon I went to visit a woman I home teach. I went by myself. The guy who had been going with me couldn’t do it anymore. My actual companion isn’t anxious to do it, and the logistics of trying to organize a visit that way make it so it would hardly ever happen, and this woman very much wants and needs to be visited. So a couple of months ago I asked her if she would mind if I just came over myself, and she was perfectly fine with that. She’s 83 years old. At church in the morning she had asked me whether I was still her home teacher (because I had missed January), so I figured, oops, I had better get on it. We arranged a time after church to meet at her home. [Read more…]

Religious Art: Marine Iguana by Sebastião Salgado

Sebastião Salgado (1944 – ), Marine iguana. Galápagos. Ecuador., 2004. Photographs, Gelatin silver print.

Marine iguana. Galápagos. Ecuador., 2004

Humanity. Serenity. Tenderness. These are the first three words I associate with Salgado’s photograph of a marine Iguana. But the association is a little uncomfortable. Observing human-like (anthropomorphic) qualities in mammals is common but finding them in reptiles feels somewhat strange. The form of the hand is surprisingly familiar, even the scales have a skin-like quality. Perhaps most unsettling is the casual way the hand lies over the rocks. It is this destabilizing feeling that keeps me returning to this photograph.

By removing the teleological, evolution’s story refuses to acknowledge humanity’s desire to be a protagonist. After Darwin, humans are no longer the center of the universe. Yet, despite this radical shift in our place in the tree of life, we still tend to see other life forms in relation to ourselves. This tendency to anthropomorphize other creatures is a remnant of this anthropocentric worldview. [Read more…]

Review: Religion of a Different Color

Paul Reeve’s book, Religion of a Different Color, arrived in time for me to take on my trip and I finished before getting home. I wanted to write something up quickly; this is not meant to be an exhaustive review. Still, I think there is a lot worth saying. Paul opens and organizes the volume with a handy conceit, namely the cartoon from Life magazine that adorns the cover, and he uses the various children as sections to discuss the complex interplay between Mormons, Americans and race. From today’s perspective it does seem absurd that Americans denigrated Mormons as more black, or Native American, or Asian than white. Handy and tremendously perspicuous. Religion of a Different Color is the most sophisticated and penetrating treatment of Mormonism and race to date.
[Read more…]

Ministering to the un-ministerable

My oldest child is almost 17 and has hated church at least since she was a toddler. Possibly she hated it before then but lacked the verbal skills to express herself clearly. At any rate, for the last fifteen years she has expressed her hostility this way: yelling, screaming, blurting out insults and provocative comments, disrupting lessons (and singing), and generally making everyone else’s worship time miserable. This is not typical behavior, even for a teenager, so I should probably explain that in addition to having Asperger’s Syndrome and a mood disorder, she is kind of a brat. I think I can say that with love, since I’m her mom and she probably got it from me in the first place. [Read more…]

When the Mormons met Darwin’s Origin of the Species

brighamyoungdarwin

A copy of Darwin’s Descent of Man from Brigham Young’s collection. Courtesy of Ardis Parshall.

Are science and religion mutually combative foes? The question’s not a new one, nor is it necessarily more pressing today than it’s been in the past. The turn of the twentieth century marked another period of intense cultural shifts, not least of all regarding widespread views about the relationship between the natural sciences and religion. [Read more…]

My Belief

Apparently, in an interview today on Radio West with Doug Fabrizio, John Dehlin claimed that “people who blog at BCC” don’t believe in the historicity of The Book of Mormon. As far as I’m aware, John Dehlin does not have any special insight into the religious convictions of people who blog at BCC. In fact, as a result of his unsubstantiated comment, I feel it necessary to issue the following statement: “Dear Internet, I believe in the historicity of The Book of Mormon as part of the foundation of my Christian faith, which faith nevertheless rests exclusively on my belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior of the World — and therefore also my personal Savior — as witnessed in the New Testament, prophesied in the Old Testament as interpreted and finally understood through the New Testament realization of the Atonement, and as separately attested in The Book of Mormon, in the historicity of which I firmly believe based on personal spiritual confirmation of the truthfulness of the book’s message that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, who is truly One God with the Father and the Holy Spirit, reigning forever, and based on fascinating and consistent evidences that have been studied and discussed extensively by Mormon scholars who are friends and family and whose sincerity and honesty and good faith I do not doubt in the slightest.”

Help thou my unbelief

And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.

I had a conversation over email the other day with a good friend, who is concerned that we continue to lack the individual and organizational tools to talk about serious faith issues at church. What’s the best way to react and help others when they are at a low point in their testimonies? [Read more…]

Does Open Stories Foundation Qualify As Tax-Exempt?

Last week, Peggy Fletcher Stack wrote an article about John Delhin’s finances. A couple things leaped out at me, particularly salient, perhaps, because of research I’ve been doing recently, and because they raise difficult-to-see red flags, both for the Open Stories Foundation (“OSF”) and for other Mormons (or, more generally, Americans) who want to start a tax-exempt organization.[fn1]

Tl;dr: OSF looks like it is violating the prohibition against private inurement, which would compromise its tax-exempt status; it should at the very least get a tax practitioner with experience in the tax-exempt area to look closely. Also, anybody who wants to operate a tax-exempt entity needs to get competent legal advice upfront: the tax-exempt area is a minefield of compliance traps. [Read more…]

Things Anonymous Will Reveal, Ranked

So did you all hear that Anonymous has threatened to take over LDS.org if the big JD gets the axe? I don’t want to play spoiler or anything, but the truth is, Steve and I have been running LDS.org ourselves for the past 3 years, and we can already tell you the dirtiest-dirt there is. Brace yourselves, folks–Shiz is about to get real.

lds.org anonymous

As always, these rankings are authoritative.
[Read more…]

The Necessity and Complexity of Editing the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church Manuals

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 2.55.12 PMThe third lesson of the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson manual, “Freedom of Choice, an Eternal Principle,” focuses on the importance of one’s moral conscience. It addresses a primary conundrum of modern democracy: today’s liberty allows both the ability to freely practice religion according to your own belief as well as the freedom to practice immorality and disbelief. The potential for a righteous life, then, is tethered to the potential for sin. This makes the stakes all the more fraught. “Life is a testing time in man’s eternal existence,” Benson preached in an excerpt included in the lesson, “during which he is given…the right to choose between right and wrong.” The absence of a strong federal government that dictates moral values both enables religious agency but also accelerates religious dissent. This makes it all the more crucial, he argued, to teach our children how to use their freedom wisely, especially in an age when there are so many corrupting choices and potential evils at every corner.
[Read more…]

#todayatchurch

Scene: Primary singing time.

Song: “A Child’s Prayer.”

Boy to my right: beatboxing softly.  [Read more…]

A Look Back at American Religious Persecution

An imaginary conversation sometime in the future:

Twenty-first century Mormon to Brigham Young: “Religious persecution is tough!”

BY to 21cM: “It certainly is! What happened to you? Did the federal government send the army after you? Did you make plans to burn the temple and evacuate Salt Lake City? Were general church officers arrested and imprisoned?”

21cM to BY: “Well, no, none of that. But there for a while it looked like I might be forced to sell baked goods to people of whom I disapprove. That’s a violation of my rights!”

BY to 21cM: “Bless your heart, sonny.” [Read more…]

Belle Spafford

I assure you that the message of Mormon women is needed by women of the world today.

― Belle S. Spafford, “Latter-day Saint Women in Today’s Changing World,” February 1975

Belle Spafford, October 8, 1895 – February 2, 1982 (source: http://tinyurl.com/pznzjsj)

Belle Spafford, October 8, 1895 – February 2, 1982 (source: http://tinyurl.com/pznzjsj)

Belle Spafford served as General Relief Society President of the Church for nearly 30 years, from 1945 to 1972. During that time she also served as a delegate to the National Women’s Council in New York for 42 years, including as the President of the Council from 1968 to 1970. Her tenure as General Relief Society President began at the close of World War II and later encompassed President David O. McKay’s mission of expanding the reach of the Church internationally to bring the Gospel to many nations. President Spafford served as General Relief Society President under six different Presidents of the Church. [Read more…]

Some Thoughts on Apologies

Nor with a caveat.

There has been a lot of talk about apologies lately.  First E. Oaks, channeling Fox News or possibly Clint Eastwood, claimed that the church neither seeks nor gives apologies [1], prompting a lot of discussion about what constitutes an apology, and whether or not the church should apologize to gay people for their ostracism and mistreatment throughout the years. [Read more…]

Delighting in Plainness

Nephi famously delights in plainness, pledging to speak the doctrine of Christ “according to the plainness of [his] prophesying.” Surely the core doctrine of baptism—the topic of Nephi’s discussion—needs to be presented in a straightforward manner, lest confusion arise. And yet, what does “plainness” mean, exactly? Does plainness require that a speaker eschew all ornamentation, or style? Beyond that, what does it mean to “delight in plainness”? [Read more…]

Role Models

Charlie_Parker,_Tommy_Potter,_Miles_Davis,_Max_Roach_(Gottlieb_06941)In my mission farewell talk,[fn1] I spent a little time talking about one of my teenage heroes. Charlie “Bird” Parker was an alto saxophone player who revolutionized jazz. With Dizzy Gillespie, he broke with swing and invented bebop, a faster, more cerebral, more harmonically complex style of music.

I admired the Bird’s virtuosity on the saxophone. I admired his improvisational genius. And I admired his work ethic: he may have had a natural genius, but, as a teenager, he also practiced 11-15 hours a day. And it was this work ethic, as much as anything, that appealed to me, and it was this work ethic that made me think of him as a prepared to leave on my mission.[fn2] [Read more…]

Seeing Holiness at Church

Church life gets messy sometimes: people say weird things in testimony meeting or Sunday School, have failures of social tact, or occasionally behave in outright ugly ways. Barring the more extreme instances, this is all more or less normal, and every now and again, amidst the humdrum strangeness of it all, holiness manages to occur.

From the Gospel accounts, it would seem that the Jerusalem Temple in the time of Jesus was a bustling place, a place of great social, political, and religious importance. A young couple bringing their child into the Temple for the presentation required by the law—which they fulfilled as humbly as possible, with the poor person’s sacrifice of “a pair of turtledoves”—would not ordinarily merit much notice. One might see them, perhaps, but likely not for long, amidst the pressures of other business. Such may even have been the experience of the priest who assisted them. [Read more…]

Enduring to the End is Kind of Hard

Kacy Faulconer is an author, thinker, blogger and all-around great person. We’re excited to share this guest post from her.

When I was a kid the churchy end-all be-all was getting to the temple. It seemed like the last big thing after getting baptized and doing Personal Progress. Once you went through the temple (covenants made, endowments in place) the only thing left to do was endure to the end. D&C 18:22 puts it like this: “As many as repent and are baptized in my name, which is Jesus Christ, and endure to the end, the same shall be saved.” Easy peasy!

It dawns on me that enduring to the end is kind of hard. It’s not necessarily smooth sailing once you “enter the the strait gate.” Grabbing hold of the iron rod is, I think now, less “you’re all set,” and more “hold on tight!” [Read more…]

Magna Carta and Common Consent

Notes for a first Sunday priesthood meeting.

Who or what am I?

  • I dislike fish-weirs on the Medway.
  • I took the advice of Walter, bishop of Worcester.
  • I speak Latin.
  • David Cameron does not know what I mean.
  • I was sealed by the king who lays buried in Worcester cathedral.
  • I am 800 years old this year.
  • I am from Runnymede in Surrey.

[Read more…]

Death and the genesis of belief

Reading one of J Stuart’s recent posts over at the JI stirred a memory of a diary entry written several decades earlier by James Talmage. The limen of death is perhaps the greatest locus of ritual and theological innovation.

[Read more…]

How to be Good Enough

There is something I want everyone to understand (assuming I’m right (if I’m not right, hopefully people will forget that this blogpost ever happened). Life is a frame job. You are bound to fail. [Read more…]

Loving “The World”—Even When It’s Oppressive

Life is hard. At a stake conference a few years back, I heard Pres. Eyring speak words to the effect that if you feel like you’re swimming upstream, you’re on the right path. Those words have encouraged me many times since, prompting me when life gets difficult in ways large or small to tack into the wind and keep on sailing. This idea has a potential problem, though, in that it can quickly spill over into militaristic metaphor. Sailing into the wind risks being transmuted into swashbuckling. What’s the difference, and why does it matter? Why care what metaphor we use if enduring to the end is the outcome? [Read more…]

Love and Priesthood

We’re super grateful that Melody Newey would share this guest post with us.

I.
“Will you please include me in your prayers tonight?”

It is a simple and sincere question. I am preparing for an exceptional challenge the next day and I mention to my friend, Mark,* that I could use extra spiritual support. He replies that he’s glad to offer up all his faith on my behalf and he thanks me for asking.

The following morning he sends an email to check in and to tell me what he’s praying for. The words and phrases he uses are indeed prayer-like and as I read, something interesting happens: I feel as though I am being “blessed” in a literal sense. The words on the screen carry a message of peace and comfort not unlike words I’ve heard before. The feeling is not unlike feelings I’ve had before when good men have placed hands on my head to offer priesthood blessings. The feeling includes what I interpret as a spiritual witness –something about priesthood power–not just as a memory of past blessings, but also as a concrete experience in this moment. Mark is a Melchizedek Priesthood bearer. [Read more…]

On rights, draw the veil of ignorance

Some thoughts about religious freedom vs. LGBTQ rights. [Read more…]

All Apologies

During an interview following yesterday’s press conference about the need to balance the protection of religious freedoms and gay rights, Elder Dallin H. Oaks addressed the issue of apologies. When asked specifically about whether church leaders saw a need to apologize for past language on homosexuality he broadened the discussion somewhat. From the Salt Lake Tribune:

But Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, wasn’t sure apologizing for past language on homosexuality would be advisable.

“I know that the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them,” Oaks said in an interview. “We sometimes look back on issues and say, ‘Maybe that was counterproductive for what we wish to achieve,’ but we look forward and not backward.”

The church doesn’t “seek apologies,” he said, “and we don’t give them.”

[Read more…]

Gordon B. Hinckley

“For some unknown reason there is constantly appearing the false rationalization
that at one time in the long-ago, virtue was easy and that now it is difficult.”

Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Report, October 1964, pp. 116-119

Gordon B. Hinckley, June 23, 1910 - January 27, 2008 (http://tinyurl.com/mj7g9r2)

Gordon B. Hinckley, June 23, 1910 – January 27, 2008 (http://tinyurl.com/mj7g9r2)

Gordon B. Hinckley was called as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1958, as an Apostle in September 1961, and then served as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from March 12, 1995 until his death on January 27, 2008. He is often remembered for his efforts in expanding the building of temples throughout the world so that members of the Church had better access to the spiritual uplift and fortification that they offer. During his tenure as President of the Church, the number of temples worldwide increased from 47 to 124 with 14 others announced or under construction — a very rapid surge in temple building during his 13 years as President.

The Church also built the Conference Center in Salt Lake City under his direction, and he presided over the renovation and rededication of the Salt Lake Tabernacle. He was an astute, media-savvy leader, adept at public relations, and tireless in his care and interest for the well-being and progress of the Church as a whole and its individual members. The Psalmist wrote “he that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4), a description aptly applied to President Hinckley’s stewardship, despite being the oldest man to have ever served as President of the Church (as of November 2, 2006 when he surpassed David O. McKay on this count). It could be accurately observed that the affairs of the Church have never been better managed than under the care of President Hinckley. [Read more…]

Religious Freedom in Houston

In today’s news conference, Elder Oaks continued his outspoken advocacy of religious liberty, a right that he has passionately defended in the past. He provided three recent examples that, he explained, demonstrate trends away from religious liberty. One of the examples Elder Oaks cited was this:

Yet today we see new examples of attacks on religious freedom with increasing frequency. Among them are these: . . . Recently, in one of America’s largest cities, government leaders subpoenaed the sermons and notes of pastors who opposed parts of a new law on religious grounds. These pastors faced not only intimidation, but also criminal prosecution for insisting that a new gay rights ordinance should be put to a voice of the people.

While the subpoenas certainly represented an attack on religious liberty, I don’t think that’s the story here. Rather, what happened in Houston strikes me as evidence of the power of religious liberty in U.S. culture and law. Some context on the kerfuffle in Houston:  [Read more…]

Some background on D&C 134 and Religious Freedoms

Today’s press conference regarding religious liberty and LGBT rights made frequent reference to Section 134 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which describes the policies and duties of the Latter-day Saints towards government. It is worth remembering some of the history and quirks of this Section. First quirk: it’s not a revelation. [Read more…]

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