Mormons in a Post-Obergefell World

A few thoughts I’ve had about living in a post-Obergefell world:

The first thing: the decision, on a practical level, doesn’t change anything for most of us. It certainly doesn’t for me. And I don’t say that because I’m straight. I live in Illinois, where same-sex marriage was instituted legislatively over a year ago. The only substantive difference Obergefell makes in Illinois is that couples who marry here don’t stop being married when they move to Indiana. And, as Cynthia pointed out, the vast majority of Mormons are in a similar boat: most of us (in the U.S., anyway) live in places where same-sex marriage was just as legal on June 25 as it was on June 26[Read more…]

The Church Will Not Lose Its Tax-Exempt Status

Do I seriously have to say this? Again? Look, Obergefell does not mark the end of churches’ tax-exempt status. It’s just not going to happen.

I thought I’d put this bit of end-of-days hand-wringing to bed here, but apparently I didn’t do a good enough job, because it’s still out there, even in Mormon circles (most credibly repeated by Gene Schaerr, who included loss of church tax-exempt status as one of the potential consequences of of the Obergefell decision).

I don’t know Schaerr personally; I’ve heard through the grapevine that he’s an excellent appellate litigator. But appellate litigation is not tax practice, and does not generally provide any insight into the tax law. And Schaerr apparently doesn’t have any significant insight into the law of tax-exempt entities.  [Read more…]

Tax Exemption, Post-Obergefell

… will look a lot like tax exemption, pre-Obergefell.

There’s been a lot of Sturm und Drang recently over what will happen to the tax exemptions of churches and religiously-affiliated schools that oppose same-sex marriage. The specter of loss of exemption has been bandied about, not just by tax-illiterate bloggers, but by major media sources. (Heck, I looked at the question prior to the decision.)

So could the church or BYU lose its tax exemption as a result of their policies on homosexuality?  [Read more…]

If Not, Why Not?

charlestonDid anyone have prayers in Church meetings yesterday that focused on or even mentioned last week’s terrorist attack on black worshippers in Charleston? In Sacrament Meeting or in the opening or closing prayers in any of the classes such as Sunday School, Relief Society, or Priesthood Meetings? If not, why not?

For several years now, at least, I’ve been troubled by and wondering why we don’t pray for the “big things” in our Church meetings. Every Sunday, numerous prayers are offered during our Church services. Opening and closing prayers in Sacrament Meeting, opening and closing prayers in Sunday School classes (many wards having multiple adult Gospel Doctrine Sunday School classes running at the same time because of the number of adults in the ward needing to attend), opening and closing prayers in Relief Society and Priesthood Meetings. In this case, if most Mormons in the United States attended wards yesterday in which nary a word was mentioned, in the numerous prayers offered, about the tragedy — for the victims of the Charleston terrorist attack, for peace or healing locally and nationally, for justice, or even for mercy for the lost soul of the white supremacist terrorist who explained the reasons for his calculated attack as white supremacy, a belief in segregation, and a hatred for black people — then why not? [Read more…]

Trouble of the World

We pray for our sisters and brothers killed in Charleston and for their families and friends. May God hasten the day when we beat our swords into ploughshares.

Coleman, Cafeterias, and Choirs

orig_Ornette_Coleman_01Ornette Coleman died today.

I don’t have any idea how resonant his death is in American culture. I don’t know what pictures the words “Ornette Coleman” conjures up in your mind, if any. But I hope to add a little to that picture.

In 1959, Coleman released The Shape of Jazz to Come.[fn1]  [Read more…]

Obergefell and BYU’s Tax Exemption

On April 28, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, which challenged both the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage and of states’ nonrecognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states.

By the end of June, the Justices will have decided and we’ll know the constitutional status of same-sex marriage bans in the United States. But that doesn’t mean all questions will be resolved; in fact, an exchange between Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Alito, and Solicitor General Verrilli piqued the interest of a lot of people, especially those invested in religious educational institutions.  [Read more…]

The Spiritual Mission of the University

Two weeks ago, graduating BYU students and their families listened to a commencement address delivered by Professor Robert George of Princeton.

Loyola Logo

The Jesuit motto: For the greater glory of God.

In his address, Prof. George talks about the unique role that religious universities play in the world of academia; he also warned against giving up on that mission in slavish imitation of the best of secular institutions.

He’s absolutely right on the first point: religious universities have an essential role to play in the world of education and the world of scholarship. But he’s absolutely wrong in his diagnosis of following secular norms, and I want to push back against his view (which has, unfortunately, been adopted absent any nuance he may have painted with by others).  [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…]

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…]

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…]

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…]

On Oxfam and Your Taxes

OUS_Logo_h_greenAs Ronan mentioned a couple weeks ago, in 2015, BCC is going to encourage our readers to donate to Oxfam America to aid in its efforts to relieve poverty. Lest our altruism be imperfect, though, I wanted to mention that donating to charitable institutions doesn’t require pure altruism; that is, the warm glow of giving may not be the only benefit you receive from your donation. You may (at least, assuming you’re a U.S. taxpayer) also be able to reduce your taxes. [Read more…]

A Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Home Evening

I truly hope that Mormons around the United States (and elsewhere!) will make use of the fortuitous confluence of the (U.S.) national holiday commemorating the work and memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Monday evening Family Home Evening program that we enjoy in the Church. [Read more…]

Religious Exemptions, BYU, and Beards

About two months ago, BYU admitted in the New York Times that, although it had a medical and a theatrical exception to its no-beard policy, it didn’t allow for religious exemptions from the policy.

That struck many of us as outrageous (see this prior BCC post and the comments), especially in light of the LDS church’s sincere commitment to encouraging and protecing religious liberty. Well, the policy has changed.  [Read more…]

It’s Just Business

One of the underlying meta-narratives in the torture report last week is the story of two Mormons who may or may not have just been doing their job. John C’s post teased at this just a bit, but the commenters took it further. (You should read his post before reading this one, BTW, as I’m leaving out almost all of the details around what happened.) 

One commenter asked “What about LDS people who work in the weapons industry making killing machines?” Are they to be judged by the same standard?

Is it fair to expect an LDS moral code to help us make decisions about how we make our living?

[Read more…]

The love of many shall wax cold – Libertarianism and apocalypse

Dissolution seems to be our most recent zeitgeist. With the recent referendums in Spain and the UK, the strife in Ukraine, and the increasingly schismatic politics in the US, it seems that long-held social ties and traditions hold less value than in the past. We seem more and more capable of drifting away from one another.

I have a tendency to see the rise of modern conservative libertarianism as concurrent with this trend. [Read more…]

Pastors’ Housing, Take 2

ParsonageHarpersLast week, almost a year after a district court in Wisconsin declared the parsonage exemption unconstitutional, the Seventh Circuit has reversed her decision. And thus ends a (brief) chapter in the religious culture wars.

Or not . . . [Read more…]

Queries toward Zion in the Wake of the Polygamy Essays

Reactions to the recent Gospel Topics essays on polygamy (here and here) have been widely varied, running on a spectrum from “WHAT?!” to *yawn*. The fact of this diversity raises some interesting questions, especially in light of Jesus’ statement “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.” The point isn’t that we all should have had the same reaction (although there has been commentary to that effect); rather, the urgent question is whether we as members of the Church can come together in the face of such diversity—and if so, how.

[Read more…]

Choices, Choices

I’ve been reflecting a lot on E. Quentin Cook’s talk called “Choose Wisely.”  This was the opening talk of the Priesthood session, so I suppose that makes me not the target audience, and yet it’s clearly a talk with universal application. [1]  I won’t let that stop me.

E. Cook begins by talking about the problems when we rationalize our failures to act heroically.  He uses the example of Lucy not catching the ball in the Peanuts comic strips.

While always humorous, Lucy’s excuses were rationalizations; they were untrue reasons for her failure to catch the ball.

He then goes on to talk about the eternal ramifications when we rationalize our failure to prepare for our eternal goals. [Read more…]

An Economic Explanation for BYU-I’s Dress Standards(?)

Ashton Kutcher couldn't walk around BYU-I like that.

Ashton Kutcher couldn’t walk around BYU-I like that.

As Steve highlighted earlier today,[fn1] the BYU-Idaho dress and grooming standards are arbitrary and relatively absurd. I mean, seriously, as a born-and-raised Californian, I can’t comprehend a dress code that bans flip-flops.[fn2] The dress and grooming standards can’t be all about modesty, because ankles and toes and beards, oh my! And if all they’re about is obedience, well, that’s stupid. There’s no spiritual value to obeying arbitrary rules.[fn3]

But maybe their actual function isn’t modesty. Or obedience. May it’s economics.  [Read more…]

The Myth of Traditional Marriage

Ooh, baby.

According to the song, love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.  But when it comes to the history of marriage, pairing marriage with love is putting the cart before the horse.  If we look at why people used to get married, traditionally, we’ll quickly see why marriages today are less stable.  And why that may not be a terrible thing.

The phrase “traditional marriage” [1] is currently in vogue to describe opponents of gay marriage.  Just what does marriage look like over time?  Why do people marry and why is marriage changing so much? [Read more…]

Germany’s Church Tax

A couple days ago, the Wall Street Journal highlighted (subscription required[fn1]) the accelerating loss of members certain churches in Germany are facing. The popular press is placing the blame at least partly on the new administration of Germany’s Church Tax.

What? you ask. A church tax? What’s that?

So glad you asked. [Read more…]

My Hopes & Fears for the Next General Conference

We still have several weeks until the October General Conference, and given what’s happened in the meantime, many Mormons like me are concerned it could be gloat-mageddon.  If I were putting together a General Conference, here are the things I would include and what I would cut.  Of course this is already unrealistic because there are over a dozen speakers, each of whom has his or her own areas of focus and points of view.  But this is my list; YMMV.  I’ll start with the Fears and end with the Hopes. [Read more…]

Sloughs: of Despond or otherwise

This is a relatively good path in the swamp

This is a relatively good path in the swamp

A slough is a bog or mire, a great, sucking, sticky, consuming pool of mud, muck, or worse. As such, it is a handy metaphor. It can stand in for addiction, sin, bad habits, anything that we feel sucks us in and that we find hard to move beyond. Every step in a slough is a drudgery. Every motion requires far too much energy. It’s all just such a drag, man. A drag.
[Read more…]

Defining Doctrine

In Church, and in Church-related discussions, I often hear people differentiate Church policies from doctrine. Policies, they say, can (and not infrequently do) change; doctrine, on the other hand, cannot. It has never changed and will never change.

These doctrine-vs.-policy discussions are rarely satisfying, in my experience. We argue over whether we’re talking about doctrine or policy, but rarely make it any further. And in part, I believe, the impediment is that we don’t really have a clear sense of what we’re talking about when we say “doctrine.”  [Read more…]

Some Tax Benefits Are Just for Churches

(I originally wanted to call this “Pastoral Housing, Take 2″[fn1] but, it turns out, pastoral housing is only one small aspect of the case.)

Last week, a federal court in Kentucky issued a decision in a lawsuit that could have far-reaching ramifications for churches.[fn2] In broad strokes, American Atheists, Inc., Atheists of Northern Indiana, Inc., and Atheist Archives of Kentucky, Inc. sued the IRS, arguing that certain tax provisions applicable solely to churches were unconstitutionally discriminatory. [Read more…]

A Day of Fasting and Prayer

Nicolas Kristof has done us a great service in bringing to the nation’s (and world’s) attention the depraved and cowardly kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian girls by the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram. Boko Haram means “Western education is a sin” in the Hausa language. All that “secular” learning. Boko Haram would rather conflate religion and the state, ensuring that women have no voice in society, confined to whatever influence their husbands allow them in their homes in the forced marriages into which they are sold in their early or mid-teens. [Read more…]

“Celestial Kingdom Jurisdiction” and Tax Protesters

In 1999, Jimmie Duane Ross got $840,000 from his former employer, the result of an arbitration hearing. I don’t know what Ross did with that money; I do know, however, one thing he didn’t do: pay his taxes.[fn1]

Which is wrong, of course, but not by itself newsworthy. Lots of people don’t pay their taxes.[fn2] So why blog this? Two reasons: first, today is April 15th.[fn3] Second, in addition to standard tax protester arguments for why he didn’t need to pay his taxes, Ross made some expressly Mormon arguments.  [Read more…]

Merging Religious and Secular News(papers)

deseret_news_private_collecThe Church News is moving. It has just announced that stories from the Church News will be posted on DeseretNews.com, that LDSChurchNews.com will redirect to the DN site, and that eventually the archives will be moved as well.

Which is fine and good, I suppose. Apparently, the Church News was hosted on a platform that couldn’t be supported or upgraded.[fn1] So the consolidation seems to make sense from a technical point of view.  [Read more…]

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