Book Review: How the Other Half Banks

How the other half banks coverBy Common Consent may seem like an odd place to review Mehrsa Baradaran‘s excellent How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2015) [Amazon]. Although Professor Baradaran is Mormon, the book has little explicitly Mormon content (I mean, it does mention a couple of Sen. Wallace Bennett’s interactions with the regulation of banks, but that’s as close as I remember it getting).

That said, as Mormons, we’ve been encouraged to become informed and involved in our communities. And understanding banking, especially as it relates to the poor, is, if not absolutely essential to that charge, at least tremendously important.  [Read more…]

How Offended Should I Be? Humanitarian Edition


The Church just released its UK financial statements.[fn1] And with the release has come a fair amount of internet hand-wringing about some of the details.[fn2] Two details, in particular, seem to be bothering people: salary information and the lack of spending from the British Church’s humanitarian fund.

So should these things bother you?

Honestly, I can’t say. But I can say that, before you decide to be bothered (or, for that matter, before you decide not to be bothered), there are a couple questions you should ask.[fn3]  [Read more…]

Manufactured Prejudice

Last year, a commenter stated that in his stake at a recent meeting with a Q&A session with a general authority, two of the seven questions asked were how to get youth to accept the church’s stance on homosexuality. [1]  This is a question that I have wondered about myself as a mother of teens who likewise don’t agree that homosexuality is the dire threat the church portrays. They have been consistently taught in school that being gay is innate and acceptable, that gay kids should be treated with respect, and that bullying will not be tolerated and is morally wrong. [2]  As a result of the world in which they live, they do not inherently feel homosexuality is shameful, and they have friends in school who openly self-identify as gay.  This is a pretty big change from the era in which I was raised and an even bigger change from when older generations were raised. [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…]

Unforced Errors

When I first got married, my wife had ideas about teaching me to play tennis. Actually, that isn’t true. I had ideas about my wife teaching me to play tennis. It was a sport she enjoyed and something that we could do together. She was a little skeptical but willing. It was, of course, a disaster. The first problem was that I’d never been all that serious about the game. As I told her before we started, I played tennis like I didn’t play baseball; everything went over the fence. Initially, this wasn’t a problem as I was willing to run after all the errant balls and she was willing to stand around and watch me. But this eventually grew boring and she decided it would be useful to help me with my swing. So she stood by me, modeled the swing, and bounced the ball to me so I could hit it. I was very fast on the trigger, hoping to impress her, I suppose. I swung around quick and caught her hand with my racket. She cried out, I went to her and apologized, she shook it off after a moment and decided to try again. She started to bounce the ball and, sure I knew what I was doing, I swung again and immediately wacked her hand again. Afterwards, she wasn’t angry with me, but she has never stepped onto a tennis court with me again. [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…]

Mormonism in the Internal Revenue Code

taxWhenever possible on April 15, I like to put together a quick post about some Mormon-related trivia from the tax world. This year’s edition: church financial disclosure.

In brief: tax-exempt organizations by definition don’t pay taxes. Prior to 1943, they also didn’t file any tax returns—they were pretty much entirely outside of the tax regime. That changed with the Revenue Act of 1943, which required tax-exempt organizations to file annual information returns. Broadly speaking, those returns lay out the sources of the organization’s income and where it spends that money.[fn1]

The return-filing requirement continues today, in largely (though not entirely) the same form. And, in marked contrast with most tax returns, the law requires tax-exempt organizations’ returns to be made available for public inspection. (If you want to inspect some, sign up for a free account here and have at it.)  [Read more…]

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…]

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…]

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…]

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…]

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…]

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…]

Many Are Chosen, But Few Are Called

In a well publicized pre-emptive move, the church issued a statement last week that women seeking tickets to the April 5 Priesthood session would be relegated to the “free speech zone,” traditionally the purview of anti-Mormon protesters.  Kate Kelly, founder of the group Ordain Women, was characteristically gracious in her reply.  From the article:

“We are disappointed that we weren’t granted tickets,” says Kate Kelly, one of the founders of Ordain Women. “But it is a positive step that public affairs is responding to us, indicating that one day maybe the higher authorities will be able to hear our concerns.” [Read more…]

A Kick in the Gut

From one birthday to the next — there but for the grace of God go we all:

Civil War in London. Unimaginable?

[Read more…]

Joseph Smith on Wall Street

josephsmithstatueNo, I don’t mean Joseph Smith’s 1832 visit to Manhattan, though he stayed at 88 Pearl Street, which is mere blocks from Wall Street,[fn1] and he may well have walked on Wall Street.  I also don’t mean the bronze statute of Joseph Smith that stood in the Financial District.

No, I mean the name-checking of Joseph in 2012’s induction ceremony for Kappa Beta Phi, a secret Wall Street fraternity. [Read more…]

Three Thoughts, Two Minutes, One Lord

The Cenotaph, London, England (source:

The Cenotaph, London, England (source:

ce·no·taph, ˈsenəˌtaf/
a tomblike monument to someone buried elsewhere, esp. one commemorating people who died in a war.

Today is Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, Veterans Day in the United States. Yesterday, the Sunday before Remembrance Day, or Remembrance Sunday, my thoughts turned to the religious and public traditions and rituals observed in the United Kingdom to commemorate the importance of this day as a day of national . . . contrition? penance? gratitude? All of them, I think — “celebrate” is the wrong word for what occurs in the public ceremonies that occur on Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day. It is a solemn “remembering,” a holy Remembrance, because we remember the lives of those who served particularly in the Great War (1914-1918) but also in all conflicts in the protection of national or territorial integrity and political freedoms and heritage; more specifically, we contemplate the sacrifice that it is to put one’s life on the line for these values and ideals. Very few, if any, “celebrate” that these sacrifices were made or that such devastating wars occurred; virtually all unite across racial, ethnic, and religious divides to remember them and commemorate their sacrifices. [Read more…]

Mormon Marriage Equality

Are men and women partners or competitors?  What about in marriage?  Do men feel threatened by wives with successful careers?

Are Mormon marriages more equal or less equal than other marriages?  Do Mormon women feel that they are taken seriously and treated as equals by their husbands?  Are they encouraged to follow their dreams?  Do they find their work (whether at home or in the workplace) meaningful and rewarding?  In the give and take of marriage, are men and women giving and taking fairly?

I recently finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In.  In the book, she talks about several things we can do to help women achieve their potential and to help men and women feel more equal and personally satisfied, within their personal lives and in the workplace.  This list includes things like: [Read more…]

A MAD Man Fold-In

There is something different about Jon McNaughton’s latest painting. Sure it contains the basic elements of distasteful propaganda we’ve come to expect from him over the years, but when I first saw it, it reminded me of the kind of painting I am used to seeing in the pages of MAD Magazine (no offense to “the usual gang of idiots”). Then I saw that the artist himself described the piece as “parody” and I realized I was right. Maybe that is the best context to view “Liberalism Is A Disease”…

[Read more…]

Dead Serious

Round them up and ship them to a camp somewhere.

Over the last several years, a painter in Utah named Jon McNaughton has been trying to make a name for himself by using the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a prop in politically provocative pictures which attempt to communicate his apparent belief that only people who hold political views consistent with those of the current American political extreme right wing are in harmony with the Lord’s Gospel and, in fact, acceptable to God. [Read more…]

My Final (?) Mormon Moment Thoughts

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Over the past 20 months or so, I–like a lot of other Mormon academics and bloggers–have found myself being contacted by reporters, being invited to conferences, and being asked to write up some thoughts, all of which had to do with the “Mormon Moment” which the coincidence of several pop culture trends and Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign combined to create. (You can find versions of those thoughts here, here, here, here, here, and here.) That moment isn’t over, I think, though it’s obviously moved into a different phase, one that is far less public than was the case a year ago. In any case, there was recently yet another Mormon Moment gathering, this one held at Utah Valley University, and I was privileged to be a part of it, along with Kristine Haglund, James Falconer, Peggy Fletcher Stack, Matt Bowman, and others. UVU has now put up a video of the main presentation (which doesn’t include the wonderful Q&A with Matt, unfortunately); my contribution begins at 53:15, but really, if you’re at all interested in any of the issues which pertained to the Mormon Moment, however you defined it, you should take two hours and watch the whole thing. [Read more…]

Whee, the People! A Faith-filled Inauguration

Sunrise behind the capital

Ouch Dark Thirty

AnnE, who worked yesterday as an ASL interpreter for the inauguration, continues her guest stint at BCC.

I arrived at the Inauguration so early yesterday morning, it was pretty much uniforms, audiovisual crew, and of course the snipers.

With fewer than half the 2009 crowds expected and at least fifteen more degrees forecast on the mercury, I was hopeful for a less Armageddon-like experience than four years ago. Indeed there were fewer tree climbers, and the crowds did not scurry across the frozen Reflecting Pool this time as though a Starbucks lay on the opposite bank of the North Platte. There was however a fair amount of fainting, port-a-john scaling, and a two-hour monologue shouted from the perimeter about THE BABIES.

The theme was “Faith,” and the musical performances featured enthusiastic and unapologetic hymns of praise, as well as patriotic standards in which God was central. The choir from Lee University invited our monotheist cousins and folks of other persuasions with aspirations (pun intended) to “join with Abraham’s seed to adore Him.” It was one worshipful program.

[Read more…]

Mormonism in 2012: A (Fashionably Late) Recap

2012I called 2011 “The Year of the Mormon,” and I’m standing by that designation, but what a year we’ve had since then! As the Mormon Moment gets on its bike and rides into the sunset, it’s worth looking back at some of the high points and low points of 2012. Here are my own selections, in no particular order:



[Read more…]

Another thing…

The Pew Forum offers something of note — voter composition by religious affiliation (according to exit polls).

Romney won among all religious communities except Hispanic Catholics, Black Protestants, and “other [non-Jewish/Christian] faiths.” There’s a confirmation of demographic swing against the GOP there, which isn’t surprising. More interesting to me is that the Evangelicals turned out for Romney (79% vs. 20% for Obama) in greater numbers than in 2008 (73% vs. 26%) and 2004. This would seem to suggest that there was no Evangelical anti-Mormon problem for Romney, at least in the composition of the electorate. White Christians can vote for a Mormon.

The best thing about having a Mormon president

[Yeah, I know, this Mormon Moment crap is getting old, but the election is just around the corner and our fifteen minutes are almost up. I have to cram in all the Mitt Romney posts I can over the next few weeks.]

The other day I was in a restaurant and a boisterous group walked in and immediately started talking politics. Two things: 1) Why do people feel the need to do this in public? and 2) Can’t they do it some time when I’m not trying to eat? But back to my anecdote. Somebody said they’d seen a bumper sticker that said something to the effect of “I’d rather vote for the MORMON than the MORON”–which under ordinary circumstances would, of course, be hilarious. Unfortunately, under these particular circumstances, “Mormon” was spelled incorrectly. Which kind of makes you wonder how they even thought of that joke in the first place. It is a puzzlement. [Read more…]

Review: Joanna Brooks, “The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith”

Title: The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith
Author: Joanna Brooks
Publisher: Self published (but not for long…)
Genre: Memoir
Year: 2012
Pages: 204
Binding: Paperback
ISBN13: 9780615593449
Price: $11.99

Rumor has it Joanna Brooks’s self-published memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl has been picked up by Free Press/Simon & Schuster for national publication this August with an expanded chapter-and-a-half. We’ve seen a lot of chatter about her book online recently, so I thought I’d venture a review. I hope you’ll excuse my decision to kick things off with an observation based on personal experience. (The Book of Mormon Girl is, after all, a personal memoir!) My own undergraduate years were spent writing and editing articles for a variety of small Utah newspapers. I remember how daunting it felt to be assigned an article on a subject I knew next-to-nothing about, like computer animation, mechanical engineering, or say, feminism. Oh, how comforting to a journalist is that friendly, articulate insider willing to endure the inane questions of—and likely later misrepresentation by—the stammering cub reporter! [Read more…]

Some Thoughts On the War For the Heart and Soul of Mormonism

In recent years there has been a significant amount of academic literature that argues, in essence, that political orientation is largely determined by social, cultural, and psychological factors, rather than the initial or continued imposition of the will upon political belief. [1] In other words, we are largely predisposed one way or another toward political belief and that any talk of free creative production with regard to political orientation, or positive or negative political assent only makes sense within that context. In still other words, I cannot simply choose to authentically train myself to think conservatively if I am more prone to liberal political thinking and vice versa. [Read more…]

Thanks, Jon Stewart

Just now on The Daily Show, Mr. Stewart presented a lovely segment that ruthlessly mocked the media’s coverage of Romney’s faith. The high point for me was watching Robert Jeffress rationalize his endorsement of a non-Christian cultist over a mainstream Christian.

If Mr. Stewart keeps up this level of coverage, he might just end up with a Boggs-Doniphan Gentile of the Year Award to add to his pile of Emmys.

Which would be awkward, as Mr. Stewart is in no way a gentile. But it would be his due, as Stephen Colbert won the BDGotYA in 2009.

I’ll post a clip as soon as it’s available online. In the meantime, those on the West Coast can watch the episode at its regularly appointed time.

UPDATE: Here is the clip. ( doesn’t embed ComedyCentral videos)

Excited About Romney, Despite Myself

So that’s it: The Republican nomination process is finally over. (Gingrich might still be kicking around, but once Nate Silver calls it, the thinking has been done.)

Ever since Romney first announced his candidacy in the last election, I’ve been very conflicted about Romney, and about the idea of a Mormon candidate, and about Romney as that Mormon candidate. To be blunt, he has uncanny valley issues of seeming almost-but-not-quite-human—I’m not even sure he would pass the Turing Test. The NY Times hilariously describes him as “the first quantum politician.”

And it’s way too early to say whether a Mormon candidate/president is going to make things easier or harder for the church. But we at least know that there will be an increasing level of scrutiny and curiosity about Mormonism, and there’s a chance that it will lead to increased bigotry. (To know the church isn’t necessarily to like the church.)

But despite the obvious flaws with the first Mormon presidential candidate, and despite the potential for it to blow up in our faces, my heart leapt when I first read the rumors on Twitter this morning: “Breaking: Washington Post says Rick Santorum will suspend presidential campaign.”

Whoa. The Republican candidate for president is a Mormon. A former stake president. That’s so effing cool! 

Now that we’ve all had a few hours to reflect, share your thoughts below. My contribution is this: I was way too hasty when I named 2011 “The Year of the Mormon”…I assumed the buzz about Mormonism wouldn’t get any louder. Just wait.


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