Commencement speech

The following is the text of the speech given by graduating BYU senior Ashley Sanders at the BYU alternative commencement. It is posted with permission.

A lot of people have asked me: if you disagree with what BYU or the government does, why don’t you just go someplace else? (A favorite suggested location is Berkeley.) I only know one way to answer them, which is to tell them that I love this place, and want it to be what it can be. After I answer this way, there is always another question: If you love it, why do you criticize it? My answer is the same: because I love it, and because I believe that integrity requires a mix of staying and going, charity and chastisement, and because I want to go to a school and live in a country that let me do all of the above. [Read more…]

Graduation Day, 2007

April_2007_peace-signs-7289e-cropped-350-pixVP Cheney’s speaks at BYU’s commencement later today (at 4pm). At noon BYU students and faculty demonstrated in a “Go Forth – Establish Peace” rally. It was held at the west entrance to campus, at the “Enter to Learn – Go Forth to Serve” sign.

In general, it was focused on peace. The most prominent signs were 10’ tall scrolls with Peace written in 28 languages. Some of the other signs were:

“Support this: “Therefore, Renounce war and proclaim peace. D&C 98:16”
“If we’re going to fight a war, let it be a war on poverty”
“1/2 the world lives on less than $2 a day”
There were a few signs that targeted Cheney such as, “Was it Divine Inspiration to Vote Bush/Cheney…or just Temporary Insanity.” [Read more…]

Dear Mr. Cheney

I was thinking about you the other evening. Manchester United and AC Milan were playing soccer on the TV. It was a great game. I enjoyed it. During halftime I fired up the interwebs and saw that 9 US soldiers had died in Iraq. ‘Oh well,’ I thought, and continued watching the game.

Then it it hit me. Young men my age are sacrificing their lives for their country whilst I get to chomp my Ikea crispbreads and enjoy the footie. It’s not fair.

Not fair for people like me, I mean. [Read more…]

Sit-in at BYU’s JFSB Quad

Demonstrators, April 4, 2007, BYU

Demonstrators, April 4, 2007, BYU

Here’s a shot of today’s demonstration/sit-in/protest at BYU. By my rough estimate, there were about 250 students and faculty participating at any one time, with a total count during the 2 hours of 700-800 (not counting passers-by).

Some of the signs hoisted by the participants were:
“One Nation under…..Surveillance.”
“That’s Ok, I didn’t need my civil rights anyway.”
“Cheney should go to…..BYU.”
“You Lied [under large photo of Cheney] — They Died [with large photo of Bush made up of 1″ photos of what may have been servicemen and women].”
“Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Torture.” [Read more…]

RFK at BYU in 1968


As bloggers have pointed out in the recent discussions over the prospect of Vice-President Cheney speaking at BYU, Senator Robert F. Kennedy spoke at BYU on March 27, 1968. [Read more…]

Cheney at BYU: my view from Europe

I fully understand that given Dick Cheney’s offer to speak at BYU’s commencement, BYU and the church would have little choice but feel obliged to honour the sitting Vice President. [Read more…]

Four years

Inspired by Russel Arben Fox, I thought I’d repost something I originally wrote on the eve of the Iraq War. It was not a policy critique, but an attempt to position current events into the continuum of history: [Read more…]

Neighbors and the Tragic Commons

I had a long talk with a friend and colleague about the experience of being not Mormon in the midst of Mormondom. One example this friend provided of a frustration with the institution of Mormonism is the presence of Seminary buildings adjacent to the campuses of public secondary schools and the existence of so-called “released-time” in which non-participants are ghetto-ized while participants receive their religious education without any additional time commitment on their part.

By way of confession and disclaimer, I have a memory of a ninth grade seminary teacher invoking the anti-Christ clause to eject me from class (I was preaching evolution in a rather insulting tone), and playing a tenth-grade teacher’s pious hopes of my eventual submission by using “released time” to get something to eat at the local diner until I was fully and finally ejected from the seminary program for truancy. (I went on to teach Institute classes part time toward the end of college in partial penance.) As far as my view as a parent, if we live in a setting where our children are offered “released time” at the relevant time in their lives, I think we would allow them to participate, though we would not push them to do so.

[Read more…]

Fighting the Good Fight

When we think about morality in our personal lives, we often focus on the simple, mundane choices that we face. Should we pay our tithing or not? How hard should we work at our jobs? How should we react when others criticize us? These are indeed moral choices, yet all of us face larger, more defining decisions every day. Let me sketch one such decision that we all currently face, as well as my belief about what the moral decision is — and some of the reasons that I’m not making that moral choice.

The longstanding genocidal conflict in the Darfur region of the Sudan has spread into the eastern regions of neighboring Chad. As in Darfur, Arab militias from Chad and from across the border in the Sudan (called the janjaweed) are now slaughtering black African residents of the region wholesale. There are political aspects of the struggle, but much of the killing seems purely racial, purely genocidal. [Read more…]

The Sacrifice of Service

The following notice was published in the Nauvoo Neighbor in Jan 1844.


This announcement, probably meant to benefit German immigrants living in the sixth ward, warmed my heart and made me think of a church functioning as a Christian community. I wanted to imagine myself stumbling out across the ice of the Mississippi to gather wood for my destitute coreligionists.

But then I read on, placing the notice in immediate context. [Read more…]

Archbishop Smackdown

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York (he of the “prophetic enactment”, Anglicanism’s number two man), has come out swinging against media bias, the liberal elite, the Muslim veil, and Christmas commercialism. File under: when religious leaders speak their mind. For a staid old church, this stuff is a breath of fresh air. [Read more…]

Accountability; or, Don’t Vote Republican

Both the empirical study of politics and political philosophy have identified two competing models of voting. People sometimes engage in issue/ideological voting, in which they evaluate the competing candidates’ or parties’ stands on the major political debates of the day and vote in favor of whoever is closest to what they believe to be right. Alternatively, people can engage in approval voting, in which they evaluate the job performance of the politician or party currently in power, voting in favor of that party if things are going well and in favor of the opposition if things are going badly. Both models of voting have important roles to play in keeping a democratic political regime on track. Without issue voting, popular views on what policy ought to be really never enter into the policy-making debate. Without approval voting, parties and politicians face no consequences for misbehavior.

This post is an argument that, in 2006, Mormons ought to engage in approval voting and work to remove Republicans from political office — regardless of whether the Democrats seem to be better or worse on the issues. [Read more…]

George W. Bush is not a man of God

George W. Bush is not a man of God…at least not my God. There is a possibility that he is devoted to some other God. I may even speculate about that as we move along. [Read more…]

Random Sampler

As the powers that be have failed to do their hometeaching for the past couple of months (and yes, as your unofficial 2nd counsellor in your BCC elders quorum, I am calling you to repentance, Steve and Ronan), I have taken it upon myself to emulate another section of the Ensign. Or, failing that, I would like to write a series of brief notes, because I don’t have enough material at the moment for one long post. [Read more…]

Wars and Rumors

The Catholic church has spent centuries refining its theology of “just wars.” This theology partly reflects biblical ideas, including Old Testament and New Testament statements about the necessity of conflict to defend the Kingdom of God. In part, the just war doctrine also reflects the pragmatic needs of a church that has helped govern much of a continent for hundreds to thousands of years.

Compared with the Catholics, Mormons have unique theological resources for constructing a theology of war. The Book of Mormon, in particular, contains extensive texts about righteous and wicked warfare. If we were to describe a theory of righteous warfare on the basis of the Book of Mormon, what would it look like? [Read more…]

Why I Favor Gay Marriage

The Church’s recent statement on the proposed federal marriage amendment has spurred threads at M* and a lengthy one (well over 300 posts at the time of this writing) at T&S. A lot of this discussion has focused on the politics of the proposal and the legalities of federalizing the definition of marriage. [Read more…]

Mormons for Al Gore

Alas, this Mormon cannot even vote in the US, so my support of Mr. Gore is about as useful as a hanging chad. But I can cheerlead from afar. You see, in Britain or Bangladesh, the American presidency matters, and this Briton thinks Al Gore should be the next President of the United States (again). Question is, will he run? (I hope so.) [Read more…]

Conference Report (Immigration)

Saints from around the world convened on Temple Square yesterday, and here’s my report of the conference proceedings–of two immigration bills before the U.S. Congress. I’ll summarize some of the public policy April_2006_statute of liberty jig 239 pix 4  pieces gone supernovachoices offered by the proposed changes, then end with these questions:

Do LDS scripture and teachings inform your/my/our attitudes towards U.S. immigration policy, and, should they?

But first, here are some notes on the context in which we find ourselves:

  • Through the mid 20th century, U.S. laws regarding who could immigrate to the U.S. (and who could become a citizen) were racially restrictive, with a judicially and legislatively expressed goal of shaping the U.S. populace to be “white.” As one of various instances of this, in 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act preventing Chinese from immigrating here. As another, in 1921, Congress established a temporary quota system expressly designed “to confine immigration as much as possible to western and northern European stock”; this quota system was made permanent in the National Origin Act of 1924 (these quotas were ended in 1965).
  • The U.S. response to the presence of large numbers of illegal immigrants has been varied. In the early 1930s, we [Read more…]

“All Major Political Parties”

The hot church-related news of the week involves this year’s variant on the traditional statement on political parties. In addition to the standard instructions about not using church buildings for political purposes and participating in the democratic process, this year’s statement contains something new. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the statement says:

Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in the platforms of all major political parties.

[Read more…]

Palestinian Mormon on Hamas and the Wall

Sahar, my Palestinian Mormon friend, wrote me an email which, with her permission, I am posting here. She talks about the election of Hamas and her adventures scaling the security barrier around Bethlehem. (Sahar is currently a PhD student in Turkey and has previously posted at United Brethren here, here and here.) [Read more…]

Poverty and Resurrection

Poverty is perhaps the major curse of our world. The many millions of poor and even destitute people throughout the world certainly suffer from reduced quality of life in comparison with those of us who are lucky enough to live in better economic conditions. Perhaps even more vivid is the reduction in quantity of life that often accompanies poverty: according to the United Nations World Development Report, people born into the least developed countries in the world in 2002 had a life expectancy of 51.06 years; those born into high income countries, by contrast, had a life expectancy of 78.19 years. Would all those who would happily sacrifice 27.13 years of their lives please raise their hands? [Read more…]

My Divided State (a movie review)

Once upon a time, I was an angst-ridden college student living in Utah, shocked and appalled at what I saw as the BYU administration’s inexcusable hostility to academic freedom. I had just returned from my mission and English professor Cecilia Farr was being denied tenure under what appeared to be pretty dubious circumstances. Professor Farr had, among other things (or maybe not among other things, which was itself part of the controversy), publicly espoused a rather moderate pro-choice position on abortion (carefully clarifying that she agreed with the Church’s stand as to abortion’s immorality) and all Hell had broken loose. My vision of what academic freedom at a university should be (yes, even a Mormon one) was not consistent with BYU’s actions, and I was quite the unhappy camper. Although there were a lot of lessons to be learned from this episode (and a lot of different ways of framing the issues that were in play), one of the bottom lines, as I saw it at the time, was this: An inordinately large number of Mormons have an inordinately difficult time recognizing the difference between their passionately-felt political views and the religious doctrines of their Church.

It’s been quite a few years since I lived through the angst and irritation of my BYU days, but much of it came flooding back to me the other evening, as I watched THIS DIVIDED STATE, a documentary that has just been released on DVD. [Read more…]

Politics and the True Church

Logan and I recently had an interesting discussion in which, among other things, we discussed how the Church influences its members’ political activity.

[Read more…]

Mormon liberals are lame, lame, lame

T&S’s ever-excellent notes from all over linked to this article at Meridian. In it Robert Bork shares his thoughts on the culture wars with a conservative Mormon audience, a perfectly acceptable and admirable thing to do. Except….

[Read more…]

Rock the Vote!

You all should take notice of the Bell Brothers’ Blogscar Awards, a chance to show your support for your favorite blog (ours).  Vote now  — click here!   We may have lost the election, but we can win the bloggernacle!!

Liberal Federalism?

Richard Thompson Ford has an interesting article up on Slate, "The New Blue Federalists: the case for liberal federalism."  His thesis is that while federalism is most oft-used as a conservative tool of judicial activism, it may also serve liberals equally well.  It’s a challenging idea, but I can’t help but feel like it would ultimately be bad for the country.

[Read more…]

Can You Support Families and Sub-Prime Lending?

Over the break I read Harvard Law Professor Elizabeth Warren’s “The Two-Income Trap” which she co-wrote with her daughter Amelia Warren Tyagi. It is a quick and easy read and, I think, an important book asking why personal bankruptcy rates are soaring to unprecedented levels. (If you are a careful reader like my wife, you will notice a hat tip to Nate Oman for “important assistance with the research work” in the acknowledgments section. Such acknowledgments have become jack-in-the-box events for me, popping up where I least expect it and confronting me with my own undistinguished career.) In their book Elizabeth and Amelia argue that the usual explanation for personal bankruptcy, superfluous consumption, is in fact a myth. Instead there are a myriad of contributing factors: the costs of a mortgage far outpacing gains in wages, healthcare costs, stay-at-home mothers moving into the workplace (because she can not bring in fresh income in an emergency) and, most important to this post, deregulation of the lending industry (Marquette National Bank of Minneapolis v. First of Omaha Service Corp) leading to usurious interest rates.

[Read more…]

Get it on, Falun Gong

One of the drawbacks of living in the BEST CITY ON EARTH is that you have to put up with a great deal of foot traffic.  As someone who works in Times Square, it can be frustrating to wade through the hordes of tourists gawking at the billboards.  Well, it’s recently gotten even worse, thanks to the pamphleteer armies of Falun Gong (a/k/a Falun Dafa, or Wheel of Law).

[Read more…]

So what’s a liberal Mormon, anyways?

I guess if we’re going to be elitist and pride ourselves on being liberals, it might be helpful to set some parameters or definitions of some kind. Note that I won’t impose any definitions, of course, because I’m not some kind of dictator.

I found The Political Compass to be a reasonably reliable indicator of political/social leanings; I have a feeling that Mormons are going to be a tighter grouping on the grid of politics than Times & Seasons would indicate. In other words, we’re all pretty conservative – some of us just a little more so than others. Or perhaps the liberal/conservative distinction applies in terms of social politics but not in terms of economics? Anyways, I found the test to be interesting (I’ll post my own results later), and thought it might be interesting to y’all. [Read more…]


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