Excerpt from “Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan”

Romans Front Cover (1)Gospel Doctrine lesson #36, “Beloved of God, Called to be Saints” is coming up. It’s the only lesson in the Sunday School manual dedicated to reading Paul’s letter to the Romans.

To celebrate, my paraphrase of the letter, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan, will be on sale for just $.99 for the next week (September 4-11) and I’m including the whole of my rendition of Romans 7 below. Enjoy!


Romans 7

Say you were born an insider and lived under the law. Still, the law only binds the living. Once you’re dead, you’ve left its jurisdiction.

A married woman is bound to her husband only as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, that law no longer applies. She’s free to remarry. If she cheats on him while the law’s in force, that’s adultery. But if death intervenes, she’s free to love again. It’s the same for you. You died to the law when you died with Jesus. But now, raised with Jesus, you belong to another. You’re rooted in the love that caused you to bear fruit for God.

In your old life, your passions and flesh were hijacked by sin and enflamed by the law. Abetted by the law, sin sowed death in your flesh. It blunted your mind, it dulled your senses, it hardened your heart. But now, rescued, you’re beyond the reach of the law. Before, you were a slave to sin; now, you’re bound to God. No longer enslaved to death by the law, you’re sealed to life by the Spirit. [Read more…]

Following the Prophet on Immigration


Marc Chagall, “Jacob Leaves His Country and His Family to Go to Egypt,” 1931.

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.” — Deut. 26:5-7 (NSRV)

In twenty years of writing about Mormon issues, I have written only one thing that simply quotes an official Church statement, endorses it enthusiastically, and urges others to follow the prophet. I normally hate posts like this. But I did it last week, right here on BCC, in this blog post about immigration reform.

The comment section of this post contains some ugly things that I am ashamed to have my name associated with. If you read them (which I don’t recommend), you will find several commenters telling undocumented immigrants that they are ignorant, arrogant society-destroyers who should go back where they came from. You will find people comparing immigrant children to hardened criminals, and even one one referring to undocumented members of the Church as “half-Mormons.” Yes, these are actual human beings talking to and about other  human beings in response to an official statement from the Church calling members to treat each other with dignity and respect.

Desperate times call for desperate blog posts, so here I go again. [Read more…]

Behold, Your Little Ones

[Cross-posted from Letters from the Vineyard]

We set great wreaths of brightness on the graves of the passionate
who required tribute of hot July flowers—
for you, O brittle-hearted, we bring offering
remembering how your wrists were thin and your delicate bones
not yet braced for conquering. [Read more…]

Matching @Oxfam Gifts for Syria

Hopefully by now you’ve seen the devastating effects of the war in Syria – thousands dead, millions displaced and desperate. Children destroyed by bombs and chemical weapons. Children dead on beaches in attempts to find refuge. Thousands huddled in tent cities across the Middle East and Europe. We are witnessing a horror.

All of our efforts are drops in a bucket, but I’d rather put my drop into a bucket than to not do anything at all. For today, BCC will match your donations to Oxfam. Here’s a link to donate. Email us at admin -at- bycommonconsent and let us know.

** Update ** – thanks to all for your donations. We feel honored to witness your generosity.



The call came in the dim, grey light before dawn. She fumbled for her phone in the dark, and saw the number; her stomach dropped and adrenaline and dread flooded her body, suddenly both wide awake and numb. The aging voice was fragile over the line, as she tried to make sense of the confusing jumble of words. Hospital. Collapse. David. Ambulance. Intubated. Heart failure. Non-responsive. Half-formed questions bubbled to her lips, interrupted by shock-formed half-answers from the other end. “Wait…? what…? how…? is there a nurse…someone I can talk to…?” she pleaded into the phone. [Read more…]

I Have a Question: How do you get banned from speaking in Sacrament meeting?

Our semi-regular feature at BCC, in which we answer questions from our readers and then Rank stuff. Have a question you want us to answer? Send us an email!

What would someone have to say during a talk or testimony to get escorted off the stand and not allowed to speak again? I’m not talking blatantly speaking against the church or preaching false doctrine, but here are some hypotheticals: Talking too candidly about their own transgressions; outing another ward member on a serious transgression; direct MLM pitch over the pulpit; threatening to physically harm President Obama (I wonder if this one has occurred and gone unchecked); quoting an R-rated movie … with the attendant R-rated language.

[Read more…]

A Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew pose for a photograph in the Pope's office

Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew pose for a photograph in the Pope’s office.

Pope Francis has been getting a lot of good press lately. He’s shown himself to be visionary, courageous, and disruptive. In the Christian world at large right now there is a remarkable rapprochement underway between the Catholic and Orthodox traditions, due in no small measure to the pope’s efforts, but also to another religious figure that makes fewer headlines but who has been steadily preaching a gospel of care for the poor and disadvantaged, of our moral responsibility for the way we use natural resources, and of the real linkages between those two concerns. Bartholomew I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople of the Orthodox branch of Christianity, is known as the Green Patriarch because he has traveled and sponsored conferences and symposia to promote ecumenism and environmental stewardship, most recently at his own monastery on an island off the cost of Istanbul. In March of 2013, he attended the inauguration of Pope Francis, the first Orthodox patriarch to attend a papal inauguration since the Great Schism in 1054. The two leaders clearly admire one another and have continued to show signs of solidarity over such issues as care for the poor and the environment. In his own recent landmark encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, for example, Pope Francis, makes particular mention of Patriarch Bartholomew’s environmentalist teachings, and this year the pope has invited his own flock and all people to join the Orthodox faithful in observing today, September 1, as a day of prayer for the care of creation—a tradition that the Orthodox Church has has observed since 1989 and which now the Catholic Church will officially observe as well. [Read more…]

It’s a Good Story

I know that the story told in this Youtube video is true. My talented brother-in-law, Gregory Welch, prepared this video and released it today. [Read more…]

Book Review: Women At Church

Theric Jepson is a long-time friend of BCC, although it’s been some time since his last guest post. You can find out more about him here.

Neylan McBaine‘s name seems to be a bit like Joseph Smith’s—known for good and evil (though without the same kind of among-all-people reach). It’s fascinating how to some she is Moses come off the mountain and to others she’s Uncle Tom. I think she’s sensible enough to reject both those labels, but if those were the only two options, I would choose the former. But if she is Moses, she’s more of a Greek Moses, not with anything written in stone, but with a wandering series of questions and reasonable answers and followup questions that lead to a seemingly inevitable conclusion. [Read more…]

The Language of Faith

My favorite novel is Miguel de Cervantes’ 17th century masterpiece Don Quixote. I love its mixture of comedy and tragedy, pathos and satire, and its deep exploration of what it means to be a human being who reads books and tries to make sense of the world through them. I have read Don Quixote in three different English translations. But I always read it in English. [Read more…]

Wandering Celebrity

infinite_jestIn Farther Away, Jonathan Franzen warns against the temptation to treat David Foster Wallace as some brand of postmodern saint, wrecked and hallowed by his mental illness. He argues that “the people who knew David least well are most likely to speak of him in saintly terms” (39). Perhaps inevitably a compensatory impulse to hagiography followed Wallace’s suicide. This effect, Franzen thinks, may even have been part of what Wallace blackly intended.

“But if you happened to know that his actual character was more complex and dubious than he was getting credit for, and if you also knew that he was more lovable—funnier, sillier, needier, more poignantly at war with his demons, more lost, more childishly transparent in his lies and inconsistencies—than the benignant and morally clairvoyant artist/saint that had been made of him, it was still hard not to feel wounded by the part of him that had chosen the adulation of strangers over the love of the people closest to him.” (38-39)

This may be true and Franzen’s pain is surely genuine. But it’s also hard not to hear something self-serving in his pitch. Wallace wasn’t just a friend, he was Franzen’s literary competition. Franzen will always bear the burden of being compared to Wallace and Wallace’s suicide, he indicates, has not only wounded him personally but rigged their game professionally. How can he compete with Saint David? Pushing back against Wallace’s posthumous image, Franzen aims to reclaim some control of his own celebrity. [Read more…]

Zina D. H. Young

Along with her close friend (and sister wife twice over) Eliza R. Snow, Zina D. H. Young was part of the power duo of Mormon women in the second half of the nineteenth century. Popular wisdom held that Eliza was the head and Zina the heart, complementing each other as they traveled indefatigably around Utah (and beyond) to do the work of the Relief Society. (Picture two women in their late 50s, traveling alone through the deserts of Utah, camping together under the stars when they didn’t manage to reach a settlement.) [Read more…]

Common ConCent$$$

Daniel Crosby is a a psychologist and an expert in behavioral finance. We asked him to give us his thoughts on the recent shenanigans of the stock markets. You can follow Dr. Crosby on Twitter: @incblot.

Are stocks expensive right now?

In a word, “yes.” [Read more…]

Improve This Shining Moment

My Relief Society is implementing a weekly “spotlight” so we can get to know each other a little better. The questions, emailed in advance to the featured sister, are as follows:


1) What’s your family nickname?

2) What’s your favorite food?

3) What’s your favorite color? [Read more…]

The Church is (not) a…

The term “church” seems straightforward enough, but I suspect that in explaining to someone what it means you will quickly find that it’s a convenient shorthand for a slippery bundle of denotations and connotations. Of course the word refers to a building as well as a meeting schedule, a body of teachings and practices, and a group of people that more or less shares those teachings and practices. But its usage may also evoke what a church does does–inform, convert, reaffirm, succor, challenge, etc.–as well as the objects of such actions–the seeking, the repentant, the converted, the wounded, the complacent, etc.  Those who invoke the term also swim in cultural currents–some strong, others tepid, but always present, and are variously affected by ignorance and prejudice in communicating with others.

The net result of all of this is that ambiguity is introduced and more is communicated than is said. The accompanying potential for communication breakdown presents speakers with a challenge: How to bring listeners up to speed with the user’s intent or vision in a way that doesn’t lose them? Enter the figure of speech–a staple of scripture, General Conference talks, Sunday school lessons and, well, daily life. And so for this post I would like to do three things:

  1. Present examples of metaphors for the Church by General Authorities;
  2. propose one of my own; and
  3. solicit your suggestions.

So, on to the non-exhaustive yet authoritative list! [Read more…]

“Youth” and the BSA

VenturingCrewThe real news of “Church to Go Forward with Scouting Program” press release is that Young Women will be participating in the BSA Venturing Program. How do I know that? Because of this line: “As leaders of the Church, we want the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) to succeed in its historic mission to instill leadership skills and high moral standards in youth of all faiths and circumstances, thereby equipping them for greater success in life and valuable service to their country.”

And as we know, youth in the church = boys and girls. See here, here, here and you know, the big one: Strength of Youth.

Since the youth leadership arm of the BSA is the venturing program, which does accept boys and girls, it only makes sense.

[Read more…]

Defending Families: Why the #TogetherWithoutBorders Movement Matters

CNNvljRUsAA6pWOI served my mission in the Spanish-speaking wards and branches of California’s San Joaquin Valley. The overwhelming majority of the people that I knew, taught, baptized, served, and loved were undocumented immigrants from Latin America. As missions often are, this was a life-changing, perspective-altering experience.

I was serving in Watsonville in 1986, when President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which offered a path to residency for millions of undocumented workers. For about three months, our full-time job as missionaries—with the full support of the stake and the mission—was to help Church members negotiate the bureaucracy required to become legal residents. It was holy work, and I remain proud that I, and my Church, were part of it. [Read more…]

Why It’s Tough to Be a Mormon Man

Let the skirmish of the sexes continue.

A lot of posts in the bloggernacle focus on the difficulties of being a woman in a church (and society) that has sexist and patriarchal norms.  What about the ways in which that culture is difficult for men?  Feminists acknowledge that men are harmed and limited by these same systems, albeit in different ways than women are.  In Golden Rule fashion, I thought I’d take a little time to brainstorm on what our brothers in the gospel experience, just as I want them to understand things from a woman’s perspective. [Read more…]

On Internet Rumors

These last couple days, there’s been a thing going around on Facebook. Maybe you’ve seen it. Some anonymous poster’s friend’s relative is high-up in the Boy Scouts and has the inside scoop on why the BSA allowed gay leaders, knows that the church is going to leave BSA, and knows that it’s going to be over gay issues, not in the interest of gender fairness.

And with that description, you know it’s not true, right? Like, it’s as credible as those email forwards your uncle sends every election cycle (frankly, whether your uncle is liberal or conservative, because what really matters is, your uncle’s crazy, amirite?).

And yet, people are credulously sharing and believing it. So, as a public service, and in the interest of not getting email forwards or seeing these kinds of things on Facebook, a quick review of how to evaluate the plausibility of internet rumors:  [Read more…]

We’re in the LAST DAYS (just like we’ve always been)

moonsAround the age of thirteen I became deeply interested in the Millennium. When I was in the seventh grade I hung a picture of the second coming in my room. It showed Jesus descending to (what now looks like) the deserts of southern Utah, flanked on the right and left by angels with long trumpets. Truth be told, I was actually more interested in the “signs of the times” than in the peace Jesus’s millennial reign would inaugurate. The most vivid sign of all, for me, was that the moon would turn red with blood. Without recognizing it at the time, I was especially thrilled with the idea that some sort of complete upheaval was on the way, that “the world” and “the wicked” (usually synonymous) would get their just desserts while good church members like me would miraculously escape harm. [Read more…]

“Once I Was a Beehive”: Must-See Mormon Film of 2015

“Once I Was a Beehive” (2015)

Go see this film! It’s one of those rare Mormon films that you’ll love, whether you’re Mormon or not. If you live in Utah, it’s playing in theaters until Thursday, August 27, 2015.

I do not pretend to be a connoisseur of Mormon film by any stretch of the imagination, or a movie critic in general, for that matter. In truth, I can add very little to film and theater critic Eric Samuelsen’s excellent review of Once I Was a Beehive, in which he highly recommends the film. I fully endorse his review in the sense that he says exactly what I would have wanted to say but much better than I could have. (Samuelsen’s glowing recommendation means a lot because he is known as somewhat of a cynic or at least a critic — he calls himself the Mormon Iconoclast — about Mormon culture.) But I had a few brief thoughts about it based on my own tastes in literature, film, and culture, and perhaps most importantly, from my perspective as a Mormon father of four Mormon daughters. [Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special: Caleb.

When I arrived in the mission field, nineteen and green as grass, I was mostly frightened and homesick. That lasted about four weeks. The homesick part. Fortunately my parents, though poor, were entirely in favor of this adventure. After spending a night in the mission home, sleeping alone upstairs in a quiet Cambridge neighborhood, where I didn’t actually sleep, I was sent to the airport at 9 a.m. where I had to buy a ticket to Halifax, Nova Scotia.
[Read more…]

Church-Hacker #18: Stick to the Manual (Margins)

After a four-year hiatus, it’s time to reboot the Church-Hacker series. For those of you who weren’t here four years ago, everyone’s input is welcome, and this series is simple: We post ideas that you can try in your ward or calling to make the meeting block more spiritual or more engaging.

Routine can become rut, and after a lifetime of sameness, even very small changes to The Way Things Are Done can make people sit up, put their phones away, and pay more attention in lessons and meetings. Church-Hacker hunts for those small ideas that can have an outsize impact.

And now for this week’s idea:

[Read more…]

Changes to PEC coming?

Today I witnessed another significant moment – I received an invitation to participate as a member of the Missionary Executive Council. I am honored. This is one of three key councils of the Church, each led by members of the Twelve. Sister Linda Burton will now serve on the Priesthood and Family Executive Council and Sister Rosemary Wixom will be on the Temple and Family History Executive Council.

And with that President Oscarson’s Facebook announcement lit up the internet as news of this historic event spread. I’m delighted. Women’s voices as a permanent part of these general executive councils is obviously needed. Yay!


But my next question is this, does this open up the way from women becoming a permanent addition to the ward and stake priesthood executive committee that happen throughout the world? [Read more…]

“knowledge, and power, by revelation”

I just learned that a twenty-two-year-old friend of our family died in a car accident this morning. I was immediately wrenched back seven years to when my nephew died. I can still hardly talk about it. I wrote this short piece after I came home from his funeral. In the time since I have researched and written on related topics, I’ve had two more children, and the pain still smolders. God be with my friends as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. May they know that they are never alone.
[Read more…]

Reach > Grasp = Heaven

Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?

–Robert Browning, “Andrea del Sarto”

Robert Browning was the poet laureate of my sophomore year in college. His poetry is the reason that I became an English major. It showed me how fun poems could be. Browning’s major technique, the dramatic monologue, invites readers to piece together a story from the words of a single character. Reading a poem becomes something like solving a puzzle. And there are great intellectual rewards in the solution. [Read more…]

I Have A Question: Book of Mormon Names

As a new semi-regular feature at BCC, we’ll answer questions from our readers. Have a question you want us to answer? Send us an email!

What’s the best Book of Mormon name to give a kid? I think if you are going to do a BOM name you’ve got to stick with Nephi. That makes it easier for everyone to hate you.

[Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special: Temple Recommend Interview 1856 Style

Want to pass muster back in the day? Here’s a list of [real] questions for you:
[Read more…]

I’m More Than Just Another Pretty Stone

                   A Seer Stone

[Cross Posted from Mormentum]

Even though I retired quite a long time ago, I’ve gotten a lot of attention recently. I’ve heard it all before–you’re impossibly smooth, your roundness is nearly perfect, and your chocolate-colored sworls are positively mesmerizing. I get it; I’m visually quite the catch. But I’m more than just another pretty stone. I have talents and skills, passions and interests, hopes and dreams. I can make a difference in the world. [Read more…]

Sacrifice, Seerstones, and Scripture: On the Irreducible Weirdness of Other People

If I had the power to do such things, I would make a rule that anyone who wanted to write or speak about the Old Testament had to first read the entire Book of Leviticus three times in a modern translation. By my reckoning, this would take care of about 90% of the really stupid things that people say about our oldest standard work–nearly all of which comes from the starting assumption that the people of Ancient Israel were basically like us except without air conditioning. [Read more…]


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