2018 Preach My Gospel edition

This week the church released a new edition of Preach My Gospel. I have a fondness for this document as when it was first released, a young missionary serving in my ward stood up and testified of his gratitude that missionaries were now going to be able to follow the spirit. My wife and I looked at each other and almost in unison said, “That was what was wrong with our missions!”

I haven’t read through the entire new document, but my quick look showed new changes galore. Unsurprisingly, it has been updated with more recent GA quotes. President Oaks’ 2014 sermon on women and the priesthood shows how female priesthood authority is becoming catechismal:
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Saul and the Zero Tolerance Trap #BCCSudaySchool2018

Note: This is a follow up Lesson 22: “The Lord Looketh on the Heart,” which discuss 1 Samuel 9–11; 13; 15–17. Today’s post is about Chapter 14, which got lost in the cracks. It may also have something to do with a contemporary social issue, but, of course, that is purely incidental.

1 Samuel 14 explains the second of the three events that caused God to reject Saul as Israel’s king. The other two get a lot more lesson time because their morals can be easily adapted to the standard call-and-response format of the Sunday School Liturgy.

In Chapter 13, Saul is condemned for initiating a sacrifice on his own athority–thus proving that only priesthood holders can perform valid ordinances. And in Chapter 15, Saul is rejected for insufficiently destroying everything in the city of Amelek because he wanted to hold back some of the best animals for the Lord–demonstrating (just in case we needed another reminder) that “to obey is better than to sacrifice.” [Read more…]

A Mormon’s Guide To Coffee Breaks and Happy Hours

Ah, summer.  That glorious time of year when young Mormons break out of their BYU / CES cohort cocoons and take internships and entry-level jobs amidst us coastal heretics.

Every year since I, a young grasshopper, first engaged in this ritual 10+ years ago, I hear Mormons ask the same questions time and time again.  For those just leaving Zion and entering Babylon, I’ve prepared this handy guide to common workplace dilemmas.

The “Coffee Break” Problem

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The Immigration Debate and a Fact-Based View of the World

Swedish medical researcher Hans Rosling spent his entire career trying to convince Western nations that we have a fundamentally messed up view of everybody else in the world. In public forums, private meetings, and viral TED talks, Rosling presented comprehensive data to demonstrate that–contrary to Western opinion–most people in the world are not starving to death in rat-infested s***holes. Most people, in fact, are doing much better than they ever have.

Rosling created the data-rich, interactive web site Gapminder before he died in 2017. HIs children Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund completed the book he was working on when he died. In April of this year, they published Factfulness in 24 different languages in the hopes of convincing global policymakers to start basing their decisions on an accurate picture of the world.

Many people need to read this book. Americans trying to understand the immigration issue need to read it twice, because the picture of the world that comes out of the data is fundamentally at odds with the assumptions underlying much of the debate. [Read more…]

On Hypocrisy

A week ago I published a post calling for kindness, and in the days that followed I’ve made some comments here that left other participants in the thread wondering whether I really meant it. Today I’m less interested in defending those comments than in exploring the dilemma and trying to inch toward doing better. Kindness is very important to me, but, to be honest, I can feel pretty lost when I try to figure out how exactly to be kind in any given moment.

Jesus saved some of his harshest words for hypocrites. The fiercest chapter in the gospels is easily Matthew 23, where Jesus rails against the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees. To me, the most damning of the many damning things he says there comes near the beginning of the chapter: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them” (Matt. 23:2-4, NRSV).

Have I, in calling for kindness, laid upon others a burden that I am unwilling to take up myself? I think that the answer, to some degree, has to be yes. [Read more…]

Announcing God’s Tender Mercies by David Dollahite

GTMAs you all know, we here at BCC Press are committed to serving up the best long-form content available in the Mormon world, and today, we are proud to prove it once again with our newest release, David C. Dollahite’s wonderful conversion memoir, God’s Tender Mercies: Sacred Experiences of a Mormon Convert.

If you don’t know David, you definitely should. He is a Professor of Family Life at Brigham Young University and the author or co-author of six other books, including Deseret Book’s Successful Marriages and Families in 2012 and the textbook Religion and Families, published by Routledge in 2016. In God’s Tender Mercies, he tells the story of his own conversion to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, his mission, his marriage, and his international work as a scholar of family life. [Read more…]

A Heart in Tune

I need to say some things to my fellow saints about the family separations at the border, but to explain it we need to first talk about music for a moment. Whether you sing or play an instrument yourself, or have only seen others perform, you know the familiar ritual of tuning the instrument. Here is a video of the cacophonous yet strangely beautiful process:

It begins with a loud, clear note from an accurate source: an oboe, piano, tuning fork, or the most trusted vocalist in the ensemble holds a single reference note. Everyone else tunes up and down until all converge to match the source. Until all are in tune. In church, we often use this as a metaphor, speaking of being “in tune” with the Spirit, meaning that we need to listen to the source of truth, and adjust ourselves until our hearts produce the same notes, that is, the same responses, judgements, and actions that Jesus would produce. So far so good.

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A Few Remarks about Refugees and Asylum on World Refugee Day

On the occasion of World Refugee Day, and in light of the current US administration’s family separation policy, which apparently applies to those seeking asylum as well, I thought I’d share my (limited) experience with refugees as well as clarify some misconceptions about who qualifies for asylum under international law.  [Read more…]

In Memoriam Stephen E. Robinson, 1947-2018

Friend of the blog, historian/theologian Janiece Johnson, was kind enough to offer her thoughts on long-time BYU religion professor Stephen E. Robinson.

[Cross-posted at Maxwell Institute blog]

Believing Christ was published in 1992, though I first read it on my mission. Though not on the approved reading list, my grandma sent it to me in Argentina. It was a critical time for me, no matter how early I got up and how hard I worked, I never felt like I had done “all I could do”—Nephi’s words felt more like a weapon than a balm. Though Robinson himself might have tired of his bicycle parable, it was the first significant turn that Latter-day Saints took toward grace. Many have built on it, but Robinson’s work was the foundation. (Listen to Robinson’s comments from the conference on grace sponsored by the Wheatley Institute for the 25th anniversary of Believing Christ here.) For me personally, it was vital. It was the first time I actually began to recognize that no matter how much I worked, I could not earn God’s grace. I had to choose to receive the gift, and only then could it change me.
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On Loaves and Fishes

Editors Note: On July 24, BCC Press will publish How the Light Gets In by Keira Shae. This memoir is the story of a girl growing up in a poor, non-Mormon family in Provo, Utah and encountering abuse, drugs, prostitution, family separation, and profound poverty in the shadow of the Temple and the LDS Church’s flagship university. She eventually converted to the Church after experiencing kindness from an LDS foster family as a teen. Here is a small taste of what you will encounter in this wonderful, terrifying, and ultimately transcendent true story.

 

cover-light_gets_in-6x9in-frontI don’t know when I first heard the proverb about teaching a man how to fish and feeding him for a lifetime. But I’m sure it came from my Mormon neighbors when I was growing up in Utah Valley. My family was not Mormon, and we were very poor. And, in the both the metaphorical sense and the literal sense, none of us had the slightest idea what to do with a fish.

When my mother moved to Provo, she was a thrice-divorced high-school drop out with five small children. Most of our neighbors were LDS and seemed wary of us. Our non-Mormon neighbors were often absent, private, or avoidant.

When we were truly desperate–and we often were–we would seek out help beyond government assistance, which included churches. Most often, it was the LDS church. We discovered quickly that there was no church soup kitchen, no non-perishables stored at individual meetinghouses, no instant help if we were desperate. In those times, my siblings and I would wander the neighborhood begging for a spare can of peas or a can of tuna, and then mix it together over the heating element and eat it out of the pot. [Read more…]

Mormonism and the Prosperity Gospel

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Mette Ivie Harrison is a well-known mystery and young-adult novelist and frequent guest here. She is the author of The Book of Laman, published by BCC Press.

Most Mormons have no idea what the “prosperity gospel” is, and if you point them to typical TV evangelicals, they insist that Mormonism is nothing like that. Yet, there are far too frequent occasions when I find myself biting my tongue about something a fellow Mormon says, either casually, at a wedding or other social event, or on the stand during a talk, that translates into precisely that: prosperity gospel.

For the sake of clarity, let me give a useful definition of “prosperity gospel:” a modern version of the gospel in which those who follow God in strict obedience are given blessings of wealth, health, and power. [Read more…]

Shaming Decency

One episode from McKay Coppins’s recent profile on Stephen Miller has been haunting me since I read it. Early in Miller’s work with the Trump administration, he collaborated with Steve Bannon to craft the first version of the travel ban designed to prevent “travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries” (using Coppins’s description). I’ll quote Coppins from here:

The hastily written order contained no guidance on implementation, and soon after Trump signed it—on a Friday afternoon one week into his presidency—airports across the country were plunged into chaos. Hundreds of travelers were detained, civil-rights lawyers descended, and protesters swarmed. To many, the televised disarray was proof of failure. But according to Michael Wolff’s account of the Trump administration’s first year, Fire and Fury, the architects of the ban were tickled by the hysteria; Bannon (who was Wolff’s main source) boasted that they’d chosen to enact the disruptive measure on a weekend “so the snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot.” They counted the anger on display as a political win.

What haunts me about this story is Bannon’s terrifying tactical brilliance in gaming what I’m going to call basic human decency. In the grand game of chess that is political discourse in the United States, Bannon (and Miller, who unlike Bannon still works in the White House) seem to me to have cannily outflanked people committed to the norms of civil discourse. I think it’s a commonplace at this point among people who oppose Trump to believe that his appeal lies largely in the frankness with which he expresses (or crassly manipulates) the id of his followers. But the travel ban episode suggests that Trump’s success also lies in playing the superegos of his opponents. All of the stuff that to us betokens civilization, which is to say, the very substance of any anti-Trump protest grounded in appeals to things like decency, democratic norms, basic Christianity, and the like—all of this leaves us perpetually a move behind the administration and its strategists, who stand ready to laugh the moment their provocation sends us to Twitter or to the streets, quaintly chattering about things like the place of persuasion in civil discourse. [Read more…]

How to Use the Bible to Break Democracy

 

Let me take an aside to discuss concerns raised by our church friends about separating families. Many of the criticisms raised in recent days are not fair or logical and some are contrary to law. First- illegal entry into the United States is a crime—as it should be. Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.–Attorney General Jeff Sessions

 

Poor Jeff Sessions; he just can’t buy a break. All he did was remind people that obeying the law is a good thing, and all of a sudden he is facing a firestorm of criticism about his use of a Bible passage to defend his policy of separating children from their parents at the border. What is even the point of a scripture like Romans 13 if you can’t use it to support the law?

So far, most of the reaction to Sessions has focused on the fact that the Bible also supports things like families and treating children well. Others note that the same scripture that Sessions invoked was also invoked by proponents of slavery and opponents of the American Revolution. This is all true, but it doesn’t quite get to heart of Sessions’ argument. What he actually said was even more insidious than these criticisms would suggest. [Read more…]

Let’s talk about the remarkable Psalms #BCCSundaySchool2018

The 104th Psalm is an arresting remix of Genesis 1, making it one of the earliest examples of hip-hop on record.1 As the King James Version has it:

Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.

Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain…

Here we see God appearing with the grandeur of a king, donning his royal robe in preparation for his work of creation—”don” is the term Robert Alter uses in his translation:

LORD, my God, You are very great.
Grandeur and glory you don.
Wrapped in light like a cloak,
stretching out heavens like a tent-cloth.2

This psalm heavily samples from the creation account where God said “Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good…And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night…” (Genesis 1:3–4, 14).

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Moral Leadership From Some US Religious Leaders on Immigration

I was pleased and relieved this morning to see a tweet from Father James Martin linking to and discussing the moral leadership of US Catholic Bishops against the inhumane, shocking, and dangerous asylum decision that domestic abuse and gang violence will not count as grounds for seeking asylum in the United States of America, which many see as the land of liberty where they can begin a new life protected by the rule of law and strong institutions. [Read more…]

The “What Kind of Country Do We Want to Be?” Question

A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. —1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees

 

First, let us be very clear about a few things:

  1. This has nothing to do with enforcing our laws. Seeking asylum is not a criminal act. People have a right to come to the United States and make a petition. The right to seek asylum is a recognized principle of international law and has been recognized in the United States for decades. When somebody shows up on our doorstep asking for asylum, we do not have to give it to them. But we do have to consider the request and treat the people making it as fellow human beings.  They are not criminals. They have broken no laws. And they are entitled to the same due process that we must constitutionally afford anybody over whom we assert our jurisdiction.
  2. This has nothing to do with jobs or the economy. We have acute labor shortages in our agricultural sector right now, and it is getting worse. Nobody involved in the current immigration debate has asked, or even appears to care, whether or not we currently allow enough immigration into our country to meet the needs of our economy. The point is to be tough on immigrants and asylum seekers because that is politically popular–not because it is economically necessary or even fiscally responsible. Border security theatre is a political issue not a national-security concern.
  3. This has nothing to do with being a nation that espouses religious values. The current practice of separating children and their parents is wrong from just about every conceivable system of religion or morality. For those who happen to be Christian, it is a fundamental rejection of perhaps the most important religious obligation that we have: the responsibility to care for the stranger among us. And for those who happen to be Latter-day Saints, it is a rejection of the Church’s official position on immigration, the second point of which is “the importance of keeping families intact.” To tear children away from their parents at our border, we must actively reject the pretense of being a religious people

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Baby Steps

I hadn’t been to church in a while.

It’s the best

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When part of you has left the church and you find yourself still here.

Today in Sunday school we were dancing around the topic of people who “leave the fold” and what to do about and for them. The standard, “never give up on

one019them” answers floated on the air and then a girl wearing pants and Birkenstocks at the back of the room raised her hand and talked about how important it is to recognize that most people don’t leave the church on a casual whim. She talked about how, (and it seemed from personal experience) leaving the church is like a really difficult break up, how it isn’t just not going to church on Sunday anymore. She talked about how no longer being mormon means leaving behind or changing an entire life. Nothing of what she said felt like a surprise to me. Most of my closest friends have left the church for different reasons. I’ve been on the front lines of heartbreak for well over a decade.

The thing then, that stuck out to me about the comment the women made in class, was this distinct and clear realization that I was who she was talking about, and yet, I was still sitting there in a Sunday School class, wrestling a baby who is not quite old enough for nursery, but too old to sit still for a full minute. My other children in primary. My husband next to me. I had chosen to come of my own volition.

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MHA Conference Boise 2018

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This evening marks the beginning of the 2018 Mormon History Association Conference in Boise, so I’m opening up a post for commentary on all things MHA through the end of the conference on Sunday. [Read more…]

Iftar Against Islamophobia

Yesterday I was asked to give a two-minute speech at the protest iftar in front of the White House.  The entire event featuring Muslim and interfaith leaders was livestreamed.  (My speech alone is here.)  The protest iftar’s purpose was to highlight that the Trump Administration had intentionally excluded American Muslims from its contemporaneous iftar. 

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As-Salaam Alaikum and Ramadan Mubarak.  My name is Carolyn Homer.  I am a Mormon and a civil rights attorney at CAIR.

When Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” the Mormon Church responded by proclaiming that we are “not neutral in relation to religious freedom.”  I took action by joining CAIR.  It is my faith that compels me to defend the Constitution against this Administration.  [Read more…]

Papyrus Amherst 63

After more than a century, we finally have a complete scholarly edition of Papyrus Amherst 63.[1] Let me tell you a little bit about this document and then mention some aspects of it that have intrigued Mormons. [Read more…]

Lesson 22: “The Lord Looketh on the Heart” #BCCSundaySchool2018

1 Samuel 9–11; 13; 15–17

“But the People, exorbitant and excessive in all their motions, are prone ofttimes not to a religious only, but to a civil kind of Idolatry, in idolizing their Kings; though never more mistaken in the object of their worship.”—John Milton, “Eikonoklastes”

 

Our reading this week begins with the comforting announcement that the man chosen to be Israel’s king is tall and good looking:

There was a man of Benjamin, whose name was Kish . . . . He had a son whose name was Saul, an excellent young man; no one among the Israelites was handsomer than he; he was a head taller than any of the people. (1 Samuel 9: 1-2, JPS Tanakh)

It may seem strange that the first things we hear about Saul describe his outward appearance, but the text knows what it is doing. Saul’s main qualification for being king is that he looks like a king. As it turns out, though, this is the only qualification that matters. The Israelites want someone who looks kingly. [Read more…]

Mormon Whisper Networks and #MeToo

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In every singles ward I’ve ever attended, there have been predators.

Often they are charming, talented, witty men. Often they are proactive about quoting prophets and volunteering for service projects and asking women on dates. To their fellow Elders Quorumites, the predators are often indistinguishable from ordinary Priesthood holders.

But women suspect trouble. Stories of terrible dates, of over-aggressive advances, of nasty breakups and refusing to respect boundaries, quietly percolate among Relief Societies. When these women see a creepy or known threat approaching a friend, they quietly pull her aside and whisper a word of warning. [Read more…]

Sunday Mixtape

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“For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart.” (D&C 25:12)

“If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” (Article of Faith 13)

I learned in seminary as a young person that keeping the Sabbath day holy included listening only to hymns and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Sundays while avoiding any “secular” music. I realized even then, though, that the line between “secular” and “sacred” is not clear cut. [Read more…]

Tithing and Coercion

A number of comments on my post yesterday talked about the coercive nature of tithing. I thought I’d follow up on that idea in a new post, with two principal thoughts.

A History of Tithing and Coercion

The idea that tithing is coercive has a long and storied history. It may well predate 1870, but I know it goes back at least that far. I give more details about it on p. 139 of this paper, but the short of it is, the Bureau of Internal Revenue was trying to tax the church on its 1868 tithing revenue. One of the church’s assertions for why tithing was not taxable was that tithing represented a voluntary contribution by members. [Read more…]

Lord, What Wilt Thou Have Me to Do?

I grew up in the church. My father is a lifelong member, descended from many great and noble pioneers. My mother is a convert with a powerful story. I attended church with them almost every week throughout my childhood. I felt the spirit strongly at Girls’ Camps and Youth Conferences. I loved my leaders and I wanted to share all of the good that I felt. I remember standing in the Women’s Garden in Nauvoo, IL, completely overwhelmed by the Spirit I felt there. I wanted everyone in the world to feel the exact way I felt that night. [Read more…]

$32 Billion?!?

On Wednesday, MormonLeaks announced that they had connected the church to $32 billion in U.S. stock market investments. [KUTV story.] And how did it figure this out? Ingeniously, actually: it looked at the Form 13Fs for thirteen LLCs to see their stock holdings, and it discovered that domain names matching the LLCs’ names were registered to Intellectual Reserve, Inc., which holds the church’s intellectual property.

So, should you be outraged that the church has at least $32 billion in the stock market? I mean, sure, if you’re a fan of being outraged by stories of religions having money (though frankly, if that’s what you’re in the mood for, maybe this is a better source of outrage). But it’s probably worth taking a minute to figure out what we do and don’t know before going full-throated outraged. [Read more…]

Crosses by Decree: Ladders to Heaven or Stumbling Blocks?

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Corpus Christi Procession in Hofgastein by Adolph Menzel (source)

Yesterday was the Feast of Corpus Christi, a public holiday in the Catholic strongholds of Austria and Bavaria, and starting today all public agencies* in Bavaria are required by decree to prominently display a cross in the entryway of the approximately 1,100 buildings they occupy “as an expression of Bavaria’s historical and cultural character.” Crosses have long been a feature of elementary schools and courthouses in Bavaria, but the legal basis for their presence has been a mere recommendation; this decree marks the first time that displaying a cross is mandatory**.

The decree has been opposed by the usual suspects—including atheists, artists, academics and the Green party—but also by prominent religious figures. [Read more…]

Prophetic Fallibility, Institutional Revelation, and Institutional Salvation.

This post is inspired by some of the discussion on Stapely’s recent excellent post on the problems with defending the church’s pre-1978 policy to exclude black members from receiving the priesthood or the blessings of the temple. One of Stapely’s points is that the reasons that Brigham Young gave for the ban were demonstrably wrong. Several commenters asked a variation of these questions: If we acknowledge that church leaders can be wrong about something so important, then can we ever trust them? And if so, how can we distinguish between when they are speaking by revelation and when they are just wrong?

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What’s New with the ERA

So last night at just moments before midnight I received an email alerting me that the Equal Rights Amendment had (finally!) passed the Illinois House by a vote of 72-45, with one vote to spare (71 votes were needed so as to comply with a 3/5 supermajority for Constitutional amendments under Illinois law). For a number of years now one chamber or the other would pass it, but not both, and both have to pass it in the same session for the approval to be effective. But the Senate passed it in April and now the House yesterday. This ratification came more than 45 years after the amendment was passed by Congress! (News sources speculate that perhaps the #MeToo movement may have finally pushed it over the top.) [Read more…]