Churches and the House Appropriation Bill

Last Thursday, the House passed an appropriation bill for fiscal year 2018. The vote was close—211 to 198—and it’s not clear that it will pass the Senate in any kind of recognizable form. Still, the bill has at least some relevance to churches.

See, sections 101-116 attempt to regulate the IRS, and section 116 would largely eviscerate the so-called Johnson Amendment. [Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special: Religious Freedom and the Supreme Court.

Some of you may know that I’ve been writing a book on the social, political, and textual history of Joseph Smith’s revelation on polygamy, now found as Doctrine and Covenants, section 132. It’s been a fun project and I’ve come to see the revelation (as every good biographer must about his or her subject) as more or less the center of the universe, and maybe the Mormon universe at least. Something that may not make a dent in the book has nevertheless occupied my attention for a while, and that is a certain court case: Minersville School District v. Gobitas.

The background works like this, and forgive me for some tangentialism. It’s a learned behavior I guess.
[Read more…]

Kohanim

Tarik-Cohen-Backflip-catch-two-balls

The Chicago Bears have a rookie running back who has had a sensational beginning to his young career, named Tarik Cohen. (The above picture shows Tarik catching two footballs while doing a backflip.) A lot of people were trying to figure out whether he was Jewish, because Cohen is a prominent surname among Jews. He is not in fact Jewish. But there is an unusual Mormon connection to this question. [Read more…]

The Arc of the Moral Universe Bends Whichever Way We Bend It

Yesterday, a well-known radio personality went on a cable news show and told a female anchor that the only two things in this country that he believes in absolutely are “the first amendment and boobs.” Exactly one month ago, white supremacists and actual Nazi’s marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia chanting Nazi slogans and doing the Hitler salute. In both cases, my initial reaction was the same, “it is 2017, how can this stuff still be happening?”

It was a bad reaction, or, at least, one built on the very dangerous notion that there is something about the passage of time that guarantees both the advancement of social ideas or the permanence of social achievements. We take too much comfort, I think, in Martin Luther King’s statement that “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

[Read more…]

2018 MSSJ Pilgrimage – California Mission Trail

Friend of the blog and fellow Canterbury pilgrim DCL has graciously undertaken the planning for the next Mormon Society of St. James (MSSJ) pilgrimage scheduled for Presidents Day weekend, February 16–19, 2018.

DSC_4445

The Central Californian coast in February 2017

For all those who have been deterred by the trip to Europe from participating in the past, this is the pilgrimage you’ve been waiting for—in 2018 the MSSJ is coming to California. [Read more…]

Testimony

Yesterday, in a conversation about apologetics at the Maxwell Institute, I bore my testimony in a semi-public place, which is not something I usually do. Even so, I felt that I should share the substance of what I said here, with some slight elaboration.

I believe that trying to love people matters. I believe that even though I’m less certain by the day what love even is or whether love has the power to do what I hope it can. I believe it because that is the life to which my reading of the New Testament, in particular, calls me. On a pretty deep level, I can do no other: I routinely fail to love in the way that I believe I should do, and yet each failure sends me back to the path, more secure in my conviction. For me, Jesus is love. I say that in part because it’s what the scriptures witness to me, but more because in my own life I have experienced Jesus as the most faithful of friends, even and especially as I fail. His faithfulness calls me to be similarly faithful to those I love. I do not understand how to walk this way, but every day I try. The life that I try to lead in spite of my failures is my witness.

The Cake To End All Cakes

 

14051329877_ea1a6f2f9e_k

Folks, we need to talk about Masterpiece Cakeshop. Or as it’s more commonly known, the pending U.S. Supreme Court case about “can a bakery refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding.”

[Read more…]

The Homestead Act and Me

Last week, driving home from my brother’s wedding, my family and I stopped at Homestead National Monument of America.[fn1] We didn’t really know what to expect. We only planned on staying for an hour or so, because Nebraska falls halfway into the 21-hour drive from Utah to Chicago, the drive that we needed to do in two days so that we’d be back before our kids had to start school.

We got to Homestead when it opened. And we ended up staying for more than three hours. Because Homestead is amazing; it celebrates the Homestead Act of 1862, which ultimately distributed about 10 percent of U.S. land to successful homesteaders. [Read more…]

“You Lost Me,” Tension in the Church

Image result for satanic smurfsThis was an interesting article I recently read by an Evangelical-raised woman about the things that happened in her life where she felt a disconnect with what her church told her. The article was titled “How I Became a Heretic (or How the Evangelical, Conservative Church Lost Me). Some of her moments included: [Read more…]

Notes Toward an Understanding of the Fourth Question in the Temple Recommend Interview

Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church?

1. Note, first, the “and” in the first sentence. This is where we should begin. “Priesthood” and “prophethood” are not the same thing, and if we are to fully grasp the function of each we need to understand the distinction. Scripturally speaking, “prophet” is not an ecclesiastical office. No one is ordained to be a prophet, and nor does the role necessarily confer ecclesiastical authority (that is, governing responsibility in a religious hierarchy). On the other hand, in the LDS tradition men are ordained to priesthood, and the role bears with it ecclesiastical responsibility and authority. Insofar as Mormons use the term “prophet” to mean “the man in charge of the church” (a colloquial usage that developed in the mid-twentieth century), they are conflating a distinction that exists in the Bible, in Latter-day Saint scripture, and in this question. [Read more…]

LDS Hurricane Relief

2829432020_97c849c351_o

September 1992. Hurricane Andrew hit Florida. I was a little girl in Sarasota. I remember the tense days as the Weather Channel blared, my mom charted the Hurricane’s course by hand, the city boarded up windows, and we prepared to evacuate. We knew the Category 5 Hurricane was headed straight to Florida, but we didn’t know quite where.

Andrew’s wrath ultimately missed my city (Sarasota) — but struck a few hours Southeast, just south of Miami. Once the storm passed, my dad loaded up a station wagon with power tools and a generator from his construction job. (“Everyone always forgets, after a disaster, that there will be no power outlets to recharge their tools,” he said.) My mom coordinated supply and distribution of water, milk and diapers. And then a convoy of adult from my stake decamped to Miami to provide relief. [Read more…]

Not An Obedient Heart

IMG_0891

For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God. To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.  ~Doctrine & Covenants 46: 11-12

I’m pretty sure we forget that not everyone receives all the same gifts from God. And even more importantly, I’m pretty sure we tend to forget that they are GIFTS and that we don’t actually do anything to earn many of blessings we enjoy. At least, I am pretty sure of this each Sunday after church. [Read more…]

Joys and Concerns

My advice column of choice is “Ask Amy,” by Amy Dickinson (a descendant of Emily Dickinson), which succeeded the Ann Landers column after her death and is syndicated in about 200 newspapers, originating from the flagship Chicago Tribune (where I read it). I recently read her book Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things, about how she moved from the big city (Chicago) back home to the tiny town where she grew up (Freeville, New York) and eventually remarried there. I enjoyed it so much that I’m now reading her earlier book, The Mighty Queens of Freeville. [Read more…]

Joseph Smith Papers Announcements

Updates from the Joseph Smith Papers team:

JSP Website Reaches Publication Milestones:

The latest content release on the website is now live. This release includes two items of particular significance:
The final installment of Joseph Smith’s journals, from May 1843 to June 1844. This portion of the journals covers the final year of Smith’s life, including the events that led up to his murder. The Journals series is now complete in print and online.
[Read more…]

BCC Press and priestcraft!

Scrooge-McDuck-Money-BinIt isn’t uncommon for people who sell LDS-directed products to be accused of priestcraft. As an employee of the church (through Brigham Young University) I’ve spent some time thinking about the implications of priestcraft, considering the nature of my job and source of my salary. Check out my thoughts and then please share yours. [Read more…]

Picturing 1867 Utah Tax Assessments

I’ve been looking through 1860s Bureau of Internal Revenue records from the district of Utah for a project I’ve been working on. (It’s a really interesting project; once I get a handle on what I’m going to write, I’ll blog some interesting tidbits.)

As I was looking through the assessment lists, I came across a (pretty decent) doodle of a person’s head. I don’t know anything about who drew the doodle (was it the assessor? the assistant assessor? somebody who got his or her hands on the list later?). I don’t know who the doodle represents (is Stubb or Stout or Shoebridge? or is it a self-portrait? or a generic picture?). [Read more…]

Mormon Sermons: How do We Preach?

There is a large body of scholarship on the analysis and sorting/classifying of rhetorical texts. Categories of preaching have been mapped in genres like homilies, commentaries, catechistic address, exhortations, charismatic address to name some of the obvious ones.
[Read more…]

Nauvoo era(ish) succession

A friend asked me about succession after the Gospel Doctrine lesson and wondered if I could help find more detail about what was going on. So just thinking about the immediate years after JS’s death I responded as follows:

When JS died it was not obvious who would run the church. It was not something that was provided for in the Doctrine and Covenants, for example. It was pretty clear that JS wanted Hyrum, and then Samuel Smith to lead the church after him, but Hyrum died with JS, and Samuel died soon after.

The main “factions” were:
[Read more…]

BYU-Idaho Faculty Conference Keynote

Here are the remarks I had the opportunity to give this morning at the fall faculty conference here at Brigham Young University-Idaho. The presentation is titled, “We Were Voyagers: Embracing Our Latter-day Saint Pioneer Legacy as Educators.”

In the film Moana—which, if you have young kids, you have probably watched ad nauseum this summer, like I have—the eponymous heroine is a young woman preparing to someday lead her people. Moana and her village are islanders, and the island provides everything they need to sustain and fulfil their lives: fish, coconuts, water, culture. There is one rule on the island that Moana’s father underscores repeatedly: “No one goes beyond the reef,” or, in other words, don’t swim or fish too far from shore, because the waters are dangerous, unfamiliar, and risky beyond the reef.

Screen Shot 2017-09-06 at 12.06.49 PM.png [Read more…]

On Mass Murder and the Divine Orchestration of Speaking Assignments

Never one to let a good deed go unpunished, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow over an account included in Elder Bednar’s new book, One By One:

In “One By One,” which consists of five chapters, Elder Bednar uses the scriptures, quotes from church leaders and compelling accounts to identify this “fundamental pattern” and show how the Lord blesses and works with people in a personal way.

[…]

Less than a week after a mass shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech University in April 2007, Elder Bednar was assigned to speak at a stake conference in Blacksburg, Virginia, home of Virginia Tech. He was grateful to give “spiritual assurance and succor” to students, faculty members and others affected by the tragedy on that occasion.

“Was it merely a coincidence that a member of the Quorum of the Twelve had been assigned many months earlier to preside at a stake conference in Blacksburg, Virginia, only days after such a horrendous event? Was it a random occurrence that an authorized servant of the Lord was in a place with people who needed blessings, solace, and comfort?” Elder Bednar wrote. “Or was this episode divinely orchestrated by a loving Lord who knew the distress of victims and the unsettledness of a community? I believe that in the work of the Lord there is no such thing as a coincidence. On this occasion, my companion and I were blessed to deliver tender mercies to many individuals — because the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.”

[Read more…]

Again With Seminary Start Times

Last year, Angela wrote an important post about the problems with seminary starting so early.

I was reminded of her post because (a) my kids started school today, and (b) I read this article on teenagers, early start times, and sleep deprivation yesterday.

FWIW, the article doesn’t say anything new that Angela didn’t already bring up. But largely, schools are ignoring the more-irrefutable-by-the-day research and keeping the same early start times they’ve had since time immemorial (or, at least, since the 90s when I was in high school). And, as far as I know, nothing has changed with the church’s early-morning seminary program, either.

Angela wrote her post out of experience; I write mine out of hope. Because my oldest is still a couple years away from high school, and I hope the local high school (start time: 7:55 am, which is 35 minutes earlier than the AAP recommends) and the church (which has local seminary at some time earlier than that, I assume) can move to best practices before she hits high school. [Read more…]

The OCD Mormon. READ THIS BOOK!

Thanks to a recently acquired kindle and a lot of time nursing a newborn, I’ve read a lot of good books this summer, but none that I’ve recommended, referenced and been touched by more than Kari Ferguson’s new book, “The OCD Mormon: Finding healing and hope in the midst of anxiety” kari

If you have talked with me in the past three months you can probably attest that I have tried to get you to read this book. I do not have OCD, or any mental illness for that matter, and many of the people I’ve recommended the book to don’t either, but that is precisely the power of her writing—this is a book we all need to read if we are going to claim to lift up the hands that hang.

Ferguson is doing the work of bridging a too-large gap for people like me that for whatever reason have a great void in my knowledge and understanding of mental illness. Reading the OCD Mormon made me want to be an active participant in both the dialogue and support that is offered to people confronting mental illness in general, and also with the specifics that come with being a Mormon with a mental illness.

[Read more…]

In Search of Vocation

Richelle Wilson is a PhD student in the Scandinavian Studies program at the University of Wisconsin–Madison with an emphasis in comparative literature. In addition to her abiding interest in contemporary novels, she has recently undertaken research and other projects focused on labor studies and public humanities. She is a Swedish instructor and a member of Dialogue’s editorial staff. Most revealingly, she loves moody jazz, watches a lot of films, and is intensely committed to the Oxford comma.

While Labor Day offers many of us a brief reprieve from our daily grind, it’s also an opportunity to consider the labor we and others perform. When you ask Americans about the work they do, you’ll almost always hear about what they are paid to do. But as I’ve researched labor studies over this past year, I’ve become increasingly interested in the work we do for free, or with minimal recognition: unwaged labor, be it emotional, intellectual, or manual.

In the Church, this uncompensated labor often takes the form of an ecclesiastical calling. And, it turns out, if you ask Mormons about their personal history with callings, they have a lot to say. [Read more…]

God’s Bureaucracy

In the never-ending saga of seeking permission from the Vatican to marry my fiancé, I recently had an exasperating meeting with a Priest.  At one point I asked whether there was anything more I could do to speed up the Catholic marriage-paperwork processes – for example, could my fiancé and I complete the Catholic marital counseling requirement in parallel while we await Vatican approval?

The Priest said no.  The two sets of paperwork must follow in serial, even though that will delay our marriage by (at least) an extra six months.  Those were The Rules.  Then, with an admirable level of sincerity regarding Vatican bureaucracy, he offered this counsel.  “Consider this a blessing,” he said.  “Both of you have had failed marriages before, so this extra time is a gift from God to grow together, pray together, and be sure that you are ready to undertake the serious commitment that is the Sacrament of Marriage.” [Read more…]

Whatever-Is-Is-Rightism

 All nature is but art unknown to thee,
All chance, direction which thou canst not see;
All discord, harmony not understood;
All partial evil, universal good;
And, spite of pride, in erring reason’s spite,
One truth is clear, Whatever is, is right.
–Alexander Pope, “Essay on Man”

“Essay on Man” is a rotten poem. [Read more…]

Book Review Roundup

Book reviews are hard. They’re hard to write, and (for the authors) hard to read. People don’t comment on book review posts, normally. This is because there is little to say, unless you vehemently disagree; if you are the sort who vehemently disagrees with a book review, friend, I embrace you. My approach is to be short and to the point, to gear my reviews towards the casual reader (because such is what I am). So: four books for your consideration this week. [Read more…]

International Night

IMG_0168

I’ve mentioned before how very diverse my ward and stake are. That diversity was on full display this evening, as my stake put on an International Night. I just got back from it. [Read more…]

And the Tobias Funke Award Goes to . . .

Tobias Funke is a character on the TV series Arrested Development who constantly says things that have a double meaning, but without recognizing that there’s a double meaning. Often in online groups, people will post statements or pictures, particularly things done by BYU, that suffer the same problem: unintentional double entendre. A few of Tobias Funke’s most famous lines: [Read more…]

Coffee

275px-A_small_cup_of_coffee

On Thursday mornings on the way into the office I pick up a copy of The Reader, a free alternative weekly published in Chicago. One of its regular features is The Straight Dope, by Cecil Adams.[1] Today’s question read as follows: [Read more…]

Reasoning Not the Need

 

O, reason not the need! Our basest beggars
Are in the poorest thing superfluous.
Allow not nature more than nature needs,
Man’s life’s as cheap as beast’s. 
—King Lear, Act II, Scene 4

So says King Lear when his daughters are trying to strip away his retinue—the 100 knights who accompany him wherever he goes and whose maintenance was the only thing he asked of Goneril and Regan when he divided his kingdom among them. He doesn’t need any knights, they say, he is safe enough in their care. But he wants them because, well, it is the sort of thing that kings are supposed to have, and he is a king, isn’t he? Reason not the need! [Read more…]