“Is Divine Love “unconditional”?: Grappling with a 20-year-old LDS doctrinal conundrum”

Ever since LDS Apostle (not-yet-President) Russell M. Nelson’s “Divine Love” talk appeared in the Ensign magazine way back in 2003, the question of whether God “unconditionally loves” his children has been a “hot topic” in LDS doctrinal conversation. This is deeply unfortunate, for the subject shouldn’t be controversial. Alas, the way the topic of “divine love” is portrayed in that talk has caused immense confusion, primarily among two groups of people — those who feel deeply perplexed, even damaged by it, and those who engage in (usually) knee-jerk defenses of it. I recognize the desire of many LDS to locate the source of the confusion outside the talk, rather than within it. Unfortunately, this desire, while well-meaning, is misplaced. The fault lies primarily in the talk itself, I will argue, not in the interpreters who are misinterpreting it (though I grant that many are indeed misinterpreting its intended meaning).

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Who Leaked the Policy?

Aaron Brown is an early founder of BCC.

One year later, I have a story to tell: [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…]

“Safe Space for the Homosexual” Conference Recap, Part 2

My review of the first two-thirds of the conference is here.  The last third was notable because (1) the LDS Church sent an official representative to make a statement; and (2) the ecclesiastical panel was, in my opinion, the most interesting portion of the program.



                  Moroni Benally, Compassionate Cause co-founder and conference organizer

I missed the first portion of Moroni’s talk, which focused on his coming to terms with his homosexuality as a young boy.  Sorry.

… His Bishop told Moroni that he had two choices:  Stay in the Church and be miserable, or leave and be happy.  He refused to believe this.  He went to Evergreen, [Read more…]

“Safe Space for the Homosexual” Conference Recap, Part 1

On Saturday, about 75 people gathered at the University of Washington for the first annual Compassionate Cause conference, entitled “Creating a Safe Space for the Homosexual in the Church”. I was in attendance all-day, and this post is the first of my 2-part summary of the event. Unfortunately, I know I didn’t fully capture all the substantive points the various speakers and panelists made, since I focused my notes mainly on the points that most interested me. Also, occasional bathroom breaks and side conversations undoubtedly mean I didn’t catch everything I otherwise would have. If any other attendees want to supplement my remarks with whatever I missed, they should feel free. [Read more…]

“Creating a Safe Space for the Homosexual in the Church: A Symposium”

If you’re in the Seattle area and you’re not busy this Saturday, August 11 — or even if you think you are busy — you might check out what looks to be a very interesting symposium at the University of Washington on homosexuality and Mormonism. Taylor Petrey is giving the keynote address! Josh Weed will be on a panel! The LDS Church has agreed to read a relevant doctrinal statement! It looks to contain a very diverse set of viewpoints among its varied participants, and I’m intrigued to see how the conversations play out. Here is the agenda. Here is a description of the symposium’s purpose: [Read more…]

Food, Intimacy or Cars?!

Welcome to the inaugural installment of “Food, Intimacy, or Cars?!” The game where you, dear reader, must make commensurate the incommensurable! Here’s how you play: Various alimentary, hominid, and vehicular choices will appear below, grouped together in eight successive rounds. Since this is a politically and religiously correct version of the original game, all choices will be Mormon-relevant, and both genders will be catered to. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to decide which of the three selections in each round is the most desirable: the food, the intimacy, or the car? (“Intimacy” here means anything from a slow, romantic walk around the temple grounds to a NCMO at a BYU International Cinema screening, so nothing unseemly). Each round you choose correctly, you win one point. Here’s an example:

Jello Pudding?

Mitt Romney?

or a Minivan?

Which is more desirable? Obviously, the correct answer is Jello Pudding. You get the idea.

Later this afternoon I will post all the correct answers. Please note that the answers will be objectively true, having been established by the most level-headed, sober analyst I know (moi). So, while I encourage you to cast your votes below, the poll results actually mean nothing! It’s each partcipant’s declared choices in the comments section that matter. He or she who earns the largest number of points will win THE PRIZE, which will be picked by me and revealed only after the winner is determined. Okay, let’s start! [Read more…]

Praising the Lord

Six months is an embarrassingly long time to go without a single baptism. So when the Ward Mission Leader (WML) from an adjacent ward invited me (another WML) to attend his baptismal service, I couldn’t pass up his offer. It had been so long, I was beginning to forget how to run the services myself. Best to make an appearance, and see how it’s done. Presumably my own elders would also attend the ordinance. Maybe some magic pixie dust would rub off, and they’d be motivated to find good candidates of their own for a good dunking. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

I entered the baptismal room just before the start of the meeting and surveyed the scene. Up in front sat three investigators in a row, all dressed in white — two men and a woman, whom I’ll call “Peter”, “Paul” and “Mary”. Something about the way these three were sitting, the way they weren’t interacting with each other, their body language — to say nothing of their distinct ethnicities — made it obvious they weren’t a family. These folks clearly didn’t know each other. Here were three totally independent investigators, all of whom happened to be getting baptized on the same day. “Great,” I thought. “My missionaries can’t seem to find a soul; meanwhile, this ward has three separate people joining the Church in one service. How depressing!”

I took my seat near the back as the baptismal service commenced. Everything proceeded smoothly. When the actual ordinance portion of the program arrived, Mary was the first in line. A 30-something blonde with a big grin on her face, she was clearly happy to be there. She slowly entered the font, where an awaiting elder gently took her hand. He briskly lowered her into the water, said a few words, and then up Mary came. She wiped away the water from her eyes, clasped her hands together, looked upward, and then exclaimed in a booming voice: “PRAISE THE LORD!! PRAISE JESUS!! HALLELUJAH!! PRAISE THE LORD!!!” Mary turned to ascend the stairs to her changing room, but a look of pure ecstacy remained on her face. “PRAISE THE LORD!!! PRAISE GOD!!! JESUS BE PRAISED!!!” she screamed. Her outbursts continued, even as she exited into the back room.

I cringed. [Read more…]

What to do after General Conference is Over

If you’re reading this, you’ve presumably already decided to imbibe 4 hours of boob-tube today, in addition to spending huge swathes of time cuddling with your computer, desperately hoping some esteemed BCC perma will acknowledge your witty comments. Those of you with a Y-chromosome may also make a trip to the Stake Center later and plop down in front of a make-shift movie theatre. Given your media overload, may I make a simple suggestion for how you might spend the rest of your day?

Watch. More. Television.
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We arrived late to church on Sunday. So instead of entering the chapel, the three of us remained in the foyer during Sacrament meeting. As my wife prepared her Relief Society lesson on the couch, I sat with my 4-year-old daughter, Annika, on a table against the wall. To our left, enclosed behind a protective glass case, hung a large wooden plaque with pictures of almost all the past Relief Society presidents in chronological order of service: Emma Smith thru Mary Ellen Smoot.

Annika: “Dad?”
Me: “Yes.”
Annika: “What is this?”
Me: “It’s all the past Presidents of the Relief Society. That’s the class that Mom goes to while you’re in Primary.”
Annika: “How come there are only girls in the pictures?”
Me: “Because only girls can be President of the Relief Society.”
Annika (after a short pause): “I don’t think it’s fair to the boys that they can’t be in the pictures!”
Me: “Indeed.”

Follow the Prophet

I donned the mantle of Primary chorister yesterday. This was a first for me (and presumably a last). Our regular chorister asked me to sub for him the night before. Never in a million years did I imagine I’d find myself leading groups of children in song, so the invitation gave me serious pause. But I relished the embarrassing travesty I imagined might result if I participated, so I quickly said yes.
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Going Back, III: Gossip

Yet another installment in my series about returning to Argentina, 2 years after my mission. Previous installments here and here. Yes, I’ve changed the names for privacy reasons.

Behold my bi-monthly, post-mission ritual: I’d be strolling across the BYU campus, minding my own business, when suddenly I’d bump into a returned missionary from my mission who’d returned home after I did. I myself had only been back for 6 months, but this was long enough for me to view each RM as a potential gold mine of information and updates about my old areas. So I’d make the predictable inquiries … about my baptisms, my investigators, my favorite ward members, my mission companions. Interesting tidbits of information were few and far between, but the potential was always there, so I never stopped asking. Occasionally I’d get some morsel of gossip, but nothing to write home about. Until one fine afternoon – as I interrogated a recently returned elder about each of my junior companions – I participated in the following bombshell exchange:

RM: “Dude, did you hear about what happened to Elder Sorenson?”
Me: “No, I didn’t. What happened to him? He was my comp, you know.”
RM: “Yeah, he got sent home a few months ago. Something to do with homosexuality.” [Read more…]

When did you first become a Mormon feminist?

Like many of you, I’m never entirely sure what the word “feminism” or “feminist” is supposed to mean. Sometimes it’s used as a scandalous epithet, other times it’s worn as a badge of honor, but in most conversations the precise definition intended by any given speaker remains opaque to me. Nevertheless, I’m going to tell you precisely when I first became a “Mormon feminist”. And by this, I simply mean that I’m going to describe the “moment” (and its aftermath) when I first realized not all was well in Zion with respect to our discourse about and treatment of women.
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Nanette’s Lemonade

As a 6-year-old, I liked to play outside with other neighborhood children my age. At any given time, I had lots of male and female friends living nearby to play with. Two of my local girlfriends were Shannon and Nanette. One fine afternoon, I headed out of the house and up the block, with the intention of kicking it with the both of them.

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Bride of Cujo

Meet Ida. She’s a half-standard, half-miniature dachshund my wife and I adopted one year before the birth of our daughter. She is probably the most gorgeous dachshund you’ll ever meet. Really. Everybody thinks so. But don’t let her outer beauty fool you. For beneath her ravishing exterior is a demonic hound from Hell ready to growl at your slightest infraction, to rip your clothes, to sink her teeth into your hand if you approach her when she’s in a foul mood (which is always). Ida’s aggressive personality didn’t manifest until after our daughter was born, but since then she’s become a greater and greater menace. And the target of her ire is mostly yours truly. She rarely threatens my wife, but she exudes hostility at me constantly, especially if my wife and I are in the same room together with her. For a long time we took all the drama in stride, but eventually, we just couldn’t take it anymore. So several months ago we decided to give Ida to a Lutheran woman in our neighborhood who loves dachshunds, and who already had one of her own. Ida’s new digs really are ideal for her, and for us too. We are able to visit her regularly, but we no longer need to endure her aggressiveness on a daily basis.

Unfortunately, in recent weeks Ida has transferred the animus once reserved for me to her new owner. And it’s becoming a real problem. So a couple weeks back, the owner contacted us with a special request. She invited us to attend church with her in the Lutheran chapel across the street from our local LDS ward building, in order to observe her congregation’s annual “Blessing of Animals” after regular services. [Read more…]

Going Back, II: Shame

This is part 2 in a series of posts about my post-mission trip back to my mission in Argentina. Part 1 is here.

The Bandar family loved me like a son. At least that’s how it seemed to me. And I really loved them back. A pleasant, unassuming married couple with two teenage girls, the Bandars were baptized 3 or 4 years before I served in their area, and they remained stalwart, committed members of the faith ever since. They were not high-profile members of their ward, and they didn’t serve in any notable callings. I never taught any missionary discussions to them. But they were beloved by many missionaries who’d known them, much more than most other member families in the ward. The obvious joy they derived from every waking moment spent with the elders was the reason why. Typical evenings at the Bandar house consisted of the four of them plus two of us, sitting around the dining room table, eating and drinking, chatting about everything under the sun into the wee hours. They often liked to break out the family atlas. They’d ask us where we’d lived, where we’d traveled, and my companion and I couldn’t seem to say anything that wasn’t treated by the family as absolutely fascinating. Our visits were long, but we were never made to feel we’d outworn our welcome. And in truth, we really hadn’t. We could have stayed all night with the Bandars, and they undoubtedly would have remained chipper as can be. As a missionary, it’s really hard not to love a family like the Bandars.
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Hanging-by-a-Thread Poll

If the Constitution ever hangs by a thread, the Elders of Israel will save it. But how will we know for sure that it’s “hanging”? How exactly will we “save” it? When will this long-awaited day come to pass? No one knows.

This is regrettable, for we Elders of Israel are always anxious to exercise our mad saving skillz, but we know not where to do it. And unless the beneficiaries of our skills are literally “hanging by a thread,” we sure as heck aren’t interested in lifting a finger on their behalf. No, we reserve our salvific energies for episodes of high drama! Therefore, as we await the anticipated constitutional apocalypse, it’s worth considering other ways to exercise our talents.

And so I ask you: What other holy documents are literally “hanging by a thread” in these Latter Days, threatened by neglect, misinterpretation, or whatnot? To which other sacred text should we Elders of Israel direct our sustained attention, so we can ride in heroically on a White Horse to save it?

(Poll beneath the fold)
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Going Back

This is the first in a multi-part series of posts on this topic. Sorry for the length.

Like most American elders in my mission, I promised countless investigators and churchmembers that one day I would return to Argentina to visit them. Unlike most American elders in my mission, I actually made good on that promise. Roughly 16 months after I returned home, I travelled back to Argentina with a friend who’d also served there — once-a-year BCC commenter John W — and together we embarked on a whirlwind tour of La Mision Bahia Blanca. Our trip was intended as part mission visit, part tourism, but once we arrived, we quickly jettisoned all touristic ambitions, and spent every day retracing our old stomping grounds, looking up every memorable person we’d ever had any meaningful interaction with. (We’d eventually hit 5 of my 7 areas, and 3 or 4 of John’s). It was quite the adventure…. in more ways than we ever anticipated.
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Barfing for Jesus

WARNING: This post is gross.

The Mormon Mission experience is a significant rite of passage for many LDS young men and women. But there is another important rite of passage within this rite of passage — at least for a signficant subset of LDS missionaries — that is less widely recognized. I refer, of course, to the various intestinal adventures experienced by elders and sisters who serve in the Third World. Many of us have stories about our adventures; not all of them warrant a retelling, to be sure. But some do. And I flatter myself in believing mine does, so here goes:
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Studying with the Jehovah’s Witnesses

A local Jehova’s Witness has put me in his “finding pool.” Oh, I know he probably wouldn’t call it that. But the truth of the matter is unmistakable. Sporadic morning visits have evolved into regularized bi-monthly drop-bys, and I’m handed a bright new copy of the Watchtower and other assorted literature each time. This Witness is paired with a different “companion” on each visit. Sometimes he’s the “senior companion,” clearly showing his greenie the ropes. Occasionally, he’s the “junior companion”, accompanied by an obviously senior leader, who I imagine gives him pointers after our brief conversation ends and the door closes.

I suspect in this Witness’s mind I am a “golden contact”. I answer his questions semi-thoughtfully, and in a way I know is helpful to the flow of his sales pitch. The truth is, I can’t help but be nice to these guys. They remind me so much of a 19-year-old me. Yes, many of our theological assumptions and conclusions couldn’t be more different. But our door-knocking approaches are oddly similar, both in the leading questions asked, and in the slight awkwardness of bearing and conversation that inevitably characterizes our forced chatter. I find myself wondering, “Do they hate this as much as I did back in the day?” “Do they really think the questions they’re asking me are as religiously pivotal as their script would have me believe?” The whole experience is like a trip down memory lane, yet I must confess I’m kind of glad when it ends.
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Balaam’s Butt

Excessive Mormon prudery comes in at least two (admittedly overlapping) flavors. First, there’s the sex. “Making love” — to say nothing of “having sex” — often becomes “being intimate” in our lexicon. Infamous stories of marital lovemaking with one’s garments on aren’t entirely apocryphal, believe it or not. And I’m told that “intimacy” manuals for LDS audiences often turn euphemism into a high art. Sexual prudishness is not uniquely Mormon, of course. But I suspect some of it’s odd manifestations do come in unique Mormon forms, though perhaps my ignorance of other conservative faith communities skews my perceptions here somewhat.
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All You Really Need to Know About Mormon History

Have you ever read one of Jonathan Stapley’s carefully crafted historical posts, and then said to yourself, “Sheesh, how in the world does he know all that?” Do you ever finish disgesting JNS’ latest analytical piece, only to proclaim, “Surely it is a sin for a man to know so much!” Do you ever read a Brad Kramer tour-de-force, and think, “Oh my heck, Brad probably forgot more Mormon history this morning than I’m likely to learn all year!”

Well, you shouldn’t. In fact, I’m going to let you in on a little secret… With only a modicum of effort, exerted over the course of one evening, you can successfully feign erudition and scholarliness when it comes to Mormon history. That’s because all you really need to know can be summarized in 10 short statements:
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Gender Roles Are Eternal (unless …)

There I was, sitting in the Hauser Hall basement, typing a seminar paper, minding my own business, when “Josh” burst into the computer lab. Josh was a single, LDS 1st-year law student, and I was a married LDS third-year, so we didn’t really know each other that well. But we did have some friends in common, and would see each other periodically at LDSSA meetings, so he recognized me when he walked in the door. He seemed strangely agitated, like he was in possession of some juicy piece of gossip he needed to get off his chest. He saw me, and promptly approached my cubicle.

“Oh my gosh, something so funny just happened!” he exclaimed. “I have to share it with someone!”

“What?” I replied.
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Genesis 12: Abram and Sarai’s Misadventures in Egypt

Genesis 12 is the first Old Testament chapter that focuses entirely on the life of Abram. It describes his and Sarai’s departure from Haran and journey to the land of Egypt. The LDS Church’s Old Testament Gospel Doctrine Teacher’s Manual does not assign this chapter in Sunday School, except as an “additional reading” to Lesson 8. Its exclusion from the formally-assigned chapters saves the curriculum writers from having to come up with “How-can-you-apply-this-to-your-daily-life?”-type questions for passages like this one:
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Better Geek than Prude

I failed miserably in my Hometeaching duties this past month. Fortunately, I won’t receive an email soliciting my monthly stats until sometime next week, and as I see it, “early February” is the new “late January”, so all is not lost. Thus my scrambling around this morning between church meetings, cornering my hometeachees, and inquiring whether my companion and I could stop by this evening. Strangely, most of my hometeachees weren’t available. Something about already “having plans,” or “family visiting tonight” or “getting together with friends at that hour.” Granted this is short notice, but how odd that nobody was available today. Hmmmmm.
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Hearts with Haiti

The country of Haiti is now facing an unprecedented level of death and destruction, as an earthquake measuring 7.0 has literally destroyed Port au Prince. Hundreds of thousands are believed dead, and what little infrastructure the country had (very, very little) has been wiped out. Calamities of this scope and magnitude are frankly hard to comprehend, and as the death toll rises higher and higher, as it surely will, many of us will find it difficult to grasp the enormity of the numbers. I find that individual stories of drama and survival bring home the reality of cataclysmic events better than grim statistics can.

I’m sure we’ll be hearing many riveting and heartbreaking stories out of Haiti as the days pass. For now, I thought I would share an email I just received from a Methodist minister cousin of mine who is intimately involved with a non-profit organization that works with a series of homes for boys and disabled children, both in Petionville (the “wealthy” area that we hear so much about on the news) and Jacmel (on the South coast).

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Teaching Trainwrecks

This post first appeared, in somewhat modified form, as a comment on an old T&S thread back in 2004.

“Bob” was a gentleman in his 80’s who attended my Los Angeles ward. He was an endearing old curmudgeon, famous for coming to church dressed in these frilly, over-the-top outfits that looked like bad promwear from the 1970s. Bob was even more famous for his strident, dogmatic comments during church classes which were so out of left-field that they were actually a source of comic-relief for the class, rather than a source of offensiveness. Bob seemed to enjoy the attention that his obnoxiousness brought upon him, so it was a win-win situation for everyone involved. A number of years back, Bob really wanted a teaching calling, and the Bishop decided to oblige him. He was made an Elders Quorum instructor.
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Sin and Repentance in the Mission Field

This post first appeared, in slightly modified form, at the now-defunct Sons of Mosiah blog on July 15, 2004.

There are sins you confess to God, and there are sins you confess to the Bishop. In the mission field, there are sins you confess to God, and sins you confess to the Mission President. Getting the repentence process right is important, so understanding the difference between the various types of sin is crucial. My first mission president – bless his heart – wanted to be as helpful as possible to the missionaries as we tried to comprehend the whole process….
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If you live in the Seattle area, you are invited …

to a party next weekend! Specifically, my wife and I are throwing our annual Christmas Party next Saturday evening, and if you are a commenter or lurker at BCC, and you will be in the area, we’d love to meet you! Here’s the skinny:


Aaron & Stina Brown’s 2009 Christmas Party


Saturday, December 12, 2009, from 7:00 to 11:00 pm
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Are Right-Wing Mormons More Likely to be Annoying than Left-Wing Mormons?

During a recent conversation among LDS friends, I bemoaned a certain type of LDS churchmember that I find deeply “annoying.” I used this word in a very specific sense. I described as “annoying” certain right-wing Mormons who seem unable to conceptually distinguish between their own deeply-held political preferences and the doctrines of the LDS Church. I know you know the type I’m talking about.

One of my (conservative) LDS friends interrupted me, conceded that this Mormon personality type exists, but insisted that “left-wing LDS members are no less likely to be “annoying,” as they are equally prone to the same vice.”

I strongly disagreed with this statement. I admitted that the existence of “annoying” left-wing LDS members is possible, but insisted they don’t really exist much, if at all, in the real world. And by this, I didn’t just mean that annoying liberals are rarer than annoying conservatives in sheer number — this is too obvious to dispute, since LDS liberals of all sorts are much rarer than LDS conservatives of all sorts, whether annoying or not. No, I actually meant that given an equal number of LDS conservatives and LDS liberals, you are likely to find the annoying quality I abhor in the first group in much, much larger quantity than the second.
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