The Temporal Urgency of Faith

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Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

Introductory Note:  Several years ago during General Conference I started journaling the messages my soul most longed to hear.  I posted one of those last Conference.  I’m doing so again now.  This requires a suspension of disbelief:  it contains a mix of true and aspirational content, and is written as if I had been asked to speak during General Conference.  I do not purport to actually have any authority to speak on behalf of the Church. 

Faith without works is dead.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to cast our spiritual burdens upon the Lord, rely on the grace of his Atonement, and put our faith in him during adversity.  But the Gospel also preaches that our spiritual health is intertwined with the physical welfare of our neighbors.  Pure religion looks not just to eternity but to now.

“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them:  ‘Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled’; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.  (James 2:14-17)

[Read more…]

I am hyper-social. I am social distancing.

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Last May I had an extended business trip that took me to the West Coast for twelve days (Los Angeles, then San Francisco, then Anchorage, then Seattle). While on business, I did what I always do: I looked up my friends in each city, individually texted them, and then scheduled every hour of free time as meals and visits to catch up.  I shaved two or so hours off of my sleep schedule each day so I could pack in catching up with more friends.

I love people.  One of my most persistent complaints is that there is not enough time in life to be best friends with everyone I think is amazing.

For my own curiosity on my flight back to D.C., I counted the number of friends I had “meaningfully” interacted with in that twelve day period. I defined “meaningful” as “engaged in conversation for at least one hour while hanging out in a group of four or fewer.”  The answer was forty-seven. [Read more…]

Henceforth I have called you friends

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When I think about my lifelong relationship with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it has long felt like obedience to a stern father figure.

That’s how the Church is structured. Our Bishop is where we’re supposed to turn if familial support falls short. The Bishop, in turn, holds keys of the Priesthood which report up in strict hierarchical order to Stakes, Area Seventies, Apostles, and the Prophet. [Read more…]

I’m terrified about having kids.

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I just spent the holidays with family. I’ve been married a year. I’m approaching my mid-30s. And due to an unrelenting year at work, I’ve gained some weight. So perhaps unsurprisingly, the last few weeks have featured a conversational dance of hinted “are-you-pregnant” questions.

I’ve ignored the hints and laughed off the passing comments about future grandchildren. What I haven’t responded with is my honest answer: I’m terrified about having kids. [Read more…]

Options for Financial Transparency

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In today’s Deseret News, Boyd and Chapman then acknowledge:

Of course, it’s fair game to question whether the reserves are adequate or excessive, or whether specific actions with funds are proper, as the Post article and the whistleblower does.  Vast assets require controls and nonprofit reserve investments can be controversial.

I agree wholeheartedly: let’s start asking questions about Church finances.  But first, we need Church financial disclosures. [Read more…]

The Church of Contrition

“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Nephi 9:20)

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Note:  During the last few General Conferences, I’ve pondered what message my spirit most yearns to hear.  Today I’m writing out that message for others, as if I had been asked to speak during General Conference.  This writing requires a suspension of disbelief: I do not purport to actually have any authority to speak on behalf of the Church. 

I speak today to apologize.

I believe a sincere “I’m sorry” is second only to “I love you” as the most powerful sentence anyone can utter. [Read more…]

Women Witnesses for Ordinances

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced this morning that women can now serve as witnesses for baptisms and temple sealings.

I’m thrilled about this change.  As I wrote two years ago, the Church’s longtime refusal to let women serve as witnesses contradicted Jesus Christ’s own example of choosing women to be the first witnesses of his Resurrection.  And as co-blogger Jonathan Stapley  details, women as witnesses has long precedence in the modern Church as well.

This change matters.  It’s not just a technical hand-waving exercise.  Women witnessing our saving ordinances matter. [Read more…]

A Conversation with my Catholic Husband on the Word of Wisdom

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“Did you see your Church just officially banned green tea?”

“And vaping. That’s days-old news.”

“Mormon news isn’t real to me until the Washington Post covers it.”

“Fair enough. The best take I’ve seen so far is Jana Riess’s.”

“The Washington Post agrees:  they quote her. The Word of Wisdom is ‘not necessarily a slam-dunk in terms of clarity.’ That seems accurate.”

“The problem is our cultural norms surrounding the Word of Wisdom have strayed so far from its literal text that we’re all left wading through layers of shame and confusion.”

“You know what Jana or you or some other sassy Mormon feminist should do? Write a Rachel Held Evans style book: ‘A Year of Word of Wisdomhood.’ It would be hilarious.[Read more…]

Welcome Richelle Wilson to BCC!

By Common Consent is thrilled to welcome a new permanent blogger to the team, Richelle Wilson.  Richelle is pursuing a Ph.D in Scandanavian Studies at the University of Wisconsin.  She also works at the Madison radio station WORT FM and serves as a copy editor extraordinaire at Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought.

Richelle is well-beloved in the Mormon Studies community, but I called dibs on her blog nomination text because I’ve known her the longest.  Richelle grew up in Michigan and I grew up in Indiana; we met at an Especially for Youth on Indiana University’s campus nearly 20 years ago.  As teenage girls we bonded not over spirituality or service, but cute boys.  Richelle had an EFY crush-of-the-week on Spencer, a guyfriend from my home ward.  She calculated that if she befriended me she could triangulate her way into his social circle.

Richelle’s crushing attempts failed, but our friendship survived! [Read more…]

The Equality Act and Religious Freedom Exemptions

This afternoon the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement opposing the proposed federal “Equality Act.”

BACKGROUND ON THE EQUALITY ACT

I read the entire Equality Act this afternoon.  The Equality Act’s principal purpose is to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other federal civil rights provisions, to clarify that sex discrimination includes sexual orientation/gender identity discrimination.  This effort is timely.  Whether “discrimination on the basis of failure to conform with gender stereotypes” constitutes “sex discrimination”  is a question courts have wrestled with for decades.  The U.S. Supreme Court last month agreed to decide it.  Like legislatures often do, Congress is trying to solve any ambiguity surrounding the interpretation with explicit clarification. [Read more…]

Linguistic Curiosity and Mormon Culture

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A few years ago, I found myself enmeshed in a long afternoon conversation with a linguistics professor.  His area of expertise includes analyzing changes to English wrought by internet communications.  As he opined on the etymological drift of a verb’s transitive and intransitive forms during the last twenty years, I was fascinated by his approach to grammar and language.

“It must drive you crazy to be so precise with your usage,” I remarked, “and yet be surrounded by people who use words incorrectly all the time. Do you ever feel like Henry Higgins?”

Instead of agreeing, he challenged me.  “There is no such thing as incorrect word usage,” he responded. “Rather, when I hear others use a word in a non-standard way, I ask myself: what is the cultural context and experience in which they were raised that led them to that usage?  I’ve found asking that question leads to a wealth of productive research.” [Read more…]

Heresy and Prophesy

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Humans are really bad at accurately identifying heretics and prophets.  Christ preached as much (“no prophet is accepted in his own country”) — and was executed for it (“by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God”).  Christ himself is both the world’s most renowned heretic and its greatest prophet.

It’s easy to confuse the two concepts because the definitions of heresy and prophesy mirror each other.  They both hinge on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Bible teaches that those who testify of Christ have the gift of prophesy.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraces this testifying definition of prophets.

St. Thomas Aquinas defines heresy as professing faith in Christ, while corrupting His Gospel.  William Tyndale similarly explains that heresy springs “out of the blind hearts of hypocrites” who “cannot comprehend the light of scripture.” [Read more…]

On Chastity and Closed Doors

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I have a fondness for cheesy Christian romance novels.   Their plots feature all of the emotional turmoil and external drama of harlequin romance novels – but they add faith crises and subtract sex.

One trope in these novels is to set up a wicked foil to the wholesome protagonist.  In-need-of-repentance characters lurk in the subplots, steeped in dark allusions and transgressed boundaries.  Think of Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.  Jane Austen evinces plenty of scandal, yet there are zero explicit mentions of sex.

In order to stay “clean,” Christian novelists have learned to invoke religiously-tinged shame by writing proxies for sex.  All “sin” happens off-screen.  A common scene is the chance encounter after dark.  A woman stands in the shadows, heart pounding, face lit by candlelight.  A man with a half-unbuttoned shirt leans against a doorframe.  After two pages of banter, he steps across the threshold.  The door shuts.  The chapter ends.  At that moment, the reader is cued to assume the characters had sex. [Read more…]

Mourn, Comfort, Stand: How Mormons Can Respond to New Zealand

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The baptismal covenant in Mosiah 18 is why I call myself a “Mormon.”  There, by the Waters of Mormon, a beggarded group of refugees promised to “preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord” and to “knit their hearts together in unity and in love one towards another.”

These original members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Prior-day Saints expressed their desires to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;” to “mourn with those that mourn;” to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort;” and “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things.”

I’ve spent the last day reflecting on how I, and my Mormon community, can live up to those same covenants in order to demonstrate love and unity towards our Muslim brothers and sisters in the wake of the white nationalist terrorist attack on Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. [Read more…]

“Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole” #BCCSundaySchool2019

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Readings:   Matthew 8-9; Mark 2-5

Whenever I read the Gospels, I’m amazed all over again by the layers of wisdom in each and every 3-verse vignette of Christ’s teachings, parables, and actions.  This week the Come Follow Me manual asks us to cover 6 chapters worth of them.  That’s difficult to do in a single blog post.  But after reading everything repeatedly, I’ve chosen to focus this week’s discussion on two patterns: how Christ heals, and how Christ responds to criticism.

These six chapters cover a core segment of Christ’s miracles and ministry – healing illnesses, forgiving sins, casting out devils, condemning hypocrites, preaching goodness.  This is the mission Christ called us, as Christians, to continue.  I hope we all can use this lesson to reflect, perhaps somewhat uncomfortably, on how our actions align with Christ’s injunction to believers. [Read more…]

Women with Minor Children can now Serve as Temple Ordinance Workers

A year and a half ago, I wrote about changes to the weird restrictions on temple ordinance workers.   Specifically, I explained that longstanding church policy forbade divorcees within five years, single men over 31, and women with minor children from serving as ordinance workers.   (The same individuals were permitted to “volunteer” for temple shifts, just not perform ordinances.)

In August 2017 the Church removed the restrictions on divorcees and single adult men.  Today, the Church removed the restrictions on mothers.  I am thrilled for the thousands upon thousands of women this blesses.

My Valentine to the Church

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It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’ve felt inspired to take a moment and write some reflections on my gratitude and love for the Church.

My last few weeks have sparked a renewed joy in the gospel.  Two years ago I left my cluster of friends in the one and only true ward (thanks California!).  Ever since, I’ve felt a little aloof from the heart of Mormonism.   Yet recently, my Sabbath experience has been refreshed as a delight.

The new two-hour block and Come Follow Me curriculum seems to have galvanized my ward — gospel doctrine discussions have increased in thoughtfulness; Relief Society lessons have increased in vulnerability.  I’ve heard raw and inspiring commentary from the pulpit during Sacrament Meeting; slightly shorter talks have focused the content on Christ.  My family created a listserv to discuss the Book of Mormon; my friend circle Mormon Studies book clubs are going strong.  An intimate discussion on the temple overflowed with wisdom and hope.  I love the emphasis on ministering and the ways I’ve begun connecting with every individual in my ministering circle.  Then last Sunday, I had a conversation with my Bishop that embodied the best of pastoral care.

When the body of Christ is healthy, it is truly divine. [Read more…]

Leaving Ray Comfortless

I am horrified. Apparently “religious freedom” is an empty phrase when it comes to Death Row.

Let’s recap the insane saga in the State of Alabama over the last week. Domineque Ray is a Muslim inmate on Death Row, with an execution scheduled for today. Late in January, as the State started walking him through execution procedures, Alabama informed him that a Christian chaplain was required to be in the room with him at death, but his Muslim Imam would be barred.

Ray sued within days, asking for access to an Imam. [Read more…]

Mormons and Showing Up

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Last night I attended a small interfaith dialogue dinner between Muslims and Mormons at Georgetown University.  It was lovely.  I made new friends.

One anecdote made me laugh.  Prior to the event, Georgetown’s imam told Georgetown’s Mormon interfaith coordinator to —not— post the flier to Latter-day Saint groups and listserves in DC.  Why?  “Because if you do, then too many Mormons will show up.” [Read more…]

“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” #BCCSundaySchool2019 (Part 2)

Come Follow Me Manual Recommended Readings:  Matthew 3 (quoting Isaiah 40); Mark 1Luke 3John 1.

Upfront Note:  In preparing my BCC Sunday School lesson this week, I realized my content was divided into two major chunks — one whimsical about Godspell, and one academic about the history of baptism.  For ease of use and commentary, I’m publishing them as two separate back-to-back posts.

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[Read more…]

“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” #BCCSundaySchool2019 (Part 1)

Come Follow Me Manual Recommended Readings:  Matthew 3 (quoting Isaiah 40); Mark 1; Luke 3; John 1.

Upfront Note:  In preparing my BCC Sunday School lesson this week, I realized my content was divided into two major chunks — one whimsical about Godspell, and one academic about the history of baptism.  For ease of use and commentary, I’m publishing them as two separate back-to-back posts.  Part 2 is here.

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[Read more…]

The God Who Stoops

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In discussing the advance of women’s rights, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has often remarked that when we set women on a pedestal, we actually lock them in a cage.

I’ve been wondering lately whether the same could be said about God.  (And even more so, Heavenly Mother.)  When we consign our Heavenly Parents to a throne of glory in the distant heavens, we’re actually locking them behind human constructs of divinity.  We’re building a wall of checkpoints and purity standards, then barring all we deem unholy or unclean from approaching their mercy.

Our all-to-common vision of God on a celestial pedestal gets it all backwards. To borrow a phrase from Rachel Held Evans’s latest book Inspired: our God stoops. [Read more…]

Rethinking Worthiness

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Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. (D&C 18:10)

I learned an important truth this year: the worth of souls bears no relationship to a soul’s “worthiness.”

A year ago I left the corporate world to pursue my civil rights lawyer dream.  One aspect of my new work is fighting for Muslims’ right to follow the pillars of Islam in prison.  My first visit to prison will forever stand as one of the most spiritual days of my life.  I met with humble men who frankly admitted their mistakes, implored God to grant them the mercy to improve, and asked for an opportunity to practice their faith in peace.  They sought to better the religious experience not just for themselves, but for all of their brothers and sisters.  Sitting with them, I glimpsed the depth of God’s abundant love.

I may have been physically sitting with convicted criminals behind seven layers of lockdown security, but spiritually I stood with angels on hallowed ground.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  (Romans 8:38).  Prisons that day became my temples.  For I was in prison, and ye visited me.  (Matthew 25:36). [Read more…]

2018 BCC Year in Review

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In 2019, By Common Consent will enter its 15th year of Bloggernaccle existence.  The state of our imperfect union of informal bloggers is strong:  2018 clocked in as second only to 2015* in total traffic.  As the sun sets on 2018 , I thought I’d compile some highlights. [Read more…]

Pants!

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The Victory-for-Satan Newsroom announced this afternoon that sister missionaries can wear dress pants.

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!

But as I take a breath between celebrating, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect. [Read more…]

New Church Videos Explain the Temple to the General Public

joe-cook-780015-unsplashThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just published a glossy series of 90-second explanations of our core temple practices.

I’m amazed at how much demystifying content these videos succeed in outlining in less than seven minutes of total video time.

Here are the highlights.

[Read more…]

Mormon-splaining the Word of Wisdom

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It’s holiday party season!  Which means your friends and coworkers, in joyful and relaxed environments, may foist upon you cocktails, wines, and dessert bar coffee.

You’re all experts now at saying “no thank you.”  You’ve read my summer guide for professional Mormons navigating “coffee breaks” and “happy hours.”  There I explained that in the vast majority of circumstances, no one will notice or care that you’re not imbibing coffee or alcohol.

Sometimes, though — especially with amiable colleagues and jokester friends who know you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the religious dimensions of your teetotaler ways might surface.  You can sidestep the topic if you want.  But you don’t have to!

Let’s take a common scenario.  Over brunch, a colleague might make an offhand remark while stirring her latte.  “Mormons aren’t allowed to have caffeine, right?  I don’t know how you survive.”

You could say “that’s essentially correct.”  Or you could dangle a half-answer as bait.

“Technically, the Mormon prohibition is not on caffeine.” [Read more…]

And in His name all oppression shall cease

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This post started as a reaction to President Dallin H. Oaks’s commentary on religious freedom published Tuesday in the Deseret News.  It morphed into a Christmastime commentary on social justice.  It still dissects Oaks’s words, but that’s relegated to the very end. 

Born into humble circumstances.  Trained as a carpenter.  Rejected as a prophet.  Crucified as a rabble-rouser because he dared speak truth to both secular and religious oppressive power.  Jesus Christ is my model of an activist. [Read more…]

Repent Ye, for Climate Change is at Hand?

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I’ve always accepted the scientific consensus surrounding carbon emissions, greenhouse gasses, the ozone layer, and climate change.  But for a long time I elected to not care.

Why?  Because I bought into the folk doctrines that God created the Earth’s resources to be used, that a global temperature rise of 1-2 degrees over 100 years isn’t material,  and in any event, Christ’s imminent Second Coming would renew the Earth and fix everything before disaster struck.

As a religious studies student in college, I once wrote a paper on Isaac Newton’s eschatological prediction that the Second Coming would happen in 2060.  Thereafter in casual conversation, I used the 2060 date to support my religious opinion that climate change would never matter.   (“The worst predictions don’t even start until 2100 — Jesus will have come back well before then!”)  One afternoon at the Indiana University LDS Institute, I tried that line on a Ph.D. student studying ecology.  Our resulting discussion did not end well for me. [Read more…]

Reasons Why I’m Not Changing My Name, Ranked

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I’m married! Which means some of my acquaintances have mysteriously stopped calling me “Carolyn Homer” and started calling me variations on “Mrs. Carolyn Jones.”

My name has not changed.  It will not change.  I am “Carolyn Homer” for life.  I anticipate and will be amused by occasional mix-ups — but my name is my name.  Names matter.

Hopefully my decision is no longer viewed as a big deal.  But I’ve gotten a bit of pushback from more conservative/traditional corners, including from within the Church.  So for slightly whimsical explanatory sake, here are the reasons why I’m keeping my name, ranked.

15.  Jones is a boring last name.  It’s a Top 5 most common surname in America, held by millions.  I am not a boring person.

14.  I never want to be the target of a “keeping up with the Joneses” joke.  Ever. [Read more…]