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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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…]

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…]

Lesson 19: The Reign of the Judges #BCCSundaySchool2018

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Lesson Objective:  To understand the Judges pride cycle, and celebrate the leadership of righteous women.

Introduction:  This lesson attempts to grapple with a lot of material — the entire Book of Judges.  Judges is a mish-mash of Biblical stories, told in dramatic narrative but not necessarily chronological order, falling between the eras of Joshua and Solomon.  [Read more…]

Ramadan Mubarak!

“Whoever witnesses the crescent of the month, he must fast the month.” [Al Baqarah, 2:185]

Wish your Muslim friends a blessed Ramadan today.  Then ask them whether they are fasting starting today or tomorrow.  Prepare to be fascinated by their answer.

Why?  Because the official start of Ramadan is a subject of mass theological, scientific, and geographic debate.  The best Mormon analog I’ve come up with so far is our spirited conversations about the nuances of the Word of Wisdom.

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Practical Tips for Helping Victims of Abuse

The #MeToo movement is a stone cut from the mountain of silent victims’ pain, rolling forth to break in pieces the corrupt and powerful institutions of this world.

Abuse is no respecter of victims.  Religious and secular, clergy and celebrities, liberal and conservative, rich and poor, women and men.  #MeToo stories infect every community — our friends and families, our churches and coworkers.  Hypocrisy is rampant.

Victims who speak out are prophets, calling the world to repentance.

The world is listening.  You are listening.  As #MeToo has erupted, I hear the same questions again and again from concerned observers with desires to help.

I believe victims, I know abuse happens, but I don’t know who they are. 

Someone close to me is in a terrible relationship.  I’m listening, but I don’t know what to do.

How can I help?  [Read more…]

Stand with Muslims as they fight against bigotry

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Carolyn at the impromptu Muslim Ban protest march on January 29, 2017

The Supreme Court hears arguments on the Muslim Ban tomorrow.  I’ll be in the courtroom, and with hundreds of civil rights supporters at the rally on the courthouse steps.  Join me.  As the Fourth Circuit has declared, the Muslim Ban violates the Establishment Clause and is “unconstitutionally tainted with animus towards Islam.”

Everytime I talk to Muslim friends, colleagues, and even taxi drivers, I hear the same themes over and over again – children bullied as “terrorists” at school, women harangued for wearing headscarfs (with aggressors sometimes forcibly yanking religious headcoverings off), graffiti and vandalism to businesses, threats and firebombs at mosques.

 

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PEC is Dead; Long Live the Councils

When President Nelson announced the end of “priesthood executive committee” (PEC) meetings in Priesthood Session on Saturday night, many people wondered – is this a de facto increase in women’s role in leadership?

In recent years, the Church has increased his emphasis on “councils.”   Ward councils, teaching councils, mission councils, various program councils at Church headquarters – these councils have all worked to invite further participation from women. President Oscaron’s wonderful parting talk on Saturday emphasized this point, pointing out the multitude of ways that young women could assist in furthering ward council goals. While I still wish women could lead some of these councils, their increasing participation is cause for celebration.

It’s only been three days, but today I saw the first concrete evidence that the abolishment of PEC, more than merely deleting redundant meetings, may significantly increase the leadership voices of women in practice. [Read more…]

Perfecting the People in an Imperfect Church

lighthouse“I’d like to bear my testimony, that I know the Church is true…”

One Sunday morning, the repetition of that stock Mormon phrase drove me mildly crazy.  I couldn’t help myself:  I stood up and bore a testimony about my gratitude for Christ succoring me during a difficult time.  But then I confessed: “I’m not going to end by saying I know the Church is true.  Have you ever thought about how syntactically weird that sounds?  The Church is an institution, not a doctrine.  What does it even mean for an institution to be true? To know it exists? Saying the Church is true is like saying I know the Government is true, or I know Google is true. It doesn’t make any sense.”

Reframing the narrative, I continued: “Instead, I will bear my witness that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true.  I know Christ’s love and his atonement has the power to comfort, to heal, to forgive, and to lead us to salvation.  I hope we, as members of the Church, can aspire to share Christ’s love and grace in all that we do.  I am inspired that at our best, Christ’s light shines through this Church.” [Read more…]

Church Updates Abuse Policies

At the close of business today, the Church updated its advice document, “Preventing and Responding to Abuse.”  As described by the Deseret News, the major changes are the following language:

• “Members should never be encouraged to remain in a home or situation that is abusive or unsafe.”

• “When a member of a stake presidency or bishopric or another assigned leader meets with a child, youth, or woman, he or she should ask a parent or another adult to be in an adjoining room, foyer, or hall. If the person being interviewed desires, another adult may be invited to participate in the interview. Leaders should avoid all circumstances that could be misunderstood.”

• “Church leaders should never disregard a report of abuse or counsel a member not to report criminal activity to law enforcement personnel.”

• “At least two adults must be present on all church-sponsored activities attended by youth or children.”

These are important changes, and I welcome them.  (I wish they had been explicitly stated decades ago, and there’s a lot further to go, but as an initial sign of serious commitment to change, I’ll take it.)   [Read more…]

The Burden of Choosing to Believe

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Image Credit: Delphine Devos

“I envy you your faith, somedays,” an agnostic friend in college once remarked as we ate lunch in the spring sunshine.  “I wish I could have faith.”

“You can, you know.   Faith is a choice,” I urged with perhaps a touch too much missionary zeal.  “In the Book of Mormon there’s a famous sermon about how faith is like a science experiment.  If you even have just a ‘desire to believe,” and choose to act on that desire, you’ll feel God’s love, and see results.”

 

“But logic is too deeply engrained in me for that to work,” he responded.  “I’d just dismiss any positive feeling as a weird firing of brain chemicals, a manufactured emotional manipulation.  It’s not tangible or real.” [Read more…]

Lesson 10: Marriage in the Covenant #BCCSundaySchool2018

ReadingsGenesis 24 – 29.

Introduction:   I volunteered to give this lesson for BCC precisely because I’m a temple-divorced, now-engaged-to-a-Catholic Mormon woman.  The Old Testament manual instructs teachers “As you discuss the importance of eternal marriage, be sensitive to the feelings of class members who have not been married in the temple or whose parents have not been married in the temple.”  But other than that note, it doesn’t provide any practical tips about what that “sensitivity” might look like.  I hope here to provide a model for how we can use this episode in Genesis to spark discussion on how everyone can achieve more Christlike relationships, without assuming that all temple marriages are happy, nor that all non-temple marriages are miserable.

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How do women spiritually override bad Priesthood leadership?

Wrestling with “Women Submit” Language in Personal Scripture Study

One night a decade ago, I sat in a college dorm conducting a Sunday-night Bible study with my boyfriend.  We’d been working our way through the letters of Paul, and now were on Ephesians 5.  In that passage Paul calls for unity among the saints, and reproves various “unfruitful works of darkness” before reaching a famous passage:

Giv[e] thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;  Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.  Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. … Let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

The passage didn’t strike me as odd; it seemed to exactly track everything I’d been taught in Young Women:  follow the Priesthood.  By divine design, men are the heads of households.  A husband should love and consult with his wife, but he ultimately presides as the Priesthood Holder in the home.  I had learned that even if the husband was falling short in some way, the wife should not undermine his authority, but instead “submit” and “reverence” him even more, in order to inspire him to step up and fulfill the mantle of his Priesthood responsibility. [Read more…]

We Must Do Better On Violence Against Women

I am sick of Mormon women not being believed about abuse.

I can’t even count the number of first-hand accounts I’ve heard at this point, and I only started paying attention a few years ago.  Easily dozens.  Probably hundreds.

But they all go the same way.  A Mormon woman is a chaste, obedient, temple-worthy, nurturing woman.  She gets married in the temple, moves in with her brand-new husband, and desires to start her eternal family. Within mere weeks or months, it becomes obvious her husband is angry, controlling, and abusive.  He usually quotes Church authority about men presiding and women hearkening to justify the behavior.

She doesn’t like it, but she tries to accept it.  She has been taught that she must protect her temple marriage above all else.  She has been taught that her husband is the leader of the home, and she needs to respect his authority.  She has been taught that if she just prays harder, submits harder, follows traditional gender roles harder, the problems will go away.  

They don’t go away.  They get worse. [Read more…]

Mormons Support Immigrant Dreams

This afternoon, the LDS Newsroom issued a statement in support of Dreamers.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is established in 188 nations around the globe. Issues of immigration and legal status are of concern for many of our members. Most of our early Church members emigrated from foreign lands to live, work and worship, blessed by the freedoms and opportunities offered in this great nation….

[W]e call upon our national leaders to create policies that provide hope and opportunities for those, sometimes referred to as “Dreamers,” who grew up here from a young age and for whom this country is their home. They have built lives, pursued educational opportunities and been employed for years based on the policies that were in place. These individuals have demonstrated a capacity to serve and contribute positively in our society, and we believe they should be granted the opportunity to continue to do so.

Mormons are so good on immigration.  And not just for Dreamers (which more than 80% of Americans support) — we’re good across the board.  I love our Christlike commitment to welcoming strangers.  [Read more…]

Lesson 3: The Creation #BCCSundaySchool2018

Learning Outcomes

Have class members learn and discuss how our doctrine uniquely celebrates the beauty of God’s creation of both the Earth and of all humankind, particularly the gift of our physical bodies.  Note:  There is likely more material here than can be covered in a single period, use your best judgment to encourage faithful discussion on the topics most relevant to your class.

Readings

Introduction

Back in college, I took several semester-long courses on early Christianity, including one dedicated exclusively to early Christian heresies.  Of these, there was one belief, popular among early Gnostics, that truly shocked me.  Namely: Creation was a great mistake.  All physical matter is imbued with evil.  Our goal as Christians is to transcend the evil corruption of earthly mortality and enter a pure spiritual state.  That seemed fundamentally contrary to everything I had learned about the Creation and Plan of Salvation as a Mormon youth. [Read more…]

The Psychology of the Good Samaritan

O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:8).

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While attending a legal ethics seminar last Saturday, I surprisingly had the most spiritual moment of my year.  A speaker there relayed the story of From Jerusalem to Jericho, an (apparently famous, but I had never heard of it) psychology study from 1973.  (A more readable journalistic summary is here.)  The authors specialized in research regarding what conditions prompt bystanders to help ailing strangers, rather than to ignore them.

The set-up was simple. At Princeton Theological Seminary, 40 theology students were assigned to prepare lectures as part of a final exam.  The exam occurred in a tight time frame: in 15-minute increments, instructors told individual students they needed to either leisurely wend their way across campus, or rush across campus, in order to make it to the building where their graded lecture would be recorded.  Half of the students were specifically assigned to speak on the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

But the lecture wasn’t the real test.  The real test was that as they darted across campus, each student would encounter a sick and distressed man, lying in their path. [Read more…]

On Constructive Deconstruction

I love demolition videos. The punctuation of explosions; the half-second silence before buildings crumble. They’re more fascinating than fireworks on the Fourth of July. Seriously. Just watch a greatest hits reel. Tell me these aren’t amazing.

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President Monson Funeral Arrangements

The Church has announced that President Monson’s funeral will be held Friday January 12, at noon (12 p.m.) Mountain Standard Time in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.

The funeral will be broadcast on BYUTV and streamed on LDS.org (among other locations).

The Church is inviting us to share memories on President Monson’s Facebook page, as well as make remembrance donations to the Humanitarian and Missionary funds.

Memories of President Monson

President Monson has died.  I hope he and his dear wife, Frances Monson (d. 2013), are celebrating a joyful reunion this morning.

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Photo courtesy of LDS.org

Our dear prophet spent more than 60 years of his life devoted to the Church, serving as a Bishop in his 20s, a Mission President in his 30s, and then as an apostle since the age of 36.  He strived to follow Christ, preaching the gospel through his words and actions.  He proclaimed peace, cared for the widows, and loved the children. [Read more…]

FHE / Christmas Activity Idea: Gingerbread Churches!

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On Halloween earlier this year, I hosted a German-themed party to celebrate the 500-year-anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  I’ve been meaning to do a complete write-up but the time slipped away.  Better late than never!  I’ve decided to split my write-up into two posts.

First, I’m converting one of the core party activities into a Family Home Evening lesson plan.  (Alternatively, use it to occupy your kids and their friends for an afternoon while they’re home from school over Christmas Break!)

Pictured:  The Gingerbread Churches made at my Protestant Reformation Party.

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Baptism, Resurrection, and Women Witnesses

Mormon-landia is abuzz today with the news (broken by This Week in Mormons) that youth can now more fully participate in baptisms for the dead on youth temple trips.  Specifically, Priests (age 16+) can now perform and witness temple baptisms, just like they already perform and witness live baptisms.  And young women (age 12-18) can perform any baptistry assignment (i.e. logistics, temple clothing, towels) currently done by adult women.   Previously, all of these functions could only be performed by endowed members.

There is much to celebrate here.  I fully support increased responsibility and participation in the workings of the church for our incredible youth.  Hopefully, these additional spiritual and service opportunities will help all youth feel closer to Christ and strengthen their faith.  This change also reduces the burden on finding sufficient adults to officiate youth temple trips, hopefully increasing the total number of opportunities to perform baptisms.  In addition, it may help those young women who are uncomfortable being baptized while on their periods (despite temple pronunciations that this is permitted), feel more comfortable having an awkward-question-free opportunity to serve.

And yet.  This policy change was a major missed opportunity to increase the spiritual role of young women in the Church.  [Read more…]

Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men

Full Disclosure: This is an abridged version of a talk I gave a year ago in a Bay Area Sacrament Meeting, before I became a By Common Consent-er.  It showed up in my memories feed today.  This being the “peace” week in Advent, I thought I’d share it more widely.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (Luke 2:14)

This is how the angels heralded Christ’s coming, and I can think of no better synopsis of the Gospel of Christ than that – to praise God, promote peace, and serve your fellow men.

When I was a little girl, I loved the movie Aladdin.  One day while playing computer games with my daddy, I started prattling about genies and wishes.  My dad asked what I would wish for.  Considering myself to be wise and mature, and proud of my selflessness, I parroted a line I had heard elsewhere.  I announced that if I ever found a genie, of course “My first wish would be world peace.”

My dad responded, “If you actually want world peace, you could start by not fighting with your brother.”
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The Spirit of Zakat, Tithing, and Christmas

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One summer afternoon a few years ago, a good Muslim friend and I caught up over ice cream. His family had just spent a year in the Middle East on a medicine fellowship, but now were back in the Midwest.

“How was Saudi Arabia?” I asked. “Were you able to visit Mecca?”

“Yes, and it was incredible,” my friend responded. “It was so inspiring to hear the call to prayer five times a day, to be a part of a community of fellow believers, to experience the majestic mosques steeped in history. But it was also disappointing.” [Read more…]

One Cake To Rule Them All   

 24882859_10110373489206339_49640615_oWalking out of the Masterpiece Cakeshop argument at the Supreme Court this morning, I encountered a wall of sound.  The sidewalk teemed with supporters and protestors, waving placards and flags, as media cameras swarmed.  Bakery advocates chanted “Justice for Jack,” while competing chants of “Love Conquers All” erupted on behalf of Charlie Craig and David Mullins.

I love America.  What else is free speech, if not the ability to peacefully hold competing rallies on the Supreme Court steps? [Read more…]

Harmony and Unison in the Church

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Thanks to my interfaith romance, most weeks I attend both Mormon and Catholic services.  Lately, I’ve been musing on each faith’s church music.

Mormon Sacrament Meetings are simple: someone plays the piano or organ, while the congregation sings three or four hymns from a 30-year old hymnbook.  All parts — Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass — tend to be well-represented.  Occasionally there’s a special musical number by the choir or an amateur musician.  On the margins, music leaders and priesthood leaders bicker about brass instruments, non-Hymn performances, and overly “fancy” arrangements.

Catholic Masses are similar.  The congregation sings four or five hymns together throughout the service; the accompaniment is usually piano or organ.  A large segment of the service is dedicated to call-and-response chants and singing – reciting the Lord’s Prayer, begging Christ for mercy.   The music is often performed by volunteers and amateur choirs, but its common for bigger and wealthier parishes to have professional musical staff.    [Read more…]

Mild Sacrilege To Celebrate Sanderson

oathbringer_cover-finalPioneer Day may be Mormonism’s most distinctive holiday, but Brandon Sanderson Book Launch Day is a close second.

November 14, 2017.  It’s a floating holiday; the exact date changes each year, but Sanderson is prolific – fans know that at least one Tuesday a year, they’d better plan ahead to storm the BYU Bookstore gates, take mid-week vacation, and lock themselves with snacks in a cozy be-fireplaced room. It may be days before we re-emerge.

This year is particularly important.   This year, Brandon Sanderson Book Launch Day celebrates a Major Launch.   Behold Oathbringer, the latest behemoth installment of The Stormlight Archive (earlier novels: The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance). [Read more…]

Oh Say, What Is Sin?

I’m not sure I know what sin is.

Lately, I’ve come to recognize that the theory of sin I’ve held since my youth is … wrong.  Or if not wrong, at least woefully incomplete.

For most of my teenage and young adult life, sin meant willful rebellion against God.  Sin meant knowing an action was wrong, and intentionally choosing to do it anyway.  I viewed everyday sins as a microcosm of the way Mormons describe Outer Darkness. Under that belief, almost everyone on Earth will obtain some degree of heavenly glory; the only exception is those who have “sinned against the Holy Ghost” – who have had so powerful of a witness of God’s truth they effectively walk right up to a glorified Jesus Christ, look him in the eye, and say “I am choosing to not follow you.” [1]

I considered that level of willful sin difficult to achieve.  After all, we simultaneously learned in Mormon Sunday School that things which would be sins for us (like drinking alcohol) may not necessarily be a sin for other people; non-Mormons didn’t have the same knowledge, so they wouldn’t be held to the same standard. [Read more…]

A Love Song For William Tyndale

14121557592_6022a3811b_oIn my continuing celebration of Protestant Reformation October, its time to gush about William Tyndale (1494-1536).  I love Tyndale.  He is a muse and a personal hero.  For the last two years, I have engaged in a quest to convince my Catholic fiancé to name any future firstborn son of ours Tyndale.  (I think my persistence is working: when last we discussed it, he had conceded that perhaps Tyndale would make a fine middle name.)

My love for Tyndale started two years ago after reading Wide as the Waters, which devotes Chapter Two to Tyndale’s life.  For Christmas that year I requested Tyndale’s complete works, and for the next many months relied on them for my spiritual studies.  I craved Tyndale’s devotional insights and linguistic beauty, and he did not disappoint.  Now you can find me on Sundays, sprinkling talks and lessons with his extra-scriptural wisdom. [Read more…]

Snippets from Martin Luther’s Treatise On Christian Liberty

Years ago, I stumbled upon Martin Luther’s Treatise On Christian LibertyI still turn to it often, marveling at the insights regarding the intersection of faith and works.  Here are just a few of my favorite passages.

“Since, therefore, this faith can rule only in the inward man, as Romans X says, With the heart we believe unto righteousness; and since faith alone justifies, it is clear that the inward man cannot be justified, made free and be saved by any outward work or dealing whatsoever.”

“Although it is good to preach and write about penitence, confession, and satisfaction, our teaching is unquestionably deceitful and diabolical if we stop with that and do not go on to teach about faith.” [Read more…]