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…]

Why I’m Marrying in a Catholic Basilica

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With the Vatican’s approval, I’m marrying my Catholic fiancé in St. Mary’s Basilica in Old Town Alexandria this Saturday.  Yay!  I’m so excited to celebrate true love, surrounded by my family and friends.

Some of those family and friends are a little befuddled.  As a former hyper-devoted Mormon, I can see the confusion in their eyes, the unstated curiosity about why I’m not marrying in the temple.  Only a few have ventured to ask the question directly.

I believe it is important to give an honest answer.  This is my story. [Read more…]

Women Don’t Cast Sustaining Votes?

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My sister Cheryl called me this morning, annoyed at a procedure her Indiana stake just used to call a new counselor in her Stake Presidency.   An old counselor had moved and been released between Stake Conferences, so the new one was called and sustained during an interim Stake Priesthood meeting.

“This isn’t like an Elders Quorum President,” Cheryl mused.  “A Stake Counselor doesn’t just serve men in his quorum, he has stewardship over the entire stake.  But he can be set apart without a single woman knowing about the calling or sustaining him?” [Read more…]

Informal Gospel Study Groups

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“Do you have Priesthood approval for that gathering?”

It’s a question I’ve heard numerous times, and it’s always bothered me.

Over the years, across the country and even the world, I’ve participated in many informal gospel study groups.   They’ve often sat at the core of my social circles and been the site of some of my powerful spiritual insights. [Read more…]

Thanks, Elder Holland

Holland Yesterday

Dear Elder Holland,

A week ago I expressed concern with your Facebook post that included some marriage advice.  I was most concerned about how victims of abuse would hear rhetoric that “you can make the marriage you want” and “your priesthood leaders will know” when “there is a legitimate exception” justifying divorce.

Yesterday, I was grateful for your talk on peace.  Christ is the Prince of Peace, the source of healing for all pain and for all contention.  We should live together in love, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with our imperfect brothers and sisters.  This is a core gospel truth.

Amidst this message on peace, I appreciated that you acknowledged what healing and forgiveness is, and what it isn’t.  [Read more…]

Dissecting Problematic Marriage/Abuse Rhetoric

Dear Elder Holland,

We need to talk about today’s Facebook post.

I love that you and Pat have such an amazing marriage.  I love your folksy and relatable advice about laughing at mistakes, and being quick to forgive, and remaining committed to conflict resolution and a long-term vision of happiness.

I appreciate, too, that amidst the cheerful marriage advice you throw in an exception: “I realize there may be an abusive or violent situation giving a legitimate reason to get out of a marriage.”  I have long noticed, and appreciated, that you are consistent in condemning verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and recognizing that exception.

It is out of respect for your advocacy that I am writing.  Because your next sentence, no matter how well-intentioned, will be destructive to many abuse victims:  “When there is a legitimate exception, you’ll know, your priesthood leaders will know, and God will know.” [Read more…]