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…]

1309-1417: Avignon and the Papal Schism

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For two centuries before the official launch of the Protestant Reformation, corruption and strife in the papacy prompted calls for reform within the Catholic Church.  Back in the early 14th century, the Pope had fled Rome and set up the offices of the church in Avignon, France.  There, over the next 100 years, a series of Popes created ways to increase religious taxes and fiscal intakes, funding construction of a grand palace of opulence (pictured).  As one Italian poet described Avignon, it is “a receptacle of all that is most wicked and abominable…In this city there is no piety, no reverence or fear of God, no faith or charity, nothing that is holy, just, equitable, or humane.”

Two women, later canonized by the Catholic church, led the calls to repentance.  St. Bridget implored Pope Gregory XI to show humility — “Why in thy Court dost thou suffer unchecked the foulest pride, insatiable avarice, execrable wantonness, and all-devouring simony? … Arise and seek bravely to reform the Church which I have purchased with my blood, and it shall be restored to its former state, though now a brothel is more respected than it.”  [Read more…]

Protestant Oktoberfest 

Germany has a major celebration every October — but this year is special.  500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the doors of Wittenberg Church.  This symbolically launched what later historians would dub the Protestant Reformation.

As a lover of religious history — and appreciator of the LDS Church’s indebtedness to many things Protestant — I hereby proclaim October to be Protestant Reformation month at By Common Consent.  I hope you will enjoy and contribute to our celebration of Protestant hymns, quotes, churches, leaders, theologies, and other snippets of history.  I pray that through this celebration, we can all rediscover a love of scripture and delight in faith.

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LDS Institutional Priorities

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The Church cannot be all things to all people.

That’s just a fact – a fact born of the realities of membership, resources, and structure.

For some, admitting the Church’s limitations may border on heresy.  But for me, it lends a forgiving perspective.  Sure, I quibble with the Church’s choices around the margins, but I accept that overall the choices are intentional, and intended to establish priorities within the four-fold mission of the Church.   [Read more…]

The Cake To End All Cakes

 

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

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LDS Hurricane Relief

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

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

God’s Bureaucracy

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

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

Two Temple Worker Restrictions Removed

Several years ago I discovered three weird restrictions on temple service.  Often, while I was attending the temple, the workers mentioned they needed help; they invited the patrons to pray and talk to their stake to seek out temple worker callings. Several friends of mine felt inspired to follow through.  They met the basic qualifications – devout Mormons, in good health, without records of Church discipline.  But they were denied. [Read more…]

Eliminating Any Lingering Disapproval Of Interracial Marriage

I have a weirdly vivid memory of the early 1990s moment when I first learned that some people frown on interracial marriages.  I was approximately five years old and living in Florida.  While playing one afternoon, I stumbled upon a wedding invitation for a mixed-race couple in my ward.  The invitation included an engagement photo, and said the wedding would be held in a few weeks at the chapel.

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Peace and Love to Charlottesville

I love Charlottesville.  For nearly a decade, Charlottesville has been my favorite retreat from the chaos of big cities.  I have family who live, just barely outside of cell-signal range, in the breathtaking rolling hills west of town.  My fiancé, Brad, attended – and I seriously considered attending – the University of Virginia Law School.  I love visiting.  I’ve explored its romantic colonial streets; hiked its peaceful mountains; day-dreamed about living there forever.

But this year Charlottesville has become a flashpoint for racial tension.  After years of studied discussion, the City Council voted in February to remove confederate statutes and rename two confederate-honoring parks.  (One of those parks, Stonewall Jackson park, was built after the city in 1914 seized land from private citizens in order to destroy a burgeoning black community.)  The parks have since been renamed, but plans to remove the statute stalled when the City was sued under a state law protecting historic monuments.  A month ago a small KKK rally at Justice Park (formerly Stonewall Jackson park) was overwhelmed by a thousand counter-protestors.  When a “Unite the Right” group applied for a permit to hold a further rally, they had to obtain a federal court order protecting their right to free speech.  Counter-protestors again rallied to flood the streets.

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If she asks for tacos, give a salad?

“Ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.  Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent…For behold, are we not all beggars?”  (Mosiah 4 16:19)

Lived Christianity is … difficult.  In a multitude of everyday encounters, I either genuinely don’t know, or my natural instinct is not to follow, how Christ would act.

I’ve dubbed these my moral “dilemmas of the day.”

Take yesterday.  The poor often congregate near where I work.  My office is in a gentrifying area — upscale cafes serving business professionals are popping up next to downtrodden public housing and shelters.  Nearly every day, someone asks me for help.

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Airing My Dirty Laundry

[B]y love serve one another.  For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  Galatians 5:12-13

Our Sacrament Meeting theme last week was on service.  The Primary President spoke about how her summer enrichment with her kids has been setting a goal to serve others every day.  She spoke about how opportunities appeared as they sought them, describing with amusement the giggles of her children as they concocted a plan to stealthily pay for the car behind them in a fast food drive-through.

The high counselor then related an old Clay Christensen story, where Clay had discovered one summer day that an elderly woman in his ward had an ancient iron fridge in her basement filled with rotting food.  So Clay, as a good home teacher, took it upon himself to dispose of the fridge – and invited a neighbor to help.  As they’re dying in the heat, halfway up the stairs, the neighbor asks, “Clay, could you tell me a little bit about the Mormon Church?” And Clay said, “Don, frankly, this is the Mormon Church, right here.” [Read more…]

How would Jesus play board games?

I love board games.  I have for my entire life.  The more strategic, the better.  I’m not sure whether it’s because my family and friends consist of nerds, boring adults in their 30s, or Mormons, but they all play along with my obsession.

(Pictured: my game shelves as of 2 months ago.  They’ve grown since then.)

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The Supreme Court and Religious Liberty: The Plot Thickens

The last day of the Supreme Court term never disappoints on drama.  And this morning, the drama related to the First Amendment and religious liberty.  Religious school funding, bakery objections to same-sex weddings, and President Trump’s Travel Ban — major action on all three fronts happened today.

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And There Was No Sick Among Them

“And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.”  D&C 52:40

I remember the day – 10 years ago this month –  I first realized that government-sponsored healthcare might not be inherently evil.

A British friend and I were engaged in an impromptu debate on social policy.  I started lecturing him on the defects of British healthcare compared to true red-state and Mormon principles of self-reliance.  Any form of welfare, especially government-sponsored healthcare, perpetuated a cycle of dependence.  If an individual legitimately needed help, family, friends, and nonprofits should step in.  Government involvement was wasteful, anti-capitalistic, and coercive –  it could never heal society.

He offered a pithy response: “I can think of nothing more barbaric about America than that you let people die because they can’t afford healthcare.”

“Barbaric” hit me with a jolt. What an absurd word!  And yet, one with truth. [Read more…]

A Crash Course for America on the Psychology of Harassment

You’re big. You’re strong. But why didn’t you stop and say, “Mr. President, this is wrong. I cannot discuss this with you?’”

“It’s a great question. Maybe if I were stronger, I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just… took it in.”

“At the time, did you say anything to the president about — that is not an appropriate request?”

“I didn’t, no.” [Read more…]

Fourth Circuit Strikes Down President Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0

This afternoon, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits in Richmond, VA, just held that President Trump’s second travel ban Executive Order (which superseded his first one) is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause.

Key quote:

The Government has repeatedly asked this Court to ignore evidence, circumscribe our own review, and blindly defer to executive action, all in the name of the Constitution’s separation of powers. We decline to do so, not only because it is the particular province of the judicial branch to say what the law is, but also because we would do a disservice to our constitutional structure were we to let its mere invocation silence the call for meaningful judicial review.

The deference we give the coordinate branches is surely powerful, but even it must yield in certain circumstances, lest we abdicate our own duties to uphold the Constitution. EO-2 cannot be divorced from the cohesive narrative linking it to the animus that inspired it. In light of this, we find that the reasonable observer would likely conclude that EO-2’s primary purpose is to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs.

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Threats to Religious Freedom, at Home and Abroad (A BCC Discussion)

It is our duty to raise our voice for the voiceless.”  ~Kristina Arriaga, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (May 17, 2017).

Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (“USCIRF”) hosted a discussion on their most recent annual report, which details the “countries of particular concern” regarding religious freedom.  The State Department periodically issues a similar International Religious Freedom Report.  As does the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life.

The international threats to religious freedom are serious.  Although colloquial use of “religious freedom” varies, encompassing a wide variety of public and private actions that in some way implicate religion, I propose limiting our discussion to a more precise definition.  Religious freedom is violated by official government action targeting the peaceful expression of religious belief.

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