Oman, A Possible Theology of Same-Sex Marriage Sealings

This morning, Nate Oman posted what may be the most important and consequential piece of Mormon theology I’ve read in a long time over on his Substack. In it, he explores whether and how same-sex sealings could fit in Latter-day Saint theology.

Those of you who know Nate will be unsurprised to find that it is a thoughtful, careful, insightful, empathetic, and fundamentally faithful exploration. He takes as his cue D&C 9, which both describes a stupor of thought as evidence that what we do is not aligned with God’s will and instructs us to study questions out in our mind to figure out what is right, then present our findings to the Lord for confirmation.

Nate also doesn’t let ideas off easy. While acknowledging that the church’s treatment of the LGBTQ community does not feel just or fair, he doesn’t consider that, of itself, a compelling theological argument for same-sex sealings. At the same time, he finds our assumption of “heterosexual exaltation” equally baseless.

Instead, he advocates what I will call a theology of humility. He sketches the gaps in our understanding and application of sealings both today and through church history, how those gaps undercut our easy assumptions, and why those gaps allow for same-sex sealings.

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Faith, Reason, and CES

Last week, the Deseret News published an essay by Elder Clark Gilbert, the commissioner of CES. (Remember, CES is over the church’s secondary education system, including the BYUs and Pathways.) In it, he argues for the distinctive—and critical—role religiously-affiliated colleges and universities play in our broad network of secondary education.

And honestly, I found the essay deeply troubling.

Not, let me point out, because I disagree with Elder Gilbert’s premise. I’ve spent my entire academic career teaching at the Loyola University Chicago School of Law. We’re a Jesuit school, and our sense of Jesuit identity is central to our mission and to the way we educate our students. This mission encourages us to center justice, as well as the well-being of our students, faculty, and staff. It motivates and permeates the education we provide.

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Religious Liberty and Short-Termism

On Wednesday, a Texas district court found that the ACA’s mandate that insurance cover PrEP violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. (Opinion here.)

A couple quick explanations before we go on: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) was a law passed by Congress to essentially overrule a Supreme Court decision. It was meant to provide religious practice with a higher level of protection than the Court was affording it. PrEP is a drug that significantly reduces the chance that a person will get HIV from sex or injection drug use.

A handful of people (and one corporation) challenged the mandate that insurance cover PrEP, claiming that their religious beliefs and practice required them to have access to insurance that didn’t cover PrEP, either for themselves or their employees. And, in the first instance, they won.

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Anti-Racism, the Bystander Effect, and BYU

Friday night, a racist BYU fan harassed a Black women’s volleyball player playing for Duke. Among other things, he threatened her and called her a racial slur that is arguably the most offensive word in the contemporary English language. And nobody—not the students surrounding the racist, not the game officials, not BYU’s athletic director, nobody—took actions to stop it.[fn1] (And it’s not like BYU officials didn’t know—Rachel Richardson, the Duke player at whom the racist invective was aimed, said that BYU’s coaching staff was told what was happening. And I’ve been to volleyball games at the Smith Fieldhouse—you can definitely hear what people shout.)

Utah’s governor expressed his “disgust” and sadness at the story, and rightly pointed out that we need to fix society so that “racist a**holes like this never feel comfortable attacking others.” And Sunday night, BYU’s women’s volleyball coach issued an apology and a promise to do better.

But the thing is, this wasn’t an isolated incident. And it’s going to happen again.

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Happy Birthday, Sister Jean!

In 2018, when the Loyola Ramblers burst into the NCAA basketball Final Four, my school burst into the national spotlight.

But it wasn’t just Loyola University Chicago: it was also the Ramblers’ chaplain, Sister Jean. She became a fixture on TV, on the internet, and even in the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum.

Today, Sister Jean celebrates her 103rd(!) birthday. Among other things, the plaza outside of the main Loyola Campus has been renamed in her honor and, on Tuesday, she’ll throw out the first pitch at the Cubs game.

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Two Things the Church Can Do Now to Improve Its Response to Child Abuse

My cobloggers have offered excellent commentary about the disturbing news about child abuse coming out of Arizona. Everything from suggestions about how we could better help abuse survivors to systemic changes we can make to reduce the incidence of abuse to discussions of confidential confession itself to how the church could have better drafted its first press release.

All of these discussions are crucial as we attempt to protect our children and limit (or better, eliminate!) abuse. But the church’s most recent press release[fn1] crystalized something in my mind, and suggested two things that the church could do in the short term, as we work toward a long-term without abuse.

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Yearning and Trane

Yesterday I watched Chasing Trane, a documentary on jazz luminary John Coltrane. (I mentioned Coltrane my introduction to Coltrane in my tribute to Dr. Ray Smith.)

The documentary is a perfectly acceptable review of a fascinating life. And what really struck me was Coltrane’s spirituality. He was a religious seeker and, like Bach, he sought to elevate his listeners through his music, to bring us closer to the transcendent and the Divine.

And his approach toward religious transcendence is nowhere as explicit as in his suite “A Love Supreme.” (Jason K. wrote about “A Love Supreme” in a Mormon Lectionary Project post seven years ago.)

“A Love Supreme” is a different approach to religion than we as Mormons usually take, in our music or in our rhetoric. Our hymns are generally composed in four-part harmony with classic voice-leading. The lyrics comfort. The harmonies and melodies are familiar and comfortable. Any dissonance ultimately resolves.

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The Clergy-Penitent Privilege–Questions and a Suggestion

At this point, I assume most of our readers have seen today’s AP story. If not, you can read it here (but be warned: it’s disturbing and disgusting and the church—rightly, imho—comes out looking terrible).

What underlies this miscarriage of justice is the clergy-penitent privilege. And what is that? It’s a legal privilege that protects confessional communications between clergy and a person who goes to the clergy for spiritual counselling.

It’s a state-level privilege, meaning it’s created and governed by state, not federal, law. And in every state it differs at least a little. And honestly, privilege broadly—and clergy-penitent privilege in particular—is outside of my area of expertise. I understand it broadly, but the contours are tough and specific.

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Christian Nationalist Is Incompatible with Mormonism

Yesterday, this piece on Christian nationalism ended up in my Twitter feed. In it, Amanda Tyler, the Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty explains why it is absolutely critical for Christians to step up and expressly denounce Christian nationalism.

What is Christian nationalism? The BJC describes it as explicitly promoting the idea that Christianity should explicitly infuse the U.S.’s “public policies, sacred symbols, and national identity.” Implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) it also holds that the only true Christians/Americans are white, conservative, and born in the U.S.A.

It is critical to point out here that there’s a difference between saying (as a voter or a politician), “My values influence my policy preferences” and saying “The laws of the country should codify [my version of] Christianity.” The former, Tyler points out, allows for some work across the aisles, some vision of a better society. She points to Georgia Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, a Baptist pastor, and Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford, a former Baptist youth pastor, among others.

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On “Laws Related to Abortion”

Several weeks ago, in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, the church made a change to its official statement on abortion. Reaffirming its political neutrality, the church gave explicit permission for members to “choose to participate in efforts to protect life and to preserve religious liberty.”

What does that mean? Well, the church explicitly permits abortions in cases of rape, incest, in cases where the pregnancy imposes a serious risk to the mother’s health or life, and in cases where the fetus has serious defects and will not survive.

That is, the church recognizes that there must be some kind of balance between the rights of a pregnant person and the rights of a fetus. In at least some circumstances, that balance favors the pregnant person. Which makes sense—in Mormonism, we don’t have any theological commitment to when life begins. We have, of course, scriptures that suggest it may be sometime before birth (John leapt in Elisabeth’s womb when Elisabeth heard Mary) and scriptures that suggest maybe not (Jesus spoke to Nephi the day before He was born). And from a policy perspective, stillborn children are not recorded as births or deaths on church records and no temple work can be performed for them.

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Girls Should Be Passing the Sacrament. Full Stop.

I’ve written about this twice before, but this time I’m going to be completely blunt: the church needs to allow women and girls to pass and prepare the sacrament. Like yesterday. The Doctrine and Covenants expressly prohibits deacons and teachers from administering the sacrament, which means passing and preparing it are not administering it. Thus, the only grounding for requiring priesthood to do those things is tradition.

And here’s the thing: if we’re arbitrarily preventing women and girls from doing something on the basis that we’ve always prohibited them from doing it, we’re sending them a message. And that message is, “You’re second class, and your contributions are less important.” It doesn’t matter how many times we tell women and girls that they’re important, because our actions and policies send the second message.

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Homesteading Utah

My family and I just got back from an extended road trip. And one of our first stops on that road trip was Homestead National Historic Park in Nebraska. It was actually our second time visiting and, seriously, if you get the chance to visit, you absolutely should. (It’s only about an hour and a half from Winter Quarters.)

The Homestead Act was fascinating. Signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862, it allowed heads of household or anyone over 21 to claim a 160-acre parcel of land, provided they were, or intended to become, a citizen.[fn1] To get the land, a homesteader had to live on the land for five years, built a home, make improvements to the land, and farm it. At the end of five years, for only the cost of a filing fee, a successful homesteader would own the land.

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On Bewaring of Pride

My freshman year at BYU, my Book of Mormon professor took a couple classes to warn us of the dangers of self-esteem. It’s been long enough that I don’t remember precisely how she got to self-esteem being a dangerous concept (except something something less than the dust of the earth). It was dumb and harmful, and I objected to it in class, though as an 18-year-old I didn’t have the language to articulate why it was stupid and harmful.[fn1]

While I’m not clear how she derived the idea that self-esteem was harmful, I wouldn’t be shocked if it found its roots in Pres. Benson’s infamous talk “Beware of Pride.”

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A Quick Note re: the Church and Gun Safety Legislation

I was reading the WBEZ website yesterday, and came across a story about Cardinal Cupich, the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Chicago. Cardinal Cupich called on legislators to pass legislation to curb gun violence.

“The Second Amendment, unlike the second commandment, did not come down from Sinai,” Cupich told NPR. “There is an understanding that we all have in our hearts, engraved in our hearts, a natural law about the value of human life. And there is no amendment that can trump that.”

So can he do that? Can he speak out about political issues? Is he, the leader of the 3rd largest archdiocese in the United States, with more than 2 million Catholics, risking the Catholic Church’s tax exemption?

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What Can We Do About Gun Violence?

Like so many others right now, I’m numb with sadness and rage about the murder today of at least fifteen people (14 of whom were elementary school children) in Texas, following on the heels of the murder a week and a half ago of one in a California church, following the racist murder of ten in Buffalo. And that’s not to mention the mass shooting that killed two in Chicago (in fact, a block north of my office) last week, or countless other acts of gun violence and murder we and our neighbors endure on a far-too-regular basis.

So what can we, as Latter-day Saints and as U.S. citizens and residents[fn1] do?

We should advocate for better laws, laws that will make these deadly shooting less likely. And I use “should” deliberately; the church encourages us to “play a role as responsible citizens in their communities, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections” and to otherwise engage in the political process. And while the church has taken no formal stand on gun regulation, Pres. Nelson said, in the wake of the Parkland shooting, that “men have passed laws that allow guns to go to people who shouldn’t have them.” As Saints and as humans, we should recoil at the idea that someone can march in and murder elementary school children, or Black Buffalo residents doing their grocery shopping, or a physician worshiping at church.

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On Faking It

Earlier this week, the Salt Lake Tribune published a column entitled “If You’re Faking Your Latter-day Saint Faith … Why?” The basic gist is, the columnist is puzzled why people who don’t believe in the church still participate, rather than living authentically. He writes about these fakers (and, if he were a Salinger fan, I supposed he would have used “phonies“):

They go to church, they fulfill congregational callings, they pay tithing, they socialize with believers and participate with family members in every aspect of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, except for one.

They do not actually believe it to be the truth.

Call me naive, but this whole concept is tough to fit into my brain.

Why the heck would anyone pretend to believe in a religion that is as demanding, and often outright inconvenient, as the LDS Church is?

The column really got under my skin. In the first instance, it’s because I have no patience for people (inside and outside the church) who insist that, if you don’t buy into their conception of religion, you should leave. (I similarly have no patience for people who insist you have no choice but to stay—I’m equal opportunity impatient!)

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Living Our Values: FTSOY and Tucker Carlson

When I was a teenager, I, like so many of my cohort, had a copy of the church’s 1990 pamphlet For the Strength of Youth. The pamphlet has a section entitled “Media: Movies, Television, Radio, Videocassettes, Books, and Magazines.” It said, among other things:

Our Heavenly Father has counseled us as Latter-day Saints to “seek after anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy” . . . . Whatever you read, listen to, or watch makes an impression on you. Public entertainment and the media can provide you with much positive experience. They can uplift and inspire you, teach you good and moral principles, and bring you closer to the beauty this world offers. But they can also make what is wrong and evil look normal, exciting, and acceptable.

***

Don’t attend or participate in any form of entertainment . . . that is vulgar, immoral, inappropriate, suggestive, or pornographic in any way. . . . Don’t be afraid to walk out of a movie, turn off a television set, or change a radio station if what’s being presented does not meet your Heavenly Father’s standards. And do not read books or magazines or look at pictures that are pornographic or that present immorality as acceptable.

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Lafferty, Posse Comitatus and Mormon Remix Culture

Yesterday, Hulu released the first two episodes of Under the Banner of Heaven, an Andrew Garfield-led adaptation of Krakauer’s book by the same name.

And honestly, I don’t have anything to say about it. I haven’t had time to watch it and, in any event, I’m not a television critic. (If you want a set of insightful and sophisticated responses, Juvenile Instructor has you covered!)

But its renewed salience brings up something that I think Krakauer gets wrong about Mormonism. But the thing is, it’s also something most Mormons get wrong about Mormonism: there’s a sense that Mormonism exceptionalism. For critics of the church, that can mean that the bad things about Mormonism are unique to Mormon beliefs and culture. For members, it can mean that the good things are revelatory and unique to us, the result of direct revelation.

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It’s Not Taxes

A popular legal Twitter personality has an evergreen tweet: “It’s not RICO.” See, RICO (the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) has become a super-popular rhetorical crime. Trump violated RICO; antifa violated RICO; I’m probably violating RICO just by posting this!

The thing is, RICO is a very narrowly-tailored law. There are specific criteria a crime has to meet to violate RICO and basically, if you hear someone say that somebody else violated RICO, you can be about 99% sure not only that they’re wrong, but that they have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about.

I thought about that the other day when a friend pointed me to a clip from a popular Mormon-themed podcast.[fn1] In the clip, the podcaster makes a blockbuster announcement: the podcaster has just discovered why the church builds so many temples. Specifically, the podcaster was told by an “inside source”:

It turns out that for the church to maintain its tax-exempt status, for the Mormon church to maintain its tax-exempt status as a charity or as a church, it has to do something with its money. And so building temples is one of the major ways the church can spend a boatload of money with all this cash that it keeps collecting and stay in business and be perceived as a charitable institution.

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Celebrating BYU’s Dr. Ray Smith

When I was 2 or 3 years old, my grandparents gave me some money for my birthday. My parents took me to a toy store and, they tell me, I disappeared. Ten minutes later I was back with a plastic toy saxophone.

My mom started giving me piano lessons when I was 5 and, eventually, I transitioned to a professional teacher. Then, in fifth grade, I picked up the saxophone. My dad had played briefly when he was a kid and I started on his alto.

I absolutely fell in love with the saxophone. (I still love it, to be honest.) In middle school, I joined the 0 period jazz band, directed by Glenn Miller superfan (and eventual convert to the church) Karl Fitch. (Thanks, Mr. Fitch!) At a jazz band concert I heard a classmate a year ahead of me play a solo on tenor and I became a tenor sax player.

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Molech, Transgender Children, and the Idol of Politics

The Hebrew Bible does not mince words about the worship of Molech. Per Leviticus, anybody in the land of Israel who gave their children to Molech was to be put to death; not only that, God would “set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people.” In fact, two chapters earlier we read that one reason God expelled the Cananites from their land was because the Cananites let their children “pass through the fire to Molech.” Leviticus 18 makes clear that the expulsion is not just in the past tense; if the Israelites offer their children to Molech, they too will be spewed out of the land and cut off from God.

So who was Molech? According to the notes in my Jewish Study Bible, Molech was the Hebrew name for a Near Eastern god associated with the netherworld. Biblical tradition is uniform that worshiping Molech involved the sacrifice of children. Milton paints a devastating picture of Molech, an abomination and “horrid King besmear’d with blood/Of human sacrifice, and parents tears,/Though for the noyse of Drums and Timbrels loud/Thir childrens cries unheard, that past through fire/To his grim Idol.”

Today, of course, we don’t literally kill our children to worship various deities. But also, we don’t limit our reading of scripture to the narrowest, most literal interpretation possible. Famously, Pres. Kimball virtually canonized[fn1] the idea that the biblical injunction against idolatry isn’t merely an injunction against worshiping gods other than God. Rather, “[w]hatever thing a man sets his heart and his trust in most is his god; and if his god doesn’t also happen to be the true and living God of Israel, that man is laboring in idolatry.” He expressly points to the wealth we have accumulated as our new false god.

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Tomorrow Is Ash Wednesday

Pączki from Familiar Bakery in Chicago

Which means that today is Fat Tuesday.

I’ve written before about how, since moving to Chicago, my family has wholeheartedly embraced the Chicago-by-way-of-Poland Fat Tuesday tradition of Pączki Day. And, in fact, I’m sitting at home[fn1] with six pączki in a box on my counter, with however many more my wife is bringing home after work (she was going to hit at least two Polish bakeries on the way to and from work).

But I’m not posting this to boast about how many pączki I’m going to eat today (or, at least, I’m not posting this solely to boast about how many I’m going to eat); rather, I spent this morning thinking about the tension in Christianity between asceticism and consumption.

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88 Keys and the Limits of “Chopsticks”

I thought I’d do one last post on Brad Wilcox’s now-infamous youth fireside. Tuesday I wrote about his offensive take on race and the priesthood (for which he has since apologized, though on the question of its sincerity ymmv). Yesterday I posted about the problems with his expressed views on gender. And today I’m going to look at what he said about other religions.

But today’s post is going to be a little different. Because at one point, he invoked a metaphor. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he said, is like a piano keyboard.

Some churches play a few notes, some churches play several octaves, but we’re the only church that has a whole piano. So when we are saying, “We’re the only true church,” we’re just inviting people to come and see what we can add to the truths that already fill their lives.

A few seconds later, he adds that he doesn’t “want to lose a whole piano. You walk away from the church, say goodbye to the whole piano. Have fun playing ‘Chopsticks‘ the rest of your life.”

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Brad Wilcox and Institutional Problems, Part 2

Monday night, I saw a clip on Twitter of Young Men general presidency member Brad Wilcox making a tremendously racist statement in a youth fireside. I posted about it yesterday and, in the comments, people told me it wasn’t just racism. There was misogyny and religious bigotry mixed in too.

So last night I looked at a little more of his address and, well, it too is not good. So today I’m going to add a little. I’ll note that I still haven’t watched the whole thing and today’s post will be a lot shorter, in large part because I have to do actual work that I get paid for; thus, I’m going to pull out one or two parts.

Today’s post won’t be overshadowed by questions of the sincerity of the apology though because, unlike his statements on race and the priesthood, there has been no apology.

And with that, here we go:

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“Lead Out in Abandoning Attitudes and Actions of Prejudice”

Note: between when I drafted this post and when I scheduled it to go live, Bro. Wilcox apologized for his statement. And it’s a real-deal kind of apology, not a squishy avoiding-blame one; in fact, it’s a model for one step of precisely what I hoped for. I’m still going to posting for two reasons. First, while apology is a critical part of repenting, it is not the only step. And second, I don’t think this was primarily an individual problem–there is an underlying institutional problem that his comments highlighted and his apology didn’t and couldn’t change. But I’m making some changes to what I previously wrote in light of his apology.

Last weekend, Bradley Wilcox, second counselor in the Young Men’s general presidency and associate teaching professor of ancient scripture at BYU-Provo, gave a youth fireside in Alpine, UT. Somewhere in the fireside he asked, rhetorically, why Black church members didn’t get the priesthood until 1978. (To be clear, his framing of the question is wrong: in the first decades of the church, a number of Black men received the priesthood; it wasn’t until 1852 that Brigham Young imposed the priesthood-and-temple ban on Black members.)

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Handbook Changes: Music at Church

When I was in high school, I volunteered to have my saxophone quartet play a special musical number in sacrament meeting.

My offer was declined.

I suspect it was declined on church policy grounds. The 1989 Handbook—the one that would have been in effect when I was in high school—didn’t have explicit policies on the types of music and the types of instruments permitted in sacrament meeting; rather, it limited its guidance to the requirement that “[m]usic and musical texts are to be sacred, dignified, and otherwise suitable for a Latter-day Saint meeting.”

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Butts in the Pews(?)

Photo by Drew Murphy on Unsplash

Over the last month or so, I’ve heard from several family members and friends that their wards are trying to wind down online church. There are variations, of course, everything from announcing that there will be no more Zoom church to making the link available only to people who get approval from the bishop (presumably because of health or familial issues).

I’m not clear on whether these are ward, stake, area, or general church initiatives. But I am clear that this is a terrible idea, made more terrible because nobody has explained the underlying reasons to restrict or eliminate online church.

The most immediate reason it’s a terrible idea is the current omicron wave, which sickened as many as 1 million people Monday alone, is quickly filling up our hospitals, and is just as quickly shutting our schools.

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The Church, the State (of Utah), and Welfare

On Thursday, ProPublica and the Salt Lake Tribune published a fascinating article detailing a link between Utah, the church, and welfare payments. I assume most readers here have already read it. If not, you really need to read it. Maybe before reading this post but, if not before, definitely right after.

The tl;dr of the article is this: since about 2009, Utah has underspent on its social safety net. Also, based on an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) it signed with the church, it has counted volunteer hours performed for the church in calculating how much it has spent.

Reading the article the first time, though, left me with questions. And it turns out I’m not the only one who didn’t entirely understand what was going on: on Friday, the Editorial Board of the Tribune published an unsigned op-ed, the heart of which were these three paragraphs:

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Religion and Abortion

As I type this post, the Supreme Court is listening to arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. In that case, JWHO is challenging a Mississippi law that bans [updated] most abortions in the state after fifteen weeks of gestation (with no exception for rape or incest). Mississippi, on the other hand, is asking the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade (and,, in fact, appears to have passed its law precisely because it thought the Supreme Court would do so).

There’s a popular narrative in the U.S. that there is a single religious view on abortion: that it’s wrong and should be banned. But that view is both overly-simplistic and wrong. There is an enormous range of religious views on abortion. On the one hand, Catholicism opposes abortion, along with capital punishment and the death penalty, as part of its dedication to the sanctity of human life.

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Vaccines Approved for 5-11-Year-Olds in the U.S.

Last Friday, the FDA authorized the emergency use of the Pfizer vaccines for children ages 5-11. Then, Tuesday night, the CDC recommended the vaccine for children.

Unfortunately, that approval happened simultaneously with a bunch of closely-watched elections. Wednesday morning, most news sites did mention the vaccine’s approval, but those stories were buried underneath breathless election stories. I found them but I only found them because I actively looked for them.

So just so our U.S. readers don’t miss the news: if you have a child five years old or older, your child can now get vaccinated against Covid!

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