Whiteness and Jesus

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been reading The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race In America. Without going into too much detail, the book traces the development of Jesus as white in the United States and the contested place of His whiteness. Broadly speaking, when the Puritans came here, they eschewed images, including pictures of Jesus. And in the early days, when Jesus appeared to people, He appeared as light, not as racialized.[fn1]

Little by little, Jesus began to be more embodied in the American imagination; His embodiment emerged roughly (though not entirely) with technology that allow the mass production of pictures and pamphlets. And embodied Jesus began to be depicted as racially white.

Especially after the Civil War and into the first half of the 20th century, His whiteness was often (not always, but often) pressed into the service of white supremacy. Jesus was white because white was better, white was purer, white was worthier.

Again, this outline is very surface-level; the book provides a lot more detail and nuance. But overall, it represents the book’s outline (at least through the Civil Rights movement and the creation of Black Liberation Theology, which is where I currently am in the book). [Read more…]

Charlie Parker at 100

Today would have been the 100th birthday of jazz great Charlie Parker.

If you’re unfamiliar with Charlie Parker, he was one of the founders of bebop, a musical style that followed (and supplanted) the big bands and swing that had been popular before World War II. Bird, as he was nicknamed, played the alto sax. He his playing was fast[fn1] and it was rhythmically and harmonically complicated; it, more than almost any other musical style (except, perhaps, mid-century classical music) encapsulated the same modernism that developed in art and literature during the first half of the 20th century.

And why commemorate Bird on a Mormon blog? There is absolutely no reason to think that he had any connection to Mormonism, nor Mormonism any particular connection to Bird. In fact, according to Michael Hicks’s Mormonism and Music, church leaders in the early 20th century “defined jazz as ‘departure from the correct'” and condemned improvisation. As late as 1948, BYU faculty “scuttled” a proposed concert by Dizzy Gillespie, a contemporary of Bird and another of the founders of bebop, possibly fearing repercussions by church leaders. [Read more…]

Religious Freedom vs. Public Interest (Working Women)

I dissent.

Let me start off by being clear that I am not a lawyer (on a blog with many lawyers). I have multiple decades of experience as a business executive in large corporations, overseeing the employment of thousands of people. As an executive, I understood very well what the applicable anti-discrimination laws were. Now that I’m a small business owner, I also recognize that many of those laws are not required for me, but based on my personal conviction and principles, I still run my business as if they do.

In a 7-2 decision, SCOTUS recently upheld a completely discriminatory ruling to allow employers (that are not directly affiliated with any church) to refuse to cover birth control in their employee healthcare plans. This decision rests firmly on a few shaky foundational assumptions: [Read more…]

Review: 1st Nephi: a brief theological introduction

Joseph Spencer, 1st Nephi: a brief theological introduction (Provo: Neal A. Maxwell Institute, 2020)

If you’re anything like me, you can relate the story of 1st Nephi in your sleep. Lehi, a goodly parent, has a dream that warns him to leave Jerusalem with his family. They go into the wilderness, at times grudgingly, at times not. His four sons return to Jerusalem twice, first to retrieve a record and next to retrieve a family. There are conflicts and blessings in the wilderness, they arrive at the sea, they build a boat, and they end up in a promised land. Lehi, in effect, leads an exodus of two families from the once-promised land into a new promised land.

And not infrequently, that’s the level at which we engage with the Book of Mormon. We take Nephi’s authorial voice as authoritative and objectively true. We find lessons in is obedience and his brothers’, well, grudging obedience. And we plow through the text again, annually or every four years, or when we remember.

In his brief theological introduction to 1st Nephi, Joseph Spencer doesn’t argue against reading the plot of 1st Nephi, and gleaning didactic lessons from it. It’s what we do, and there’s doubtless value in it.

But he argues—convincingly—that if our engagement with the text stays solely plot-focused, we’re missing important depths of the Book of Mormon. We’re giving up theological lessons that we could enjoy. [Read more…]

Top 10 General Conference Background Suggestions

While Covid 19 is a threat to public health and is a disproportionate economic threat to some industries, one company that seems poised to win is Zoom. Zoom provides an easy-to-use virtual meeting platform that includes novelty backgrounds for the speaker to use, resulting in many educators finding themselves spoiled for choice, deciding what attention-grabbing background to use in their new virtual teaching environment. One of the most popular options is a Hogwarts background.

The next obvious question is, with a “virtual” approach to General Conference, should Church leaders consider backgrounds that will keep us riveted to their counsel? Here’s a list of my own top 10 choices for consideration: [Read more…]

Hips Don’t Lie

I’m not a football fan. Like, I’m super not into it. I’m so not into it, I don’t even think I fully understood how points were scored until I was nearly graduating from college. I’m still a little unclear on the role of the kicker. I played in the Powderpuff game in high school, and I attended some high school games, but I don’t even think our home team ever won a single game. It was hard to get jazzed about a sport my home town was so bad at. As a result, I’m not a Superbowl watcher. But I have enjoyed watching many of the halftime shows (Prince, obviously, among others).

When I awoke this morning, it was to a Mormon pearl-clutching Twitter controversy about this half-time show. Here’s an example:

[Read more…]

The Evils of the Dole: What Is This “Dole” Thing, Anyway?

Last week, Kristine A wrote an excellent post from last week, highlighting the BYU-I Medicaid omnishambles. In the post, she mentioned that one rumored reason for the policy was to get students “off the dole.”

Now, I’ve been meaning to write about church (and government) welfare for a while, and that comment got me thinking: variously in lesson manuals and other church contexts growing up, I’ve heard about the evils of the dole. But outside of church contexts, I can’t say I’ve heard the word “dole” very often.[fn1]

Originally, I had a long, comprehensive post vaguely mapped out in my head. But it turns out this is the holiday season, and also the writing-and-grading-finals season, so in place of the comprehensive exegesis of church welfare, I’m going to look at use of the word dole. [Read more…]

Ego Depletion vs. Orthopraxy

A common trope among Mormons is the idea that when someone leaves the Church, they do so because they were offended or they had a desire to sin. If you ask why people leave the Church, these two answers are incredibly likely to be among the first class members cite. Rather than a deliberate smear campaign against those who have left the faith, it seems that this is a case of correlation vs. causation fallacy, the idea that when two things appear at the same time, one was the cause of the other, when in reality there are more options when two things appear in conjunction:

  • A caused B.
  • B caused A.
  • A and B were both caused by C.
  • A and B are unrelated and do not share a common cause.

Let’s take a closer look at both of these correlatives: people who’ve left the Church being “offended,” and people who’ve left no longer following the “rules” of being Mormon. [Read more…]

On Satan’s Plan, Tax Edition

A couple days ago, I got a message from a friend, asking how I respond to people who claim that taxes are Satan’s plan. Honestly, my instinct would be to respond, “That’s stupid,” block the person on Twitter, and get on with my life.

But that doesn’t work in every circumstance. I mean, if your interlocutor is standing in the checkout line next to you, blocking isn’t really an issue. And if your interlocutor is, I don’t know, your father-in-law, calling him stupid may not be the optimal approach. (And honestly, if the person is speaking in good faith, dismissing them like that is rude and unfair.[fn1])

So how would I address a good faith assertion that taxation is Satan’s plan? Depending on the person, I’d probably take one of a couple routes: [Read more…]

Whence the Early Baptismal Challenges

Yes, I was this cool.

A recent talk by Elder Ballard has created a bit of a stir among returned missionaries in the Church. The talk is reported in the Church News here. He decries the practice of early baptismal challenges, claiming that Church leaders don’t know where this practice originated. The gist of his talk from the article:

“These missionaries have felt that inviting people to be baptized the very first time they meet them demonstrated the missionaries’ faith and supports their thinking that inviting people to be baptized early is what is expected,” he said. “Other missionaries have felt that an invitation to be baptized early allowed them to promptly separate the wheat from the tares. In this case, some see the baptismal invitation as a sifting tool.”

Church leaders don’t know where these practices began, but “it was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ,” said President Ballard. “Our retention rates will dramatically increase when people desire to be baptized because of the spiritual experiences they are having rather than feeling pressured into being baptized by our missionaries.” – Church News article quoting E. Ballard

It’s possible someone high up in the Church has read my book (which I doubt), The Legend of Hermana Plunge, but given how common these practices have been–whether attributed to Dyer’s Challenging & Testifying Missionary or not–you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an RM whose mission culture included these practices, whether taken to extremes like baseball baptisms or just taught to increase missionary courage (as in my mission). [Read more…]

The Image Returns: a review of George Handley, AMERICAN FORK

American Fork

Thanks to friend of BCC James Egan for this thoughtful review.

Novels present unreal worlds that, despite their fictions, offer implicit visions of the reality we inhabit as readers. We sit in judgment of these visions. We expect novelists, to borrow a phrase from the literary theorist Northrop Frye, to tell us “not what happened, but happens: not what did take place, but the kind of thing that always does take place.” Consequently, as the critic James Wood writes, “Fiction moves in the shadow of doubt, knows itself to be a true lie, knows that any moment it might fail to make its case.” We know this as readers, and we get puzzled, curious, or even angry if a novel violates our sense of “what happens.” [Read more…]

Terrorism and Hospitality

In 2012, I stayed at the Taj Mumbai Hotel. I was there on business, my third stop visiting our India offices that fell under my jurisdiction. My manager assistant who was traveling with me was raised in Mumbai (which he insisted on calling Bombay, the name the city was called until 1995 when political parties changed). The hotel is a luxurious Colonialist structure (built in 1903) with 120 rooms and several high end restaurants. The reception staff proudly mentioned (for my benefit, as an American) that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had stayed there in 2009 and pointed to the place just outside the security-walled entrance where President Obama made a statement to the press. These events were noteworthy because the hotel was among locations that were attacked in 2008 by Pakistani terrorists who landed a boat a few yards from the entrance, then went on to massacre nearly 200 citizens, wounding 300 more, at 12 locations around the city. Because I had stayed in the hotel, I was intrigued about the limited release movie Hotel Mumbai that just came out, so we went a week ago last Friday. It was a haunting experience. [Read more…]

Reforming the Honor Code Office

BYU Students are hoping to reform the Honor Code Office with a social media campaign, and students have been sharing stories online of their own run-ins with the HCO. The stories have a few recurring themes:

  • Gay students being targeted disproportionately, often for non-violations
  • Vindictive behavior between students that the HCO enables and promotes
  • Hints at breaches of confidentiality in the ecclesiastical confession process, putting repentant students’ educations on the line when they seek counsel
  • Policing of doubts and testimony by other students
  • Local police officers sharing information about BYU students that occurs off campus
  • The emotionally and psychologically unhealthy impacts of the HCO on students: paranoia, anxiety, depression, and the fact that some reported sins/violations are associated with psychological issues
  • That the HCO encourages lying and discourages repentance by inserting academic (and downstream financial) consequences to what should be personal spiritual matters
  • That there is an HCO file on each student, including fishing expeditions in their social media accounts. (FYI, they are legally obligated to show you your file if you request, and I would request the heck out of that thing.)

[Read more…]

April 6, 1830

Today’s guest post is by Bryan Westover. 

Traditionally, Church members have understood the organization of the Church to be a meeting of thirty to forty believers, assembled on April 6, 1830, at the Whitmer farm in Fayette.  However, after years of mulling over early church records and individual member accounts, I have come to know another story. It goes something like this:

[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…]

#MutualNight: Lomax, Smith, and Black History Month

(Quick reminder: if you’re curious why I’m writing about music on a Mormon blog, this post will summarize what #MutualNight posts are.)

Confession: I’ve been putting off writing this post for a long time now. But as Black History Month ends tomorrow, I’m at kind of a deadline. Because there are two recent music releases that are ambitious, virtuosic, and critically important, while, at the same time, they’re intensely listenable. And I want to do them justice, but I just can’t. Still, I’m going to try.

400: An Afrikan Epic

In early January, my family and I spent a few days in New Orleans. As we were headed home, we stopped by the Whitney Plantation. Touring the Whitney Plantation is an incredible experience, because it’s focused almost exclusively on the experiences of the enslaved persons who lived and worked there. It has several monuments, monuments listing the names and origins of the enslaved persons, monuments to the enslaved children on the plantation, sculptures and statues memorializing those who were enslaved. In fact, unlike any other plantation tour I’ve been on, the big house was an afterthought—we went in it for literally the last three or four minutes of an hour-and-a-half tour. [Read more…]

Jung at Heart: Social Media and Self Knowledge

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“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

–Carl Gustav Jung

 

Keira Shae is the author of How the Light Gets In, a BCC Press memoir.

 

I’m that Millennial. The one who took hundreds of thousands of pictures of my kids (pictures that all look the same), hundreds of my meals. The teen who grew up experiencing the Internet the way that other generations experienced oxygen. The original one who sincerely thought I should express political opinions on Facebook and had the debating capacity to change other’s minds. At nineteen.

The one who spent much of her adult life wondering how she could waste so much valuable time playing on social media. [Read more…]

Restorationism in a Foreign Key

Grant Hardy is a Professor of History and Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.  He is the editor of the new Maxwell Institute study edition of the Book of Mormon.

ReviewMelissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, China and the True Jesus: Charisma and Organization in a Chinese Christian Church (Oxford, 2018).

[Read more…]

Call for Syllabi on Latter-day Saint Arts

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The Center for Latter-day Saint Arts is offering awards for the preparation of syllabi for college courses on any aspect of Latter-day Saint arts including visual art, music, theater, literature, and film, as well as architecture, design, dance, animation, and so forth.  The award for a fully developed syllabus is $2,000, and for segments of a course from $500 to $1,000, depending on length and complexity.

The full course syllabi should include all aspects of a one-quarter or one-semester course: [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…]

Thanksgiving Discussions that Won’t End in Bloodshed

Image result for samantha or jeannieLast weekend, we were in Salem, Massachusetts taking a two hour walking tour with a local guide. The focus was on overall history of Salem, not just the witch trials, but we did talk about those because it’s kind of the elephant in the room. But our guide was not one of the occultist ones, although my SIL had some good reasons to believe he was secretly a Witch. [1]

Toward the end of the tour, we passed a statue to that most famous of Witches: Samantha Stevens. This reminded me of a simpler time, when the most heated discussion around the Thanksgiving table was Samantha or Jeannie. [Read more…]

What I Learned in the Silence

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Natalie Brown is a former By Common Consent blogger. She is currently writing a memoir on the stories we tell about houses. You can follow her on Twitter @BtwnHouseHome.

The prophet invited Mormon women to take a break from social media, and they listened. My networks went silent with friends gone ghost. I know this, because I logged on occasionally to check announcements. What I discovered was a wasteland of quiet. I began logging on deliberately to process the silence, sharing my thoughts about the fast into the void it left behind. Wondering occasionally what other Mormons might think when they saw the dates and timestamps of my posts.

I learned in the silence that it is primarily Mormon women who amplify my voice. With Mormon women mostly absent, fewer people engaged with me. Although my networks include men and women, Mormons and non-Mormons, it is disproportionately Mormon women who comment, retweet or like what I have to say. I can’t fully explain why this is so, but my voice is diminished in their absence.

[Read more…]

Let Us Worship How We May?

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Bradley Burgess is a convert to the LDS Church from a mostly Anglican background. He is originally from South Africa, but has lived on the US side of the pond for the better part of a decade. He holds degrees in piano and organ performance, and is a graduate of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. A professional organist and church musician, Bradley currently serves as the full-time Associate Director of Music and Worship Arts at a large downtown Methodist Church.

In 1842, responding to a request for information about the Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith composed a letter to the editor of Chicago’s first newspaper, the Chicago Democrat. In this document—now known as the Wentworth Letter, after the newspaper’s editor, John Wentworth—Joseph spelled out some of the history of the Latter-day Saints, as well as a selection of thirteen tenants that he saw as their core beliefs. While they have since become canonized scripture, these thirteen Articles of Faith—as they would later be known collectively—were originally intended for a non-Mormon audience. Even by 1842, Latter-day Saints had become accustomed to persecution—having been forced from upstate New York to Kirtland, OH; to Independence, MO; and, by this time, to Nauvoo, IL. The often violent expulsion of the Saints from state to state was surely not far from his mind when Joseph penned the Wentworth Letter, especially the eleventh statement of belief that declares that Latter-day Saints “claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of [their] conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” [1] [Read more…]

The Loveloud Foundation

According to my Facebook feed, Saturday was the Loveloud Festival in Salt Lake. Now in its second year, Loveloud is meant to provide love and acceptance for LGBTQ+ kids. If you’ve followed my #MutualNight posts, you can probably guess that, even if I lived in Utah, I wouldn’t have gone. I’m 100% behind the festival’s message and its goals, but I’m not a big fan of its music.

I am, however, a big fan of charitable organizations. And guess what? The sponsoring organization of the festival is the Loveloud Foundation, a tax-exempt public charity.[fn1]

Now I don’t know a lot of details about the Loveloud Foundation; it received its tax exemption last year, and hasn’t filed a Form 990 yet. (Next year it will file the form, which is a public document.) But there are a couple broad things that we know about it just by virtue of its being tax-exempt. So let’s have a Q&A explainer! [Read more…]

Active Listening and Fred Rogers

About 15 years ago, the topic of Active Listening was all the rage in corporate training. There was a study at the time that showed that most people practiced what we call “Passive Listening” which means that you are basically just waiting for your turn to speak while the other person is speaking. You avoid interrupting, you politely wait for a long enough pause, and then you unleash your suppressed brilliance in an effusive manner. That’s passive listening: listening for your chance to speak. Passive listening is by nature competitive. You are cooperating with the other person through your patience, but in reality you’re just waiting for your chance to shine. [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…]

Three strange ways I’ve aquired LDS books

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Emily Debenham is a three-time Mormon Lit Blitz finalist. She loves ancient history, Mormon literature, and telling herself stories. 

There are two things you need to know about my younger self.  First, I was a voracious reader. Second, I was obsessed with LDS fiction.  The combination of being obsessed with a niche market of books and a voracious reader meant that I constantly ran out of books.  So, here are three tales of the strangest ways I acquired my next LDS literature hit.

[Read more…]

What’s the Buzz? #LyricJCS

Full disclosure: my history with Jesus Christ Superstar is pretty thin. The first time I remember experiencing it was after my wife and I got married, and she got a DVD of the 1973 film version.[fn1]

The second time was this last Easter on NBC.

The third time was Saturday at Chicago’s Lyric Opera. (Spoiler alert: if you’re in or near Chicago, or will be on or before May 20, get tickets to this show. Right now.) [Read more…]

Book Announcement: God and the IRS

I’m thrilled to announce that my book God and the IRS: Accommodating Religious Practice in United States Tax Law (New York: Cambridge UP, 2018) has just been published and is available for your reading pleasure.

As background to the book, the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment (as well as the jurisprudence courts have used to interpret and apply the Religion Clauses) have a sometimes-complicated interplay. Because the law sometimes imposes on individuals’ ability to practice their religion, the government can sometimes accommodate their religious practice, exempting religious individuals from generally-applicable laws. At the same time, though, in general, the law can’t favor religion over non-religion; as a result, sometimes religious people can’t get an exemption from the generally-applicable law. A lot of religious litigation turns on where, in a given situation, the line between permissible and impermissible accommodation falls. [Read more…]

Saint Mary the Protectress

Gold-plated spires of Lavra's main church.

Cathedral at Lavra

I recently returned from a business trip to Kyiv (Kiev) Ukraine, including two days of just being a tourist. My tour guide was Olga, a well-informed host overflowing with love for her city and country. One of the most impressive places I visited with Olga was Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Києво-Печерська лавра in Ukrainian and Киeво-Печерская лавра in Russian). More like a small city than just a church, it is a historical center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and includes a magnificent cathedral, smaller (though still magnificent!) churches, an active seminary, monastery housing, and a historical underground cave monastery containing relics of saints.  [Read more…]