We can—must!—do better.

A woman with red hair tosses a small, laughing child into the air.

While this post is certainly inspired by a recent—and explosive—AP news article and Salt Lake’s entirely predictable and altogether tepid response, it isn’t (strictly speaking) about the scandal. I don’t know enough about the particulars of the serious and credible allegations against the Church to really weigh in… But I’m a careful observer of the human condition and an active member of several policy making circles, so I hope you’ll indulge me in a little bit of sideline commentary.

The rage over the allegations is still white-hot, and who can blame folks? We’re talking about children, here, our most vulnerable—and literally the “least of these”, “our little ones”. But at some point, we’ll need to step back a little to collect our thoughts, if we’re ever to actually effect change. Burning stuff down is cathartic—and can actually be useful—but longterm success requires cooler heads and reasoned arguments.

It’s only in the rarest of circumstances that evil is naked and unadulterated. In our fallen world, most evil is actually found in the cracks between what we should be doing and what we actually accomplish… It’s not the incendiary evil of dictators and movie villains—but the dry, scratchy evil of a whole bunch of people doing less than their best. It’s the wages of mediocrity. It’s banale. It can even be boring… And it’s often (though not always) the direct (but largely unintended) consequences of bad systems.

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What would ‘doing it well’ look like?

“How did you get this number?”

“I found it online. I was amazed that the church would have a helpline like this for–“

“This line is only for bishops or sometimes other priesthood leaders. We can’t talk with survivors.”

“Is there a church hotline for survivors?”

“No. Please contact your bishop for support. Goodbye.”

I’d been “in the field” — if you can even call it that (fn1) — for about two months when I made this phone call in spring 2009. I was poring over every written work, talk, or resource ever published by the church or its leaders on family violence and stumbled across the helpline in an online chat forum. I was delighted — at least until I saw a few people commenting that it didn’t do survivors much good because it was only for bishops and priesthood leaders.

No way, I thought. You can’t support the survivor if you don’t support the survivor — like, you can’t address abuse if your services exclude the people who have been abused. This can’t be right. There’s no way the church missed something that basic.…right?

So I made this call. And found out that the people I thought must be misrepresenting the church’s position were telling the truth. The church had invested huge resources and effort into addressing abuse, and then had excluded abuse survivors from accessing them.

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A Few Minor, and Hopefully Helpful Editing Suggestions on the LDS Church’s Recent Statement about Abuse

Church Offers Statement on Help Line and Abuse

The abuse of a child or any other individual is inexcusable. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints stands with the victims and survivors of abuse and desires to use its resources to prevent abuse and to protect those who experience it. The Church must never be used as a screen to hide abusers from the consequences of their actions.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes this, teaches this, and dedicates tremendous resources and efforts to prevent, report and address abuse. Our hearts break for these children and all victims of abuse.

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What the Actual F***?!?

So, I guess the reason we have all those billions is to pay off settlements in civil lawsuits for sexual abuse?

There will be and should be hell to pay.

Burn Kirton McConkie and everyone behind this “risk management” call-line to the ground.

Mercy and Justice are not polar opposites

A few weeks ago, I was attending my new ward and the bishop got up to speak. He was talking about the power of the atonement and, honestly, there are so many ways to understand the atonement I don’t really mind if people disagree with me regarding how it works. But he said something that I’ve heard a lot, that is a natural extension of the way that we talk about the atonement, but that I think completely misses the point. He said, at one point, that the essence of the gospel and the atonement was the reconciliation of justice and mercy (which I agree with), which is hard to understand because they are polar opposites. It’s the last part that I think needs reconsideration.

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The Etymology of Telestial Revisited

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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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You Didn’t Fail at Church Checkbox Parenting

One of the worst things I’ve encountered online among church members is the idea that if your children leave the church it’s because of you, their parents, did something wrong.

It’s obvious that this is awful in so many ways, but I want to talk about the fear and shame and church conditioning that underlies it.

Because let me tell you, as a mom of young adults and teens who is looking around at the other parents my age with their kids, pretty much every single church family I know is dealing with the loss of expectations that all their children will grow up to be church members who marry in the temple. Church checkbox families are no longer the reality for really any family and we need to confront that as a church.

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Transcript: Mormon Women’s Whiplash

This transcript of the first episode of the Third Hour podcast has been lightly edited for length and clarity. You can read more about how the podcast got started and listen to the audio here.

Richelle: Joining me today are Natalie Brown in Boulder, Colorado; Carolyn homer in Washington, DC; and Emily Butler in Cleveland, Ohio. Welcome, friends. So Natalie, let’s start with you. I’d like to jump right into your whiplash post. What inspired you to write and share it?

Natalie: So someone I’m close to sent me a news article about the new General Relief Society President, Camille N. Johnson, and pointed out that she had practiced for thirty years as a lawyer and was the president of her law firm. I know that this person sent me this article in order to make me feel better and to point to the progressive options that women increasingly have in the Church because I have been experiencing a lot of angst about what to do in terms of a career since mine has not gone quite as I planned, or as I had hoped for. But rather than making me feel happy or optimistic, it actually made me feel angry and overwhelmed and frustrated. I had reactions ranging from, “Well, why didn’t you support me like ten, twenty years ago when I was making these decisions?” And to be clear, the person who sent me this article has supported me in very many ways, but there are also many encounters I’ve had in the Church that have been less supportive of women’s careers. And at the same time, I wanted to scream because I’m now a caregiver who had to like, teach her children remotely during the pandemic. It’s like, “Well, are you saying that caregiving then isn’t enough to be a Relief Society president, that actually we do care about all those skills you learn on the job?” And so I felt that the caregiving that I’m now doing that is perfectly on-script with what a Mormon woman is supposed to do is still undervalued and unpaid, and that those skills are not recognized. So I felt a lot of whiplash and mixed emotions.

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Third Hour, Episode 1: Mormon Women’s Whiplash

Welcome to Third Hour, a new podcast from By Common Consent!

The idea for this podcast blossomed during a very lively discussion on a Facebook post from former BCC permablogger Natalie Brown. She wrote:

I struggle with how the LDS Church tends to promote to leadership roles or feature in campaigns women who hold / held prominent professional roles rather than followed the endless prescriptive, prophetic advice to stay home. (Remember, for example, the role play in the YW’s manual in which a talented female scientist practiced saying no to her career so that she could raise kids?) To be sure, I disliked that advice myself, but to this day I feel unable to pursue anything without dealing with layers of guilt and mixed-messaging from those closest to me. Indeed, I feel a great deal of paralysis when attempting to plan a life for myself. And so I find this institutional whiplash hard. Like, WHY saddle so many women like me with these lifelong feelings if it turns out that the Church didn’t really mean it? Or, conversely, why not promote and highlight more caregivers if the Church really feels that’s what has most value? Long, complicated topics . . .

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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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Loving by Hearing and Listening

M. David Huston lives and works in the Washington DC metro area. He is a husband and father of four who has previously written for poetry, international affairs, and LDS-related publications.

Christianity, at its core, comes down to one word, love.  The radical egalitarianism implicit in Jesus’s use of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18 to explain his gospel message is what draws me in:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-39). 

Indeed, as Jeffrey R. Holland recently explained, the “first great truth in the universe” is that “God loves… wholeheartedly, without reservation or compromise, with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength” (emphasis original).  Love crosses all boundaries and traverses all borders.  Love is the beginning and the end. 

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Why I have a Pro-Choice Sign in my Front Yard (Even Though I Don’t Call Myself That)

[The publication Current asked me to write up my thoughts about abortion; I ended up writing nearly 3000 words. A much, much shortened version of the essay below is available on their website this morning, but if you want to read the full thing, go for it. Cross-posted to In Medias Res.]

That sign is in our front yard, signalling our support for defeating the “Value Them Both” amendment on the ballot here in Kansas this August. If the amendment referendum succeeds, it would overturn a state supreme court decision which determined that the Kansas state constitution guarantees at least minimal abortion rights to Kansas women, thus allowing Kansans opposed to abortion rights to follow our neighboring states of Oklahoma and Missouri and push for a total abortion ban. The sign thus betokens a “pro-choice” position, even though I’ve never called myself that and think the language of individual “choice” when it comes to abortion is part of the whole problem. So why am I, some who was raised in a politically conservative (but not, as I later came to see, particularly ideological) Mormon home and thoroughly absorbed the repugnance of abortion which was communicated to me, taking this position all these years later? Well, that’s a story, mostly having to do with what my wife and four daughters have taught me along the way. [Read more…]

A Rant about Self-Reliance

Self-Reliance is not a gospel principle. It is found nowhere in the scriptures. The closest we come to it are various verses requesting that one not be idle. But we appear to have made an idol out of the “self-made” man that is antithetical to the gospel and really needs to stop.

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Asking the Right Questions: Four Theses on Framing the Abortion Debate

Texts are tricky things, whether they are scriptural, historical, literary, or constitutional. People who claim to be “textualists,” or even (in constitutional circles) “originalists” often hide behind the rhetorical value of being such a thing without acknowledging the actual difficulty of doing it. Texts are not self-interpreting units of meaning that will yield their secrets with no effort, but only to the pure in heart. 

Textual interpretation is a process of asking certain, well-defined questions and then trying to answer them from the words on a page. It has always been more art than science, and the value of the answers ultimately depends on the quality of the questions. The process of asking questions of a text is sometimes called “framing.” The way we frame a textual question controls the kind of answer we get, because it determines the kinds of things we look for. 

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Supporting Life — Every Life

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning overturned Roe v. Wade. The effect of the ruling will be to eliminate access to abortion in about half of the states. This “victory” reflects decades of work by the “pro-life” movement. Pundits, legal scholars, and activists will no doubt dominate the airwaves today, dissecting the consequences of the opinion and plotting political action. I leave that exegesis to them. Instead, I’d like to turn the discussion to what a fullsome “pro-life” society would actually look like.

This post assumes that proponents of the “pro-life” movement with respect to abortion are sincere in wanting to protect infant life.[*] It also assumes that being “pro-life” generally is one of the most important goals of human society. Whether grounded in faith, ethics, or post-enlightenment philosophy, we all should recognize the dignity of every person and support a social contract that promotes life.

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Missionaries’ Discomfort: A Parent’s Perspective

Photo by Kiwihug on Unsplash

Last year, Elder Kopischke’s talk on mental health finally spoke of missionaries’ discomfort. But as things go back to normal after the pandemic, and Church leaders repeatedly ask young men to prepare to serve missions, I feel that there are some more things that need to be said.

I remember attending a youth meeting a few years ago in Western Europe. One of the highlights of this meeting was the broadcast of several videos of missionaries performing wonders: a team of sisters taught dozens of investigators by video conference, a team of Elders had made a video that had been viewed 180,000 times.  Instead of inspiring me, however, these perfect stories made me worried that any missionary who is not as successful will doubt their faith or self-worth.  Missionary work should not be measured by clicks or other quantified goals.

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The Great Plan of Happiness and (Apple TV’s) Severance

Apple TV’s series Severance is brilliant. Its topology in multiple dimensions is novel, strange, and thought-provoking. I want to talk about it because it problematizes Mormon theology in interesting ways. It is bursting at the seams with possible discussion topics, lesson plans, and late-night talks with family members among members of the Church. If you haven’t seen the show, there is really no point in reading on because this post is full of spoilers that will ruin the surprise in the unexpected directions the show takes. The series is just too beautiful to let my blog post ruin it with untimely reveals. So, back away if you haven’t watched it. Some future version of yourself will thank you.

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Depression, anxiety, and promises of healing

I’ve experienced depression and generalized anxiety for as long as I can remember. It comes and goes and sometimes I’m not really aware I’m experiencing it until the clouds start to lift and I suddenly realize the sun feels good on my skin again, surprised at the revelation that I hadn’t been feeling it for a while.

When I started elementary school I was also diagnosed with ADD (now more commonly called ADHD, although the diagnostic labels overall could use some improvement). With all good intentions my parents decided to hold off on getting me medication for those conditions. Until my thirteenth year or thereabouts when I started junior high school and the increased organizational load became unbearable.

My mom tells a story that I can’t recall happening. I’m arriving home from school. I’m frazzled. I’m being asked about homework—again, and I take a multi-subject folder out of my backpack. I accidentally drop it on the floor. A flock of papers from 7 classes (was it 7?) burst forth and scatter to the four winds. I break down in tears.

That was the moment she decided it was time for me to know about my diagnosis and to see if medication could help.

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Sunday Sermon: On Faith and Being Enough

And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus. But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me. And immediately Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? (Matthew 14:29-31)

There are two ways to look at Peter’s nautical adventures in the fourteenth chapter of Matthew.

We can look at the failure. Peter is given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to walk on water, and he blows it. Christ stretches out His hand and assures Peter that it is going to be OK, and, after a few hesitant steps, Peter stops believing and starts thinking. He trusts his own reason and concludes that walking on water is impossible, so he begins to doubt Christ’s ability to sustain him. When he loses his faith, he sinks, fully earning the rebuke, “O thou of little faith” (33).

But we can read the same scene as a triumph and a miracle. While all of the other apostles huddle in the safety of the boat (a dubious safety because of the storm they are experiencing), Peter asks Christ to call him forth. And then Peter actually walks on water, becoming only the second person in the history of humanity to overcome the straightforward laws of physics.

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Lectures on Obedience

David Aubril is a French teacher, fond of didactics, literature, UNIX systems and free diving (with no order of preference). He follows with great interest the contemporary debates on Gospel and Church matters, but from afar, from “the other side of the water”, as Pascal says.

When I was in high school, my reading of Pascal’s Thoughts and my friendship with a Latter-day Saint classmate made me wonder about the existence of God. The answers I found in the Bible and the Book of Mormon gave me a deep desire to obey His commandments.

Despite the incomprehension of many relatives, I was baptized and went on a mission. When I got home, I went back to the studies I had left for a while and got married.

My wife and I firmly believed in the promises repeated in the Book of Mormon: “Inasmuch as ye shall keep my commandments ye shall prosper in the land” (2 Nephi 4:4). We were confident that our obedience would enable us to obtain the blessing of an eternal family.

It is difficult to express how affected we were when a series of trials shook our home. Not only was our dream collapsing, but our certainties were shattered.

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What Does it Mean When Most of Us Are Not at the Table?

M. David Huston lives and works in the Washington DC metro area. He is a husband and father of four who has previously written for poetry, international affairs, and LDS-related publications.

Christian historian Justo Gonzalez notes that in the ancient Christian church Communion (what we in the LDS faith tradition call “the Sacrament,” a shortened version of “the Sacrament of the Lords Supper”) was a time when believers, the Body of Christ, came together to share in the joy that Jesus’s resurrection offered.  By celebrating the resurrection as a community, the burgeoning church embodied what Communion represented: believers were expressing their faith in, and physically enacting the belief that, a community of disciples from different walks of life, through Jesus’ atoning work, can (1) be bound together, (2) be collectively bound to Jesus and (3) become a community that takes part in the divine destiny of creation.[1]  It was bold, and theologically powerful, statement of unification.  In fact, at times, this celebration was held at the tombs of faithful Christians, thereby joining “the living and the dead into a single body.”[2]

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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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Review: Life to the Whole Being: The Spiritual Memoir of a Literature Professor, by Matthew Wickman

There is an ironic, even impish innocence to earth, an endless provocation to the human impulse towards wonder that provides no recourse for satisfying that impulse. Humans, then, live at odds with nature, forever, seeking to graft meaning, purpose onto a branch that cannot support the weight of our need. To live is to want to understand, but to seek understanding is to look past the wordless bounties of living.

—Matthew Wickman, Life to the Whole Being, p. 101

To the extent that we can believe Aristotle about such things, the Ancient Greeks had a single word to represent the entire purpose of philosophy and all other human endeavors. This word, eudaimonia (εὐδαιμονία), describes the highest good of human life. The word literally means good ( ) spirit or minor deity (daímōn). In English texts, this word has been translated as “happiness,” “virtue,” “welfare,” “thriving,” and, my personal favorite, “human flourishing.”

For Aristotle, a eudemonic life is one that has all of the elements of flourishing—intellectual fulfillment, physical health, satisfying relationships, material prosperity, and spiritual understanding—in exactly the right proportions needed for a person to thrive. Though Matthew Wickman does not use the word in his remarkable new memoir Life to the Whole Being—a phrase that Parley P. Pratt used to explain the gift of the Holy Ghost—a key objective of the book is to describe a spiritual ideal of eudaimonia. In fact, “life to the whole being” would be a reasonably good translation of eudemonia, should the author ever want to take up his hand at translating, or even paraphrasing, the Nicomachean Ethics.

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When there’s love at home

June 5, 2022 in Salt Lake City. Photo by Austen Diamond

Robert George is in a difficult spot. As co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, opposing same-sex relationships has been a major focus of his public intellectual work even while the tide has been shifting in the United States—polls show more and more people approve of gay marriage. A record high 70% support it today according to the latest Gallup poll. Even Latter-day Saints follow this trajectory, with support doubling in the past decade.

I’m not optimistic enough to think the battle is over. America’s political makeup ensures that for the foreseeable future an increasing minority will have outsized influence on all kinds of things, from abortion rights to the contents of elementary school libraries. George seeks allies among conservative religious groups to keep his hope alive, that the state can be used to discourage and even prevent queer relationships from flourishing. George seeks allies to further his cause, including among Latter-day Saints. One recent think piece of his can be found at the unofficial LDS publication Public Square.

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Conspiracy Theory, Ritual Abuse, and the Rise of QAnon in Mormondom, Part II

We live at a time when conspiracy theory is spreading. This is my fourth post on its particularly Mormon manifestations. See the first here, the most recent here, and part I of this post here.

Current news is this: According to David Leavitt, Utah County attorney, Utah County sheriff Mike Smith has accused Leavitt of participation in what Smith calls “ritualistic child sexual abuse,” involving cannibalism and child sex trafficking.

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BCC Press Announces: The Burning Book: A Jewish-Mormon Memoir

BCC Press is proud to announce the publication of The Burning Book: A Jewish-Mormon Memoir, by Jason Olson and James Goldberg—the true story of Jason Olson’s conversion from Judaism to Mormonism and his life spent reconciling the two cultures and religions into something beautiful, coherent, and whole. Along with the amazing James Goldberg, one of the Mormon world’s premier novelists and poets, Olson weaves a remarkable story of faith and change that makes room for everybody.

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Mormon Abusers

The Hulu series Under the Banner of Heaven has a lot of people asking “Does the Church create violent, abusive men? Does it foster the attitudes that lead to violence?” At the same time, many progressive Mormons have criticized the portrayal of supposedly mainstream Church members in the show, claiming that they are unfamiliar to us, that we don’t see ourselves and our experiences here.

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Nephi, Alma, Batman, Superman

Photo by Yulia Matvienko on Unsplash

Eric Hachenberger comes originally from Austria. He served his mission in Barcelona, Spain, studied Peacebuilding at BYU-Hawaii, and lives with his wife and daughter in Berlin now. He loves writing and everything outdoors.

I can tell you the exact moment I stopped liking Nephi. It was when the church released the Book of Mormon Videos. Laman and Lemuel were just so much more relatable than Nephi. Their response to Lehi leaving Jerusalem was human. Nephi’s response was that of an unfeeling robot. Most people I talked to during that period of time about the videos felt the same. We all felt much more like Laman and Lemuel than like Nephi. 

And therein lies a problem. Nephi in his perfectionism becomes unrelatable. His youthful zeal borders on fanaticism, his treatment of his brothers lacks empathy or at least evinces an inability to read the room. Although Nephi is the first ‘hero’ we meet in the Book of Mormon, he becomes somewhat stale over time.

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