Colorful Socks

socks 2

JD is a gay man in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — and he still attends!  
He could still really use a friend there.  His colorful church socks get lonely too. This piece is a follow up to a previous one  Part 1.

Last month, I wrote about my struggles as a gay man in the Church.  There, like everywhere, my LGBTQ friends and I have received numerous pieces of repetitive advice.  As we approach the end of Pride, I want to provide my reactions to some common themes.

Until we consider the real implications of our statements, actions, and policies, we are not prepared to minister to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.   [Read more…]

Tithing and Coercion

A number of comments on my post yesterday talked about the coercive nature of tithing. I thought I’d follow up on that idea in a new post, with two principal thoughts.

A History of Tithing and Coercion

The idea that tithing is coercive has a long and storied history. It may well predate 1870, but I know it goes back at least that far. I give more details about it on p. 139 of this paper, but the short of it is, the Bureau of Internal Revenue was trying to tax the church on its 1868 tithing revenue. One of the church’s assertions for why tithing was not taxable was that tithing represented a voluntary contribution by members. [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…]

How to Retain Millennial Membership

The millennial generation overall has shown to be less religious than previous generations, a phenomenon that has not gone unnoticed by church leadership.

When asked earlier this year, the newly appointed First Presidency shared their thoughts on millennials and how they plan to both retain and bolster millennial membership. President Nelson responds first that it is crucial that leaders “help [millennials] understand how precious their [lives are],” which is a nice sentiment, but really should be something that is already happening. Eyring followed up that, in his experience with current missionaries, he has noticed immense strength. This is really kind of him, but also doesn’t particularly answer the question. Oaks spoke last, saying that marriage is important to this conversation, claiming that “the young man and the young woman are stronger when they marry,” that “many things the world cites as problems with millennials disappear” once they marry, and that “partnership is the secret.” [Read more…]

Reminder: Church History Symposium tomorrow and Friday

Just a quick reminder: the 2018 LDS Church History Symposium is happening tomorrow at BYU and Friday at the Conference Center in Salt Lake. The topic—“Financing Faith: The Intersection of Business and Religion”—looks fascinating, and there are a host of great people presenting.

Also, I’m presenting Thursday at 1:00 in room 2265 of the BYU Conference Center (“Brigham Young vs. the Bureau of Internal Revenue“). I’ve got some pretty cool slides to accompany the presentation. If you’re in town and available, I’d love to see you then!

Book Review: The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth and Corporate Power

D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth and Corporate Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2017).

When I heard that the third volume of Quinn’s Mormon Hierarchy trilogy would deal with the Mormon church and money, I was totally excited. I love exploring how religions deal with money (and, for that matter, how money deals with religions). And I figured that Quinn would have encyclopedic knowledge of Mormonism and money; he has, after all, written about it in the past. And when I saw that the Kindle version was selling for just $9, what could I do? So I downloaded it and read it.

First the good: Quinn has assembled an impressive amount of information related to the LDS church and money. Nearly 200 years’ worth. Some of his history I was familiar with; a good portion (especially dealing with early-20th-century Utah) I wasn’t. For instance, he has a fascinating snippet of discussion about the church and property tax exemption (both in Utah and throughout the world).[fn1] It’s too brief, and seems at some points to conflate property and income tax exemptions, but I’m entirely sure I’ll return to this part of the book in future projects that I look at. [Read more…]

What if Beehives Passed the Sacrament Too?

I can still remember turning 12. At least the church parts of it. After I turned 12, my dad ordained me to the Aaronic priesthood, and then I got to pass the sacrament.

And I continued to pass it for the next two years.[fn1]

Passing the sacrament was an important part of my development as a Mormon. It provided me with a tangible connection to the church. My participation in the church stopped being passive, the receipt of knowledge and culture, and started being, well, participatory. I felt a certain amount of pride, a certain amount of responsibility, and even a certain amount of ownership over my church experience. I remember intricately figuring out who would go where, negotiating the pews to make sure that everybody got the sacrament, watching the priests, waiting for them to stand up so I could return my tray.

And lately I’ve been thinking, what if Beehives passed the sacrament, too? [Read more…]

The Boy Who Cried Religious Freedom

The June issue of The New Era includes an article entitled “Why Religious Freedom Matters: What’s at Risk.”

As I read through it, I had two primary thoughts. On the one hand, I applaud the church for attempting to educate teenagers about their civil rights and responsibilities. This is an important topic, and one that our teenagers should be exposed to.

On the other hand, though, I’m perplexed and bothered by the actual delivery. The content ranges from accurate to irrelevant to speculative to flat-out wrong. So while conceptually, I think this article is both necessary and important, it ultimately fails spectacularly.  [Read more…]

Lesson 14: The Law of Consecration #DandC2017

Learning Outcomes

At the end of class, students will be able to:

  1. Identify commonalities between the Law of Consecration and other communitarian religious movements.
  2. Explain the roots of consecration in the Mormon church.
  3. Assess how consecration fits in the modern church.

What Is Consecration?

In October of 1830, Oliver Cowdery, Peter Whitmer, Parley Pratt, and Ziba Peterson went west on a mission to the “Lamanites.” As they travelled, they came to the Morely farm near Kirtland, Ohio. Morely, along with fifty or sixty others, were part of “the Family” or “the Big Family.” Eleven core families moved onto the Morely farm and established a communitarian society, where they held goods and property in common. [Read more…]

Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation

I’ve got a book in the editing process at Greg Kofford Books [it’s about D&C 132]. With luck, it may appear this December or possibly February 2017. Here’s a bit of the preface (excuse typos, it’s in progress):

[Read more…]

Encountering Mormonism on Route 66

IMG_3884(This post isn’t really a Fourth of July thing, except that there’s something distinctly American about Route 66. So we’ll go with it.)

We talked about taking a Route 66 vacation this summer. After all, we live in Chicago (and Route 66 starts across the street from the Art Institute!), and it ends in L.A., just north of my parents’ home. But with this year’s Every Kid in a Park (which, btw, if you have a kid who just finished fourth grade and you haven’t enrolled yet, I don’t think it’s too late), we switched to a visit-National-Parks trip.

Still, our National Parks roadtrip ended up overlapping briefly with Route 66—we were going to Petrified Forest National Park, which is on historic Route 66, and we decided to stay in nearby Holbrook, in Wigwam Village #6.[fn1] [Read more…]

Review: The Mormon Jesus: A Biography

Mormon JesusJohn G. Turner, The Mormon Jesus: A Biography (Cambridge: Harvard UP 2016).

Just this month, Turner followed up his excellent biography of Brigham Young with something almost entirely different: an intellectual history of Mormonism’s approach to Jesus. And, just so that I don’t bury the lede here: you need to read this book.

Turner approaches the Mormon Jesus thematically and relatively comprehensively (or, at least, as comprehensively as he can in a 350-page book). He spends the bulk of his words on 19th-century Mormonism, but he touches on events as recent as Denver Snuffer’s claim to have seen and spoken with Jesus (83-84) and as ancient as Clement of Alexandria’s view in the late second century that “the gospel had abrogated polygamy, not monogamous marriage) (220).  [Read more…]

Easter. The Passion of Jesus VI. Gethsemane part 4. Luke: If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

Part 7, here.
Part 5, here.

You can read the whole series here.

Gethsemane 4. Luke + Mark – Matthew in between. John: off the ledger.

Luke doesn’t have anything on the conversation at Kidron, but he puts it in the supper. Luke has a more upbeat narrative, he doesn’t like to speak badly of the legends of the church (his Gospel is partly shaped by Acts). So he tempers a lot of it. The prophecy about Peter is still there, but in Acts he tells how Peter is fearless in preaching, he’s a heroic figure. This is always true of venerated religious people of the past. We always ignore or minimize their faults and failures. We did the same thing in writing about Joseph Smith in the 1850s. He was practically sinless by some lights. Of course he was nothing like that, but it’s natural and that’s Luke. Remember, he’s writing 50-60 years after the fact. Luke can’t help Judas, there’s nothing really that can be done to mitigate that story. But for the other disciples and Peter in particular, he puts in positive statements about their ultimate fate:
[Read more…]

Ted Cruz and Tithing

TithingOkay, so this post isn’t actually about Ted Cruz; it’s more inspired by an article McKay Coppins posted today on recent Evangelical criticisms of Ted Cruz. In short, Cruz, a Baptist, is courting the Evangelical vote. But he’s facing pushback from some Evangelicals (including Mike Huckabee), who argue that his charitable giving (roughly 1% of his income) belies his claim of authentic Christianity which, according to them, demands a 10-percent tithe.

So tithing. As Mormons, we’re squarely in the 10-percent-(of-gross-or-net-or-something)-to-the-church camp. But is ten percent (a tithe, after all) to the church the inevitable conclusion for what represents appropriate religious giving? Not surprisingly, no. [Read more…]

Are Mormons Anti-Modernists?

As the Ammon Bundy headlines continue to dominate the news cycle, many have been wondering whether these views are inherently Mormon as the Bundy clan claims or if Mormonism encourages these types of attitudes.  While this episode has a libertarian theme, which may or may not relate to the question of anti-modernism, I wanted to revisit a post I wrote in 2013 about the anti-modernist streak that seems to be emerging in various faith traditions, including Mormonism.

[Read more…]

Review: First Principles and Ordinances

First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple
Samuel M. Brown
Provo, Utah: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, 2014. 168 pages. ISBN 978-0-8425-2880-1
Amazon: $16.95, Kindle: $6.99.

Joseph Smith was born into the Second Great Awakening. Gravitating to Methodist preaching, he ranked it above his other experience. Visions and golden plates prompted a New Covenant, born in April 1830. At first the New Covenant looked for a place in the landscape of antebellum Protestant thought and doctrine but gradually that seeking turned to renewal and rethinking. Mormonism moved from the American individualism that played over the billions of pages of Protestant imprints and wrote a new way of seeing the ancient. It didn’t simply try to restore (unsuccessfully) the all things in common of Jerusalem’s Acts. It wrote a story of ritual and liturgy that made family of believers and eternal friends of family.
[Read more…]

Mormons in a Post-Obergefell World

A few thoughts I’ve had about living in a post-Obergefell world:

The first thing: the decision, on a practical level, doesn’t change anything for most of us. It certainly doesn’t for me. And I don’t say that because I’m straight. I live in Illinois, where same-sex marriage was instituted legislatively over a year ago. The only substantive difference Obergefell makes in Illinois is that couples who marry here don’t stop being married when they move to Indiana. And, as Cynthia pointed out, the vast majority of Mormons are in a similar boat: most of us (in the U.S., anyway) live in places where same-sex marriage was just as legal on June 25 as it was on June 26[Read more…]

Intertemporal Mormonism

J. Wellington Wimpy understood the time value of money

J. Wellington Wimpy understood the time value of money

The last couple days, I’ve been thinking about intertemporality in the church. In particular, I’ve been thinking about how we see the value of current revelation vis-à-vis both past and future revelation.

Partly, I think, this interests me as an expansion of my professional interests. In my world, we think a lot about the time value of money. In a nutshell, the time value of money holds that, as long as you can earn a positive rate of interest, a dollar today is more valuable than a dollar a year from now, so if you have a choice between earning a dollar today and earning a dollar in a year, you should choose the dollar today.[fn1] [Read more…]

On Lifting the Priesthood and Temple Ban

The Daily Universe, BYU's Student Newspaper, June 9, 1978 (source: http://tinyurl.com/nwyme3v)

The Daily Universe, BYU’s Student Newspaper, June 9, 1978 (source: http://tinyurl.com/nwyme3v)

What was obvious[1] fell into long desuetude just a little over twenty years after the Church was established:

“And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her: and the highest himself shall establish her. (Psalm 87:5.)

Those who join God’s people in Zion leave the world and all its distinctions behind. Though a man be born in Rahab or Babylon; Philistia, Tyre, or Ethiopia — that is, heathen, black, white, or of a tribe traditionally hostile to God’s chosen people — it shall be said of him once he has joined himself with the cause of Zion, “this man was born there” (Psalm 87:4). We are assured that “[t]he Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob” (Psalm 87:2). For this very reason, “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God” (Psalm 87:3). All who join with Zion are of Zion: “this man was born there.” Joseph Smith seems to have understood this intuitively, authorizing the ordination of several black converts, including most famously Elijah Abel, to the priesthood.[2] [Read more…]

Vestigial Polygamy

The church officially—and in fact—ended its experiment with polygamy more than a century ago.

Yet polygamy and its effects remain with us today. And no, I’m not talking about D&C 132; we’ve officially read polygamy out of the the section, replacing it with our modern concept of eternal (monogomous) marriage.

What I’m talking about is the fact that a man (and, in certain limited circumstances, a woman) can be sealed to more than one person, and that those additional sealings can and do happen without the consent of the first sealed spouse.  [Read more…]

A Martin Luther King, Jr. Family Home Evening

I truly hope that Mormons around the United States (and elsewhere!) will make use of the fortuitous confluence of the (U.S.) national holiday commemorating the work and memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Monday evening Family Home Evening program that we enjoy in the Church. [Read more…]

The Myth of Traditional Marriage

Ooh, baby.

According to the song, love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.  But when it comes to the history of marriage, pairing marriage with love is putting the cart before the horse.  If we look at why people used to get married, traditionally, we’ll quickly see why marriages today are less stable.  And why that may not be a terrible thing.

The phrase “traditional marriage” [1] is currently in vogue to describe opponents of gay marriage.  Just what does marriage look like over time?  Why do people marry and why is marriage changing so much? [Read more…]

Germany’s Church Tax

A couple days ago, the Wall Street Journal highlighted (subscription required[fn1]) the accelerating loss of members certain churches in Germany are facing. The popular press is placing the blame at least partly on the new administration of Germany’s Church Tax.

What? you ask. A church tax? What’s that?

So glad you asked. [Read more…]

Church Finances, 1947-Style

In April 1959, the Church published its last financial report. The last here is important, though, because, for almost half a century leading up to that report, the Church presented a relatively detailed financial report in each April General Conference.

Until a couple months ago, though, I’d never seen the financial reports that the Church issued. In the course of his reading and research, J. Stapley came across the Church’s 1947 financial report, and offered to let me blog it. I jumped at the chance, and the disclosure turns out, in many ways, to be as fascinating as I’d hoped.  [Read more…]

Joseph Smith on Wall Street

josephsmithstatueNo, I don’t mean Joseph Smith’s 1832 visit to Manhattan, though he stayed at 88 Pearl Street, which is mere blocks from Wall Street,[fn1] and he may well have walked on Wall Street.  I also don’t mean the bronze statute of Joseph Smith that stood in the Financial District.

No, I mean the name-checking of Joseph in 2012’s induction ceremony for Kappa Beta Phi, a secret Wall Street fraternity. [Read more…]

You’ll Get the Type of Church Members You Write For: 8 Suggestions for The Ensign

I started writing a comment on Russell’s recent blog post, in which he explains why he’s canceling his Ensign subscription. Once the comment got past a couple hundred words, I figured a full complementary post might be more appropriate. So here goes.

I haven’t subscribed to the Ensign in over a decade. I read it a couple times a year, usually when I’m at my parents’ house, and the experience is sufficient to remind myself why I don’t subscribe, and why I don’t feel particularly guilty about it.

And yet, I spend time in the bloggernacle, where I tend to stick to faith-promoting sites with some level of orthodoxy. When I started reading and later writing for By Common Consent, it was specifically to fill the Ensign-shaped hole in my heart. A faith community needs an outlet where it can share struggles, devotional thoughts, and personal experiences with the divine, and interact with the culture beyond congregational boundaries.

[Read more…]

Church or Corporation?

Why do churches sometimes act like corporations? Isn’t there something fundamentally at odds between the ostensibly otherworldly business of saving souls and the dollars-and-cents mindset of 21st-century global capitalism? Questions of this kind these seem to undergird discussions of church finance, covering such matters as the property dealings of American Catholic dioceses, the uses of monies donated to Islamic charities, or the investment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a shopping mall across the street from historic Temple Square in Salt Lake City, or, now, a 32-story mixed-use structure in downtown Philadelphia.

[Read more…]

Polygamy, Society, and the Mormons

When I returned to my office after winter break, I found two large brown boxes (with “Joe Christensen” written on the sides) waiting for me in the mailroom. I was pretty sure I knew what they held and, sure enough, upon opening them, I saw copies of Taxing Polygamy, my (finally published!) article dealing with the difficulties that a regime of legally-recognized polygamy would present to the U.S. tax system.

And, in celebration of its finally being published, I thought I’d do a little polygamy-blogging, starting with this broad introductory post.  [Read more…]

Toward a More Productive, Fulfilling, and Successful Missionary Program

A little over six months have passed since the Church held its mission president training meeting that was double-billed as a worldwide leadership training meeting relating to missionary work to which all members were invited (either in person at the BYU Marriott Center or virtually, by way of the internet) and which was preceded by unprecedented fanfare. [Read more…]

Five Goals

2013-12-07 00.02.27One of my most vivid memories as a boy growing up in the gospel-centered home that I did is of a Family Home Evening that we had when I was maybe four, in the basement of our little starter home in Bountiful, Utah. Mom and Dad helped my little brother and me trace our hands with blue marker on poster board. We cut those out, and then wrote on the five fingers of each hand our life’s goals, which we arrived at with Mom and Dad’s gentle persuasion:

1. Get Baptized and Receive the Holy Ghost

2. Receive the Aaronic Priesthood

3. Receive the Melchizedek Priesthood

4. Go on a Mission

5. Get Married in the Temple

That remains a pretty ideal life’s plan for young men in the Church today1—and there is a lot of good to it. Speaking personally, those were good goals for me, and they served me well. Over the years, I have also become more sensitive to the fact that sometimes ideals aren’t attainable, and that within Mormon culture the pain of unmet expectations or attainments can be really acute, even brutal. I want to speak in this post to a slightly different set of expectations that I wish we laid more cultural emphasis on—expectations that, in my view, are more attainable for a larger percentage of our willing young men and that might be more easily adapted to young women, as well.

[Read more…]