Excluding Our Fellow Saints From the Sacrament

In Illinois, we’re now halfway through our sixth week under a stay-at-home order (and my family’s seventh week at home). And the stay-at-home order looks like it’s going to last at least another month here. That means at least 12 Sundays in Illinois without meeting together at church (and, even when the stay-at-home order ends, some people may make the eminently responsible and defensible decision to continue social distancing, and delay their return to church).

Ultimately, I don’t think putting church meetings on hold is optimal. (To be clear, it’s both necessary and good. It’s just not ideal.) We need human contact, and we need the spiritual benefits that come from gathering together. That said, it’s necessary, and on net, saving the lives and the health of our fellow Saints is both beneficial and will bless us and them.

Still, this extended time away from church means that some people—single women and families without priesthood holders in the home, for example—won’t have the ability to take the sacrament for three months or more.

The church has made a tentative stab at recognizing the position these women and families are in. On April 16, the church provided instructions for administering the church during the pandemic. The instructions provide that “In unusual circumstances when the sacrament is not available, members can be comforted by studying the sacrament prayers and recommitting to live the covenants members have made and praying for the day they will receive it in person, properly administered by the priesthood.” [Read more…]

Coronavirus and the Sacrament

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I were out of state at a climbing competition, and an old high school friend was kind enough to let us stay with her and her family. My friend is a Presbyterian pastor, so that Sunday we went to her church. She wasn’t preaching that particular day, but she still participated in the service.

Part of the services involved standing and greeting the people around you. My friend introduced this part and said that, in light of coronavirus[fn1] and flu season[2], instead of shaking hands, we could fist bump, tap elbows, or give the peace sign. Everybody laughed, then stood and gave fist bumps or the peace sign.

As the coronavirus shows signs of become a pandemic, it seems like we should start thinking about changes we need to make in our worship service. And it seems to me that the sacrament is a big place where we should seriously consider change. And I’m not talking just those who break the bread. The new handbook explicitly tells “[t]hose who prepare, bless, or pass the sacrament first wash their hands with soap or other cleanser.”

Even assuming they do it, the people preparing, administering, and passing the sacrament aren’t the only (and probably aren’t the primary) germ vector we deal with. I mean, while my kids are getting older, they were little once. Even if you’re fully awake and fully aware, there’s almost no way to prevent little fingers from touching several chunks of bread before choosing the one they take. The most careful adult fingers can still brush other chunks of bread. And there’s no concomitant requirement that those of us in the congregation wash our hands before participating in the Sacrament. [Read more…]

Traditions of Their [Mothers]: Girls Should Be Passing the Sacrament

A little over two years ago, I wrote a post explaining that our current rule that only priesthood holders can pass the sacrament has no basis in scripture. D&C 20:58 explicitly says that teachers and deacons lack the authority to “administer the sacrament”; ergo, if we allow teachers and deacons to prepare and pass the sacrament, those things must not be part of the administration of the sacrament.

And if they’re not, then the Handbook’s requirement that only “[d]eacons, teachers, priests, and Melchizedek Priesthood holders may pass the sacrament” is based, not on scripture, but on tradition. Now, tradition is certainly not always a bad thing, but the Book of Mormon warns us that tradition can potentially impede our ability to know and understand God. I think that’s doubly true when the tradition actively harms a person or group of people by, for example, not allowing them to participate and serve fully in our religious community. [Read more…]

I’m terrified about having kids.

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I just spent the holidays with family. I’ve been married a year. I’m approaching my mid-30s. And due to an unrelenting year at work, I’ve gained some weight. So perhaps unsurprisingly, the last few weeks have featured a conversational dance of hinted “are-you-pregnant” questions.

I’ve ignored the hints and laughed off the passing comments about future grandchildren. What I haven’t responded with is my honest answer: I’m terrified about having kids. [Read more…]

So You Have $100 Billion.

There has been a lot of talk over the last couple weeks (interrupted, of course, for impeachment and Christmas) about the church’s $100 billion endowment. And I want to add to that discussion. Specifically, I want to think about the question of how the church could change with a $100 billion endowment.

I’ll note that in the earliest iterations of this post, I thought about freaking this as some sort of (unsatiric) modest proposal.

But that has a couple significant problems. What I’m going to lay out here is not at all modest; it would represent a sea change in church finances. Moreover, it’s not a proposal so much as it is brainstorming. But a $100 billion endowment absolutely requires brainstorming. And my brainstorm?

[Read more…]

Sunday Dress

In our most recent General Conference, there has been a push for members to dress up for church. It’s long been a hobby horse of E. Oaks, and that hasn’t changed. Generally speaking, current Mormon dress standards at church are a little more dressed up than most other sects, but maybe less than Easter at a historically black church–we don’t like hats and fans.

Several years ago, we had a French boy staying with us on an exchange program. I asked if he wanted to come along with us to church or if he preferred to stay home. He said he would like to come along, for curiosity sake. I had mentioned that people in our church tended to dress up for church. He was Catholic, an occasional church-goer, but not from a super devout family. When he came down in nice jeans, sneakers, and a tee shirt with a slogan on it, I was worried he’d feel awkward when he saw all the other kids in dress pants and button down shirts. He borrowed a button down shirt from my son and off we went. He was further surprised to see our son administering the sacrament, a rite he was used to seeing a priest in vestments conduct. [Read more…]

Review: Thunder From The Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics

Matthew L. Harris, ed. Thunder From the Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics.
Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2019.
Hardcover, 260 pages.
Footnotes. Bibliography. Index.
Cloth: $99.00. Paper: $27.95. Kindle: $14.95. [Kindle not paginated.]
ISBN-10: 0252042255
ISBN-13: 978-0252042256

Ezra Taft Benson, whose life spanned most of the twentieth century, was an important figure in US politics and religion. Several times a candidate for president of the United States, he was a prominent anti-communist and John Birch Society supporter. An LDS apostle from 1943 until his death in 1994 (Benson became the 13th president of the church in 1985), he was a powerfully conservative voice on traditional roles of women at home rather than the workplace and was the founder of an influential thread of Mormon political philosophy. These themes and others are explored in a new volume edited by historian Matthew Harris (Colorada State Univ-Pueblo), from the University of Illinois Press. Harris recruited a number of familiar voices from the world of Mormon studies, including Gary Bergera, (noted Mormon author), our own Matthew Bowman (assoc. prof. of history, Henderson State Univ.), Newell Bringhurst (emeritus prof. of history), Brian Q. Cannon, (prof. of history, BYU), Robert Goldberg (prof. of history, Univ. of Utah), J. B. Haws (assistant prof. of history, BYU), Andrea G. Radke-Moss (prof. of history BYU-Idaho).

Each of the eight essays provides penetrating scholarship on various aspects of the career of one of the most important and influential Mormon figures of the last century.
[Read more…]

Building Zion. In Two Hours Per Week.

We’re weeks away from the end of the three-hour block. Implemented in 1980, the three-hour block was, in part, a response to the energy crisis, in part a recognition that as the church expanded, the time it took to get to church (over and over) could potentially be burdensome. And (in reasoning that reflects the current change), it was meant to reemphasize the importance of individual and family gospel study.

Now, I was super-young in 1980; I have vague memories of going to Primary on weekday nights, but, on the other hand, I was young enough that I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what a weekend was, so maybe I’m retroactively imposing memories on the shift. It’s fair to say, though, that I don’t remember what the reaction to the shift was, or how well it met its goals.

And I’m pretty much as happy as anybody about the change. (Okay, not as happy as anybody; my kids are past napping, so three hours doesn’t risk imposing on nap times and making everybody in the house grumpy.)

That said, I see some potential pitfalls in the new, shorter schedule. They’re avoidable, but it will take work to avoid them, so we need to recognize them. [Read more…]

My Middle Way Mormonism

Over at Wheat & Tares, a number of bloggers have written takes on what they’re calling “Middle Way Mormonism.”[fn1] Although their takes differ marginally from one another, they’re all fairly complementary. And by and large, I think they represent an interesting, and important, take on Mormonism, and one that I want to engage with.

Though they don’t lay out a precise definition of Middle Way Mormonism, the contours seem to be something like this: a Middle Way Mormon is a member who recognizes fallibility and institutional weakness in the church, but stays in the church. And, if that’s roughly what they’re talking about, I’m clearly a Middle Way Mormon. (Also, so are you. And so it your rabid Mormon uncle, with the anti-government takes and the bunker filled with MREs. More on that in a minute.)

The W&T bloggers largely see (in their experience and the experiences of their loved ones) Middle Way Mormonism being triggered by some traumatic episode—a discovery about something in church history or practice, something that brings with it pain and disillusionment. That traumatic episode leads, almost inevitably, to a changed relationship to the church. That changed relationship may result in an temporary or permanent equilibrium, but that equilibrium risks being difficult and uncomfortable to maintain. (FWIW, these are all my words and takes on their excellent posts, and I hope the W&T bloggers will forgive me if I’ve flattened some of the nuance, or misinterpreted some of the assertions, in their posts.) [Read more…]

President Nelson and the Problem of Prophetic Infallibility

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T. L. Peterson is an editor who lives in Utah. He is also known as Loursat.

Peterson would like to express his upfront gratitude to Sistas in Zion, whose insightful tweets on the day of President Nelson’s sermon suggested the key idea for this post.

Treating our leaders as though they are infallible is a problem for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  With his energy and bold language, President Nelson might be showing us a way through that problem.  But his solution comes with some nervous questions and a new conundrum.

A popular saying among Latter-day Saints purports to tell the difference between Catholics and Mormons: Catholics say the pope is infallible, but they don’t really believe it*; Mormons say the prophet is fallible, but we don’t really believe it. This saying started as a joke, but I think it has become a truism. [Read more…]

Mormon Obedience: On Disregarding the Prophet’s Preferences

On Sunday morning, President Nelson dedicated his full full talk to shutting down the use of Mormon and other nicknames for the church. This seems to be something he feels passionate about, and something that has been weighing on his mind for a long time. He went so far as to assert that Jesus is offended if we use, or allow others to use, nicknames for the church, and at least intimates that the use of nicknames represents both a victory for Satan and disregard for the Atonement.

So what are we, as faithful members of the church, to do with this? We absolutely have to take it seriously.

But that raises the question of what taking it seriously means. And I believe that this is a tougher question that it appears at first blush. Because taking it seriously isn’t (necessarily) the same as obeying. To take it seriously requires that we engaged, spiritually and intellectually, with what Pres. Nelson has said. [Read more…]

Socialism and Satan’s Plan

Via GIPHY

It happened. Again. On Mormon Twitter, someone mentioned socialism, to which somebody responded that socialism was Satan’s plan. (There were a couple other responses I saw that hinted at the same thing, but didn’t explicitly say it. And maybe there were others who said something similar. It’s not like I looked for every response to the tweet.)

To which I reply: that’s not the stupidest assertion based on Mormon theology ever. But it may well be in the top ten. [Read more…]

Money and the Kingdom of God

Last week, I was involved in a Twitter discussion that at least implicated questions of economics, government spending, and private spending. A couple of the interlocutors seemed to be arguing under two assumptions: (1) there are only two economic systems, capitalism and socialism, and (2) there’s something quasi-divine about capitalism, and unrestrained capitalism is the only moral or effective economic system.

Now, this post’s purpose isn’t to argue the first of those two points.[fn1] I do, however, want to suggest that we, as Mormons, need to think much more carefully about money than we usually do.

If my experience at church is at all representative, when we talk about money at church, we talk about two things. The first is paying tithing and offerings, and the second is avoiding debt. Online, the discussion usually devolves into the benefits or the evils of capitalism. [Read more…]

Women of Valour – and Economic Worth

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For as much as Mormons appropriate from evangelicals, I’m surprised we’ve never stolen the Proverbs 31 woman.

In A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans dedicates a chapter to the evangelical emphasis on Proverbs 31 as a guide to all things righteous feminine. “Visit a Christian bookstore, and you will find entire women’s sections devoted to books that extol her virtues and make them applicable to modern wives. At my Christian college, guys described their ideal date as a ‘P31 girl,” and young women looking to please them held a ‘P31 Bible Study.’”  The Proverbs 31 woman “looms so large over the biblical womanhood ethos” that many Christian view the passage “as a task list” to which they must comply in order to become perfect housewives and win the favor of men. [Read more…]

Testing Bishops for Skills, Aptitude, and Narcissism

Chris Kimball is a seven-times grandfather, a father, and a husband.  He was a fast-track Mormon church leader, with the right genealogy and checking all the boxes, until about age 40. On a very different path since then.  He is a good friend of BCC.

I was a Mormon bishop in the mid-1990s.  The experience led to my turning in my temple recommend and leaving full activity.  From an orthodox Mormon point of view, it was a destructive experience, even disaster.  I spent the next 10 years in therapy (on-the-couch deep investigation therapy) sorting myself out.  I probably should not have been a bishop in the first place.  [Read more…]

Colorful Socks

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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…]