Toward a Humble Church

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A decade ago, I sat despondent in Relief Society during a lesson on humility. Law school exams were fast approaching and I felt overwhelmed. An arbitrary system was about to base 100% of my grades on half-day tests. Regardless of my objective mastery of the material, the system was designed to force competition against my smart and talented peers. I would be graded on a strict curve. Those grades would then be aggregated to assign my relative class rank. Without a sufficiently high class rank employers would flick my resume into the recycle bin. My future career was at stake. The legal job market was deep in a recession. I feared failure, and that my student loans would never be repaid.

I sighed and decided to interpret the lesson as a chastisement. I needed to repent and learn humility. I needed to learn “a modest or low view of my own importance.” [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…]

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…]

What I Wish My Prophet Would Say

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Kenneth Merrill graduated from BYU with a degree in Philosophy and now works as a cinematographer in Los Angeles, CA. He’s married, with two boys, and in his spare time he likes to play music, rock climb, practice sleight of hand, and read/write—but mostly he just ends up staring at glowing screens.

It was a warm summer day in Long Island City, an area of Queens just across the river from Manhattan. My companion and I were on our way to an appointment in the Queens Bridge Projects when we stopped to talk to two older ladies on their way back home from the grocery store.

“Hi, I’m Elder Merrill, and we’re out here to tell people that we have a living prophet on this earth today. Would you be interested in hearing more about that?”

With frightening directness, one of the women turned to me and asked, “Oh really, a prophet? What’s he been prophesying lately?”

I probably stood slack-jawed for a decent 5 seconds before the next words tumbled uncontrollably out of my mouth:

“Drugs are bad.” [Read more…]

The Meetinghouse and the Temple

Michael Haycock has a bachelor’s from Yale and a master’s in religion from Claremont Graduate University.  He currently serves as the Ecumenical/Christian Life Coordinator at Georgetown.  Views are, of course, his own.

LDS theology is like the double helix of DNA, unzipped:  it has two parallel strands that circle around each other, but which rarely connect. 

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On one strand rests the Meetinghouse, with much of the Christianity we received through scripture ancient and modern and which we share with much of Christendom. 

On the other is the Temple, the divine anthropology of the eternal family, and eternal progression, which we hold unique among Christian faiths. [1]

I am convinced that much of the theological friction within the LDS Church is born of the gaps between these two theological strands, amplified by official near-silence on how to bind them together. [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…]

The Church of Contrition

“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Nephi 9:20)

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Note:  During the last few General Conferences, I’ve pondered what message my spirit most yearns to hear.  Today I’m writing out that message for others, as if I had been asked to speak during General Conference.  This writing requires a suspension of disbelief: I do not purport to actually have any authority to speak on behalf of the Church. 

I speak today to apologize.

I believe a sincere “I’m sorry” is second only to “I love you” as the most powerful sentence anyone can utter. [Read more…]

Women Witnesses for Ordinances

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced this morning that women can now serve as witnesses for baptisms and temple sealings.

I’m thrilled about this change.  As I wrote two years ago, the Church’s longtime refusal to let women serve as witnesses contradicted Jesus Christ’s own example of choosing women to be the first witnesses of his Resurrection.  And as co-blogger Jonathan Stapley  details, women as witnesses has long precedence in the modern Church as well.

This change matters.  It’s not just a technical hand-waving exercise.  Women witnessing our saving ordinances matter. [Read more…]

A Conversation with my Catholic Husband on the Word of Wisdom

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“Did you see your Church just officially banned green tea?”

“And vaping. That’s days-old news.”

“Mormon news isn’t real to me until the Washington Post covers it.”

“Fair enough. The best take I’ve seen so far is Jana Riess’s.”

“The Washington Post agrees:  they quote her. The Word of Wisdom is ‘not necessarily a slam-dunk in terms of clarity.’ That seems accurate.”

“The problem is our cultural norms surrounding the Word of Wisdom have strayed so far from its literal text that we’re all left wading through layers of shame and confusion.”

“You know what Jana or you or some other sassy Mormon feminist should do? Write a Rachel Held Evans style book: ‘A Year of Word of Wisdomhood.’ It would be hilarious.[Read more…]

Clearance vs. Cancellation

From the Women’s Bible Commentary:

Deuteronomy prohibits the husband, who sought to secure for himself a cheap divorce from his spurned bride, from ever divorcing her. To our ears, this provision sounds appalling, binding a young girl for the rest of her life to a man who “hates” her. In patriarchal ancient Judah, where women’s social status and economic survival depended on membership in a male-headed household, the provision was probably intended to guarantee her security.

The Deuteronomic law relies on some assumptions that don’t match our modern interpretation of marriage:

  • Women in marriage are entitled to protection because they are unable to protect themselves.
  • Men in marriage are obligated to protect the women they marry because those women are otherwise unable to protect themselves.

In the iron age society of Deuteronomy, marriage entitles women but obligates men. Restricting men from abandoning their obligation is the objective of restrictions on divorce, not an intention to protect women from harm within the marriage relationship (which isn’t addressed), but to require men to protect women from a patriarchal society in which they have no standing or power and are financially and physically vulnerable. [Read more…]

Love: A Proclamation to the World

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Today’s Proclamation is courtesy of best-selling author Mette Ivie Harrison.

I proclaim to my family of Latter-day Saints today that love is the organizing principle of the universe and that it is the most important value of all previous generations, all future generations, and of this generation. The pure love of Christ is the foundation of all that we do as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is what teaches us to find the divine in ourselves. It is what allows us to see ourselves and others more clearly. It is the only thing that enables us to become better people: kinder, more compassionate, more understanding, more expansive in our views, wiser, more learned, and more capable of serving others truly—without judgment or superiority. [Read more…]

When in Romans

We’ve been getting a lot of online discussion lately as a result of the legalistic view of the gospel that’s been presented in General Conference, and particularly the introduction of a new term: qualification. The term may be new, but this is the same Mormon discussion we’ve been having since the get-go: grace vs. works. Mormons have a tough time comprehending grace as a gift, assuming that works are necessary to “qualify” for God’s grace, which leads to checklists of actions required to qualify, worthiness interviews to ensure we have done the things on the checklist, and at least doing the mental calculus to see if we’ve done enough, and sometimes just for personal gratification, noting that others have not done what we deem is “enough.” As a faith tradition, we are very works-focused. The idea that our puny efforts matter at all in the grand scheme of things is because we care so very much about no unclean thing entering, and we’re willing to tackle them personally at the Pearly Gates to prevent it. [Read more…]

Heresy and Prophesy

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Humans are really bad at accurately identifying heretics and prophets.  Christ preached as much (“no prophet is accepted in his own country”) — and was executed for it (“by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God”).  Christ himself is both the world’s most renowned heretic and its greatest prophet.

It’s easy to confuse the two concepts because the definitions of heresy and prophesy mirror each other.  They both hinge on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Bible teaches that those who testify of Christ have the gift of prophesy.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints embraces this testifying definition of prophets.

St. Thomas Aquinas defines heresy as professing faith in Christ, while corrupting His Gospel.  William Tyndale similarly explains that heresy springs “out of the blind hearts of hypocrites” who “cannot comprehend the light of scripture.” [Read more…]

“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” #BCCSundaySchool2019 (Part 2)

Come Follow Me Manual Recommended Readings:  Matthew 3 (quoting Isaiah 40); Mark 1Luke 3John 1.

Upfront Note:  In preparing my BCC Sunday School lesson this week, I realized my content was divided into two major chunks — one whimsical about Godspell, and one academic about the history of baptism.  For ease of use and commentary, I’m publishing them as two separate back-to-back posts.

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[Read more…]

Our Spiritual Relationship with Language

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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.

Someone once asked how I could have prepared better for the temple. My response was bluntly honest: Nothing anyone said or taught me could have altered my initial experience, because the words I found inside the temple felt wrong.

Those words have now changed. Whether something more than words has changed is debatable. Over the past twenty-four hours, I have heard people say that nothing has changed and others that everything has changed. I’m with those who think everything has changed, because for me it has. That’s because I am a woman who learns primarily through words.
[Read more…]

Rethinking Worthiness

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Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. (D&C 18:10)

I learned an important truth this year: the worth of souls bears no relationship to a soul’s “worthiness.”

A year ago I left the corporate world to pursue my civil rights lawyer dream.  One aspect of my new work is fighting for Muslims’ right to follow the pillars of Islam in prison.  My first visit to prison will forever stand as one of the most spiritual days of my life.  I met with humble men who frankly admitted their mistakes, implored God to grant them the mercy to improve, and asked for an opportunity to practice their faith in peace.  They sought to better the religious experience not just for themselves, but for all of their brothers and sisters.  Sitting with them, I glimpsed the depth of God’s abundant love.

I may have been physically sitting with convicted criminals behind seven layers of lockdown security, but spiritually I stood with angels on hallowed ground.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  (Romans 8:38).  Prisons that day became my temples.  For I was in prison, and ye visited me.  (Matthew 25:36). [Read more…]

New Church Videos Explain the Temple to the General Public

joe-cook-780015-unsplashThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just published a glossy series of 90-second explanations of our core temple practices.

I’m amazed at how much demystifying content these videos succeed in outlining in less than seven minutes of total video time.

Here are the highlights.

[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…]

And in His name all oppression shall cease

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This post started as a reaction to President Dallin H. Oaks’s commentary on religious freedom published Tuesday in the Deseret News.  It morphed into a Christmastime commentary on social justice.  It still dissects Oaks’s words, but that’s relegated to the very end. 

Born into humble circumstances.  Trained as a carpenter.  Rejected as a prophet.  Crucified as a rabble-rouser because he dared speak truth to both secular and religious oppressive power.  Jesus Christ is my model of an activist. [Read more…]

Why I’m Marrying in a Catholic Basilica

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With the Vatican’s approval, I’m marrying my Catholic fiancé in St. Mary’s Basilica in Old Town Alexandria this Saturday.  Yay!  I’m so excited to celebrate true love, surrounded by my family and friends.

Some of those family and friends are a little befuddled.  As a former hyper-devoted Mormon, I can see the confusion in their eyes, the unstated curiosity about why I’m not marrying in the temple.  Only a few have ventured to ask the question directly.

I believe it is important to give an honest answer.  This is my story. [Read more…]

Where Can I Turn for Support? abuse.lds.org

Laura Brignone Bhagwat is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies technology and domestic violence.  Her dissertation tracks a public health intervention in hospital emergency rooms meant to prevent intimate partner homicide.

Abuse is the neglect or mistreatment of others (such as a child or spouse, the elderly, the disabled, or anyone else) in such a way that causes physical, emotional, or sexual harm. It goes against the teachings of the Savior. The Lord condemns abusive behavior in any form. 

‘The Church’s position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form’ (Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops [2010], 17.3.2). Abuse violates the laws of God and may also be a violation of the laws of society. The Lord expects us to do all we can to prevent abuse and to protect and help those who have been victims of abuse. No one is expected to endure abusive behavior.

At 12:05 yesterday, I was driving to lunch when a message from a friend popped up on my phone. It consisted of six exclamation points (“!!!!!!”) and the text “abuse.lds.org.” Within 15 seconds I’d pulled over and clicked on the link. [Read more…]

Women Don’t Cast Sustaining Votes?

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My sister Cheryl called me this morning, annoyed at a procedure her Indiana stake just used to call a new counselor in her Stake Presidency.   An old counselor had moved and been released between Stake Conferences, so the new one was called and sustained during an interim Stake Priesthood meeting.

“This isn’t like an Elders Quorum President,” Cheryl mused.  “A Stake Counselor doesn’t just serve men in his quorum, he has stewardship over the entire stake.  But he can be set apart without a single woman knowing about the calling or sustaining him?” [Read more…]

What Outcomes do We Expect of our Faith and Obedience?

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It finally rained today. The last six weeks or so have been quite dry—locally we received just 14% of the long-term average, some places received just 2%. In the midst of this dusty season I’ve found myself thinking that maybe I should go wash the car, clean the windows or wear my leather-soled dress shoes to work—surely tempting fate on such a grand scale like this would coax a few drops of moisture from the fleeting clouds!

So I did all three and voilà—rain! Ok, today’s showers have been forecast for the last week or so, but still, you never know—weather can be a fickle thing. Of course, I know perfectly well that attempting to control the weather by invoking some version of Murphy’s Law is unadulterated foolishness. Sometimes, though, when nothing else seems to be going your way, flights of fancy offer an appealing alternative to helpless reality.  [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…]

Informal Gospel Study Groups

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“Do you have Priesthood approval for that gathering?”

It’s a question I’ve heard numerous times, and it’s always bothered me.

Over the years, across the country and even the world, I’ve participated in many informal gospel study groups.   They’ve often sat at the core of my social circles and been the site of some of my powerful spiritual insights. [Read more…]

The Nurturing By My Son’s Many Fathers

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Dave K. has been ‘gathered to the Ohio’ for nearly fifteen years, where he lives with his wife and five children. A data privacy attorney by trade, his goal is to take the children to every MLB ballpark before they leave home; twenty-nine down and Seattle to go. 

My two oldest sons returned home unusually late Saturday evening. They were performing at a regional high-school band competition and rain delayed the start. One is a senior who plays trombone; the other a sophomore who plays trumpet. Meanwhile, my wife and two daughters also returned late from the General Women’s Session (we live in the Midwest and they drove an hour to watch the session with family).  It used to be the first Saturday evening in October was reserved for the General Priesthood Session. I understand the Church’s need to streamline things, but I miss the fellowship and brotherhood tradition of holding that session each conference.

This all resulted in an unusual evening of just me and son-number-three.  My third son is thirteen, so not yet in the high school band. I let him choose the special ‘guy’s night’ activity. No surprise there – he picked the latest Jurassic Park movie. I defended the choice by noting the rental was only $1.50 at Redbox.  Ten minutes into it I realized $1.50 was still grossly overpriced. [Read more…]

A Sister-Nurturer Reacts to General Conference

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Bobbie Smith is a returned missionary, BYU graduate, and mother of a large family in the northeastern United States with a literal and metaphorical oversized heart. Said heart greatly affects the nature of her religious worship, community service, and housework.

Ten men (if I counted right) attended the General Women’s Session this past weekend and three men spoke. As I watched them take up more than half of our meeting, I thought of how few women are invited to speak in General Conference. I thought of the women denied permission to even attend priesthood session. Yet the men invite themselves not only to attend our women’s session, they also dominate the dais and they dominate the speaking roster. Was it even a women’s meeting, really? It was more of a combined “sister and priesthood meeting” this year, really, when you consider the gender breakdown of talks and the gender count of who was on the stand. These were sobering thoughts.

I crave women’s voices.  In my lifetime in the Midwest, we’ve never had a sister church authority visit us, ever. Our only options for  help with callings, family life, and personal growth have been “Time Out For Women,” which is expensive and kind of smacks of priestcraft.  I’ve never understood why the brethren get flown out on the church’s dime, yet I need to buy tickets to an expensive program if I want to hear guidance from female church leaders.  I hoped the Women’s Session would provide a chance for some empathetic instruction, and instead the time was consumed by men.

[Read more…]

Complementarity and the Gospel

Tom Hardman is a patent attorney in Salt Lake City, and occasional blogger on science and religion

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A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design, by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek, is a fascinating meditation on the nature of reality. I found Wilczek’s discussion about complementarity to be particularly thought provoking. Complementarity is a principle of quantum theory, but Wilczek argues that “its importance, as an insight into the nature of things, goes beyond physics.”

Wilczek summarizes complementarity as follows: “No one perspective exhausts reality, and different perspectives may be valuable, yet mutually exclusive.” [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…]