A Proverbs Acrostic For My Daughter

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Kaylee McElroy only wears sensible shoes (if she has to wear shoes at all) and is passionate about pants with functional pockets (even her Sunday slacks). She has degrees in physics and electrical engineering, but has spent the last few years as a rather alarmingly domesticated mostly-stay-at-home mom.

Proverbs 31 holds a special place in my heart.  I found it using the “open the scriptures to a random page” method, and marveled at the wonderful and rare picture of a strong, capable woman. You see, I had been praying to know if I should get engaged to the man I now call my husband, and I felt a strong impression that a marriage with him would allow me to become a capable and praiseworthy wife like the woman depicted in the text. (We’re over a decade in, and I’d still call it a good choice.)

The Proverbs 31 woman is empowered and not oppressed. A while ago, I read a book that challenged my thinking of women’s place in ancient societies. Women’s Work – the First 20,000 Years discusses textile manufacture in a variety of ancient cultures.  The Bronze Age in the Near East was a time and place of relatively great freedom for women, and I was delighted to learn that the woman of Proverbs 31, while certainly idealized, was also based on historical norms. [Read more…]

Go and Do Likewise?

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Rusty Clifton is a longtime friend of BCC.

A couple months ago I came home from work to my wife in the front yard chatting with a lady who, by all visible measures, appeared to be homeless. I had never seen this woman before, but my wife later assured me that she was known by many people in our upper-middle-class Salt Lake City neighborhood. While my natural inclination is to avoid situations that have the potential to unnecessarily add complications to my life, my wife overflows with compassion for the oppressed and downtrodden. So that evening, after determining she was clean from drugs and not dangerous, we agreed to let her stay in our basement (it’s a mother-in-law apartment we use for guests or the occasional AirBNB) until we could help her secure more permanent housing and employment. Over the course of the next week or so we did what we could to accommodate her: secure privacy, food, shower, soft bed with fresh linens, rides to housing offices/employment interviews, and a friendly home base while she worked to get herself back on her feet. [Read more…]

Let Us Worship How We May?

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

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

How a Mormon* ended up taking a Protestant religion class

*Yeah, I know.

Anyway. Back-to-school night yesterday was a two-hour marathon of filling out forms and learning about the new government policies that enter into force this year (a highlight: 4 unexcused absences over the 9 years of compulsory education carries a minimum fine of $125). In addition to the filling out the emergency contact form, signing the permission slip for administering potassium iodide in the event of a radiological emergency (Chernobyl has cast a long shadow over Central Europe) and reviewing the paperwork related to a study of children’s media and food consumption, we also had to sign up or exempt our children from religious education. And this at a public school!

See, in Austria, the legal recognition of churches and religious communities entails “the right to […] provide religious instruction in state schools” (source). Twenty organizations enjoy legal recognition, though in practice only the largest—the Catholic, Protestant and Greek Orthodox churches as well as the Islamic Religious Community in Austria—offer religious instruction at public schools, with the state picking up the tab for the personnel costs. [Read more…]

Harm vs. Purity

Recently, the SL Tribune broke the story about a BYU-I student who came forward about being sexually assaulted and was suspended from school for two semesters for drinking. She states that she did not confess drinking to her bishop, but that her attacker outed her for drinking, leading to her suspension.

“I knew I was in the wrong, I knew she was in the wrong,” he said. “I only went to the bishop so I could work on what I needed to work on. I didn’t go with any intentions to report her and retaliate. I was hoping she could work on her stuff, too … so she can be helped with drinking and following the Honor Code.” – Sexual assault guy

You didn’t intend to retaliate. Riiiight. You are just so helpful and concerned for the relative stranger you groped when she was incapacitated that you wanted to be sure her bishop could assist her in the repentance process. Thank you, Mr. Helpful. It’s a time-tested practice of sexual assaulters to minimize their offense by creating a false equivalence in questioning the behavior of their victim. We should certainly quit falling for it when it happens.

This points to the loophole that exists in the BYU-I school’s Title IX provision, but on a broader level, it points to an ethical question as it relates to understanding sin. [Read more…]

When Worthiness is Weaponized: The Problem with Ecclesiastical Endorsements

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Richelle Wilson is a PhD student in Scandinavian studies and comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she works as a Swedish language instructor. She is also a talk producer at the community radio station WORT 89.9 FM and a member of Dialogue’s editorial staff.

The universities owned and operated by the LDS Church have recently come under scrutiny for the ways in which the schools’ honor code can compromise Title IX investigations into allegations of sexual assault on campus. In 2016, the Salt Lake Tribune broke the story wide open with a Pulitzer Prize–winning series of articles revealing the punitive measures taken against sexual assault victims at Brigham Young University in Provo. The issue was that students—most of them women—coming forward to report sexual assaults were often probed and then disciplined for additional information pertaining to their assault that could be deemed honor code violations. This might include dress and grooming standards, alcohol or drug use, curfew violations, etc. It was a Church-school version of “What was she wearing?”   [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…]

Indiana Interfaith Vigil Against Hate

Indiana is my home.  I grew up north of Indianapolis, in the suburbs of Hamilton County.  This is what my part of Indiana looks like — abundant greenery, small country hills, midwestern sunsets, cornfields.

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Hamilton County is one of the reddest counties in a red state.  It’s filled with upper-middle class suburbs, booming megachurches, top-tier public school districts, and well-funded infrastructure and government.  It’s an amazing place to raise a family.  I learned love and community and hard work there.
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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…]

A Mormon’s Guide To Coffee Breaks and Happy Hours

Ah, summer.  That glorious time of year when young Mormons break out of their BYU / CES cohort cocoons and take internships and entry-level jobs amidst us coastal heretics.

Every year since I, a young grasshopper, first engaged in this ritual 10+ years ago, I hear Mormons ask the same questions time and time again.  For those just leaving Zion and entering Babylon, I’ve prepared this handy guide to common workplace dilemmas.

The “Coffee Break” Problem

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Mormonism and the Prosperity Gospel

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Mette Ivie Harrison is a well-known mystery and young-adult novelist and frequent guest here. She is the author of The Book of Laman, published by BCC Press.

Most Mormons have no idea what the “prosperity gospel” is, and if you point them to typical TV evangelicals, they insist that Mormonism is nothing like that. Yet, there are far too frequent occasions when I find myself biting my tongue about something a fellow Mormon says, either casually, at a wedding or other social event, or on the stand during a talk, that translates into precisely that: prosperity gospel.

For the sake of clarity, let me give a useful definition of “prosperity gospel:” a modern version of the gospel in which those who follow God in strict obedience are given blessings of wealth, health, and power. [Read more…]

Iftar Against Islamophobia

Yesterday I was asked to give a two-minute speech at the protest iftar in front of the White House.  The entire event featuring Muslim and interfaith leaders was livestreamed.  (My speech alone is here.)  The protest iftar’s purpose was to highlight that the Trump Administration had intentionally excluded American Muslims from its contemporaneous iftar. 

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As-Salaam Alaikum and Ramadan Mubarak.  My name is Carolyn Homer.  I am a Mormon and a civil rights attorney at CAIR.

When Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” the Mormon Church responded by proclaiming that we are “not neutral in relation to religious freedom.”  I took action by joining CAIR.  It is my faith that compels me to defend the Constitution against this Administration.  [Read more…]

Crosses by Decree: Ladders to Heaven or Stumbling Blocks?

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Corpus Christi Procession in Hofgastein by Adolph Menzel (source)

Yesterday was the Feast of Corpus Christi, a public holiday in the Catholic strongholds of Austria and Bavaria, and starting today all public agencies* in Bavaria are required by decree to prominently display a cross in the entryway of the approximately 1,100 buildings they occupy “as an expression of Bavaria’s historical and cultural character.” Crosses have long been a feature of elementary schools and courthouses in Bavaria, but the legal basis for their presence has been a mere recommendation; this decree marks the first time that displaying a cross is mandatory**.

The decree has been opposed by the usual suspects—including atheists, artists, academics and the Green party—but also by prominent religious figures. [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…]

Stand with Muslims as they fight against bigotry

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Carolyn at the impromptu Muslim Ban protest march on January 29, 2017

The Supreme Court hears arguments on the Muslim Ban tomorrow.  I’ll be in the courtroom, and with hundreds of civil rights supporters at the rally on the courthouse steps.  Join me.  As the Fourth Circuit has declared, the Muslim Ban violates the Establishment Clause and is “unconstitutionally tainted with animus towards Islam.”

Everytime I talk to Muslim friends, colleagues, and even taxi drivers, I hear the same themes over and over again – children bullied as “terrorists” at school, women harangued for wearing headscarfs (with aggressors sometimes forcibly yanking religious headcoverings off), graffiti and vandalism to businesses, threats and firebombs at mosques.

 

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God of the Deluge

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Mette Ivie Harrison is a well-known mystery and young-adult novelist and frequent guest here. She is the author of The Book of Laman, published by BCC Press.

Eight weeks before the Boston marathon, my treadmill broke. I know, big deal, right? Most runners love the outdoors and it was starting to be spring. But I am not most runners. I love indoor training and the security it provides, from pitstops to water to Netflix and no dogs. I wasn’t happy to have to run outside, and this feeling was compounded when I found I had Achilles tendinitis. But I just kept training because I had to do Boston this one year I qualified. [Read more…]

Saint Mary the Protectress

Gold-plated spires of Lavra's main church.

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

Finding Religious Joy

This guest post comes from Nathan Steiger, a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University and a friend of BCC.

Over two years ago I stepped into a synagogue on the Jewish sabbath in New York City and witnessed one of the most foreign religious rituals I’d ever encountered: dancing. Twenty-year old men, eighty-year old women, whole families with preschool-age children, dozens of people all holding hands, dancing and singing with liberated gusto. That experience, along with many others, radically changed my life. [Read more…]

PEC is Dead; Long Live the Councils

When President Nelson announced the end of “priesthood executive committee” (PEC) meetings in Priesthood Session on Saturday night, many people wondered – is this a de facto increase in women’s role in leadership?

In recent years, the Church has increased his emphasis on “councils.”   Ward councils, teaching councils, mission councils, various program councils at Church headquarters – these councils have all worked to invite further participation from women. President Oscaron’s wonderful parting talk on Saturday emphasized this point, pointing out the multitude of ways that young women could assist in furthering ward council goals. While I still wish women could lead some of these councils, their increasing participation is cause for celebration.

It’s only been three days, but today I saw the first concrete evidence that the abolishment of PEC, more than merely deleting redundant meetings, may significantly increase the leadership voices of women in practice. [Read more…]

The Burden of Choosing to Believe

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Image Credit: Delphine Devos

“I envy you your faith, somedays,” an agnostic friend in college once remarked as we ate lunch in the spring sunshine.  “I wish I could have faith.”

“You can, you know.   Faith is a choice,” I urged with perhaps a touch too much missionary zeal.  “In the Book of Mormon there’s a famous sermon about how faith is like a science experiment.  If you even have just a ‘desire to believe,” and choose to act on that desire, you’ll feel God’s love, and see results.”

 

“But logic is too deeply engrained in me for that to work,” he responded.  “I’d just dismiss any positive feeling as a weird firing of brain chemicals, a manufactured emotional manipulation.  It’s not tangible or real.” [Read more…]

Leonard Arrington’s Nine Points

Image resultI recently ordered a copy of Gregory Prince’s biography of Church historian and founder of the Church History Library, Leonard Arrington. If you aren’t familiar with Arrington, here’s a brief blurb from Wikipedia:
Leonard James Arrington (July 2, 1917 – February 11, 1999) was an American author, academic and the founder of the Mormon History Association. He is known as the “Dean of Mormon History”[1] and “the Father of Mormon History”[2] because of his many influential contributions to the field. He was the first Church Historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1972 to 1982, and was director of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History from 1982 until 1986.

From a diary entry dated August 17, 1992, Arrington expressed his frustration with several organizational aspects of the church. He titled this entry “Things I don’t like about the church.” This was his list: [Read more…]

FHE / Christmas Activity Idea: Gingerbread Churches!

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On Halloween earlier this year, I hosted a German-themed party to celebrate the 500-year-anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.  I’ve been meaning to do a complete write-up but the time slipped away.  Better late than never!  I’ve decided to split my write-up into two posts.

First, I’m converting one of the core party activities into a Family Home Evening lesson plan.  (Alternatively, use it to occupy your kids and their friends for an afternoon while they’re home from school over Christmas Break!)

Pictured:  The Gingerbread Churches made at my Protestant Reformation Party.

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The Spirit of Zakat, Tithing, and Christmas

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One summer afternoon a few years ago, a good Muslim friend and I caught up over ice cream. His family had just spent a year in the Middle East on a medicine fellowship, but now were back in the Midwest.

“How was Saudi Arabia?” I asked. “Were you able to visit Mecca?”

“Yes, and it was incredible,” my friend responded. “It was so inspiring to hear the call to prayer five times a day, to be a part of a community of fellow believers, to experience the majestic mosques steeped in history. But it was also disappointing.” [Read more…]

One Cake To Rule Them All   

 24882859_10110373489206339_49640615_oWalking out of the Masterpiece Cakeshop argument at the Supreme Court this morning, I encountered a wall of sound.  The sidewalk teemed with supporters and protestors, waving placards and flags, as media cameras swarmed.  Bakery advocates chanted “Justice for Jack,” while competing chants of “Love Conquers All” erupted on behalf of Charlie Craig and David Mullins.

I love America.  What else is free speech, if not the ability to peacefully hold competing rallies on the Supreme Court steps? [Read more…]

Harmony and Unison in the Church

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Thanks to my interfaith romance, most weeks I attend both Mormon and Catholic services.  Lately, I’ve been musing on each faith’s church music.

Mormon Sacrament Meetings are simple: someone plays the piano or organ, while the congregation sings three or four hymns from a 30-year old hymnbook.  All parts — Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass — tend to be well-represented.  Occasionally there’s a special musical number by the choir or an amateur musician.  On the margins, music leaders and priesthood leaders bicker about brass instruments, non-Hymn performances, and overly “fancy” arrangements.

Catholic Masses are similar.  The congregation sings four or five hymns together throughout the service; the accompaniment is usually piano or organ.  A large segment of the service is dedicated to call-and-response chants and singing – reciting the Lord’s Prayer, begging Christ for mercy.   The music is often performed by volunteers and amateur choirs, but its common for bigger and wealthier parishes to have professional musical staff.    [Read more…]

God Scrunching God’s Self Down

Shawn Tucker teaches Humanities at Elon University, and might contribute completely true, non-fake news stories to the Mormon Tabernacle Enquirer. He and his wife live in North Carolina and have four children. Read his recent guest post on Joseph Campbell here.

A few months ago I did a little activity that I called “40 Days with God.” The goal of the activity was to know God better. You know, no big deal. My approach was this: since metaphors are a big part of the way we understand the world and our experiences, I would develop and examine at least 40 different metaphors for God. Of course God is our Heavenly Parents, but I also explored other metaphors. One example is God is the sun, providing all of the energy and warmth that all of us need, and sharing that abundance with everyone. I thought about God as a new pair of socks that are right there when you need them, a pleasant surprise in your everyday life. I even thought that God, like socks, doesn’t mind that we don’t think about God all of the time. I thought about God as a perfect soccer pass, something perfectly timed, perfectly weighted, perfectly placed, and so well suited that it is breathtakingly beautiful in how it unlocks a defense. These were just 3 of the metaphors I came up with, and even though it was called 40 days, I only ended up with about 35 metaphors for God. [Read more…]

Erasing Race

We’ve had some outstanding Relief Society lessons in my ward this year, owing to the great teachers we have. Recently, we were talking about how to talk with people not of our faith or culture, basically how to get along with everyone without being a jerk. Something like that. I was in and out a little bit. [Read more…]

Oh Say, What Is Sin?

I’m not sure I know what sin is.

Lately, I’ve come to recognize that the theory of sin I’ve held since my youth is … wrong.  Or if not wrong, at least woefully incomplete.

For most of my teenage and young adult life, sin meant willful rebellion against God.  Sin meant knowing an action was wrong, and intentionally choosing to do it anyway.  I viewed everyday sins as a microcosm of the way Mormons describe Outer Darkness. Under that belief, almost everyone on Earth will obtain some degree of heavenly glory; the only exception is those who have “sinned against the Holy Ghost” – who have had so powerful of a witness of God’s truth they effectively walk right up to a glorified Jesus Christ, look him in the eye, and say “I am choosing to not follow you.” [1]

I considered that level of willful sin difficult to achieve.  After all, we simultaneously learned in Mormon Sunday School that things which would be sins for us (like drinking alcohol) may not necessarily be a sin for other people; non-Mormons didn’t have the same knowledge, so they wouldn’t be held to the same standard. [Read more…]