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…]

Rachel Held Evans & Evolving Faith

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Kristine A. lives in Rexburg, Idaho and blogs at Wheat & Tares.

I just got home from a conference held in North Carolina and hosted by Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey. They are two evangelicals who have experienced faith crises; Rachel describes her journey back into church in her book Searching for Sunday, a book I know is popular with liberal Mormons. Sarah, I believe, describes hers back into the same congregation in Out of Sorts. They announced the conference in March and sold out 1500 tickets within two weeks. When I heard some of the speakers included many of the names that had strengthened my faith when it felt like everything had fallen apart, I felt compelled to go. Well, that and the fact it was about two hours away from my old home in Virginia and best friend, who agreed to attend with me. [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…]

Worthiness vs. Confession

We’ve all seen Catholic confession in movies and TV shows. It’s a situation that we might liken to our own worthiness interviews, and yet there are some significant differences in purpose, theological implications, and in how the act is understood by believers. [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…]

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…]

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.

 

[Read more…]

Saint Mary the Protectress

Gold-plated spires of Lavra's main church.

Cathedral at Lavra

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…]

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.

[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…]

Snippets from Martin Luther’s Treatise On Christian Liberty

Years ago, I stumbled upon Martin Luther’s Treatise On Christian LibertyI still turn to it often, marveling at the insights regarding the intersection of faith and works.  Here are just a few of my favorite passages.

“Since, therefore, this faith can rule only in the inward man, as Romans X says, With the heart we believe unto righteousness; and since faith alone justifies, it is clear that the inward man cannot be justified, made free and be saved by any outward work or dealing whatsoever.”

“Although it is good to preach and write about penitence, confession, and satisfaction, our teaching is unquestionably deceitful and diabolical if we stop with that and do not go on to teach about faith.” [Read more…]

1309-1417: Avignon and the Papal Schism

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For two centuries before the official launch of the Protestant Reformation, corruption and strife in the papacy prompted calls for reform within the Catholic Church.  Back in the early 14th century, the Pope had fled Rome and set up the offices of the church in Avignon, France.  There, over the next 100 years, a series of Popes created ways to increase religious taxes and fiscal intakes, funding construction of a grand palace of opulence (pictured).  As one Italian poet described Avignon, it is “a receptacle of all that is most wicked and abominable…In this city there is no piety, no reverence or fear of God, no faith or charity, nothing that is holy, just, equitable, or humane.”

Two women, later canonized by the Catholic church, led the calls to repentance.  St. Bridget implored Pope Gregory XI to show humility — “Why in thy Court dost thou suffer unchecked the foulest pride, insatiable avarice, execrable wantonness, and all-devouring simony? … Arise and seek bravely to reform the Church which I have purchased with my blood, and it shall be restored to its former state, though now a brothel is more respected than it.”  [Read more…]

“For I created all things spiritually…”

Animism is the belief that “gods” and “spirits” — and the anima that imbue them with their god and spiritliness — inhabit things both living and inert. Eurocentric anthropologists originally used the term negatively, believing animism to be a stage in the evolution of religion from primitive belief to more “advanced” monotheism. This view should be rejected.

I am definitely an animist. I don’t mean that as some kind of poetic characterisation of my love for nature. No, I definitely believe nature — rock, animal, and tree — is animated by more than just the material sum of its parts. Crazy stuff.

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These are the hills and trees near my home. Should I get a good death, they may be the last thing I see as I lay dying at home as an old man. The hill is North Hill in Malvern and it looms both over the house I was born into and the house in which I now live. I believe that this hill is more than its granite and grass. It is “North Hill,” the animation of that granite and grass. It — and the things that live in it and around it — has, to borrow a Japanese idea, kami-nature (more on kami below). [Read more…]

Protestant Oktoberfest 

Germany has a major celebration every October — but this year is special.  500 years ago, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the doors of Wittenberg Church.  This symbolically launched what later historians would dub the Protestant Reformation.

As a lover of religious history — and appreciator of the LDS Church’s indebtedness to many things Protestant — I hereby proclaim October to be Protestant Reformation month at By Common Consent.  I hope you will enjoy and contribute to our celebration of Protestant hymns, quotes, churches, leaders, theologies, and other snippets of history.  I pray that through this celebration, we can all rediscover a love of scripture and delight in faith.

[Read more…]

God’s Bureaucracy

In the never-ending saga of seeking permission from the Vatican to marry my fiancé, I recently had an exasperating meeting with a Priest.  At one point I asked whether there was anything more I could do to speed up the Catholic marriage-paperwork processes – for example, could my fiancé and I complete the Catholic marital counseling requirement in parallel while we await Vatican approval?

The Priest said no.  The two sets of paperwork must follow in serial, even though that will delay our marriage by (at least) an extra six months.  Those were The Rules.  Then, with an admirable level of sincerity regarding Vatican bureaucracy, he offered this counsel.  “Consider this a blessing,” he said.  “Both of you have had failed marriages before, so this extra time is a gift from God to grow together, pray together, and be sure that you are ready to undertake the serious commitment that is the Sacrament of Marriage.” [Read more…]

Peace and Love to Charlottesville

I love Charlottesville.  For nearly a decade, Charlottesville has been my favorite retreat from the chaos of big cities.  I have family who live, just barely outside of cell-signal range, in the breathtaking rolling hills west of town.  My fiancé, Brad, attended – and I seriously considered attending – the University of Virginia Law School.  I love visiting.  I’ve explored its romantic colonial streets; hiked its peaceful mountains; day-dreamed about living there forever.

But this year Charlottesville has become a flashpoint for racial tension.  After years of studied discussion, the City Council voted in February to remove confederate statutes and rename two confederate-honoring parks.  (One of those parks, Stonewall Jackson park, was built after the city in 1914 seized land from private citizens in order to destroy a burgeoning black community.)  The parks have since been renamed, but plans to remove the statute stalled when the City was sued under a state law protecting historic monuments.  A month ago a small KKK rally at Justice Park (formerly Stonewall Jackson park) was overwhelmed by a thousand counter-protestors.  When a “Unite the Right” group applied for a permit to hold a further rally, they had to obtain a federal court order protecting their right to free speech.  Counter-protestors again rallied to flood the streets.

[Read more…]

Receiving Grace: Mozart’s Great Mass

51nbxoelzl-_ss500Becoming familiar with Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor (K.427) is a good way to both deepen one’s appreciation for WAM, especially his church music, but also to find a way into understanding the rich and ancient eucharistic liturgy of the western church. The Great Mass, composed in 1782/3, is unfinished* but the missing parts are often added for modern performances and recordings.

In the Great Mass we proceed in stages through music until we receive the grace of God in the Eucharist.

[Read more…]

On not correcting mistakes

I don’t think I believe in bibliomancy but when I randomly opened my Essential Dogen today, I opened to a teaching that spoke directly to a problem I have been mulling over for a while now, viz., how one should, in this new world of fake news, best respond to misinformation and its amplification via social media. I would like to know what the BCC community thinks:

Even when you are clearly correct and others are mistaken, it is harmful to argue and defeat them. On the other hand, if you admit fault when you are right, you are a coward. It is best to step back, neither trying to correct others nor conceding to mistaken views. If you don’t act competitively, and let go of the conflict, others will also let go of it without harboring ill will.

My whole soul rebels against this. If you are clearly wrong, and if the wrongness matters, I have this overwhelming urge to correct you. The thing is it generally seems to be a futile exercise and has this unwelcome outcome of tieing knots in my own wellbeing. Maybe Dogen is right . . . ? (#zen)

Mormon Deepities

What is a deepity?

Something that sounds profound but intellectually hollow.
Usually has the following characteristics. 1. True but trivial 2. False but logically ill informed. 3. Usually a use-mention error or (UME)  To the extent that it’s true, it doesn’t matter. To the extent that it matters, it isn’t true.

What is a UME?  Confusing the word used to describe a thing, with the thing itself.

Daniel Dennett, the prominent atheist author who coined the term “deepity” in 2009, argues that theology is full of deepities.  To which I say, I know you are, but what am I? [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…]

The Christmas Story (IV). Matthew: Sex and Wise Men.

[Part 3 is here. Part 5 is here.]

[You can find the whole series here.]

Matthew: “And knew her not till she had brought forth her firstborn son.” It’s difficult to know where Matthew might get such detail, but it may be a nod to some kind of purification. Possibly this is Matthew seeing Jesus as divine and therefore holy and so the discharge of semen in Mary meant that Joseph was defiled and should not come near the holy child–thus, no sex. Rabbinic rules varied, but in the end, sex during pregnancy was the decision of the wife (according to the male rule makers in the writings at least). But who knows?[1] [Read more…]

Elder Costa’s Ignatian Spirituality #ldsconf

According to Wikipedia, Elder Claudio R. M. Costa grew up in a Catholic family in Brazil. [1] Although his family met LDS missionaries when he was 12, another 15 years passed before he joined the Church. His talk in the Sunday Morning session shows how Elder Costa was able to bring spiritual riches from the faith of his earlier life and use them to enrich Mormon spirituality. Specifically, his talk borrows two practices from St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises and brings them together in a powerful synthesis of Mormon sacramentalism. [Read more…]

“Once I Was a Beehive”: Must-See Mormon Film of 2015

“Once I Was a Beehive” (2015)

Go see this film! It’s one of those rare Mormon films that you’ll love, whether you’re Mormon or not. If you live in Utah, it’s playing in theaters until Thursday, August 27, 2015.

I do not pretend to be a connoisseur of Mormon film by any stretch of the imagination, or a movie critic in general, for that matter. In truth, I can add very little to film and theater critic Eric Samuelsen’s excellent review of Once I Was a Beehive, in which he highly recommends the film. I fully endorse his review in the sense that he says exactly what I would have wanted to say but much better than I could have. (Samuelsen’s glowing recommendation means a lot because he is known as somewhat of a cynic or at least a critic — he calls himself the Mormon Iconoclast — about Mormon culture.) But I had a few brief thoughts about it based on my own tastes in literature, film, and culture, and perhaps most importantly, from my perspective as a Mormon father of four Mormon daughters. [Read more…]