Threats to Religious Freedom, at Home and Abroad (A BCC Discussion)

It is our duty to raise our voice for the voiceless.”  ~Kristina Arriaga, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (May 17, 2017).

Last week, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (“USCIRF”) hosted a discussion on their most recent annual report, which details the “countries of particular concern” regarding religious freedom.  The State Department periodically issues a similar International Religious Freedom Report.  As does the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life.

The international threats to religious freedom are serious.  Although colloquial use of “religious freedom” varies, encompassing a wide variety of public and private actions that in some way implicate religion, I propose limiting our discussion to a more precise definition.  Religious freedom is violated by official government action targeting the peaceful expression of religious belief.

[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…]

The Religious Liberty EO Is a Big Nothingburger

Yesterday, Donald Trump signed his 34th Executive Order, titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” And, much to everybody’s surprise (really!), it doesn’t do anything. Like, at all.

I was interested because of rumors (backed up by leaks of early drafts) that it would fulfill his promise to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.” Or, at least, that he would order the IRS to quit enforcing the prohibition on churches endorsing or opposing candidates for office.[fn1] In fact, the night before, there were reports that the EO would provide that the IRS should “exercise maximum enforcement discretion to alleviate the burden of the Johnson amendment which prohibits religious leaders from speaking about politics and candidate from the pulpit[.]”

Several colleagues and friends started discussing how we would divide the blogging duties over at The Surly Subgroup when the EO was signed and released. Then it was signed. Then it was released … and it didn’t look anything like what we expected, forcing us largely to rewrite our posts. If you’re interested in an explanation of what the so-called Johnson Amendment is, David Herzig explains it here. For a detailed, excellent review of what the EO actually says and does, Ben Leff has your back here. And if you decide that, in spite of the contentlessness of the EO, you want to sue,[fn2] I talk about some impediments you’ll face here. [Read more…]

Consecrated Oil in 7.62x39mm Vials or Mormons Missing the Mark

AK-47_gunshot_wound_to_abdomen_in_Vietnam

A 7.62×39mm bullet fulfilling the measure of its creation (Source)

I don’t know that I’m eminently qualified to address a topic related to Mormons and guns. But as a Mormon and very likely the only BCC blogger who owns and enjoys shooting guns, well, let’s just say you go to war with the army you have.

Anyway, growing up in rural California offered great opportunities with plenty of wide open spaces and ranges in which to plink and shoot at targets. My dad devoted a career to developing weapons systems and all residents owed their livelihoods to a military installation that has been designing, testing and evaluating more effective ways to kill the enemy since World War II. Guns were in the air, and I still have fond memories of the family tradition of getting together after Christmas dinner to go shooting. So feel free to dismiss what I’m about to say, just not on the grounds that I’m a liberal snowflake who hates guns.   [Read more…]

Trump, Tax Reform, and Mormons

On Wednesday, Donald Trump released his tax reform plan.

Scratch that: he released a one-page outline detailing highlights of what he wants his tax reform plan to look like. But even with its limited details, as my friend and colleague David Herzig points out, it is worth taking seriously. Presidents have traditionally had some power to shape tax reform according to their priorities, and at the very least, Trump’s Wednesday memo provides insight into his tax preferences.

And, because this blog focuses on Mormonism, here’s a great place to ask this question: how will his tax priorities affect U.S. Mormons? [Read more…]

Obligatory #TaxDay Post

Happy Tax Day![fn1]

Most years (and maybe every year) I do a tax post on Tax Day. I’ve been struggling to think of one the last couple days, though: there haven’t been a whole lot of Mormon tax (or even religious tax) developments over the last several months, and those few there have been[fn2] I’ve already posted on.

So I thought that I’d do something that isn’t really timely, but is interesting. See, as I was researching for my book,[fn3] I came across a Tax Court decision that dealt with the Church of Jesus Christ. I’m pretty sure, name notwithstanding, the Church of Jesus Christ is not part of the family of Mormon churches,[fn4] but its web presence is really, really limited, so most of what I know about it comes from the court’s opinion. Even if the Church of Jesus Christ isn’t a Mormon church, though, the case itself has to engage with Supreme Court tax precedent that is the result of the Mormon church. So here goes: [Read more…]

2nd Missionary Month: Still Waiting for the Gift of Tongues

Image result for lucy's italian episode

Similar to how we washed our clothes.

You can find my first two installments in this series here and here.

My second companion was Hermana C who had also served in my first area. We both got transferred back to the city of Las Palmas together, to the horrible piso (apartment) I had seen during my first day in the mission. There were two bedrooms, one that was used as a dressing room and shared closet, a tiny kitchen, a living area with a telephone, and a bathroom. The bathroom didn’t have a shower head, and the shower hose didn’t connect to the wall. You just held it up and hosed off with it. There was also no curtain, and no real tub – you stood in a square basin that had tile built up around it, like a very small bathtub. We also had to wash our clothes in this, by hand, because we didn’t have access to a washing machine. Usually I would just put some shampoo in with my clothes and some water and stomp around on them like Lucy’s Italian episode where she is stomping the grapes. Then we would hang our clothes up on a line in the air shaft outside the window, on lines hung in our apartment, or draped over furniture. [Read more…]

Refugees in The Book of Mormon: Ancient Light for a Modern Crisis

By Alicia Alba[1] (ed. Mel Henderson)

refugee: noun. ref· u· gee \ˌre-fyu̇-ˈjē\ An individual seeking refuge or asylum; especially: an individual who flees for safety (as from war), usually to a foreign country.

The Book of Mormon begins with a refugee story: Lehi was a wealthy landowner in ancient Jerusalem at a time of social and political unrest. Among the first things we learn is that Lehi was a good man who tried to share what he knew—but enemies emerged in his own community, men who “sought his life, that they might take it away” (1 Ne. 1:20). Lehi and his family were forced to flee. [Read more…]

We Should REALLY Argue More at Church

Image resultI hope I will be forgiven for co-opting Sam Brunson’s excellent post and title (found here), but I wanted to investigate the WHY a little bit more. Ardis points out that debate used to be a staple at church (at least for the men of the YMMIA) during the early part of the 20th century. We also know that in the earliest days of the church, the School of the Prophets was known for hearty discussion and debate (as well as tobacco spitting and smoking). Based on my own memories, growing up in the church in the 70s and 80s, church classes used to involve more debate than they have in my advancing years. That could be the nature of the ward I grew up in, but I suspect that it’s a byproduct of the calcification of correlation that has continued since its introduction. The church–like every organization–becomes more bureaucratic with growth, not less. I’ll explain what I mean. [Read more…]

LGBT Questions: An Essay

Bryce CookThis week, Bryce Cook published a new comprehensive essay on the church’s stance toward LGBT members. Bryce Cook is a founding member of ALL (Arizona LDS LGBT) Friends & Family and a co-director of the annual “ALL Are Alike Unto God” Conference held every April in Mesa, Arizona. He is married to Sara Spencer Cook and together they have six children, two of whom are gay. Since their oldest son came out publicly in 2012, Bryce and Sara have become public allies for LGBT people in and out of the church.

The essay is a long but fascinating read. I’ll cover a few highlights here, but I encourage you to read it in its entirety for yourself here[Read more…]

Let Language Garnish Thy Virtue: The Subversive Language of Mormon Public Discourse in the Age of Trump

Jacob is a former perma at BCC, and shares his smart thoughts with us from time to time. 

 

Any time a Mormon luminary speaks is a good time to think about what’s going on with public Mormon discourse. Elaine Dalton’s recent remarks concerning virtue reveal how modern Mormon discourse attempts to resist and subvert the wider culture in which it lives. The way ‘virtue’ is used in that discourse has been combed over in online Mormonism for years, of course, but I’m thinking about it here with regard to the larger weave of how modern Mormonism has sought to re-define certain concepts and interpretations of traditional themes and values, not as a means of preserving them so much as a means of re-imagining them in order to deploy them toward specific ends. This always happens with new generations of practitioners, but I think it’s important to note here that this kind of orthodox religion-making is actually perceived by its makers and adopters as radical, not conservative or orthodox.

[Read more…]

What If the Church Didn’t Remain Politically Neutral?

On Sunday, Carolyn Homer wrote a thoughtful post about why, even if Donald Trump manages to “totally destroy” the so-called Johnson Amendment, the church shouldn’t start publicly endorsing or opposing candidates for office. On almost every level, she is certainly right: anything else opens the door to real discomfort and mischief.

And yet, I want to propose that, if Trump succeeds, the church (or, rather, members of the Quorum of the Twelve) should start endorsing candidates.

Stay with me—this isn’t any kind of modest proposal, and I’m being completely serious. But my proposal requires some explanation and significant caveats. [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)

On Totally Destroying the Johnson Amendment

Yesterday at the National Prayer Breakfast, Donald Trump (among other things) reiterated his campaign promise to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.”

The phrase “Johnson Amendment” may well be meaningless to you. It’s kind of a stupid name for a broadly-misunderstood provision of the tax law. So, to get us all on the same page, a quick explainer: [Read more…]

Lesson 6: “I Will Tell You in Your Mind and in Your Heart” #DandC2017

This week’s lesson is a continuation of the aborted Oliver Cowdery translation attempt. Bummer for you teachers who rotate weeks with another teacher; there’s a BIG overlap in chapters here with both this week and last week’s lesson focusing on the same three sections of the Doctrine & Covenants: 6, 8, and 9. This one throws section 11 in the cart, but really, the majority of the lesson is still focused on the same material as last week. You’re the loser who drew the short straw because your rotating cohort got first dibs on the good stuff.

The first “attention activity” is the suggestion to bring a radio to class. Apparently, a radio is an old-timey electronic device that was used to receive transmitted sound waves from the air. People used to use these devices to listen to talk show programs as well as music, all interspersed with housewives gushing about the newest dish washing soap and doctors recommending their favorite brand of cigarette “for your health.” Radios were also used in the Netflix series Stranger Things to communicate with the Upside Down. Since it’s probably impractical to drive your car into the classroom, perhaps there are some functional portable radios at the Desert Industries or in your grandfather’s attic you could pick up for your object lesson. [1] [Read more…]

On Moral Issues and Trump – Updated

iwasastranger_siteToday, the church is hesitant to enter into the political sphere. For the most part, I think that’s the right decision: church leaders don’t have any expertise in public policy or governance.

The church has, however, reserved the right to speak to “issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences.” Over the last couple years, it has invoked its right—duty, even—to speak to issues ranging from the legalization of recreational marijuana and physician-assisted suicide to alcohol laws in Utah to the legalization of same-sex marriage.

It has been outspoken in its support of religious liberty. As far back as 1992, Elder Oaks testified in support of of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and he has continued to emphasize the importance of religious liberty. [Read more…]

My Wall

The news is full of stories about some wall that’s going to be built and how a 20% tariff on Mexican goods will pay for it. I’ve been thinking about another wall lately.

This election has shown us is that we all live in a bubble, and given what I’ve been seeing and hearing for the last 5 days, I feel like my bubble needs a little heavier fortification. It’s not that I don’t want personal connections; I just want to be sure that the people who are in my bubble are valuable contributors. I don’t want people to be in my bubble who are unfairly or disproportionately draining my time or energy which are limited resources, when I could have people in my bubble who are boosting me. From now on, it’s Angela First. [Read more…]

Soundtrack to the Inauguration

Today, Donald Trump transitions from president-elect to president.

I’m struggling here to figure out what to write. I want to write that we elected a valueless misogynistic, race-baiting, xenophobic know-nothing as president, but I confess I’m not sure where to go from there.

I want to decry Mormons’ participation in the Inauguration, only I’m not sure what I can add to what Peter has already said. (Also, what Peter has already said.)

I do know, though, where I’m going to turn musically. Noah Preminger has just released Meditations on Freedom, a protest album, just in time for the new presidency.  [Read more…]

What Tax Folks (and Kyle) Talk About When They Talk About Tithing

Yesterday, I saw this tweet from Jana Riess:

The catch: younger members are more likely than their elders to say they’re paying tithing on net, rather than gross, income.

The question of why younger generations are more willing to cop to paying 10% of their net income is an interesting one, and I have no idea if it reflects changes in religious rhetoric or in their financial situations. For that matter, I have no idea if it actually reflects a shift: maybe Mormons have always moved from net to gross as they’ve aged.

What’s clear, though, is that few people, if any, are actually paying tithing on their gross income. I tweeted to that effect, and got into a fun rabbit hole of a Twitter conversation. So, for your reading pleasure: What Tax Folks (and Kyle) Talk About When They Talk About Tithing:
[Read more…]

LaVell Edwards: A Personal Reflection

Tribune file photo BYU Coach LaVell Edwards checks the clock during a game against the Washington Huskies in 1999.

By now I’m sure you’ve heard that 2016 claimed yet another victim. LaVell Edwards, that rock of BYU football, died today.

He coached BYU from 1972 (before I was born) until 2000 (when I graduated from BYU). I grew up watching his teams (and the UCLA Bruins) play football on fall Saturdays with my dad and, as a student at BYU, I went to almost every home game.

I never met him while I was at BYU; my sole access to (and image of) him was cutaway shots to him on the sidelines, unsmiling, arms folded over his chest.  [Read more…]

Why Require a Temple Recommend for Church Employment?

Image result for temple recommendWhy does the church currently require that its employees have a current Temple Recommend? It’s a question I’ve often heard my friends who work for the church ask, and over my lifetime, we’ve continually ratcheted up the requirement for a Temple Recommend to callings and ordinances also, even when one has not been historically required. A recently leaked handbook document details the church’s reasons. Some of these were surprising to me, as a person with decades of leadership experience in Fortune 500 companies. [Read more…]

On Fred Karger, Tax Exemptions, and the Mormon Church

Today, Fred Karger asked a provocative question: should the Mormon church lose its tax exemption? To answer that question, he’s asking for certain (anonymous) tips about the church’s use of its money, though implicit in the way he frames the question is that yes, it should. In short, his argument the the church should lose its tax exemption seems to follow these contours:

  • The church has, and earns, lots of money.
  • The church engages in for-profit businesses and investments with that money, and doesn’t pay taxes on its for-profit earnings.
  • The church uses tax-deductible tithing money for lobbying, in contravention of the tax law.

He wants to collect information to ultimately file “the biggest, loudest and most comprehensive IRS challenge to a Church’s tax-exempt status in history.”  [Read more…]

Trump’s Tax Proposals and Mormons

It occurred to me this morning that Trump’s tax plan, if it passed in its current form, would impact many middle- (and some high-) income U.S. Mormons.[fn1] I mean, it would affect U.S. taxpayers in general, but it would have a particular effect on the deductibility of tithing.

The church cares about deductibility. In 2011, Elder Oaks gave testimony to the Senate Finance Committee that the charitable deduction is vital to the nation’s welfare.

And why might that be? Basically, because it reduces the cost of charitable giving, at least for taxpayers who itemize their deductions (more on that in a minute). For example, imagine I’m in the 25-percent tax bracket and I itemize. If I write a tithing check for $1,000, I’ve made a $1,000 charitable donation, and the church has an additional $1,000. But the after-tax cost to me of that donation was $750. [Read more…]

Advocating for Refugees

Erica Eastley is a longtime friend of the blog. See her previous guest post here.

Around 6am on Wednesday morning as I was watching the US election results in my time zone, I posted on Facebook that I hoped refugees would still be welcome in the US after the vote was counted. As the hours disappeared while I sat stunned on the couch with my teenagers next to me, that hope slipped away.  When I learned that Mormons had supported Trump by a large majority, I was even more troubled by the result.

I do not believe that a majority of Mormons or other Trump supporters voted for him because they actively support racism and xenophobia. I do believe that every voter needs to realize that they own the negative parts of their vote as well as the positive.  I won’t rehash Trump’s negatives, but might I suggest that one way we begin to make amends for those negatives is to recommit to the refugee relief effort.

There are so many ways to support refugees.  I posted this google doc here in May with ideas of ways to get educated and to get started.  I heard from people who had donated to resettlement agencies, signed up to sponsor newly arriving families, gathered supplies for welcome kits, and so much more.  The Church’s refugee site has videos highlighting things members have done. In the last few weeks, the Church has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to several different refugee resettlement agencies in the US.  The worldwide refugee crisis is far from over and tens of thousands more refugees have been resettled in the US since April with more coming, at least until January 20th. [Read more…]

The ground game is in our hearts

I’ve tried to write a coherent post-election post, but nothing comes together. It’s probably because I still haven’t decided what to make of the result. I was as shocked as the next person (unless the next person was Bill Mitchell) that Trump won, and so decisively too. Like a lot of folks, I really underestimated the number of white voters. In my defense, I don’t do this for a living. But I feel more than a little silly for having overlooked the most relevant fact: both candidates were about equally disliked and distrusted, and the one who was currently in the spotlight always suffered for it. Apparently, Trump’s campaign managers managed in the last week to do what they’d failed to do for the previous 15 months—take his iPhone away so he couldn’t Tweet something stupid to distract people from whatever was happening with Hillary. I guess I didn’t notice because I gave up on this election in July. [Read more…]

What I Want the Church to Say

Yesterday the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve released a statement congratulating president-elect Trump on his victory and praising Secretary Clinton on her campaign. The letter, something of a post-U.S.-presidential-election tradition, is, I think, laudable, and functions as a valuable reminder that we need to both pray and work for the success of the country we live in.

And it makes me think of another letter that I’d like to see. It would go something along these lines: [Read more…]

Partisan Journalism & Hiring POTUS

Image result for political polarizationI and many others have talked in other OPs this election season about reasons Mormons disagree about this election and how we can see such strong differences of opinion among people who seem to share common values. With election day looming large, I wanted to finish off with one last look at the psychology of voting in 2016 to try to understand what I’m seeing when beloved ward members, friends and colleagues make political statements on their Facebook status that leave me baffled or worse, losing respect for them. Rather than criticizing one another, perhaps it’s better to take a minute to understand what’s behind our differences. [Read more…]

Hostile Sexism and LDS Trump Supporters

An article in Vox showed the statistical correlation between Trump supporters and hostile sexism. One interesting aspect of this analysis was that this is not an issue of Republicans in general being hostile to women, just a correlation between those who are and those who support Trump. The trend was not the same when Romney ran in 2012. Romney appealed to benevolent sexists rather than hostile sexists. The difference, as they say, is yuge. [Read more…]

Welcome to #MutualNight: Delfeayo Marsalis

young-women-mutual-improvement-association-jewelry-1931_2I can’t, for the life of me, remember when I first heard it, but I do remember hearing (or reading) that, once upon a time, a significant part of Mutual was introducing Mormon youth to the best of literature, music, art, and other learning. After doing some quick Googling that suggested, but didn’t prove, that my memory was right, I did what any right-thinking person would do: I messaged Ardis. And she was kind enough to respond that yes, the M.I.A. had once been a repository of learning about art and culture.

Satisfied, I decided to follow through on my main reason for searching and asking: the introduction of a virtual M.I.A. Periodically (and undoubtedly irregularly), I plan on introducing and writing about some type of art, music, or literature that I’m enjoying, and what makes it worth sampling. While I doubt that most of my picks will have any significant Mormon connection, I consider this as Mormon a blogging topic as any that I’ve blogged. After all, we have not only roots in the M.I.A. program, but we have scriptural injunctions to seek after anything praiseworthy or of good report, and to learn out of the best books[Read more…]

Columbus and Accountability

“And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles,
who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters;
and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man;
and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren,
who were in the promised land.”

1 Nephi 13:12

Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519 (source: http://tinyurl.com/zrkzztj)

Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519 (source: http://tinyurl.com/zrkzztj)

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an opinion piece by David Tucker, a senior fellow at the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University in Ohio, in which Dr. Tucker is willing to go part of the distance in reducing cultural adoration of Christopher Columbus. After acknowledging many of the negative consequences for native peoples of Columbus’s actions — and rehabilitating Columbus by arguing that we only condemn him now because of the European values that he brought to the New World, primarily the notion of Equality (?!) enshrined in the Declaration of Independence — Dr. Tucker states “[t]his Columbus Day we need no triumphalism. Let it be a day instead to ponder the human capability for good and evil and wonder how we might encourage more of the good.”[1]

I don’t think this goes far enough in dealing with Columbus’s legacy — especially for me as a Mormon who has so deeply internalized the Church’s teachings about the importance of the principle of accountability in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But for the past few years, I’ve posted my thoughts about Columbus and Columbus Day on social media and I’ve received substantial push back on my criticism of Columbus, specifically from Mormon friends and family. Again, today, I’m aware that many are claiming that denouncing Columbus is just an example of political correctness run amok. [Read more…]