You Want the Church to Be a Corporation. Really.

I blame Time for the whole "LDS Inc." movement.

I blame Time for the whole “LDS Inc.” movement.

The other day, our own Aaron B. posted this on Facebook:

The single DUMBEST criticism of the LDS Church is the claim that “it’s a business, not a church”, or “it’s a corporation, not a church”. Obviously it’s both …[fn1]

I’ll confess that, like Aaron, I’ve never been particularly impressed by the implication that somehow corporate organization is antithetical to spirituality. After a discussion with one of Aaron’s friends, though, I think I kind of understand where some who object to its corporate status are coming from.  [Read more…]

Male Privilege and Priesthood Bias

One time, I had a close friend tell me that he was planning on moving to a large plot of land in Missouri with his in-laws. He liked and believed in his in-laws, whom he saw as living closely to gospel principles (embracing freedom by refusing to pay taxes to the federal government, for example). They were going to divide up the land in a manner similar to the United Order and have a three-person council to run everything: a president and two counselors. I’d like to believe that my snarky remarks that the place was going to go polygamist within six months or my constantly calling this place “the compound” convinced my friend to back out, but there was probably only one question I asked about the plan that gave him pause. Why was it, as he had explained to me, that the president of the presiding council had to be a man? [Read more…]

Pastors’ Housing Revisited

The Chicago Temple First United Methodist Church may have the coolest parsonage anywhere.

The Chicago Temple First United Methodist Church may have the coolest parsonage anywhere.

Not quite three years ago, and again not quite two years ago, I wrote about a Freedom From Religion Foundation lawsuit against the IRS. In the suit, the FFRF argued that section 107 of the Internal Revenue Code was unconstitutional.

Quick refresher: in general, when your employer gives you something, that thing you receive is income to you. And it doesn’t matter if what you receive is cash, is property, or even is services. To the extent your employer gives you something of value, that’s income to you.

Congress has carved out a handful of exceptions to the general rule, though. Maybe most importantly, employer-provided health insurance is not treated as income. So those of us lucky enough to have health insurance provided by our employers don’t have to pay taxes on its value. Similarly, all kinds of fringe benefits are excluded.  [Read more…]

“Work Makes the Difference”: A Church Welfare Proposal

I have a sure-fire proposal to improve church welfare.

Church welfare admittedly has a long and storied history. In 1936, the Church officially inaugurated the Church Security Plan. President Grant explained that the purpose of the plan was to provide

sufficient food, fuel, clothing, and bedding to supply through the coming winter, every needy and worthy Church family unable to furnish these for itself, in order that no member of the Church should suffer in these times of stress and emergency.[fn1]

In 1936, the Great Depression, which hit Utah hard, was still a recent memory, and its effects were still being felt in Utah. So it makes plenty of sense that church leaders were trying to establish a procedure that could help members weather the financial storm.  [Read more…]

Women of Vision

WomenofVision-599x449Yesterday my family and I went to Chicago’s Field Museum. After checking out several other exhibits, we went to the Women of Vision exhibit.

Women of Vision shows some photography that 11 female photographers have shot for various National Geographic stories. The exhibit is (not surprisingly) spectacular. Organized by photographer, the subjects range all over the map, from women’s lives (there was a great display of women in Afghanistan) to architecture to religion (Muslims, Uigars, Christians in the Middle East, shamanism) to African animals.  [Read more…]

Early Morning Seminary and Sleep Deprivation

Is Early Morning Seminary worth it? This is a question I ask myself every year. At the kickoff for seminary, the seminary director explains each year that the reason we do Early Morning Seminary is to teach the kids they can do hard things. That’s the same reason we were told we do manufactured Trek reenactments, too. But is doing hard things a good justification in and of itself to do something? I have seen fairly severe impacts to my kids as they’ve gone through 4 years of seminary. The sleep deprivation at a crucial growing period when they are supposed to be achieving grades that enable them to get a good college education seems like a high price to pay for daily religious education from amateur volunteers. [Read more…]

Stop Skipping the Establishment Clause

For as much as we love religious freedom (BYU just finished its annual two-day conference on the topic), Mormons don’t pay much attention to the Establishment Clause.  Which, if you think about it, is astounding.  What else is Mormonism, if not the greatest Establishment Clause failure of the 19th Century?

Today’s guest post is from Carolyn Homer.  Carolyn Homer is an attorney and religion constitutional law enthusiast in California. She has represented the Anti-Defamation League and other religious organizations as amici before the U.S. Supreme Court, most recently in Zubik v. Burwell, which concerned religious exemptions to the Affordable Care Act. [Read more…]

Encountering Mormonism on Route 66

IMG_3884(This post isn’t really a Fourth of July thing, except that there’s something distinctly American about Route 66. So we’ll go with it.)

We talked about taking a Route 66 vacation this summer. After all, we live in Chicago (and Route 66 starts across the street from the Art Institute!), and it ends in L.A., just north of my parents’ home. But with this year’s Every Kid in a Park (which, btw, if you have a kid who just finished fourth grade and you haven’t enrolled yet, I don’t think it’s too late), we switched to a visit-National-Parks trip.

Still, our National Parks roadtrip ended up overlapping briefly with Route 66—we were going to Petrified Forest National Park, which is on historic Route 66, and we decided to stay in nearby Holbrook, in Wigwam Village #6.[fn1] [Read more…]

How Much Accommodation?

130114152903-abc-schoolhouse-rock-just-a-bill-horizontal-large-galleryLast week on The Surly Subgroup, I wrote about a bill making its way through the House right now. The last section of that bill would make it even harder than it already is for the IRS to audit churches it suspects have campaigning for or against candidates for office.

Reading the bill (and writing the post) crystallized for me a question I’ve had at the back of my mind: how much accommodation should we push for? That is, should there be an upper to the exceptions churches and other religious organizations seek from the law?  [Read more…]

Adam Miller’s Nothing New Under the Sun

I just finished reading Adam Miller’s latest modernization of ancient scripture: Nothing New Under the Sun.  This is a very quick read, a modern version of Ecclesiastes:

Because the modern language made the parallels to modern wisdom literature so clear, I was curious about the links to Buddhism. According to Wikipedia, Ecclesiastes was written between 450 and 350 BCE.

The presence of Persian loan-words and Aramaisms points to a date no earlier than about 450 BCE, while the latest possible date for its composition is 180 BCE, when another Jewish writer, Ben Sira, quotes from it. The dispute as to whether Ecclesiastes belongs to the Persian or the Hellenistic periods (i.e., the earlier or later part of this period) revolves around the degree of Hellenization (influence of Greek culture and thought) present in the book. Scholars arguing for a Persian date (c. 450–330 BCE) hold that there is a complete lack of Greek influence; those who argue for a Hellenistic date (c. 330–180 BCE) argue that it shows internal evidence of Greek thought and social setting.

Is Ecclesiastes Buddhism in the Bible?  Or is it simply the case that all wisdom is roughly the same and there is nothing new under the sun.  Buddha dates to 600 BC. Adam Miller’s book doesn’t dwell on these parallels, but merely hints at them.  Wisdom is wisdom, no matter the source. It’s an interesting question, though. His modernized take on Ecclesiastes also demonstrates that there really is nothing new under the sun, including Christian wisdom.

[Read more…]

Justice and Mercy: A Rape Survivor’s Perspective

Today’s guest post is from Rachael.

I was sexually abused as a child and later raped as a teenager and again as an adult. All of these horrific experiences were at the hands of LDS priesthood holders. Of course, those who did these things were sinning and were not true representatives of Christ or His priesthood. It was relatively easy for me to separate out in my mind these evil men from what I knew God wanted.  But it was much harder for me to figure out how to make sense of the good men, bishops and stake presidents, who counseled me to forgive, to bury the past, to not hold my perpetrators legally responsible.  Because I believed that these men were representatives of God, I believed them when they told me that it was God’s will that I let my rapists (and abusers) off the hook.  And so I did.  I earnestly practiced the forgiveness that I was taught to practice, burying any hint of anger the moment it tried to rise up in me, and consequently, I believe, that buried emotion took on a life of its own, to the detriment of my health. [Read more…]

If Jane Austen Wrote the Book of Mormon

Where are our marriage prospects in this godforsaken wilderness?

I was considering a post on the Book of Mormon & the Bechdel test when it occurred to me that Gospel Doctrine class is kind of like a book club.[1]  Which got me thinking how much better, and perhaps with more vocal women in it (as well as a few more humorously identified human foibles), the Book of Mormon would be if Jane Austen had written it. [Read more…]

Book Review: Adam Miller’s Future Mormon

Adam Miller’s new book Future Mormon:  Essays in Mormon Theology is laid out in a series of digestible-length short essays.  Reading his essays is like talking to a smarter, more esoteric friend or maybe sitting next to a chatty and interesting professor on a flight.  His essays generally follow a pattern for me:

  • Adam says something moderately profound but provocative that makes sense and that I totally agree with.  I think to myself, “This is going to be good.  Go, Adam!”
  • Adam follows that up by saying something that sounds really smart but is completely incomprehensible to me.  I re-read it several times, and then give up, shaking my head at how stupid I must be not to comprehend what he’s saying.
  • Adam patiently walks back from Adam-land to where he left me in confusion and patiently, even respectfully, takes me through the steps to get me to the newfound understanding that is the true thesis of his essay.
  • Along the way, like a dad walking on a beach with a small child, he points out interesting things, thoughts I can mull over at a later time, ideas I haven’t ever fully formed before, observations, and insights that have been hiding in plain sight and feel immediately familiar but newly articulated.
  • When each essay concludes, my inner world of ideas has become a bigger place.  My curiosity is awake.  I’d like nothing more than to sit and think my new thoughts, but there are more essays to discover, so I keep reading.

[Read more…]

The Mormon Church in the @PanamaPapers?!? [Updated]

[Update below]

Yesterday, the ICIJ released its searchable Panama Papers database. (For some background on the Panama Papers, you can look my BCC post or my Surly Subgroup post. Or the ICIJ’s site.) Some enterprising individual appears to have plugged Mormon-related words into the search bar, and came up with at least two hits: Bonneville International and Deseret Investment.

Now, this is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing with this database: searching for those who think they can use tax havens to avoid meeting their obligations. So should you be outraged that the church is doing this?

Short answer: no. But I’m a law professor, so the short answer is never enough.   [Read more…]

No Man is “Trash”

Angry? You bet. Tyler Glenn’s latest song and video boil with rage. Glenn, a gay man and former missionary, was embraced by the church for his advocacy in building the inclusivity bridge. That is, until the LDS church’s November 5th policy change regarding homosexuals—a change that codified those in same-gender marriages as apostates, required their excommunication, and forbade the baptism of their children under certain conditions. The policy change hit him hard, like a gut punch, he says. Feeling himself betrayed, denigrated, and literally dismissed over his sexual orientation, Glenn took a hard look at less-visited areas of Mormonism and decided he could no longer believe. The release of “Trash” depicts a stunning reversal of attitude toward his faith heritage. [Read more…]

Rape and The Miracle of Forgiveness

Today’s Guest Post is by Chris Kimball.

Although nobody accuses me, every time the (now out-of-print) The Miracle of Forgiveness comes up, I cringe and feel guilty. It’s really not my work and I know that. But the author is my grandfather Spencer Kimball and somehow I feel responsible in a vague but troubling way.

Rape is a difficult and touchy subject, yet I want to contribute to the discussion. I offer this as my personal opinion (I certainly cannot and would never claim to channel Spencer Kimball.) [Read more…]

Happy Tax Day! (Unless You Live in MA or ME)

Brigham Young, c. 1870

Brigham Young, c. 1870

Most years (at least when I remember), I like to do a Tax Day post.[fn1] (And yes, I get that Tax Day statutorily falls on April 15 for calendar year taxpayers, and I get that April 15 was Friday. But Friday was also the observation of Emancipation Day in D.C., which pushed Tax Day to today. Except in Massachusetts and Maine, where today is apparently Patriots’ Day, which means Tax Day is tomorrow.)

For this year’s Mormon-y Tax Day celebration, we’re going back to the Civil War-era income tax. It only lasted a decade, from 1861-1871, but, in that time, it managed to ensnare itself with the Mormons out in Utah.  [Read more…]

Variable fallibilities and church leadership

It is well known, at least among Mormons, that Mormons don’t worship their prophets. We don’t pray to Joseph Smith. We are not expected to blindly follow every dictum that comes from President Thomas S. Monson. We test the commandments (in prayer or by trial) and choose the ones whose fruits are most godly. And yet, we frequently hear the refrain that God would never allow the church to be led astray by a false prophet. Whether it is God’s word or the word of his servants, it is the same. The path of safety is to treat the Brethren like they are infallible, even though we know they aren’t, because maybe they are, even when we think they aren’t.
[Read more…]

Tl;dr: The #PanamaPapers

Note: if, for some reason, you’d rather get this information in the style of a morning newscast rather Panama_Skylinethan read it, I’ve got a link for you at the end of the post.

You’ve probably heard by now about the Panama Papers leak: basically, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists got 40 years of documents (about 11 million documents, or 2.6 terabytes of data) from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Mossack Fonseca apparently specializes in creating offshore entities and otherwise providing the tools people need to hide their money. (Note that the law firm claims it didn’t do anything wrong, and that there are non-illegal and -immoral reasons for putting money offshore.)

Even though there’s nothing Mormon about the leak, it’s a big enough thing that Mormons (and, frankly, everybody else) should know something about it. In Q&A format. [Read more…]

Ski Lessons with E. Stevenson #ldsconf

Dude, Where’s My Car Keys?

Elder Stevenson starts his talk by sharing a rather banal incident of getting back to the car after a day of skiing to find the keys to the car missing.  He then describes his hypothermia-induced hallucination about the priesthood keys.  Well, not exactly.  Actually, at first I thought this was going to be another story about finding lost keys.  I mean, that’s practically a rite of passage for Mormons in our spiritual journey.  Who among us has not had an experience when we lost our keys, we prayed, and then we found our keys?  It’s practically like shave and a haircut. [1] [Read more…]

Presidential Elections, Churches, and the IRS

This month, I’m guest-blogging over at PrawfsBlawg, a law professor blog. Most of what I blog there will be tax law-oriented, without any connection to religion, but occasionally there will be a religious angle. Like today, where I talk a little about the prohibition on churches’ (and other tax-exempt organizations’) endorsing or opposing candidates for office. If you’re interested, pop on over and tell me what you think.

Is My Religion Going to Get Me Audited by the IRS?

irs-audit-red-flags-the-dirty-dozenShort answer: no.

Longer answer: actually, still no.

Context:  [Read more…]

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…]

Bankruptcy and a Book of Mormon

Note that this isn't the Book of Mormon the debtor got to keep

Note that this isn’t the Book of Mormon the debtor got to keep

I was walking through the mailroom at work today and, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the word “Mormon” in newspaper headline. Mormonism doesn’t come up much in the news around here, so I took a second look. On the front page—in fact, above the fold—of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, a legal newspaper here, was the headline “Debtor can keep rare Book of Mormon.”[fn1]

Now, I’m not a bankruptcy person,[fn2] but the story is too good to pass up, so here goes: [Read more…]

The Sex Abuse Essay: A Plea to the Brethren

This is a guest post from a currently serving Stake Relief Society President. She has asked to remain anonymous mainly to protect the victims mentioned in the post.

————–

While the seemingly recent statement on sexual abuse in the church has turned out to be several years old, let me share a current experience where I live. I have been serving as a Stake Relief Society president for a few years in North America outside of the Book of Mormon belt. Elder Nelson has admonished women to “defend morality and families in a sin-sick world” and requested we share our “impressions, [our] insights, and [our] inspiration. We need you to speak up and speak out” so here goes.

(Potential triggers ahead.) [Read more…]

The Book of Mormon and the Bechdel Test

Speak up, but don’t talk too much.

When I was in 5th grade, our class was going to put on a classroom play: an abbreviated version of A Christmas Carol.  When I looked at the script, there was only one female part, that of Fezziwig’s wife, and she only had two brainless lines.  I figured that must mean all the parts were open, so I decided to audition for the part of Scrooge, which had a meaty fifty lines, plenty of scene-chewing grumpiness, and even a crying scene.  I borrowed my grandfather’s hat and shirt, and I explained to the teacher that since none of the girl parts were remotely interesting in this play, casting should be open to all comers for all parts.  She agreed with me, and I got the part! [1]

The Bechdel test [2] is used to identify gender bias in movies and literature, but it applies to any narrative story.   [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…]

Celebrating Dr. King

 

martin-luther-king“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Two years ago, as part of the Mormon Lectionary Project, John offered us a remembrance of and a powerful sermon on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.[fn1]

Today is, again, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And, while I can’t add to what John said, or make it more powerful, I can offer this quick reflection:  [Read more…]

Happy Intergalactic Bowie Day!

bowie2_blogToday is David Bowie’s 69th birthday. Today David Bowie released ★ (“Blackstar”), his 26th studio album in his five decade-ish career. And Seattle’s KEXP has declared today Intergalactic Bowie Day.[fn]

I’m not part of the Bowie cognoscenti. I mean, I’m familiar with him in the way that anybody who’s part of American culture is familiar with him—I know about Ziggy Stardust, I’ve seen Labyrinth, I’m familiar with his classic rock radio staples, I laughed at Vanilla Ice’s claim that “Ice Ice Baby”‘s baseline differed in some substantial way from Queen and Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” but I never really dug in deeply to Bowie’s oeuvre. [Read more…]

Are Mormons Anti-Modernists?

As the Ammon Bundy headlines continue to dominate the news cycle, many have been wondering whether these views are inherently Mormon as the Bundy clan claims or if Mormonism encourages these types of attitudes.  While this episode has a libertarian theme, which may or may not relate to the question of anti-modernism, I wanted to revisit a post I wrote in 2013 about the anti-modernist streak that seems to be emerging in various faith traditions, including Mormonism.

[Read more…]