A Conversation with my Catholic Husband on the Word of Wisdom

hari-nandakumar-Ein9Zv7PXBw-unsplash

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

“And vaping. That’s days-old news.”

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

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

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

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

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

Russian Taxes: A Bleg

Readers know that I’m interested in basically anything that has to do with the church and taxation. And the other day, I was looking at the Church History Library catalog and came across some fascinating snippets about Russian taxes on U.S. missions.

One comes from the Russia Samara Mission, between 1998 and 2001. The catalog summary includes this: “mission’s troubles with Russian tax authorities and KGB regarding financial matters; attempt to register Church in Kazan (15 August 1998.”

The second entry is for journals of a CES missionary in the Russia Rostov na Donu Mission. It includes this entry: “information about Russian tax system and hardship it caused missionaries renting apartments in Russia (22 October 2002).” [Read more…]

The Foot Shelf

About ten years ago, we were renovating our master bathroom, making the shower larger with a stone surround, and adding a big sunken garden tub (that literally has been used TWICE since we put it in, grrrr). As we discussed the options with the builder, he quoted a set amount to add a “bench” to the shower.

My husband, looking to save money perhaps, quickly said, “We don’t really need that. When do I ever sit in the shower?”

I interrupted to explain. “That’s not for sitting. I need a place to rest my foot when I shave my legs. It’s a foot shelf!” [Read more…]

On Satan’s Plan, Tax Edition

A couple days ago, I got a message from a friend, asking how I respond to people who claim that taxes are Satan’s plan. Honestly, my instinct would be to respond, “That’s stupid,” block the person on Twitter, and get on with my life.

But that doesn’t work in every circumstance. I mean, if your interlocutor is standing in the checkout line next to you, blocking isn’t really an issue. And if your interlocutor is, I don’t know, your father-in-law, calling him stupid may not be the optimal approach. (And honestly, if the person is speaking in good faith, dismissing them like that is rude and unfair.[fn1])

So how would I address a good faith assertion that taxation is Satan’s plan? Depending on the person, I’d probably take one of a couple routes: [Read more…]

Whence the Early Baptismal Challenges

Yes, I was this cool.

A recent talk by Elder Ballard has created a bit of a stir among returned missionaries in the Church. The talk is reported in the Church News here. He decries the practice of early baptismal challenges, claiming that Church leaders don’t know where this practice originated. The gist of his talk from the article:

“These missionaries have felt that inviting people to be baptized the very first time they meet them demonstrated the missionaries’ faith and supports their thinking that inviting people to be baptized early is what is expected,” he said. “Other missionaries have felt that an invitation to be baptized early allowed them to promptly separate the wheat from the tares. In this case, some see the baptismal invitation as a sifting tool.”

Church leaders don’t know where these practices began, but “it was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ,” said President Ballard. “Our retention rates will dramatically increase when people desire to be baptized because of the spiritual experiences they are having rather than feeling pressured into being baptized by our missionaries.” – Church News article quoting E. Ballard

It’s possible someone high up in the Church has read my book (which I doubt), The Legend of Hermana Plunge, but given how common these practices have been–whether attributed to Dyer’s Challenging & Testifying Missionary or not–you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an RM whose mission culture included these practices, whether taken to extremes like baseball baptisms or just taught to increase missionary courage (as in my mission). [Read more…]

The Tax Roots of OD2(?)

It’s become an article of faith in some circles that the end of the racial temple and priesthood ban was motivated, at least in part, by the specter of the church losing its tax-exempt status. And that’s not just the bloggernacle, and it’s not just ex-Mormon reddit (though you can certainly find the assertion—repeatedly—on various internet fora). The same claim is made in academically rigorous places.

For example, in The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History, Harris and Bringhurst write,

Specifically, the Mormon hierarchy became concerned about potential lawsuits over their tax exemption status, particularly in light of the student protests against BYU in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They had watched very closely the Bob Jones University case, in which the IRS revoked its tax exemption status in an important 1975 ruling.

(p. 106) [Read more…]

Lesson 28 #BCCSundaySchool2019: “What Wilt Thou Have Me Do”

Acts 6 Acts 7 Acts 8 Acts 9

These chapters are crucial to understanding the development of the early Christian church and there is just no way to discuss everything in them. Moreover, the lesson manual is very brief, so consider this a supplement to the material in the manual. These chapters include the conversion story of Paul (Acts 9) and since that story is so well known, I’m not going to emphasize it. Instead, I will focus mostly on how these chapters deal with cultural differences in the Jerusalem church and what that reveals about how the early church was getting on in the period shortly after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and departure. Even so, we will barely scratch the surface, yet I hope there will be something useful for the lesson this coming Sunday. One important thing to keep in mind is that Acts, like the Gospel of Luke (they likely had the same author) was written with a great deal of hindsight. I mean, much had taken place between the time of Jesus and the composing of Acts, most importantly perhaps, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 AD. Thus, the author is including events with a purpose: to explain through early origin stories (likely the subject of preaching during the apostolic and post-apostolic years) how the church of circa 90 AD got where it was and help explain the Christian position relative to the Empire since Luke more than the other writers of the Gospels is writing to people in a broader Roman world.
[Read more…]

Clearance vs. Cancellation

From the Women’s Bible Commentary:

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

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

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

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

Book Review—Jana Riess, The Next Mormons

41VNW2NVATLRichelle Wilson is a PhD student in Scandinavian studies and comparative literature at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is a talk producer at community radio station WORT 89.9 FM and a member of Dialogue’s editorial staff.

When I first heard Jana Riess was undertaking research about Millennial Mormons, I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wait for this book to be released. Given the heightened sense of generational divide in America right now, thanks in no small part to deepening political polarization and an ongoing series of culture wars run amok, research like this is vital for the health of our communities. 

The Next Mormons doesn’t disappoint. Riess writes in a clear, engaging style that is approachable to non-specialists and folks who don’t know much about Mormonism. In spite of its seemingly niche topic, I hope this book receives a wider audience since Riess’s findings are important and have broader implications for religion in 21st-century America. [Read more…]

Civic Process Specialists: Some Thoughts

A couple weeks ago, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the church told Utah stake presidents to start calling “specialists who can assist church members to better understand and participate in the civic process.” Over the weekend, I listened to Ep. 82 of the Trib‘s “Mormon Land” podcast, which discussed this calling with the Hinckley Institute’s Morgan Lyon Cotti. That discussion was an excellent and substantive discussion of why the church might be interested in doing this, and the benefits of additional civic engagement.

At this point, it’s not clear precisely what being a civic process specialist will entail, though, among other things, they might help people figure out how to register to vote, figure out how, when, and where to vote, and, apparently, given them some guidance with Utah’s caucus system. The church has been clear that it will continue to be neutral with respect to candidates and parties. Still, there are people who worry that the specialists will be less nonpartisan than the church. Which brings up the question: can the church do this, or is it going to lose its tax exemption?

Spoiler alert: it’s not going to lose its exemption. [Read more…]

The Unborn

The appointment of conservative justice Bret Kavanaugh has emboldened some states to take a run at challenging Roe v. Wade by putting forward legislation to outlaw abortion that is a deliberate overreach to force the issue in front of the Supreme Court.[1] From my own conversations with fellow ward members, one reason many LDS voters chose to elect Trump in 2016 is that they, like many social conservatives, vehemently oppose abortion and would like to see the overturn of Roe v. Wade.[2] However, LDS theology is not nearly as anti-abortion as many other conservative religions. Like many other platforms, this is one where both parties’ views are potentially consistent with the church’s stance. [Read more…]

Explainer: Tax-Exempt Salt Lake Tribune

Yesterday, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the Salt Lake Tribune has been in serious discussions about becoming a tax-exempt newspaper.[fn1]

This is kind of a big deal. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first tax-exempt newsroom, of course. NPR, for example, has been delivering news as a tax-exempt organization since 1971. And it’s not even the first newspaper (-like organization): ProPublica, a tax-exempt investigative newsroom, has been tax-exempt for more than a decade, and Voice of San Diego, which does the same type of investigative journalism in the San Diego region, has been exempt since 2005.[fn2] WNYC’s On the Media was talking about the potential of newspapers become tax-exempt around that same time, too.[fn3]

But if this happens, the Trib would become the first legacy newspaper to switch from a for-profit model to a tax-exempt, not-for-profit model. Which raises at least two significant questions: why and how. So let’s do an Explainer! [Read more…]

Terrorism and Hospitality

In 2012, I stayed at the Taj Mumbai Hotel. I was there on business, my third stop visiting our India offices that fell under my jurisdiction. My manager assistant who was traveling with me was raised in Mumbai (which he insisted on calling Bombay, the name the city was called until 1995 when political parties changed). The hotel is a luxurious Colonialist structure (built in 1903) with 120 rooms and several high end restaurants. The reception staff proudly mentioned (for my benefit, as an American) that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had stayed there in 2009 and pointed to the place just outside the security-walled entrance where President Obama made a statement to the press. These events were noteworthy because the hotel was among locations that were attacked in 2008 by Pakistani terrorists who landed a boat a few yards from the entrance, then went on to massacre nearly 200 citizens, wounding 300 more, at 12 locations around the city. Because I had stayed in the hotel, I was intrigued about the limited release movie Hotel Mumbai that just came out, so we went a week ago last Friday. It was a haunting experience. [Read more…]

The Satanic Temple: Now a Church!

Maybe you heard (or maybe you didn’t): the IRS recently recognized the Satanic Temple as a tax-exempt church.

Before you react to the news, that first sentence requires some unpacking. Specifically, we need to know what the Satanic Temple is, and we need to know what it means to be recognized as a tax-exempt church.

To the extent you’ve heard of the Satanic Temple, it’s likely in one of two contexts. They both have to do with its Baphomet statues. [Read more…]

Sunday Dress

In our most recent General Conference, there has been a push for members to dress up for church. It’s long been a hobby horse of E. Oaks, and that hasn’t changed. Generally speaking, current Mormon dress standards at church are a little more dressed up than most other sects, but maybe less than Easter at a historically black church–we don’t like hats and fans.

Several years ago, we had a French boy staying with us on an exchange program. I asked if he wanted to come along with us to church or if he preferred to stay home. He said he would like to come along, for curiosity sake. I had mentioned that people in our church tended to dress up for church. He was Catholic, an occasional church-goer, but not from a super devout family. When he came down in nice jeans, sneakers, and a tee shirt with a slogan on it, I was worried he’d feel awkward when he saw all the other kids in dress pants and button down shirts. He borrowed a button down shirt from my son and off we went. He was further surprised to see our son administering the sacrament, a rite he was used to seeing a priest in vestments conduct. [Read more…]

Reforming the Honor Code Office

BYU Students are hoping to reform the Honor Code Office with a social media campaign, and students have been sharing stories online of their own run-ins with the HCO. The stories have a few recurring themes:

  • Gay students being targeted disproportionately, often for non-violations
  • Vindictive behavior between students that the HCO enables and promotes
  • Hints at breaches of confidentiality in the ecclesiastical confession process, putting repentant students’ educations on the line when they seek counsel
  • Policing of doubts and testimony by other students
  • Local police officers sharing information about BYU students that occurs off campus
  • The emotionally and psychologically unhealthy impacts of the HCO on students: paranoia, anxiety, depression, and the fact that some reported sins/violations are associated with psychological issues
  • That the HCO encourages lying and discourages repentance by inserting academic (and downstream financial) consequences to what should be personal spiritual matters
  • That there is an HCO file on each student, including fishing expeditions in their social media accounts. (FYI, they are legally obligated to show you your file if you request, and I would request the heck out of that thing.)

[Read more…]

Come Listen to a Blogger’s Voice (About Taxes and Religion and Stuff)

On Friday, I sat down in a law school conference room with two of my students. They’d set up a pretty impressive array of microphones and mixers and a laptop, and pushed aside the Redweld folders that, for some reason, took up half of the table. These students started Dialogue, De Novo, a podcast that centers around the Loyola University Chicago School of Law community. [Read more…]

Let Love be Love

kazden-cattapan-642673-unsplash

Nicole is a mother, feminist, and activist living in the Salt Lake Valley with her partner Kerstin and blended family of seven. She credits the women in her life for shaping her values and her hope for a world filled with compassion, authenticity, and uncompromising love.

It’s so hard to find any words to express my feelings about the news about the changed policy.

I type and delete and type and delete.

I couldn’t find the right words because I couldn’t find words that were true enough to myself, but that I thought would be safe from hurting or offending my family who are still members.  I love my family very much and they have been so great with Kerstin and me.  Since they’ve been so careful not to hurt us, I really, really don’t want to hurt them.

I think I’d just like to describe my dream world. [Read more…]

The Parsonage Allowance is a Go

Old Dutch Parsonage, Sommerville, NJ. By Zeete. CC BY-SA 4.0

On October 24, 2018, the Seventh Circuit heard an appeal in Gaylor v. Mnuchin, the parsonage allowance case. I’ve written several times about this case over the last six or so years (some links in this post), and I checked the Seventh Circuit’s website for the decision incessantly.

And eventually, it released its opinion. Two and a half weeks ago. I’ve been meaning to blog about it, but haven’t had time to do it justice. And I still haven’t, but wanted to at least flag its conclusion and suggest where it may go from here. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll have time to really engage the opinion here.

A quick summary/reminder: the case dealt with the constitutionality of section 107(2) of the Internal Revenue Code. Section 107(2) says that a “minister of the gospel” can exclude from gross income (and thus not pay taxes on) a housing allowance paid by his or her employer. In essence, it represents a religion-specific exception to the general rule that amounts an employee receives from her employer constitute income subject to tax.[fn1] [Read more…]

Mourn, Comfort, Stand: How Mormons Can Respond to New Zealand

ali-arif-soydas-212421-unsplash

The baptismal covenant in Mosiah 18 is why I call myself a “Mormon.”  There, by the Waters of Mormon, a beggarded group of refugees promised to “preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord” and to “knit their hearts together in unity and in love one towards another.”

These original members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Prior-day Saints expressed their desires to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;” to “mourn with those that mourn;” to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort;” and “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things.”

I’ve spent the last day reflecting on how I, and my Mormon community, can live up to those same covenants in order to demonstrate love and unity towards our Muslim brothers and sisters in the wake of the white nationalist terrorist attack on Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. [Read more…]

Study hard, learn lots…and don’t slam the door!

When you grow up here, you need all the advice you can get.

I grew up in a rural area, so far away from the nearest bus stop that my dad would drop me and my brother off on his way to work. He would stop on the side of the highway, we would tumble out, and he would invariably holler after us, “Study hard, learn lots, be good, stay out of trouble, and don’t slam the door!” We would mumble, “Yeah, sure, Dad,” in reply, slam the door, and go find our friends. I guess his advice eventually rubbed off though, as I went on to at least study hard and stay out of trouble, even if I didn’t learn much or become very good.

Read moe

New Zealand, Missionaries, and Inland Revenue

Effective January 1, 1991, the church equalized the cost of missionary service. Before, a missionary had to pay the actual costs of his or her mission.[fn1] Now, a missionary pays a set amount to the church, and the church pays the costs of missionaries’ missions irrespective of where they go.

Why did the church make this change? A bunch of reasons, I suspect, but one was because of the tax law. I’ve blogged about Davis v. United States before, and I have a chapter in my book that goes into extensive detail about both the litigation and the thinking behind the case. The short of it, though, is that the Supreme Court held that payments from parents to their missionary children did not qualify for the charitable deduction. Donations from parents to a church-controlled fund (at least, as long as those payments weren’t earmarked particularly for their children) did qualify.

Almost thirty years after the Supreme Court decided Davis, the question of the deductibility of missionary payments is back. Kind of. [Read more…]

Happy Pączki Day!

Today is Fat Tuesday (or Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras). Today marks the last day of the Carnival season and the day before Ash Wednesday kicks off Lent.

Unfortunately, in Mormonism, we don’t really do any of those things. In part, I suspect that it’s because of their Catholic roots, and the fact that Catholics were basically non-existent in the milieu from which Mormonism emerged. Or maybe it’s because of our impoverished liturgical calendar. Or maybe it’s because we hate costumes, masks and parties. Whatever the reason, though, there is no distinctive Mormon Fat Tuesday celebration.

Which is why my family and I have whole-heartedly adopted Chicago’s version of Fat Tuesday: Pączki Day.[fn1] [Read more…]

“Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole” #BCCSundaySchool2019

katherine-hanlon-242210-unsplash

Readings:   Matthew 8-9; Mark 2-5

Whenever I read the Gospels, I’m amazed all over again by the layers of wisdom in each and every 3-verse vignette of Christ’s teachings, parables, and actions.  This week the Come Follow Me manual asks us to cover 6 chapters worth of them.  That’s difficult to do in a single blog post.  But after reading everything repeatedly, I’ve chosen to focus this week’s discussion on two patterns: how Christ heals, and how Christ responds to criticism.

These six chapters cover a core segment of Christ’s miracles and ministry – healing illnesses, forgiving sins, casting out devils, condemning hypocrites, preaching goodness.  This is the mission Christ called us, as Christians, to continue.  I hope we all can use this lesson to reflect, perhaps somewhat uncomfortably, on how our actions align with Christ’s injunction to believers. [Read more…]

Explainer: Utah Stealthily Raised State Income Taxes

This morning, I woke up to this Twitter notification. (Turns out that Sheldon does really know me: this was #BrunsonBait in basically its purest form.) I immediately knew I was going to write a BCC explainer, and I figured it would be a quick and easy explainer: Utah’s tax conformity to the federal income tax meant that, when the TCJA reduced personal exemptions to $0, Utah’s personal exemptions fell to the same rate.

It turns out the story is more complicated than a story of the inadvertent loss of a tax benefit: Utah legislators did this deliberately.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. What’s the this that is happening to Utah taxpayers? In short, according to the article, the elimination of personal exemptions meant that Utahns, with their larger-than-average family size, would face a higher tax bill in 2018 than they would have without the federal TCJA.
[Read more…]

A Faithful Shift Toward Evolution

Petrified forest NP

Robert Lawrence was once a free-range kid in Utah. He spent a couple years learning from wonderful people in Guatemala and later moved to Arizona where he spent a lot of time in the lab with viruses. He is now a science writer and research developer living in Binghamton, New York, with his wife and toddler. You can connect with him and find more of his work at: www.robertlawrencephd.com

BYU students are more accepting of Darwin’s ideas than they used to be, according to a new study. [Read more…]

Jung at Heart: Social Media and Self Knowledge

rawpixel-668332-unsplash

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

–Carl Gustav Jung

 

Keira Shae is the author of How the Light Gets In, a BCC Press memoir.

 

I’m that Millennial. The one who took hundreds of thousands of pictures of my kids (pictures that all look the same), hundreds of my meals. The teen who grew up experiencing the Internet the way that other generations experienced oxygen. The original one who sincerely thought I should express political opinions on Facebook and had the debating capacity to change other’s minds. At nineteen.

The one who spent much of her adult life wondering how she could waste so much valuable time playing on social media. [Read more…]

The Church Is Going to Pay More In Taxes

In 1972, the church opened its new Church Office Building at 50 East North Temple Street. The 28-story building, built by Christiansen and Clyde Construction Company for $31.3 million, allowed scattered church employees to all work under one roof. Initially, about 1,500 employees, who had been at 16 different locations, moved into the building. It was originally slated to provide office space to over 2,000 employees. And so that those employees could make it, the Church Office Building had 1,250-spot underground parking garage.

And the existence of that 1,250-spot underground parking garage means that the church owes federal income taxes for 2018.

Because yes, the church owes taxes for last year. And, perhaps to church members’ surprise, those taxes aren’t the result of secular liberals who hate Mormons/religion/God. Those taxes are the result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the GOP’s late-2017 tax reform that was both conceived of and passed without any input or votes from Democrats.  [Read more…]

Call for Syllabi on Latter-day Saint Arts

ahmad-odeh-734337-unsplash

The Center for Latter-day Saint Arts is offering awards for the preparation of syllabi for college courses on any aspect of Latter-day Saint arts including visual art, music, theater, literature, and film, as well as architecture, design, dance, animation, and so forth.  The award for a fully developed syllabus is $2,000, and for segments of a course from $500 to $1,000, depending on length and complexity.

The full course syllabi should include all aspects of a one-quarter or one-semester course: [Read more…]

Soon We Can No Longer Meet in Public

About a month ago, during church, I got a text from my wife:

 

 

 

I was curious why they were talking about taxing religious people in Gospel Principles, but figured I could ask her after church.

It turns out, though, that the discussion had nothing to do with taxes; instead, a missionary in our ward had said that we were moving to a two-hour block supplemented by home-centered study in preparation for a not-too-distant future when it would be illegal for us to meet together at church. And my wife explained that no, that wasn’t going to happen.

We laughed about it, but didn’t think too much of it. After all, 18-year-old boys are susceptible to outlandish ideas (I was one, once upon a time). And my wife had countered him, so no harm, no foul. [Read more…]