The Supreme Court and Religious Liberty: The Plot Thickens

The last day of the Supreme Court term never disappoints on drama.  And this morning, the drama related to the First Amendment and religious liberty.  Religious school funding, bakery objections to same-sex weddings, and President Trump’s Travel Ban — major action on all three fronts happened today.

SCOTUS

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Reading Thucydides at 40,000 Feet

Words had to change their ordinary meaning and to take that which was now given them. Reckless audacity came to be considered the courage of a loyal ally; prudent hesitation, specious cowardice; moderation was held to be a cloak for unmanliness; ability to see all sides of a question, inaptness to act on any. Frantic violence became the attribute of manliness; cautious plotting, a justifiable means of self-defence. The advocate of extreme measures was always trustworthy; his opponent a man to be suspected. . . . The cause of all these evils was the lust for power arising from greed and ambition; and from these passions proceeded the violence of parties once engaged in contention.

The History of the Peloponnesian War, Book III

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And There Was No Sick Among Them

“And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.”  D&C 52:40

I remember the day – 10 years ago this month –  I first realized that government-sponsored healthcare might not be inherently evil.

A British friend and I were engaged in an impromptu debate on social policy.  I started lecturing him on the defects of British healthcare compared to true red-state and Mormon principles of self-reliance.  Any form of welfare, especially government-sponsored healthcare, perpetuated a cycle of dependence.  If an individual legitimately needed help, family, friends, and nonprofits should step in.  Government involvement was wasteful, anti-capitalistic, and coercive –  it could never heal society.

He offered a pithy response: “I can think of nothing more barbaric about America than that you let people die because they can’t afford healthcare.”

“Barbaric” hit me with a jolt. What an absurd word!  And yet, one with truth. [Read more…]

The Thermostat Wars

There’s one thing that’s driving a wedge between men and women in the church every single week, that creates discomfort and distrust for both. Is it polygamy? Gender roles in the proclamation? No. It’s the Gospel Doctrine Thermostat Wars. Every week the drama plays out again in my Arizona ward: the men want the AC cranked up, and the women are shivering under pashminas and cardigans. It’s largely because of the ridiculous dress code at church in which women (who are often colder anyway) have bare legs and feet in sandals and short sleeves while the men (who are often warmer anyway) are wearing socks, closed shoes, heavy pants, jackets, long sleeved shirts buttoned to the neck.

I would say this is a heated argument, but not from where I’m sitting. [Read more…]

A Crash Course for America on the Psychology of Harassment

You’re big. You’re strong. But why didn’t you stop and say, “Mr. President, this is wrong. I cannot discuss this with you?’”

“It’s a great question. Maybe if I were stronger, I would have. I was so stunned by the conversation that I just… took it in.”

“At the time, did you say anything to the president about — that is not an appropriate request?”

“I didn’t, no.” [Read more…]

Missionary Safety: That No Harm or Accident May Befall Us

Image result for missionaries helmetsPeggy Fletcher Stack reports in the Salt Lake Tribune that the church is going to survey missionaries about safety. This survey is likely related to rising global terrorism as well as several outbreaks of disease that have been problems in recent years and required adaptation in terms of missionary dress codes and where missionaries serve. It’s important to note that existing mission rules help prevent a lot of injuries, rules like being with a companion 24×7, no swimming, and wearing helmets and seat belts. Compared to same age cohorts, missionaries suffer fewer injuries–this, despite being in areas of the globe that may be more perilous than their native communities. We’re obviously doing some things right to protect our missionaries. [Read more…]

Imposter: Mormonism as “Third Culture”

Image result for third culture kidsFor those unfamiliar with the term, TCK refers to “Third Culture Kids” or those of us who were raised between two cultures. Because of living overseas during their childhoods, my kids are–at least partly–Third Culture Kids. [I previously blogged about two famous Mormon TCKs, Mitt Romney and John Huntsman here.] Although I didn’t live outside the US during my formative years, we did move a lot, and because those moves were known to be temporary (we kept our house in PA), my own childhood experience also qualifies as a Third Culture upbringing. But I would posit that many Mormons growing up outside of the Mormon Corridor will find the “Third Culture” label relevant to what it feels like to be in such a minority, forever existing outside of the surrounding milieu, deeply aware of a personal cultural rift that isn’t always apparent to others.

“When we think of the word culture, obvious representations such as how to dress, eat, speak, and act like those around us come to mind. But learning culture is more than learning conformity to external patterns of behavior. Culture is also a system of shared concepts, beliefs, and values. It is the framework from which we interpret and make sense of life and the world around us.”
David C. Pollock, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds

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Memorial Day Thoughts on Cynicism and the Republic

Jessica Preece has a PhD in political science from UCLA.  Her research is on political party candidate selection procedures, with an emphasis on why there are so few women in politics.  She is a professor of political science at BYU, though these thoughts are her own and don’t necessarily represent the institution.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

—Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (1863)

Lately a lot of people have asked me if America is going to be okay.  Honestly, I don’t know whether the Republic will fully weather the storms we have faced in recent months and years. I am a political scientist—I study patterns in politics.  The patterns I see are, as they say, deeply concerning.

But I choose to have faith that it will.  I choose faith, not because I am ignorant of the problems, but because I see them clearly. [Read more…]

Fourth Circuit Strikes Down President Trump’s Muslim Ban 2.0

This afternoon, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits in Richmond, VA, just held that President Trump’s second travel ban Executive Order (which superseded his first one) is unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause.

Key quote:

The Government has repeatedly asked this Court to ignore evidence, circumscribe our own review, and blindly defer to executive action, all in the name of the Constitution’s separation of powers. We decline to do so, not only because it is the particular province of the judicial branch to say what the law is, but also because we would do a disservice to our constitutional structure were we to let its mere invocation silence the call for meaningful judicial review.

The deference we give the coordinate branches is surely powerful, but even it must yield in certain circumstances, lest we abdicate our own duties to uphold the Constitution. EO-2 cannot be divorced from the cohesive narrative linking it to the animus that inspired it. In light of this, we find that the reasonable observer would likely conclude that EO-2’s primary purpose is to exclude persons from the United States on the basis of their religious beliefs.

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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.

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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.

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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:
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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…]