Of Mormons, Baptists, and Liberty of Conscience

Given the recent revival of the kerfuffle between Robert Jeffress and Mitt Romney (see Mike’s recent post), along with Jeffress’s appeal to “historical Christianity” in his rebuttal to Romney, I am reposting here something I wrote back in 2011 at State of Formation. Plus ça change…

On 7 October [2011], Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, was speaking to reporters outside the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC, where he had just introduced Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry. Taking aim at Perry’s rival for the nomination, Mitt Romney, Jeffress said that Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “is not a Christian.” Jeffress went on to say, “This idea that Mormonism is a theological cult is not news…. That has been the historical position of Christianity for a long time.”

Jeffress has a point: evangelicals have long been uncomfortable with Mormonism, and significant theological differences—most notably over Christology—exist between the two groups. I’m not going to attempt to resolve those differences here, or to defend the proposition that Mormons are in fact Christian (even though I, as a Mormon, affirm my own faith in Christ).

Rather, I wish to seize on an opportunity inadvertently opened by Jeffress’s overly broad invocation of “the historical position of Christianity” to argue that Mormons and Baptists ought to make common cause in opposing the use of such appeals as tests of religious orthodoxy, let alone as de facto religious tests of fitness for political office.

[Read more…]

There’s a time and a place to rat out your neighbor, but church isn’t it

As a followup to Sam’s post on Mormons referring other Mormons to the ICE, this post is directed to those who feel called to enforce the law in their spare time (or who feel pretty good about other people doing so): Regardless of where you stand on (il)legal immigration, church is simply not the venue where we gather to police civil infractions.

Before rolling your eyes too hard, note that what this post does not do is suggest that the law stops at the chapel’s door. In my experience the Church strives to be in compliance with every jot and tittle of the law, including zoning laws and building codes; we’ve even recast the kitchens in our meeting houses as “serving areas” in order to comply with safety and health regulations! Certainly there is no obligation to sit on our hands and let Zion go to hell in a hand basket with expired tags. Nor am I suggesting we have no debate about the moral implications of, say, an immigration policy that calls for separating families who cross the border illegally as a deterrence. At the same time, however, worshiping and ministering are not first and foremost about law enforcement.

In making my case, let me begin by sharing what I hope is an illustrative example of the importance of the proper venue for our undertakings.

[Read more…]

Immigration and the Twelfth Article of Faith

In the last couple days, an apparently Mormon Twitter user claimed to have reported someone in his ward to ICE, which started deportation proceedings against the family. I’m dubious of the claim, frankly: this person has a history of acting as trollishly as possible to get reactions. (And, for that reason, I’m not going to name him or link to his tweets—if you really want to see it, it’s not hard to find.)

However, in the last couple of days, we at BCC have verified instances where Mormons have called ICE on their ward members. I assume they claim they’re doing it because of the Twelfth Article of Faith, and especially that part that says that we believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

Upfront: those people are lying. They’re calling ICE because they’re racists, xenophobes, or otherwise un-Christian-like.[fn1] [Read more…]

Practical Tips for Helping Victims of Abuse

The #MeToo movement is a stone cut from the mountain of silent victims’ pain, rolling forth to break in pieces the corrupt and powerful institutions of this world.

Abuse is no respecter of victims.  Religious and secular, clergy and celebrities, liberal and conservative, rich and poor, women and men.  #MeToo stories infect every community — our friends and families, our churches and coworkers.  Hypocrisy is rampant.

Victims who speak out are prophets, calling the world to repentance.

The world is listening.  You are listening.  As #MeToo has erupted, I hear the same questions again and again from concerned observers with desires to help.

I believe victims, I know abuse happens, but I don’t know who they are. 

Someone close to me is in a terrible relationship.  I’m listening, but I don’t know what to do.

How can I help?  [Read more…]

Book Announcement: God and the IRS

I’m thrilled to announce that my book God and the IRS: Accommodating Religious Practice in United States Tax Law (New York: Cambridge UP, 2018) has just been published and is available for your reading pleasure.

As background to the book, the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment (as well as the jurisprudence courts have used to interpret and apply the Religion Clauses) have a sometimes-complicated interplay. Because the law sometimes imposes on individuals’ ability to practice their religion, the government can sometimes accommodate their religious practice, exempting religious individuals from generally-applicable laws. At the same time, though, in general, the law can’t favor religion over non-religion; as a result, sometimes religious people can’t get an exemption from the generally-applicable law. A lot of religious litigation turns on where, in a given situation, the line between permissible and impermissible accommodation falls. [Read more…]

Stand with Muslims as they fight against bigotry

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Carolyn at the impromptu Muslim Ban protest march on January 29, 2017

The Supreme Court hears arguments on the Muslim Ban tomorrow.  I’ll be in the courtroom, and with hundreds of civil rights supporters at the rally on the courthouse steps.  Join me.  As the Fourth Circuit has declared, the Muslim Ban violates the Establishment Clause and is “unconstitutionally tainted with animus towards Islam.”

Everytime I talk to Muslim friends, colleagues, and even taxi drivers, I hear the same themes over and over again – children bullied as “terrorists” at school, women harangued for wearing headscarfs (with aggressors sometimes forcibly yanking religious headcoverings off), graffiti and vandalism to businesses, threats and firebombs at mosques.

 

[Read more…]

Invisible and Overqualified

“Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies” is a statement often used in Mormondom to give us hope that our volunteer workforce will be able to fulfill callings if they rely on the Lord. It’s a fine sentiment, one that should be humbling and aspirational all at once. But what about when a calling requires specific qualifications, such as a certification or degree, to be able to perform that role? Well, in those cases we are a bit more specific in whom we call. I noticed decades ago that our stake had called someone to the role of financial auditor who had no financial acumen, despite the fact that there were women in the stake who were CPAs and had the right qualifications; however, it was deemed a “priesthood” calling for some mysterious reason, so these women were not considered, essentially invisible to those extending the callings. That was decades ago, though, and we’ve entered a new era of gender inclusiveness, right?

Perhaps not. [Read more…]

#TaxDay 2018: For Ye Were Strangers

The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.   —Leviticus 19:34

My liturgical calendar tells me today is Tax Day,[fn1] and so it’s time for another installment of my annual Mormons and Taxes post.

This year’s has nothing to do with the income tax, and, in fact, very little to do with the United States. Instead, we’re going to look south of the border to the Mormon colonies in Mexico. [Read more…]

Cling to your guns if you must, but leave the Holocaust out of it

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The fruits of irregular armed resistance against a fascist state: Following the defeat of the Warsaw Uprising, the civilian population was expelled and the city systematically destroyed. (Source)

Recently, a friend on a popular social media site shared a photo of the pile of shoes at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum that was accompanied by the following text:

To all the kids that walked out of school to protest guns. These are the shoes of Jews that gave up their firearms to Hitler . They were led into gas chambers, murdered and buried in mass graves . Pick up a history book and you’ll realize what happens when u give up freedoms and why we have them.

I hadn’t pegged him as someone who would fall for such a cheap shot in the gun control debate. We had served together as missionaries in Austria where most of us had been to the Mauthausen concentration camp. Although primarily a forced labor camp for political and “antisocial” prisoners—in contrast to the death camps farther east that served no other purpose than mass killing—Mauthausen was a sobering and context-rich enough example of the Nazi regime’s horrifying crimes against humanity that I was surprised someone could visit the site and still believe that the problem with the Holocaust was that the victims simply “gave up” their freedom.

But maybe he hadn’t been there. [Read more…]

Taxsplainer: How the Utah Legislature Is Raising Taxes By Doing Nothing

The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that the Utah legislature has just enacted a large tax increase on many Utah families, in spite of its putative 0.05 percentage-point tax cut. How can that be? [Read more…]

On Kirton McConkie’s (Lack of) Women Shareholders

The other night, I was listening to the most recent Slate Money podcast. In its second segment, the hosts talked about the recent gender pay report in the United Kingdom. They specifically mentioned about Goldman Sachs and Condé Nast, both of which, it turns out, have a pretty sizeable gender pay difference.[fn1]

There are undoubtedly many reasons why men’s income was significantly higher than women’s, but the podcast highlighted one in particular: high earners. At Goldman, women make up only 17% of the top quartile by income. At Condé Nast, there are more women at every income quartile, but it appears that incomes are skewed by the top 5%; in fact, the five-person executive committee is entirely men. [Read more…]

Finding Religious Joy

This guest post comes from Nathan Steiger, a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University and a friend of BCC.

Over two years ago I stepped into a synagogue on the Jewish sabbath in New York City and witnessed one of the most foreign religious rituals I’d ever encountered: dancing. Twenty-year old men, eighty-year old women, whole families with preschool-age children, dozens of people all holding hands, dancing and singing with liberated gusto. That experience, along with many others, radically changed my life. [Read more…]

Gerrit Gong and Susan Gong, my marriage, and why #RepresentationMatters

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Susan and Gerrit Gong (Church News photograph)

There are any number of reasons I couldn’t be happier about the newly-called Elder Gong and Elder Soares. Elder Soares, a Brazillian, brings long-overdue representation from the southern hemisphere. I know several members of Elder Gong’s extended family, and they couldn’t be a more dynamic, talented, kind family. But if you would indulge me for a moment, I want to focus on one area of very specific, personal appreciation: the marriage of Elder Gerrit Gong, as an Asian-American man, to his wife Susan Gong, a white woman.

[Read more…]

How to Retain Millennial Membership

The millennial generation overall has shown to be less religious than previous generations, a phenomenon that has not gone unnoticed by church leadership.

When asked earlier this year, the newly appointed First Presidency shared their thoughts on millennials and how they plan to both retain and bolster millennial membership. President Nelson responds first that it is crucial that leaders “help [millennials] understand how precious their [lives are],” which is a nice sentiment, but really should be something that is already happening. Eyring followed up that, in his experience with current missionaries, he has noticed immense strength. This is really kind of him, but also doesn’t particularly answer the question. Oaks spoke last, saying that marriage is important to this conversation, claiming that “the young man and the young woman are stronger when they marry,” that “many things the world cites as problems with millennials disappear” once they marry, and that “partnership is the secret.” [Read more…]

Church Updates Abuse Policies

At the close of business today, the Church updated its advice document, “Preventing and Responding to Abuse.”  As described by the Deseret News, the major changes are the following language:

• “Members should never be encouraged to remain in a home or situation that is abusive or unsafe.”

• “When a member of a stake presidency or bishopric or another assigned leader meets with a child, youth, or woman, he or she should ask a parent or another adult to be in an adjoining room, foyer, or hall. If the person being interviewed desires, another adult may be invited to participate in the interview. Leaders should avoid all circumstances that could be misunderstood.”

• “Church leaders should never disregard a report of abuse or counsel a member not to report criminal activity to law enforcement personnel.”

• “At least two adults must be present on all church-sponsored activities attended by youth or children.”

These are important changes, and I welcome them.  (I wish they had been explicitly stated decades ago, and there’s a lot further to go, but as an initial sign of serious commitment to change, I’ll take it.)   [Read more…]

Why Mormons Should Root For the Ramblers in the NCAA Tournament

So there are four teams left: Kansas, Villanova, Michigan, and Loyola University Chicago. And as Mormons, you should probably be cheering for Loyola this weekend. Why? Let me count the reasons:

Your team’s out anyway

I mean, unless you’re a fan of Kansas, Villanova, or Michigan, in which case I assume you’ll be rooting against Loyola (though you can still cheer for the Ramblers!). But there are no Mormon-adjacent schools left. BYU? Never been to the Final Four. (In fact, it holds the kind of depressing record for most trips to the tournament without making the Final Four.) [Read more…]

Women in Jazz #MutualNight

(Quick reminder: if you’re curious why I’m writing about music on a Mormon blog, this post will summarize what #MutualNight posts are.)

We’re nearing the end of Women’s History Month; in light of both the month and the current environment of #MeToo, I thought it might be worth looking at women in jazz.

Because honestly, women have historically been excluded from jazz. Sure, you can point me to Billie and Ella and Nancy Wilson and maybe even Carmen McRae. And you know what? They’re all singers. They’re amazing singers, but, while “[w]omen singers were tolerated and even spotlighted, especially with the advent of the big band era, … [women] instrumentalists had a much tougher time of it.“[fn1] [Read more…]

The Burden of Choosing to Believe

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Image Credit: Delphine Devos

“I envy you your faith, somedays,” an agnostic friend in college once remarked as we ate lunch in the spring sunshine.  “I wish I could have faith.”

“You can, you know.   Faith is a choice,” I urged with perhaps a touch too much missionary zeal.  “In the Book of Mormon there’s a famous sermon about how faith is like a science experiment.  If you even have just a ‘desire to believe,” and choose to act on that desire, you’ll feel God’s love, and see results.”

 

“But logic is too deeply engrained in me for that to work,” he responded.  “I’d just dismiss any positive feeling as a weird firing of brain chemicals, a manufactured emotional manipulation.  It’s not tangible or real.” [Read more…]

Holding An Abuser Accountable

With the latest news story about Joseph L. Bishop, the former MTC president accused of sexually assaulting women serving missions, there have been a lot of discussions in online forums, including many women who’ve shared personal experiences of going to leaders for help when they were victims of assault, only to be told that the leader could not or would not pursue any disciplinary action against their attacker. In some cases, the individuals they accused went on to assault others. Given that the church is firmly on record as being against any abuse, in very strongly worded terms, even considering it as an impediment to entrance to the temple, how do these things happen as often as I’ve heard about them? [Read more…]

Protests, Parkland, and BYU

In the nearly-immediate wake of the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the superintendent of a Texas school district announced that students who participated in protests (or “awarenesses,” whatever those are) would face a three-day suspension.[fn1]

There was immediate blowback; the Parkland shooting have led to a remarkable level of engagement among high school students on issues of gun violence and regulation. But the threat of suspension could have a significant chilling effect on student activism: colleges can revoke acceptances for, among other things, disciplinary actions. So in theory, a student in the Needville Independent School District, who has already been accepted to college, could have her acceptance revoked if she participated in a protest (or awareness!) and was suspended. [Read more…]

Reminder: Church History Symposium tomorrow and Friday

Just a quick reminder: the 2018 LDS Church History Symposium is happening tomorrow at BYU and Friday at the Conference Center in Salt Lake. The topic—“Financing Faith: The Intersection of Business and Religion”—looks fascinating, and there are a host of great people presenting.

Also, I’m presenting Thursday at 1:00 in room 2265 of the BYU Conference Center (“Brigham Young vs. the Bureau of Internal Revenue“). I’ve got some pretty cool slides to accompany the presentation. If you’re in town and available, I’d love to see you then!

On Media and “The World”

Today’s guest post comes from Rebbie Brassfield, a copywriter in Babyl — err, Los Angeles.  

So I accidentally binge-watched all seven seasons of Game of Thrones last summer, and have spent the last few months wondering how ashamed I should be. Okay but seriously, it’s made me think about media consumption, specifically the way it might affect how we see “the world.”

As a girl, I was very into the Sweet Valley High series. These are not Deseret Book fare, and they’re certainly not high brow literature, but they taught little life lessons that stuck with me in adolescence. Some of them dealt with troubling issues – I remember clearly one story in which Lila was sexually assaulted, and another where a character was involved with drugs and had to deal with the consequences. These were scary things that in my Provo community I had never been exposed to, let alone would dream of talking about with my parents. It will sound silly, but looking back I sincerely think it was a good way to be exposed to the “sins of the world.” It showed me behaviors outside my norm, and allowed me to form opinions on them. [Read more…]

Domestic Abuse Resources for Bishops

Laura Brignone Bhagwat is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies technology and domestic violence.  Her dissertation tracks a public health intervention in hospital emergency rooms meant to prevent intimate partner homicide.

On a hot summer morning last year, I sat in a small room with fifteen pastors and ministers. Coffee and pastries were tucked into a corner, and the men and women of my county’s Interfaith Coalition to End Domestic Violence were introducing themselves. At the end of introductions, the pastor facilitating the meeting asked: “What are the biggest challenges facing your congregation when it comes to domestic violence?”

The answers started flying. “The abuser is a member of our church board!” “She just keeps going back to him and I don’t know what to do.” “Women in our church are taught to be meek and submissive, so when the abuser tells them something, they think they have no options.” “Victims are often looked down on when they speak out.” “Abusers misuse scripture to justify their actions.” “Even after [theological] seminary, I just don’t feel I have the training I need to respond to this issue.” [Read more…]

We Must Do Better On Violence Against Women

I am sick of Mormon women not being believed about abuse.

I can’t even count the number of first-hand accounts I’ve heard at this point, and I only started paying attention a few years ago.  Easily dozens.  Probably hundreds.

But they all go the same way.  A Mormon woman is a chaste, obedient, temple-worthy, nurturing woman.  She gets married in the temple, moves in with her brand-new husband, and desires to start her eternal family. Within mere weeks or months, it becomes obvious her husband is angry, controlling, and abusive.  He usually quotes Church authority about men presiding and women hearkening to justify the behavior.

She doesn’t like it, but she tries to accept it.  She has been taught that she must protect her temple marriage above all else.  She has been taught that her husband is the leader of the home, and she needs to respect his authority.  She has been taught that if she just prays harder, submits harder, follows traditional gender roles harder, the problems will go away.  

They don’t go away.  They get worse. [Read more…]

Announcement: Church History Symposium 2018

This semester, I’m teaching a course on not-for-profit corporations. Today’s class deals with the duties of charitable trustees and board members to invest the organization’s money responsibly.

The class is at least tangentially related to this year’s Church History Symposium, to be held on March 1 at the Conference Center at BYU and March 2 at the LDS Conference Center in Salt Lake. This year’s symposium is entitled “Business, Wealth, Enterprise, and Debt: The Economic Side of Mormon History, 1830–1930.” [Read more…]

Leonard Arrington’s Nine Points

Image resultI recently ordered a copy of Gregory Prince’s biography of Church historian and founder of the Church History Library, Leonard Arrington. If you aren’t familiar with Arrington, here’s a brief blurb from Wikipedia:
Leonard James Arrington (July 2, 1917 – February 11, 1999) was an American author, academic and the founder of the Mormon History Association. He is known as the “Dean of Mormon History”[1] and “the Father of Mormon History”[2] because of his many influential contributions to the field. He was the first Church Historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) from 1972 to 1982, and was director of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History from 1982 until 1986.

From a diary entry dated August 17, 1992, Arrington expressed his frustration with several organizational aspects of the church. He titled this entry “Things I don’t like about the church.” This was his list: [Read more…]

Unrest, Storytelling, and Understanding

Today’s guest post comes from Jessica Preece, an Associate Professor of Political Science at BYU.

I had the chance to watch the wonderful film Unrest the other day, which documents life with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  At least 1 million Americans experience ME/CFS, many of whom are undiagnosed.  It is a spectrum disorder and leaves about 75% of those affected unable to work.  A significant portion of are bedridden.  It is more common than Multiple Sclerosis, but much less well-known, in part because homebound sufferers are often invisible to society. Research on it is deeply underfunded. [Read more…]

Memories of President Monson

President Monson has died.  I hope he and his dear wife, Frances Monson (d. 2013), are celebrating a joyful reunion this morning.

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Photo courtesy of LDS.org

Our dear prophet spent more than 60 years of his life devoted to the Church, serving as a Bishop in his 20s, a Mission President in his 30s, and then as an apostle since the age of 36.  He strived to follow Christ, preaching the gospel through his words and actions.  He proclaimed peace, cared for the widows, and loved the children. [Read more…]

The Median Mormon Family and the Tax Plan

Plenty of people are wondering how the GOP tax bill will affect them personally. Although pretty much everybody has been wondering, the Washington Post recently spotlighted a Mormon family with those questions. So I decided to take a look.

A quick disclaimer first: the answer is, it totally depends on your personal situation. And because of that, I’ve decided to construct an average (or sometimes median) Mormon family. I’ve constructed them with their Mormonism in mind where I could find specific Mormon stuff; where I couldn’t, I used Utah data. And I totally get that that’s not 100% accurate. Most Mormons aren’t in Utah, and a significant percentage of Utahns aren’t Mormon.

Still, it’s good enough to give a rough, blog-worthy estimate. So, without further ado, meet the Nephi family!  [Read more…]

Mormons and the Tax Bill

Five and a half weeks ago, I posted about a couple ways that the House tax bill would impact Mormons and the Mormon church. Since that time, the House passed its tax bill and the Senate passed its bill. The bills differed, so they went to a conference committee, where (GOP) Senators and Representatives tried to come up with a compromise that both houses of Congress could agree on.

And this afternoon, they released their bill; the GOP wants to pass it before Christmas.

Now, I haven’t had time to go through all 503 pages[fn1] of the bill; still, given that I did a preview of changes that would affect the church and Mormons, I thought I’d revisit them in light of the new tax bill.  [Read more…]