What If the Church Didn’t Remain Politically Neutral?

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

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

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

On not correcting mistakes

I don’t think I believe in bibliomancy but when I randomly opened my Essential Dogen today, I opened to a teaching that spoke directly to a problem I have been mulling over for a while now, viz., how one should, in this new world of fake news, best respond to misinformation and its amplification via social media. I would like to know what the BCC community thinks:

Even when you are clearly correct and others are mistaken, it is harmful to argue and defeat them. On the other hand, if you admit fault when you are right, you are a coward. It is best to step back, neither trying to correct others nor conceding to mistaken views. If you don’t act competitively, and let go of the conflict, others will also let go of it without harboring ill will.

My whole soul rebels against this. If you are clearly wrong, and if the wrongness matters, I have this overwhelming urge to correct you. The thing is it generally seems to be a futile exercise and has this unwelcome outcome of tieing knots in my own wellbeing. Maybe Dogen is right . . . ? (#zen)

On Totally Destroying the Johnson Amendment

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

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

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

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

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

On Moral Issues and Trump – Updated

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

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

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

My Wall

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

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

Soundtrack to the Inauguration

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, I saw this tweet from Jana Riess:

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

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

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

LaVell Edwards: A Personal Reflection

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

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

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

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

Why Require a Temple Recommend for Church Employment?

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

On Fred Karger, Tax Exemptions, and the Mormon Church

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

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

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

Trump’s Tax Proposals and Mormons

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

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

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

Advocating for Refugees

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

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

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

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

The ground game is in our hearts

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

What I Want the Church to Say

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

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

Partisan Journalism & Hiring POTUS

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

Hostile Sexism and LDS Trump Supporters

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

Welcome to #MutualNight: Delfeayo Marsalis

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

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

Columbus and Accountability

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

1 Nephi 13:12

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

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

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

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

What We Didn’t Hear at #LDSConf

On Saturday and Sunday, we heard messages on a myriad of topics. Some resonated deeply with me; others, not so much. But (nearly) as interesting to me as what we heard was what we didn’t: nobody told us to vote for (or against) Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, or even Evan McMullin.[fn1]

So what? you rightfully ask. Does the church ever endorse candidates?

No. But last Sunday was a special day:  [Read more…]

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…]