Erasing Race

We’ve had some outstanding Relief Society lessons in my ward this year, owing to the great teachers we have. Recently, we were talking about how to talk with people not of our faith or culture, basically how to get along with everyone without being a jerk. Something like that. I was in and out a little bit. [Read more…]

Brigham Young, John P. Taggart, and the Federal Income Tax

On January 3, 1871, Brigham Young sent a telegram to  his counselor Daniel H. Wells. The LDS Church History Library only has the first page of the letter, but even the absence of subsequent pages can’t disguise the story lying under the surface. The first page of the telegram reads:

We think it will be wisdom for the Latter Day Saints to omit paying tithing Some of the Officers of the government seem determined to rob us of our hard earnings which are donated to sustain the poor and other charitable purposes We will carry on our public works and assist the poor by some other method If this agrees with your feelings have Bro Cannon[fn1]

I’m not sure I can emphasize enough how crazy this is: Brigham Young suggested doing away with tithing. While I don’t know the church’s revenue in 1870, in 1880, about $540,000 of the church’s $1 million in revenue came from tithing. And yet Brigham Young was willing to get rid of it in response to some kind of robbery. So what’s going on? [Read more…]

Pastors’ Housing Revisited (Again)

(Note: this is the fourth installment of a series (Part 1: Money for Nothing and the Housing for Free; Part 2: Pastors’ Housing, Take 2; Part 3: Pastors’ Housing Revisited) that spans four years and isn’t over yet.)

Today, a district court in the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that section 107(2) of the Internal Revenue Code is unconstitutional. Again.

So what’s section 107(2)? And what relevance could it possibly have for a Mormon blogging audience? I’m so glad you asked.

Background [Read more…]

Churches and the House Appropriation Bill

Last Thursday, the House passed an appropriation bill for fiscal year 2018. The vote was close—211 to 198—and it’s not clear that it will pass the Senate in any kind of recognizable form. Still, the bill has at least some relevance to churches.

See, sections 101-116 attempt to regulate the IRS, and section 116 would largely eviscerate the so-called Johnson Amendment. [Read more…]

“You Lost Me,” Tension in the Church

Image result for satanic smurfsThis was an interesting article I recently read by an Evangelical-raised woman about the things that happened in her life where she felt a disconnect with what her church told her. The article was titled “How I Became a Heretic (or How the Evangelical, Conservative Church Lost Me). Some of her moments included: [Read more…]

LDS Hurricane Relief

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September 1992. Hurricane Andrew hit Florida. I was a little girl in Sarasota. I remember the tense days as the Weather Channel blared, my mom charted the Hurricane’s course by hand, the city boarded up windows, and we prepared to evacuate. We knew the Category 5 Hurricane was headed straight to Florida, but we didn’t know quite where.

Andrew’s wrath ultimately missed my city (Sarasota) — but struck a few hours Southeast, just south of Miami. Once the storm passed, my dad loaded up a station wagon with power tools and a generator from his construction job. (“Everyone always forgets, after a disaster, that there will be no power outlets to recharge their tools,” he said.) My mom coordinated supply and distribution of water, milk and diapers. And then a convoy of adults from my stake decamped to Miami to provide relief. [Read more…]

And the Tobias Funke Award Goes to . . .

Tobias Funke is a character on the TV series Arrested Development who constantly says things that have a double meaning, but without recognizing that there’s a double meaning. Often in online groups, people will post statements or pictures, particularly things done by BYU, that suffer the same problem: unintentional double entendre. A few of Tobias Funke’s most famous lines: [Read more…]

On Standing against White Supremacy

Tinesha Zandamela is a BYU student double majoring in Sociology and French, with plans to go to law school. She has worked as a director of a nonprofit in Utah. Tinesha published a book about her experiences as a biracial Mormon woman that is available on Amazon KindleThis is an excerpt of a speech she gave at “Stand Against White Supremacy and Racism Candlelight Vigil” in Provo, Utah on August 20th. The speech was not given verbatim, but it was almost identical to the written version below.

Over the last few days, people have asked how they can take action to stop racial injustice. And of course, with any large issue, there’s not one simple thing that anyone can do to end racial intolerance and bigotry in your communities.

It may be easy to look at other communities and easily identify the issues they have. It is much harder to do that in our own community. When I speak of community, I mean more than this city. Your community includes your friends, your family, and your co-workers and anyone else you spend time around and share your life with. Community encompasses a lot.   [Read more…]

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the JST?

One of the most important facets of Mormonism that sets us apart from other faiths is that we don’t believe the Bible to be inerrant. We believe that it contains errors. This belief alone causes us to be viewed as unChristian by many evangelicals and other sola scriptura believers who consider any alteration of the Bible to be heretical. Reformists, in breaking with the Roman Catholic church’s authority, placed greater weight on scripture as the sole voice of God (not through the filter of papal authority, but accessible to all believers directly through reading the Bible). For some, if the Bible is fallible, then Christianity has no leg to stand on in proclaiming it has access to God’s truth. [Read more…]

30 Years Ago In White Supremacy

Image may contain: 16 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoorThirty years ago I was a sophomore at BYU majoring in English. I lived in a house with 4 other women just two blocks south of BYU campus. 4 of us were LDS, and one was a Methodist film major who came to BYU to be near Robert Redford. I was at that time peripherally connected to some of the students who ran the Student Review, an off-campus paper that riffed on BYU culture and published student opinion pieces and poetry. We were all deeply troubled by a news story that broke in November of 1987, a story a few of our readers may remember.

A white supremacist group called Aryan Nations was coming to Utah. [Read more…]

Eliminating Any Lingering Disapproval Of Interracial Marriage

I have a weirdly vivid memory of the early 1990s moment when I first learned that some people frown on interracial marriages.  I was approximately five years old and living in Florida.  While playing one afternoon, I stumbled upon a wedding invitation for a mixed-race couple in my ward.  The invitation included an engagement photo, and said the wedding would be held in a few weeks at the chapel.

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Free Trade and the Social Safety Net

On Monday, the church-owned Deseret News published an editorial condemning—in no uncertain terms—the racism of “the KKK and other so-called white nationalist groups.” The editorial leaves no wiggle room, and brooks no disagreement.

And then it turns in what—to me—was an unexpected direction: protectionism.

So I’m a modern liberal, meaning I buy into the economic consensus that free and open trade is a good thing. It increases the net wealth in the world, and provides both Americans collectively, and our foreign brothers and sisters, better access to the goods we need.

But. [Read more…]

Lord, Is It I?

This morning, as I read my Twitter feed, I came to Jack Jenkins, a religion reporter for Think Progress, asking for examples of sermons addressing racism.  As of when I’m writing this, he tweeted out eight examples of sermons representing an array of Christian denominations.

Meanwhile, Guthrie Graves-Fitzgerald tweeted a photo of Charlottesville clergy marching, united, against the racism that invaded—and tried to infect—their city. [Read more…]

Peace and Love to Charlottesville

I love Charlottesville.  For nearly a decade, Charlottesville has been my favorite retreat from the chaos of big cities.  I have family who live, just barely outside of cell-signal range, in the breathtaking rolling hills west of town.  My fiancé, Brad, attended – and I seriously considered attending – the University of Virginia Law School.  I love visiting.  I’ve explored its romantic colonial streets; hiked its peaceful mountains; day-dreamed about living there forever.

But this year Charlottesville has become a flashpoint for racial tension.  After years of studied discussion, the City Council voted in February to remove confederate statutes and rename two confederate-honoring parks.  (One of those parks, Stonewall Jackson park, was built after the city in 1914 seized land from private citizens in order to destroy a burgeoning black community.)  The parks have since been renamed, but plans to remove the statute stalled when the City was sued under a state law protecting historic monuments.  A month ago a small KKK rally at Justice Park (formerly Stonewall Jackson park) was overwhelmed by a thousand counter-protestors.  When a “Unite the Right” group applied for a permit to hold a further rally, they had to obtain a federal court order protecting their right to free speech.  Counter-protestors again rallied to flood the streets.

[Read more…]

The Widening Mormon Generation Gap

In her Flunking Sainthood posts, Jana Reiss has summarized some fascinating findings about Mormon attitudes toward the LGBT community. These statistics represent wide-scale shifts in attitudes in a very short period of time as well as double digit differences in attitudes between generations. I’ll review the findings from her posts below, but I recommend you read them yourself here and here.

Let’s start with the older data, from October 2016. This data was about the attitudes toward the Nov. 5 Exclusion Policy, nearly a year after its release. This was, for me, the most discouraging data set. [Read more…]

Hypotheticals and Our Christian Duty

A quick hypothetical. (For those of you who didn’t attend law school, a law school hypothetical is a carefully constructed situation meant to tease out the implications of a rule or a law. The hypothetical itself isn’t meant to convey any truth value. What I mean is, please don’t argue for or against my hypothetical: it’s the consequences I’m interest in.)

Let’s imagine that it has been established that homosexual behavior (however you want to define that) is sinful. What do we, as members of the church and the ward, do when an LGBTQ individual comes to church? And what if it’s clear that that individual is participating in homosexual behavior (again, whatever we want to define that as)? [Read more…]

If Gender is Essential, Why Are We Pushing It?

Image result for pushing genderI have often said that the gender roles described in the Proclamation are unnecessary because either they are descriptive (meaning people naturally behave this way, so who cares) or prescriptive (meaning, people should behave this way, but if it’s not natural to them, they won’t anyway and you can’t make them). This perspective neutralizes the power of gender roles whichever way you look at it. But what if gender roles can’t be neutral? What if telling a group of people that their kind behave a certain way actually changes behavior from its natural course? Is this influence ameliorative or detrimental? As a social experiment, what are its fruits? [Read more…]

Virtue and Self-Reliance

One summer, my parents’ ward held a special Sunday School class for the kids who had come back from college for the summer.[fn1] The Sunday School class was essentially a basic financial life skills class, the kind of thing that every college student (and most of the rest of us) needs, but that is woefully undertaught. The teacher, a member of the bishopric iirc, was a financial planner. He talked to us about budgeting, about saving, and other simple, practical skills.

I haven’t thought about that class in years, but my memory was jogged as I read (on Twitter) about a combined priesthood-Relief Society lesson on self-reliance. [Read more…]

How would Jesus play board games?

I love board games.  I have for my entire life.  The more strategic, the better.  I’m not sure whether it’s because my family and friends consist of nerds, boring adults in their 30s, or Mormons, but they all play along with my obsession.

(Pictured: my game shelves as of 2 months ago.  They’ve grown since then.)

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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.

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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…]