Signs of a True Church

Infuriating. Intriguing.

Why did I find this sign intriguing, even endearing, when I saw it on a church in the Cook Islands last week … but would find it frustrating if I saw it on my LDS church building back at home? 

Why would I feel a sense of loss if this church in the Cook Islands decided to be more inclusive and modern but cringe when my own church gives any indication of non-inclusivity or traditionalism?

[Read more…]

HIPAA and the Church

Just to be clear, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”)[fn1] does not prevent your bishop from asking you about your vaccination status. It doesn’t prevent your ward from doing contact tracing and informing people who attended church that someone had Covid at a meeting you attended. It doesn’t prevent the ward from asking (or requiring) attendees to wear masks.[fn2]

And look, I guess it’s fair to be a little scared. HIPAA does provide that a “person who knowingly and in violation of this part … discloses individually identifiable health information to another person[] shall be punished” with fines and potential imprisonment.

[Read more…]

The Child Tax Credit and You

The American Rescue Plan, signed by President Biden in March, includes a lot of things. For many U.S. readers of this blog, perhaps the most notable and salient is that it increased the child tax credit and, starting next month, will send monthly checks for a portion of the credit to taxpayers.

I wrote about the details over on the Surly Subgroup, but wanted to highlight a couple things about it for a specifically Mormon audience. It isn’t, of course, particular to Mormons but, falling birthrates[fn1] notwithstanding, we still tend to have (marginally) more children than the average American. Which means that the child tax credit, and its prepayment, are going to be relevant to many of us.

Of course, to understand what’s going on, we need to answer a couple questions.

[Read more…]

Believing in the Big Lie

Almost exactly a month ago, the Public Religion Research Institute released a survey looking at partisan and religious belief in the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

To be clear, the assertion that the election was stolen is stupid. The only basis for the assertion is that people can formulate the concept in a (grammatically) coherent way. Donald Trump’s attorneys had dozens of opportunities to assert that there was something illegal about the election in court but were unable to convince judges of any political persuasion. State Attorneys General support the fairness of the election. The Big Lie is, precisely, a lie.

And who believes it? According to the PRRI survey, 61% of white Evangelical Christians. But not that far behind them?

Mormons. Forty-six percent of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (in the United States) mostly or completely agree that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

This represents an existential threat to the future of Mormonism.

[Read more…]

About Critical Race Theory

Yesterday morning, my wife came upstairs and told me that NPR had a story about taxes. She also mentioned that it would probably annoy me. (She gets me.) But I decided to turn it on just to see who would be guesting.

One of the guests was Professor Dorothy Brown. Prof. Brown is a friend and a mentor, so I left it on and I’m glad I did. The episode of 1A focused on the racial wealth gap and, to my interests, the place of the federal income tax in causing and exacerbating the wealth gap.

That the tax law treats Black and white taxpayers different isn’t immediately obvious. After all, it’s written in race-neutral language (or, better, it doesn’t mention race at all). And, in fact, it has taken at least two decades of pioneering work by Prof. Brown (and others) to highlight the ways in which the tax law, while facially neutral, has a disparate impact that benefits white taxpayers and harms Black and brown taxpayers.[fn1]

Figuring out ways in which the tax law affects Black taxpayers differently from the ways it affects white taxpayers is no easy task, though. Among other things, the IRS doesn’t collect taxpayers’ races. So Prof. Brown’s research truly requires detective work.

[Read more…]

Dear Missionaries: 5 Tips for Working With Members Like Me

 

Part 2 in an ongoing series about LDS missions and missionaries.

photo source

Dear Missionaries,

It takes skill and courage to insert yourself into other people’s lives in a respectful way, a helpful way. When you come from a different culture and a different generation, it’s easy to misstep. 

I live in a secular, Westernized country: New Zealand. Most of my friends know very little about religion. They have rarely stepped inside a church or mosque or opened a book of scripture.

My secular friends perceive religion the way it shows up in the news and TV scripts, as fundamentalist and radical. They are wary of people who take religion too seriously. But they know me, and so they are cautiously willing to meet you. 

Although your good-heartedness will carry the day without any help from me, I’m offering you a few tips for making the most of our time together.

1-CALL ME “HOLLY” 

When you teach my friends, refer to me in the same way that I introduce myself to you. Call me the same thing that my friends call me.  

A doctor named Stella1 came to my house a couple of days ago to meet with you (sisters). You called me “Sister Jones” and referred to my partner as “President Jones.”    

Using Stella’s first name – but my last name – felt out of balance. Also, my church title would have appeared formal and unfamiliar to my houseguest and friend.

[Read more…]

Praying that All My Kids Would Serve Missions and Marry in the Temple

 BCC welcomes Holly Miller, who will be publishing a series of articles about LDS missions. Holly earned an MA in Religious Studies and an MM in Classical Piano. She is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, raised in Utah, living with her family in New Zealand. Email: imagine.inspire.inquire@gmail.com

This is the story of a 20-year prayer experiment.

It started in 1993 in the MTC with Sr. Bean.

As I walked out of class one day, my idol-teacher, Sr Bean, asked if I’d hang back for a second.

I admired Sr Bean the way a kid sister admires a wise and glamorous older sister.  I can still picture the brown flush of the leather cross-over shoes she wore. I got a matching pair when I got home from my mission. I remember the way she’d set her jaw when she got serious, the skin on her cheekbones, and her stories.

Earlier that day in class, I had shared a scripture about praying with real intent. I had made a case for the idea that rattling off memorized phrases while praying is useless.

After class that day, in this rare, intimate exchange with Sr Bean – the only time it was just the two of us – Sr Bean told me that her family had a tradition of ending every prayer in the exact same way. They ended every prayer by praying that they would all “go on missions and get married in the temple.” She said that all 8 (?) of the kids in that family repeated that memorized prayer from the time they were little until the time they left home, over every meal and at every family prayer. 

She said, “If there ever was a phrase that was rattled off without thinking, that would have been it. But, guess what happened? We grew up, and all 8 of us went on missions and got married in the temple.” 

This is the moment my 20-year prayer experiment was conceived.

[Read more…]

Two Reflections on Korihor

“And this Anti-Christ, whose name was Korihor, (and the law could have no hold upon him) began to preach unto the people that there should be no Christ.”Alma 30:12

Korihor was the third of three people in the Book of Mormon explicitly designated as an “anti-Christ.” And probably everybody reading this knows the rough outline of Korihor’s life and death: he shows up in Zarahemla about 75 B.C. and preaches that there will be no Christ. The Nephites (we’re told) have no law against a person’s belief but, notwithstanding its putative religious freedom, Korihor eventually ends up on trial in front of Alma, the chief priest of the people, and the chief judge.

Korihor continues to deny the coming Christ, asks for a sign, and is struck dumb. He confesses in writing that he was deceived by the devil, asks that the curse be removed, and Alma declines. Korihor ends up panhandling until he’strampled to death by the Zoramites (themselves a group of religious dissenters). The life and death of Korihor end up being a didactic morality tale, wrapped up comfortably by editor and narrator Mormon.

[Read more…]

IRS Whistleblowers Revisited

Photo by adil113. CC BY 2.0

Has it really been nearly a year and three months since Lars Nielson released his brother’s whistleblower complaint against the church? What felt like the story that would dominate news of Mormonism in 2020 was quickly buried by Trumpian scandals and then worldwide pandemics.

Like most people, I’ve only thought about the $100 billion endowment fleetingly over the last year or so; I’ve been more wrapped up in translating my job to my home, helping my kids become at-home students, and playing the saxophone.

Monday, though, a court decision came across my desk that made me think of Ensign Peak Advisors and Lars Nielson. See, one reason his brother filed a complaint with the IRS was in hopes of getting a whistleblower award. Statutorily, whistleblowers are entitled to receive between 15 and 30% of the amount the IRS collects as a result of their complaint.

[Read more…]

Mark Hofmann and Taxes

In anticipation of watching Netflix’s Murder Among the Mormons,[fn1] I started rereading Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case.[fn2]

And right at the end of chapter two something leapt out at me: in addition to searching for (and forging) rare documents, Hofmann engaged in tax planning! Chapter two discusses Hofmann’s attempts to sell the Anthon Transcript to the church. Initially he asked for a set of six Mormon gold pieces in exchange. Why the gold pieces rather than cash? In part, he said, because he wanted a “tax-free exchange” (Turley, 38). (Note that, after negotiation, the church gave him one five-dollar gold coin plus some historic Mormon notes and a first edition of the Book of Mormon missing its title page.)

Now if you’ve read much of my blogging, you know these three words leapt out at me, a virtual technicolor attention grabber. So what was Hofmann trying to do?

[Read more…]

Accomplishing God’s Work of Leading Out Against Prejudice

I wish the Church would tackle racism and nationalism with the same energy it devotes to sex. 

It’s not difficult to envision.  Just take every resource the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently spends defending chastity and reallocate them to anti-racism.  When we’re inevitably challenged for being too “political,” emphasize the great moral need for social policies which recognize the divine worth of every soul.    

We have the foundation to accomplish this.  In October 2020 President Nelson pleaded with us “to promote respect for all of God’s children.”  The Prophet “grieved that our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice.”  He then called “upon our members everywhere to lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice.” 

[Read more…]

No More Disposition to Speak Evil: A Lesson Plan to Address Racism in the Church

Here is a lesson plan for BCC readers who need a Sunday School or Relief Society/Elder’s Quorum lesson to address white nationalism. I welcome constructive feedback and will update this lesson plan periodically to incorporate it, so that it can be a living resource for the future.

Opening Hymn: I’m Trying to be Like Jesus

Objective: Teach members how to use the peaceable doctrine of Christ to confront concrete examples of racism in their everyday lives.

[Read more…]

Reflections on Heartbreak and Choice

Dear Brother Givens,

I came across your post on abortion today.  I confess that I did not read it carefully because I am trying to be kinder to myself.  From what I did read, you quote several writers and statistics, and ultimately ground your opinions in your own visceral reactions to abortion and especially the procedures used in the second and third trimester.  I wonder, though, did you try to speak directly to any women who have had abortions?  Did you read any firsthand accounts of abortions by women who do not regret them?  Did you send out a call to your general female acquaintance to share their experiences with you?  I guarantee that you personally know some women who have had abortions, though, given what you wrote, I am not sure they would have trusted you with their experiences.

Here is what I would have told you.  I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from childhood.  I served a mission.  I have held many callings.  I remained chaste until marriage and remain faithful in my marriage.  And I had an abortion a few years ago on the first day of my fifteenth week of pregnancy.  

[Read more…]

On Terryl Givens and Abortion

Yesterday Terryl Givens published what he characterized as “A Latter-day Saint Defense of the Unborn” at Public Square Magazine. He ultimately concludes that Latter-day Saints are obligated to oppose abortion and that there is basically no room for personally opposing abortion but supporting its legality and availability.

Givens seems completely sincere in his revulsion for abortion. But that sincerity has led him to pen (type?) a deeply misleading and unchristian jeremiad against his fellow citizens and fellow-Saints who take the opposite tack.

I’m not going to detail all of the factual and legal problems with his piece, though I will highlight a couple of what I consider to be the big problems. I’m also want to point out that the way he’s framed his argument undercuts any assertion that he makes it in good faith and that it demonstrates a huge lack of moral imagination.

[Read more…]

#TrumpTaxReturns on The Surly Subgroup

As far as I know, the only news in the U.S. since Sunday has been the New York Times‘s investigation of leaked Trump tax returns. I certainly know that the first article Sunday evening definitively changed my work schedule for the week.

There’s a lot of information in the article, but there’s also a lot of additional context that tax people can bring to it. I’ve done a bunch of tweeting about the context, and just put my tweets together into a single blog post. (I’ll note that the tweets are better because they are GIF-filled, but the blog post is easier and, as a bonus, links to all of the tweets).

There’s nothing even remotely Mormon-y about this but, to the extent you’re interested in some further content and tax-y goodness, check out the Surly Subgroup.

Whiteness and Jesus

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been reading The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race In America. Without going into too much detail, the book traces the development of Jesus as white in the United States and the contested place of His whiteness. Broadly speaking, when the Puritans came here, they eschewed images, including pictures of Jesus. And in the early days, when Jesus appeared to people, He appeared as light, not as racialized.[fn1]

Little by little, Jesus began to be more embodied in the American imagination; His embodiment emerged roughly (though not entirely) with technology that allow the mass production of pictures and pamphlets. And embodied Jesus began to be depicted as racially white.

Especially after the Civil War and into the first half of the 20th century, His whiteness was often (not always, but often) pressed into the service of white supremacy. Jesus was white because white was better, white was purer, white was worthier.

Again, this outline is very surface-level; the book provides a lot more detail and nuance. But overall, it represents the book’s outline (at least through the Civil Rights movement and the creation of Black Liberation Theology, which is where I currently am in the book). [Read more…]

Uyghurs, the Church, and Religious Freedom

Uyghur girls. Xinjiang. Photo by kpi. CC BY 2.0

About a week ago, Disney released its live-action Mulan for rent on Disney+. As people watched it, they noticed something: in the closing credits, Disney gives “special thanks” to eight government entities in Xinjiang, where parts of the movie were filmed.

This has led to calls to boycott the movie in the U.S.[fn1]

Why? It’s a long(ish) story, told better by others, but the short version: Xinjiang (in western China) is home to about 12 million indigenous Muslims. The largest of these groups are the Uyghurs.[fn2] Since at least 2017, the Chinese government has been aggressively detaining its Uyghur population in concentration camps (which it calls “re-education camps”). Today, an estimated 1 million Uyghurs (which represents more than 8% of the Muslim population in the region) are detained in these concentration camps. Moreover, Buzzfeed has determined that China has recently built 268 new compounds in which to detain its Uyghur population. [Read more…]

Conspiracy Theories, Ritual Abuse and the Rise of QAnon in Mormondom

We live at a time when conspiracy theory is spreading. This is my second post on its particularly Mormon manifestations. See the first here

In 1983, Judy Johnson accused her estranged husband, Ray Buckey, of molesting their young son at the preschool where he worked. The McMartin Preschool, in Manhattan Beach, California, was a family business founded by Buckey’s grandmother Virginia McMartin, and operated by her children and grandchildren.

The police found little evidence for Buckey’s guilt, but as a precaution they sent a long form letter out to hundreds of parents whose children attended the school. The letter stated that Buckey was being investigated and asked parents to question their children if employees of the preschool had committed any of a series of detailed acts. The Children’s Institute International, a child abuse therapy clinic, was brought in to consult and by 1984 staffers had interviewed more than 400 children. They received dozens of reports. The McMartins were mutilating animals; they were dressing in robes and digging up corpses in front of children; they were holding satanic rituals in secret rooms and tunnels under the preschool accessed through a variety of methods, including down the toilets. [Read more…]

Republicans render unto Trump that which is God’s

Photo by Brad Dodson on Unsplash

Scripture is replete with warnings about placing faith in political leaders above God.

God repeatedly calls the faithful to reject kings and idols, to disperse power away from any singular charismatic personality.  “Ye shall have no king nor ruler, for I [God] will be your king and watch over you.”  (D&C 38:21). 

Why?  Because we know from sad experience that as soon as men “get a little authority, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”  (D&C 121:39).  Kings, with their greater authority, wreak greater unrighteousness.  

[Read more…]

Rep. John Lewis and Religious Freedom

Yesterday and today, the late Representative John Lewis is lying in state at the Capitol. Thousands of people lined up to pay respects to the Congressman yesterday and I’d be surprised if thousands more don’t today.

They may know Rep. Lewis from his days as a Freedom Rider, fighting for racial justice. They may know him from the graphic novels about his civil rights career. They may know him from his 40-ish years representing constituents as an elected official.

I was reminded that Rep. Lewis was a deeply religious man and advocate of religious freedom last week when I got a call from Amy Lee Rosen, a reporter for Law360. She was doing a story about tax bills sponsored by Rep. Lewis.

One of the bills Rep. Lewis sponsored? H.R. 4169: the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act.

I was familiar with the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act; I wrote about it in chapter 4 of my book. [Read more…]

Me and Donovan Mitchell

The other day, Twitter recommended a bunch of topics for me to follow. And its recommendations confirmed for me the folly of paying attention to social media algorithms. Why?

Well, the first recommendation was Donovan Mitchell. And honestly, I had absolutely no idea who he was. (I’ve since learned that he plays for the Utah Jazz. Who knew?) Why did Twitter think I cared about a Utah Jazz basketball player? Probably because I tweet a lot about jazz. Like, the music.[fn1] And given the disaster that has been Utah’s response to Covid, I do more Utah-adjacent tweeting recently than I have done traditionally.

See, I don’t particularly care about the Utah Jazz.[fn2] I grew up in the suburbs of San Diego and shortly after my family moved there, the Clippers moved to LA. So growing up, to the extent I cared about professional basketball, I was a Lakers fan. In fact, the Lakers, the Clippers, the Knicks,[fn3] and the Bulls all have far more claim on my fandom that the Jazz (though growing up in a city without a basketball team, I didn’t really care much about the NBA.

But for a very short time, the Jazz managed to work their way into my religious life. [Read more…]

Religious Freedom vs. Public Interest (Working Women)

I dissent.

Let me start off by being clear that I am not a lawyer (on a blog with many lawyers). I have multiple decades of experience as a business executive in large corporations, overseeing the employment of thousands of people. As an executive, I understood very well what the applicable anti-discrimination laws were. Now that I’m a small business owner, I also recognize that many of those laws are not required for me, but based on my personal conviction and principles, I still run my business as if they do.

In a 7-2 decision, SCOTUS recently upheld a completely discriminatory ruling to allow employers (that are not directly affiliated with any church) to refuse to cover birth control in their employee healthcare plans. This decision rests firmly on a few shaky foundational assumptions: [Read more…]

Faculty Demographics at BYU

A couple weeks ago, President Nelson issued a joint statement with the NAACP condemning racial injustice. Toward the end of that statement, they said:

We likewise call on government, business, and educational leaders at every level to review processes, laws, and organizational attitudes regarding racism and root them out once and for all.

(Emphasis mine.) It occurred to me that, while at BYU-P, very few of my professors were people of color. (It’s been a couple decades, so my memory isn’t perfect, but as best I can remember, I had two Brazilian professors, which is probably the closest I came.) I wondered what BYU faculty looks like today.

It isn’t pretty.  [Read more…]

On Masks

A couple weeks ago, I was going to write a quick fun post asking whether, in a post-pandemic world, the church would start letting people wear masks to church Halloween parties.[fn1] After all, in the phased resumption of sacrament meeting, members can be encouraged to wear facemasks. And if at sacrament meeting, why not at Halloween?

To write the post, I did a quick Google search to see if the internet had any explanation of the origins of the church’s ban on masks. And you know what? If you Google “mormon no masks,” you get a lot of hits about the church’s mask-making activities and, right at the top, Elder Cook’s 2012 BYUI devotional titled, of all things, “Don’t Wear Masks.” [Read more…]

#JusticeForGeorgeFloyd Revisited

A little more than a week ago, I posted some religious leaders’ reactions to the murder of George Floyd. While the church hadn’t responded when I posted, it responded shortly thereafter, and I update the post to include the church’s response.

Today, Pres. Nelson released a joint statement with the NAACP. The original post has dropped far enough below the fold that I decided it’s worth a new post. As with the other statements, I’m only going to excerpt it. It’s absolutely worth reading the whole thing.

President Russell M. Nelson, president, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; Derrick Johnson, president and CEO, NAACP; Leon Russell, Chairman, NAACP; and The Reverend Amos C. Brown, Chairman Emeritus of Religious Affairs, NAACP wrote: [Read more…]

Justice for George Floyd [Updated 6-1, 8-20]

I’m sure that you, like me, have seen the shocking murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis. That you are aware that this isn’t the first time, the second, or even the third time this type of senseless killing has occurred. You’ve seen the protests demanding justice. Maybe you’ve participated in them.

Religion has things to say about justice, about how we should treat each other, and how we should treat the poor and vulnerable and the stranger. The Book of Mormon is basically 500 pages of God’s chosen people getting it wrong.

So I thought I’d look to see whether religious leaders are speaking out about this moral issue and, if so, what they’re saying. Unsurprisingly, they are speaking out about both our unjust society and the just society that we should aspire to create. The following is a sampling, undoubtedly incomplete but critical nonetheless in this moment of deep sorrow and introspection: [Read more…]

Sheep and Goats in a Pandemic

Sheep and goats in corrals. The Field Museum Library. No know copyright restrictions.

Yesterday my family and I took a bike ride to downtown Chicago. (Under Illinois’s stay-at-home order, biking for outdoor activity is an essential activity.)

It was stunning, in this usually-vibrant city, how empty the streets were. We passed a handful of people out for exercise, air, or to walk their dogs. The buses we passed, which should have been full to overflowing at rush hour, held a driver and one or two other people. The storefront businesses were dark, as billboards and electronic signs at bus stops reminded Chicagoans to stay home to avoid spreading Covid-19.

It occurred to me on that ride how hard it is to be truly Christian during a pandemic like this one. Not hard because our hearts are in the wrong place—I believe that everybody who’s sacrificing to protect the health and lives of their communities is being deeply Christian—but because being truly Christian requires physical communion. [Read more…]

Excluding Our Fellow Saints From the Sacrament

In Illinois, we’re now halfway through our sixth week under a stay-at-home order (and my family’s seventh week at home). And the stay-at-home order looks like it’s going to last at least another month here. That means at least 12 Sundays in Illinois without meeting together at church (and, even when the stay-at-home order ends, some people may make the eminently responsible and defensible decision to continue social distancing, and delay their return to church).

Ultimately, I don’t think putting church meetings on hold is optimal. (To be clear, it’s both necessary and good. It’s just not ideal.) We need human contact, and we need the spiritual benefits that come from gathering together. That said, it’s necessary, and on net, saving the lives and the health of our fellow Saints is both beneficial and will bless us and them.

Still, this extended time away from church means that some people—single women and families without priesthood holders in the home, for example—won’t have the ability to take the sacrament for three months or more.

The church has made a tentative stab at recognizing the position these women and families are in. On April 16, the church provided instructions for administering the church during the pandemic. The instructions provide that “In unusual circumstances when the sacrament is not available, members can be comforted by studying the sacrament prayers and recommitting to live the covenants members have made and praying for the day they will receive it in person, properly administered by the priesthood.” [Read more…]

On (Not) Blogging Through a Pandemic

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

Monday starts my family’s fifth week of staying home (and fourth week under a formal stay-at-home order). Other than daily walks and occasional (rare) trips to the store to pick up necessities, my whole world has been the Chicago apartment we’ve lived in for the last half-decade-plus.

And my life has been pretty devoid of blogging.

You’d think, with all this spare time, I would have plenty to say here. (At the very least, I owe a book review of First Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction, which I finished reading weeks ago. Spoiler alert: it’s amazing, and you should get your hands on it for some quarantine reading. But I’ll do a fuller review in the near future.) [Read more…]

The Temporal Urgency of Faith

wonderlane-wBcqvA49hDw-unsplash

Photo by Wonderlane on Unsplash

Introductory Note:  Several years ago during General Conference I started journaling the messages my soul most longed to hear.  I posted one of those last Conference.  I’m doing so again now.  This requires a suspension of disbelief:  it contains a mix of true and aspirational content, and is written as if I had been asked to speak during General Conference.  I do not purport to actually have any authority to speak on behalf of the Church. 

Faith without works is dead.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to cast our spiritual burdens upon the Lord, rely on the grace of his Atonement, and put our faith in him during adversity.  But the Gospel also preaches that our spiritual health is intertwined with the physical welfare of our neighbors.  Pure religion looks not just to eternity but to now.

“If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, and one of you say unto them:  ‘Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled’; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.  (James 2:14-17)

[Read more…]