The Unborn

The appointment of conservative justice Bret Kavanaugh has emboldened some states to take a run at challenging Roe v. Wade by putting forward legislation to outlaw abortion that is a deliberate overreach to force the issue in front of the Supreme Court.[1] From my own conversations with fellow ward members, one reason many LDS voters chose to elect Trump in 2016 is that they, like many social conservatives, vehemently oppose abortion and would like to see the overturn of Roe v. Wade.[2] However, LDS theology is not nearly as anti-abortion as many other conservative religions. Like many other platforms, this is one where both parties’ views are potentially consistent with the church’s stance. [Read more…]

Explainer: Tax-Exempt Salt Lake Tribune

Yesterday, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the Salt Lake Tribune has been in serious discussions about becoming a tax-exempt newspaper.[fn1]

This is kind of a big deal. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first tax-exempt newsroom, of course. NPR, for example, has been delivering news as a tax-exempt organization since 1971. And it’s not even the first newspaper (-like organization): ProPublica, a tax-exempt investigative newsroom, has been tax-exempt for more than a decade, and Voice of San Diego, which does the same type of investigative journalism in the San Diego region, has been exempt since 2005.[fn2] WNYC’s On the Media was talking about the potential of newspapers become tax-exempt around that same time, too.[fn3]

But if this happens, the Trib would become the first legacy newspaper to switch from a for-profit model to a tax-exempt, not-for-profit model. Which raises at least two significant questions: why and how. So let’s do an Explainer! [Read more…]

Terrorism and Hospitality

In 2012, I stayed at the Taj Mumbai Hotel. I was there on business, my third stop visiting our India offices that fell under my jurisdiction. My manager assistant who was traveling with me was raised in Mumbai (which he insisted on calling Bombay, the name the city was called until 1995 when political parties changed). The hotel is a luxurious Colonialist structure (built in 1903) with 120 rooms and several high end restaurants. The reception staff proudly mentioned (for my benefit, as an American) that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had stayed there in 2009 and pointed to the place just outside the security-walled entrance where President Obama made a statement to the press. These events were noteworthy because the hotel was among locations that were attacked in 2008 by Pakistani terrorists who landed a boat a few yards from the entrance, then went on to massacre nearly 200 citizens, wounding 300 more, at 12 locations around the city. Because I had stayed in the hotel, I was intrigued about the limited release movie Hotel Mumbai that just came out, so we went a week ago last Friday. It was a haunting experience. [Read more…]

The Satanic Temple: Now a Church!

Maybe you heard (or maybe you didn’t): the IRS recently recognized the Satanic Temple as a tax-exempt church.

Before you react to the news, that first sentence requires some unpacking. Specifically, we need to know what the Satanic Temple is, and we need to know what it means to be recognized as a tax-exempt church.

To the extent you’ve heard of the Satanic Temple, it’s likely in one of two contexts. They both have to do with its Baphomet statues. [Read more…]

Sunday Dress

In our most recent General Conference, there has been a push for members to dress up for church. It’s long been a hobby horse of E. Oaks, and that hasn’t changed. Generally speaking, current Mormon dress standards at church are a little more dressed up than most other sects, but maybe less than Easter at a historically black church–we don’t like hats and fans.

Several years ago, we had a French boy staying with us on an exchange program. I asked if he wanted to come along with us to church or if he preferred to stay home. He said he would like to come along, for curiosity sake. I had mentioned that people in our church tended to dress up for church. He was Catholic, an occasional church-goer, but not from a super devout family. When he came down in nice jeans, sneakers, and a tee shirt with a slogan on it, I was worried he’d feel awkward when he saw all the other kids in dress pants and button down shirts. He borrowed a button down shirt from my son and off we went. He was further surprised to see our son administering the sacrament, a rite he was used to seeing a priest in vestments conduct. [Read more…]

Reforming the Honor Code Office

BYU Students are hoping to reform the Honor Code Office with a social media campaign, and students have been sharing stories online of their own run-ins with the HCO. The stories have a few recurring themes:

  • Gay students being targeted disproportionately, often for non-violations
  • Vindictive behavior between students that the HCO enables and promotes
  • Hints at breaches of confidentiality in the ecclesiastical confession process, putting repentant students’ educations on the line when they seek counsel
  • Policing of doubts and testimony by other students
  • Local police officers sharing information about BYU students that occurs off campus
  • The emotionally and psychologically unhealthy impacts of the HCO on students: paranoia, anxiety, depression, and the fact that some reported sins/violations are associated with psychological issues
  • That the HCO encourages lying and discourages repentance by inserting academic (and downstream financial) consequences to what should be personal spiritual matters
  • That there is an HCO file on each student, including fishing expeditions in their social media accounts. (FYI, they are legally obligated to show you your file if you request, and I would request the heck out of that thing.)

[Read more…]

Come Listen to a Blogger’s Voice (About Taxes and Religion and Stuff)

On Friday, I sat down in a law school conference room with two of my students. They’d set up a pretty impressive array of microphones and mixers and a laptop, and pushed aside the Redweld folders that, for some reason, took up half of the table. These students started Dialogue, De Novo, a podcast that centers around the Loyola University Chicago School of Law community. [Read more…]

Let Love be Love

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Nicole is a mother, feminist, and activist living in the Salt Lake Valley with her partner Kerstin and blended family of seven. She credits the women in her life for shaping her values and her hope for a world filled with compassion, authenticity, and uncompromising love.

It’s so hard to find any words to express my feelings about the news about the changed policy.

I type and delete and type and delete.

I couldn’t find the right words because I couldn’t find words that were true enough to myself, but that I thought would be safe from hurting or offending my family who are still members.  I love my family very much and they have been so great with Kerstin and me.  Since they’ve been so careful not to hurt us, I really, really don’t want to hurt them.

I think I’d just like to describe my dream world. [Read more…]

The Parsonage Allowance is a Go

Old Dutch Parsonage, Sommerville, NJ. By Zeete. CC BY-SA 4.0

On October 24, 2018, the Seventh Circuit heard an appeal in Gaylor v. Mnuchin, the parsonage allowance case. I’ve written several times about this case over the last six or so years (some links in this post), and I checked the Seventh Circuit’s website for the decision incessantly.

And eventually, it released its opinion. Two and a half weeks ago. I’ve been meaning to blog about it, but haven’t had time to do it justice. And I still haven’t, but wanted to at least flag its conclusion and suggest where it may go from here. Maybe sometime in the future I’ll have time to really engage the opinion here.

A quick summary/reminder: the case dealt with the constitutionality of section 107(2) of the Internal Revenue Code. Section 107(2) says that a “minister of the gospel” can exclude from gross income (and thus not pay taxes on) a housing allowance paid by his or her employer. In essence, it represents a religion-specific exception to the general rule that amounts an employee receives from her employer constitute income subject to tax.[fn1] [Read more…]

Mourn, Comfort, Stand: How Mormons Can Respond to New Zealand

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The baptismal covenant in Mosiah 18 is why I call myself a “Mormon.”  There, by the Waters of Mormon, a beggarded group of refugees promised to “preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord” and to “knit their hearts together in unity and in love one towards another.”

These original members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Prior-day Saints expressed their desires to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;” to “mourn with those that mourn;” to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort;” and “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things.”

I’ve spent the last day reflecting on how I, and my Mormon community, can live up to those same covenants in order to demonstrate love and unity towards our Muslim brothers and sisters in the wake of the white nationalist terrorist attack on Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. [Read more…]

Study hard, learn lots…and don’t slam the door!

When you grow up here, you need all the advice you can get.

I grew up in a rural area, so far away from the nearest bus stop that my dad would drop me and my brother off on his way to work. He would stop on the side of the highway, we would tumble out, and he would invariably holler after us, “Study hard, learn lots, be good, stay out of trouble, and don’t slam the door!” We would mumble, “Yeah, sure, Dad,” in reply, slam the door, and go find our friends. I guess his advice eventually rubbed off though, as I went on to at least study hard and stay out of trouble, even if I didn’t learn much or become very good.

Read moe

New Zealand, Missionaries, and Inland Revenue

Effective January 1, 1991, the church equalized the cost of missionary service. Before, a missionary had to pay the actual costs of his or her mission.[fn1] Now, a missionary pays a set amount to the church, and the church pays the costs of missionaries’ missions irrespective of where they go.

Why did the church make this change? A bunch of reasons, I suspect, but one was because of the tax law. I’ve blogged about Davis v. United States before, and I have a chapter in my book that goes into extensive detail about both the litigation and the thinking behind the case. The short of it, though, is that the Supreme Court held that payments from parents to their missionary children did not qualify for the charitable deduction. Donations from parents to a church-controlled fund (at least, as long as those payments weren’t earmarked particularly for their children) did qualify.

Almost thirty years after the Supreme Court decided Davis, the question of the deductibility of missionary payments is back. Kind of. [Read more…]

Happy Pączki Day!

Today is Fat Tuesday (or Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras). Today marks the last day of the Carnival season and the day before Ash Wednesday kicks off Lent.

Unfortunately, in Mormonism, we don’t really do any of those things. In part, I suspect that it’s because of their Catholic roots, and the fact that Catholics were basically non-existent in the milieu from which Mormonism emerged. Or maybe it’s because of our impoverished liturgical calendar. Or maybe it’s because we hate costumes, masks and parties. Whatever the reason, though, there is no distinctive Mormon Fat Tuesday celebration.

Which is why my family and I have whole-heartedly adopted Chicago’s version of Fat Tuesday: Pączki Day.[fn1] [Read more…]

“Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole” #BCCSundaySchool2019

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Readings:   Matthew 8-9; Mark 2-5

Whenever I read the Gospels, I’m amazed all over again by the layers of wisdom in each and every 3-verse vignette of Christ’s teachings, parables, and actions.  This week the Come Follow Me manual asks us to cover 6 chapters worth of them.  That’s difficult to do in a single blog post.  But after reading everything repeatedly, I’ve chosen to focus this week’s discussion on two patterns: how Christ heals, and how Christ responds to criticism.

These six chapters cover a core segment of Christ’s miracles and ministry – healing illnesses, forgiving sins, casting out devils, condemning hypocrites, preaching goodness.  This is the mission Christ called us, as Christians, to continue.  I hope we all can use this lesson to reflect, perhaps somewhat uncomfortably, on how our actions align with Christ’s injunction to believers. [Read more…]

Explainer: Utah Stealthily Raised State Income Taxes

This morning, I woke up to this Twitter notification. (Turns out that Sheldon does really know me: this was #BrunsonBait in basically its purest form.) I immediately knew I was going to write a BCC explainer, and I figured it would be a quick and easy explainer: Utah’s tax conformity to the federal income tax meant that, when the TCJA reduced personal exemptions to $0, Utah’s personal exemptions fell to the same rate.

It turns out the story is more complicated than a story of the inadvertent loss of a tax benefit: Utah legislators did this deliberately.

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself. What’s the this that is happening to Utah taxpayers? In short, according to the article, the elimination of personal exemptions meant that Utahns, with their larger-than-average family size, would face a higher tax bill in 2018 than they would have without the federal TCJA.
[Read more…]

A Faithful Shift Toward Evolution

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Robert Lawrence was once a free-range kid in Utah. He spent a couple years learning from wonderful people in Guatemala and later moved to Arizona where he spent a lot of time in the lab with viruses. He is now a science writer and research developer living in Binghamton, New York, with his wife and toddler. You can connect with him and find more of his work at: www.robertlawrencephd.com

BYU students are more accepting of Darwin’s ideas than they used to be, according to a new study. [Read more…]

Jung at Heart: Social Media and Self Knowledge

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“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

–Carl Gustav Jung

 

Keira Shae is the author of How the Light Gets In, a BCC Press memoir.

 

I’m that Millennial. The one who took hundreds of thousands of pictures of my kids (pictures that all look the same), hundreds of my meals. The teen who grew up experiencing the Internet the way that other generations experienced oxygen. The original one who sincerely thought I should express political opinions on Facebook and had the debating capacity to change other’s minds. At nineteen.

The one who spent much of her adult life wondering how she could waste so much valuable time playing on social media. [Read more…]

The Church Is Going to Pay More In Taxes

In 1972, the church opened its new Church Office Building at 50 East North Temple Street. The 28-story building, built by Christiansen and Clyde Construction Company for $31.3 million, allowed scattered church employees to all work under one roof. Initially, about 1,500 employees, who had been at 16 different locations, moved into the building. It was originally slated to provide office space to over 2,000 employees. And so that those employees could make it, the Church Office Building had 1,250-spot underground parking garage.

And the existence of that 1,250-spot underground parking garage means that the church owes federal income taxes for 2018.

Because yes, the church owes taxes for last year. And, perhaps to church members’ surprise, those taxes aren’t the result of secular liberals who hate Mormons/religion/God. Those taxes are the result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the GOP’s late-2017 tax reform that was both conceived of and passed without any input or votes from Democrats.  [Read more…]

Call for Syllabi on Latter-day Saint Arts

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The Center for Latter-day Saint Arts is offering awards for the preparation of syllabi for college courses on any aspect of Latter-day Saint arts including visual art, music, theater, literature, and film, as well as architecture, design, dance, animation, and so forth.  The award for a fully developed syllabus is $2,000, and for segments of a course from $500 to $1,000, depending on length and complexity.

The full course syllabi should include all aspects of a one-quarter or one-semester course: [Read more…]

Soon We Can No Longer Meet in Public

About a month ago, during church, I got a text from my wife:

 

 

 

I was curious why they were talking about taxing religious people in Gospel Principles, but figured I could ask her after church.

It turns out, though, that the discussion had nothing to do with taxes; instead, a missionary in our ward had said that we were moving to a two-hour block supplemented by home-centered study in preparation for a not-too-distant future when it would be illegal for us to meet together at church. And my wife explained that no, that wasn’t going to happen.

We laughed about it, but didn’t think too much of it. After all, 18-year-old boys are susceptible to outlandish ideas (I was one, once upon a time). And my wife had countered him, so no harm, no foul. [Read more…]

Rethinking Worthiness

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Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. (D&C 18:10)

I learned an important truth this year: the worth of souls bears no relationship to a soul’s “worthiness.”

A year ago I left the corporate world to pursue my civil rights lawyer dream.  One aspect of my new work is fighting for Muslims’ right to follow the pillars of Islam in prison.  My first visit to prison will forever stand as one of the most spiritual days of my life.  I met with humble men who frankly admitted their mistakes, implored God to grant them the mercy to improve, and asked for an opportunity to practice their faith in peace.  They sought to better the religious experience not just for themselves, but for all of their brothers and sisters.  Sitting with them, I glimpsed the depth of God’s abundant love.

I may have been physically sitting with convicted criminals behind seven layers of lockdown security, but spiritually I stood with angels on hallowed ground.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  (Romans 8:38).  Prisons that day became my temples.  For I was in prison, and ye visited me.  (Matthew 25:36). [Read more…]

2018 BCC Year in Review

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In 2019, By Common Consent will enter its 15th year of Bloggernaccle existence.  The state of our imperfect union of informal bloggers is strong:  2018 clocked in as second only to 2015* in total traffic.  As the sun sets on 2018 , I thought I’d compile some highlights. [Read more…]

Jesus, Born of Woman

The book of Matthew sets the scene for Jesus’ life and ministry by delineating a selective genealogy. Among the names listed, Matthew names five socially controversial women, each with a fascinating back story of her own: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Each of these women was failed by a patriarchal system, and each overcame that adversity through cleverness and loyalty. Although each of these women represents a controversial story in a patriarchal society, they each turn that system against itself to their advantage. Each of these women was regarded by early Christians as righteous for it, even if their own contemporary society would have cast them as sinners. The stories told about them reveal them to be more righteous than the clueless men who held them back until they educated them. [1] What better forebears for Jesus could there be? [Read more…]

Pants!

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The Victory-for-Satan Newsroom announced this afternoon that sister missionaries can wear dress pants.

YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!

But as I take a breath between celebrating, I thought I’d take a moment to reflect. [Read more…]

A Class Tax: Utah Taxpayers in 1920

The other day, I did a quick search on the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America site to see if I could find any information about prominent Utah or Mormon taxpayers.

See, today’s tight privacy of tax return information hasn’t always existed. For a couple of years in the 1920s, Congress required taxpayers to publicly disclose their tax payments; apparently, newspapers had a field day publishing the tax payments (and refunds) of the wealthy and the famous.[fn1] I was curious if Utah newspapers did the same.

But I got distracted on my first hit, from the Lehi Sun. It didn’t release the names of taxpayers, or what they paid, but it did give a snapshot of Utah’s taxpaying from 1916-1920.[fn2] [Read more…]

LDS Identity’s Effect on Mental Health

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Rebekah Perkins Crawford is a visiting professor in Social and Public Health at Ohio University. She has a PhD in Health Communication.

The recent tragic suicide of a BYU student has prompted conversations about the relationship between religiosity and mental health, about whether Latter-day Saints have a problem with suicide, and, if we do, what our response should be.

Experts (especially at BYU) have consistently claimed that LDS religious practice is positively associated with mental health.  Such claims are based on studies that average difference, homogenize experience, and oversimplify a complex issue.  [Read more…]

And in His name all oppression shall cease

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This post started as a reaction to President Dallin H. Oaks’s commentary on religious freedom published Tuesday in the Deseret News.  It morphed into a Christmastime commentary on social justice.  It still dissects Oaks’s words, but that’s relegated to the very end. 

Born into humble circumstances.  Trained as a carpenter.  Rejected as a prophet.  Crucified as a rabble-rouser because he dared speak truth to both secular and religious oppressive power.  Jesus Christ is my model of an activist. [Read more…]

Repent Ye, for Climate Change is at Hand?

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I’ve always accepted the scientific consensus surrounding carbon emissions, greenhouse gasses, the ozone layer, and climate change.  But for a long time I elected to not care.

Why?  Because I bought into the folk doctrines that God created the Earth’s resources to be used, that a global temperature rise of 1-2 degrees over 100 years isn’t material,  and in any event, Christ’s imminent Second Coming would renew the Earth and fix everything before disaster struck.

As a religious studies student in college, I once wrote a paper on Isaac Newton’s eschatological prediction that the Second Coming would happen in 2060.  Thereafter in casual conversation, I used the 2060 date to support my religious opinion that climate change would never matter.   (“The worst predictions don’t even start until 2100 — Jesus will have come back well before then!”)  One afternoon at the Indiana University LDS Institute, I tried that line on a Ph.D. student studying ecology.  Our resulting discussion did not end well for me. [Read more…]

Rachel Held Evans & Evolving Faith

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Kristine A. lives in Rexburg, Idaho and blogs at Wheat & Tares.

I just got home from a conference held in North Carolina and hosted by Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey. They are two evangelicals who have experienced faith crises; Rachel describes her journey back into church in her book Searching for Sunday, a book I know is popular with liberal Mormons. Sarah, I believe, describes hers back into the same congregation in Out of Sorts. They announced the conference in March and sold out 1500 tickets within two weeks. When I heard some of the speakers included many of the names that had strengthened my faith when it felt like everything had fallen apart, I felt compelled to go. Well, that and the fact it was about two hours away from my old home in Virginia and best friend, who agreed to attend with me. [Read more…]

Is Competent Public Administration the Downfall of the Modern Miracle?

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The Imperial Chinese civil service examination became a model for selecting civil servants on their merit the world over (source).

Yesterday in Sunday school we talked about miracles. Participants argued that while “big” miracles like loaves and fishes and parted seas might be uncommon today, “small” miracles—the kind that only an individual or a small group might witness—abounded and in the aggregate amounted to a major expression of divine favor. Reasons given for this state of affairs included a growing tendency to keep such experiences private as well as the growing wickedness of the world at large.

I silently added that today even churchgoers are children of the Enlightenment with a better grasp of how the world works and less of a need for supernatural explanations than the authors of our scriptures. After having slept on it, however, I wonder if there isn’t another, more prosaic explanation for the dearth of miracles in the modern age—namely, a well-functioning state.  [Read more…]