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…]

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…]

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…]

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…]

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…]

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.

SCOTUS

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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…]

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.

[Read more…]

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…]

The Religious Liberty EO Is a Big Nothingburger

Yesterday, Donald Trump signed his 34th Executive Order, titled “Promoting Free Speech and Religious Liberty.” And, much to everybody’s surprise (really!), it doesn’t do anything. Like, at all.

I was interested because of rumors (backed up by leaks of early drafts) that it would fulfill his promise to “get rid of and totally destroy the Johnson Amendment.” Or, at least, that he would order the IRS to quit enforcing the prohibition on churches endorsing or opposing candidates for office.[fn1] In fact, the night before, there were reports that the EO would provide that the IRS should “exercise maximum enforcement discretion to alleviate the burden of the Johnson amendment which prohibits religious leaders from speaking about politics and candidate from the pulpit[.]”

Several colleagues and friends started discussing how we would divide the blogging duties over at The Surly Subgroup when the EO was signed and released. Then it was signed. Then it was released … and it didn’t look anything like what we expected, forcing us largely to rewrite our posts. If you’re interested in an explanation of what the so-called Johnson Amendment is, David Herzig explains it here. For a detailed, excellent review of what the EO actually says and does, Ben Leff has your back here. And if you decide that, in spite of the contentlessness of the EO, you want to sue,[fn2] I talk about some impediments you’ll face here. [Read more…]

Trump, Tax Reform, and Mormons

On Wednesday, Donald Trump released his tax reform plan.

Scratch that: he released a one-page outline detailing highlights of what he wants his tax reform plan to look like. But even with its limited details, as my friend and colleague David Herzig points out, it is worth taking seriously. Presidents have traditionally had some power to shape tax reform according to their priorities, and at the very least, Trump’s Wednesday memo provides insight into his tax preferences.

And, because this blog focuses on Mormonism, here’s a great place to ask this question: how will his tax priorities affect U.S. Mormons? [Read more…]

Refugees in The Book of Mormon: Ancient Light for a Modern Crisis

By Alicia Alba[1] (ed. Mel Henderson)

refugee: noun. ref· u· gee \ˌre-fyu̇-ˈjē\ An individual seeking refuge or asylum; especially: an individual who flees for safety (as from war), usually to a foreign country.

The Book of Mormon begins with a refugee story: Lehi was a wealthy landowner in ancient Jerusalem at a time of social and political unrest. Among the first things we learn is that Lehi was a good man who tried to share what he knew—but enemies emerged in his own community, men who “sought his life, that they might take it away” (1 Ne. 1:20). Lehi and his family were forced to flee. [Read more…]

Let Language Garnish Thy Virtue: The Subversive Language of Mormon Public Discourse in the Age of Trump

Jacob is a former perma at BCC, and shares his smart thoughts with us from time to time. 

 

Any time a Mormon luminary speaks is a good time to think about what’s going on with public Mormon discourse. Elaine Dalton’s recent remarks concerning virtue reveal how modern Mormon discourse attempts to resist and subvert the wider culture in which it lives. The way ‘virtue’ is used in that discourse has been combed over in online Mormonism for years, of course, but I’m thinking about it here with regard to the larger weave of how modern Mormonism has sought to re-define certain concepts and interpretations of traditional themes and values, not as a means of preserving them so much as a means of re-imagining them in order to deploy them toward specific ends. This always happens with new generations of practitioners, but I think it’s important to note here that this kind of orthodox religion-making is actually perceived by its makers and adopters as radical, not conservative or orthodox.

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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 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…]

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…]

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…]

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…]

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…]

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…]