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.

[Read more…]

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…]

Pastors’ Housing Revisited

The Chicago Temple First United Methodist Church may have the coolest parsonage anywhere.

The Chicago Temple First United Methodist Church may have the coolest parsonage anywhere.

Not quite three years ago, and again not quite two years ago, I wrote about a Freedom From Religion Foundation lawsuit against the IRS. In the suit, the FFRF argued that section 107 of the Internal Revenue Code was unconstitutional.

Quick refresher: in general, when your employer gives you something, that thing you receive is income to you. And it doesn’t matter if what you receive is cash, is property, or even is services. To the extent your employer gives you something of value, that’s income to you.

Congress has carved out a handful of exceptions to the general rule, though. Maybe most importantly, employer-provided health insurance is not treated as income. So those of us lucky enough to have health insurance provided by our employers don’t have to pay taxes on its value. Similarly, all kinds of fringe benefits are excluded.  [Read more…]

How Much Accommodation?

130114152903-abc-schoolhouse-rock-just-a-bill-horizontal-large-galleryLast week on The Surly Subgroup, I wrote about a bill making its way through the House right now. The last section of that bill would make it even harder than it already is for the IRS to audit churches it suspects have campaigning for or against candidates for office.

Reading the bill (and writing the post) crystallized for me a question I’ve had at the back of my mind: how much accommodation should we push for? That is, should there be an upper to the exceptions churches and other religious organizations seek from the law?  [Read more…]

Justice and Mercy: A Rape Survivor’s Perspective

Today’s guest post is from Rachael.

I was sexually abused as a child and later raped as a teenager and again as an adult. All of these horrific experiences were at the hands of LDS priesthood holders. Of course, those who did these things were sinning and were not true representatives of Christ or His priesthood. It was relatively easy for me to separate out in my mind these evil men from what I knew God wanted.  But it was much harder for me to figure out how to make sense of the good men, bishops and stake presidents, who counseled me to forgive, to bury the past, to not hold my perpetrators legally responsible.  Because I believed that these men were representatives of God, I believed them when they told me that it was God’s will that I let my rapists (and abusers) off the hook.  And so I did.  I earnestly practiced the forgiveness that I was taught to practice, burying any hint of anger the moment it tried to rise up in me, and consequently, I believe, that buried emotion took on a life of its own, to the detriment of my health. [Read more…]

The Mormon Church in the @PanamaPapers?!? [Updated]

[Update below]

Yesterday, the ICIJ released its searchable Panama Papers database. (For some background on the Panama Papers, you can look my BCC post or my Surly Subgroup post. Or the ICIJ’s site.) Some enterprising individual appears to have plugged Mormon-related words into the search bar, and came up with at least two hits: Bonneville International and Deseret Investment.

Now, this is exactly what we’re supposed to be doing with this database: searching for those who think they can use tax havens to avoid meeting their obligations. So should you be outraged that the church is doing this?

Short answer: no. But I’m a law professor, so the short answer is never enough.   [Read more…]

No Man is “Trash”

Angry? You bet. Tyler Glenn’s latest song and video boil with rage. Glenn, a gay man and former missionary, was embraced by the church for his advocacy in building the inclusivity bridge. That is, until the LDS church’s November 5th policy change regarding homosexuals—a change that codified those in same-gender marriages as apostates, required their excommunication, and forbade the baptism of their children under certain conditions. The policy change hit him hard, like a gut punch, he says. Feeling himself betrayed, denigrated, and literally dismissed over his sexual orientation, Glenn took a hard look at less-visited areas of Mormonism and decided he could no longer believe. The release of “Trash” depicts a stunning reversal of attitude toward his faith heritage. [Read more…]

Rape and The Miracle of Forgiveness

Today’s Guest Post is by Chris Kimball.

Although nobody accuses me, every time the (now out-of-print) The Miracle of Forgiveness comes up, I cringe and feel guilty. It’s really not my work and I know that. But the author is my grandfather Spencer Kimball and somehow I feel responsible in a vague but troubling way.

Rape is a difficult and touchy subject, yet I want to contribute to the discussion. I offer this as my personal opinion (I certainly cannot and would never claim to channel Spencer Kimball.) [Read more…]

Tl;dr: The #PanamaPapers

Note: if, for some reason, you’d rather get this information in the style of a morning newscast rather Panama_Skylinethan read it, I’ve got a link for you at the end of the post.

You’ve probably heard by now about the Panama Papers leak: basically, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists got 40 years of documents (about 11 million documents, or 2.6 terabytes of data) from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Mossack Fonseca apparently specializes in creating offshore entities and otherwise providing the tools people need to hide their money. (Note that the law firm claims it didn’t do anything wrong, and that there are non-illegal and -immoral reasons for putting money offshore.)

Even though there’s nothing Mormon about the leak, it’s a big enough thing that Mormons (and, frankly, everybody else) should know something about it. In Q&A format. [Read more…]

Presidential Elections, Churches, and the IRS

This month, I’m guest-blogging over at PrawfsBlawg, a law professor blog. Most of what I blog there will be tax law-oriented, without any connection to religion, but occasionally there will be a religious angle. Like today, where I talk a little about the prohibition on churches’ (and other tax-exempt organizations’) endorsing or opposing candidates for office. If you’re interested, pop on over and tell me what you think.

Is My Religion Going to Get Me Audited by the IRS?

irs-audit-red-flags-the-dirty-dozenShort answer: no.

Longer answer: actually, still no.

Context:  [Read more…]

Bankruptcy and a Book of Mormon

Note that this isn't the Book of Mormon the debtor got to keep

Note that this isn’t the Book of Mormon the debtor got to keep

I was walking through the mailroom at work today and, out of the corner of my eye, I noticed the word “Mormon” in newspaper headline. Mormonism doesn’t come up much in the news around here, so I took a second look. On the front page—in fact, above the fold—of the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, a legal newspaper here, was the headline “Debtor can keep rare Book of Mormon.”[fn1]

Now, I’m not a bankruptcy person,[fn2] but the story is too good to pass up, so here goes: [Read more…]

Ted Cruz and Tithing

TithingOkay, so this post isn’t actually about Ted Cruz; it’s more inspired by an article McKay Coppins posted today on recent Evangelical criticisms of Ted Cruz. In short, Cruz, a Baptist, is courting the Evangelical vote. But he’s facing pushback from some Evangelicals (including Mike Huckabee), who argue that his charitable giving (roughly 1% of his income) belies his claim of authentic Christianity which, according to them, demands a 10-percent tithe.

So tithing. As Mormons, we’re squarely in the 10-percent-(of-gross-or-net-or-something)-to-the-church camp. But is ten percent (a tithe, after all) to the church the inevitable conclusion for what represents appropriate religious giving? Not surprisingly, no. [Read more…]

Celebrating Dr. King

 

martin-luther-king“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Two years ago, as part of the Mormon Lectionary Project, John offered us a remembrance of and a powerful sermon on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.[fn1]

Today is, again, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. And, while I can’t add to what John said, or make it more powerful, I can offer this quick reflection:  [Read more…]

Are Mormons Anti-Modernists?

As the Ammon Bundy headlines continue to dominate the news cycle, many have been wondering whether these views are inherently Mormon as the Bundy clan claims or if Mormonism encourages these types of attitudes.  While this episode has a libertarian theme, which may or may not relate to the question of anti-modernism, I wanted to revisit a post I wrote in 2013 about the anti-modernist streak that seems to be emerging in various faith traditions, including Mormonism.

[Read more…]

Should the Church Excommunicate Ammon Bundy?

No.

I mean, I get why people think otherwise. Recently, people have been excommunicated, among other reasons, for advocating women’s ordination to the priesthood and for marrying the person they love.[fn1] Ammon and his cohort have adopted the grammar of Mormonism and Mormon scripture to justify their armed trespass (or sedition or terrorism or whatever—let’s just say their lawbreaking), a justification that the church forcefully and unequivocally rejected.[fn2] Their actions are a clear violation of the 12th Article of Faith and certainly do more harm, both socially and to the reputation of the church, than trying to get into the Priesthood session of Conference or marrying a same-sex partner, and it seems unfair that Bundy et al. won’t face any ecclesiastical consequences.[fn3] [Read more…]

The Rise of Zuism

sumeranu14_17For the last day or so, English-language media has been awash in news of a new-old Icelandic religion: Zuism.

Okay, maybe “awash” is the wrong word; still, Zuism has captured the media’s imagination.

What is Zuism? It’s a recent Icelandic religion that focuses on the worship of ancient Sumerian gods. Originally established in 2013, in 2014, it only had four registered members. Today, though, it appears to have roughly 3,000 members (or 1% of the Icelandic population), an explosive growth rate. What’s leading to that crazy growth?

If you believe the media, taxes.  [Read more…]

Book Review: How the Other Half Banks

How the other half banks coverBy Common Consent may seem like an odd place to review Mehrsa Baradaran‘s excellent How the Other Half Banks: Exclusion, Exploitation, and the Threat to Democracy (Harvard University Press, 2015) [Amazon]. Although Professor Baradaran is Mormon, the book has little explicitly Mormon content (I mean, it does mention a couple of Sen. Wallace Bennett’s interactions with the regulation of banks, but that’s as close as I remember it getting).

That said, as Mormons, we’ve been encouraged to become informed and involved in our communities. And understanding banking, especially as it relates to the poor, is, if not absolutely essential to that charge, at least tremendously important.  [Read more…]

How Offended Should I Be? Humanitarian Edition

impact_financial

The Church just released its UK financial statements.[fn1] And with the release has come a fair amount of internet hand-wringing about some of the details.[fn2] Two details, in particular, seem to be bothering people: salary information and the lack of spending from the British Church’s humanitarian fund.

So should these things bother you?

Honestly, I can’t say. But I can say that, before you decide to be bothered (or, for that matter, before you decide not to be bothered), there are a couple questions you should ask.[fn3]  [Read more…]

The Body of Christ as a Force Multiplier (Elder Christofferson) #ldsconf

The European refugee crisis is hardly a bolt from the blue–it’s long been in the making–but when streams of refugees started pouring over the border from Hungary into Austria in early September it caught me flat-footed. [Read more…]

Manufactured Prejudice

Last year, a commenter stated that in his stake at a recent meeting with a Q&A session with a general authority, two of the seven questions asked were how to get youth to accept the church’s stance on homosexuality. [1]  This is a question that I have wondered about myself as a mother of teens who likewise don’t agree that homosexuality is the dire threat the church portrays. They have been consistently taught in school that being gay is innate and acceptable, that gay kids should be treated with respect, and that bullying will not be tolerated and is morally wrong. [2]  As a result of the world in which they live, they do not inherently feel homosexuality is shameful, and they have friends in school who openly self-identify as gay.  This is a pretty big change from the era in which I was raised and an even bigger change from when older generations were raised. [Read more…]