What I Learned in the Silence

seaphoto-1470075159259-7b2aa8d41e77

Natalie Brown is a former By Common Consent blogger. She is currently writing a memoir on the stories we tell about houses. You can follow her on Twitter @BtwnHouseHome.

The prophet invited Mormon women to take a break from social media, and they listened. My networks went silent with friends gone ghost. I know this, because I logged on occasionally to check announcements. What I discovered was a wasteland of quiet. I began logging on deliberately to process the silence, sharing my thoughts about the fast into the void it left behind. Wondering occasionally what other Mormons might think when they saw the dates and timestamps of my posts.

I learned in the silence that it is primarily Mormon women who amplify my voice. With Mormon women mostly absent, fewer people engaged with me. Although my networks include men and women, Mormons and non-Mormons, it is disproportionately Mormon women who comment, retweet or like what I have to say. I can’t fully explain why this is so, but my voice is diminished in their absence.

[Read more…]

Two Quick Things Related to the Freedom From Religion Foundation

A quick announcement, and a quick related link:

I’ve been blogging about the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s suit challenging the parsonage allowance for several years, both here and at Surly Subgroup (and, at least once, at Times and Seasons). And, a week from Wednesday, the Seventh Circuit is going to hear oral arguments in the case. Right here in Chicago! Which means you know where I’ll be Wednesday, Oct. 24, at 9:30 am.

And, in anticipation of the case, Professor Anthony Kreis and I are going to do a preview of the case. This Wednesday at noon, here at the Loyola University Chicago law school. If you’re in the Chicagoland area, please feel free to come. The discussion will be great, and there’ll be pizza! (If you’re interested in coming, I’m attaching the official announcement at the bottom of this post; please RSVP here so we have a rough count of how much pizza to order.) [Read more…]

When Religious Tax Accommodations Are Inconsistent

On Wednesday, October 24, the Seventh Circuit is going to hear arguments in the appeal of Gaylor v. Mnuchin. I’ve written about this parsonage allowance case a number of times in the past (see here and here for examples), but as a quick summary: section 107(2) of the Code says that “ministers of the gospel” don’t have to include rental allowances in gross income. Several years ago, the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged this parsonage allowance on the grounds that it violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. They won in the district court, but the Seventh Circuit found that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to challenge the provision.

The Seventh Circuit also suggested, in a footnote, that if they claimed a parsonage allowance and the IRS rejected their claim, they might have standing. So they did, the IRS did, and the district court again found the provision unconstitutional. And now the Seventh Circuit will weigh in (again).

As a side note, this provision (as well as a bunch of others) made their way into God and the IRS, the book I wrote that was recently published about tax accommodations of religious individuals. The fundamental purpose of the book was to illustrate the ad hoc nature of religious accommodations in the tax law, and develop a framework that could provide some consistency as Congress and the IRS consider providing these accommodations. [Read more…]

Required Training

On Monday, I got an email from HR reminding me that, as part of the school’s Harassment Prevention & Business Skills initiative, I needed to complete an online Sexual Harassment for Employees course.

I did it that same day, largely because if I don’t get to a work email almost immediately, it can slip out of my mind. And I prefer not to forget to do things that are required for my employment.

The training was basically a series of videos essentially aimed at letting us know what constitutes sexual harassment, with the dual purpose of ensuring that (1) if we’re harassed, we understand our rights and what we can and should do about it, and (2) we don’t do things that constitute sexual harassment. After watching the videos, I had to take a short multiple choice quiz to pass the course. All in all, it took something less than half an hour to complete. [Read more…]

Omit the Sexual Details

The first time I heard the word “masturbation,”  I was 12 years old and sitting in my bishop’s office.

I believe we were discussing a limited use recommend for an upcoming temple trip.  I remember the bishop walking through the 1990 version of For the Strength of Youth, which used a lot of large, sexual words I did not know — like “petting” and “perversion” and “pornography.”

My bishop defined them for me.  When he realized I had no idea what he was talking about, he apologized.  He explained how due to the evils of the world, children were getting exposed to sex and having their innocence corrupted by Satan younger and younger.  As much as he hated the topic, he felt like it was his pastoral duty to make sure the youth knew what constituted sin.

[Read more…]

Socialism and Satan’s Plan

Via GIPHY

It happened. Again. On Mormon Twitter, someone mentioned socialism, to which somebody responded that socialism was Satan’s plan. (There were a couple other responses I saw that hinted at the same thing, but didn’t explicitly say it. And maybe there were others who said something similar. It’s not like I looked for every response to the tweet.)

To which I reply: that’s not the stupidest assertion based on Mormon theology ever. But it may well be in the top ten. [Read more…]

Marijuana, Mormon Lobbying, and Tax Exemption

Scrolling through Twitter this morning, this tweet caught my eye:

Curious, I looked at the replies and, sure enough, the first three I read had some variation of, “Well, the Mormon church has to lose its tax exemption now, right?”[fn1] After replying to them, I decided that it would probably be easier to write an explainer than to reply to each one individually.

So: has the church risked its exemption by lobbying against the legalization of medical marijuana in Utah? Short answer: no. [Read more…]

Can the Ecclesiastical Endorsement Process Be Fixed?

Over the weekend, a Salt Lake Tribune article highlighted an enormous problem at the BYUs: the annual ecclesiastical endorsement process means that bishops can circumvent the amnesty clause that BYU added to its sexual misconduct policy.[fn1]

And why is that bad? Richelle Wilson gave us an excellent explanation of the problems with weaponizing the ecclesiastical endorsement process, and Angela C. explained clearly some of the dangers of a view of sin that leads to disregarding others’ welfare. So is it bad that a bishop can get a student expelled for something the Honor Code Office explicitly wouldn’t? Absolutely; Richelle and Angela have made an airtight moral and ethical case for it. And I would add, as a policy matter, that it is bad, too. BYU has made the explicit decision that encouraging students to report sexual assault is more important than disciplining them for breaking the Honor Code. This “loophole” will chill the reporting that BYU wants (rightly) to encourage.

So what can BYU do about it? The short answer is, I have no idea. But the longer answer is, I have several ideas. [Read more…]

Harm vs. Purity

Recently, the SL Tribune broke the story about a BYU-I student who came forward about being sexually assaulted and was suspended from school for two semesters for drinking. She states that she did not confess drinking to her bishop, but that her attacker outed her for drinking, leading to her suspension.

“I knew I was in the wrong, I knew she was in the wrong,” he said. “I only went to the bishop so I could work on what I needed to work on. I didn’t go with any intentions to report her and retaliate. I was hoping she could work on her stuff, too … so she can be helped with drinking and following the Honor Code.” – Sexual assault guy

You didn’t intend to retaliate. Riiiight. You are just so helpful and concerned for the relative stranger you groped when she was incapacitated that you wanted to be sure her bishop could assist her in the repentance process. Thank you, Mr. Helpful. It’s a time-tested practice of sexual assaulters to minimize their offense by creating a false equivalence in questioning the behavior of their victim. We should certainly quit falling for it when it happens.

This points to the loophole that exists in the BYU-I school’s Title IX provision, but on a broader level, it points to an ethical question as it relates to understanding sin. [Read more…]

Indiana Interfaith Vigil Against Hate

Indiana is my home.  I grew up north of Indianapolis, in the suburbs of Hamilton County.  This is what my part of Indiana looks like — abundant greenery, small country hills, midwestern sunsets, cornfields.

2986888163_2202c31c52_o

Hamilton County is one of the reddest counties in a red state.  It’s filled with upper-middle class suburbs, booming megachurches, top-tier public school districts, and well-funded infrastructure and government.  It’s an amazing place to raise a family.  I learned love and community and hard work there.
[Read more…]

The Loveloud Foundation

According to my Facebook feed, Saturday was the Loveloud Festival in Salt Lake. Now in its second year, Loveloud is meant to provide love and acceptance for LGBTQ+ kids. If you’ve followed my #MutualNight posts, you can probably guess that, even if I lived in Utah, I wouldn’t have gone. I’m 100% behind the festival’s message and its goals, but I’m not a big fan of its music.

I am, however, a big fan of charitable organizations. And guess what? The sponsoring organization of the festival is the Loveloud Foundation, a tax-exempt public charity.[fn1]

Now I don’t know a lot of details about the Loveloud Foundation; it received its tax exemption last year, and hasn’t filed a Form 990 yet. (Next year it will file the form, which is a public document.) But there are a couple broad things that we know about it just by virtue of its being tax-exempt. So let’s have a Q&A explainer! [Read more…]

A Few Remarks about Refugees and Asylum on World Refugee Day

On the occasion of World Refugee Day, and in light of the current US administration’s family separation policy, which apparently applies to those seeking asylum as well, I thought I’d share my (limited) experience with refugees as well as clarify some misconceptions about who qualifies for asylum under international law.  [Read more…]

Iftar Against Islamophobia

Yesterday I was asked to give a two-minute speech at the protest iftar in front of the White House.  The entire event featuring Muslim and interfaith leaders was livestreamed.  (My speech alone is here.)  The protest iftar’s purpose was to highlight that the Trump Administration had intentionally excluded American Muslims from its contemporaneous iftar. 

carolyn1

As-Salaam Alaikum and Ramadan Mubarak.  My name is Carolyn Homer.  I am a Mormon and a civil rights attorney at CAIR.

When Donald Trump called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” the Mormon Church responded by proclaiming that we are “not neutral in relation to religious freedom.”  I took action by joining CAIR.  It is my faith that compels me to defend the Constitution against this Administration.  [Read more…]

Mormon Whisper Networks and #MeToo

953648007_0311aaea43_b

In every singles ward I’ve ever attended, there have been predators.

Often they are charming, talented, witty men. Often they are proactive about quoting prophets and volunteering for service projects and asking women on dates. To their fellow Elders Quorumites, the predators are often indistinguishable from ordinary Priesthood holders.

But women suspect trouble. Stories of terrible dates, of over-aggressive advances, of nasty breakups and refusing to respect boundaries, quietly percolate among Relief Societies. When these women see a creepy or known threat approaching a friend, they quietly pull her aside and whisper a word of warning. [Read more…]

Tithing and Coercion

A number of comments on my post yesterday talked about the coercive nature of tithing. I thought I’d follow up on that idea in a new post, with two principal thoughts.

A History of Tithing and Coercion

The idea that tithing is coercive has a long and storied history. It may well predate 1870, but I know it goes back at least that far. I give more details about it on p. 139 of this paper, but the short of it is, the Bureau of Internal Revenue was trying to tax the church on its 1868 tithing revenue. One of the church’s assertions for why tithing was not taxable was that tithing represented a voluntary contribution by members. [Read more…]

$32 Billion?!?

On Wednesday, MormonLeaks announced that they had connected the church to $32 billion in U.S. stock market investments. [KUTV story.] And how did it figure this out? Ingeniously, actually: it looked at the Form 13Fs for thirteen LLCs to see their stock holdings, and it discovered that domain names matching the LLCs’ names were registered to Intellectual Reserve, Inc., which holds the church’s intellectual property.

So, should you be outraged that the church has at least $32 billion in the stock market? I mean, sure, if you’re a fan of being outraged by stories of religions having money (though frankly, if that’s what you’re in the mood for, maybe this is a better source of outrage). But it’s probably worth taking a minute to figure out what we do and don’t know before going full-throated outraged. [Read more…]

Of Mormons, Baptists, and Liberty of Conscience

Given the recent revival of the kerfuffle between Robert Jeffress and Mitt Romney (see Mike’s recent post), along with Jeffress’s appeal to “historical Christianity” in his rebuttal to Romney, I am reposting here something I wrote back in 2011 at State of Formation. Plus ça change…

On 7 October [2011], Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, was speaking to reporters outside the Values Voter Summit in Washington, DC, where he had just introduced Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry. Taking aim at Perry’s rival for the nomination, Mitt Romney, Jeffress said that Romney, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “is not a Christian.” Jeffress went on to say, “This idea that Mormonism is a theological cult is not news…. That has been the historical position of Christianity for a long time.”

Jeffress has a point: evangelicals have long been uncomfortable with Mormonism, and significant theological differences—most notably over Christology—exist between the two groups. I’m not going to attempt to resolve those differences here, or to defend the proposition that Mormons are in fact Christian (even though I, as a Mormon, affirm my own faith in Christ).

Rather, I wish to seize on an opportunity inadvertently opened by Jeffress’s overly broad invocation of “the historical position of Christianity” to argue that Mormons and Baptists ought to make common cause in opposing the use of such appeals as tests of religious orthodoxy, let alone as de facto religious tests of fitness for political office.

[Read more…]

Immigration and the Twelfth Article of Faith

In the last couple days, an apparently Mormon Twitter user claimed to have reported someone in his ward to ICE, which started deportation proceedings against the family. I’m dubious of the claim, frankly: this person has a history of acting as trollishly as possible to get reactions. (And, for that reason, I’m not going to name him or link to his tweets—if you really want to see it, it’s not hard to find.)

However, in the last couple of days, we at BCC have verified instances where Mormons have called ICE on their ward members. I assume they claim they’re doing it because of the Twelfth Article of Faith, and especially that part that says that we believe in “obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.”

Upfront: those people are lying. They’re calling ICE because they’re racists, xenophobes, or otherwise un-Christian-like.[fn1] [Read more…]

Book Announcement: God and the IRS

I’m thrilled to announce that my book God and the IRS: Accommodating Religious Practice in United States Tax Law (New York: Cambridge UP, 2018) has just been published and is available for your reading pleasure.

As background to the book, the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment (as well as the jurisprudence courts have used to interpret and apply the Religion Clauses) have a sometimes-complicated interplay. Because the law sometimes imposes on individuals’ ability to practice their religion, the government can sometimes accommodate their religious practice, exempting religious individuals from generally-applicable laws. At the same time, though, in general, the law can’t favor religion over non-religion; as a result, sometimes religious people can’t get an exemption from the generally-applicable law. A lot of religious litigation turns on where, in a given situation, the line between permissible and impermissible accommodation falls. [Read more…]

Stand with Muslims as they fight against bigotry

rally

Carolyn at the impromptu Muslim Ban protest march on January 29, 2017

The Supreme Court hears arguments on the Muslim Ban tomorrow.  I’ll be in the courtroom, and with hundreds of civil rights supporters at the rally on the courthouse steps.  Join me.  As the Fourth Circuit has declared, the Muslim Ban violates the Establishment Clause and is “unconstitutionally tainted with animus towards Islam.”

Everytime I talk to Muslim friends, colleagues, and even taxi drivers, I hear the same themes over and over again – children bullied as “terrorists” at school, women harangued for wearing headscarfs (with aggressors sometimes forcibly yanking religious headcoverings off), graffiti and vandalism to businesses, threats and firebombs at mosques.

 

[Read more…]

Taxsplainer: How the Utah Legislature Is Raising Taxes By Doing Nothing

The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that the Utah legislature has just enacted a large tax increase on many Utah families, in spite of its putative 0.05 percentage-point tax cut. How can that be? [Read more…]

On Kirton McConkie’s (Lack of) Women Shareholders

The other night, I was listening to the most recent Slate Money podcast. In its second segment, the hosts talked about the recent gender pay report in the United Kingdom. They specifically mentioned about Goldman Sachs and Condé Nast, both of which, it turns out, have a pretty sizeable gender pay difference.[fn1]

There are undoubtedly many reasons why men’s income was significantly higher than women’s, but the podcast highlighted one in particular: high earners. At Goldman, women make up only 17% of the top quartile by income. At Condé Nast, there are more women at every income quartile, but it appears that incomes are skewed by the top 5%; in fact, the five-person executive committee is entirely men. [Read more…]

Church Updates Abuse Policies

At the close of business today, the Church updated its advice document, “Preventing and Responding to Abuse.”  As described by the Deseret News, the major changes are the following language:

• “Members should never be encouraged to remain in a home or situation that is abusive or unsafe.”

• “When a member of a stake presidency or bishopric or another assigned leader meets with a child, youth, or woman, he or she should ask a parent or another adult to be in an adjoining room, foyer, or hall. If the person being interviewed desires, another adult may be invited to participate in the interview. Leaders should avoid all circumstances that could be misunderstood.”

• “Church leaders should never disregard a report of abuse or counsel a member not to report criminal activity to law enforcement personnel.”

• “At least two adults must be present on all church-sponsored activities attended by youth or children.”

These are important changes, and I welcome them.  (I wish they had been explicitly stated decades ago, and there’s a lot further to go, but as an initial sign of serious commitment to change, I’ll take it.)   [Read more…]

Why Mormons Should Root For the Ramblers in the NCAA Tournament

So there are four teams left: Kansas, Villanova, Michigan, and Loyola University Chicago. And as Mormons, you should probably be cheering for Loyola this weekend. Why? Let me count the reasons:

Your team’s out anyway

I mean, unless you’re a fan of Kansas, Villanova, or Michigan, in which case I assume you’ll be rooting against Loyola (though you can still cheer for the Ramblers!). But there are no Mormon-adjacent schools left. BYU? Never been to the Final Four. (In fact, it holds the kind of depressing record for most trips to the tournament without making the Final Four.) [Read more…]

Women in Jazz #MutualNight

(Quick reminder: if you’re curious why I’m writing about music on a Mormon blog, this post will summarize what #MutualNight posts are.)

We’re nearing the end of Women’s History Month; in light of both the month and the current environment of #MeToo, I thought it might be worth looking at women in jazz.

Because honestly, women have historically been excluded from jazz. Sure, you can point me to Billie and Ella and Nancy Wilson and maybe even Carmen McRae. And you know what? They’re all singers. They’re amazing singers, but, while “[w]omen singers were tolerated and even spotlighted, especially with the advent of the big band era, … [women] instrumentalists had a much tougher time of it.“[fn1] [Read more…]

The Burden of Choosing to Believe

4270707735_9a80ac4d13_o

Image Credit: Delphine Devos

“I envy you your faith, somedays,” an agnostic friend in college once remarked as we ate lunch in the spring sunshine.  “I wish I could have faith.”

“You can, you know.   Faith is a choice,” I urged with perhaps a touch too much missionary zeal.  “In the Book of Mormon there’s a famous sermon about how faith is like a science experiment.  If you even have just a ‘desire to believe,” and choose to act on that desire, you’ll feel God’s love, and see results.”

 

“But logic is too deeply engrained in me for that to work,” he responded.  “I’d just dismiss any positive feeling as a weird firing of brain chemicals, a manufactured emotional manipulation.  It’s not tangible or real.” [Read more…]

Holding An Abuser Accountable

With the latest news story about Joseph L. Bishop, the former MTC president accused of sexually assaulting women serving missions, there have been a lot of discussions in online forums, including many women who’ve shared personal experiences of going to leaders for help when they were victims of assault, only to be told that the leader could not or would not pursue any disciplinary action against their attacker. In some cases, the individuals they accused went on to assault others. Given that the church is firmly on record as being against any abuse, in very strongly worded terms, even considering it as an impediment to entrance to the temple, how do these things happen as often as I’ve heard about them? [Read more…]

Protests, Parkland, and BYU

In the nearly-immediate wake of the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the superintendent of a Texas school district announced that students who participated in protests (or “awarenesses,” whatever those are) would face a three-day suspension.[fn1]

There was immediate blowback; the Parkland shooting have led to a remarkable level of engagement among high school students on issues of gun violence and regulation. But the threat of suspension could have a significant chilling effect on student activism: colleges can revoke acceptances for, among other things, disciplinary actions. So in theory, a student in the Needville Independent School District, who has already been accepted to college, could have her acceptance revoked if she participated in a protest (or awareness!) and was suspended. [Read more…]

Domestic Abuse Resources for Bishops

Laura Brignone Bhagwat is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies technology and domestic violence.  Her dissertation tracks a public health intervention in hospital emergency rooms meant to prevent intimate partner homicide.

On a hot summer morning last year, I sat in a small room with fifteen pastors and ministers. Coffee and pastries were tucked into a corner, and the men and women of my county’s Interfaith Coalition to End Domestic Violence were introducing themselves. At the end of introductions, the pastor facilitating the meeting asked: “What are the biggest challenges facing your congregation when it comes to domestic violence?”

The answers started flying. “The abuser is a member of our church board!” “She just keeps going back to him and I don’t know what to do.” “Women in our church are taught to be meek and submissive, so when the abuser tells them something, they think they have no options.” “Victims are often looked down on when they speak out.” “Abusers misuse scripture to justify their actions.” “Even after [theological] seminary, I just don’t feel I have the training I need to respond to this issue.” [Read more…]

We Must Do Better On Violence Against Women

I am sick of Mormon women not being believed about abuse.

I can’t even count the number of first-hand accounts I’ve heard at this point, and I only started paying attention a few years ago.  Easily dozens.  Probably hundreds.

But they all go the same way.  A Mormon woman is a chaste, obedient, temple-worthy, nurturing woman.  She gets married in the temple, moves in with her brand-new husband, and desires to start her eternal family. Within mere weeks or months, it becomes obvious her husband is angry, controlling, and abusive.  He usually quotes Church authority about men presiding and women hearkening to justify the behavior.

She doesn’t like it, but she tries to accept it.  She has been taught that she must protect her temple marriage above all else.  She has been taught that her husband is the leader of the home, and she needs to respect his authority.  She has been taught that if she just prays harder, submits harder, follows traditional gender roles harder, the problems will go away.  

They don’t go away.  They get worse. [Read more…]