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. 

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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

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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

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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

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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…]

Memories of President Monson

President Monson has died.  I hope he and his dear wife, Frances Monson (d. 2013), are celebrating a joyful reunion this morning.

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Photo courtesy of LDS.org

Our dear prophet spent more than 60 years of his life devoted to the Church, serving as a Bishop in his 20s, a Mission President in his 30s, and then as an apostle since the age of 36.  He strived to follow Christ, preaching the gospel through his words and actions.  He proclaimed peace, cared for the widows, and loved the children. [Read more…]

The Median Mormon Family and the Tax Plan

Plenty of people are wondering how the GOP tax bill will affect them personally. Although pretty much everybody has been wondering, the Washington Post recently spotlighted a Mormon family with those questions. So I decided to take a look.

A quick disclaimer first: the answer is, it totally depends on your personal situation. And because of that, I’ve decided to construct an average (or sometimes median) Mormon family. I’ve constructed them with their Mormonism in mind where I could find specific Mormon stuff; where I couldn’t, I used Utah data. And I totally get that that’s not 100% accurate. Most Mormons aren’t in Utah, and a significant percentage of Utahns aren’t Mormon.

Still, it’s good enough to give a rough, blog-worthy estimate. So, without further ado, meet the Nephi family!  [Read more…]

Mormons and the Tax Bill

Five and a half weeks ago, I posted about a couple ways that the House tax bill would impact Mormons and the Mormon church. Since that time, the House passed its tax bill and the Senate passed its bill. The bills differed, so they went to a conference committee, where (GOP) Senators and Representatives tried to come up with a compromise that both houses of Congress could agree on.

And this afternoon, they released their bill; the GOP wants to pass it before Christmas.

Now, I haven’t had time to go through all 503 pages[fn1] of the bill; still, given that I did a preview of changes that would affect the church and Mormons, I thought I’d revisit them in light of the new tax bill.  [Read more…]

Book Review: The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth and Corporate Power

D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Wealth and Corporate Power (Salt Lake City: Signature Books, 2017).

When I heard that the third volume of Quinn’s Mormon Hierarchy trilogy would deal with the Mormon church and money, I was totally excited. I love exploring how religions deal with money (and, for that matter, how money deals with religions). And I figured that Quinn would have encyclopedic knowledge of Mormonism and money; he has, after all, written about it in the past. And when I saw that the Kindle version was selling for just $9, what could I do? So I downloaded it and read it.

First the good: Quinn has assembled an impressive amount of information related to the LDS church and money. Nearly 200 years’ worth. Some of his history I was familiar with; a good portion (especially dealing with early-20th-century Utah) I wasn’t. For instance, he has a fascinating snippet of discussion about the church and property tax exemption (both in Utah and throughout the world).[fn1] It’s too brief, and seems at some points to conflate property and income tax exemptions, but I’m entirely sure I’ll return to this part of the book in future projects that I look at. [Read more…]

One Cake To Rule Them All   

 24882859_10110373489206339_49640615_oWalking out of the Masterpiece Cakeshop argument at the Supreme Court this morning, I encountered a wall of sound.  The sidewalk teemed with supporters and protestors, waving placards and flags, as media cameras swarmed.  Bakery advocates chanted “Justice for Jack,” while competing chants of “Love Conquers All” erupted on behalf of Charlie Craig and David Mullins.

I love America.  What else is free speech, if not the ability to peacefully hold competing rallies on the Supreme Court steps? [Read more…]

Quick Update on Politicking at Church

On Monday, I wrote about a couple ways that the House tax bill might impact Mormons. Well, today Kevin Brady, the chair of the Ways and Means Committee, introduced an amendment to that bill. One of those ways was by carving out a small exception to the so-called Johnson Amendment for churches.[fn1] There was a lot of discussion swirling around over whether eliminating it only for churches would violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

Well, apparently Brady didn’t want to take that risk. His amendment expands the exemption to all tax-exempt organizations. [Read more…]

Mormons and H.R. 1

On Thursday, the House released H.R. 1, its fundamental tax reform bill. (It also released an 82-page summary of the 400+-page bill, and a 300-page JCT report on the bill.)

Now, the bill that has been presented isn’t the law that will be enacted (if any is enacted); the House is scheduled to start marking the bill up today. Still, it presents a view of the House Republicans’ vision for tax reform. I wanted to highlight three provisions that would directly impact the church and Mormons as a result of their religious practices. [Read more…]

Halloween Haters

Image result for stranger thingsAre you a Halloween hater? A few years ago, I was surprised when one of my Australian colleagues was dissing on Halloween! His complaints were somewhat standard: “The kids don’t need all that sugar!,” “It’s American colonialist propaganda!,” “It’s not safe for the kids to go wandering the neighborhoods hopped up on sugar!,” “It’s a school night!” Everything he hated about Halloween is what I love about it. Moreover, Halloween is both responsible parenting and the best kind of American colonialism.

This weekend many of us gathered together, independently in the sanctity of our own homes, for a new American ritual: the Netflix binge. We watched, separately and yet jointly, all 9 episodes of season 2 of Stranger Things. This season opened with the kids of Hawkins preparing for that most American of holidays: Halloween. They did the things we all did at middle school age: discussed the various merits of different candy bars, opined over dressing up at school (being on that cusp between childhood and teenagerdom sucks), and fretted over the details of their incredibly professional-looking Ghostbusters costumes. All while dealing with the palpable, ominous strangeness in the town around them. This is what Halloween is all about: the fun, superficial “tricks” suitable for kids, and the true danger and evil lurking beneath the veneer of polite society. [Read more…]

BYU and Classical Radio

BYU has just announced that it is planning on dropping Classical 89, the classical music radio station that it runs.

I’m going to be tremendously blunt: this is a terrible idea, and it betrays the school’s educational mission.[fn1]

I understand that classical music doesn’t have the listenership it did once upon a time: in 2013, less than 3% of album sales were of classical music. And there has been a trend for a while of classical stations shifting to alternate formats.[fn2] And I get that consultants and industry professionals recommended the change. But BYU’s in a unique position that allows it to ignore consultants.

A quick personal story: [Read more…]

Erasing Race

We’ve had some outstanding Relief Society lessons in my ward this year, owing to the great teachers we have. Recently, we were talking about how to talk with people not of our faith or culture, basically how to get along with everyone without being a jerk. Something like that. I was in and out a little bit. [Read more…]

Pastors’ Housing Revisited (Again)

(Note: this is the fourth installment of a series (Part 1: Money for Nothing and the Housing for Free; Part 2: Pastors’ Housing, Take 2; Part 3: Pastors’ Housing Revisited) that spans four years and isn’t over yet.)

Today, a district court in the Western District of Wisconsin ruled that section 107(2) of the Internal Revenue Code is unconstitutional. Again.

So what’s section 107(2)? And what relevance could it possibly have for a Mormon blogging audience? I’m so glad you asked.

Background [Read more…]