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…]

The ground game is in our hearts

I’ve tried to write a coherent post-election post, but nothing comes together. It’s probably because I still haven’t decided what to make of the result. I was as shocked as the next person (unless the next person was Bill Mitchell) that Trump won, and so decisively too. Like a lot of folks, I really underestimated the number of white voters. In my defense, I don’t do this for a living. But I feel more than a little silly for having overlooked the most relevant fact: both candidates were about equally disliked and distrusted, and the one who was currently in the spotlight always suffered for it. Apparently, Trump’s campaign managers managed in the last week to do what they’d failed to do for the previous 15 months—take his iPhone away so he couldn’t Tweet something stupid to distract people from whatever was happening with Hillary. I guess I didn’t notice because I gave up on this election in July. [Read more…]

Partisan Journalism & Hiring POTUS

Image result for political polarizationI and many others have talked in other OPs this election season about reasons Mormons disagree about this election and how we can see such strong differences of opinion among people who seem to share common values. With election day looming large, I wanted to finish off with one last look at the psychology of voting in 2016 to try to understand what I’m seeing when beloved ward members, friends and colleagues make political statements on their Facebook status that leave me baffled or worse, losing respect for them. Rather than criticizing one another, perhaps it’s better to take a minute to understand what’s behind our differences. [Read more…]

Hostile Sexism and LDS Trump Supporters

An article in Vox showed the statistical correlation between Trump supporters and hostile sexism. One interesting aspect of this analysis was that this is not an issue of Republicans in general being hostile to women, just a correlation between those who are and those who support Trump. The trend was not the same when Romney ran in 2012. Romney appealed to benevolent sexists rather than hostile sexists. The difference, as they say, is yuge. [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…]

Stop Skipping the Establishment Clause

For as much as we love religious freedom (BYU just finished its annual two-day conference on the topic), Mormons don’t pay much attention to the Establishment Clause.  Which, if you think about it, is astounding.  What else is Mormonism, if not the greatest Establishment Clause failure of the 19th Century?

Today’s guest post is from Carolyn Homer.  Carolyn Homer is an attorney and religion constitutional law enthusiast in California. She has represented the Anti-Defamation League and other religious organizations as amici before the U.S. Supreme Court, most recently in Zubik v. Burwell, which concerned religious exemptions to the Affordable Care Act. [Read more…]

Happy Tax Day! (Unless You Live in MA or ME)

Brigham Young, c. 1870

Brigham Young, c. 1870

Most years (at least when I remember), I like to do a Tax Day post.[fn1] (And yes, I get that Tax Day statutorily falls on April 15 for calendar year taxpayers, and I get that April 15 was Friday. But Friday was also the observation of Emancipation Day in D.C., which pushed Tax Day to today. Except in Massachusetts and Maine, where today is apparently Patriots’ Day, which means Tax Day is tomorrow.)

For this year’s Mormon-y Tax Day celebration, we’re going back to the Civil War-era income tax. It only lasted a decade, from 1861-1871, but, in that time, it managed to ensnare itself with the Mormons out in Utah.  [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…]

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…]

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…]

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…]

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…]

The Church Will Not Lose Its Tax-Exempt Status

Do I seriously have to say this? Again? Look, Obergefell does not mark the end of churches’ tax-exempt status. It’s just not going to happen.

I thought I’d put this bit of end-of-days hand-wringing to bed here, but apparently I didn’t do a good enough job, because it’s still out there, even in Mormon circles (most credibly repeated by Gene Schaerr, who included loss of church tax-exempt status as one of the potential consequences of of the Obergefell decision).

I don’t know Schaerr personally; I’ve heard through the grapevine that he’s an excellent appellate litigator. But appellate litigation is not tax practice, and does not generally provide any insight into the tax law. And Schaerr apparently doesn’t have any significant insight into the law of tax-exempt entities.  [Read more…]

Tax Exemption, Post-Obergefell

… will look a lot like tax exemption, pre-Obergefell.

There’s been a lot of Sturm und Drang recently over what will happen to the tax exemptions of churches and religiously-affiliated schools that oppose same-sex marriage. The specter of loss of exemption has been bandied about, not just by tax-illiterate bloggers, but by major media sources. (Heck, I looked at the question prior to the decision.)

So could the church or BYU lose its tax exemption as a result of their policies on homosexuality?  [Read more…]

Unforced Errors

When I first got married, my wife had ideas about teaching me to play tennis. Actually, that isn’t true. I had ideas about my wife teaching me to play tennis. It was a sport she enjoyed and something that we could do together. She was a little skeptical but willing. It was, of course, a disaster. The first problem was that I’d never been all that serious about the game. As I told her before we started, I played tennis like I didn’t play baseball; everything went over the fence. Initially, this wasn’t a problem as I was willing to run after all the errant balls and she was willing to stand around and watch me. But this eventually grew boring and she decided it would be useful to help me with my swing. So she stood by me, modeled the swing, and bounced the ball to me so I could hit it. I was very fast on the trigger, hoping to impress her, I suppose. I swung around quick and caught her hand with my racket. She cried out, I went to her and apologized, she shook it off after a moment and decided to try again. She started to bounce the ball and, sure I knew what I was doing, I swung again and immediately wacked her hand again. Afterwards, she wasn’t angry with me, but she has never stepped onto a tennis court with me again. [Read more…]

Obergefell and BYU’s Tax Exemption

On April 28, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, which challenged both the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage and of states’ nonrecognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states.

By the end of June, the Justices will have decided and we’ll know the constitutional status of same-sex marriage bans in the United States. But that doesn’t mean all questions will be resolved; in fact, an exchange between Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Alito, and Solicitor General Verrilli piqued the interest of a lot of people, especially those invested in religious educational institutions.  [Read more…]

Mormonism in the Internal Revenue Code

taxWhenever possible on April 15, I like to put together a quick post about some Mormon-related trivia from the tax world. This year’s edition: church financial disclosure.

In brief: tax-exempt organizations by definition don’t pay taxes. Prior to 1943, they also didn’t file any tax returns—they were pretty much entirely outside of the tax regime. That changed with the Revenue Act of 1943, which required tax-exempt organizations to file annual information returns. Broadly speaking, those returns lay out the sources of the organization’s income and where it spends that money.[fn1]

The return-filing requirement continues today, in largely (though not entirely) the same form. And, in marked contrast with most tax returns, the law requires tax-exempt organizations’ returns to be made available for public inspection. (If you want to inspect some, sign up for a free account here and have at it.)  [Read more…]

Mormon LGBT Outreach: Part I

In November of 2013, my stake president, Thomas Fairbanks, asked me to spearhead “gay and lesbian outreach” in the Seattle North Stake.  Seattle is the new San Francisco – our city has a large gay population, both inside and outside the Church.  But very few openly gay or lesbian church members attend services in our wards.  In President Fairbanks’ mind, this wasn’t an ideal state of affairs.  If the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is what it claims to be, if it contains a religious message and provides a spiritual environment that everyone can benefit from – regardless of their individual life paths and circumstances – then we should be a community that welcomes everyone into the communal life of the church.  “Everyone” includes our LGBT brothers and sisters. [Read more…]

Some Thoughts on Apologies

Nor with a caveat.

There has been a lot of talk about apologies lately.  First E. Oaks, channeling Fox News or possibly Clint Eastwood, claimed that the church neither seeks nor gives apologies [1], prompting a lot of discussion about what constitutes an apology, and whether or not the church should apologize to gay people for their ostracism and mistreatment throughout the years. [Read more…]

Choices, Choices

I’ve been reflecting a lot on E. Quentin Cook’s talk called “Choose Wisely.”  This was the opening talk of the Priesthood session, so I suppose that makes me not the target audience, and yet it’s clearly a talk with universal application. [1]  I won’t let that stop me.

E. Cook begins by talking about the problems when we rationalize our failures to act heroically.  He uses the example of Lucy not catching the ball in the Peanuts comic strips.

While always humorous, Lucy’s excuses were rationalizations; they were untrue reasons for her failure to catch the ball.

He then goes on to talk about the eternal ramifications when we rationalize our failure to prepare for our eternal goals. [Read more…]

The Myth of Traditional Marriage

Ooh, baby.

According to the song, love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.  But when it comes to the history of marriage, pairing marriage with love is putting the cart before the horse.  If we look at why people used to get married, traditionally, we’ll quickly see why marriages today are less stable.  And why that may not be a terrible thing.

The phrase “traditional marriage” [1] is currently in vogue to describe opponents of gay marriage.  Just what does marriage look like over time?  Why do people marry and why is marriage changing so much? [Read more…]

My Hopes & Fears for the Next General Conference

We still have several weeks until the October General Conference, and given what’s happened in the meantime, many Mormons like me are concerned it could be gloat-mageddon.  If I were putting together a General Conference, here are the things I would include and what I would cut.  Of course this is already unrealistic because there are over a dozen speakers, each of whom has his or her own areas of focus and points of view.  But this is my list; YMMV.  I’ll start with the Fears and end with the Hopes. [Read more…]

A Day of Fasting and Prayer

Nicolas Kristof has done us a great service in bringing to the nation’s (and world’s) attention the depraved and cowardly kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian girls by the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram. Boko Haram means “Western education is a sin” in the Hausa language. All that “secular” learning. Boko Haram would rather conflate religion and the state, ensuring that women have no voice in society, confined to whatever influence their husbands allow them in their homes in the forced marriages into which they are sold in their early or mid-teens. [Read more…]

Many Are Chosen, But Few Are Called

In a well publicized pre-emptive move, the church issued a statement last week that women seeking tickets to the April 5 Priesthood session would be relegated to the “free speech zone,” traditionally the purview of anti-Mormon protesters.  Kate Kelly, founder of the group Ordain Women, was characteristically gracious in her reply.  From the article:

“We are disappointed that we weren’t granted tickets,” says Kate Kelly, one of the founders of Ordain Women. “But it is a positive step that public affairs is responding to us, indicating that one day maybe the higher authorities will be able to hear our concerns.” [Read more…]

A Kick in the Gut

From one birthday to the next — there but for the grace of God go we all:

Civil War in London. Unimaginable?

[Read more…]

Joseph Smith on Wall Street

josephsmithstatueNo, I don’t mean Joseph Smith’s 1832 visit to Manhattan, though he stayed at 88 Pearl Street, which is mere blocks from Wall Street,[fn1] and he may well have walked on Wall Street.  I also don’t mean the bronze statute of Joseph Smith that stood in the Financial District.

No, I mean the name-checking of Joseph in 2012’s induction ceremony for Kappa Beta Phi, a secret Wall Street fraternity. [Read more…]

Three Thoughts, Two Minutes, One Lord

The Cenotaph, London, England (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cenotaph)

The Cenotaph, London, England (source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cenotaph)

ce·no·taph, ˈsenəˌtaf/
noun
1.
a tomblike monument to someone buried elsewhere, esp. one commemorating people who died in a war.

Today is Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom, Veterans Day in the United States. Yesterday, the Sunday before Remembrance Day, or Remembrance Sunday, my thoughts turned to the religious and public traditions and rituals observed in the United Kingdom to commemorate the importance of this day as a day of national . . . contrition? penance? gratitude? All of them, I think — “celebrate” is the wrong word for what occurs in the public ceremonies that occur on Remembrance Sunday and Remembrance Day. It is a solemn “remembering,” a holy Remembrance, because we remember the lives of those who served particularly in the Great War (1914-1918) but also in all conflicts in the protection of national or territorial integrity and political freedoms and heritage; more specifically, we contemplate the sacrifice that it is to put one’s life on the line for these values and ideals. Very few, if any, “celebrate” that these sacrifices were made or that such devastating wars occurred; virtually all unite across racial, ethnic, and religious divides to remember them and commemorate their sacrifices. [Read more…]