Shaming Decency

One episode from McKay Coppins’s recent profile on Stephen Miller has been haunting me since I read it. Early in Miller’s work with the Trump administration, he collaborated with Steve Bannon to craft the first version of the travel ban designed to prevent “travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries” (using Coppins’s description). I’ll quote Coppins from here:

The hastily written order contained no guidance on implementation, and soon after Trump signed it—on a Friday afternoon one week into his presidency—airports across the country were plunged into chaos. Hundreds of travelers were detained, civil-rights lawyers descended, and protesters swarmed. To many, the televised disarray was proof of failure. But according to Michael Wolff’s account of the Trump administration’s first year, Fire and Fury, the architects of the ban were tickled by the hysteria; Bannon (who was Wolff’s main source) boasted that they’d chosen to enact the disruptive measure on a weekend “so the snowflakes would show up at the airports and riot.” They counted the anger on display as a political win.

What haunts me about this story is Bannon’s terrifying tactical brilliance in gaming what I’m going to call basic human decency. In the grand game of chess that is political discourse in the United States, Bannon (and Miller, who unlike Bannon still works in the White House) seem to me to have cannily outflanked people committed to the norms of civil discourse. I think it’s a commonplace at this point among people who oppose Trump to believe that his appeal lies largely in the frankness with which he expresses (or crassly manipulates) the id of his followers. But the travel ban episode suggests that Trump’s success also lies in playing the superegos of his opponents. All of the stuff that to us betokens civilization, which is to say, the very substance of any anti-Trump protest grounded in appeals to things like decency, democratic norms, basic Christianity, and the like—all of this leaves us perpetually a move behind the administration and its strategists, who stand ready to laugh the moment their provocation sends us to Twitter or to the streets, quaintly chattering about things like the place of persuasion in civil discourse. [Read more…]

How to Use the Bible to Break Democracy

 

Let me take an aside to discuss concerns raised by our church friends about separating families. Many of the criticisms raised in recent days are not fair or logical and some are contrary to law. First- illegal entry into the United States is a crime—as it should be. Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.–Attorney General Jeff Sessions

 

Poor Jeff Sessions; he just can’t buy a break. All he did was remind people that obeying the law is a good thing, and all of a sudden he is facing a firestorm of criticism about his use of a Bible passage to defend his policy of separating children from their parents at the border. What is even the point of a scripture like Romans 13 if you can’t use it to support the law?

So far, most of the reaction to Sessions has focused on the fact that the Bible also supports things like families and treating children well. Others note that the same scripture that Sessions invoked was also invoked by proponents of slavery and opponents of the American Revolution. This is all true, but it doesn’t quite get to heart of Sessions’ argument. What he actually said was even more insidious than these criticisms would suggest. [Read more…]

Let’s talk about the remarkable Psalms #BCCSundaySchool2018

The 104th Psalm is an arresting remix of Genesis 1, making it one of the earliest examples of hip-hop on record.1 As the King James Version has it:

Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.

Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain…

Here we see God appearing with the grandeur of a king, donning his royal robe in preparation for his work of creation—”don” is the term Robert Alter uses in his translation:

LORD, my God, You are very great.
Grandeur and glory you don.
Wrapped in light like a cloak,
stretching out heavens like a tent-cloth.2

This psalm heavily samples from the creation account where God said “Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good…And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night…” (Genesis 1:3–4, 14).

[Read more…]

Moral Leadership From Some US Religious Leaders on Immigration

I was pleased and relieved this morning to see a tweet from Father James Martin linking to and discussing the moral leadership of US Catholic Bishops against the inhumane, shocking, and dangerous asylum decision that domestic abuse and gang violence will not count as grounds for seeking asylum in the United States of America, which many see as the land of liberty where they can begin a new life protected by the rule of law and strong institutions. [Read more…]

The “What Kind of Country Do We Want to Be?” Question

A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. —1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees

 

First, let us be very clear about a few things:

  1. This has nothing to do with enforcing our laws. Seeking asylum is not a criminal act. People have a right to come to the United States and make a petition. The right to seek asylum is a recognized principle of international law and has been recognized in the United States for decades. When somebody shows up on our doorstep asking for asylum, we do not have to give it to them. But we do have to consider the request and treat the people making it as fellow human beings.  They are not criminals. They have broken no laws. And they are entitled to the same due process that we must constitutionally afford anybody over whom we assert our jurisdiction.
  2. This has nothing to do with jobs or the economy. We have acute labor shortages in our agricultural sector right now, and it is getting worse. Nobody involved in the current immigration debate has asked, or even appears to care, whether or not we currently allow enough immigration into our country to meet the needs of our economy. The point is to be tough on immigrants and asylum seekers because that is politically popular–not because it is economically necessary or even fiscally responsible. Border security theatre is a political issue not a national-security concern.
  3. This has nothing to do with being a nation that espouses religious values. The current practice of separating children and their parents is wrong from just about every conceivable system of religion or morality. For those who happen to be Christian, it is a fundamental rejection of perhaps the most important religious obligation that we have: the responsibility to care for the stranger among us. And for those who happen to be Latter-day Saints, it is a rejection of the Church’s official position on immigration, the second point of which is “the importance of keeping families intact.” To tear children away from their parents at our border, we must actively reject the pretense of being a religious people

[Read more…]

Baby Steps

I hadn’t been to church in a while.

It’s the best

[Read more…]

When part of you has left the church and you find yourself still here.

Today in Sunday school we were dancing around the topic of people who “leave the fold” and what to do about and for them. The standard, “never give up on

one019them” answers floated on the air and then a girl wearing pants and Birkenstocks at the back of the room raised her hand and talked about how important it is to recognize that most people don’t leave the church on a casual whim. She talked about how, (and it seemed from personal experience) leaving the church is like a really difficult break up, how it isn’t just not going to church on Sunday anymore. She talked about how no longer being mormon means leaving behind or changing an entire life. Nothing of what she said felt like a surprise to me. Most of my closest friends have left the church for different reasons. I’ve been on the front lines of heartbreak for well over a decade.

The thing then, that stuck out to me about the comment the women made in class, was this distinct and clear realization that I was who she was talking about, and yet, I was still sitting there in a Sunday School class, wrestling a baby who is not quite old enough for nursery, but too old to sit still for a full minute. My other children in primary. My husband next to me. I had chosen to come of my own volition.

[Read more…]

MHA Conference Boise 2018

Boise

This evening marks the beginning of the 2018 Mormon History Association Conference in Boise, so I’m opening up a post for commentary on all things MHA through the end of the conference on Sunday. [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…]

Papyrus Amherst 63

After more than a century, we finally have a complete scholarly edition of Papyrus Amherst 63.[1] Let me tell you a little bit about this document and then mention some aspects of it that have intrigued Mormons. [Read more…]

Lesson 22: “The Lord Looketh on the Heart” #BCCSundaySchool2018

1 Samuel 9–11; 13; 15–17

“But the People, exorbitant and excessive in all their motions, are prone ofttimes not to a religious only, but to a civil kind of Idolatry, in idolizing their Kings; though never more mistaken in the object of their worship.”—John Milton, “Eikonoklastes”

 

Our reading this week begins with the comforting announcement that the man chosen to be Israel’s king is tall and good looking:

There was a man of Benjamin, whose name was Kish . . . . He had a son whose name was Saul, an excellent young man; no one among the Israelites was handsomer than he; he was a head taller than any of the people. (1 Samuel 9: 1-2, JPS Tanakh)

It may seem strange that the first things we hear about Saul describe his outward appearance, but the text knows what it is doing. Saul’s main qualification for being king is that he looks like a king. As it turns out, though, this is the only qualification that matters. The Israelites want someone who looks kingly. [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…]

Sunday Mixtape

How-to-Promote-Mixtape

“For my soul delighteth in the song of the heart.” (D&C 25:12)

“If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” (Article of Faith 13)

I learned in seminary as a young person that keeping the Sabbath day holy included listening only to hymns and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on Sundays while avoiding any “secular” music. I realized even then, though, that the line between “secular” and “sacred” is not clear cut. [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…]

Lord, What Wilt Thou Have Me to Do?

I grew up in the church. My father is a lifelong member, descended from many great and noble pioneers. My mother is a convert with a powerful story. I attended church with them almost every week throughout my childhood. I felt the spirit strongly at Girls’ Camps and Youth Conferences. I loved my leaders and I wanted to share all of the good that I felt. I remember standing in the Women’s Garden in Nauvoo, IL, completely overwhelmed by the Spirit I felt there. I wanted everyone in the world to feel the exact way I felt that night. [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…]

Crosses by Decree: Ladders to Heaven or Stumbling Blocks?

800px-Adolf_Friedrich_Erdmann_von_Menzel_026

Corpus Christi Procession in Hofgastein by Adolph Menzel (source)

Yesterday was the Feast of Corpus Christi, a public holiday in the Catholic strongholds of Austria and Bavaria, and starting today all public agencies* in Bavaria are required by decree to prominently display a cross in the entryway of the approximately 1,100 buildings they occupy “as an expression of Bavaria’s historical and cultural character.” Crosses have long been a feature of elementary schools and courthouses in Bavaria, but the legal basis for their presence has been a mere recommendation; this decree marks the first time that displaying a cross is mandatory**.

The decree has been opposed by the usual suspects—including atheists, artists, academics and the Green party—but also by prominent religious figures. [Read more…]

Prophetic Fallibility, Institutional Revelation, and Institutional Salvation.

This post is inspired by some of the discussion on Stapely’s recent excellent post on the problems with defending the church’s pre-1978 policy to exclude black members from receiving the priesthood or the blessings of the temple. One of Stapely’s points is that the reasons that Brigham Young gave for the ban were demonstrably wrong. Several commenters asked a variation of these questions: If we acknowledge that church leaders can be wrong about something so important, then can we ever trust them? And if so, how can we distinguish between when they are speaking by revelation and when they are just wrong?

[Read more…]

What’s New with the ERA

So last night at just moments before midnight I received an email alerting me that the Equal Rights Amendment had (finally!) passed the Illinois House by a vote of 72-45, with one vote to spare (71 votes were needed so as to comply with a 3/5 supermajority for Constitutional amendments under Illinois law). For a number of years now one chamber or the other would pass it, but not both, and both have to pass it in the same session for the approval to be effective. But the Senate passed it in April and now the House yesterday. This ratification came more than 45 years after the amendment was passed by Congress! (News sources speculate that perhaps the #MeToo movement may have finally pushed it over the top.) [Read more…]

Upgrades the Church Should Totally Go For Now That Everyone Knows We’re Loaded, Ranked.

As you likely have heard by now, the Church recently published an explainer of how it uses its funds. You should read it! Mormon Leaks also released info showing that the Church has a butt-load of investments and cash on hand (SHOCKER!). In any case, Steve and I were talking and, with the cat out of the bag, our advice to the Church is: TREAT YO SELF!

[Read more…]

Guns: Failing Mormon

The two top Republican candidates for an open Senate seat in Utah so far show every sign of failing to live up to a nearly 1700 year old exhortation by the prophet Mormon. [Read more…]

Sunday Sermon: Praise the Source of Faith and Learning

Over the last ten years, I have worked for both a Catholic and a Methodist university and, in the process, have spent a lot of time attending different religious services. Lots of good things have come into my life this way. One of them has been the opportunity to hear the hymns I have known all my life sung with different words.

At first this was disorienting, but now it feels normal. There are a lot more hymns in the Christian world than there are hymn tunes, and since most hymns fit into fairly simple metrical patterns, a lot of hymn texts can be used with a lot of standard melodies. The beautiful song that Mormons know as “Be Still My Soul” is actually a melody from Jean Sibelius’s “Finlandia” and is known in much of the Christian world as “This is My Song.” And the wildly speculative LDS hymn “If You Could Hie to Kolob” is, for many Catholics, the theologically tame, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.”

So, when I went to the baccalaureate celebration at our campus United Methodist Chapel earlier this month, I was not at all surprised to hear the music that I had always known as “In Humility Our Savior” accompanying the words to “Praise the Source of Faith and Learning,” our opening hymn. I nodded approvingly through the first two stanzas. [Read more…]

Defending the Temple and Priesthood Restriction as God’s Will

The idea that church leaders—Church Presidents, who we sustain as Prophets—could be spectacularly wrong and deny millions of people access to the covenant path of the gospel because they were black is terrifying to many of us. We have invested so totally in the bureaucracy of church leadership as to have completely conflated the calling of Church President and role of “prophet,” obliterating any linguistic distinction: “Follow the Prophet, he knows the way!” Confronted with the possibility that such leaders were so catastrophically wrong, we have been willing to invent ideas to save the framework even if it means repeating the errors of our past.
[Read more…]

Marriage and the best-laid plans

Tuesday was my twenty-first wedding anniversary. I’m very happy and I’ve already had a nice dinner out, so I don’t need to be congratulated. The occasion just reminded me of this Slate article I read last month, “The Work of ‘Marital Maintenance’ Is a Privilege,” in which the (divorced) author argues that working on your marriage is a lot harder when you’re poor. The vast majority of people responding to this article on Twitter said something like “give us a break, lady.” Actually, that’s a nice way to render the responses, most of which were personal attacks on the author’s intelligence, maturity, and character. Commenters cited the longevity of their own marriages, which was due not to material comfort but to hard work and commitment, something this woman would obviously know nothing about. A few pointed out that she began badly—having a kid before the marriage—so she was kind of doomed from the start. Why should anyone listen to this [screw]-up?

Actually (ack-shually), the author concedes that her marriage had more problems than just a lack of money, but her main point was that lack of money makes everything harder, including—maybe especially—marriage. And as far as I’m concerned, she’s not wrong. [Read more…]

Lesson 20: “All the City . . . Doth Know That Thou Art a Virtuous Woman” #BCCSundaySchool2018

1795-William-Blake-Naomi-entreating-Ruth-Orpah.jpg

Lesson Objective:To understand and encourage class members to emulate the righteous qualities of Ruth and Naomi.

Scriptures:The Book of Ruth[1]

Introduction: The story of Ruth and Naomi is about sisterhood, immigration, family, and a powerful female partnership. It is also involves Ruth as a foreign Other, Ruth being purchased as a commodity, and Ruth bearing a child as a handmaiden for another woman who could no longer bear children. It is as much TheHandmaid’s Taleas it is Gilmore Girls. This story does not take up much space in the Old Testament, but it has meant something considerable to me since I was very young, if only for that it is a woman-centric narrative peopled with female characters who have names and desires and actions not necessarily directly related to their relationships with men. [Read more…]

Even He Can Be Redeemed

Sam Brown is a medical researcher, ICU physician, and author of several books, including In Heaven As It Is On Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death.

I love Richard Wagner’s music. Love it. My wife hates everything about Wagner. Hates him. She dry heaves when I forget and mention some opera of his I’ve enjoyed. I guess I don’t blame her. His music is loud and muscular. If you’re not in the mood, he sounds a bit like a glamour metal band resting its weary haunches on power cords, hoping to stir up faint echoes of adolescent passions. But his music is much more than that. [Read more…]

Why the hoax isn’t courageous, and isn’t allyship

Last week, on the day the church met with the NAACP, someone created a detailed replica of the church’s newsroom website and posted a fake statement of apology from the church for the priesthood and temple ban and racist teachings. Many people were tricked into believing the apology was real, and many tears of joy were shed, especially by black LDS. The whiplash of discovering it was fake was crushing for many. Unfortunately, I have witnessed many in the “progressive Mormon,” post-Mormon, and ex-Mormon communities hailing the hoax’s creator as a hero or even a good ally to people of color, for “calling attention” to the need for a (real) apology. I can’t understand thinking that, and I certainly can’t understand persisting in that view even after learning of the pain it caused, or after watching this raw, required viewing from Tamu Smith or Zandra Vranes, or reading these incisive critiques by LaShawn Williams. So although, in a just world, Tamu, Zandra, and LaShawn would be the last word on this, I’m going to try to reach out to some of my fellow white people who seem unmoved and explain step-by-step exactly why the hoax was so abhorrent.  [Read more…]

8 or 4?

I’m guessing that for most of you, as long as you can remember Sunday School has followed a four-year rotation: OT, NT, BoM, D&C/Church History. I suspect at least some of you young pups may be surprised to learn that when Correlation first rolled out the new Sunday School program after 1971 the rotation was actually eight years long, spending two years rather than one on each volume of scripture. At some point in the late 80s or early 90s[1] the Church went to the four-year rotation we’ve become accustomed to.[2] [Read more…]

Church Conferences

Circuit_rider_illustration_Eggleston

Illustration from Edward Eggleston’s The Circuit Rider: A Tale of the Heroic Age

I was recently given an assignment to speak in sacrament meeting. That’s a normal part of my calling. But the topic was unusual: The assignment was to speak on “the history and doctrine of conferences in the church.” I’m not a historian, but I love reading history, so I was excited to speak on a historical topic. It gave me a good excuse to learn about a part of church history that I hadn’t studied before. This post is adapted from that talk.

 

In 1829 and early 1830, Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery were working on organizing the church. They had finished translating the Book of Mormon in June 1829 and the prophet had received a revelation directed to Oliver Cowdery that instructed him to “build up my church” and to “rely upon the things that are written,” (that is, the Book of Mormon) to do so.

Oliver took the revelation seriously and in the summer of 1829 he prepared a sort of constitution for the church called the Articles of the Church of Christ. Joseph Smith used his prophetic gift to add to Oliver’s work, and the resulting document, the Articles and Covenants of the Church, is the source of our modern section 20 in the Doctrine and Covenants. As the June 1829 revelation had directed, Oliver relied heavily on the Book of Mormon: the Articles and Covenants follows the Book of Mormon to establish the church offices of Elder, Priest, and Teacher, as mentioned in the Book of Mormon, as well as the sacrament prayers, which are taken word-for-word from the Book of Mormon.

But, from Joseph Smith’s additions, the Articles and Covenants also establishes certain church practices that are not found in the Book of Mormon. One of these is the practice of holding conferences. [Read more…]

Nature, Wisdom, Spirit, Mother

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

This is an expanded and re-written version of a Mother’s Day sermon I gave in church last week, on May 13, 2018. PLEASE SEE THE NOTE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST.

I’m pretty certain that ever since I became old enough to wonder about matters theological, I hadn’t been all that enthused by the Mormon idea of Mother in Heaven. The Christian message which consistently spoke (and still speaks) most strongly to me was Pauline, Augustinian, and Lutheran; I took (and still take) seriously the omniscience and omnipresence of God presented through the Biblical tradition, and saw His relationship with us as profoundly grace-centered and not at all humanist. This left little room in my thinking for the discourse about Heavenly Mother that I was most familiar with, which seemed rooted in deeply literal and humanist presumptions about God’s identity, sexuality, and relationships. “In the heav’ns are parents single?/ No, the thought makes reason stare! / Truth is reason; truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a mother there“–to a great many of my fellow Mormons, for many years, the claim made in this old hymn seems both persuasive and obvious. But it wasn’t for me.

I write all that in the past tense, though, because not too long ago I read an essay which made me realize that maybe, just maybe, I’ve actually been thinking about, and perhaps even worshiping, Mother in Heaven all along. But let me work around to that. [Read more…]