Author: Kaimi Wenger

Kaimi is a fellow who blogs every now and again, usually when he should be working.

Business Week’s erroneous claim about LDS charitable giving

Caroline Winter’s new article is a must-read. She examines many facets of the church’s estimated income, its property ownership, and its use of funds. I thought many portions of it were very, very good. Readers seem especially focused on a few key portions of the article. However, one of her key fact claims is based on a factual error. Here is why. Winter writes that: According to an official church Welfare Services fact sheet, the church gave $1.3 billion in humanitarian aid in over 178 countries and territories during the 25 years between 1985 and 2010. A fact sheet from the previous year indicates that less than one-third of the sum was monetary assistance, while the rest was in the form of “material assistance.” All in all, if one were to evenly distribute that $1.3 billion over a quarter-century, it would mean that the church gave $52 million annually. A recently published article co-written by Cragun estimates that the Mormon Church donates only about 0.7 percent of its annual income to charity; the United Methodist Church gives about 29 percent. If true, this is pretty damning information. The LDS church takes in billions of dollars (Winter estimates about $8 billion annually) and gives merely $50 million a year to charity. But is that claim accurate? Winter’s “recently published article co-written by Cragun” with this estimate appears to be this article, which was published in Free Inquiry, the quarterly magazine of…

Wheat for Man

It’s pretty obvious that wheat is spiritually required. Let’s list some reasons why: 1. The Doctrine and Covenants says directly, “wheat for man.” 2. Jesus ate wheat, and specifically gave wheat to his followers and commanded them to eat it. Multiple times. 3. Jesus specifically said that wheat is righteousness. 4. There are about a zillion other scriptural references to wheat. 5. Modern prophets have said a whole bunch of things about the awesomeness of wheat. 6. It is objective fact that wheat is yummy. Now I realize, there are some people who may struggle with living this principle. Celiac folk, gluten-allergy people, or others who may be tempted by non-wheat attraction. But it’s pretty clear that most people do just fine eating wheat. I personally eat wheat all the time. So do several of my friends! And I knew someone who used to not like wheat, but then he repented and now he loves wheat. Finally, we should remember that God doesn’t change eternal principles just because some people are too weak or misguided to live them. So, pull up that bowl of cracked-wheat cereal, and brew yourself a mug of Postum. And the next time that some unrighteous soul tells you they aren’t eating wheat (whether ostensibly for health reasons or out of mere preference) please tell them as gently as possible that they’re going to hell.

Tomorrow’s folklore (Updated)

Recent and highly public events have focused attention on the prevalence of “folklore” — church members, sometimes in positions of authority, “freelancing” beyond church doctrine. Of course, there are a variety of complicated issues in trying to sort out doctrine from folklore, which l’affaire Bott cast into sharp relief. There have been recriminations and hurt feelings, and the community will likely be dealing with the fallout for some time to come. But we do have a few silver linings. For instance, the church newsroom’s prompt and unequivocal condemnation of Bott’s statements likely means that highly-visible BYU professors will think twice before making inflammatory, sweeping, extra-doctrinal claims to the national media. Oh, wait. Maybe not.

Korihor fought for religious freedom

A three-part quiz: 1. Please review the account of Korihor in Alma 30. 2. True or false: Korihor was a religious freedom advocate battling an oppressive central government. 3. What does your answer in #2 say about these areas? Pick a few, and elaborate: -The role of religion in public life -The place of religious freedom claims -Free speech and its potential limitations -Popular conceptions about the proper role of government in 1830 (or in 2011) -Democracy, theocracy, and Zion -Any related topics of interest

Rachel Whipple joins Times and Seasons

We’re big fans of Rachel’s posts and comments, and so we’re awfully happy to announce that she is joining Times and Seasons as our newest permablogger. For anyone unfamiliar with her blogging, Rachel’s introduction can be found here, and her posts are here. Welcome to the group, Rachel!

Official Declaration 3

“We have noticed an unfortunate trend in church attendance. Despite thirty-plus years of formal equality, African-American members are still severely underrepresented in church attendance in the United States. In contrast, white church members are highly overrepresented. This may be because of differences in innate spirituality between the demographic groups. Or, it may be due to social forces. Regardless, it is a problem which must be addressed. Starting immediately and until further notice, all Priesthood leadership in the United States at the ward, stake, and general level will be drawn solely from African-American church members. This will provide additional incentive for members of this group to attend church. It is not a disproportionate advantage for African-Americans (nor a disadvantage for white church members) because of course all church leadership callings are simply opportunities for service. We are happy to provide our African-American members with this opportunity for service, and are confident that they will serve well in leadership callings. Other church members may continue to serve in non-leadership roles, including Scout callings and the activities committee.” Discuss.

Times and Seasons welcomes Rachel Whipple

We’re happy to introduce Rachel Whipple as our latest guest blogger. Rachel got her bachelor’s in geology (and a husband) at BYU. She lived in San Diego and on the North Shore of Long Island before returning to Provo. Now that her husband teaches at BYU, she gets to take all the classes that she wanted to take as an undergrad, but couldn’t fit into her schedule. (So far, that’s been mostly philosophy and anthropology courses, because what could be more fun than spending a semester reading David Hume?) She has been a stay at home mom for a decade, and she notes that “I’ve found time to explore a variety of crafts that I would never had time to consider had I continued working full time. I’ve learned to sew, weave, knit, design clothes and costumes, and reupholster furniture. I’ve learned to cook real food from scratch, bake bread, and garden. I’ve been a yoga teacher, preschool assistant, and public school volunteer, but most expertise I have, I’ve gained through the day to day work of hearth and home.” Rachel recently began blogging at the excellent LDS Earth Stewardship blog (just trying to change how we interact with the earth, one lowly blog post at a time), where her posts cover a variety of green Mormonism topics, and her bio notes that she has not used a can of “cream of whatever” soup in over a decade. We’re looking…

Evolving LDS views on homosexuality

As I mention in my companion post, recent news stories have disagreed about the idea that LDS views on homosexuality are evolving. The history of LDS views on homosexuality is complicated, and I can’t fully do it justice in a relatively short post, but I’ll at least try to hit the highlights. Here’s a sketch of some of the ways in which LDS views on homosexuality have changed over the past 50 years — in very positive ways, I believe.[1] Church views have changed substantially regarding causes of homosexuality. In 1969, then-apostle and future prophet Spencer W. Kimball published The Miracle of Forgiveness, in which he stated that homosexuality was caused by masturbation.[2] This book, which echoed his 1964 talk “Love versus Lust,” received widespread circulation among the LDS population.[3] The idea of masturbation as a cause of homosexuality was mentioned again in the 1992 church pamphlet Understanding and Helping Those Who Have Homosexual Problems: Suggestions for Ecclesiastical Leaders, which makes the more limited statement that masturbation “intensifies sexual urges, making it difficult for the person to overcome homosexual problems.”[3] The church appears to have abandoned that claim. The idea does not appear anywhere in the church’s latest official statement, “God Loveth His Children.”[4] Similarly, the past fifty years show significant change in the areas of naturalness, disease, and curability. The 1970s were filled with a variety of statements about homosexuality as disease, as curable, and as definitely not natural.…

An Unfortunate Attack

Media sources including the LDS Newsroom have recently engaged in or supported an unfortunate attack on LDS writer Joanna Brooks. Brooks, a professor at San Diego State University, wrote at Religion Dispatches last month about Mitch Mayne: In LDS communities, where lay congregational leaders have positions analogous to those of priests, pastors, and rabbis, news of Mayne’s calling is having an impact, revealing continuing divisions among Mormons and questions about evolving Mormon views on homosexuality. There is, in fact, no consensus Mormon view on homosexuality. While most Mormons view homosexual sexual activity as a sin, Church leaders have expressed divergent perspectives on LGBT issues, ranging from condemnatory and derisive to ameliorative and compassionate. In response, non-LDS blogger Terry Mattingly at Get Religion wrote a snarky and condescending post accusing Brooks of bad journalism: You know that whole asking-questions thing that journalists are supposed to do as part of their work? You know, that thing where the journalist tries to ask the obvious, logical questions and then prints what people — especially people whose training and experience yield on-the-record, authoritative information — have to say that is relevant to the story? This process is especially important when dealing with issues that push people’s buttons and cause conflict in large, symbolic, even controversial groups. When these conflicts exist, it’s especially crucial to talk to people on both sides — on the record. Religion Dispatches ran a story last weekend that demonstrates what…

An openly gay man in the [edit: NOT QUITE] bishopric

Blogger Mitch Mayne writes: “I am Mitch Mayne, and I am an openly gay Latter-Day Saint. On August 14, 2011, I was sustained as a member of the Bishopric in the Bay Ward of the San Francisco Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons).” Take a look at the post, it’s fascinating. (I’ve confirmed this with multiple sources, too. It is not an urban legend. Brother Mayne just spoke about his calling in Sacrament.) This seems like a big step, and a potentially positive development. It also seems somewhat precarious, and raises some questions. Is this move fully sanctioned by the institutional church? Is this calling the product of an exact combination of specific events and people, or is it a sign of broader potential institutional change? And for that matter, will conservative members refuse to sustain Brother Mayne? I’ll be very interested to see how it all works out. In the mean while, congratulations — and prayers of support — to Brother Mayne in his new calling. UPDATE: The folks at Medium Gray have reported that Brother Mayne is in fact an Executive Secretary, which is technically not part of the Bishopric. (As a variety of commenters at Medium Gray BCC have noted, this understanding is not universally held, and there are a number of Executive Secretaries who have been told and who believe that they are part of the Bishopric; however, I…

CNN blog reports from anti-Mormon Bizarro-Land

The CNN blog just ran a lengthy interview with Tricia Erickson, who makes a variety of arguments that no believing Mormon should ever be elected President. (Link here; note that in her interview she cites language from the endowment ceremony). Erickson’s arguments are predictably bad. She repeats the old evangelical anti-Mormon reasoning that Mormons are all basically automatons, and suggests that any Mormon politician would have a secret church-promoting agenda. It’s an argument straight out of The Manchurian Candidate (and reminiscent of the anti-Catholic arguments raised against JFK). Her argument, such as it is, is sufficiently silly and hyperbolic that it is essentially self-refuting. But what are the implications of the article’s prominent publication today — what does it say about the current political and religious discourse? I found it interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it surprised me that CNN would run this sort of thing. The article was a silly, self-serving (buy my book!) hack job. Erickson isn’t particularly accurate in her discussions of the church or church members. She also quotes lines from the temple, which CNN should know will bother church members. The decision to run this anyway suggests that there is still an audience for this kind of thing, which is unfortunate. Her article is interesting not for its content but as an illustration of attitudes which still exist. (Check the comments at CNN, if you dare. Yikes.) On the flip side, CNN also…

And I Feel Fine

This Saturday, the world is going to end. At least, a few folks seem to think so. Why? The idea comes from a dizzying combination of numerology (looking for special hidden numbers which God has placed as clues) and eschatology (discussion of the end of the world). In recent years, these kinds of claims have come up every few years — for instance, prior movements claim to have found hidden numerical clues indicating that Jesus would return in 1988, or 1994. Of course, each of the earlier movements predated the projected event, but not by much. Indeed, these sorts of movements typically project a very short time horizon for the Second Coming. This year’s specific account is based on complicated calculations using numbers pulled from Bible verses in a rather ad hoc manner. First, you add up the ages of the patriarchs in the Old Testament to arrive at a date for Noah’s flood: 4990 B.C. Then, you add 7000 to that number, because God will let the world exist for one week after the flood, and because one God Day = 1000 years. Then, you add 23 to that number, because that is Michael Jordan’s jersey number. Okay, I made up that last part. You add 23, because that is the scriptural time period of tribulation. There is a lot of detail to the overall account, which divides history into periods of tribulation, a period for the church, and…

Orson’s Game

Orson Scott Card is a longtime expert in making the fantastical seem almost real. He’s done it over the course of his decades-long literary career, bringing to life child generals at war with alien insects; magic-wielding prophets in the American West; spooky child ghosts living in video games; planet-ruling musician kings; Mormon colonies scrabbling for existence in a post-apocalyptic waste; worlds populated by talking heads and fascinating failed copies of humankind. Card did grim and dystopic before it was cool. Not one but two of his books have won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in the same year — which is kind of like winning Best Picture and Best Director the same year, except awesomer. Recently, to the puzzlement of some observers, Card has directed his prodigious talent into the production of political punditry. Like his novels, Card’s political columns are often masterpieces of speculative fiction. For instance, there is the one about how gays with pitchforks and torches are coming to end democracy in America — an apocalyptic horror story that rivals The Folk of the Fringe. And then, there is Card’s latest column. He primes readers for the fantastic right away, launching quickly into a declaration that Mitt Romney is properly seen as “a man of solid convictions, who does not temper his core beliefs according to the prevailing political winds.” That gem alone would be more than many writers could pull off. But Card is a…

God and Baby Face Nelson: Thoughts on Obedience, Genocide, and Problematic Narratives

How should church members today approach morally repugnant scriptural narratives? I wondered about that as I recently read over Elder Hales’ talk about agency and obedience. There was a lot in the talk which I liked. I do think that order and consistency can absolutely be useful for faith communities (for instance, in helping establish expectations). I think that agency is a useful way to conceptualize human behavior, and that despite its problems it remains one of the best broad answers to problems of theodicy. And I certainly agree with many of the talk’s basic points, such as the tension between freedom and accountability. But I had a strongly negative reaction to a central portion of the talk, because it relies heavily on a morally repugnant Old Testament story. I give you Elder Hales: Contrary to the world’s secular teaching, the scriptures teach us that we do have agency, and our righteous exercise of agency always makes a difference in the opportunities we have and our ability to act upon them and progress eternally. For example, through the prophet Samuel, the Lord gave a clear commandment to King Saul: “The Lord sent me to anoint thee to be king: now therefore hearken thou unto the voice of the Lord. “Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have.” But Saul did not follow the Lord’s commandment. He practiced what I call “selective obedience.” Relying on his own wisdom,…

Divine Institution slides

A few months ago I spoke at a conference at St. John’s University Law School. The conference theme was same-sex marriage, and my own talk was a largely descriptive account of LDS church statements and actions on the topic. I used a short set of powerpoint slides to cover the basic facts. Since then, several people have expressed interest in seeing the slides, so I just posted them online — they’re available here, if you’d like to take a look. Any comments are welcome. (And just to reiterate, these are pretty basic. If you’ve followed the topic in any depth they don’t contain anything that you don’t know. My talk was a very basic descriptive account of church statements and actions.)

Mormon Feminism Panel at Patheos

Don’t miss the excellent Patheos panel on Mormon feminism. Kathy Soper’s thoughtful and perceptive essay headlines the event, and a fabulous group of respondents — Claudia Bushman, Tresa Edmunds, Rixa Freeze, Kristine Haglund, Caroline Kline, Neylan McBaine, Melissa Proctor, and Rosalynde Welch — pitches in with a wealth of excellent follow-up analysis. If you’re at all interested in Mormon feminism, make sure to check out the discussion.

A Loving critique of Elder Oaks

Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke recently at Utah’s Constitution Day celebration. His talk, titled “Fundamentals of Our Constitutions,” discussed the role of the constitution, as well as a variety of other topics relating to law, religion, and the public sphere. The talk is well-articulated, as Elder Oaks’ talks tend to be, and sets out some specific ideas about politics which bear further discussion. For the moment, I wanted to focus on one particular portion of the talk. Elder Oaks writes that: Another great fundamental of the United States Constitution is its federal system, which divides government powers between the nation and the various states. This principle of federalism is at the heart of our Constitution. Unlike the next two fundamentals I will discuss, which were adaptations of earlier developments in English law, this division of sovereignty between two government levels was unprecedented in theory or practice. In a day when it is fashionable to assume that the national government has the power and means to right every perceived injustice, we should remember that the United States Constitution limits the national government to the exercise of powers expressly granted to it. The Tenth Amendment provides: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people.” This principle of limited national powers, with all residuary powers reserved to the people or to the state…