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The LDS Priesthood Ban as an Impermissible Method of Accounting

Official Declaration 2

For most (but likely not all) of its history until 1978, the LDS church denied the priesthood from its black male members, and denied the benefits of its temple ordinances to black male and female members. There have been several theories raised regarding the reasons for the ban, but the church has generally disavowed most theories as being non-doctrinal. The position today has been that the priesthood ban was not doctrinal, just a “policy.” Yet…this raises another question — if it was just a policy, why did it require so much time, effort, and prayer — and even a revelation — to change?

I don’t really have any answers on this, but this morning, I thought of the ultimate inside baseball nerd analogy between Mormonism and tax (…yep) that will probably alienate 80% of people who read this article and piss off the remaining 20%. Here goes nothing.

The analogy is as simple as this: The LDS “priesthood ban” was like an impermissible method of accounting.

For y’all non-accountants, accounting methods are basically rules determining how you recognize items of income or expense. For example, one’s overall method of accounting might be “cash basis” (recognize items when the cash is received or paid out) vs “accrual basis” (recognize items when earned/economic performance has occurred).

The IRS sometimes likes people to send statements or forms announcing what methods they take. However, for many methods, it says that people declare the accounting method simply by accounting for items a certain way on their return. For example, chances are that when you submitted your first tax return (if you are an American, I guess), you did not notify the IRS that you were taking (most likely) a cash basis accounting method. (And did you not know that you too, as an individual, have accounting methods? Because you do.) Because the IRS likes consistency, generally, something done in two consecutive tax returns is considered to establish a method of accounting.

…That is true even if the method of accounting is not permissible. Do it two years, and you’re stuck with the method, where the IRS is likely to bring it up in audit, with penalties and interest…

If someone finds themselves in an impermissible accounting method, they can’t just change it back, all sneaky like, just by doing the right thing on their next tax return. Rather, they still have to file an appropriate form notifying the IRS of a change in accounting methods — and they must calculate an adjustment based on what the tax impact would have been had they done everything right all those years. Because that’s really what the IRS cares about — when you have an established method of accounting, that has a cumulative effect on taxable income. Sometimes, the effect is small or short-lived (for example, if you were immediately deducting a cost that should have been capitalized into inventory, then the timing difference will only be as long as it took you to sell the inventory…which could just be a few months, depending on the inventory turnover), but sometimes the effect is large or long-lived (for example if you were immediately deducting a cost that should have been capitalized to a non-residential building…then that should  be recovered over the 39-year tax depreciable life of the building…considerably longer.)

So, why would anyone submit a change of accounting methods if they found themselves in a bad one? That sounds like it is just asking for trouble from the IRS, since those applications go directly to the IRS. The upside here is the effect of that adjustment can be spread out over 4 years (whereas, if the IRS catches you, they will suggest an immediate change), and generally comes with audit protection. If a taxpayer catches their mistake before the IRS, so the logic goes, then they get a little bit of a break.

Elijah Abel, early black Mormon with Priesthood

like this guy, who was a Seventy

Now, getting back to Mormonism…early in the church, we know that some black men were ordained to the priesthood…but we know that early in the church, at some point, this stopped happening. Not only were black men excluded from the priesthood, but black men and women were excluded from the benefit of temple ordinances.

The church stresses now that this was just a “policy” but not a “doctrine,” but that even “policies” require “revelations” to change. What’s that all about?

If a policy — even an “impermissible” policy like a priesthood ban — is like a method of accounting, then we can say that a revelation is like the application required to change an accounting methods.

I guess in the end, this analogy is kinda lame though. I mean, who is the IRS here? Is it God? What would it mean for God to audit you or the church? The IRS doesn’t immediately audit impermissible accounting methods because it doesn’t necessarily catch them immediately, but would the same be true for God in an LDS worldview. Can a leader who has implemented a theological “impermissible method of accounting” be said to have led the church astray? What would a catchup adjustment to fix the cumulative effect of the priesthood ban look like, and has the LDS church made that adjustment? What would the penalties and interest of God catching the mistake first look like, and is the LDS church actually paying those instead?

Love as Irrational as Faith; Faith as Self-destructive as Love

I was reading two blog posts by a Facebook friend of mine whom I regard as crazy smart and yet pretty at odds in the spiritual and theological dimension (which is typically bound to be the case when contrasting a believing Mormon with an atheist of Mormon upbringing.)

The first one I want to discuss is his post on — as he himself puts it — his “irrational” faith. He begins by writing:

I know that my redeemer lives. This knowledge is born of my faith, and my faith comes from my personal spiritual experiences. My experiences are repeatable for myself: therefore, to me, they are scientific proof. To anyone else, they will mean nothing unless that anyone else has his own corresponding spiritual experiences.

Whoever searches for a reason for faith in external proofs is a fool that does not understand faith. What, would such a searcher have the same demands for evidence were someone to profess love for that person? Is not the unspeakable bond of the heart sufficient? If not, love can never be in the life of that person. And, since faith is love, so goes faith.

But open a heart to love, and it opens to faith. There are things about love for which I have no reasons, but only trust, and that trust is sufficient even if irrational. When I allow this irrational, unproven faith into my life, I find that my heart fills and then spills over with joy and love. When this faith guides my heart and my actions, I seek to do good and to serve others. Would I subject such goodness and service to withering doubts to drain my desire to do them? Or would I be better for it if I kept my faith, nurtured it, purified myself that my faith would become more perfect?

I find much to agree with here (although not so much with what is written afterward by not quoted here. Then again, maybe that’s precisely what a faithless sociopathic murderer-lying-in-wait would say). Even as a nonbeliever, I find myself preoccupied with subjectivity, unlike so many other nonbelievers I know who are so preoccupied with the external proofs of objectivity. To me, I value my experiences — experiences are the closest thing to me. I live with my experiences.

Read more…

On Being Heard within Mormonism

Over at Mormon Matters, Dan Wotherspoon has teamed up with Gina Colvin (A Thoughtful Faith) and Natasha Helfer Parker (Mormon Mental Health) to co-produce a podcast about being heard in Mormonism today. This podcast was created mostly in response to this past weekend’s General Conference, in which a few folks indicated that they were opposed during the sustaining of church leaders. This move appears to have been obviously ineffective, with much of the discussion from orthodox members criticizing the stunt. However, one counter-response is that this was supposed to be the institutionally legitimate mechanism for expressing opposition, so if it isn’t, then can grievances be expressed?

I think that a lot of people have covered this topic in one way or another. I know that Carol Lynn Pearson has discussed it on some podcasts she has been on. Stephen Marsh covered the topic of being heard a while back at Wheat & Tares. I don’t think that the answer is what a lot of people really want to hear — one has to really “pay ones dues” (you know, the phrase: “no one cares how much you know until they know how much you care”), and even after that, framing and approach are super critical. Presenting messages in the heat of the moment — from the depths of pain or anger — is just likely to backfire. This produces systemic biases against change and agitation (the status quo can always just dismiss critics as being too emotional, too non-objective, etc.,), but this is meant as a descriptive, not a normative statement — it’s just the way things are.

While I think the podcast reached at similar ideas, what I found fascinating with this podcast with the implied, perhaps subconscious conclusion that each of the participants — Dan, Gina, and Natasha — expressed in some way or another. Rather than talking about ways of being heard within Mormonism, I feel that each participant expressed how they have come to a point where they have a certain independence to or distance from the church institution where they are secure in their own foundations, experiences, etc., and so they don’t feel they need to be heard.

Read more…

Christians, Same-Sex Marriage, and Homonormativity…at Wheat & Tares

I have finally gotten around to expanding my thoughts on Mormons (but also other Christians) missing the opportunity to defend the family by preaching homonormativity at Wheat & Tares.

Without rehashing both posts, I will summarize another way:

I feel like a lot of religious groups say something like, “Well, since same-sex couples don’t make babies, we have absolutely nothing constructive we can say about them. We can’t make any statements about better vs. worse ways to engage in relationships with others if they don’t lead to babies.”

Some commenters elsewhere on the internet have said that because they see any homosexual activity as sin, that they really see no difference between gay monogamy and gay promiscuity — to them, there is no difference. (And then there are those who say that gays are inherently promiscuous, and therefore…there is no benefit to trying to get them to be monogamous? [but, somehow, trying to get them to be celibate is a definitely better idea.])

I don’t get it.

Beyond Belief and Unbelief: The Abundant Life

In his latest episode at Mormon Matters, Dan Wotherspoon seeks to discuss faith crises from a perspective beyond belief and unbelief. I wanted to share/summarize the comment I had written about certain things discussed in that podcast here:

I loved the recentering of the discussion that we need to move away from abstractions about what eternal life/godly life entails, and I loved the concept that this involves life and living…the “short list” per Carlisle — things like autonomy, personal dignity, a sense of self-direction, etc., etc., (In other words, the abundant life is when one is living a life with a sense of personal dignity, a sense of autonomy, and things like this…and ideally, religions and churches help one with these sorts of things.) I like the idea that faith crises can be connected to these ideas, and that concerns about “beliefs” may actually be a few steps removed from more basic concerns about “short list” items.

But I don’t think the problem is that the church or people in the church or whatever fail to move away from abstractions into the specifics. Rather, I think the issue is that Mormonism is *very* specific about lived experience concerns, asserting a checklist or list of rules or specific prescriptions. This is stifling to anyone who doesn’t fit it in any reason. Read more…

The Lost Opportunity to Preach Homonormativity

One of the things that befuddles me about traditional Christianity (and also Mormonism) is its morality about sexuality. Ostensibly, one of the sells about these religions is supposed to be their fruits. A life transformed by Jesus Christ is supposed to look like something, but more specifically, it’s supposed to look like something good, and as has been discussed at LDS & Evangelical Conversations, certain Christians should agree on what that life should look like.

I asked what a life transformed by Jesus should look like, since from my view, Christians seem just as petty, judgmental, spiteful, rude, angry, inconsiderate, as everyone else (it’s as if….contrary to the claim that religion is obviously decisive in one’s life…that instead, religion is irrelevant.) (But it’s worse than that…it’s as if religion is not just irrelevant, but also sometimes harmful…as some of the fruits I see from Christians are self-denial, self-rejection, inauthenticity, lying to oneself and to others, fearfulness, and so on. It is these sorts of things that cause people to have faith crises, I think.)

Some people answered that Christians sin just like everyone else, so one shouldn’t expect Christians to be perfect. Then someone gave me the standard Biblical answer for what sorts of things should be manifesting in a transformed Christian life.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control

The fun thing about this scripture is how generic it is…how…it doesn’t seem to fit the moral code that Christians want to enshrine in law, and how it isn’t even unique to Christianity.

That being said, for the most part, I think that I can recognize that there are some human ills and deficiencies. So, you know, I can see how lying is bad…I obviously can see how stealing is bad, how murder is bad. These things produce worse outcomes — even if those outcomes don’t come immediately. (Of course, there’s room to argue on whether these things are bad in every situation, or whether there are justifications. Ethics is not a solved problem.)

I don’t think Christianity is unique to recognize these things as bad, and I don’t think one needs to be Christian to recognize these things as bad. I think that many people can often be “unaware” or “unconscious” about things they are doing that are harming their lives, and that frameworks or concepts or ideas or worldview that can help people be more fully “awake” are helpful. However, I think that some things that Christianity is adamant are “bad” just…don’t make a lot of sense.

I think that homosexuality is a clear example.

Katie L wrote a great post that I think is relevant here.

The argument typically goes like this: sexuality is given to humanity for expression in marriage between a man and a woman.  Homosexuality falls outside these boundaries, therefore it is sin. It is like alcoholism or a propensity toward violence because it is a natural urge of which God has forbidden expression.  Like other impulses of the “natural man,” we might feel drawn to certain behaviors, but that doesn’t make acting on the impulse justifiable or correct.

This is an argument I myself espoused for many years.  But then I took a closer look and realized that I had failed to take note of some critical differences.

First, consider the nature of sexuality itself.  I think we can all agree that sexuality is not inherently evil; at worst we might say it is morally neutral, a power humanity has been given to exercise for good or ill.  At best (and I think a strong argument can be made for this), it’s inherently good.

Contrast this with urges toward addiction or violence, or other urges symptomatic of the “natural man,” such as avarice, hatred, or judgment.  These natural inclinations necessarily lead to destructive ends.  There is no situation where addiction is healthy.  There is no situation where violence is the best answer.  There is no situation where hatred can be used positively.  There is no situation where it’s correct to envy or condemn.  That’s not the case for sex.  Sexual urges are something fundamentally different from these other urges (which I like to call “diabolical” vices).

Please note that, in and of itself, this doesn’t make homosexuality right — it just makes questions of sexuality DIFFERENT from cases of addiction or violence.  We can all think of circumstances where sexuality is used in destructive ways.  But a closer examination reveals that this tends to happen when sexuality is tied up in one of the diabolical vices: sexual coercion is violence; sexual addiction is, well, addiction; lust is the de-humanizing of someone made in the image of God and reducing them into an object for personal gratification; infidelity is dishonesty and betrayal.  The list goes on.

Which of the diabolical vices is homosexuality attached to?  Dead serious question.  Because I can’t find one.

Not only that, Jesus said, “By your fruits ye shall know them.”  When I examine committed, mature homosexual relationships, I see the same kind of fruit emerging as in committed, mature heterosexual relationships.  I see people who are willing to sacrifice, work together, and grow together to become something greater as a couple than they could be alone.  I see stability and peace.  I see the transformation that comes from sharing a life with others.

Yep. See, the way that Christians and Mormons want to lump homosexuality itself with things like lying (see the comments to this article) just befuddles me — like do they really not see the categorical difference between the two? Do they really not see the inherent destruction in some things that don’t exist in others?

(Then again, some people argued that from a sinful perspective, what may be evil may look good and what may be good may look evil…but doesn’t this really undercut the idea that we will know based on fruits? If moral intuitions actually cannot be trusted, and everyone doesn’t necessarily recognize what is moral as moral, then doesn’t this actually put us close to relativism?)

I mean, it feels like some Christians only see out of homosexuality a particular form of promiscuous hedonism. One person in one of the discussions seemed to think that the discussion on homosexuality was an open and shut case because to him, the fruit of homosexuality is AIDS. In these comments and others, there doesn’t seem to be an acknowledgement that 1) straight people can be promiscuous, can catch diseases, etc., too, and 2) gay people can live their sexuality in non-promiscuous ways.

I just feel like if Christians want to espouse a sexual ethic of commitment and monogamy, they are missing an opportunity to preach that ethic consistently to homosexuals. I mean, as some of the most heteronormative people — in the sense of espousing the father and mother, 2.5 kids, and white picket fence is an ideal — Mormons in particular have a really easy way out of their LGB conundrums: espouse homonormativity. (P.S., I think LDS ideas about eternal gender vs fallen bodies gives them an easier out on transgender issues, but that’s a different post.)

To be sure, homonormativity is not without its critics; after all, one could make the claims that the sort of standards around heteronormativity are a perfect storm of classist, racist, consumerist, sexist, and all sorts of other bugaboos. But hey, it just goes to show that someone could advocate for particular expressions of heterosexuality (hetero, homo, bi, or other) without moving to an “anything goes” standpoint. And the thing is: lots of people who are raised in Christian or Mormon homes would *love* if this were an option open to them. Many already want to do this — they want mother + mother + 2.5 kids + white picket fence, or father + father + 2.5 kids + white picket fence. But what do we do instead? We insist celibacy. For some people, it isn’t better to marry than to burn with passion. They can just deal with it or gtfo. And that’s what people do. They gtfo, and they actually do engage in a lot of the destructive behaviors because they were taught that their sexuality in and of itself was wrong (so if you’re going to be wrong, why not go all the way?)

…I understand that this will probably always be too much to ask of the Christians who enshrine sexuality to being about a penis entering a vagina with the hopes of producing babies — they will not be amused or satisfied. And I guess it is true that there are still people who think that even *contraception* is sinful, so it isn’t even enough to point out that most straight people aren’t doing that. (Oh, they are just fallen sinners too…)

But I dunno, people seriously and unironically discussing how committed, monogamous gay relationships are comparable to lying or how they should be included in lists of moral deficiencies…yeah, that just doesn’t seem like great fruit to me.

Sadness for ExMormons; Sadness for Mormons

Over at Wheat & Tares, I wrote an article “Misplaced Sadness for Exmormons.” This article was in response to bhodges article at By Common Consent: “A Few Confessions for people who have left the church.” While I appreciated much of the article, what bothered me was the fact that even though he was making all sorts of concessions about people who leave the church (for example: “someone who leaves the church can still live a good and happy life”; “I cast them in the role of sufferer whether they feel like they suffer, or whether their actual suffering differs much from my own resulting from the vicissitudes of life that impact anyone “; or even “there are people who leave but who maintain good values and live healthy—even Christlike—lives.”), he still had this sort of sentiment:

The truth is, I do feel sorrow when people I know leave the church. But expressions of this grief can be taken in a number of ways leading to negative side-effects. These include alienating people who choose to leave, as well as reinforcing a sense of superiority on the part of people who stay. At the most basic level, the idea is that a person who leaves is being defined according to a perceived lack on their part. Sorrowing for them makes sense according to the assumption that staying is the absolute right decision. In sorrowing, I impose my own standard on them even though I do it as an act of love. But my love is thereby revealed to be conditional. Instead of relating to a former member as still being a sister or brother in Christ, a dear friend or family member, I define myself over and against them—even if I admit that the fact that I’m still here and they aren’t seems ultimately mysterious.

I should put my sorrow in perspective. I sorrow for people stricken with cancer. I sorrow for parents who lose a child. I sorrow for suffering. In expressing sorrow for people who leave, I express judgment about their actions and the quality of their life.

So, I just wanted to write a post to say: “look. No need to sorrow for people who leave the church. No need to use the same emotion (even if in different intensity or quantity) as you would for people stricken with cancer, because for many people, leaving the church is a thing to rejoice. And didn’t someone somewhere say: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn”?

At the same time, as I read the comments, I got a glimpse of the other side, and I will say…there are still things to be sad about for the entire situation.

Read more…

The desire to believe vs the disappointing anxiety of a false hope

I have gone around in several venues (even here, way back when) arguing against doxastic voluntarism — or, in layman’s terms, the idea that beliefs are consciously chosen. That’s just not the way I see things. Beliefs are a response to stimuli, evidence (although my understanding of evidence is far more subjective than others might like), experiences, etc., — and that response is not chosen. I recognize that what I can do is choose to place myself in certain situations and hope that I will have certain responses…but the response is never chosen. My favorite analogy for changing beliefs is that of gambling — if someone chooses to keep buying lottery tickets, he may one day win. But does choosing to buy lottery tickets mean choosing to win (in the event he does)?

I would say no.

Rejecting doxastic voluntarism really doesn’t mesh well in lots of theological contexts (like, say, Arminianism). But it also really doesn’t mesh well with Mormonism, which fetishizes free will and agency. Many Mormons just don’t know how to deal with the concept that beliefs may not be chosen.

I feel that one common move for Mormons to make is to talk about the difference between knowledge, believing on the words of others, desiring to believe, and hoping. This setup is fleshed out in a Mormon sense on D&C 46: 11-14 or so:

10 And again, verily I say unto you, I would that ye should always remember, and always retain in your minds what those gifts are, that are given unto the church.

11 For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God.

12 To some is given one, and to some is given another, that all may be profited thereby.

13 To some it is given by the Holy Ghost to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that he was crucified for the sins of the world.

14 To others it is given to believe on their words, that they also might have eternal life if they continue faithful.

Even though people mean the discussion of gifts in an inclusive way, it seems to me that people read things pretty narrowly. I mean, just because it is given to “some” to know and to “others” to believe on their words…that doesn’t mean that “some” plus “others” equals everyone. And really, if you look at all of the gifts, it seems that not all gifts are created equally. If you don’t know or believe, then who cares if you have the gift of the word of knowledge? I mean, we know from the scriptures that to be learned is good, if they hearken unto the counsels of God.

But I digress. I wanted to get into the phenomenology of hope vs desiring to believe, and why I don’t think these are choices.

Read more…

The Un-Sorcerer

My favorite trope of all TVTropes is probably the Un-Sorcerer.

But first, a background. A few years back, I wrote a post about magic, fantasy, and atheism. There, I discussed the way that many people see fantasy as illustrating greater highlights to this worlds’ spiritual reality, whereas I do not see such. Instead, I wrote:

What struck me about this was that for me, I never really felt the magic of Mormonism. I never felt as if I was “living in a magical world of angels and miracles.”

I then wrote about SaGa Frontier 2 — and specifically, how in that game it discussed the issue of a character who utterly could not use magic in a world suffused with it. As I wrote:

When I played SaGa Frontier 2, I thought that one character was particularly interesting: Gustave XIII, the heir to the Finney family and heir to the throne, fails the family’s “Firebrand Ceremony” and is banished from the kingdom. But what is this ceremony and how does Gustave fail? The Firebrand Ceremony determines who is the worthy successor to the throne in a kind of sword-in-the-stone-esque manner: the candidate for the ceremony lifts the family weapon (the namesake Firebrand) and channels his “anima” (a force that actually permeates throughout all living beings and all of nature, but which humans can only manipulate through tools) so that the blade glows fire-red. If the candidate is burned by the blade, he fails.

…But if the candidate cannot even channel anima through the blade, and thus cannot make the blade glow, then he fails even more spectacularly.

To the horror of his father (the King), Gustave has utterly no control of anima.

Gustave is able to remain relevant in the game through his use of steel, which is dead to anima and therefore well-suited to those who cannot use anima like Gustave. The thing about steel is that in contrast to the materials that make anima-infused tools (e.g., stone, wood, fangs, things like that) is that it’s more physically powerful and more durable (oh yeah, in the game, you have to worry about using most weapons too much, because they will break…metal weapons have infinite durability). In a way, Gustave’s adoption of steel tools vs. the dominant non-steel tools is like the introduction of guns to a world that had previously fought with swords, spears, and bows. (Is it interesting that Mustadio, the character who first introduces guns to the game Final Fantasy Tactics, also is an avowed atheist?)

I tried comparing to other series’ concepts like Harry Potter’s squibs, but I found appreciable differences. I mean, in Harry Potter, there are squibs, but it would be difficult to imagine writing the series with Harry being a squib — his ability to be a protagonist is distinctly based on his ability to use magic.

But then I found out The Unsorcerer from TVTropes.

Read more…

(Not) Making Sense of Christianity

I know that it’s been a long time since my last post, and I’ve kept thinking to myself…I should write a post. But then I feel that it would just take so long to catch everyone up with what I’ve been thinking about. Since I’m lazy, I would probably do a really poor job of that, but I wouldn’t want to post something that I know to be a pretty lazy post. And so I’ve sat around without any new posts.

But I’ll try something out after all.

Recently, I’ve been commenting at LDS & Evangelical Conversations. I used to read the blog a long time ago, but at some point, I just stopped reading as regularly. It wasn’t for any particular reason…it just dropped off my list.

Recently, though, it got back on my list. What intrigued me was a series of posts by Jared C. Without linking to each post that caught my eye, I’ll just say that what intrigued me about Jared was that he is someone who was raised Mormon, who had been an atheist for some time, yet who appears to have come to a very different (…Protestant?) view of Christ. He has written a series of posts attempting to harmonize LDS concepts to traditional Christian concepts (for example, his post that the traditional Christian God is the Light of Christ in Mormonism). I don’t think this is really done to say that Mormons believe the same things as non-LDS Christians — since Jared’s project also about showing that there is something missing in how Mormons understand Jesus or how they understand sin — but I do think it is very much an ecumenical project.

That being said, what I’ve been interested is seeing if perhaps he or the other regulars at LDS Talk can make sense of Christianity for me.

Read more…


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