Preserving Institutional Religious Freedom (Part 1)

Recently, the ABA announced that it was reviewing a formal complaint against BYU Law School from the FreeBYU group. The group is highly critical of BYU’s policies regarding LGBTQ individuals, and also BYU’s policy of excluding students who have been excommunicated and stopped participating in the Church.

There are two arguments in particular that I have heard made recently that I wish to respond to and refute.

The first is the notion that it is BYU’s policy that results in religious discrimination because it forbids students from freely exercising their faith. The second is the notion that since accreditation (as well as Federal student aid which I have heard some invoke as well) is not a right, punishing BYU for its policies does not violate religious freedom. Continue reading

Lehi’s Dream and the Parable of the Sower

I love Lehi’s dream. It is one of my favorite portions of scripture, because of how the themes and images in the dream are applicable in so many different circumstances. Lehi interprets the vision in a wholly familial way, while focusing on his own children and their needs. Nephi receives an interpretation of the dream that instead places against the vast backdrop of human history. This is a rich and multifaceted account that deserves serious study.

One of my favorite observations about Lehi’s dream is how well it parallels or syncs up with the Savior’s parable of the sower. Just as there were four types of soil in the parable, there are likewise four groups and they are closely parallel. This is a chart I made for my Sunday School class in order to illustrate the comparison. I’ve seen different pairings between the groups in other sources, but this is the pairing that I believe is best.  (Reversing the thorns and stony places would also make sense but I prefer this arrangement for reasons that I describe below). Continue reading

Bigger than Life Prophet: Review of John Turner’s B.Y. Biography

BYPPDuring his life, Brigham Young was among the most hated and feared men. Even some of those who supported him didn’t always get along with his irascible personality. National newspapers often portrayed him as a portly womanizer on the verge of destroying the progress of a modernizing civilization. International opinion agreed, although they saw him as the result of an upstart and untamed United States. The Mormons, along with Brigham Young, were seen as a force to be reckoned with or an unspecified moral doom would be the result. Many generations later he is still mocked and derided with the same images started in Eastern newspapers. Among current Mormons his image is rough, but strong as his statues in Utah. Both believers and detractors have made him into an legendary icon of opposing saint and sinner visions.

The biographer John G. Turner hoped with his book to slice through the competing images of a man who was either a hero who built half the Western U.S., or committed every crime imaginable. Like most things Mormon it wouldn’t be an easy task. Turner believed Stanley P. Hirshson’s The Lion of the Lord relied too heavily on Eastern newspaper accounts, and Leonard J. Arrington’s Brigham Young: American Moses slanted too positive as a loyal follower of the religion. He wanted to use more first hand accounts and reminiscences to build a better biography that accepted both the good and the bad about the man. With some reservations the book succeeded.

Stylistically it reads almost like a companion to Richard L. Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by giving the participants benefit of the doubt through their own words. Nothing seems to have been written to try and undermine or explain away spiritual experiences. There are some differences in subject treatment. Turner doesn’t focus as much on the theological developments and teachings, except where there is a direct connection to events. He uses theology to try and understand why Brigham Young or his followers behaved a certain way, while Bushman sometimes went off on a theological or philosophical tangent. In no way does this take away from the whole of the book, but sometimes it can feel like unexplored gaps remain. Considering that the biographer is a non-Mormon it probably is for the best. Even if he has a decent and mostly unobjectionable understanding of Mormon theology. Very few Mormon readers should be offended by doctrinal treatments, although certainly have a few disagreements with interpretations. Continue reading

The Mormon Case Against Gun Control

2ndAmendmentAll over the Internet has been talk of gun control and the current President’s executive order to extend background checks for those selling firearms. He and his supporters believe that too many guns have created a deadly culture of violence. Counter arguments have sprung up that all the crimes used to back laws for more gun restrictions would not have been avoided. No lives would have been saved by background checks because criminals don’t follow the laws anyway. The other concern is that making it harder to obtain and carry guns puts handicaps self-defense and puts innocent lives at risk. Many believe the underlying problems of mental illness and unchecked illegal immigration are ignored or worse. Mormon scripture and history contains evidence that blocking people from having weapons is a death sentence when up against the hearts of murderers.

History has examples of government or hostile forces restricting or taking guns away from people and then attacking them. The Ottoman Empire in 1911 passed a law banning guns, and within a few years started what is known as the Armenian Holocaust with 1.2 million deaths. Armenian soldiers fighting for the same side as the Ottomans in WWI were disarmed and killed after placed in labor camps. Of course, Nazi Germany is the most famous example with a law in 1938 banning all guns for Jews while deregulating for almost everyone else. He also stated in 1942, “The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing. Indeed, I would go so far as to say that the supply of arms to the underdogs is a sine qua non for the overthrow of any sovereignty.” (Hitler’s Table-Talk at the Fuhrer’s Headquarters 1941-1942, Dr. Henry Picker, ed. Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, 1951). In other words, he taught those with the guns controlled those who didn’t have them. The American frontier proved this many times with the U.S Government treatment of Indians. Most of the military raids were to disarm the Native Americans and drive them from their homelands or outright kill them. Custard’s last stand represents what happens when armed resistance is possible against a hostile force. In the end one battle didn’t matter against the tide of Western American history, but that day would have seen an Indian massacre instead.

As a matter of consideration, the true Gospel is one of peace and avoidance of violence. Jesus Christ who came to offer Salvation to humanity is known as “The Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6) preaching love. His greatest sermon proclaims, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9). The faithful are required to “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you,” (Matt. 5:44) because its easy to love those who already show love. It is much harder to do the same for people that are seen as an opposition.One of the stated reasons for the Great Flood was the constant violence (Gen. 6:11) that filled the Earth. Continue reading

Disagreeing with LDS Prophets and Apostles vs Losing Confidence in Them


[Cross-Posted from Sixteen Small Stones: Disagreeing with LDS Prophets and Apostles vs Losing Confidence in Them]

Among some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it has become increasingly common to openly and publicly criticize teachings, directions, decisions, and policies of the prophets and apostles of the church.

I recognize that this trend is at least partially the consequence of a more general societal shift in attitudes and perceptions of privacy; a shift that is influenced by blurring lines between the public and the private driven by information technology and the Internet.

As long-time readers of my blog know, I am very troubled by this trend. I am troubled by the nonchalance with which members of the church confidently declare that they know that the prophets and apostles are wrong about this-or-that.

While I have have written extensively about this and related topics, I recognize that my posts are long, disconnected, and probably not very accessible to casual readers. When you are discussing the issue in the comments of social media, pointing to pages and pages of blog posts written over the course of several years just doesn’t work well.

So here is my attempt to distill my reasoning into a single, more succinct and consumable post: Continue reading