Feb 03

Who will GAs endorse if the Johnson Amendment is repealed?

Donald Trump has promised to get rid of the Johnson Amendment. This law prohibits church leaders from endorsing or opposing political candidates from the pulpit if the churches want to maintain their tax-exempt status. (It also applies to non-religious non-profits, but it’s the application to churches I’m interested in.)

I have no idea how difficult it might be for Trump to actually get this done. What I’m curious about is what General Authorities would do if he did. They clearly pay close attention to American politics, so I’m sure they would immediately see the implications for them and for local leaders in American wards and branches. How would they respond? I can imagine a few scenarios:

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Jan 26

Conformity Is the First Law of Heaven

I was listening to an episode of Kristy Money’s new relationship podcast, Mormon Journeys, where she was talking with fellow therapist Rachel Brown, and Rachel made a point that particularly struck me. Here’s what she said:

There’s not a lot of cultural room in the LDS tradition for differentiation of an individual. It’s almost like we’re set up to never differentiate as adults. And by “differentiate” I mean a couple of things, but mainly the idea that you can choose your own set of beliefs and values.

Now this might sound obvious, but what was striking to me here is that I typically think of us Mormons as being obedience-happy, but Rachel’s point is that we’re also conformity-happy. The distinction between the two is that obedience is doing something in response to a command(ment), whereas conformity is doing something in response to a social norm. Conformity also includes changing beliefs and attitudes, in contrast with obedience, which only involves behavior. (Here’s a nice article I found that discusses the differences.)

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Jan 13

Seven Little-known Perks of Being a GA

Since the recent leak of documents that give the size of GAs’ salaries, some of the discussion around the issue has missed the important fringe benefits that GAs also receive. For example, here are seven little-known perks of being a GA:

  • When you speak at firesides, women shriek at you in reverent voices, throw modest clothing at you, and open their coats and ask you to autograph their . . . binders.
  • An attractively bound pop-up pedigree chart that traces your genealogy back to Eve.
  • Shaves and haircuts at the barber’s shop on the hidden 13th floor of the COB. (Not transferable in cases of baldness.)
  • Initial seer app. When loaded on your phone, it displays the middle initial of anyone the phone is pointed at so you can address them in full. (To be used on mortals only. Pointing your phone at Jesus H. Christ may void its warranty.)
  • Correlation-on-your-wrist device that reminds you with a helpful electric shock any time you are about to say something uncorrelated. (Commonly known as the OmitBit.)
  • Curelom rides for you and your family at the Granite Mountain vault. (Cumom rides no longer available.)
  • Lifetime supply of cumom jerky.

Please add to the list. What other GA perks do most of us not know about?

Jan 03

Nacle Notebook 2016: Funny Comments

This post is my annual compilation of the funniest comments I read on the Bloggernacle last year. In case you missed them, here are my compilations from previous years: 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008.

Most of the comments I’m quoting here are excerpted from longer comments (or posts). I’ve made the name of each person being quoted a link so you can always click through and read the entire comment or post. The comments are in roughly chronological order.

Michael Austin, in his post “Abrahamic Tests” at BCC:

If somebody has some brass plates that God wants or needs, He can do His own smiting. He knows how. He’s done it lots of times. I don’t smite.

petebusche, commenting on Michael Austin’s post:

“Smiter, no smiting!”

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Dec 06

More Christmas Hymns Give Me!

I love Christmas carols. In a typical year, I start listening to Christmas music by October at the latest, just to make sure I can be sure to enjoy it fully by the time Christmas actually rolls around. So it makes me sad that we have space for only 14 Christmas hymns in our hymnal. It’s not a big surprise, given that it’s not a lengthy hymnal1 to begin with, but it’s still unfortunate.

I thought it might be an interesting exercise to consider which of the 14 I might be willing to give up, and which ones I might like to add to take their place. Perhaps I’ll even think of an extra few to add in case we one day get a super-sized hymnal. Continue reading

Nov 21

Estimating New Q15 Member Calls by Future Church Presidents

A lot of discussion around US Presidential elections concerns what types of justices a candidate might appoint to the Supreme Court. This is of course particularly an issue when, as is the case now, some of the justices are quite old. It occurred to me that although it’s not exactly the same thing, a related Mormon question is how many new Q15 members future Church Presidents are expected to call.

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Nov 16

How the Election of Trump Is Like the Exclusion Policy

The United States elected Donald Trump as its next President last week. This event hit me in a similar way to the Church’s (forced) announcement of the exclusion policy last November. It’s not just that they were both surprising, although they definitely were that. I followed the election forecast and betting sites, and I believed them when they said it was most likely that Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton. As far as the exclusion policy goes, I definitely did not see it coming. Lacking a top-sacred clearance, I didn’t have any idea of what the Q15 might be considering in their meetings.

The major similarity is that both go against what I see as the fundamental principles of their organizations.

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Oct 11

A Psalm of Trump

Just as God worked in the past through King David in spite of his sexual impropriety, he works in our day through imperfect leaders such as Donald Trump. And just as David wrote many psalms in his remorse and repentance, so also has Donald Trump begun to write psalms. This is his first attempt.

I am my own shepherd; I shall not want.

I lie down in all the greenest pastures, and go by the most tremendous still waters. The very best.

I restore my soul bigly. I grab all the most beautiful women, for the sake of respect. Nobody respects women like I do.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of taxes, I will fear no filing: for carry-forward deductions are with me; my accountants and lawyers they comfort me.

My chef prepareth a table before me in the presence of illegal immigrants: very bad people, criminals, rapists. I say unto my chef, Thou art fired!

Surely wealth and success shall follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in a huuuuge tower for ever.

Sep 17

Faculty Gender Balance at the BYUs – Graphs of the Data

Michael Austin has a great post up at BCC about how small a percentage of the faculty at the BYUs are women, and what a bad message this sends to students, both female and male. I thought it might be interesting to look at the IPEDS data he used in graphical form.

Here’s a scatterplot showing each institution’s percentage of faculty who are women as a function of total faculty size.

faculty-pct-women-by-total-count Continue reading

Sep 15

Q15 Members’ Perception of Time

In the past few days, many Americans have been remembering the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. One thing that strikes me in thinking back to where I was at that time is that it sure doesn’t seem like it has been a decade and a half since that awful day. It feels like it has been a few years at most. I’m in my forties, and I think this is a common experience: time feels like it moves faster as we get older. I look at my kids, particularly my five-year-old, and how unbearably long an hour can be for her, or a week, or how wonderfully long a summer can be. For me, they’re all gone in a flash. One day it’s Memorial Day, and then I turn around and it’s Labor Day and summer is on the wane. And then I blink and it’s Christmas, while of course for my five-year-old, that same amount of time on the calendar has taken forever to pass.

One theory (attributed to the philosopher Paul Janet) for why this happens is that as we age, each successive year (or whatever unit of time you like) constitutes a smaller and smaller fraction of our lives. When you’re five, for example, the next year is as long as 20% (1/5) of your life, whereas when you’re 50, the next year is as long as 2% (1/50) of your life. The result is that each successive year feels shorter than the previous one, and this difference is particularly dramatic between the first few years of life, when the years pass relatively slowly, and most of adulthood, when they’re shorter and similar in length. Here’s an article talking about this theory in a little more detail, and here’s a cool visualization created by a designer named Maximilian Kiener that really illustrates it well.

I thought it might be interesting to use Janet’s theory to get a sense of how long ago Q15 members perceive historical events to be. From the way many of them often talk about the evil they feel is relentlessly increasing in the world, I wonder if part of what they’re feeling isn’t just caused by the perception that time speeds up as you get older. If bad things happen at a fairly regular pace, as time feels like it’s going faster, the bad things seem closer together in time. And as many of the Q15 are really quite old, time likely feels like it’s going extremely fast for them.

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Sep 01

“We don’t know much about Heavenly Father either!”

Every time someone complains on the blogs about the fact that we know next to nothing about Heavenly Mother, someone else busts out the tried-and-true argument that we shouldn’t feel bad about this, because we don’t know much about Heavenly Father either. (For example, see the discussion following Tracy M.’s wonderful post “But Where Am I?” at BCC a few days ago.)

This is not a good argument. It kind of suggests that people are wishing to hear little details about Heavenly Mother. Like maybe is she left-handed? Or what’s her favorite color? Or her shoe size? Or how did she and Heavenly Father meet during their mortal probation? Perhaps she was a dentist and he was a bartender, and he totally botched her complicated drink request, but he had such a charming smile that all her friends said she should give him a chance, and she did, and the rest is history.

But of course, it’s nothing like this that people want to know. It’s the basics. The fact is that we know some very basic fundamental things about Heavenly Father than we don’t know about Heavenly Mother. Continue reading

Aug 25

Random Memories of Growing Up a Neurotic Mormon

I’m temperamentally a neurotic person, anxiety-prone and a worrier. Thinking back to some of the things I remember best about growing up in the Church, it occurred to me that many of them evidence an interaction of my neuroticism with my Mormonism. I thought it might be interesting to share some of these experiences.

  • At the ages of six and seven, I really internalized the teaching that children who died before the age of accountability would be guaranteed exaltation. I also didn’t learn too much (i.e., anything) about grace, and it was pretty clear to me that that was likely my only shot, since as soon as I was baptized and became responsible for my sins, I was sure to sin up such a storm that I would never be able to keep track of and repent of them all. Considering these facts, I mused a fair amount about suicide. I wasn’t particularly depressed; I was just thinking through things logically. I never made anything like a concrete plan, but I often turned the idea over in my mind, and wished that I could come up with a way to make it happen. It seemed perfectly in line with what I was learning at church: better to suffer a small pain now and have happiness later than avoid pain now and have sadness later. When I turned eight and went ahead and got baptized, I was disappointed in myself that I hadn’t been able to work up the courage to go through with killing myself. I was resigned to the reality that I now had my feet firmly planted on the path to damnation.

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Jul 07

Do Utah and Idaho use more unusual names than other states do? Part I

I enjoyed Jessie Jensen’s post a couple of months ago at BCC where she reported on a number of unusual names used for babies born in Rexburg and Idaho Falls in 2015. One question that came up in the comments was whether Mormons (or at least Mormons in Utah or Idaho) actually use more unusual names than people in other places do. I was interested in this question, and my co-blogger Katya pointed out that the US Social Security Administration (SSA) actually publishes data on how often different names are used in each state each year. So I thought it might be fun to look at these data, and see if they could help me attempt to answer the question.

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May 26

Abdicating Authority to the Algorithms

Supporters of chicken patriarchy like to cite calling on family members to say prayers as an example of a duty that the father in a family, as the presider and priesthood holder, must perform. I suspect this is a preferred example because it carves out a required role for the man, but it avoids the offensiveness of men’s supposed duties that fans of paleo-patriarchy might cite, such as the duty to be the final decider in matters of schooling, employment, or spending.

Because this is such a oft-cited example (in blog discussions at least), it is with some glee that I report that as the husband and father in my family, I have abdicated this duty to an algorithm. And not even one of my own making! One of my kids came up with it. And to be fair, calling it an algorithm is making it sound way more complicated than it is. It’s a very simple system. In case you’re curious, here’s how it works. Family members are ordered by age, and each family member is assigned a number from zero to number of family members minus one. The day of the month is then divided by the number of family members, and the remainder is matched up to one of the assigned numbers to find who gets to say family prayer. For blessings at mealtime, the meal number (1, 2, or 3; no allowance is made for things like second breakfast) is added to the date. For example, today is May 26th. There are five people in my family. To decide who says the blessing on lunch, we take 26 (day) + 2 (meal number), divide by 5 (number of family members), yielding a remainder of 3, so this means it’s my second oldest child’s turn (since the family is numbered 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 in age order). Continue reading

May 17

The Pope Gives Ordain Women a Shot in the Arm

Pope Francis said a few days ago that he will organize a commission to look into having women serve as deacons in the Catholic Church. Now of course he wasn’t guaranteeing that he would end up taking any action, and deacons aren’t priests, and Catholics aren’t Mormons. But I still wonder if even this signal of people considering a possible change in another church might not bode well for the cause of Ordain Women.

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May 04

Who Will Canonize the Family Proclamation?

I admit I breathed a small sigh of relief when this last General Conference ended without the Proclamation on the Family being presented to be added to the D&C. It seemed like it might have been an opportune time: the first annual (April) Conference following all the twentieth anniversary celebrations last year. So I was glad that it didn’t happen, but it occurs to me now that the question of the Family Proclamation getting canonized might be less about when it happens and more about who makes it happen.

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Apr 14

Why do Church leaders dislike the internet?

In Elder Ballard’s recent address to CES teachers, he warned his audience several times of the dangers of the internet to their students. For example, he admonished teachers to

Teach [students] about the challenges they face when relying upon the Internet to answer questions of eternal significance. Remind them that James did not say, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him Google!”

Wise people do not rely on the Internet to diagnose and treat emotional, mental, and physical health challenges, especially life-threatening challenges. Instead, they seek out health experts, those trained and licensed by recognized medical and state boards.

james did not say ask of googleWhy do Church leaders not want young people looking for for answers on the internet? One often-cited answer to this question is that they don’t like the information students might find–information that will likely contradict the carefully curated view of the Church and its history that is typically taught at Church and in seminary and institute classes. For example, students may learn that perhaps Joseph and Emma’s marriage wasn’t quite so idyllic as it is often portrayed, what with him marrying many other wives, typically behind Emma’s back.

Elder Ballard specifically mentions this problem of negative information in his address. He says that CES teachers should introduce students to faith-promoting approaches to controversial topics so that students will measure any more negative interpretations that they encounter later against what they heard first from their teachers.

I think Church leaders are concerned with more than just information when it comes to the internet, though. There are two other things that people also find there that I suspect they also dislike: validation and voice. Continue reading

Mar 31

Predictions for General Conference

General Conference already got underway last week, but I’m a bit slow, so I’m just now getting to making some predictions for the remainder of the sessions. You can help me out by telling me which in each pair of possible events is most likely to occur in the remainder of Conference.

Which in each pair is more likely?

  • President Monson talks about widows.
  • President Uchtdorf talks about airplanes.
  • President Monson talks about widowers.
  • President Uchtdorf talks about spaceplanes.
  • President Monson talks about Windows.
  • President Uchtdorf talks about Linux.

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Mar 14

“A single standard”

US civil rights law prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of characteristics such as race and gender. Prohibited discrimination can take the form of disparate treatment or disparate impact. Disparate treatment is easy to spot: it is simply treating members of different groups differently. For example, an employer who refuses to hire women would be liable under disparate treatment. Disparate impact is typically more difficult to see. It arises when a test or procedure the employer uses has the effect of discriminating against members of one group versus another. An employer who gives applicants a speech test that is scored by software that picks up lower pitches better than higher pitches might be liable under disparate impact, as women would likely perform worse on the test. (Employers are allowed to discriminate, though, if they can show that the characteristic they are using to select employees is a requirement to do the job.)

I think the concepts of disparate treatment and disparate impact are useful for talking about how the Church discriminates. In using these terms, I’m not suggesting that members are like employees; I’m just borrowing the terms to have an easy way to refer to different types of discrimination.

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