Author: Sam Brunson

Sam Brunson grew up in the suburbs of San Diego and served a Brazilian mission what seems like a millennium ago. He went to BYU as an undergrad and found that a freshman saxophone performance major made his eventual English major look like a practical choice. After toying with teaching critical theory or becoming an author, Sam did what all good English majors do and chose law school. At Columbia, he met his wife, got a degree, and got a job as a tax associate at a New York firm. Several years later, he managed to escape the clutches of big law and landed a job teaching tax and business law at Loyola University Chicago. While Sam, sadly, does not play much saxophone these days, he and his wife do have two beautiful girls with whom he loves to spend time when he’s not pondering important questions like whether the transactional net margin method of transfer pricing constitutes an arm’s length price within the interquartile range.

This Sunday’s Sacrament Meeting

As a child in the 80s, I remember often feeling a low-level dread. Not constant, not to the extent that it interfered with enjoying life, but the dread of a Cold War child that, any minute, the happy world I lived in might be destroyed in a hail of nuclear fire.[fn1] It didn’t have anything to do with my parents, who didn’t spend any significant amount of time talking about the risk of all-out war. And I don’t recall talking about it at school or at church. But it kind of underlay the culture, emerging not infrequently from the 6:00 news. And then, of course, in 1989, that fear began to crumble. Sadly, fear returned in 2001, and we (meaning, myopically, we in the United States) now live lives of heightened awareness of tragedy, awareness that a person with a bomb or a gun can emerge in the most unexpected places and shatter the peace that we enjoy. I don’t want to comment on the tragedy in Boston; like many people, I’ve watched it in impotent sadness on Twitter and other places on the web. I mourn for those who have been hurt or killed, who have lost friends and loved ones, but I don’t have anything helpful or insightful to bring to the table.[fn2] I do, though, have one request to Sacrament meeting speakers on Sunday: please don’t talk about the bombing. Or at least, please don’t talk about…

Dealing With the Problem of Men’s Participation

One issue that people seem to raise against extending priesthood to women is its effect on men. Men, the argument goes, will be less engaged in the Church if priesthood is not a male-only domain. Because this is a practical, rather than a normative, claim, it doesn’t call for a revelatory solution. Moreover, to the extent male engagement is a real problem, the problem continues even if and after the prophet receives a revelation making priesthood available to men and women. And if it’s a real problem, we need to deal with it. Keeping men engaged at the expense of women is not a justifiable goal, but keeping men engaged is. As Julie points out on another thread, we “need to consider how to keep a generation raised on ‘yours is a sacred duty . . .’ rhetoric active after they aren’t unique any more.” The good new is, I don’t think it would be that hard to continue male engagement even in a world where all members could hold the priesthood. I assume, of course, that it isn’t exclusivity in holding the priesthood that encourages male engagement; rather, it is the ability to exercise that priesthood by, among other things, serving in callings that demand the use of priesthood.[fn1] If I’m right in my assumption, the easy solution is this: smaller wards. In my Chicago ward, we’ve been blessed with very active, engaged members. But not a whole lot of them.…

Can the IRS Forbid Tithe-Paying?

Recently, the U.S. Tax Court issued an opinion of at least glancing interest to the Mormon community (and, for that matter, any tithe-paying religious community). The plaintiff in the case is the president of Compliance Innovations, Inc. He’s also a life-long Mormon who currently serves as a shift coordinator at the Manhattan temple and a stake scouting coordinator in his New Jersey stake. Also, George has incredible outstanding tax liabilities.

Happy Ratification Day!

It’s a big day today—100 years ago, on February 3, 1913, Delaware ratified the 16th Amendment, meaning it had been ratified by the necessary 36 states. And, with the ratification of the 16th Amendment, the U.S. could constitutionally impose an income tax.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?

(Assuming, of course, that Maria is a full-time ordinance worker at the Washington, D.C., temple.) Did you know that the Church owns an apartment building in Maryland? That it houses temple ordinance workers there? And that the apartment building is, legally, a convent?

Authenticity and The Book of Mormon

I know, I said a year and a half ago that I wasn’t going to see The Book of Mormon. But then it came to Chicago and, in spite of the fact that it is sold out through at least March, a friend set me up with a ticket. So I’ve now seen the show. I’m not going to review it, though. It’s already been widely reviewed, and frankly, I don’t have the musical theater chops to provide a credible review.

A Mission Story: Tigre

I met Tigre pretty soon after arriving in my second area. He was a solid man, all muscle but his midsection. As I got to know him, I learned that both his muscle and his gut were well-earned. The muscle because Tigre taught karate for a living, and owned his own studio. The gut? You have never seen such a mountain of rice, covered with an avalanche of beans, as this man ate for lunch.

An MTC Story

Mid-December is creeping up on us, bringing with it finals and the end of another semester. This year, as a result in the change in missionary ages, mid-December may also herald a tidal wave of new missionaries. Growing up, I heard not-infrequent stories about missions. But I remember only the rarest stories of the MTC. So, To better prepare you for the MTC,1 here’s an MTC story. Merry Christmas! When I was in the MTC, we had three classes a day, for three to three-and-a-half hours per class. To break up the monotony and make sure missionaries had some minimal daily physical activity, we took a walk every day in our afternoon class. My district considered itself musically talented–when we sang hymns in class, we sang them in 3-part harmony. At some point during our two months in the MTC, we decided to take our act on the road. As we walked, we sang, Portuguese hymn books in hand. We practiced our language, our singing, and made the people we passed smile. Until one day, our afternoon teacher came in without his customary smile. He told us that someone had told him that singing during our walks was inappropriate (it disturbed others, maybe? or made them feel bad about themselves because they weren’t as talented as we were?) and to knock it off. That day on our walk, we hummed hymns in 3-part harmony.2

Facebook Memes and the Property Tax

There is, I’ve been told, a Facebook meme going around, juxtaposing a decaying house and the San Diego temple to support the argument that churches should not be exempt from taxation.

And, like Facebook memes everywhere, this one is dumb. Dumb primarily because it is a tautology that doesn’t say anything. Because of course a tax-exempt organization does not pay taxes that a non-exempt individual pays. That’s pretty much the definition of tax exemption.

Of course, saying that a Facebook meme is dumb and tautological makes for a pretty short and boring post. Far more interesting, imho, is to take seriously the point that the people spreading the picture are trying to make, and complicating that rhetorical picture a little bit.

But Is It Priestcraft?

In popular Mormon discourse, priestcraft seems to be the descriptor of choice for things that we don’t like. Paid clergy? Check.1 CES? Check.2 Deseret Book? Check. Authors of religious books? Maybe check.3 It’s fair, I think, to be suspicious of financial interests that are wrapped up with the Church. At the very least,  such interests raise the specter of conflict-of-interest. But—and here’s the big question—is it priestcraft?4 According to the Book of Mormon, “priestcraft” is comprised of five criteria:5 Preaching Setting oneself up as a light In order to get gain In order to get worldly praise Not pursuing the welfare of Zion Note that some are objective criteria (I’d say (1), (2), and (5)), while others are subjective. In addition, in context, these criteria appear to be conjunctive. That is, for something to be “priestcraft,” and thus forbidden by the Lord, it needs to have all of these things. So is paid clergy priestcraft? Note that the Church has paid clergy—at least some General Authorities get a stipend. What they do is certainly preaching, but it probably misses most, if not all, of the other criteria.6 Even those Church leaders who are imperfectly prideful,7 though, and want worldly praise probably aren’t in it for gain or to denigrate the welfare of Zion. Note that the pay issue isn’t central, in any event. An unpaid clergy member could neet all five criteria. Deseret Book? Not a fan, but I can’t get (5),…

Romney’s CRUT – Updated (10/30 at 7:30 pm)

Maybe you’ve heard: Bloomberg News reports that Romney escaped taxation on some of his income by donating it to the Church, only that he donated less than he said he did, only that he didn’t have to donate as much as he said he would, or something like that. Confused? Fair enough. I’ll try to walk through what happened (though estate tax isn’t really my specialty, and I haven’t ever worked with a charitable remainder unitrust (“CRUT”). A CRUT is an irrevocable trust. What that means, essentially, is that it is a legal entity that an individual can form. As a legal entity it can own property. And a CRUT’s principal purpose is to own (and to distribute) property. In order to qualify as a CRUT, a trust must be set up to pay a fixed percentage of its assets to one or more beneficiaries.1 Upon the beneficiaries’ death, whatever is left in the trust is paid to a designated charity. Clear? Not entirely? Okay, how about this: I decide to form a CRUT (and am significantly wealthier in this hypothetical world than I am in the current one). I form the trust and contribute stock that is currently worth $1 million. I set it up to pay me 10% of its value every year and, on my death, whatever is left will go to Loyola University Chicago, where I teach. If, at the end of year one, the assets…

My Notes on Priesthood Session, October 2012

I had planned on giving a brief summary of Priesthood Session tonight; unfortunately, some family/logistical issues kept me from getting to our Church building until well after the session had started, so I’m afraid I missed the first speaker. And I’d planned on bringing my iPad to take notes on, but I accidentally left it at home, and was left with my phone for note-taking. But, in spite of the technical difficulties I faced, it was an enlightening and uplifting session of Conference. Below are my notes, with only the smallest edits for clarity and to fix some autocorrect problems (and virtually no editorial content from me): Bishop Stevenson: I came in as he was telling a story about a college kid (I think) in Japan who was at a party when somebody pulled out the marijuana. He had the courage to leave the party, along with one of his friends. There will be times when you have to stand up for right in front of your friends. But there will also be times you have to stand up for your beliefs in front of a computer screen Reward for courage: happiness and joy. Courage to say no, to say yes. Elder Perkins: Oath and Covenant of Melchizedek Priesthood. Caution signs. “Beware concerning yourselves.” Have you been stunned by the falling of a respected priesthood brother? Deep personal conversion, strong family support: twin guardrails to protect us. 1. Pray always…

An Immodest Proposal

As Sarah noted, Saturday and Sunday bring us our Fall semiannual General Conference.

As part of our twice-yearly ritual, we’ll hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir up to three times: one session of Conference Saturday, one session Sunday, and the Music and the Spoken Word broadcast before the first Sunday session.

Romney’s Tax Highlights

Okay, I took a quick look through the Romneys’ 2011 tax return. There’s plenty that could be said (it is, after all, a 300+ page document), but I only want to highlight a couple things. Note that my explanations are based on reading his returns; to the extent I ascribe motive to the Romneys, it’s not because I know their hearts, but because that’s what the tax returns look like.

Entirely Privately

When I lived in New York, I could have told you what virtually all of my friends paid in rent. It was a fairly common topic of conversation, and the conversation was one of two types: the can-you-believe-I-pay-$2,000-for-this-dump, or can-you-believe-I-only-pay-$3,500-for-this-apartment.[fn1] I didn’t really think much of it; I didn’t put much stock in financial privacy. And it wasn’t just the amount I paid in rent—as an attorney at a big firm in New York, if you wanted to know how much I made, you basically just needed to know the year I graduated from law school, the firm I worked for, and the website for NALP.[fn2] My salary was there for the viewing. After my first stint in New York, while living in the DC metro area, an acquaintance bought a house. And he mentioned the price[fn3] at his housewarming party. His wife was mortified. She explained to him that that is a number you don’t mention in public. It came as a shock to me—I was so acclimated to the public discussion of rent payments as a cocktail party discussion that it never occurred to me that anybody would want to be cagey about how much they paid for housing. I remembered these differing social conventions about money when I read the Parade Magazine[fn4] interview with the Romneys. When asked about tithing, Mitt Romney says, Our church doesn’t publish how much people have given. This is done entirely privately.…

The Upside of Returned Missionaries

I want to note, upfront, that although this post was inspired by Rachel’s and Alison’s excellent recent posts, it is not meant in any way to respond to them. I fully agree with them that there are returned missionaries—even active, temple-attending returned missionaries—who do bad things. And those bad things can, physically, spiritually, and emotionally, hurt people around them, especially where the people around them (reasonably) believe that returned missionaries should not do bad things. Moreover, being male, my relationship with (male) returned missionaries did not have the same structural inequities Alison and Rachel describe, even when I was younger. Still, I want to provide anecdotal evidence that, in some circumstances, returned missionaries can do good (at least, if you consider getting me out on a mission good). Before I went to BYU, I thought returned missionaries (or at least recent returned missionaries) were complete losers. No, I don’t remember why—it’s been a long, long time. But I think I had this vision of weenies who never stopped talking about their missions, whose style was nowhere near contemporary, who eschewed real music in favor of Mormon fluff and MoTab, who peppered their speech with words like “MoTab.” Plus, I tended to be unimpressed by most of the Elders and Sisters who passed through my ward.[fn1] My freshman year at BYU, I was a saxophone performance major. There were probably like eight of us, and then another eight or ten minors…

Moroni Torgan, Yeah Samaké, and Political Neutrality

As a result of its political neutrality policy, the Church is not going to endorse Mitt Romney in his bid to become President (or, for that matter, Harry Reid in his bid to be reelected to the Senate). There are probably a number of reasons for the Church’s desire to avoid endorsing a candidate but, as I’ve said previously, one reason may well be the tax consequences of such an endorsement. (Short refresher: technically, the IRS could revoke the Church’s tax exemption, meaning the Church would owe taxes on all of its income other than donations, and that Church members who paid tithing or other offerings could no longer deduct those donations in calculating their taxes.)