This week in Mormon Land: President Nelson wraps up tour, travels of other LDS leaders, more #MeToo revelations and the meaning of ‘ministering’

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The Mormon Land newsletter is a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether preached from the pulpit or buzzed about on the back benches. Want Mormon Land in your inbox? Subscribe here.

President Nelson concludes global tour

Russell M. Nelson wrapped up a two-week world tour — his first international venture since becoming the LDS Church’s 17th president — after encouraging Latter-day Saints in India and Thailand to prepare themselves for temples planned in their countries. He reinforced that theme in Hong Kong, which has had a Mormon temple for more than two decades, stating that worship in these Houses of God makes for stronger families. Said accompanying apostle Jeffrey R. Holland: “When you’re not in the temple here in Hong Kong, make sure the temple is in you.” The LDS leadership entourage ended its eight-city journey — which included visits to London, Jerusalem, Kenya and Zimbabwe — with a stop in Honolulu. “Really everything we’ve done in these last few days together circling the globe could be summed up in two words — the temple,” Nelson said during a devotional at the Brigham Young University–Hawaii campus. As for the 93-year-old leader’s endurance during the worldwide trip, well, “we don’t allow jet lag,” Nelson said. His wife, Wendy, said the tour energized her husband. “He is now doing what he was foreordained to do. … I have seen him change right at the pulpit. I have heard him become [clearer] in professing certain doctrine, to use phrases I’ve never heard him use in 12 years. I’ve seen him even look younger.”

Have title, will travel

Nelson’s overseas tour continues a long tradition of Mormon prophets traversing the globe, though, at age 93, he certainly ranks among the oldest to undertake such an ambitious itinerary.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints crunched some data on presidential trips dating back to the early 1900s. Here is a summary of what it found:

• Joseph F. Smith, the faith’s sixth president, went to Europe — twice.

• Heber J. Grant, the seventh president, also traveled to the Continent, along with visits to Hawaii and Canada.

• George Albert Smith, No. 8, logged two international trips but never made it out of North America, going to Mexico and Canada.

• David O. McKay, No. 9, became the first truly globe-trotting Mormon prophet, venturing to Europe, Latin America, South Africa and the Pacific, including three separate major, multimonth journeys to Western Europe, the South Pacific, and Central and South America.

• Joseph Fielding Smith, the 10th president, recorded two international trips — to Mexico and England.

• Harold B. Lee had only 18 months as the faith’s top leader but got to Europe, the Middle East and Mexico.

• Spencer W. Kimball, though ailing for much of his stint as an apostle, enjoyed a rejuvenation for a time after becoming the 12th president and racked up at least 10 major tours, including visits to Scandinavia, Latin America, Asia, the South Pacific and Europe.

• Ezra Taft Benson, No. 13, went to Germany to dedicate the Frankfurt temple.

• Howard W. Hunter flew to Mexico City during his ninth-month tenure as the 14th president.

• Gordon B. Hinckley wins the frequent flyer prize, piling up more than 830,000 miles as the 15th president. He took 16 major international tours, touching down multiple times in Asia, the Pacific, Western and Eastern Europe, Latin America and Africa. Even at age 95, two years older than Nelson, he traveled to Russia, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, India, Kenya and Nigeria.

Thomas S. Monson, No. 16, went to Latin America, Canada, Western and Eastern Europe and the Pacific.

Barely three months into his presidency, Nelson is off to a strong start with his excursion to eight cities, stretching from London to Honolulu, in 11 days.

The case of a fallen mission president

Revelations came to light of a former mission president, Philander Knox Smartt III, who was dismissed and excommunicated in 2014 for unspecified misconduct after serving only 10 months in Puerto Rico with multiple young female missionaries. “This is a tragic and heartbreaking case of deception and betrayal that has impacted the lives of a number of people,” LDS Church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in response to Salt Lake Tribune questions about the episode. “ … The sister missionaries who had been deceived and victimized were provided with ecclesiastical and emotional counseling, which continues to be offered to this time.”

More Mormon #MeToo

Every week, teenage LDS girls recite a theme that touts the virtue of “virtue.” Trouble is, the trait has become nearly synonymous with purity and chastity. And therein, argues Brigham Young University student Rebecca Fetzer, lies part of the problem as Mormon girls and women come to grips with this #MeToo moment.

“The law of chastity is important to Mormons, and Mormon doctrine, and is thus taught frequently in church. Sadly, instead of creating an environment of love and acceptance, the focus on sexual purity within these lessons often leads to shame and silence for those who — for whatever reason — diverge from the sexual norm,” Fetzer writes in a Salt Lake Tribune op-ed. “This practice is especially harmful when the loss of virginity (or sex out of marriage) is taught in such a way as to promote shame. As Mormons, we need to be aware of the detrimental nature of this cultural definition of purity.

“We must have open discussions about sex,” she adds, “that do not contribute to the trauma and uncleanliness that a sexual assault survivor already feels. Local church leaders ... should stress the importance of remaining chaste, but also pointedly state that it is choosing to break the law of chastity that is against the doctrine of the church. Victims of sexual assault have their choice taken from them.”

The LDS Church officially proclaims that “victims of sexual abuse are not guilty of sin and do not need to repent.” Do the faith’s lay bishops and Sunday school teachers know that? And, Fetzer asks, do they preach it?

An old foe issues a new challenge

LGBTQ activist Fred Karger — who has been a thorn in the LDS Church’s side since the days of California’s Prop 8, criticizing its contributions toward the ballot proposal and challenging the Utah-based faith’s tax status — is calling on Nelson to make sweeping changes to Mormonism. In a Salt Lake Tribune op-ed, Karger pointed to the reforms unveiled in the recent General Conference in urging the new LDS leader to undertake even bolder moves, including elimination of the church’s controversial policy on LDS gay couples. “The time for change is now,” Karger writes. “It’s up to Nelson to decide whether he will continue to lead a wave of change or whether he will fight the current and keep the church stuck in its old ways.” Of course, Nelson is the apostle who, for instance, preached that the policy labeling gay Mormon couples “apostates” and precluding their children from baptism until they turn 18, came as a "revelation" from God.

Mormon writer sues college

Marianne Monson, author of “Frontier Grit: The Unlikely True Stories of Daring Pioneer Women” and other books, is suing her former employer: Portland Community College. According to a story in the Portland Tribune, Monson alleges that the school wrongly dismissed her after she complained of threatening treatment from a student. In her complaint, she says the college discriminated against her in part because of her gender and her Mormon faith.

Hurricane-flooded Houston Temple reopens

The Houston LDS Temple is back in business nearly eight months after Hurricane Harvey swamped Texas’ largest city, leaving tens of thousands homeless and spawning billions of dollars in damage to homes and businesses. M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, rededicated the temple after water up to a foot deep had flooded it Aug. 26, soaking the basement, main floor and an adjacent annex building. Ballard saluted the workers and volunteers who stepped in to help Houston rebuild after the storm. “What we saw when came here [in August 2017] was a tribute to the people of Houston, the church and other churches who volunteered so much of their time to help clean up this mess.” The temple, located in the suburb of Klein, originally opened in 2000.

Kirby’s take on ‘ministering’

Mormons got the word in General Conference: Home teaching and visiting teaching are out; ministering is in. Now begins the great latter-day debate: What, exactly, is ministering? Top LDS leaders have shared their views. Now let’s go to the bottom as Robert Kirby, our cop-turned-columnist, offers his two cents (which may be about all it’s worth). Hint: It sometimes requires some “laying on of hands.”

Ministering: a new way, a new day

Writer Neylan McBaine, author of “Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact,” offers a deeper dissection of the shift toward ministering and how it paves the way for a “new dawn” of cooperation between men and women in LDS congregations.

In a blog for The Mormon Women Project, she makes the following points:

• Merging high priest groups into elders quorums is a positive step toward leveling the priesthood playing field. “The reduction in hierarchy in the male institutional structure helps to underscore what we say we believe: that all are alike unto God and that no one should aspire to a certain station or calling.”

• As a consequence of quorum consolidation, the number of male voices in so-called Ward Council meetings will be reduced, thereby increasing the influence of the still-minority female voices.

• Priesthood no longer will be a synonym for Mormon men. “Elders Quorum will now serve as a convenient catch-all term,” McBaine writes, “on par with ‘Relief Society’ as a catch-all term for all adult women in a ward.”

• Young Women now will be provided structured service opportunities akin to those of their male peers. “This will help direct our young women to be gospel producers,” she notes, “instead of just being gospel consumers.”

• The new guidelines encourage “ministering brothers” to speak with the female Relief Society presidency about the people under their care. “This directly shatters a truth that has been in existence for too long: that adult men in the church have never been under the ecclesiastical leadership of women.”

Quote of the week

“When you’re not in the temple … make sure the temple is in you.”<br>LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland

Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.