This week in Mormon Land: missionary safety, battles over LDS history, scrapping Scouting, praying with Trump and more

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Boy Scout troop 747 from West Jordan salutes as the funeral procession of LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson moves along South Temple in Salt Lake City Friday, January 12, 2018.

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. WantMormon Land in your inbox? Subscribe here.

This week’s podcast: What mission presidents do

They decide which Mormon missionaries should be paired up as 24/7 “companions.” They make sure the young proselytizers stay healthy and safe. They shepherd these eager elders and sisters through any crisis of mind, body or faith. In the end, LDS mission presidents rank among the most influential church leaders in individual lives.

This week on the “Mormon Land” podcast — and in the wake of recent revelations about misconduct by a couple of former mission presidents — Jim and Jeanne Jardine, who oversaw the California Sacramento Mission from 2008 to 2011, discuss the vital role of LDS mission presidents.

Speaking of missionary safety

You see the headlines from time to time: Mormon missionaries removed from an unstable nation, killed in a crash, mugged at gunpoint or wounded in a terrorist attack.

Thankfully, those heartbreakers are rare.

A 2017 survey of nearly 70,000 young LDS missionaries serving worldwide showed the “overwhelming majority” felt safe on their missions, church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said in a news release. “Gratefully, serious threats and violence involving missionaries are uncommon, although we recognize that exceptions occur.”

And those exceptions occur in some places more than others. So the church is targeting a second survey at unspecified missions where its young troops reported “multiple safety concerns.”

“Information from this follow-up survey will be shared with mission presidents,” Woodruff added, “to help them understand the potential risks in their missions and to help them consider where missionaries are placed.”

The church already has established a Sister Safety Committee that “meets regularly … to determine how to enhance the overall safety of the [female] missionaries.”

The Utah-based faith has released no specific results from last year’s survey.

(Tribune file photo) Leonard Arrington

A Mormon historian’s inner driver and outer detractors

As LDS Church historian, Leonard Arrington made it his mission to tell the truth about Mormonism’s past — separating the miracles from the myths, the cold, hard facts from the warm and fuzzy fictions.

But conservative higher-ups in the LDS hierarchy, including apostles Boyd K. Packer, Mark E. Petersen and church-president-in-waiting Ezra Taft Benson, fought him along the way, fearing that a lack of emphasis on the faith-promoting in the Mormon story inevitably would be faith-deflating for the rank and file.

Now a mammoth and monumental new three-volume collection of Arrington’s extensive personal journals from Signature Books brings to light the historian’s reflections on those behind-the-scenes struggles.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Philip Barlow, Mormon historian, speaks at Benchmark Books in South Salt Lake, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018.

Speaking of Arrington …

Philip Barlow is retiring from Utah State University after more than a decade as the Arrington Chair of Mormon studies at the Logan school.

“Dr. Barlow’s scholarship has had a major impact on the field of American religious history,” Tammy Proctor, head of USU’s history department, said in a news release. “He’s also brought his expertise regarding Mormon history to the public arena through his commentaries and analyses of important political and social events.”

Barlow isn’t bagging his field of study. The nationally known expert in Mormon history and culture is moving to Brigham Young University’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship as its associate director.

What’s up with the new LDS Church News?

The LDS Church News — both its print version and its website — is sporting a new look, an extended name and, at least in its debut edition, without a longtime staple.

The redesigned publication now is called the “LDS Church News: A Living Record of the Restoration.” Absent from the back page is the “Viewpoint” editorial, which has been a feature for more than seven decades.

Editor Sarah Jane Weaver said the Church News “has been updated to better reflect the global” faith and “will continue to evolve.”

When asked about Viewpoint, she said in a statement that “changes to the back page editorial in the print edition simply reflect that effort as we seek to bring readers relevant and inspiring news and information about the church, its leaders and the lives of its members.”

For more than 50 years, Mormon apostle Mark E. Petersen, a former reporter and editor who died in 1984, wrote virtually all of those editorials.

“His was a pen of spiritual power,” fellow apostle Thomas S. Monson, who would become the church’s 16th president, said in a tribute to his colleague. “Mark Petersen combined an insightful mind with a faith-filled heart to work wonders with his words.”

In recent years, Church News editors and writers wrote Viewpoint.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Boy Scout Troop 747 from West Jordan salutes as the funeral procession for LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson moves along South Temple in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 12, 2018.

Untying the knot

A Scout is loyal, and, for more than a century, the LDS Church has been more than loyal to the Boy Scouts of America. In fact, it has been the group’s largest chartering sponsor.

But the knot — by now frayed and unraveling — is about to be untied completely.

Come 2020, the LDS Church will sever all ties to the BSA and instead will implement its own youth programs for Mormon girls and boys around the globe.

The change has been foreshadowed for several years — back when the BSA opened the door to having openly gay Scout leaders, followed by the church dropping the Varsity and Venturing programs for its older boys and, finally, the BSA opting to let girls join the ranks.

So be prepared, Mormon youths, for a huge cultural shift.

(Courtesy LDS Church) Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Harriet, greet Latter-day Saints in Moscow, April 22, 2018.

From Russia with love

Former First Presidency member Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s new assignment took him to some familiar turf: Eastern Europe.

Just three weeks after LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson announced a temple would be built in a yet-to-be-determined location in Russia, Uchtdorf, who is now the faith’s primary point person for Europe, visited Moscow.

There, the popular Czech-born, German apostle encouraged 700 Russian Mormons to “prepare their hearts for a new temple.”

Significant hurdles still remain, however, for the 25,000 or so Latter-day Saints on the Russian front: Missionaries, who go by the label “volunteers,” are forbidden from proselytizing outside Mormon chapels; the number of missions has been trimmed from seven to six; and the “major city” expected to host the promised temple has yet to be named.

Although President Vladimir Putin’s Russia has slapped severe restrictions on Western faiths, Uchtdorf nonetheless expressed gratitude that “religious freedom is established” in the country and noted that Mormons are trustworthy, “law-abiding, wonderful citizens.”

Still, an LDS “house of the Lord” won’t be going up in Russia anytime soon. On his return to Salt Lake City, Uchtdorf, who with his wife, Harriet, also visited St. Petersburg, Russia, and Tallinn, Estonia, said in a church news release that the “process of building a temple in Russia will be slow. We have to have patience.”

Apostle-attorney makes case for religious liberty

Religious freedom is a blessing for believers and nonbelievers?

Believe it, Mormon apostle D. Todd Christofferson said.

Addressing an international group of religious freedom dignitaries at the United Kingdom Parliament earlier this month, the LDS leader insisted “religion or belief is fundamental to societal well-being.”

“Freedom of religion benefits not only believers, but all of society, whether they know it or not,” Christofferson said, according to an LDS Church news release. “Therefore, all have an interest in protecting this freedom, whether they are believers or not.”

The visiting apostle — who has discussed the topic before during a Trib Talk in 2015 (with fellow apostle-attorney Dallin H. Oaks) and in a speech to international journalists last fall — listed three major pluses for backing freedom of religion or belief:

• It strengthens the rule of law.

• It is foundational to other widely accepted freedoms.

• It promotes “civic virtue and is vital to strong, flourishing communities.”

(Susan Walsh | AP Photo) President Donald Trump shakes hands with Narayanachar Digalakote, priest at the Sri Siva Vishnu Temple in Lanham, Md., left, during a National Day of Prayer event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Thursday, May 3, 2018. Jean B. Bingham, general president of the Relief Society of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, looks on.

LDS women’s leader prays with Trump

Joining President Donald Trump for a Rose Garden ceremony May 3 at the White House, Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham prayed that Americans would “exercise integrity, humility and nobility of character” to better themselves and society.

“Help us to find ways to understand and value one another, to work together in cooperation and selflessness, rather than seek for personal gain, to satisfy vain ambitions, or to gratify pride,” Bingham pleaded, according a transcript of her prayer. “May we examine ourselves and become better individuals, thereby increasing the peace and happiness of each citizen.”

During the National Day of Prayer event, Trump signed an executive order to widen federal grants to and partnerships with faith-based groups.

Bingham also prayed for the United States to “become a land of ‘good Samaritans,’ laboring in love to lift the hands of the downtrodden, the oppressed and the afflicted.”

(Courtesy LDS Church) Rendering of a garden on the grounds of the Mesa Arizona Temple.

Makeover in Mesa

The LDS Church’s neoclassical temple in Mesa, Ariz., will close within days to undergo two years of major repairs and upgrades within and without the 75,000-square-foot edifice.

The flower-lush gardens and tree-rich grounds also will be renovated and enhanced, the church announced in a news release. The visitors’ center will be razed, and a new one will be rebuilt across the street.

But that’s not all that’s happening in and around the 90-year-old structure.

The church also plans to redevelop the area around the temple, which is the focal point of a struggling historic district in downtown Mesa. Those plans, The Arizona Republic reports, include the demolition of eight 1950s bungalows along with the faith’s family history center, and that has preservationists worried.

The new-look temple is expected to reopen in 2020.

Quote of the Week<br>“While eternal marriage is our ideal, infidelities, abuse of any kind, unsurmountable incompatibilities may necessitate immediate, protective action, also separation and possibly divorce. But we know covenants are binding and eternal only by mutual consent of the parties affected and when confirmed by a merciful heaven’s manifestation of the Holy Ghost.”<br>—Apostle Gerrit W. Gong, BYU Women’s Conference, May 4, 2018

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