This week in Mormon Land: LDS comic wins laughs, activist wins applause, prophet’s wife returns home, Imagine Dragons’ Dan Reynolds speaks of his fragile faith

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

This week’s podcast: Why Muslims, Mormons get along

Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune Imam Shuaib Din leads study about fasting at the Utah Islamic Center in Sandy on Friday, June 3, 2016.

Islam and Mormonism share some religious traditions. Both have histories rooted in a prophet. Both tout modesty and family values. And both embrace fasting and shun alcohol.

As we approach the end of Ramadan, we explore those Muslim and Mormon ties with Shuaib Din, imam at the Utah Islamic Center, and Kristen Ullrich Hodges, a Latter-day Saint who last year organized an iftar, or break-the-fast meal, for her LDS and Muslim neighbors. Listen here.

Stepping up, speaking out

That Muslim-Mormon kinship was on display recently outside the White House, where Carolyn Homer, a civil rights attorney with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, gave a fiery speech protesting U.S. policies that block Muslims from immigrating to America.

“It is my faith that compels me to defend the Constitution … against the Trump administration. My faith has celebrated religious diversity since its founding,” she said to applause. “... It sickens me that such hatred persists against a faith whose name, Islam, literally means peace.”

Redrock riders

The Temple Riders, a faith-based motorcycle club visits the Cedar City Utah Temple as a stop on their biennial national rally Monday, June 11, 2018. The Temple Riders, a Mormon motorcycle club is holding its biennial gathering in southern Utah, where about 125 members from across the country are riding together through scenic parts of the region. (James M. Dobson/The Spectrum via AP)

Hells Angels, they ain’t.

These bikers down Sprites, not Buds. They prefer meetinghouses to roadhouses. And they care as much about the Mormon Word of Wisdom as they do the rules of the road.

They’re the Temple Riders — more than 500 in 22 chapters across the nation (and some popping up internationally as well) — and they gathered recently for their “Color Country ‘n’ Spires” rally with stops stretching from northern Arizona’s Grand Canyon to southern Utah’s Bryce Canyon.

“You don’t have to be LDS to ride with the group,” Bart Howell, the association’s national director, told The Spectrum newspaper. “If you feel comfortable with the values, feel free to join.”

Two Mormon couples kick-started the group about three decades ago, Howell said. “They thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to ride to a temple instead of a bar?’”

Family Tree branches out to same-sex couples

Gay marriage is a fact of life, even more so and more often since the U.S. Supreme Court declared such unions legal in all 50 states three years ago this month.

Now, the LDS Church’s genealogy arm, FamilySearch, is recognizing that fact, expanding to include same-sex couples and same-sex parents in its vast online database.

“The goal of FamilySearch.org is to capture, store and provide records and an accurate genealogy that represents past, present, and future families of the world,” the organization said in a statement. “To support this goal, same-sex relationships, including same-sex parents and same-sex couples, will be provided in FamilySearch Family Tree.”

The systems to accommodate the change are expected to be in place by 2019.

Know Canada

(Courtesy of the LDS Church) President Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Wendy Nelson, greet those in attendance at the devotional in Raymond, Canada, in June 2018.

LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson visited his wife’s neck of the Canadian woods this month, delivering three sermons in three days in three Albertan cities.

Nelson, with his wife, Wendy, and Mormon apostle Ronald A. Rasband, with his spouse, Melanie, spoke in Edmonton, Calgary and Raymond.

“I invite the members of the church to place on the walls of their homes pictures of their family, pictures of their grandparents, pictures as a couple, pictures of their children and pictures of the temple,” Nelson told the assembled Mormons on June 8 in Edmonton, according to a news release. “These all symbolize God’s eternal plan. It’s all about the family.”

The next night, in Calgary, where Wendy Nelson lived for a number of years, the LDS prophet preached the importance of the faith’s foundational scripture, the Book of Mormon.

“Guard it, know it, read it, study it, teach it,” he implored, “and give God thanks for that great gift to us.”

Finally, on June 10, in her hometown of Raymond, the Nelsons spoke at a devotional and visited a cemetery where five generations of her family are laid to rest.

Called to laugh

The audience probably was full of prospective missionaries, returned missionaries, spouses of returned missionaries, those praying to become spouses of returned missionaries and those hoping to become parents and grandparents of returned missionaries.

So how would the punchline “maybe a mission isn’t for everyone” go over at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University?

Just fine, at least in the hands of stand-up comedian Aaron Woodall as he explains in a RadioWest film.

Of course, as Mormon leaders made clear with new interview questions for missionary wannabes unveiled last fall, full-time proselytizing missions really aren’t for everyone anyway.

Perhaps Woodall should try to draw laughs next with “maybe baptism by immersion is overrated” or “hey, Quorum of the Thirteen Apostles has a nice ring to it.”

First things first: religious freedom then ...

(Courtesy of the LDS Church) President M. Russell Ballard honored His Eminence Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, Saturday night, June 2, 2018, for his commitment to religious liberty.

The Catholic Church calls religious liberty the “first freedom,” and the LDS Church seconds that notion.

Mormon apostle M. Russell Ballard affirmed that sentiment recently in awarding Cardinal Donald Wuerl the BYU Management Society’s Distinguished Community Leader Award in honor of the archbishop of Washington’s devotion to the cause of religious freedom.

“We, Mormons and Catholics, stand together in our recognition [of] freedom of religion [and] freedom of worship — the focus of the 11th Article of Faith in the Mormon church,” Wuerl said at the Arlington, Va., gala, according to an LDS Church news release. “It’s all about ensuring and guaranteeing the worship of God according to our conscience. … What Mormons and Catholics espouse is the recognition that with religious faith comes a way of living, a set of standards, a set of rules for moral and civil behavior.”

Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, expressed gratitude for the Catholic prelate’s “example and friendship” and praised his “values amidst a culture that seems more hostile to religious faith.”

Imagine Dragons? Imagine busy

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dan Reynolds sings for Imagine Dragons at the LoveLoud Festival at Brent Brown Ballpark at UVU campus, Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017.

Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds is a busy man. His Grammy-winning band is on tour. His documentary “Believer,” about the strained relations between the LDS Church and its gay members, debuts on HBO this month. His second LoveLoud festival to benefit the LGBTQ community is set for next month in Salt Lake City. And he’s in the midst of a painful divorce.

But he found time to recently to appear on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” where he talked about the film, his family, his fragile faith and why he still identifies as a Mormon — despite his misgivings about some church policies and teachings.

“If you ever want to make real change within your community or your religion … your family, you have to be a part of it,” Reynolds told DeGeneres. “You can’t be from the outside yelling.”

‘Promised Valley’ composer dies

(Tribune file photo) Crawford Gates.

Crawford Gates, whose music graced Mormon musicals, pageants and hymnals, has died at age 96.

Gates may be best known in LDS circles as the man behind the music for “Promised Valley,” which celebrated the centennial of the Mormon pioneers’ arrival in the Great Basin and ran for more than three decades in downtown Salt Lake City.

He also scored the “Hill Cumorah Pageant,” which depicts the birth of Mormonism and draws tens of thousands every summer to the cradle of the faith in upstate New York.

Crawford, whose LDS hymns include “Ring Out, Wild Bells” and “Our Savior’s Love,” taught at BYU and Beloit College, and led orchestras in Wisconsin and Illinois.

Priesthood ban an act of God or man?

The LDS Church’s former priesthood/temple ban on black Mormons began under Brigham Young. So say non-Mormon researchers, LDS historians and even the faith’s “Race and the Priesthood” essay.

But was the race-based prohibition Young’s idea or God’s?

Many descendants of the pioneer-prophet insist their famed forebear simply was carrying out a divine decree. Others argue the ban, lifted in June 1978, was rooted in earthly racism, not heavenly revelation.

Turns out, most rank-and-file Mormons (62 percent of them, at least) believe the racial ban was God’s will, according to a 2016 Next Mormons Survey by writer-researcher Jana Riess.

Quote of the week

“Entrenching ourselves in an element of revealed doctrine is problematic because things — including extra special sacred things — are way more flexible than we think. … We can’t predict what the church will be like 180 years from now.”<br>Tribune columnist Robert Kirby

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