This week in Mormon Land: ‘Believing Christ’ author Stephen Robinson, who preached the beauty of grace, dies; church speaks out on border separations; bishops’ interviews amplified

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: Songs for the saints

For years, this has been a standard Mormon refrain: When will a new hymnbook come out?

Well, ring out, wild bells, that blessed day is approaching.

The LDS Church announced that it is developing a new, one-size-fits-all hymnal — along with a revised children’s songbook — for Mormons across the globe.

So which hymns should stay? Which should go? And which new ones should be added?

Writer Kristine Haglund, a former editor of Dialogue and a self-professed “serious amateur” singer and musician, discusses those questions and the vital role music plays in LDS life in the latest “Mormon Land” podcast.

Listen here.

‘Believing Christ’ author dies

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jorge Cocco Sant‡ngelo's Getsemani, or "Gethsemane," oil on canvas, 2016. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Church History Museum presented two new art exhibits, Thursday, May 17, 2018. Paintings created by Argentine artist Jorge Cocco Sant‡ngelo and large-scale images taken by LDS Church staff photographers Cody Bell and Leslie Nilsson will be on display through Oct. 9, 2018, and January 2019, respectively.

His landmark 1992 book helped many a Mormon to believe in hope, believe in grace, believe in Christ. And, more to the point, to believe Christ.

Stephen E. Robinson, longtime religion professor at LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University, died June 17.

He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from BYU and a doctorate from Duke. He taught back East before returning to teach at BYU and rose to head of the school’s department of ancient scripture.

Robinson taught and mentored thousands of students, but he forever will be remembered most for his book “Believing Christ: The Parable of the Bicycle and Other Good News.”

It marked the “first significant turn that Latter-day Saints took toward grace,” historian-theologian Janiece Johnson, a former Robinson student, writes in a tribute cross-posted at By Common Consent and BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute. “Many have built on it, but Robinson’s work was the foundation.”

It set the stage for, among others, Robert L. Millet’s “Grace Works,” Brad Wilcox’s “Continuous Atonement” and Sheri Dew’s “Amazed by Grace” as more and more LDS leaders, scholars and authors picked up the grace gauntlet.

“To have faith in Jesus Christ is not merely to believe that he is who he says he is. It is not merely to believe in Christ; we must also believe Christ,” Robinson wrote in the church’s Ensign magazine in 1992. Believe that he can heal, help, save and exalt.

Robinson’s book, Johnson explains, “was the first time I actually began to recognize that no matter how much I worked, I could not earn God’s grace. I had to choose to receive the gift, and only then could it change me.”

After taking classes from Robinson, Johnson, a research associate at the Maxwell Institute, credits him with starting her on a “path to recognize that the intellectual and the spiritual did not have to clash.”

“There would be tension, but a symbiotic relationship was possible,” she writes. “He also helped me recognize that discipleship means sometimes asking hard questions and leaping into the darkness, but it is always worth it.”

Robinson was 71.

Speaking (and writing) of Christ ...

| Courtesy Photo Adam Miller

Adam Miller, whose “Letters to a Young Mormon” struck a chord with Latter-day Saints of all ages when it hit the shelves five years ago, has a new book out.

“An Early Resurrection: Life in Christ Before You Die” challenges Mormons to “live in Christ.”

“How can we let ourselves and our own desires die,” says a description from publisher Deseret Book, “so we can be born again to a new life, a full life in Christ, here and now in this mortal life?”

Questions and answers

Should Mormon bishops let LDS teens know what they are going to ask them in “worthiness" interviews before they actually conduct these one-on-one chats?

The answer to that question is an emphatic yes.

The governing First Presidency issued a letter instructing bishops to ensure that “youth and parents are aware of the topics and questions covered in these interviews” before their first sit-downs.

And, for the first time, the church published the 13 questions youths are to be asked when seeking limited-use temple recommends. The queries include:

• “Do you sustain the president of [the LDS Church] as the prophet, seer and revelator?”

• “Do you live the law of chastity?”

• “Are you a full-tithe payer?”

• “Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?”

• “Do you support any group or person whose teachings oppose those accepted by [the LDS Church]?”

Families can be together … at the border

In this photo provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, people who've been taken into custody related to cases of illegal entry into the United States rest in one of the cages at a facility in McAllen, Texas, Sunday, June 17, 2018. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Rio Grande Valley Sector via AP)

In its second public pronouncement on a hot-button immigration issue since Russell M. Nelson assumed the faith’s reins five months ago, the LDS Church said it was “deeply troubled” by the forced separation of parents from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The news release said the “aggressive and insensitive” treatment was “harmful to families, especially to young children,” and urged national leaders to swiftly correct these actions and pursue “rational, compassionate solutions.”

In January, the church urged Congress to act quickly to protect from deportation hundreds of thousands of “Dreamers,” whose undocumented parents brought them to the United States as children, and to provide them with “hope and opportunities.”

Dr. Nelson, we presume

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Russell M. Nelson addresses members of the media at a news conference in the lobby of the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. Nelson was named the 17th president of the 16 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The current Mormon prophet’s influence as a heart surgeon is still being felt 34 years after his call to the apostleship.

His alma mater, the University of Utah, recently established the Russell M. Nelson and Dantzel W. Nelson Presidential Chair in Cardiothoracic Surgery.

Nelson was part of a research team that developed the heart-lung machine that made possible the first human open-heart surgery in 1951. Four years later, he performed Utah’s first open-heart surgery.

He has credited his first wife, Dantzel, who died in 2005, with helping him in his groundbreaking medical pursuits.

“I am confident that the continuing work and research at the University of Utah will bring credit to this great institution,” Nelson said in a news release. “We have a new [U.] president, Ruth V. Watkins, and we have a great department chairman in surgery, Samuel Finlayson, and we have a wonderful leader in charge of the cardiothoracic program, Dr. Craig Selzman.”

Selzman, the first recipient of the newly endowed chair, said his academic division is “worthy of taking this name, living up to this name, maintaining this name and driving forth the legacy of this name.”

“Forever moving forward,” he added in the release, “the values and principles of Dr. Nelson will be ingrained in all of those that join our division, that live in our division, work for our department and work for our university.”

Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative recently recognized Nelson with a lifetime achievement award as part of the annual Governor’s Medals for Science and Technology.

Mesa makeover pits new vs. old

(Courtesy Intellectual Reserve Inc.) Plans have been announced to redevelop 4.5 acres of land near the Mesa Arizona Temple. This rendering offers a southeast view of the mixed-use community.

The LDS Church’s remake of its historic temple in Mesa, Ariz., and its plans to build a mixed-use development nearby — at the expense of seven 1940s homes — are still stoking debate.

“I am not against redevelopment. I think there’s a way to marry old and new,’’ Janice Gennevois, vice chairwoman of the city’s Historic Preservation Board, said in the East Valley Tribune. “It’s our duty not to lose historic properties. Once they are gone, we can never get them back.”

Negotiations are continuing.

Quote of the week

“The forced separation of children from their parents now occurring at the U.S.-Mexico border is harmful to families, especially to young children. We are deeply troubled by the aggressive and insensitive treatment of these families. While we recognize the right of all nations to enforce their laws and secure their borders, we encourage our national leaders to take swift action to correct this situation and seek for rational, compassionate solutions.”<br> LDS Church statement on June 18

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