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: Secret-busting with MormonLeaks
You probably read about a woman who recorded an interview with her former Missionary Training Center president regarding alleged sexual misconduct he committed. Or maybe you heard that Mormon general authorities are paid more than $120,000 a year in salary. Perhaps you wonder about the LDS Church’s vast wealth. You swear you’ve seen that it has at least $32 billion in stock holdings.
Well, if you know those newsy nuggets, it’s probably because of a website called MormonLeaks, which posts documents, recordings and videos secretly provided by church leaders, employees, sources, whistleblowers or other moles from within the Utah-based faith.
So how did MormonLeaks get its start? What is its goal? Which revelations have been the biggest? And how does it navigate often-tricky ethical waters?
We put those questions and more to the website’s principals: Executive Director Ryan McKnight and technical director Ethan Dodge.
Buckeye punter trumpets his fair catch
Place-kickers and punters aren’t seen as typical football players. They usually aren’t as big, strong or fast. In fact, they’re sometimes a tad offbeat, quirky, even weird.
At 6-foot-4, 205 pounds, Ohio State’s Drue Chrisman is certainly more imposing than most college punters. But he kept the zany kicker tradition alive, the Buckeye blog Eleven Warriors reported, when he showed up at camp sporting a peculiar T-shirt that touted in all caps “I LOVE MY MORMON GIRLFRIEND” above a large photo of, presumably, his Mormon girlfriend. Under the picture, a smaller headline said “(Girls, if you're reading this, you’re too close.)”
What happened to amnesty?
Brigham Young University-Idaho and its sister BYU institutions now offer amnesty to students who report sexual assaults, shielding them from any Honor Code violations they may have committed “at or near” the time of the alleged crimes.
The reform won praises for removing a barrier that too often kept survivors from stepping forward and for helping to prevent assault victims from being revictimized by losing their places in LDS Church-owned schools.
Trouble is, the system is hardly foolproof.
A BYU-Idaho student recently reported that she was sexually assaulted. The Rexburg school even upheld her complaint. Still, she found herself on the outs, suspended for two semesters.
Why? Her Mormon bishop yanked his ecclesiastical endorsement. Result: The same as if the school offered no amnesty. She can’t enroll or graduate, at least for now.
“The system has a built-in loophole,” said Steven Healy, co-founder of the campus safety consulting firm Margolis Healy. “ … What’s the message you’re sending to people who want to report that they’ve been assaulted? … ‘Don’t come forward because you’re going to be punished — in another system, but nonetheless, you’re going to be punished.’”
Speaking of ecclesiastical endorsements ...
Richelle Wilson, in a guest blog for By Common Consent, worries that ecclesiastical endorsements, a must for students attending LDS Church schools, are being — or, at least, can be — “weaponized.”
Roommates can rat out one another to bishops about minor Honor Code slip-ups, for instance, putting an offender’s schooling at risk. What if a student just doesn’t get along with the assigned lay leader? And what if a student does trust the bishop and turns to him for help only to have it cost that person a place in school?
“Even in cases of garden-variety confession of sin, church-school students and employees may find themselves hesitant to share with or receive counsel from their bishop,” writes Wilson, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at BYU. “Normally, bishops prompt confessors to make amends or briefly refrain from taking the sacrament. But at church schools, confessing students may lose their student status, their job or their housing.”
So the very person a struggling LDS student may turn to for off-campus spiritual shepherding becomes the de facto on-campus enforcer — no matter the policies of a sympathetic school.
My ward, my country
OK, the so-called “white-horse prophecy” — about Mormon elders stepping in to save the U.S. Constitution as it dangles by a thread — is bunk. But Religion News Service senior columnist Jana Riess still sees a way Mormonism can “save” a bitterly divided United States.
The model is found in LDS wards, geographically partitioned congregations where members worship together despite their partisan leanings.
“You don’t get to congregation-shop based on which ward has the hippest bishop or the largest youth group,” Riess writes. “And you certainly don’t get to choose where to go to church based on your political tendencies.”
So Fox News-loving, Obamacare-loathing, Trump-trumpeting conservatives can pray with, sing with and serve with CNN-adoring, Koch brothers-hating, Bernie-backing liberals — all at the same Mormon chapel.
A BYU devotional devoted to unlikely topics
Seldom do BYU devotionals address LGBTQ inclusivity, the disparities Mormon women face and the discrimination too often aimed at Latter-day Saints of color.
It’s even rarer for a speaker to confront all three topics in one speech.
But that’s precisely what BYU ancient scripture scholar Eric D. Huntsman did in a sermon this week, when he challenged students to make the campus and the LDS Church safe places for all.
Without diluting “doctrine or compromising our standards,” he said, “we must open our hearts wider, reach out farther, and love more loudly, making space for struggle and faith.”
In short, Mormon meetinghouses — with those “visitors welcome” signs outside — must truly be “members welcome” havens as well.
Playtime for ‘Telestial Mormons’
Are you game for poking fun at Mormon culture? If so, Dang You to Heck is for you.
An LDS-inspired variation of Cards Against Humanity, this product sells itself as a “card game for Telestial Mormons.”
The game starts with a statement or question and players then try to provide the wittiest answer with one of the cards in their hands. It could be “Snoop Dogg reading the Book of Mormon” or “Spiking the punch with Mountain Dew” or “Writing in reformed Egyptian.”
Of course, the winner may have hell to pay.
Nelson to the Northwest
LDS Church President Russell M. Nelson, seven months into his administration, will visit Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, on Sept. 15 and 16.
With his wife, Wendy Watson Nelson, who was born in Raymond, Alberta, the Mormon prophet also will be in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Montreal; and Hamilton, Ontario, from Aug. 17 through 19.
Mormonism’s first couple visited her native Alberta in June.
MTC gets a different bishop
A bishop visiting the Missionary Training Center is hardly news.
But it certainly is when that bishop is Oscar A. Solis, leader of Utah’s 300,000-plus Catholics.
Solis toured the flagship training camp for Mormon missionaries in July and was the featured speaker at a summer lecture series at neighboring BYU in Provo.
Solis lauded interfaith dialogue, Editor Marie Mischel reported in the Intermountain Catholic, and various ecumenical efforts.
“This is one of the reasons religions exist, to be an instrument of unity and harmony to the world,” the Catholic cleric said. “God has given the people of faith a divine and sacred mandate: to form the minds and mold the hearts, to have the disposition for unity and harmony so we can build a civilization of love and build God’s kingdom of justice and peace in the world.”
You can go home again
Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland returned to his native St. George in late July to dedicate a renovated St. George Tabernacle.
“An opportunity like this is really an excuse to reminisce," Holland said in a story by Spectrum and Daily News reporter Emily Havens. "There wouldn't be that many occasions or opportunities to get together to tell old stories and remember our youth."
Holland was joined by another St. George native, LDS Church Historian Steven E. Snow.
The visiting LDS general authority recalled carving his initials into a wooden table when the historic tabernacle served as a school.
“Several years later, Snow said, he came across that very same piece of furniture in the new stake center,” The Spectrum reported. “Although he said it was embarrassing, it also allowed him to reflect on the historical significance of the building.”
Many are called, but few are Kirbys
Called of God? Called by prophet?
No way, says Tribune columnist Robert Kirby. The one who called him to be Elder Kirby was, well, Elder Kirby.
“The whole thing — from start to staying to finishing — was entirely my idea,” he writes. And he has no regrets about his decision.
Quote of the week
“We must be a voice for truth. We must have the faith and courage to speak up and engage in social media in a positive, responsible, noncontentious and effective way. We can simply share what we know and believe with others.”
— Kevin W. Pearson, general authority Seventy
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.