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: ‘Jane and Emma’ on the big screen

(Courtesy Excel Entertainment) Danielle Deadwyler and Emily Goss portray Jane Manning and Emma Smith, respectively, in the upcoming feature film "Jane & Emma."

Emma Smith stands alone as the most famous woman in Mormon history. The wife of church founder Joseph Smith is mentioned in histories, journals, even LDS scripture.

Less known is her enduring and endearing friendship with the early church’s most noted black woman, Jane Manning James.

A forthcoming film, titled “Jane and Emma,” documents and dramatizes their relationship.

The movie’s director, Chantelle Squires, and its screenwriter, Melissa Leilani Larson, discuss the film, its title characters and their hopes for what the film might do for race relations within — and without — the church.

Listen here.

‘Preach My Gospel’ preaches the gay policy

The church’s hotly disputed November 2015 policy — declaring same-sex Mormon couples “apostates” and generally forbidding their children from religious rites until they turn 18 — has found a home not only in the faith’s Handbook for bishops and stake presidents but also in its training manual for missionaries.

The updated “Preach My Gospel,” a field guide of sorts for proselytizers, contains the following condition that must be met before missionaries can baptize a minor:

“The child’s primary residence is not with parents who are polygamists or in a same-sex relationship. If one or both of the child’s parents are polygamists, you must contact the mission president for additional information. For additional information regarding children of parents in same-sex relationships, see First Presidency letter, Nov. 13, 2015 (“First Presidency Clarifies Church Handbook Changes,” LDS.org) and “Church Provides Context on Handbook Changes Affecting Same-Sex Marriages,” Nov. 6, 2015 (www.mormonnewsroom.org).”

Addison Jenkins, a Brigham Young University student and an openly gay Mormon, told KUER’s Lee Hale that the addition to “Preach My Gospel” appears to be cementing in place the 2015 policy.

That exclusionary decree, he said, essentially told gay Latter-day Saints: “If you want to be gay and Mormon, OK, but you have to be Mormon. And you can’t really be gay.”

Apostle’s wife remembers challenges of single life

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Apostle M. Russell Ballard, Dallin H. Oaks, and his wife, Kristen Oaks, after the Saturday morning session of the188th Annual General Conference in Salt Lake City, Saturday, March 31, 2018.

It’s not always easy to be single in a church that preaches eternal marriage and that families are “central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of his children.”

A prominent LDS woman knows something about that challenge. After all, she was single for nearly 53 years — until she married apostle Dallin H. Oaks two years after his first wife died.

“I rejoiced during my single years, and I suffered through them, too,” Kristen Meredith McMain Oaks writes in the LDS Church News, “while I was discovering what Heavenly Father wanted for me.”

Kristen Oaks notes how helpful singles wards can be and how difficult the transition can be for unmarried adult Mormons when they switch to traditional “family” congregations.

“What the singles ward does provide is an environment to associate with others of similar interests and age, where being single is the norm. It is easy to feel accepted when our lives are so much like those around us,” she writes. “... For some, a move to a family ward can seem like a separation from a surrogate family and close friends. It is exacerbated by entering a residential ward and searching for a place to fit in. I personally remember how difficult it was for me as a single to sit alone in church every Sunday.”

How did she cope?

“Service and callings,” she said, “made all the difference.”

The religion of name-dropping

“Thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

So declared Joseph Smith in 1838 in a what he reported as a revelation from God.

More than 180 years later, President Russell M. Nelson proclaimed much the same thing:

“The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name he has revealed for his church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” the 93-year-old leader said in a news release urging members, nonmembers, media and others to stop referring to the Utah-based faith by the nickname “LDS Church” or “Mormon church.”

Calling members “Mormons” is out as well. Nelson prefers “Latter-day Saints.”

The church tried this before but backed away and even embraced the “Mormon” moniker. Witness, for instance, the “Meet the Mormons” movie, the “I’m a Mormon” ad campaign and the mormonandgay website.

Some Latter-day Saints doubt the latest renaming move will work as well. Check back in a few years.

Some claims die, but MTC abuse case lives on

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) McKenna Denson, the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the LDS Church, talks with the media about her lawsuit, which alleges the former Missionary Training Center president raped her. Thursday, April 5, 2018.

McKenna Denson’s headline-grabbing civil lawsuit has gotten smaller but still in play is one large question:

Did the LDS Church commit fraud by putting in charge of its flagship Missionary Training Center a man it knew had a history of sexual misconduct?

Judge Dale A. Kimball also tossed all the claims against former MTC President Joseph L. Bishop, whom the Colorado woman accused of sexually assaulting her in 1984, when she was a proselytizer-in-waiting at the Provo campus. She waited too long to sue Bishop, Kimball ruled; the statute of limitations had expired.

“We’ve got to prove our case,” Denson’s lawyer Craig Vernon said, and explore “why in the world Mr. Bishop was placed at the MTC.”

Said church spokesman Eric Hawkins: “We remain confident in the legal system to evaluate these claims and determine the truth. As the church has repeatedly stated, there can be no tolerance for abuse.”

Church is moving up in Chicago

Add Chicago to the expanding list of cities where the LDS Church is buying or building housing complexes.

The Utah-based faith recently purchased a 40-story apartment tower in the South Loop, a first for the church in the nation’s Second City.

Property Reserve Inc., the religion’s real estate investment arm, acquired the 2-year-old, 397-unit high-rise, Crain’s Chicago Business reported, for an undisclosed sum.

While the sale price remains a mystery, Crain’s noted the building was refinanced in December with a nearly $149 million loan from a PRI affiliate.

The church built a 30-plus-story apartment tower across the street from its temple in Philadelphia and plans to put 240 apartments and a dozen town houses in a mixed-use development near its Mesa, Ariz., temple, which is being renovated. Of course, the church also erected multiple apartment and condominium towers in the heart of Salt Lake City as part of its City Creek Center.

Open secrets

Where did early LDS leaders consider settling before opting to trek to Utah (Texas, for one, came up)? How did they run Joseph Smith’s presidential campaign (with a focus on minority rights)? What did they think about threats to religious freedom (concerns that persist to this day)?

Those answers and more are a click away with the new online availability of minutes from the so-called Council of Fifty.

In March 1844, Smith formed this group with about 50 of his closest associates and saw it as the beginning of the literal kingdom of God on earth.

The council, he said, “was designed to be got up for the safety and salvation of the saints by protecting them in their religious rights and worship.”

The high-ranking members met in secret but openly discussed theology and theocracy, structures and strictures, governments and governance.

Belle and the Beast invite you to their temple sealing?

(Courtesy of Katie Abernathy Hoyos) A phone case that shows Disney characters in front of the LDS temple in Salt Lake City has taken the internet by storm.

Mormons and Disney; Disney and Mormons.

The twain recently met in the form of a phone case sporting the lead couple from the 1991 classic “Beauty and the Beast” strolling hand in hand outside downtown Salt Lake City’s iconic LDS temple — not your typical newlyweds staging a photo shoot after their “sealing.”

This peculiar blend became so popular that the item sold out online.

Want to read more? Be our guest. Click here.

Plains speaking from female leaders

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, speaks at the General Women's Session of the 187th Semiannual General Conference of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017.

Three high-ranking LDS women’s leaders visited Mormons young and old — along with religious and civic authorities — in four Plains states last week.

For starters, according to a news release, Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities and first counselor in the Relief Society’s general presidency, met with Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and the president and CEO of Lutheran Family Services, Stacy Martin, about outreach to refugees.

Becky Craven, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, spoke in Wichita, Kan., and Lisa L. Harkness, first counselor in the Primary general presidency, traveled to Iowa City.

The three female leaders also hosted training broadcasts and devotionals for area Mormons from four states: Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri.

“I love the humidity,” Craven, who grew up in the Kansas City area, said in the release. “I have reflected back on the times in the past when I was a young woman and the things that happened to me during that time. … So to me this is sacred ground.”

From Japan with love

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gary E. Stevenson, Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks during the morning session of the 186th LDS General Conference at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City, Saturday, April 2, 2016.

Japanese Mormons recently enjoyed a first: a face-to-face Q&A with an LDS apostle — the whole discussion in their native tongue.

“It’s the language of their heart,” Gary E. Stevenson said in a news release, “and it’s kind of become the language of my heart as well.”

Named to the apostleship in 2015, Stevenson spent nearly a decade serving the LDS Church in Asia, first as a young missionary in the Japan Fukuoka Mission and later as a mission president and area president.

He has called the Far East his “second home.”

Quote of the week

“The Lord has impressed upon my mind the importance of the name he has revealed for his church, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have work before us to bring ourselves in harmony with his will. In recent weeks, various church leaders and departments have initiated the necessary steps to do so."
—President Russell M. Nelson, Aug. 16, 2018, statement

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