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: ‘Mormon’ — past, present and future
Church President Russell M. Nelson issued a one-paragraph statement last week directing members, the media and others to use the full, formal name of the Utah-based faith and urging them to do away with the shorter but more widely known terms “Mormon” and “LDS.”
His statement totaled only 71 words, but it prompted tens of thousands more to be published on the topic. The implications, you see, could be wide-ranging and long-lasting.
In this week’s podcast, Latter-day Saint scholar Richard Bushman looks back at the historical uses of the term “Mormon” and the evolution of the church’s name along with the opportunity members now have to engage in a deeper conversation about their religion.
In addition, former Utah lawmaker Stuart Reid, who used to work in the church’s public affairs department, discusses the reasons for this and past naming campaigns with a particular eye toward the future.
In short, he says, Nelson is preparing the church and its followers for Christ’s eventual return.
Name is ‘not negotiable’
Another important point on this naming push: Even if people don’t immediately fall in, they should know that top church leaders are all-in.
“There is such unity in the [governing] First Presidency and the Twelve [apostles] on this subject,” apostle Neil L. Andersen said during a visit with Nelson to Canada. “The president has spoken; the Lord has spoken to the president.”
For his part, the Latter-day Saint prophet reaffirmed his commitment to the cause while acknowledging that it won’t be easy.
“We know that it's going to be a challenge to undo tradition of more than a hundred years,” Nelson stated. “ … The Lord said the name of the church shall be The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Period. And that’s not negotiable.”
As for abandoning the nicknames “Mormon” and “LDS,” he said “we just want to correct an error. That’s all. … It’s not Mormon’s church. It’s not Moses’ church. It’s the Church of Jesus Christ.”
Looking at Ordain Women’s wins and losses
It might be tempting to say that Ordain Women, which turned 5 years old this year, has failed. After all, the church still doesn’t grant the priesthood to women, the group’s principal goal.
But many observers say such an assessment would be wrong, especially if one counts the “baby steps” the faith has made toward greater gender equity since the group’s founding.
• A movement needs more than one public face. “Too many media interactions were delegated to one person, Kate Kelly, because she was charismatic and willing. We quickly realized that this strategy was backfiring,” Bennett writes. “Kate had a target on her back [she was excommunicated in 2014] and the focus on her was giving the wrong impression — that Ordain Women was the pet project of one person instead of a movement with broad and diverse support among Mormons.”
• Falling short of the summit doesn’t mean you haven’t climbed higher up the mountain. “Since Ordain Women launched, the church has changed long-standing, seemingly permanent policies that discriminated against women,” she notes. “ … Before Ordain Women, even talking about whether Mormon women want the priesthood was taboo. Almost instantly after Ordain Women’s launch, conversations about women and priesthood became commonplace.”
• The church can silence many by punishing a few. “In the internet age, we thought, there were too many venues where we could raise our voices and too many of us to excommunicate,” Bennett says. “We didn’t think the church would risk the bad PR that would result from silencing us. We were wrong. ... Going after just a few public faces [even if they didn’t actually violate any church rules] is enough to scare most people into submission.”
Split decision in marijuana fight
After issuing a string of messages stating their concerns about a Utah initiative on medical marijuana, Latter-day Saint leaders made their position clear this week on a number of questions:
• Do they oppose the medical use of marijuana? No.
• Do they oppose the state’s ballot proposal? Yes.
Why the apparent disconnect?
“The church does not object to the medicinal use of marijuana, if doctor-prescribed, in dosage form, through a licensed pharmacy,” Elder Jack N. Gerard, a general authority Seventy, said. “We are deeply concerned by the history of other states that have allowed for medical or recreational use of this drug without the proper controls and have experienced serious consequences to the health and safety of their citizens.”
And Utah’s Proposition 2 lacks those safeguards, said Gerard, uniting his voice to a coalition of medical experts, clergy, law enforcement, educators and business leaders against the measure.
A church news release says an email will be sent to Utah Latter-day Saints urging them to vote against Prop 2.
The latest church statement, however, left unanswered another question: Will this position affect the standing of members in the dozens of states where medical marijuana is legal but not dispensed through a pharmacy?
Edgy comedian David Cross of “Arrested Development” fame created a stir — and pumped up interest in his Utah appearance — when he tweeted a doctored photo that depicted him in Latter-day Saint temple garments.
He said he never dreamed that “underwear” and “sacred” could be used in unison, “but when they’re put together, they’re hilarious.”
In 2015, the church released photos and a video showing garments. It also stated that “Latter-day Saints seek the same respect and sensitivity regarding our sacred clothing as shown to those of other faiths who wear religious vestments.”
New Zealand temple getting new look
On April 20, 1958, then-church President David O. McKay dedicated a temple in Hamilton, New Zealand.
Like most structures built more than 60 years ago, it’s time for an upgrade — in this case, according to a news release, a seismic retrofit, refreshed finishes and furnishings, improved mechanical systems and enhanced landscaping.
The landmark temple is expected to reopen in 2021.
A textbook case
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has revised a fitness textbook, written by two Brigham Young University professors, that drew fire for calling cancer a “disease of choice” and including a theory that critics say asserts some Holocaust victims failed to tap their inner strength.
The News & Observer reported that the school worked with the publisher of “21st Century Wellness” to make “multiple edits to the content and length of the book.”
Co-author Ron Hager, associate professor of exercise sciences at BYU, defended the the volume and its aim to promote health lifestyles.
“One of the overriding purposes of our text is to encourage and empower individuals to take responsibility for their own good health through the everyday choices they make,” he wrote to The News & Observer. “... Without question, choices can and do have consequences and there is ample evidence of various kinds ... that show certain behaviors within our control can contribute to increased risk of disease.”
Hager says the reference about a theory by psychotherapist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl simply mentioned “that a sense of inherent self-worth can be a source of strength or motivation that can help those struggling, in this case in concentration camps but also for anyone.”
A new gateway to family history
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to — do genealogy.
Family history hounds now have easy digital access to sniff out nearly 64 million names of immigrants, crew members and other passengers passing through Ellis Island, for decades the chief gateway to the United States.
“This online database contains family connections for more than 100 million Americans living today,” a church news release says. “Originally preserved on microfilm, 9.3 million images of historical New York passenger records spanning 130 years were digitized and indexed in a massive effort by 165,590 online FamilySearch volunteers.”
Quote of the week
“The church does not object to the medicinal use of marijuana, if doctor-prescribed, in dosage form, through a licensed pharmacy.”
— Jack N. Gerard, general authority Seventy, Aug. 23, 2018
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.