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: The conference that was
What’s in a name? Will less church be more? And where were the women?
Patrick Mason, head of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University, and Emily Jensen, a Latter-day Saint writer, editor and blogger, answer those questions and more as they discuss what did — and did not — happen at General Conference.
Speaking of conference, here’s a recap
Granted, Russell M. Nelson hasn’t had a lot of plate appearances as church president at General Conference, but so far he’s batting a thousand.
Six months after leading a historic spring conference, he made it two for two on the memorable meter with the just-completed fall gathering.
Here are some highlights:
• Block party — The much-anticipated (yes, even prayed for) switch from a three-hour Sunday services schedule (in place since 1980) to two hours will become a reality in 2019. But the change to a home-centered, church-supported faith — though almost universally welcomed — will pose challenges, especially to single members and those in part-member families.
• Why in God’s name? — Nelson doubled down on his campaign to excise the words “Mormon” and “LDS” as shortened references for the church and its members. Using these common nicknames, he warned, is a “major victory for Satan.” This amped-up plea has set off debates inside and outside the faith. The church-owned Deseret News has changed the name of its weekly Mormon Times section to Latter-day Saint Living. Some folks are even inventing browser plug-ins that replace the word “Mormon” with something, shall we say, more acceptable.
• What about women? — For the first time ever, the general women’s session took the place of the all-male priesthood meeting. Three female leaders gave sermons as did all three members of the governing First Presidency. In the general sessions, only one woman — Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president — spoke. During the women’s gathering, Nelson invited his female listeners to take part in a 10-day fast from social media (similar to the one he urged the church’s youths to undertake earlier in the year). The challenge has run into some unintended consequences for candidates and constituents a month before Election Day and even for a church-backed film — “Jane and Emma” — set to open in Utah this week.
• Temples here, temples there, temples, it seems, everywhere — After naming seven new temples in the spring (including firsts for Russia, India and Nicaragua) Nelson outdid himself this conference by announcing a dozen new temples. They will be in Mendoza, Argentina; Salvador, Brazil; Yuba City, Calif.; Phnom Penh, Cambodia (the country’s first); Praia, Cape Verde (its first); Yigo, Guam (another first); Puebla, Mexico; Auckland, New Zealand; Lagos, Nigeria; Davao, Philippines; San Juan, Puerto Rico (the island’s first); and Washington County, Utah (which already has a temple in St. George and will become the Beehive State’s 20th). The church president also revealed plans to renovate and update the iconic six-spired Salt Lake Temple and other “pioneer-generation” temples.
• Oaks’ speech — Dallin H. Oaks, Nelson’s first counselor, made headlines with his Saturday sermon opposing abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage and transgender rights. He also urged members to be wary of anonymous sources along with scientific and secular thinking. “The methods of science lead us to what we call scientific truth,” he said. “But ‘scientific truth’ is not the whole of life.” Oaks emphasized caution when “relying on information or advice offered by entertainment stars, prominent athletes or anonymous internet sources. Expertise in one field should not be taken as expertise on truth in other subjects.”
‘Sister presidents,’ er, uh, ‘sister leaders’
During the women’s session, Dallin H. Oaks opened his talk praising the “inspiring messages from the sister presidents” — Joy Jones, president of the Primary, and her second counselor, Cristina B. Franco, and Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency — who preceded him at the pulpit.
There long has been a debate within the faith about how to refer to female auxiliary heads and the wives of mission presidents. That debate, it seems, will continue.
The choir will now sing … under a new name
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir, whose performances from its namesake home in downtown Salt Lake City to musical halls across the globe helped spread the Latter-day Saint gospel message for more than 150 years years, has a new name.
It’s now The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square.
The move honors President Russell M. Nelson’s push to stop use of the terms “Mormon” and “LDS” as shorthand for the church and its members.
The choir — with a lyrical legacy that includes the longest-running continuous network broadcast (“Music and the Spoken Word”) — sang for the first time under its new moniker at Saturday morning’s General Conference session.
As the Utah-based faith continues to nick those nicknames from its operations, will LDS Business College become “The Business College Two Blocks From Temple Square”?
Snow is white, but Elder Steven E. Snow is “green.”
The general authority Seventy, who labors as church historian and recorder, served on the board of directors of the Grand Canyon Trust environmental group.
Snow, a St. George native, drew upon that experience this week during an environmental stewardship symposium at Utah State University.
“He testified at congressional hearings to reduce the disruptive noise caused by commercial air tours of the Grand Canyon and other national parks,” a church news release said. “He also helped ensure that local power plants complied with federal emissions standards and chaired a habitat conservation plan committee for the desert tortoise, which created a 67,000-acre reserve for that tortoise.”
During a panel discussion, Snow urged members and others to do more to safeguard the Earth and its resources.
“[We will] be held accountable for how we treat one another, the community in which we live, and the land that surrounds us, even the Earth itself,” he said. “That stewardship has never been more urgent. Our generation, more than any other, has the ability to irretrievably change the land.”
Snow pointed to environmental efforts by the church. The Salt Lake City-based faith has launched a green building initiative that boosts energy efficiency and lowers operating costs.
“Many of these building projects, from temples and chapels to family history centers and the City Creek development, have received a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council,” the release notes. “This includes the Church History Library (completed in 2009), which achieved a silver certification through LEED.”
“Failure to care for the land on which we live means turning our backs on the heritage laid down carefully and at such great cost by our forefathers — and will leave us immeasurably poorer,” Snow said. “ … God expects every one of his sons and daughters to act as good stewards of the land he created.”
He’s 94, but Russell M. Nelson shows no signs of slowing down, letting up or staying put.
The vibrant church president is planning yet another extended tour, according to a news release, this time hitting five South American countries in nine days.
From Oct. 19 to 28, Nelson and his wife, Wendy, joined by apostle Gary E. Stevenson and his wife, Lesa, will go to Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and, finally, Chile, where the new Concepción temple will be dedicated.
Earlier in the year, Nelson undertook a global tour that took him to eight cities, stretching from London to Honolulu, and several continents in 11 days. Since taking the church’s reins, he also has traveled to Canada (twice) along with Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
‘Jane and Emma’ arrives in Utah theaters
She knew little about Jane Manning James when she got the part, but actor Danielle Deadwyler says she’ll never forget her now after playing the early black convert in the new movie “Jane and Emma.”
“She’s on my mind often. You can’t walk away from these roles, and why would you want to?” Deadwyler tells The Tribune. “I want to be changed as a result of an experience, too, and that’s what this experience was, is and continues to be.”
More meetings with the NAACP
For the third time in five months, NAACP brass have met with top Latter-day Saint authorities.
The latest talks took place Friday and Saturday before the weekend General Conference.
Officials and staffers with the two groups “advanced conversations and efforts on their [joint] education and employment initiative,” according to a church news release.
In a May summit, church President Russell M. Nelson and NAACP CEO Derrick Johnson huddled and pledged to work together on humanitarian and schooling programs.
Two months later, the institutions announced an education and jobs initiative on the East Coast with plans to undertake more unified ventures.
Funeral services for Ballard’s wife
A week after her death and one day after her husband honored her from the pulpit at General Conference, Barbara Bowen Ballard, wife of apostle M. Russell Ballard, was laid to rest in the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
“Of all the good things that have been said, they are all true,” President Russell M. Nelson said at her funeral. “Wendy and I feel that Barbara has come as close to living a perfect life [as] any we have observed.”
Seeing the number of high-level church leaders at the funeral, her son Craig joked: “Welcome to the sixth session of General Conference.”
At the Sunday morning session, her husband, the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, concluded his moving sermon about the redemption of the dead with a tribute to his wife of 67 years and a testimony about forever families.
“How grateful I am to know where my precious Barbara is,” M. Russell Ballard said, “and that we will be together again, with our family, for all eternity.”
Quote of the week
“Those of us who are at different points in the long journey of discipleship must extend a warm hand of fellowship to our new friends, accept them where they are, and help, love and include them in our lives. All of these new friends are precious sons and daughters of God. We cannot afford to lose even one of them because, like the Amazon River that depends on tributaries feeding it, we need them just as much as they need us, to become a mighty force for good in the world.”
Apostle Ulisses Soares
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.