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 this newsletter in your inbox? Subscribe here.
This week’s podcast: It’s curtains for Cumorah
The church surprised many when it announced that large pageants are now “discouraged.”
That same day, leaders of the mother of all Latter-day Saint pageants, the Hill Cumorah Pageant, said that it would end its 81-year run after the 2020 season.
On this week’s podcast, Gerald Argetsinger, who served in the pageant presidency for 12 years and worked as its artistic director for most of the 1990s, laments the loss of this iconic piece of Latter-day Saint dramatic history, discusses the show’s storied past and highlights the impact it had through the decades on member testimonies, missionary efforts and the wider community.
KUER RadioWest also posted a short film about the Palmyra pageant that followed an insurance agent cast as Book of Mormon prophet-editor Mormon.
Meanwhile, in Manti ...
As for central Utah’s Mormon Miracle Pageant, the show will go on as usual next June outside Manti’s majestic temple, but its prospects in 2020 and beyond are in question.
Pageant President Milton Olsen says community players are in talks about continuing the show after 2019, perhaps at a new location. He told The Tribune on Wednesday that the church’s temple department would like it off the temple grounds, but he added that a final decision has yet to be made.
Another change may come next year to the pageant: namely, its name: the Mormon Miracle Pageant.
The word “Mormon” is out, under the faith’s new style guidelines, so Olsen says the “likelihood is yes” — the show will have a new title when it is performed June 13-15 and 18-22.
Several names have been floated, he says, including simply the Manti Pageant, the most common moniker for the summertime event.
A new Church News
The Church News is no longer LDS.
OK, by that we mean that the faith’s weekly newspaper — which is also a tabloid insert in the church-owned Deseret News — no longer includes “LDS” in its website address and social media profiles.
It now can be found online at thechurchnews.com.
This move honors the counsel of President Russell M. Nelson to stop using “Mormon” and “LDS” as shorthand for the church or its members.
“As an official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we are committed to following the First Presidency and using the inspired and official name of the church in the Church News,” Editor Sarah Jane Weaver explained.
Russell M. Nelson certainly isn’t afraid to shake things up. The whirlwind of change since he took the faith’s helm proves that.
In fact, says the person closest to him, he thrives on it.
“He thinks outside the box,” his wife, Wendy Nelson, says in a video interview on the church’s Newsroom website. “If it’s not outside the box, he’s not that interested in it.”
Change the priesthood quorums? You bet. Shorten Sunday services? Sure. End home and visiting teaching? Yeah, here’s another approach.
“He's not afraid to do something different,” Wendy Nelson says. “If we're really preparing the church and the world for the Second Coming of the savior, he is sincere about that. He doesn't want us spending money, time, energy on anything that isn't really focused on that.”
She’s even witnessed a transformation within her husband.
“I have seen him changing in the last 10 months,” she says. “It is as though he's been unleashed. He's free to finally do what he came to earth to do. … He's free to follow through with things he's been concerned about but could never do. Now that he's president of [the church], he can do those things.”
Wendy Nelson says her 94-year-old spouse, who just returned with her from a South American tour, is defying his age and discovering new contentment.
“I see the Lord pouring strength into him,” she says. “ … I've seen him become younger. I've seen him become happier because he's doing what he came to earth to do.”
Stuart Reid, a former Utah legislator who previously worked in church public affairs, has said that Nelson is driven by “revelation” with the heavens — “the Lord really does speak to him in the night,” Reid adds — and feels a sense of urgency to carry out divine decrees.
So Latter-day Saints best buckle up for more adjustments, announcements, rescissions or reforms.
“If you think the church has been fully restored, you’re just seeing the beginning,” Nelson himself says in another church video interview released this week. “There is much more to come. … Wait till next year. And then the next year. Eat your vitamin pills. Get your rest. It’s going to be exciting.”
Oaks again addresses the law and love
During his first news conference as first counselor in the governing First Presidency, when asked about LGBT issues within the faith, Dallin H. Oaks said church leaders must “teach love and also the commandments of God … It’s the love of the Lord [balanced with] the law of the Lord.”
He returned to that topic this week in a speech at Brigham Young University-Idaho — echoing a similar sermon he gave in the October 2009 General Conference.
According to a transcript, here is what Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, told some 15,000 BYU-Idaho students Tuesday:
• “How do we draw the line in showing love without seeming to abandon our commitment to the truths we understand about God’s law and the covenants we have made? Surely, we do not follow the extreme of severing family relationships or avoiding all contacts with those whose behavior we disapprove. And just as surely, we should seek to avoid seeming to support or condone behavior that violates the laws of God.”
• “I know from letters that some faithful parents struggle where to draw the line in family gatherings where a son or daughter wants to include their cohabitating partner. One parent wrote that they included the couple but declined to host them overnight. I cite that as an illustration of individual balancing, not as a proposed rule.”
In the latest General Conference, Oaks drew criticism from some quarters for decrying same-sex marriage, abortion and euthanasia.
“Our knowledge of God’s revealed plan of salvation requires us to oppose many of the current social and legal pressures to retreat from traditional marriage,” he said, “or to make changes that confuse or alter gender or homogenize the differences between men and women.”
Oaks noted then and this week that such stances often come under fire. “As we attempt to apply this balance [of love and law],” he said Tuesday, “we can expect opposition, but the Lord has taught us not to fear it.”
Red Cross to the rescue
The church certainly isn’t a driving force behind the American Red Cross, but it does help keep the humanitarian organization’s relief efforts rolling.
To that point, the faith donated $1.5 million last week so the Red Cross could buy 10 new emergency response vehicles.
That contribution, together with earlier assistance, earned the church the elite distinction of “mission leader,” reserved for partners that donate at least $3 million a year to the Red Cross.
“The partnership among the American Red Cross and the church spans nearly a century since working together on humanitarian relief efforts during World War I,” Bishop Dean M. Davies of the church’s Presiding Bishopric said in a news release. “We recognize and appreciate the skill and expertise the Red Cross organization and their people bring to bear when people need it most and are pleased to join hands with them in reaching out to those in need.”
“While Red Cross volunteers [were] operating shelters, serving meals and distributing relief supplies,” Davies said, “church volunteers were cutting up trees, clearing debris and cleaning out flooded homes.”
Adios, South America
President Russell M. Nelson capped his nine-day, five-nation South American tour by dedicating the Concepción Chile Temple, that nation’s second Latter-day Saint temple.
“At lunch [Saturday] I told one of our distinguished guests that the safest place to be in Chile in an earthquake is in the temple in Concepcion,” Nelson told more than 1,450 youths the night before Sunday’s dedication. “It's the safest place physically and spiritually. The temple is a holy place. It's like heaven on earth.”
Nelson and his entourage, including apostle Gary E. Stevenson, also visited Uruguay, where, according to a news release, the 94-year-old prophet urged Latter-day Saint parents to teach their children to be missionaries, learn another language, get a good education and be good citizens.
“In my position, it’s often my opportunity to meet with government leaders,” he said. “Rather routinely they say that ‘your members are our very best citizens.’ That pleases me very much.”
The delegation previously made stops in Paraguay, Bolivia and Peru.
In other South American news, the church announced open house plans from Nov. 3 to 24 for the Barranquilla Temple, the second in Colombia. The dedication is set for Dec. 9.
“We have millions [of members] in this South American continent,” Nelson said in a news release. “And it's not just numbers; it's strength, it's power, it's faith. It's almost palpable.”
New help, hope for abuse victims
In conjunction with National Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, the church unveiled a new website — abuse.lds.org — to provide help, hope, healing and protection for abuse victims.
For those in crisis, the website lists emergency phone numbers to help lines and links to additional online resources. It also includes personal accounts to help abuse survivors recover, tips for assisting abuse victims, ideas for preventing abuse, along with resources for church leaders to help protect members and report abuse.
Priority one, the site states, is ensuring the safety of victims and then comforting and reassuring them that they are not to blame for the abuse.
“Survivors need to hear they aren’t at fault and that Heavenly Father still loves them and has never stopped. They need to hear it over and over again,” child-protection advocate Deondra Brown, an abuse survivor and part of the The 5 Browns piano quintet, said in a news release. “The fact that the church is willing to say ‘we hear you’ and offer resources and practical tools is a powerful statement. I hope survivors of abuse will feel they are not alone and that they don’t need to suffer in silence.”
The church expressed its “deepest grief and solidarity with our Jewish friends” everywhere after the deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
“Houses of worship should be safe, inviolate places for people of all faiths to join in sacred fellowship and seek communion with God,” the church stated in a news release. “We condemn the environment of hate-filled rhetoric that has become so prevalent. Anti-Semitism has no place in our society. It is the responsibility of good people everywhere to speak out and stand up for each other’s rights to worship and live peacefully.”
Days before the killings, a Deseret News story noted that Nelson had condemned mass shootings as a “great offense to God.”
Earlier this year, after gunfire killed 17 at a high school Parkland, Fla., the Latter-day Saint leader criticized U.S. laws “that allow guns to go to people who shouldn’t have them.”
Imagine Dragons? Imagine awards.
Hollywood is a believer in “Believer.”
The documentary about Imagine Dragons frontman (and Latter-day Saint) Dan Reynolds and the strained relations between his church and its LGBTQ members will receive the Hollywood Documentary Award on Nov. 4 at the 22nd annual Hollywood Film Awards, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Quote of the week
“If you think the church has been fully restored, you’re just seeing the beginning. There is much more to come. … Wait till next year. And then the next year. Eat your vitamin pills. Get your rest. It’s going to be exciting.”
Russell M. Nelson, in a video interview
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.