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: The gay policy — then and now

Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune Kendall Wilcox, co-founder of Mormons Building Bridges

Three years ago this month, word leaked out of a new church policy, one that deemed members who enter a same-sex marriage “apostates” and barred their children from baptism and other religious rituals until they turn 18.

The policy made international headlines, setting off a wave of protests and rallies, public resignations and private resentments.

That furor has largely faded but, for many, the questions and the pain, like the policy itself, persist.

So, three years later, what is the state of LGBTQ relations within the faith?

Kendall Wilcox, an openly gay Latter-day Saint filmmaker and co-founder of the group Mormons Building Bridges, would like to see improvement, but under the church’s new leadership of President Russell M. Nelson and given recent sermons by his first counselor, Dallin H. Oaks, he isn’t hopeful.

Wilcox talks about that and more on this week’s podcast. Listen here.

When in Rome, you now can see the temple

(Courtesy photo | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Construction on the Rome Temple is nearing an end. The church will host a free public open house for three weeks beginning Jan. 28, 2019.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the church’s temple there wasn’t built in a year ... two years ... or even five years.

No, it has taken more than a decade to take that cherished dream from its October 2008 announcement in Salt Lake City and make it a granite reality in the Eternal City.

This week, the First Presidency announced new dates to dedicate the 40,000-square-foot edifice in northeast Rome. The services are now set for March 10 through March 12 next year — after a public open house from Jan. 28 to Feb. 16.

Construction began in 2010 after a formal groundbreaking but, the church has said, ran into “contractor difficulties not related to this project.”

A continent away, apostle Neil L. Andersen presided at a groundbreaking this week for the Abidjan Cȏte d’Ivoire Temple in West Africa.

“This house [of the Lord] will be a blessing for the country and the members,” Andersen said in a news release. “This temple is an answer to the prayers of the saints in Cȏte d’Ivoire.”

The Ivory Coast structure will be the church’s 10th temple announced or operating in Africa.

Finding Common Ground with LGBTQ athletes

(Courtesy photo | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Jean B. Bingham, general president of the church’s Relief Society, gives remarks at a luncheon with the Common Ground Executive Committee on Nov. 2, 2018.

High-level church leaders hosted representatives this month of the NCAA’s Common Ground program, which is devoted to bringing together LGBTQ advocates and athletic administrators.

“We greatly appreciate your concern for the dignity and the physical and spiritual well-being of LGBT student athletes,” Jean Bingham, general president of the church’s female Relief Society, said in a news release. “I believe that when common ground is sincerely sought between any of God’s children, it is always found.”

Added Young Women general President Bonnie H. Cordon: “We try to follow the example of Jesus Christ, and we really think of you as family because we’re all children of God.”

Church’s grip on Utah politics may be loosening

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune The Salt Lake LDS Temple and the Utah Capitol are seen together, Wednesday, July 26, 2017.

In Utah politics, when the church speaks, voters listen.

But they don’t necessarily obey.

Witness Proposition 2. Beehive State voters approved medical marijuana, according to unofficial election returns, even though Utah’s predominant faith came out publicly and emphatically against the measure.

That result, among others, writes Religion News Service senior columnist Jana Riess, shows the church’s control of politics in an increasingly diverse Utah is “slipping, bit by bit.”

Last lecture

Among the final takeaways from Phil Barlow during his last lecture at Utah State University were this: Religion, often misunderstood, matters and studying it is essential.

Barlow, who is leaving as head of Mormon studies at the Logan school to take a position at Brigham Young University’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, told an audience at USU’s David B. Haight Alumni Center recently that ignoring faith issues in academia is “presumptuous and condescending,” Logan’s Herald Journal reports.

The scholar also addressed the frequent assertion that because human suffering exists, God must not, making religion irrational and unnecessary.

“Suffering and its problems are the grounds of religion. It’s the fertilizer,” the paper quotes Barlow as saying. “Religion could be the response to human suffering.”

Viewing Eyring’s life through his art

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune "Missionaries in Paris, undated." Henry Eyring's extensive watercolor collection, on display now through Jan. 21, 2019, at the Church History Museum. The collection, titled: “A Visual Journal: The Artwork of Henry B. Eyring,” reveals Eyring's memories with family, friends and trips. Eyring is second counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Henry B. Eyring has raised journal keeping to an art form — literally.

His watercolor memories, more than a thousand of them, have been cataloged and reveal a visual journal of his life, his loves, his travels and his reflections through the decades.

More than 100 of his postcard-size paintings, sketches and journals are on display at the Church History Museum in downtown Salt Lake City through Jan. 21, 2019.

“I don't think of myself as an artist,” the 85-year-old Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, said in a church video interview. “I'm a fellow that likes art and likes memories.”

Joseph Smith Papers keep piling up

The third volume of the Joseph Smith Papers, which includes the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon is shown following a news conference Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Eighteen hefty books so far with plans for another half-dozen or so — that alone speaks volumes about the breadth, depth and ambitions driving the massive Joseph Smith Papers project.

This week’s release, “Revelations and Translations, Volume 4: Book of Abraham and Related Manuscripts,” provides “an unprecedented look at the manuscripts and earliest publications of the Book of Abraham,” co-editor Robin Scott Jensen said in a news release.

“It also takes readers inside Joseph Smith’s study of the Egyptian papyri before he dictated the Book of Abraham,” Jensen added, “which is a history with which few Latter-day Saints are familiar.”

Death of a dynamo

(Tribune file photo) Hartman Rector Jr. and his wife in 1968.

Hartman Rector Jr., who joined the church when he was in the Navy, rose to become an energetic general authority and never tired of conversion stories, died Nov. 6 at age 94.

“I was like a starving man who had found food and drink for the first time,” Rector said in 1994 of his own spiritual awakening. “I loved it.”

Quote of the week

“Here’s the thing: We’re all Middle Way Mormons. Or, at least, the vast majority of us are. Some have undoubtedly made a clean break from the church, and there may be some active members who accept, uncritically, everything that the church and its leaders do and say, even the stuff that contradicts the other stuff. But most people are somewhere in the middle, even if they don’t recognize themselves in that middle. (It’s kind of like tithing — for all the talk of paying on net vs. paying on gross, we all pay on one net or another.)"
By Common Consent blogger Sam Brunson

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