Mormon Land newsletter: New name for Mormon studies, more scrutiny of bishops' interviews, and why those who leave the church can’t leave it alone

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Church Office Building, 50 E. North Temple, Salt Lake City, is home to the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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: Middle-way members

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

So-called Middle Way Mormonism is generating a lot of chatter online, in homes, at churches and elsewhere. While a clear definition of the term remains elusive — even among self-proclaimed middle wayers — this approach is gaining traction, especially among millennial members, more and more of whom are seeing themselves as neither all-in nor all-out of the faith. By Common Consent blogger Sam Brunson argues all members, at some level, are middle wayers.

Hear his thoughts on this week’s podcast.

Still Mormon after all these tears

It’s an old saw tagged on members who, to one degree or another, depart from the faith: “They can leave the church, but they can’t leave it alone.”

And Ashley Ruttan, for one, is weary of the phrase. The self-identified Canadian Mormon feminist, in a guest blog post for Patheos, has a simple explanation for her continued interest in what happens in the pews even though she no longer sits there:

She still cares about the faith community that made her who she is.

“I have spent countless hours crying, praying, fasting and pleading,” she writes. “I have spent many nights reading and researching until I could no longer keep my eyes open.”

Besides, she adds, “I’m still Mormon (I type through tear-filled eyes)” — even if it’s not in the way other members would like her to be.

Goodbye, ‘Mormon’ studies

(Keith Johnson | Special to The Tribune) Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland speaks during the 188th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Oct. 7, 2018, in Salt Lake City.

As if dissecting doctrines, scrutinizing sermons and theorizing about theology weren’t challenging enough, now Brigham Young University’s Maxwell Institute must tackle another task: Find a new name for its Mormon studies program.

In a speech this month at the Provo school, apostle Jeffrey R. Holland pointed out the need for a new moniker to mesh with church President Russell M. Nelson’s call to eliminate the “Mormon” nickname as shorthand for the church or its members.

“Take heart, we are going through the same exercise at church headquarters, addressing a whole host of adjustments that are necessary in our own departments, our own printed materials, and public communications,” he said in a Church News story. “We know this assignment will give you heartburn, but it doesn’t rank with the Missouri persecutions, so dive in.”

In a letter to Holland, BYU’s Daily Universe reported, Nelson promised institute officials that “if they can claim the name of the Lord Jesus Christ some way in their name, the Lord will bless them in their mission.”

So, will whatever replacement label the institute comes up with be followed by other Mormon studies programs at schools not owned by the church?

Ex-bishop still exed

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Marchers, led by Sam Young, head to the LDS Church Office Building in Salt Lake City to request that the faith's leaders put an end to bishops meeting one on one with children for interviews. Friday, March 30, 2018.

Sam Young got the final word Sunday, and that word was “excommunication.”

The former bishop — who led a high-profile campaign to end lay leaders’ one-on-one interviews with young Latter-day Saints and the sometimes sexually explicit questions that are asked — lost his bid to have his membership reinstated.

He learned from his Houston stake president that the faith’s governing First Presidency had rejected his appeal.

In his quest to stop these “worthiness” interviews, Young had formed a group, Protect LDS Children, launched an online petition and guided a march to church headquarters to deliver tens of thousands of supportive signatures. He even staged a three-week hunger strike.

In September, though, he got the boot “for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the church.”

Now an ex-Mormon, Young vows that his excommunication won’t stop this ex-’s communication — against bishops’ interviews.

“For our children’s sake,” he has said, “this whistleblower is not going to stop roaring.”

More focus on bishops’ interviews

This American Life” producer Elna Baker explored the Latter-day Saint practice of “worthiness” interviews and the requirement that members confess sexual sins to their bishops.

KUER’s Radio West also discussed the topic with Baker and other guests.

Sky’s the limit

(Photo courtesy of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill via Salt Lake City Planning Division) Rendering of a new 28-story office tower proposed by LDS Church-owned City Creek Reserve at the northeast corner of State Street and 100 South in Salt Lake City.

The church is reaching for new heights in Salt Lake City.

Its real estate arm plans to erect another downtown high-rise, its second in two years.

At 395 feet, the new 28-story office tower, on the corner of State Street and 100 South, would be the third tallest skyscraper in Utah’s capital, bumping another church property, the 387-foot 111 Main building, which debuted in 2016.

The 420-foot Church Office Building would remain the second highest structure, just two feet lower than the city’s tallest building, the Wells Fargo Center.

The Utah-based faith also has been busy building and buying housing high-rises. It recently purchased a 40-story apartment tower in Chicago’s South Loop and constructed a 30-plus-story apartment complex across the street from its temple in Philadelphia.

Spirit of the Navajos

(Courtesy photo | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Reyna I. Aburto of the Relief Society general presidency holds the hands of Elsie Gray of the Fort Wingate Branch during a visit to her home near Gallup, N.M, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018.

Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society’s general presidency, visited Navajo Latter-day Saints in New Mexico and Arizona earlier this month, bringing higher hopes to a people and place often plagued by low employment.

“I have felt such a strong spirit in this place,” Aburto said in a news release. “I feel that this is a very, very special place with wonderful people, people that have a long history of loving the Savior and loving the earth where they live and loving nature.”

The church leader met with tribal leaders and spoke at evening devotionals.

A native of Nicaragua, Aburto urged the Navajo members to read the faith’s signature scripture. “The Book of Mormon was written for us, for our time,” she said, “and this is a book about their ancestors on this land.”

Tale of two new senators

(AP Photo/Rick Scuteri) U.S. Sen.-elect Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., speaks after being declared the winner over Republican challenger U.S. Rep. Martha McSally, Monday, Nov. 12, 2018, in Scottsdale, Ariz. Sinema won Arizona's open U.S. Senate seat in a race that was among the most closely watched in the nation, beating McSally in the battle to replace GOP Sen. Jeff Flake.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Mitt Romney gives his victory speech, at the Romney headquarters in Orem on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

In an op-ed for The Tribune, Benjamin Park, a religious history professor at Sam Houston State University, took a look at two newly elected U.S. senators who share Latter-day Saint religious roots but whose political, spiritual and sexual orientations couldn’t be more different.

“Mitt Romney, a Republican elected to represent Utah, embodies the clean-cut, traditional and conservative image typically associated with modern Mormonism,” Park writes. “The other is somewhat the opposite: Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat elected to represent Arizona, is an openly bisexual woman who no longer identifies with the faith.”

Their life paths reflect not only the partisan and policy divides in the nation’s capital but also the doctrinal and cultural clashes inside Latter-day Saint circles.

“The two senators-elect represent a tension at the very heart of the modern LDS tradition,” Park says. “Understanding why one and not the other is immediately associated with the faith reveals much about an evolving institution that is still trying to define who does and does not belong in an increasingly global church.”

BYU gets slapped

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU's Nick Emery, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018.

The NCAA whistled church-owned BYU for illicit booster handouts given to basketball guard Nick Emery.

As a result, the Provo school’s men’s hoops program must, among other penalties:

• Be on probation for two years.

• Forfeit 47 wins spanning two seasons.

• Cut its men’s basketball scholarships by one.

• Pay a $5,000 fine.

“The [Committee on Infractions] was particularly troubled that one of the boosters had access to the men’s basketball locker room and used that access to provide the student-athlete with cash,” an NCAA news release said. “The fact that a Brigham Young mentorship program connected one of the boosters with the student-athlete was also concerning to the COI.”

BYU plans to appeal the decision.

In October 2017, The Tribune revealed the booster benefits Emery received. Said the star guard after the NCAA sanctions came down: “My intentions were never to hurt the program or university.”

Coming soon: Haiti’s temple

(Courtesy photo | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Port-au-Prince Haiti Temple rendering.

After May 19, 2019, Haiti, one of the Western Hemisphere's poorest nations with a poverty rate approaching 60 percent, will be in a position to offer its 20,000 or so Latter-day Saints the richest blessings of their faith.

That’s when a temple will be dedicated in the capital of Port-au-Prince, the First Presidency announced this week in a news release.

The public will be able to tour the edifice from April 20 through May 4.

Quote of the week

(Courtesy photo | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Navajo children take a picture with Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, in Chinle, Ariz., Nov. 9, 2018. The children dressed in regalia to dance for the Latter-day Saint leader.

“I feel that we Latter-day Saints from all over the world have a lot to learn from [Navajo members] about their humility, their sincerity, their wisdom ... and their faith.”

Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency

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