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: Food and faith

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) A collector from Norway displays one of the hottest pins during Salt Lake City's 2002 Winter Olympics: a bowl of green Jell-O.

It’s Thanksgiving week, and Americans’ thoughts — and stomachs — turn inevitably to food.

What better time to explore whether Latter-day Saints have any special connection to food or, at least, certain foods? After all, we’ve all heard about funeral potatoes and green Jell-O. But the faith also has a health code that counsels members on what they should and should not eat or drink. What role does it play?

On this week’s podcast, Christy Spackman, who holds a doctorate in food studies and teaches at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, discusses those topics and more.

Listen here.

Survey says ...

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune A couple hold each other as they listen to the Tabernacle Choir sing during a break at the 185th Semiannual General Conference, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015.

Latter-day Saint officials want to know how important church membership is to those in the pews, how consistently they follow the faith’s practices, how often they go to church, and how deeply they believe in its teachings.

To that end, the Correlation Research Division recently sent an online survey to some members “to study how experiences during adolescence and early adulthood affect members’ personal religiosity later in life.”

It asked, for instance, how often in the past month the member prayed or read scriptures and whether the person had ever stopped attending church for more than three straight months.

In addition, the survey explored members’ beliefs in the church itself, its teachings and its leaders.

In one query, recipients were asked: “Which of the following statements most closely reflects how you feel?”

• “I am certain that all of the teachings of the church are inspired by God and are completely true. If there is something that I don’t fully understand, I have faith that it will be clearer to me someday.

• “I believe that while the prophets and church leaders do their best, there is some human error in the doctrine. However, I think this church offers us more truth than any other.

• “I believe that the prophets and other church leaders make many errors in teachings. This church is one of many churches that offer a portion of truth.

• “I have serious doubts about the existence of God, or whether the teachings of the church are true and reflect his will.”

There were no questions about the respondents’ adherence to the Word of Wisdom, the faith’s health code that prohibits tobacco, alcohol, tea and coffee, or about the wearing of temple undergarments to signify a person’s commitment. Nor did it ask about attitudes toward LGBTQ members or equality for women.

Church spokesman Eric Hawkins declined to provide specifics about the number of members who received the questionnaire, what population it was surveying, or whether it was sent largely to Latter-day Saints in the U.S.

The Utah-based faith “frequently contacts members throughout the world to help provide the church with relevant, timely information related to members and their activities, perceptions and participation,” Hawkins said in a statement. “Those results are used to help the church understand how instruction, programs, and materials are received and implemented at a local level.”

Writer-researcher Jana Riess, who has conducted her own research about young Latter-day Saints, found the survey “fascinating.”

“I’m glad to hear that the church is engaging in the kind of deep collective listening that can occur with a detailed survey. I believe we could do a better job of listening to the concerns and desires of young adults, and this is a step in that direction,” said Riess, senior columnist for Religion News Service and author of “The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church,” due out in March. “What would be particularly helpful is if the church would release the results of this so that bishops, Relief Society presidents, and youth leaders could have access to the findings — as well as young adults themselves.”

Holland gives gift to British prime minister

(Courtesy photo | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Prime Minister Theresa May received two bound volumes covering the first five generations of her ancestry.

Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland presented Theresa May with a two-volume set covering her family history this week even as the British prime minister wrestled with her nation’s polarizing and prickly exit from the European Union.

“I was so very pleased to be able to meet Prime Minister May in the United Kingdom Parliament and to have the opportunity of sharing our gift, the rich history of her family roots,” Holland said in a news release. “Learning about families is of such enormous value to us and to her.”

The history, assembled by a research team, covers five generations of May’s maternal and paternal ancestry and took 2,500 hours to produce.

As a young man, Holland had served a mission in England, where he at one point became a companion of another future apostle, Quentin L. Cook.

Isn’t that a McNaughton?

(Kim Raff | The Washington Post) After the 2016 election, Jon McNaughton's paintings gained a hero in Donald Trump instead of just a villain in Barack Obama.

Jon McNaughton — the Provo painter whose patriotic works conservatives see as inspired creations and liberals view as political propaganda — has a piece in the print edition of the church’s new “Come Follow Me” manual for New Testament study next year.

This painting, though, is one of McNaughton’s religious depictions. Found on Page 181 and titled “Let Him Ask of God,” it shows a young Joseph Smith outside his log home in New York studying the Bible verse that ultimately led the boy-prophet to found a new church.

Although this art would in no way be seen as political, the sheer presence of a McNaughton work — though the credit line misspells the artist’s first name — could raise eyebrows.

A surge in service missions

(Courtesy photo | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Service missionaries.

Mission: Possible — now, more than ever, for even more young Latter-day Saints, thanks to changes opening up wider opportunities for service missions.

Starting Jan. 2, 2019, all young men and women in the United States and Canada will use the same online application for missionary service. After undergoing spiritual interviews and medical evaluations, the candidates then will be assigned to either a proselytizing or service mission.

Most missionaries will continue to be called to teach and preach, but others may plant flowers, pull weeds, spruce up parks, provide tech support, teach languages, feed the homeless or perform other charitable acts.

Previously, these service missionaries were called and supervised by their own stake president (regional leader), providing help in their own area.

Now their calls will come from church headquarters in Salt Lake City, which has access to more national and international opportunities.

“They make a huge difference,” apostle Dale G. Renlund said in a news release. “They’re dependable, they show up, they do the work. They’re cheerful, they’re positive, they’re enthusiastic. They bring life and energy.”

The church reports that about 800 young people are on service missions now. Expect that number to grow — a lot.

Lone Star sermon

(Courtesy photo | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints waves at the thousands of Latter-day Saints and invited friends who attended a devotional at the Alamodome in San Antonio on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018.

For years, Latter-day Saints in and around San Antonio may remember the Alamodome and President Russell M. Nelson’s speech urging them to confront life’s challenges with faith.

“For each of us, there may be a really serious storm sometime in our lives or there may be a tragedy,” he told about 24,000 people Sunday gathered at the famed sports arena. “But with faith in a loving God and trust in his divine plan, the pain of such a tragedy can be endured.”

The 94-year-old leader said, according to a news release, that everyone “lives with challenges … physical, spiritual or both,” but “if we truly understand who we are and why we are here, we can face the future with faith in God and his eternal plan of happiness.”

Eight years and counting

(Courtesy photo | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Urdaneta Philippines Temple rendering.

More than eight years after announcing plans to build a temple in Urdaneta in the Philippines, the church is ready to break ground there.

Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland will preside at the Jan. 16 ceremony, according to a news release.

The Philippines, home to more than 765,000 members and two current temples, is slated for another four temples, including the one in Urdaneta.

Capitol gains, er, losses

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

When the new Congress gavels in come January, the two chambers will have a total of 11 Latter-day Saints, the fewest in nearly 30 years.

It will, however, boast one of the highest-profile Mormon politicians ever: Mitt Romney. The senator-elect from Utah, replacing longtime Sen. Orrin Hatch, made history in 2012 as the first and only Latter-day Saint to become the presidential nominee from a major party.

Quote of the week

(Courtesy photo | The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Wendy Nelson, wife of President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, speaks to thousands of Latter-day Saints and invited friends who gathered for a special devotional at the Alamodome in San Antonio on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018.
“I can tell that my husband’s superb ability to bring forth the strengths in others as they together solve monumental problems and wrestle with the chronicity of others — that ability is being magnified day after day. And his vigor for the Lord’s work is only increasing.”
Wendy Nelson, wife of President Russell M. Nelson

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