This week in Mormon Land: Finding ERA champion Sonia Johnson, the Romney effect on scholars, a missionary’s great escape

(AP file photo) Sonia Johnson is led away from a Latter-day Saint temple by a police officer after she had chained herself to the gate during a pro-Equal Rights Amendment demonstration in Bellevue, Wash., on Nov. 17, 1980. Johnson was excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after publicly speaking in favor of the ERA and criticizing church leaders.

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: Much rejoicing about temple changes

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The creation room in the Idaho Falls Temple. Latter-day Saints are taught about the creation of the world in this room.

The church made historic changes last week to its temple ceremonies, drawing widespread praise for implementing new gender-equitable language.

Neylan McBaine, author of “Women at Church” and founder of the Mormon Women Project, discusses what these changes mean for women, men and the wider church — and why female Latter-day Saints are rushing to the faith’s temples and rejoicing over these newly adjusted religious rites.

Listen here.

Finding Sonia

Whatever happened to Sonia Johnson, the firebrand feminist of the 1970s and ’80s whose criticism of Latter-day Saint leaders and crusade for the Equal Rights Amendment led to her excommunication and her own presidential pursuit?

Logan Herald Journal Managing Editor Charles McCollum answers that question, partly, in a recent column.

Because McCollum had written in 2010 about his failed quest to find Johnson, who had attended Utah State University, producers of the public television series “We’ll Meet Again” contacted the journalist and, ultimately, shared with him a sneak peek of the episode documenting the tearful reunion between Johnson, now 82, and her former “comrade in arms,” Zoe Nicholson.

“You know, we were going to make a new world,” Johnson tells Nicholson. “Nothing was happening, so you know what, I thought maybe I’ll just be somebody else. So I changed my name and just got over my broken heart — well, lived with my broken heart.”

The episode “The Fight for Women’s Rights” was scheduled to air Thursday and again Monday on KUED-Channel 7.

Get Mitt. It Pays.

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) Vice President Mike Pence administers the Senate oath of office to Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, accompanied by his wife, Ann, during a mock swearing-in ceremony in the Old Senate Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019.

Scholar and writer John Turner counts among his blessings the rise of Mitt Romney for elevating Mormon studies and giving his career a boost.

So Turner, associate professor of religious studies at George Mason University in Virginia and author of the award-winning biography “Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet” as well as “The Mormon Jesus: A Biography,” welcomes Romney’s return to the political stage as the junior Republican senator from Utah and his emergence as an on-again, off-again thorn in the side of President Donald Trump.

“At the same time, I don’t like Romney’s public positioning of himself as Republican Trump critic No. 1,” Turner writes in a post for Patheos. “It’s a position usually filled by an Arizona senator, for starters [think the late John McCain and now-former Sen. Jeff Flake]. But really, what’s the point? Romney is not going to run for president in 2020. He’d get hammered. Barring massive changes on the political landscape, no other credible Republican candidate will challenge a president who absolutely thumped everyone in the primaries the last time around and has a solid electoral base. It’s just poppycock.”

So, Turner adds, “my fellow scholars of Mormonism should not get excited. No Mormon president anytime soon.”

But Latter-day Saint academics should thank Romney anyway, he says, for “making it easier to publish our books and get jobs partly because of his rising star.”

Fire escape

(AP Photo/Noah Berger, File) In this Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, file photo, firefighters battle the Camp Fire as it tears through Paradise, Calif.

Ogden writer Rachel J. Trotter recounts the story of her missionary son’s harrowing escape from the devastatingly deadly Paradise Fire in Northern California.

Writing for Meridian Magazine and Evalogue.Life, Trotter notes the call she received Nov. 8 from a cousin telling her about the fast-moving blaze.

“Rachel, it’s really bad,” she was told. “You need to try and find out where Joseph is living and maybe you should contact the mission president. Houses are exploding. I don’t want to panic you, but I thought you would want to know.”

Trotter says she dropped to her knees in “in fervent prayer” and then shot off an email to the California Roseville Mission.

“I would then endure the longest 10 minutes of my life,” she recalls, before word came back from the mission secretary: “Your son was evacuated, and he is safe.”

He had gotten out with just the clothes on his back along with “a toothbrush, a towel, his scriptures, his bag with his teaching materials.”

Trotter then tells how “countless angels on earth” stepped up to help in the aftermath.

New kids (manual) on the block

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Writer Mette Harrison at her home Monday, Feb. 16, 2015.

Utah novelist Mette Harrison teaches the Sunbeams in her Latter-day Saint congregation but says the writers of the church’s new children’s Primary manuals — to be used with the shift to the two-hour block — may have a thing or two to learn about 3-year-olds.

“These lessons are so far over their heads, it’s silly,” Harrison laments in a guest commentary for Religion News Service. “The sad thing for me is that the old lesson manual (“Primary 1”) was absolutely spot on for this age group. I suspect I won’t be the only teacher looking back to those pages for help.”

For his part, By Common Consent blogger Sam Brunson is reaching out to readers, asking them for suggestions on how to help Primary teachers.

“I’d love to have a professor of elementary education write a guest post about teaching 4-year-olds,” he writes. “A special-education teacher write about how to teach a class that includes special-needs students. A preschool teacher write about engaging 3-year-olds.”

If the cause fits, wear it

(Kim Raff | Tribune file photo) Julia Shumway walks out of her Latter-day Saint ward wearing pants in Salt Lake City on Dec. 16, 2012.

The 2012 grass-roots initiative urging Latter-day Saint women to wear pants to church was more than a fashion statement — it was a fairness statement, a feminist statement, an equality statement.

At the time, “Book of Mormon Girl” author Joanna Brooks told The New York Times it was the “largest concerted Mormon feminist effort in history.”

Turns out, the 2012 and 2013 Wear Pants to Church Day may have helped set the stage for even more momentous strides toward equity in the faith, including the recent change allowing female missionaries to don dress slacks and the newly installed temple changes.

The Salt Lake Tribune revisited the pants push this week and the imprint it left inside the faith.

Mission: 2019

After an eventful 2018, Times and Seasons blogger Walter van Beek identifies the challenges facing the faith this year.

Included on his list:

  • Strike a better balance between the U.S. church and the global church.

  • Integrate the membership’s increasingly diverse cultures into the curriculum.

  • Continue to expose outsiders and insiders to the warts and wonders of church history, a la the new “Saints” text.

  • Recognize and adjust to the fact that church growth is “plateauing.”

  • Use the church’s platform to address international issues, including war, terrorism, xenophobia, poverty, climate change and more.

“We are now at a stage,” van Beek writes, “where we can speak out on the problems of the world.”

Latter-day Saints and Christian Scientists

A recent “Seekers and Scholars” podcast from The Mary Baker Eddy Library features church historian Jennifer Reeder, co-editor of “At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women.”

The podcast topic: “Women’s voices in Mormon and Christian Science history — commonalities and differences.”

Among the commonalities between the two faith traditions Reeder pointed to was “sort of this dual God — Father and Mother.”

“That is a huge similarity,” she stated, “and the role of women in the inherent gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Brazil to get its 7th temple

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Rendering of the Fortaleza Brazil Temple.

Brazil, the nation with the third most Latter-day Saints (behind the United States and Mexico), will get its seventh temple in June.

The Fortaleza Temple will be dedicated June 2 after an April 27-May 18 open house, the church announced in a news release.

The South American nation, home to more than 1.3 million members, already has Latter-day Saint temples in Campinas, Curitiba, Manaus, Porto Alegre, Recife and São Paulo, with plans for four more in Belém, Brasília, Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.

Quote of the week

| Courtesy photo Neylan McBaine

“We called it ‘Ladies Day at the Temple’ because literally there were just lines forming outside of the dressing room as women were changing, and there was just this sort of buzz and joyous flutter.”

Neylan McBaine on “Mormon Land” podcast about her visit to the temple after the recent changes

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