This week in Mormon Land: A Roman milestone, California ministering, Watergate connections

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: Why ‘Utah Mormons’ are different

Latter-day Saint culture is full of jokes, jabs and judgments about so-called “Utah Mormons” — how church members who live in the heart of the faith are somehow different than those who live everywhere else. New survey findings from writer-researcher Jana Riess show 10 ways that’s true. Patrick Mason, head of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University and soon to become the Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University, discusses why that may be the case.

Listen here.

A new Roman forum for members

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Rome Italy Temple.

When in Rome, devout Latter-day Saints may be adding one other must-see site to a list already teeming with world-class attractions.

Besides the Colosseum, the Catacombs, St. Peter’s and the Pantheon, among other renowned Roman destinations, they’ll head to the northeastern part of the Eternal City to see or, starting this spring, attend their faith’s first Italian temple.

This week, the Utah-based church invited the media and dignitaries to tour the 40,000-square-foot Rome Temple and released its first photos of the interior.

“This had to be one that when you walked onto this site, every person should feel like they were on an Italian site,” architect Niels Valentiner said in a news release. “ ... The curved ceilings, the curved walls, the expression of the colonnades and columns.”

Inspired by San Carlino, a Roman Catholic church in Rome, the temple, more than a decade in the making, will be dedicated March 10-12 after a public open house from Jan. 28 through Feb. 16. Ordinance work will begin March 19.

Nelson loses a daughter

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Wendy Nelson Maxfield, daughter of church President Russell M. Nelson, died Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, after a battle with cancer.

Wendy Nelson Maxfield, a daughter of church President Russell M. Nelson, died Jan. 11 after a battle with cancer. She was 67.

Maxfield was married to Norman Maxfield. Together, the couple raised seven children and have 20 grandchildren.

Maxfield is Nelson’s daughter from his first marriage. The Latter-day Saint leader and his first wife, Dantzel White Nelson, reared 10 children — nine daughters and one son — before her death in 2005. Nelson remarried in 2006, making Wendy L. Watson his wife.

Comforting Californians

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) After his meeting in Chico, Calif., Jan. 13, 2019, President Russell M. Nelson met with Rob and Gretchen Harrison and their three children in front of what used to be their home.

Two days after his daughter’s death, President Russell M. Nelson journeyed to Chico, Calif., to offer solace to those who had family, friends, homes and livelihoods snatched from them in last year’s deadly Camp Fire.

“We mourn the loss of our second daughter,” Nelson said in a media interview, according to a news release. “And yet, there’s nothing we’d rather do than try to be of help to others … You learn that everybody has challenges and if you want to feel better, forget about yourself and serve somebody else.”

Nelson’s message to Northern Californians: “We care about you. We care for you, and we love you. We, as visitors, can hardly comprehend the losses that you have sustained — loss of life, loss of homes, loss of jobs, loss of workplaces, and much, much more. The accounts of your suffering are exceeded only by the accounts of your ministering.”

The blazing-fast, wind-whipped inferno — termed “apocalyptic” by John Meyer, president of the Chico California Stake, in the release — killed more than 80 people and displaced tens of thousands, including 1,400 Latter-day Saints. In one Paradise, Calif., congregation, the church noted, 95 percent of the members lost their homes.

Temple news from the Pacific to Puerto Rico to the U.S.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Rendering of the San Juan Puerto Rico Temple.

Barely three months after announcing plans to build a temple in Puerto Rico, the church released a rendering of the San Juan edifice.

Construction of the single-story temple — sans an Angel Moroni statue — is expected to begin this year, according to a news release, and will wrap up in about two years.

It will be the first Latter-day Saint temple on the hurricane-battered island, home to more than 23,000 members.

In other temple news, the Memphis Temple will be rededicated May 5 followed by the Oklahoma City Temple on May 19 after both structures underwent renovations. Ground also was broken this week for the Urdaneta Temple in the Philippines. Originally announced in 2010, it will be the third temple in the country, joining those in Manila and Cebu.

Second time around the block

After two weeks, the newly shortened Sunday meeting block is getting high marks — at least anecdotally. More members are sticking around for the whole two hours, for instance, instead of skipping out after sacrament meeting. Not surprisingly, children are better able to handle the reduced Primary, since there is less time for them to get tired, hungry, cranky or bored. And, perhaps surprisingly, less church is actually resulting in more spiritual energy and engagement.

There have been some bumps, of course. Read here to learn what members are seeing and saying about the new schedule.

The Renlunds talk about faith and doubt

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Dale G. Renlund and his wife, Ruth Lybbert Renlund.

Like a Book of Mormon prophet, apostle Dale G. Renlund and his wife, Ruth Lybbert Renlund, have a message for the church’s young adults: Doubt not, but be believing.

“Doubt is not and will never be the precursor of faith any more than light depends on darkness for its creation,” the apostle said during a global broadcast Sunday from Brigham Young University–Hawaii.

Renlund warned his young audience that they risk missing spiritual awakenings if they “choose persistent doubt, fueled by answers from faithless and unfaithful sources.”

“Doubt is not wrong,” he added, “unless it becomes an end in and of itself. That doubt which feeds and grows upon itself and breeds more doubt is evil.”

Ruth Renlund said that having questions about the church and its teachings “is normal and the root of gospel learning.” But the “blogosphere cannot replace scripture study and reading the words of living prophets and apostles.”

Religion News Service senior columnist Jana Riess appreciated some the Renlunds’ comments but complained that “overall, the talk conveyed a damaging message about doubt and, more importantly, doubters.”

“Doubt is not a path that people embark upon because they’re selfish, lazy or somehow perverse,” Riess writes. “ ... Rather, doubt occurs because it’s a natural part of faith formation.”

Watergate revisited

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Bob Woodward of The Washington Post (left to right), Elder D. Todd Christofferson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Michael Dimock of the Pew Research Center discuss integrity and trust at an event held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., Jan. 14, 2019.

One was a hungry young reporter — hot on the scent of a political conspiracy that would topple a president — who would become the most famous journalist of his time.

The other was an aspiring young law clerk — serving on the staff of a federal judge meting out justice in that scandal — who would rise to the apostleship in a global faith.

This week, Bob Woodward, the legendary Washington Post reporter, and D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, revisited the Watergate scandal that both played roles in exposing and the lessons they learned from it.

Meeting at Washington’s Newseum in a forum sponsored by the church-owned Deseret News, Christofferson said the episode left him “disappointed” in government, Religion News Service reported, yet determined to live an honorable life.

“Out of that experience, I resolved to be more committed to the teachings of my youth,” the 73-year-old Latter-day Saint leader said, “recognizing that people can go wrong, even regular folks and apparently decent, somewhat normal people — and even accomplished people.”

Christofferson also spoke about Watergate and the fallen President Richard Nixon during a 2017 appearance at the University of Oxford in England.

“There were many points along the way when Nixon ... could have called a halt, saying, 'This is not right, we will not continue, let the chips fall where they may,' and he might well have outlived the inevitable criticism and finished his term," Christofferson said then. "But he never did say stop. Instead, he got deeper into the cover-up conspiracy himself."

Quote of the week

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints addresses students and faculty at a devotional in the Marriott Center in Provo on Jan. 15, 2019.

“We sometimes get so caught up in the grind of everyday life that we fail to recognize the sublime voice of the Spirit and disregard the profound and beautiful message our loving Heavenly Father imparts to us through his messengers. In every hour of the day and throughout the night, he communicates through the divine music of the Spirit.”

Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf, speaking this week at BYU in Provo

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