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: A therapist comes out
For years, David Matheson, a Utahn who was raised in the church and married to a woman, was a prominent advocate and professional practitioner of so-called “reparative therapy,” an effort that essentially seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
Matheson came to renounce that type of treatment and says he instead focused on therapies intended to reduce the “shame, anxiety and effects of trauma” experienced by LGBTQ individuals in society.
Now, Matheson is divorced and making news by coming out as a gay man seeking a male partner. He also is expressing remorse for the pain he may have brought to men he had tried to help along the way.
On this week’s “Mormon Land” podcast and in an accompanying Tribune story, Matheson discusses his past, present and future, especially now as he strives to navigate a new place for himself in the faith he loves.
Willing and Able — to hold the priesthood
That Elijah Able, an early black convert to the faith, was ordained to the priesthood is widely accepted. The church’s own “Race and the Priesthood” essay notes that fact.
But who ordained Able an elder has remained a mystery.
Turns out, Ambrose Palmer, a presiding Latter-day Saint elder in Ohio, ordained Able an elder on Jan. 25, 1836, a move licensed three months later by church founder Joseph Smith.
Those details come courtesy of a two-page, handwritten note from the unprocessed papers of then-apostle Joseph F. Smith, who would rise to the church’s presidency and had interviewed Able in 1879, says Reeve, author of the award-winning book “Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness.”
This “rush of new information about Able, his ancestry, a bit about his wife, Mary Ann, and mostly about his ritual relationship to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints … is such a wonderful microburst of details that it might just cause an historian’s heart to race,” Reeve raved. “It certainly did mine.”
The ban on black men and boys holding the all-male priesthood and on black women and girls entering the temples did not take root until Brigham Young’s tenure in the 1850s. The prohibition was lifted in 1978.
But now even more evidence exists about Able (sometimes spelled Abel), whom Reeve calls the “most well-documented black priesthood holder in 19th-century Latter-day Saint history.”
Sonia Johnson, who was famously excommunicated nearly 40 years ago amid her zealous push for the Equal Rights Amendment, credits the church — in a backhanded way — with opening her eyes to the need for a women’s movement.
Mormonism, she says, made her a feminist.
The church “gave me a platform to the world,” the 82-year-old Johnson tells The Salt Lake Tribune, “and helped me become who I was meant to become.”
Who she became is an ERA firebrand, a leading national advocate for equality, even a presidential candidate — one who praises today’s “wonderful women” for advancing the cause.
As for men, well, Johnson remains “not remotely interested” in them. “They bore me,” she says, “they are so predictable.”
Welcome mat in Mali
Mali has moved a step closer to getting full-time missionaries.
Independent demographers report that the church won official recognition this week from the West African nation’s government.
“The first official branch, the Bamako Branch [in the capital], was organized in mid-2017,” ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com states. “One member group also operates … on the outskirts of Bamako.”
The website pegs church membership as high as 70 — and rising.
X marks the spot
The truth is indeed out there about the “X-Files” — make that the Gen X files — but it’s hardly alien; it’s just harder to find.
That’s because older baby boomers and younger millennials grab most of the research attention. But senior Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess, a Gen Xer herself, sought to remedy that neglect a tad with some findings from her Next Mormons Survey.
For instance, she discovered that Gen X Latter-day Saints in the U.S. (those ages 38 to 53) are more likely to be troubled by “the church’s emphasis on conformity and obedience” than older members, though not as bothered as younger millennials are.
“We’re deeply religious, but higher numbers of us are leaving the church than older Mormons have done,” Riess writes of her fellow Gen Xers. “We’re not quite as Republican as older Latter-day Saints, but the GOP still holds a 2-to-1 majority in our generation (59 percent GOP vs. 29 percent Democratic). We tithe, but some of us are doing so from net income, not gross.
“ … Everyone talks about how millennials are changing religion in America, but Gen Xers did it first,” she adds. “We were just too small a generation for folks to take much notice. So typical.”
That’s not the proclamation
A Patheos blog post reports that an anonymous document — patterned after the church’s so-called family proclamation — popped up at meetinghouses in and around Herriman in the southern Salt Lake Valley.
Only this sheet — titled “Male and Female” — spews “sexist” language, blogger Christopher D. Cunningham writes, and “addresses recent changes that make temple language more egalitarian.”
He says the paper also criticizes the church for “giving in to ‘politically correct’ falsehoods.”
Cunningham condemns the “repulsive” document and its “regressive” thinking.
Quote of the week
“Continually, we’re being blamed as the ones holding this [bill] up, and so we wanted to let people know that since 2016, we have not taken a position on hate crimes, and we are not opposed to a hate-crimes piece of legislation.”
Marty Stephens, church lobbyist, on efforts to toughen Utah’s hate-crimes law
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.