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This week’s podcast: The language of gender

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) In this Monday, July 17, 2017, photo, Laurie Lee Hall speaks in Salt Lake City.

A state lawmaker is proposing a bill that would prevent Utahns from changing the sex designated on their birth certificates.

Such a move would set a “very dangerous” precedent, argues Laurie Lee Hall, a former stake president and temple architect who was excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for living as a transgender woman. “ … It would ultimately wind up, without hyperbole at all, erasing transgender people from existence.”

Hall, who appears on this week’s “Mormon Land” podcast, points out that she has no issue with the faith’s family proclamation, which declares that “gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose." She “relates” to it. After all, Hall says, she always has been — and forever will be — a woman.

Hall shares her thoughts on the proposed legislation, President Dallin H. Oaks' October sermon on gender issues and more.

Listen here.

Message to women

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Russell M. Nelson and his wife, Wendy Watson Nelson, after a news conference in the lobby of the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018. Nelson was named the 17th president of the 16 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In his first news conference as church president, Russell M. Nelson was famously asked: What about women?

“I love ’em,” he said.

A year later, he still does.

“Sisters, I love you and thank you,” the 94-year-old church leader wrote this week in a message on the church’s website in a follow-up to his fall General Conference address.

Four months ago, Nelson invited Latter-day Saint women to take part in a 10-day fast from social media (similar to the weeklong one he previously had urged youths to undertake). He also challenged female members to read the Book of Mormon by year’s end; attend the temple regularly; and participate in adult Relief Society — all with an eye toward “gathering Israel.”

In his posting this week, he shared a handful of the responses from the thousands he received via Instagram and Facebook:

  • “I learned that social media is a fun place to be but not where to go to find peace and happiness,” wrote Angel. “The scriptures can and will be that beacon for me!”
  • “I’ve learned that the Book of Mormon has a lot of goodness in it. I know that sounds simple, but I’ve had several friends leave the church over the last few years and it’s left me with a lot of questions,” Michelle wrote. “Reading the Book of Mormon with a focus on Christ helped me see how focused on Christ it really is and helped me see the goodness in the book.”

Nelson thanked the women for answering his challenge. “As a result of your efforts,” he wrote, “I promise that the heavens will open for you. The Lord will bless you with increased inspiration and revelation.”

Called to serve, but when the time is right

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saint missionaries.

Turn 18. Go on mission.

No, it is not — and should not be — that simple.

In fact, a new online tool to help members plan when to leave for — and return from — their missions suggests it may be better for some to delay their proselytizing stints.

“Prospective missionaries should be prayerful and thoughtful as they determine the best time to begin their missionary service,” Brent H. Nielson, a general authority Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department, said in a news release. “In some cases, they may leave as soon as they turn 18 [for young men] or 19 [for young women]. In other cases, they may decide to spend a little extra time preparing.”

The school year often has been the deciding factor for when missionaries leave, spawning a flood of summer departures. But leaving between November and May can be better for the missionary and the church by balancing those numbers.

“Missionaries who spend a semester at college or working can gain useful life experiences that will prepare them for service,” Nielson said. “They can have more individual attention in the missionary training center and be assigned to a more experienced first companion as they arrive in the field when they leave at a nonpeak time.”

By using the new tool, the news release said, candidates can boost the chances of returning from their missions when they desire.

Moving beyond the veil

The church’s governing First Presidency announced yet another change in the wake of newly implemented temple ceremonies: Veiling an endowed woman’s face before burial is now optional.

The practice may continue “if the sister expressed such a desire while she was living,” church President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors, Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring, wrote in a Jan. 24 letter to Latter-day Saint leaders. “In cases where the wishes of the deceased sister on this matter are not known, her family should be consulted.”

The latest announcement comes on the heels of temple changes that provide more inclusive language and gender equity in the endowment. Before this month, women were expected to cover their faces with a veil at some point during this religious ritual. That no longer happens.

Religion News Service senior columnist Jana Riess recently encountered her own tangle over the temple veil.

“A woman sitting behind me poked me on the shoulder to whisper that my veil was twisted and needed to be fixed,” Riess writes. A temple matron later informed her the veil was “all wrong” and questioned whether the ordinance was valid.

“At this point I just stared at her,” an exasperated Riess explains. “Of course a veil being twisted would not invalidate a holy ordinance, particularly an ordinance that has nothing to do with veils. How could she even imagine it would?”

St. George Temple to close

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) St. George Temple.

President Russell M. Nelson announced in October that several pioneer-era temples would be updated and renovated.

First up is Utah’s first temple.

The St. George Temple will close Nov. 4, the church said in a news release, and undergo “extensive structural, mechanical, electrical, finish and plumbing work.”

That work on the white sandstone landmark is expected to wrap up in 2022.

Utah’s southwestern corner is expected to get another temple as well in coming years. Nelson announced last fall that a second temple would be built in Washington County. The exact location has not been released. Once complete, it will be the church’s 20th temple in the Beehive State (17 are operating now, with three planned in Saratoga Springs, Layton and Washington County).

The St. George Temple was originally dedicated in 1877 and rededicated in 1975 after a remodel. Barely 50 miles to the north, the Cedar City Temple opened in December 2017. Some 120 miles to the south, the Las Vegas Temple came on line in 1989.

Near the St. George Temple recently, a fire severely damaged a newly built stake center (a meetinghouse for multiple Latter-day Saint congregations). The blaze is being investigated as a possible arson.

Hong Kong Temple, too

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Hong Kong Temple.

Another temple will close in coming months as well, this one in China.

The Hong Kong Temple — a pioneering edifice in its own right — will shut down July 8 for “extensive renovation,” according to a news release.

The only Latter-day Saint temple in the world’s most populous country — the church has no temple on the mainland — the Hong Kong structure was dedicated in 1996 by then-President Gordon B. Hinckley, who had sketched out his vision for a nontraditional temple atop a multiuse, multistory building.

The release did not state when the temple is expected to reopen.

Thailand temple in the works

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Rendering of the church's Bangkok Temple, the first planned for Thailand.

Elsewhere in the Far East, the church broke ground for a temple in Bangkok, the faith’s first in Thailand.

“Because of the faithfulness of the Saints in Thailand, a House of the Lord will soon be built in this country,” Robert C. Gay of the Presidency of the Seventy said in a news release, “and many will have the opportunity to participate in temple worship with their family and partake of the eternal blessings that come with it.”

The 44,405-square-foot, six-story, multi-spired temple — announced in 2015 — will be accompanied by a 91,370-square-foot building featuring two meetinghouses, seminary and institute facilities, church offices and housing.

A completion date has yet to be set.

Thailand is home to more than 22,000 Latter-day Saints in 42 congregations.

Missionary dies after soccer game

A 20-year-old missionary from Brazil died this week in Portugal after collapsing while playing soccer with other missionaries.

Elder Joao Victor Rodrigues Gondim, who is from Sao Paulo, had been serving in the Lisbon mission since July 2017.

“Our hearts go out to his family as they mourn his passing,” church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said in a news release. “We pray they will feel peace and support during this difficult time.”

The cause of death is unknown, he added, and the church is “providing counseling to missionaries who witnessed this tragedy.”

In November, a 19-year-old from Nevada — on his mission for less than a week — died after he collapsed during a workout at the church’s Missionary Training Center in South Africa.

Quote of the week

| Courtesy Jana Riess Jana Riess, Latter-day Saint researcher, writer and editor.
“Adapting to sudden change can be hard. Sometimes our fear galvanizes the urge to police boundaries, judge others, and demarcate what is acceptable and unacceptable.”
— Jana Riess, senior Religion News Service columnist

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