This week in Mormon Land: New insights on early black convert Jane Manning James, an apostle’s ‘lousy’ date nights, a trans student’s BYU odyssey

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

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.

Free and easy

Forget about free agency, Freemasonry and freethinking. How about free Dialogue?

The half-century-old Journal of Mormon Thought — published quarterly and primed with prose and poetry about the Latter-day Saint experience — is making its content available online at no charge the moment it is posted.

“This includes content from the immediate past two years’ issues, which have previously been restricted for premium subscribers,” Dialogue announced on its newly enhanced, more reader-friendly website. “... We hope this will be a hub for some of the best discussions concerning Mormonism.”

No average Jane

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Jane Manning James

The newly unveiled Dialogue website included a Q&A with Quincy D. Newell, associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College, about her new book, Your Sister in the Gospel: The Life of Jane Manning James, a 19th-Century Black Mormon, due out in May.

Some highlights:

• “James did baptisms for her dead in the Endowment House and in the Logan and Salt Lake City temples, but she was never permitted to receive her endowments or to be sealed in family relationships.”

• “She had visions and dreams, spoke in tongues, and participated in faith healings throughout her life. ... Those experiences gave James a sense of connection with God, and a sense of God’s favor, and I think that helped make the temple, as well as the priesthood, less important in her religious experience.”

• “The hardest part for me to write concerned how James’ first son, Sylvester, was conceived. James herself refused to talk about it; different family members told different stories. There were lots of rumors that Sylvester’s father was a white man. It’s easy to pair those suggestions with the realities of white male supremacy and conclude that James was raped. But I also think we have a stereotype of black women as victims of white male sexual aggression.”

Check out the rest of Dialogue’s Q&A and add Newell’s book to your summer reading list.

The Hollands’ ‘lousy’ dates

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland displays his iPad screen saver, a photograph of his wife, Patricia Terry Holland, during a Jan. 17, 2019, devotional in the Philippines. “That’s my screen saver,” he said, “but more than that, that’s my lifesaver.”

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has the scoop on how to keep a marriage healthy: ice cream.

“Cones saved my life,” the apostle told couples during a recent devotional in the Philippines, while recalling his “lousy” Friday night dates with his wife, Patricia, to a nearby ice cream parlor.

Yes, they were cheap outings, but those evenings together and the love exhibited proved priceless — the cherry on top.

The 78-year-old Holland, in the Philippines to break ground on the Urdaneta Temple, told the couples that no relationship in time or eternity equals that of marriage, according to a news release. He said intimacy, expressions of love and time together are essential ingredients in those unions.

Trans at the Y

(Isaac Hale/The Daily Herald via AP) In this Oct. 18, 2017, photo, Andy Winder, a senior at Brigham Young University, who is also transgender, poses for a portrait in Provo.

In a Huffington Post personal essay, Andy Winder recounts “the best of times and the worst of times” from his three years living in women’s housing at Brigham Young University as a transgender man.

He started hormone-replacement therapy during his sophomore year and lived in constant fear of expulsion.

“Although the BYU honor code forbids same-sex relationships, it doesn’t directly mention transitioning,” he writes. “Beyond a ban on gender-confirmation surgery, neither the LDS Church nor the university outlined any discipline for trans people.” That was up to his local lay leaders.

Winder gave up his resident assistant job in a female dorm and requested a spot in men’s housing. No dice. Not allowed. “Not safe.”

“This phrase would follow me throughout the remainder of my housing experience at Brigham Young University,” he says. “Although I loved being an R.A., I decided to resign and transition after the semester ended ― which meant moving from my single-person dorm room to living with female roommates again.”

It wasn’t easy, but he endured.

“My roommates ― understandably ― didn’t want a trans guy in their female housing,” Winder explains. “But looking back, I like to think we learned from each other in ways that were ultimately for the better.”

Now a BYU graduate, he is living in a studio apartment as writer.

“These days, I’m not a perfect Mormon: I don’t go to church every week, I drink way too many caffeinated sodas, and I use ‘Mormon’ even though we’re not supposed to anymore,” he says. “But I’m still trying to seek God ― if not in the pews, then on my knees in prayer.”

Read Winder’s full HuffPost account here and a 2017 story from Provo’s Daily Herald here.

Guard against ‘spiritual apathy,’ Soares says

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles visits with a Brigham Young University student in Provo on Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2019. He spoke at a devotional in the Marriott Center.

Young adults today may live like royalty, Elder Ulisses Soares says, but too often they are forgetting the King of Kings.

“In many regards, you live a higher quality of life than ancient kings, queens and emperors,” Soares told students and faculty at BYU this week. But “please remember that happiness and peace in this life and in the world to come depend upon remembering the Savior.”

The junior apostle, joined by his wife, Rosana, lamented society’s “steadily declining moral values,” according to a news release, and the “secularism [that] has changed the way people see God’s hand in their lives.”

“We witness an increasing number of people who are confused about their identity as children of our Heavenly Father,” he added. “They also have become confused about what really matters in life, and many who were once strong in faith have developed spiritual apathy.”

The 60-year-old Soares, a native Brazilian, became the faith’s first Latin American apostle last spring.

A filmmaker’s fall

Sterling Van Wagenen on the set of “The Work and the Glory: American Zion” in 2005.

The #MeToo movement has found another offender, this time a prominent Latter-day Saint filmmaker.

Sterling Van Wagenen, executive producer of last year’s “Jane and Emma” and director two “Work and the Glory” movies, has admitted to molesting a 13-year-old boy in 1993.

The admission came to light in conversation the victim secretly recorded with Van Wagenen last year and that the Truth & Transparency Foundation released this week.

“I went through the church disciplinary process and was disfellowshipped for about two years,” Van Wagenen told the foundation, the nonprofit group behind the MormonLeaks website. “I repented and there were no further incidents. I reported the abuse to the police, as I was instructed to by my stake president, and the parents elected not to press charges.”

The victim told The Tribune he he has been haunted by the molestation for more than a quarter century and remains dismayed that the church provided him no help.

“I’ve always wondered why I was not offered any support or counseling or therapy,” he said. “Nothing.”

Van Wagenen told him in the recording: “You were the victim, I’m so sorry for that.”

Temple updates

A groundbreaking will take place March 16 for the Pocatello Temple, the church’s sixth in Idaho.

The others are in Boise, Idaho Falls, Meridian, Rexburg and Twin Falls.

On May 4, turf will be turned for Guam’s first temple.

Announced four months ago by President Russell M. Nelson, the temple is set for completion in about two years.

It also will be the debut temple in Micronesia.

“The church isn’t big in Guam but is much bigger in nearby Micronesia and the Marshall Islands,” independent Latter-day Saint demographer Matt Martinich has said, “places where the church has grown quite well in the last 10 to 20 years.”

Quote of the week

“As we talk about the Sabbath, this is not a day for all the things you can’t do. That would be a pathetic way to see the Sabbath.”

Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland

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