This week in Mormon Land: Tom Brady’s LDS connections, the Book of Mormon made easier and the church’s global aid in 2018

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Leitangi Solomon smiles after being fitted with a wheelchair in Ghana with help from an LDS Charities technician.

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: You can hear your missionary NOW

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Missionaries now can call their parents weekly.

Are there any hang-ups with the church’s new policy allowing missionaries to phone home weekly?

Not in the eyes of David Cook, a former mission president in Chile, and current missionary mom Susie Augenstein, who has a son serving in Poland.

Listen here.

Elder or sister, phone home

Missionary calls gained new meaning in recent days after the church relaxed the rules for communication between its young proselytizers and their families.

Now, the sisters and elders can phone home — or text or instant message or video chat — weekly. Before this, weekly contacts were limited to letters and emails, with phone calls reserved for Christmas and Mother’s Day.

The church encourages weekly communication with their families “using whatever approved method missionaries decide,” apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf, head of the Missionary Executive Council, said in a news release accompanying the policy change. “ ... It is not expected that all missionaries will call or video chat with their parents every week.”

Thousands certainly did, though, the first chance they got. It was like an early Christmas for the families and their faraway loved ones: the gift of hearing their missionaries’ voices and, in many cases, seeing their faces.

“I don’t know that we will talk every week, but I will say that you could tell he was very happy to have the opportunity to call home,” Lehi resident Marcus Flinders said after chatting with his son in Madrid. “Some relief, questions answered, some peace and excitement. It was very fun on my end as well.”

Some see the new rules as too lax and today’s missionaries as too soft? Religion News Service senior columnist Jana Riess disputes those notions.

“I love the fact that we ... ask idealistic young adults to pour themselves out in service to others for this intense, defined period of their lives,” she wrote. “But we should never forget how difficult, and how countercultural, this expectation is. What young missionaries need is love and understanding, not impossible standards.”

As this new process takes hold and families find a workable routine, it seems possible that good old missionary P-Day will stand not for “preparation day” but rather for “phoning day.”

Brady’s bunch

(AP Photo/Elise Amendola) New England Patriots football player Kyle Van Noy acknowledges the fans as the Patriots' Super Bowl victory is honored during a break in an NBA basketball game between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019, in Boston.

What does the greatest NFL quarterback of all time think about Latter-day Saints?

He loves them.

Well, at least the ones with whom he plays, practices and works out.

KJZZ.com reports that after New England’s Super Bowl victory, Tom Brady posted “Love my Mormons” on teammate Kyle Van Noy’s Instagram page.

Van Noy, a linebacker with the Patriots who played at Brigham Young University, isn’t the only Latter-day Saint in Brady’s life: The legendarily fit quarterback’s controversial trainer, Alex Guerrero, is a member, too.

A global ‘relief’ society

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A nurse in Banyumas, Indonesia, stands next to a new mother. In 2018, nurses in this birthing center completed a Helping Babies Breathe course run by LDS Charities facilitators.

Take 657,500 people helped with clean water. Add 309,800 others assisted with eye care, another 311,700 provided with food and 53,800 who got wheelchairs, and what do you get?

A glimpse at the relief work LDS Charities performed across the globe in 2018.

The church’s humanitarian agency released its annual report this week, showing that it — along with its nearly 2,000 partners — assisted with 2,885 projects in 141 countries last year.

“We feel great gratitude and kinship with every single person who contributed to the success of the humanitarian work in 2018,” Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities and first counselor in Relief Society’s general presidency, said in a news release.

The help extended from survivors of earthquakes, typhoons and floods abroad to victims of hurricanes and wildfires in the U.S.

“Most of [the contributors] donated a small amount of money to the humanitarian aid fund, at some personal sacrifice, because they couldn’t read the news and not do something,” Eubank said. “It also represents countless [hours] given by volunteers — again at some personal sacrifice — in order to show up and help someone else facing one of their worst moments.”

Since its 1985 founding, LDS Charities has given more than $2.2 billion in assistance, including cash, commodities and in-kind donations, in 197 countries and territories.

The ERA — it’s back

(Courtesy photo) Anissa Rasheta, a national organizer for Mormons for ERA, is pushing for ratification in her home state of Arizona.

The ERA isn’t DOA after all, say Latter-day Saint feminists.

Forty years ago, the church lobbied and preached against the Equal Rights Amendment, which would enshrine in the U.S. Constitution a guarantee of equal rights regardless of sex.

But now the church isn’t stating its opposition — at least publicly. When The Tribune asked for the faith’s current position on the ERA, spokesman Eric Hawkins declined to comment.

Advocates see that silence as a good sign.

Mesa mother Anissa Rasheta, a national organizer for Mormons for ERA who is pushing for ratification in her home state of Arizona, says lawmakers have been told by church officials in private that the institution is now neutral on the issue.

“If the church no longer sees this as a religious issue,” Rasheta told The Tribune, “that is a big deal.”

Bipartisan proposals seeking ERA ratification have been introduced in Arizona. Only one more state needs to ratify the amendment, although opponents argue the deadline has passed.

The Book of Mormon made easier (and Emma, too)

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Emma Hale Smith, wife of Mormon founder Joseph Smith.

And it came to pass that for those believers hungering for a more reader-friendly version of the Book of Mormon, their prayers may have been answered.

The “Maxwell Institute Study Edition of the Book of Mormon” divides the faith’s signature scripture into paragraphs, section headings, quotation marks and poetic stanzas.

“The stories make more sense, interconnections are more obvious, and the themes and ideas fit together more clearly,” editor Grant Hardy said in a 10 Questions interview with Kurt Manwaring. “There is tremendous benefit in sitting down and reading 20 or 30 pages in a sitting, and this edition makes that much more possible, even enjoyable.”

The volume also includes the “Testimony of Emma Smith.”

“I know Mormonism to be the truth; and believe the church to have been established by divine direction. I have complete faith in it,” the widow of church founder Joseph Smith told her son in 1879. “In writing for your father, I frequently wrote day after day, often sitting at the table close by him, he sitting with his face buried in his hat, with the [seer] stone in it, and dictating hour after hour with nothing between us.”

Hardy included Emma’s account partly because women’s voices have too often been overlooked but “mostly ... because I find her testimony so moving and compelling.”

“Emma ... speaks very matter-of-factly about things she experienced daily over the course of several years,” Hardy told Manwaring. “She was involved with the translation from the beginning, accompanying Joseph to the hill to get the plates and then acting as his first scribe, and she knew him better than anyone — his heart and faith, as well as his natural abilities and limitations. (She’s not particularly intimidated by her husband!)”

Besides, he added, it was “time to give Emma her due.”

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) A picture of a smooth, brown, egg-size rock is shown in the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon following a news conference Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Church History Library, in Salt Lake City. The church published photos of a small "seer stone" it believes founder Joseph Smith used to help translate its foundational scripture.

Just say no to ‘conversion therapy’

Two Utah Republican lawmakers are pushing for a statewide ban on so-called conversion therapy for minors.

The widely repudiated practice, aimed at changing a person’s sexual orientation, is also drawing condemnation from the state’s predominant faith.

“We’ve repeatedly stated that the church denounces any therapy, including conversion or reparative therapy, that subjects individuals to abusive practices, not only in Utah but throughout the world,” Marty Stephens, the church’s director of government relations, told The Tribune.

The bill carries a exemption to ensure clergy counseling on sexual abstinence before marriage wouldn’t fall under the proposed prohibition.

LGBTQ forces, who have been pushing for the ban, welcomed the legislation and the church’s stance.

Rome Temple

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) An instruction room in the Rome Italy Temple.

The church’s new temple in the capital of Catholicism continues to draw attention.

This time, The New York Times profiled the Rome Temple, whose dedication is set for March 10 through 12.

“Occupying a 15-acre site near Rome’s outer ring road, the enormous temple atop a hill, nearly 10 years in the making, was hard to miss during its construction, arousing the curiosity of Romans, regardless of their faith,” The Times wrote. “Which may explain why so many Italians — more than 50,000 — visited the temple during an extended open house.”

View photos of this landmark temple, inside and out, here.

Missionary dies

(Photo courtesy the Conrad family) Brennan Conrad, 18, shows off a flag of the Dominican Republic, where he had started his mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in August. Conrad died Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019, in a fall from the roof of his apartment building in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, church officials said.

An 18-year-old missionary from northern Utah died Wednesday when he fell from the roof his apartment building in Santo Domingo, according to a church spokesman.

Brennan Conrad, from Hyde Park, had been serving in the Dominican Republic since August.

Conrad was a “very bright, very happy, optimistic young man,” his stake president, Mario Durrant, told The Tribune. “He was a tremendous missionary. He was having great success.”

Quote of the week

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, speaks at the General Women's Session of the 187th Semiannual General Conference of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017.

“There is much more to do. Other emergencies and needs will arise, and we are grateful for the resources to continue to help."

— Sharon Eubank, director of LDS Charities and first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency

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