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: Pope meets prophet
Thirty-three minutes. That’s how long President Russell M. Nelson’s private audience with Pope Francis lasted at the Vatican. But the first-ever face-to-face meeting between a Latter-day Saint prophet and a Catholic pontiff was months — if not longer — in the making, and its impact might be felt for years to come. Or will it? Was this historic encounter more about symbolism than substance? Or is that symbolism, ultimately, more important than any substance? Patrick Mason, head of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University, discusses those questions and more.
The Roman moment
When in Rome, church President Russell M. Nelson:
• Held a historic 33-minute meeting with Pope Francis. “How fortunate the Catholic people are to have such a gracious, concerned, loving and capable leader,” Nelson said after the two leaders — along with apostle M. Russell Ballard — discussed joint efforts to relieve human suffering around the world, touted the importance of religious liberty and lamented the rise of secularization and the decline in faith.
• Dedicated a showcase temple over multiple days in the northeast part of the city, offering prayers that noted Rome’s biblical ties. “We acknowledge the ministry of two of thy son’s early apostles, Peter and Paul, who once blessed this land with their labors,” Nelson prayed. “May the influence of their abiding testimony of Jesus Christ continue to be felt among the vital values of this great country.”
• Spoke at a devotional for hundreds of Italian youths in a stake center on the campus of the new temple. “Now that we have a temple in Rome,” he told them, “your friends will watch you more than they ever have before.”
• Gathered all of the church’s senior leaders in the Eternal City for what is believed to be the first time in history that all 15 — the three-member First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — have been in the same place at the same time on foreign turf. “These apostles now will go all over the world and recount the experiences that they have felt here as this holy house was dedicated,” the 94-year-old Nelson said. “ … This is a hinge point in the history of the church. Things are going to move forward at an accelerated pace.”
Thirteen wives of these top authorities were on hand in Rome, but no high-ranking female church leaders were present for the ceremonies.
A women’s message out of Africa
Two of those female leaders — general Presidents Jean B. Bingham and Bonnie H. Cordon of the Relief Society and Young Women, respectively — were wrapping up a three-nation tour in West Africa.
On March 8, they celebrated International Women’s Day by posting a Facebook video greeting.
“On behalf of the 7.2 million women of the Relief Society,” Bingham said, “we’d like to wish you a happy International Women’s Day from Accra, Ghana.”
Added Cordon: “Love is a motivation for all we do as we work together in unity.”
The two leaders, who also visited Nigeria and the Ivory Coast, stood with female missionaries of the Accra Ghana Mission and other Latter-day Saint women outside a chapel.
The art of gender equity
The church’s new “Come, Follow Me” manual boasts an impressive array of art but a not-so-impressive array of female artists.
Times and Seasons blogger David Evans notes that of the 76 paintings for which he could identify the creator’s gender, only nine were by female artists. That’s not even 12 percent.
“Achieving representation takes a little bit of effort,” Evans writes. “But women represent roughly half the world population and they’re making beautiful, relevant art, so it seems like in the next manual, perhaps we can do better … and let our sisters see themselves in the manuals in one more way.”
A side note: One of the manual’s male artist works comes from the brushes of controversial right-wing painter Jon McNaughton.
The art of belief
The 11th International Art Competition is underway at the Church History Museum in downtown Salt Lake City.
It features “Meditations on Belief” from 151 artists — female and male — representing dozens of countries.
“They are poetic works,” Salt Lake City sculptor Jean Richardson, one of the judges, told The Tribune, “that have the potential to strengthen your own testimony.”
The exhibit runs through Oct. 7.
Curtain falls on cultural celebrations
With all of the extraordinary events surrounding the Rome Temple dedication, some wondered why no youth cultural celebration took place.
Those galas are no more.
The church announced last fall — about the time it unveiled plans to discontinue many large pageants and with the dedication of the Concepción Temple in Chile — that it was dropping these cultural commemorations in advance of temple dedications. Youth devotionals with visiting church authorities will now be the norm.
Other temple updates
The church’s fourth African temple is poised to open next month.
Public tours of the 12,000-square-foot edifice already are underway in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and will continue through March 30.
The dedication is set for April 14, according to a news release, with a youth devotional the day before.
Africa’s three other operating temples are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Accra, Ghana; and Aba, Nigeria, the release added, with plans for four more on the continent.
Across the Atlantic, groundbreakings have been booked for the Quito Temple, Ecuador’s second Latter-day Saint temple (May 11), and the Lima Los Olivos Temple, Lima’s second and Peru’s third (June 8).
The Lima Los Olivos and Kinshasa structures — unlike the Quito Temple and most other Latter-day Saint temples — will not have Angel Moroni statues atop them.
The style gods speak
The Associated Press is listening to a Latter-day Saint prophet’s voice.
For months, President Russell M. Nelson has been urging the media to stop using “Mormon” and “LDS” as shortened references for the faith and its members.
Now, the world’s largest news organization is spreading the word. It has adjusted its stylebook — the usage bible for thousands of journalists across the globe — to “use the full name of the church on first references, with ‘the church,’ ‘church members,’ ‘members of the faith’ preferred on second and later reference[s].”
AP does, however, still allow for the use of “Mormons” and “Mormon” when “necessary for space or clarity or in quotations or proper names.”
The Tribune adopted similar style standards several months ago.
Scholar Fiona Givens notes that early Latter-day Saint feminists had some unlikely allies in their belief in a Heavenly Mother.
Suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, for one.
“A Heavenly Father, Mother, and Son would seem more rational” than three male personages, Stanton suggested.
The challenge for current Latter-day Saints, Givens said in a recent speech at Orem’s Utah Valley University, is to “tap more deeply the potential of a theological framework that has dared to challenge the model of unequivocal patriarchy, both on earth and in heaven.”
LoveLoud — and prosper
The third LoveLoud Festival, the LGBTQ fundraising concert imagined by Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds, will take the stage June 29.
The show keeps growing. It drew 17,000 — and an LDS Church endorsement — its debut year at a Utah Valley University baseball park in Orem. In 2018, 30,000 turned out at a University of Utah football stadium. This year, LoveLoud shifts to the Usana Amphitheatre in West Valley City.
The headliner will be superstar pop singer Kesha.
“We are excited to celebrate our LGBTQ youth through music and spoken word,” Reynolds, a Latter-day Saint, said in a statement. “My hope is that they feel loved, accepted and perfect just the way they are.”
Reynolds has said he hopes someday to take the festival beyond Utah to other cities in the U.S. and the world.
Filmmaker bows out
A prominent Latter-day Saint moviemaker who admitted in a recently released recording to molesting a teenage boy more than 25 years ago has resigned as a film professor at the University of Utah.
Sterling Van Wagenen, executive producer of last year’s “Jane and Emma” and director two “Work and the Glory” movies, “will not be returning to work at the university,” a spokeswoman for the College of Fine Arts confirmed.
Quote of the week
“My idea of heaven would be more like sitting at home and video-chatting my kids and other family members. Occasional visits with friends at restaurants where someone else is cooking. Also, TV shows I love always being available despite Netflix changes. Snacks and chocolate that never make me fat. The ability to get an exercise high for as long as I want without being exhausted or getting injured as I age. The taste of food when I’m really, really hungry, without the pain of actually being hungry. Books everywhere. And some kind of device that would allow me to download the good ideas I have immediately, without having to type them in somewhere.”
Novelist Mette Ivie Harrison in a By Common Consent blog post
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.