This week in Mormon Land: A not-so-surprising birthday party for a prophet of the night, a candid sex manual for Latter-day Saint couples

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell M. Nelson greets Latter-day Saints from Switzerland on the street leading to the Vatican in Rome. President Nelson met with Pope Francis on Saturday, March 9, 2019. The family came to Rome to participate in the dedication of the first temple in Italy.

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: LGBTQ common ground

The Utah Legislature appeared poised recently to ban so-called conversion therapy, barring therapists from trying to change the sexual orientation of minors.

The bill had two Republicans championing it and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — seen as a potential stumbling block — had taken a neutral stance.

But conservatives hijacked the measure and watered it down beyond recognition. The clash highlighted once again the divisions on LGBTQ issues.

Discussing those issues on this week’s podcast are psychologist Lee Beckstead, a gay former Mormon who testified against conversion therapy in a prominent court case, and therapist Ty Mansfield, an active Latter-day Saint who has written about his same-sex attractions and his marriage to a woman.

Beckstead and Mansfield have teamed up in an undertaking known as the Reconciliation and Growth Project, a joint effort that includes a far-reaching study in a quest to find common ground within the LGBTQ community.

Listen here.

Nelson’s 95 candles

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Russell M. Nelson at the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.

The church is holding a birthday party for President Russell M. Nelson — and you’re invited.

The Latter-day Saint leader turns 95 on Sept. 9, and a celebration will mark the occasion Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. in the 21,000-seat Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City.

Yet-to-be-announced performers and guests will provide music and personal tributes, according to a news release.

No need to RSVP, but you will need tickets. They’ll be free and become available on the church’s website starting July 30 at 10 a.m.

As for presents, well, your presence will be gift enough.

Prophet of the night

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Russell M. Nelson waves at the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018. At left is Nelson's wife, Wendy Watson Nelson.

The first lady of Mormonism and others have noted before how God talks to the current Latter-day Saint prophet in the night.

In a recent Church News video interview, Wendy Watson Nelson sheds additional light on those moonlit messages.

“My husband will say during the night, ‘OK, Dear, it’s happening,’” she says. “I just remain quiet and then soon he’s sitting up at the side of the bed writing, now with a lighted pen that someone gave him.”

Wendy Nelson explains that the number of nighttime messages coming to her husband since he became the church’s 17th president has “increased exponentially.”

It is, she adds, “incredible.”

Goodbye, Africa

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president, makes a home visit in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Friday, March 8, 2019.

Two of the highest-ranking female leaders of the church ended their 11-day, three-nation tour of West Africa by visiting Latter-day Saints looking forward to a new beginning — a beginning that includes a temple in their country.

Everywhere general Presidents Jean B. Bingham of the Relief Society and Bonnie H. Cordon of the Young Women went in the Ivory Coast, they encountered members eager for the completion of a temple in Abidjan.

“We cannot wait for the temple to be completed and to go to the temple here,” Julie Beugre Bowa, a stake Relief Society president, said in a news release, instead of traveling to Ghana.

“My greatest hope for the children here in Ivory Coast [is for them] to believe in Jesus Christ and get the chance to go to the temple,” added Dorothee Assad, a stake Primary president.

A groundbreaking for the temple — the 10th announced or operating in Africa — took place in November.

The West African pilgrimage also took Bingham and Cordon to Ghana and Nigeria.

“We’re going away with African eyes,” Cordon said in a video. “We're going away with new hearts.”

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Young women take a picture with Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Friday, March 8, 2019.

Trump’s gender gap

OK, so he’s no Mitt Romney or George W. Bush, but Donald Trump still gets a thumbs up from most Latter-day Saints.

An analysis of Pew Research Center polls since Trump entered the White House shows 52 percent of Latter-day Saints in the U.S. approve of his performance, senior Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess reports.

But the findings also reveal a sizable gender gap: 63 percent of male church members approve of Trump compared with 42 percent of female Latter-day Saints.

Beyond the birds and the bees

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Looking for a blunt book about sex for Latter-day Saints?

(Be honest. You know you might be — or at least your spouse might be.)

The recently published “And It Was Very Good: A Latter-day Saint’s Guide to Lovemaking” might be just the ticket.

It’s full of frank talk between its covers about, well, what takes place between the covers — but with Latter-day Saint sensibilities.

The authors — who go by the pen name Earthly Parents — are an active Latter-day Saint couple with seven children.

The husband in this him-and-her writing/editing duo recently shared with Times and Seasons blogger Jonathan Green the reason for writing this manual on marital intimacy.

They did it for their kids.

“I wanted my children to have sex really laid out for them. I wanted them to have the best possible chance at a happy sex life in their own marriages,” he writes. “To my mind, the best chance was a detailed, factual sex instruction manual.”

That motivation eventually gave, ahem, birth to this independently published volume.

Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, a Chicago area Latter-day Saint therapist who specializes in working with couples on sexuality and relationship issues, writes on Amazon that the book “offers important sex education and relationship guidance that many Latter-day Saint couples need.”

Idaho’s sixth temple

(Courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Rendering of the Pocatello Idaho Temple.

The Gem State moved closer to getting a sixth jewel in its temple crown.

A groundbreaking that drew interfaith representatives took place Saturday for the three-story, 67,696-square-foot Pocatello Temple.

“It’s very much appreciated by us to see these representatives of other faiths here,” general authority Seventy Wilford W. Andersen said in a news release. “... Wherever a temple is built and dedicated, the faith of the saints increases, their attendance increases, they become better neighbors, they become better members.”

The state’s other temples are in Boise, Idaho Falls, Meridian, Rexburg and Twin Falls.

New Zealanders stand together

(TVNZ via AP) In this image made from video, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, center, hugs and consoles a woman as she visited Kilbirnie Mosque to lay flowers among tributes to Christchurch attack victims, in Wellington, Sunday, March 17, 2019.

New Zealand’s Latter-day Saints are reaching out to their Muslim neighbors in the wake of mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch.

They are praying with them, weeping with them, walking with them, writing notes to them, delivering flowers to them and forming support groups with them.

In Auckland, a news release noted, church members welcomed their Muslim friends to a devotional that drew nearly 1,000 people.

Tauranga New Zealand Stake President Francis Fitzpatrick posted a YouTube video urging members to pray for those affected by the tragedy.

“Find ways in which, within your families or as individuals,” Fitzpatrick said, “that you can do something to give light to this dark day in our history.”

His wife, Megan Fitzpatrick, encouraged parents to help their children by monitoring what they are accessing on social media.

“Make sure they know that they are safe,” she said, “and that they are loved.”

Latter-day Saint scholar Gina Colvin, who lives in Christchurch, praised the country’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, a former church member, for her response to the shootings.

“[Ardern] has handled it well with the right degree of outrage and without trying to score political points,” Colvin told The Tribune. “She’s compassionate and kind.”

Relief in Russia

(Courtesy photos) Kole Brodowski, left, and David Gaag were working as volunteers for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Russia. Authorities there detained the men March 1, 2019. They were released March 20.

It was hardly your typical mission release, but then serving in Russia is hardly your typical mission — especially for Kole Brodowski and David Gaag.

The two young elders spent nearly three weeks in detention in Russia before they were finally freed and returned to the United States.

Police had arrested the missionaries — they’re called “volunteers” in Russia — on suspicion of teaching English without a license, a charge the church denied.

“While in detention, the volunteers were treated very well and maintained regular contact with their families and mission president,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins said. “The church is closely monitoring conditions in Russia for all volunteers and will continue to fully comply with Russian law.”

Quote of the week

“It’s almost spring ... For young women in Mormondom, warm weather means (more) modesty lessons. When I criticize the ways that girls are instructed about modesty among Latter-day Saints, someone inevitably asks (accuses), “Well, how would you teach it, then?” My answer is simple: I wouldn’t. Really. Not ever. … If we teach them who they are, they’ll figure out what goddesses wear.”

Kristine Haglund in a By Common Consent blog post

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