This week in Mormon Land: A deeper look at policy reversal; conference recap; Flake threatened; more verses on Heavenly Mother

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) Church members file into the afternoon session of the 189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, April 6, 2019, in Salt Lake City.

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: Goodbye, policy; hello, inclusion?

(Chris Detrick | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sandy Newcomb, of Springville, holds a rainbow flag during a Mass resignation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints near Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015.

Nearly 3½ years ago, the church stunned insiders and outsiders with a new policy labeling same-sex married couples “apostates” and generally barring their children from baptism until they turn 18.

Last week, Latter-day Saint leaders delivered another shocker by reversing those rules.

What happened? And why? And where does the Utah-based faith go from here? Discussing those questions and more about the church’s evolution and, some say, devolution on LGBTQ rights is historian Gregory Prince, author of the newly released “Gay Rights and the Mormon Church: Intended Actions, Unintended Consequences.”

Listen here.

Pacific tour

Globe-trotting President Russell M. Nelson soon will be jetting off again — this time to seven places in the Pacific.

Nelson and his wife, Wendy, along with apostle Gerrit W. Gong (the first Asian American in the Quorum of the Twelve) and his wife, Susan, will leave Salt Lake City on May 16 bound for Kona, Hawaii, according to a news release. From there, they will proceed over nine days to Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga and Tahiti.

Conference summary

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Dallin H. Oaks, President Russell M. Nelson, and President Henry B. Eyring arrive at the afternoon session of the189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 7, 2019.

OK, so there were no jaw-dropping moments at this past weekend’s General Conference. There still were plenty of sermons to dissect, songs to inspire and prayers to ponder.

This time around, words definitely spoke louder than actions.

Here are some highlights:

• President Russell M. Nelson urged those who have distanced themselves from the church or never truly considered converting to “do the spiritual work to find out for yourselves, and please do it now. Time is running out.” In the all-male priesthood session, he told husbands and sons to tune out the TV and tune in to their families. “Get up off the couch, put down the remote, and wake up from [your] spiritual slumber.”

• Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the women’s Relief Society and one of only two female speakers at the conference, encouraged those with faltering faith to seek Christ’s light amid the darkness. “Take courage. Keep your promises to God. Ask your questions. ... Turn to Jesus Christ, who loves you still.”

• President Dallin H. Oaks, Nelson’s first counselor in the governing First Presidency, invited those who have been excommunicated or resigned their memberships to repent. “We are all sinners who can be cleansed by repentance.”

Apostle Neil L. Andersen saluted LGBTQ Latter-day Saints who live the church’s law of chastity. He told of a gay friend, who has been “true to his temple covenants” that require celibacy outside of heterosexual marriage. The man has “expanded his creative and professional talents and has served nobly in both the church and the community.” Andersen’s words came two days after the church reversed the controversial 2015 LGBTQ policy.

Apostle David A. Bednar counseled parents to be more forthright in preparing their children for temple worship. “A rich reservoir of resources exists in print, audio, video and other formats,” he noted, “to help us learn about initiatory ordinances, endowments, marriages and other sealing ordinances.” Reinforcing Bednar’s remarks, the church posted on its homepage a link to temples.churchofjesuschrist.org, which contains, among other temple details, a video explaining the clothes members wear in the most sacred of Latter-day Saint edifices.

• Fellow apostle Jeffrey R. Holland spoke of the sacred nature of the sacrament and reminded members to show up on time for Sunday meetings. “A late pass,” he added, “will always be lovingly granted to those blessed mothers who, with children, Cheerios, and diaper bags trailing in marvelous disarray, are lucky to have made it at all.”

Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who oversees the missionary department, asked members to follow in Christ’s footsteps and look for opportunities to spread the gospel. Whatever ways “seem natural and normal to you, share with people why Jesus Christ and his church are important to you.”

• Nelson named eight new temples to be built, including a first for Hungary (in Budapest) and a 21st for Utah (this one in the Tooele Valley).

• Nelson built upon a previous pronouncement that Utah’s pioneer-era temples — stretching from Logan in the north to St. George in the south — would undergo a “renewal and refreshing, and, for some, a major restoration.” Plans to renovate the landmark Salt Lake Temple, along with Temple Square and the Church Office Building plaza, will be unveiled April 19.

• Ten new general authority Seventies were named, including Peter M. Johnson, the first African American to join those ranks.

Vai Sikahema, a former BYU and NFL star, and Henry J. Eyring, president of BYU-Idaho and a son of President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency, were among 55 area Seventies appointed.

• Church membership topped 16.3 million in 2018, a net increase of 195,566 during the year, the lowest in 40 years.

New historian

General authority Seventy LeGrand R. Curtis Jr. will take over as church historian and recorder Aug. 1, the church announced in a news release. He replaces Steven E. Snow.

Another general authority, Paul V. Johnson, is returning as commissioner of the Church Educational System, a post he previously held. He succeeds Kim B. Clark.

Snow and Clark, the release said, will receive emeritus general authority status at the October General Conference.

‘A good first step’

(Isaac Hale/The Daily Herald via AP) Andy Winder on Oct. 18, 2017.

Writer Andy Winder, a transgender BYU gradudate, was “thrilled” with news that the church had walked back its 2015 LGBTQ policy.

“But my excitement started deflating when I read texts and Twitter posts from my queer friends,” he wrote in a Huffington Post essay. “ … So many people were devastated by this policy, and trying to take it back now doesn’t erase the pain that they’ve felt.”

Scrapping the policy is a “good first step,” he added, “but it’s just that: a beginning. … Words and policies aren’t much if they’re not coupled with actions.”

I’ve been threatened, says Trump critic

(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana) Then-Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., speaks with reporters Friday, Dec. 21, 2018.

Latter-day Saint politician Jeff Flake, a former U.S. senator from Arizona and a thorn in the side of Donald Trump, told The Guardian that he received a number of threats from supporters of the president before he left office earlier this year.

“I would have liked to have done one more term in the Senate, that’s probably all,” Flake told the British newspaper. “But it’s been at a heavy cost to my family. The sacrifices they’ve been [made to make], what they had to endure.”

The Republican politician revealed that a man carrying a rifle scope had shown up at three church locations in Arizona looking for the former senator.

“It was a man living out of his car,” Flake said. “He told someone he had just attended a Trump rally.”

Prize-winning ‘Sister Saints’

(Courtesy photo) "Sister Saints" by Colleen McDannell

University of Utah professor Colleen McDannell’s stereotype-busting book about Latter-day Saint women has earned the 2019 Mary Nickliss Prize in U.S. Women’s and/or Gender History from the Organization of American Historians.

“‘Sister Saints: Mormon Women Since the End of Polygamy’ rests on ambitious research, balancing archival materials with women’s personal recollections and interviews,” says the group’s news release. “... McDannell demonstrates, unflinchingly, how the patriarchal Mormon hierarchy deployed not only threats but also crafty flexibility in its determination to stifle women’s initiatives. … [She also] demonstrates how the LDS establishment is dependent on the underestimated leadership and labor of all Mormon women.”

The religious studies scholar discussed her book — which reveals Latter-day Saint women as, at times, outspoken and progressive and, at other times, as insular and conflicted — in a previous “Mormon Land” podcast.

The Mother of all mothers — part two

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rachel Hunt Steenblik in Provo, Tuesday April 3, 2018.

Writer-poet Rachel Hunt Steenblik isn’t done telling the previously unpenned story about Heavenly Mother.

Enter “I Gave Her a Name,” the 2019 follow-up to “Mother’s Milk,” her critically acclaimed first collection of poems about Mormonism’s eternal Queen of Queens.

“We need to tell more stories about how we interact with Heavenly Mother in our life,” the author wrote in a By Common Consent blog post, “and how She interacts in ours.”

Musings on a Mother in Heaven may be lacking in scriptural chapters, but Steenblik is doing her part supplying verses.

Lessons for leaders

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Dallin H. Oaks speaks during the morning session of the189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 7, 2019.

While President Dallin H. Oaks’ announcement on the LGBTQ policy grabbed most of the headlines at last week’s pre-General Conference leadership sessions, other topics were covered, too:

  • Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf focused on missionary work, according to a news release. “As we lift the vision of our leaders and members by providing simple, natural and normal patterns for ministering to all through missionary work, the gathering of Israel will accelerate around the world.”

  • President Jean B. Bingham, who heads the women’s Relief Society, discussed home-centered, church-supported learning. “When consistently implemented, [the manual] ‘Come, Follow Me — For Individuals and Families’ changes lives through strengthened relationships and deepened testimonies. … Our responsibility is to help members catch the vision of the wonderful potential to bring families closer together, deepen testimonies of the gospel, and increase protection from harmful influences through gospel study in the home.”

  • Presentations also included instructions on honoring the church’s name along with information about the soon-to-come new children and youth program (replacing Scouting).

Easter’s ‘lively hope’

(AP Photo/Juan Karita) In this Feb. 9, 2019, photo, a mural of "The Last Supper" is displayed in the local church of Curahuara de Carangas, Bolivia.

The First Presidency has released its annual Easter message.

“The Savior was resurrected, as we all will be. He suffered so that he could succor us in all of our trials,” it states. “He paid the ransom for us as Heavenly Father’s children so that we could be delivered from death and sin.”

Read the full statement here.

Quote of the week

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Russell M. Nelson speaks during the morning session of the189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 7, 2019.

“If you folks are not being persecuted on a daily basis, you are not doing your job very well. Fortify our people. The adversary is an incorrigible insomniac. He never sleeps.”

— President Russell M. Nelson to worldwide church leaders

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