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: Trans at BYU
Matt Easton made headlines around the world after proclaiming during his recent valedictory speech at Brigham Young University that he is “proud to be a gay son of God.”
The church and its flagship school aren’t the easiest places to be an LGBTQ member and student. Abiding in those institutions can be especially challenging for transgender individuals, for whom the rules range from nebulous to nonexistent.
Andy Winder knows that firsthand. He started undergoing hormone-replacement therapy during his sophomore year and lived, worked and studied in near-constant fear that he would be expelled.
Winder made it to graduation, but the path to a diploma didn’t come without twists and turns. The 21-year-old writer discusses his journey on this week’s podcast.
Anti-Mormon attitudes on campus
Latter-day Saint Chloey Garza entered Wellesley College eager to embrace — and be embraced by — the emphasis the prestigious Massachusetts school puts on valuing diversity.
Instead, she writes in an opinion piece for The Wellesley News, she found a campus too often prone to ignorance, misinformation and malicious stereotypes about her religion.
“I have ... heard of professors reducing the history of my faith to a prophet [who] joined upstate New Yorkers in digging for Native American gold in the mountains and founded a church on the gold book he found or founded a church so he could have multiple wives.”
Imagine, Garza suggests, Islam being referred to as “that religion a guy started so he could oppress women.”
“You and I both know that this is untrue, and certainly we would stand with our Muslim siblings in protest of such intolerant speech,” she writes. “Why, then, do we not afford this same care for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?”
Garza’s wish: that Wellesley heed its creed. “We cannot pick and choose which groups are OK to mock.”
Eubank addresses U.N. summit
The remedy for bad religion (and the evil it evokes) is good religion (and the blessings it brings).
So said Sharon Eubank, head of LDS Charities, at a U.N. summit this week in Geneva.
“The best answer to Islamic extremism will be authentic Islam, just as the solution to Christian extremism will be authentic Christianity,” Eubank told the Second Global Summit on Religion, Peace and Security. “It will be the best of faith that defeats distorting versions of religious belief.”
Eubank, who oversees the church’s global humanitarian arm, offered genuine faith as an antidote to hate speech, religious intolerance and discrimination.
“The good that religion can do, especially when it comes to sustainable development goals, is amplified if religious groups work in partnership with each other, and with governments and nongovernmental actors,” Eubank, first counselor in the church’s Relief Society general presidency, said in a news release. “ … The simple act of building trust among neighbors and not blaming groups for the wrongdoings of individuals exponentially improves national security and helps control the rise of radical groups from within.”
One Lord, one faith, one global kids program.
The church plans to launch the latter next year, replacing a number of longtime staples, including the Boy Scouts of America, Personal Progress, Duty to God and Faith in God.
It already has begun testing its new children and youth initiative in select locales around the world, a news release stated this week. The aim is to let local leaders and families customize their activities, service opportunities, camps and other outdoor endeavors to meet the needs of young people.
“It kind of brings every aspect to be more spiritual and closer to Heavenly Father,” Meribelle Long, a girl who has been participating in the initiative, said in a video. “We can bring school activities or other activities — sports, art classes, music — it kind of ties it all together.”
Apostle Ronald A. Rasband said the undertaking is going to be “an exciting, wonderful enhancement to everything we have done before.”
“This new initiative is not only going to point them all to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s going to give opportunities for large gatherings and personal development through goals and achievement of goals,” he said. “... As the church continues to grow and the world continues to change, the time is right for a simplified, personalized approach to helping children and youth.”
The church announced last May that it was severing its century-old ties with the Boy Scouts of America in favor of creating its own worldwide program.
The church’s real estate arm has its eye on a London office building.
Bloomberg reports that Property Reserve Inc. is in exclusive negotiations to buy the 20-year-old Alder Castle building for $129 million.
The structure boasts some high-brow tenants, including Lloyds Banking Group, and a top-notch view of historic St. Paul’s Cathedral.
The Utah-based faith bought a 40-story apartment tower in Chicago’s South Loop last year and previously erected a 30-plus-story apartment building across the street from its temple in Philadelphia. It is currently developing a mixed-use project surrounding its temple in Mesa, Ariz.
Of course, the church also built City Creek Center — combining retail, offices, restaurants, apartments and condominiums in the heart of Salt Lake City near its iconic temple, which is scheduled to close Dec. 29 for four years to undergo a seismic retrofit and other renovations.
Saving moms and babies
The World Health Organization recently declared victory in Chad — at least when it comes to the global battle against maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT).
And the church — teaming up with WHO, UNICEF and Kiwanis International — played a major role.
“LDS Charities has been a steadfast partner in the fight to eliminate MNT since 2014,” Leslie Goldman, vice president of Global Cause Partnerships at UNICEF USA, said in a church news release. “LDS Charities’ first gift to this program was allocated to Chad, helping protect millions of women and children from this potentially life-threatening disease. … We hope to continue this lifesaving work to ensure that mothers and children all over the world are given the chance to survive and thrive.”
LDS Charities also has provided money to help with the fight in Sudan and South Sudan.
“Those who donate to the church’s Humanitarian Fund should feel a part of this project to save lives," said Sharon Eubank, president of LDS Charities and first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency. “Maternal neonatal tetanus is a vaccine-preventable disease and immunizing mothers transmits protection to their babies through the first two months of life when they are often born in unsterile conditions.”
A decade ago, tetanus still posed a considerable risk for women giving birth in nearly 60 nations, according to UNICEF USA.
That number is down to 13 — and falling.
“Dear Brother,” Jane Manning James wrote in 1903 to church President Joseph F. Smith, “I take this opportunity of writing to ask you if I can get my endowments and also finish the work I have begun for my dead.”
The answer — as it had been several times before — was no.
A new biography examines the life of this remarkably resilient black convert.
“Your Sister in the Gospel: The Life of Jane Manning James, a 19th-Century Black Mormon,” by Quincy D. Newell, associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College, is out from Oxford University Press.
“James did baptisms for her dead in the Endowment House and in the Logan and Salt Lake City temples,” Newell told Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought in a recent interview, “but she was never permitted to receive her endowments or to be sealed in family relationships.”
The book comes on the heels of last year’s “Jane and Emma” film, which chronicled the friendship between James and Emma Smith, wife of Mormon founder Joseph Smith.
Moviemaker admits abuse
Prominent Latter-day Saint filmmaker Sterling Van Wagenen, executive producer of “Jane and Emma,” pleaded guilty this week to sexually abusing a young girl between 2013 and 2015.
The court action comes after Van Wagenen’s admission in an audio interview released in February — by the Truth & Transparency Foundation, the nonprofit group behind the MormonLeaks website — that he had molested a 13-year-old boy in 1993.
Quote of the week
“The BYU school year has now ended, and with it comes a question: Will the protests [about the Honor Code] make any difference when everyone comes back to school in the fall? If recent Mormon history is any indication, the answer is yes.”
— Jana Riess, senior Religion News Service columnist
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.