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 podcasts: Politics and Mama Dragons

(Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake Temple and the Utah Capitol are seen together, Wednesday, July 26, 2017.

Yes, there are two new episodes since the last newsletter you can catch.

In the first, political scientist Morgan Lyon Cotti, associate director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics at the University of Utah, discusses the recent move by Latter-day Saint leaders to enlist “specialists” to help members in the Beehive State boost their political engagement. But will they do so in a “politically neutral” way — as the faith has instructed?

Listen here.

In the second podcast, Sue Bergin talks about her new play, “The Mama Dragon Monologues: Mormon Mothers of LGBTQ Kids Speak Out.” The budding production explores the feelings of these women as they struggle to balance their love for their faith and their family.

Listen here.

Latin America, here he comes

Fresh off his nine-day, seven-nation tour of the Pacific, President Russell M. Nelson already is planning another extended excursion.

Later this summer, he — with his wife, Wendy, and apostle Quentin L. Cook and his wife, Mary — will visit five Latin American countries in nine days, according to a news release.

On his Aug. 24-Sept. 2 itinerary: Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Argentina and Brazil. Together, these nations are home to more than 2.6 million Latter-day Saints.

Before then, Nelson is scheduled to join apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his wife, Harriet, for a June 9 devotional at Orlando’s Amway Center, home to the NBA’s Magic.

Treasured islands

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) French Polynesian President Édouard Fritch, left, joins church President Russell M. Nelson at a cultural celebration marking the 175th anniversary of the arrival of the first Latter-day Saint missionaries.

From the halls of Hawaii to the shores of Tahiti, church President Russell M. Nelson sounded a warning that the world is locked in a battle against evil.

“There’s trouble ahead … prepare for attacks from the adversary,” the prophet-president cautioned Tahitian Latter-day Saints at the end of his Pacific tour. “Please protect yourself from Satan's traps, including harmful drugs and pornography.”

Nelson — whose oceanic journey also took him to Hawaii, Samoa, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga — attended a cultural celebration that marked the 175th anniversary of the arrival of the first Latter-day Saint missionaries in French Polynesia.

The 94-year-old leader has now trekked to every continent — save for Antarctica — since becoming church president in January 2018.

Relief Society video

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham, center, with her counselors, Sharon Eubank and Reyna I. Aburto, 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.

With no narration, just text over images and a piano accompaniment, a new Facebook video aims to depict the diversity, empathy and varied life experiences of the Relief Society general presidency and board.

The presentation opens with a shot of the presidencyJean B. Bingham and her two counselors, Sharon Eubank and Reyna I. Aburto — then quickly cuts to a group video showing nine of the 10 women (all dressed in slacks, nearly half in jeans).

As video of the women chatting, laughing, strolling and pondering continues, the following type pops up on the screen:

Of the 10 women in the general Relief Society presidency and board
Six have experienced financial problems
Four have experienced infertility
Six have family who identify as LGBT+
Nine have family with addictions
Two are battling chronic illness
Two have experienced divorce
One is a stepmom
Seven have had loved ones incarcerated
One has experienced death of a spouse
All have been affected by depression or anxiety
Eight have lived internationally
Four are stay-at-home moms
Nine are community leaders
Four hold a graduate degree
Nine work outside the home

The video, which debuted at the recent Brigham Young University Women’s Conference, then shifts to single images of the women with the words:

We love you
We struggle with you
We rejoice with you
We pray with you
We endure with you
We wait on the Lord
We strive to keep covenants
And just like you
We rely on the source of all peace
Our Savior, Jesus Christ.

The video closes with the women exiting the Relief Society Building in downtown Salt Lake City as the following Bingham quote from the October 2017 General Conference appears:

“No matter what we have suffered, he is the source of healing … We must come unto him and allow him to work his miracles.”

Goodbye, Mormon.org (but not Mormon)

Remember the Mormon.org website, with its “I’m a Mormon” profiles and other tidbits for those unfamiliar with the faith?

Well, click on it. Right here. Go ahead. We’ll wait.

Yep, it’s now called ComeUntoChrist.orgall part of the effort to remove the word “Mormon” when describing the church and its members.

Drop-down menus under “Believe,” “Become” and “Belong” contain links and videos explaining, among other things, the Book of Mormon, temples, missionaries, how to attend a church service and what Latter-day Saints “believe in 60 seconds.”

The site places a heavy emphasis on Christ, but there are still plenty of “Mormon” references. Here are some samples:

  • Do Mormons believe in the Bible?
  • Do Mormons believe in Jesus?
  • What is it like to be a Mormon?
  • How do I become a Mormon?
  • Are Mormons Christian?
  • Can Mormons drink beer?

It’s hardly surprising. The nickname, after all, remains the most widely understood identifier for the church’s members.

Ministering in South Africa

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon, with general authority Seventy Joseph W. Sitati, during a meeting in South Africa.

Two of the church’s highest-ranking female authorities instructed South African children, teenage girls and lay leaders in their homes and chapels recently and delivered one overarching message:

The Lord knows them, loves them and beckons them.

“The Savior stands at our door and knocks,” Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon told more than 350 women from the church’s Port Elizabeth Stake, according to a news release. “We need to learn to recognize his voice and open our hearts to him.”

During a training session in Johannesburg, Lisa L. Harkness, first counselor in the children’s Primary general presidency, urged members to be especially cognizant of families with special-needs youngsters.

“The Savior never avoided those with infirmities but ministered to them,” she said. “It is a brave mother that brings a child with challenges to church. As members, we can minister to the child and the family.”

Choir going back to the future

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square during the morning session of the 189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 7, 2019.

For the first time in nearly four decades, Scandinavians will hear Mormonism’s most famous choir sing live and in person. And for the first time in 65 years, residents of Wales and Scotland will have the same opportunity.

The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square will perform in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Wales and Scotland from June 25, 2020, through July 16, 2020.

The choir is calling this a Heritage Tour, a reference to its early history when the group featured many Latter-day Saint converts from these countries.

“We stand on the shoulders of these musical pioneers who created a legacy that has influenced the entire world for good,” choir President Ron Jarrett said in a news release. “What an honor it will be to share the joy and peace the music of the choir brings in some of the very places where it all began.”

Bracing for the big one

Even as the church prepares to firm up the foundations of its pioneer-era temples, Gov. Gary Herbert has honored the state’s predominant religion for its disaster preparedness.

“Utah faces a huge risk of a major earthquake, and much of the state is underprepared,” Robert Grow, CEO of the Envision Utah planning group, said in a news release. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, however, has taken the initiative to dedicate countless hours and tremendous resources to ensure its historic buildings and institutions are ready for a major earthquake. It is leading the way to [Utah] becoming truly resilient.”

For those efforts, the church received a “Your Utah, Your Future” award.

Latter-day Saint leaders recently unveiled plans for seismic upgrades to historic temples in Salt Lake City and St. George as part of major renovations. Temples in Manti and Logan are to be renovated as well. Details of those projects have yet to be announced.

Remembering a slave

In life, he journeyed with Brigham Young and helped build a Utah Zion. His name even appears alongside that of the pioneer-prophet on monuments.

In death, though, this enslaved African American, who wasn’t a Latter-day Saint himself (as far as anyone can tell), rested in an unmarked grave in the Salt Lake Valley.

Until Memorial Day.

That’s when activists, historians and a descendant of his slave owner teamed up to place a headstone for Hark Lay Wales at the Union Fort Pioneer Cemetery, not far from a better-known freed slave, Green Flake, and his wife, Martha.

“Hark saved the ancestors of many of the LDS Church’s white members, yet they don't even know about him or who he is because his part of the church’s story of arrival in Utah has been omitted,” Alice Faulkner Burch, secretary of the Utah chapter of Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “ … Hark is important to the entirety of the black community in Utah -— non-LDS as well to every black Latter-day Saint member.”

Quote of the week

“Our people should know that the church was established here in French Polynesia before the pioneers ever got to Utah.”

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