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: Building a truly global faith
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more than 16.3 million members worldwide, but it still is seen by many as an American, even Utah, religion.
How does the faith become truly global and allow cultural differences and distinctions in its congregations and services while still maintaining unity?
Latter-day Saint scholar Melissa Inouye not only thinks and writes a lot about that challenge, she has lived it as well.
A teacher of Asian studies at the University of Auckland, Inouye has lived in Taiwan, China, Japan, Hong Kong, Southern California, Boston, Utah and, of course, now, New Zealand, so she knows a thing or two about how Mormonism functions in the world.
She addresses that topic, the place of women in the patriarchal faith, church as a “safe setting,” LGBTQ issues and more on “Mormon Land” and in her new book, “Crossings: A Bald Asian American Latter-day Saint Woman Scholar’s Ventures Through Life, Death, Cancer and Motherhood (Not Necessarily in That Order).”
How does the Magic Kingdom stack up against God’s kingdom?
Well, one brings temporary happiness, and the other, according to church President Russell M. Nelson, promises eternal joy.
Nelson made the distinction during a devotional Sunday in Orlando, home to the popular Disney World resorts.
“Orlando can claim to be the site of many happy memories for countless individuals,” Nelson told more than 15,000 Latter-day Saints at the Amway Center. “But lasting happiness, even joy, comes to those who keep the commandments of God.”
Before the meeting, Nelson met with the owner of Pulse, the gay nightclub where a gunman killed 49 people in a mass shooting three years ago this week.
“I was moved that [Nelson] knew what we were doing,” said Barbara Poma, executive director of the onePULSE Foundation, a nonprofit group set up to create a sanctuary of hope after the tragedy. “He was so kind to me and that meant a lot.”
A special missionary reunion
Kendal Levine returned to Australia this month and taught a lesson on forgiveness more personal and powerful than any she gave during her mission there.
The 25-year-old Utahn went back to Canberra, where she suffered a traumatic, life-threatening and life-altering brain injury when a taxi hit her in 2014.
There, she reached out to the cabbie.
“He felt bad until I told him that I hold zero hard feelings for him,” Levine said, according to the Daily Mail. “Things have turned [out] greater than expected.”
Levine had stopped by a suburban roadside to take a picture of a rainbow in September 2014 when the weary taxi driver plowed into her, tossing her 30 feet and pinning her under the vehicle. A witness jacked up the car and freed her.
Months and years of rehabilitation followed. Doctors feared she would never walk or talk again, but Levine defied those odds.
The driver lost his license and paid a fine. He avoided prison, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported, largely because Levine’s family urged the judge not to jail him.
During their recent meeting, the driver gave Levine a bouquet of flowers.
“It was beautiful, relieving and healing for both he and Kendal,” the former missionary’s mother, Melody Jones Levine, wrote on Facebook. “He is an amazing kind man as well as his wife and family.”
Thank you, Kuwait
Earlier this year, Kuwait officially recognized the church.
Don’t expect to see missionaries preaching there, however. The agreement bars proselytizing and baptizing Muslims. Still, the development is significant, so much so that apostle Quentin L. Cook traveled to Kuwait City this month to thank the government.
“This is a great occasion for us and we’re just very pleased,” Cook said in a news release. “We appreciate the friendship. ... We are going to be very good citizens, good neighbors, good friends.”
Cook gave Fareed Emadi, secretary-general of the Supreme Commission for the Promotion of Moderation in the Ministry of Awqaf, a leather-bound Book of Mormon, the church’s signature scripture, in Arabic and a small pewter pioneer handcart statue.
The Kuwaiti official said his government simply was heeding the teachings of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad.
“Our religion,” he said in the release, “taught us how to deal with others and how to respect others.”
The church’s new status in the Persian Gulf country “is no small thing,” Cook said. “There’s a huge difference when you are received well and when you’re not received well. It’s important to be able to have the attributes of an entity that is recognized by the laws of government where we worship and where we live.”
It will help local Latter-day Saint leaders better serve the needs of the more than 300 members who live, work and worship in Kuwait.
It also “will allow for more public awareness of the church in the country and greater freedoms in terms of its operations,” independent Latter-day Saint demographer Matt Martinich has said.
During his visit, Cook also spoke to 125 soldiers at a sacrament meeting at Camp Arifjan, a U.S. military base.
“Being out here, we often feel separated from a lot of what binds us and connects us to the gospel — or you can feel that way,” said Latter-day Saint and U.S. Army Chaplain Joshua Sharp. “There are a lot of temptations and opportunities that you wouldn’t have back home. And then missed opportunities. You can’t go to the temple as freely as many are able to. Even though we attend church on Sunday, it’s in a completely different setting. So, being able to be with, so closely and so intimately, with an apostle of the Lord was very powerful and a great lift to the soldiers.”
Cook in the Holy Land
Before traveling to the Muslim-majority nation of Kuwait, Cook visited the Jewish state of Israel.
At Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center, he emphasized interfaith dialogue to a group of Jewish and Latter-day Saint scholars.
“It is a time to listen to one another and learn from one another,” he said in a transcript of his address, noting the two religious communities share the following four traits:
• A fundamental focus on families.
• A commitment to education.
• A resolve to reach out in charity.
• An emphasis on happiness.
Cook quoted Latter-day Saint verses in which God cries over humanity’s suffering.
“This seems to indicate that it is not just his children’s wickedness but their ‘misery’ and not just their disobedience but their ‘suffering’ that cause him to weep,” the apostle said. “To me, this scripture provides a window into God’s heart, mind and soul — he is our living, loving Heavenly Father, and we are his children. As noted, he weeps with us as we suffer and rejoices as we do what is right in his sight. In my mind, I can imagine the tears shed as a result of the Shoah or Holocaust. He is a God of empathy who does not have a hand in what causes the suffering. He is the great consoler.”
The governing First Presidency welcomed a delegation from Vietnam’s Committee for Religious Affairs last week, with tours of the Family History Library, Welfare Square, Humanitarian Center and Bishops’ Central Storehouse in Salt Lake City and BYU in Provo.
Church President Russell M. Nelson thanked the delegation for promoting religious liberty in Vietnam and noted the importance of such freedom.
“We have long-standing cooperative relationships with the Committee on Religious Affairs and other government officials in Vietnam,” Elder Gerrit W. Gong, the church’s first Asian American apostle, said in a news release. “We appreciate those relationships continuing and deepening with the visit of this important delegation.”
Latter-day Saint membership in the Southeast Asian nation is estimated at more than 2,400, according to cumorah.com, an independent website that tracks church growth. There are now 11 branches in Vietnam, which officially recognized the Utah-based faith in 2016.
Ambassadors to Africa
West Africa beckoned senior church authorities recently.
In Ghana, apostle D. Todd Christofferson focused on the church’s humanitarian mission in a meeting with President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo in Accra.
“We share in your teachings about the family as the fundamental unit of society and the connection to nation building,” the country’s leader said in a news release. “ … We appreciate the great things your church is doing in Ghana.”
In Benin, Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, who oversees the church’s financial, real estate, investment and charitable operations, huddled with Orou Baro Mora of the Ministry of Interior and Public Security.
“Love for the people is the main driving force of what our government does,” the Cabinet minister told his guest. “You are in perfect harmony with the objectives of our government.”
In Ivory Coast, Christofferson and Caussé were greeted by Vice President Daniel Kablan Duncan.
“We ... welcome all religious bodies who proclaim and practice peace,” Duncan said.
A groundbreaking Saturday set in motion the construction of the Lima Los Olivos Temple, announced in 2016.
“There is something special in the temples,” general authority Seventy Enrique R. Falabella said in a news release. “As we spend more time in the Lord’s house, our lives will have greater meaning.”
The Lima Temple was dedicated in 1986. Peru, with more than 600,000 Latter-day Saints, also has the Trujillo Temple, dedicated in 2015, with a Dec. 15 dedication set for the Arequipa Temple.
Quote of the week
“We need to listen in order to understand and to communicate sincere empathy and love. We need to create classrooms where questions are welcomed and issues are discussed with respect and thoughtfulness. We need to clearly teach truth and help every student recognize his or her eternal identity as children of loving heavenly parents. And we need to help students know they’re not alone.”
Chad Webb, administrator of seminaries and institutes, addressing church educators this week.
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.