This week in Mormon Land: Oaks laments growing LGBTQ ‘power,' women’s group denounces ‘atrocities’ at U.S. border

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Dallin H. Oaks speaks to youths at a special devotional Saturday, June 15, 2019, in Oakland, Calif.

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.

Oaks on LGBTQ’s increasing power

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Dallin H. Oaks speaks during the Sunday morning session of General Conference on April 1, 2018.

Eight months after President Dallin H. Oaks drew fire for his General Conference denunciation of same-sex marriage and transgender rights, the senior Latter-day Saint leader took aim again at the LGBTQ community during a June 11 devotional address at Brigham Young University-Hawaii.

In a transcript of his speech, Oaks, next in line to lead the church, lamented the “culture of evil and personal wickedness in the world,” including the “increasing frequency and power of the culture and phenomenon of lesbian, gay and transgender lifestyles and values.”

He also pointed to pornography, perversions, dishonesty and the diminishing of marriage and childbearing.

“We ... have the challenge of living in a godless and increasingly amoral generation,” he said. “ … More and more support the idea that all authority and all rules of behavior are man-made and can be accepted or rejected as one chooses, each person being free to decide for himself or herself what is right and wrong.”

The 86-year-old first counselor in the governing First Presidency focused on the anxieties facing today’s young people — brought on, in some cases, when they compare themselves to peers they read about on social media.

“Such constant comparison enhances anxiety by depressing self-esteem,” he said. “How? What your peers post on the internet are only their significant achievements and their emotional highs. This allows viewers who concentrate on such postings to compare the highs of their peers as if they were constant, compared with their own ups and downs.”

Last year, Oaks noted, about 10,000 students attending BYU-Hawaii, BYU-Provo and BYU-Idaho sought mental health services, with the most common concerns being anxiety, depression and relationship problems.

The longtime church leader, a former Utah Supreme Court justice, recommended living the gospel as a way to help with such worries.

“The restored gospel gives us the perspective to understand the purpose of life and the role of opposition,” he said. “By understanding and conforming our lives to that doctrine and through the principle of repentance we keep ourselves on the path toward our eternal destiny — reunion and exaltation with our loving Heavenly Parents.”

Oaks urged young Latter-day Saints to embrace optimism.

“Prepare for a long and productive life,” he counseled. “Marry. Have children. Get an education. Have faith.”

Oaks in Oakland

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Dallin H. Oaks, and his wife, Kristen, arrive for a youth devotional Saturday, June 15, 2019, before the rededication of the renovated Oakland Temple.

President Dallin H. Oaks touched on those same themes in a youth devotional the night before rededicating the freshly renovated Oakland Temple.

“We give thanks,” he said, “that our Heavenly Father has provided you the fullness of his doctrine, the atonement of Jesus Christ, and this holy temple, where you can come for strength to combat the evil forces that confront you.”

The landmark edifice, in the hills of Oakland, Calif., was the church’s 13th temple when then-President David O. McKay dedicated it in 1964. Now, it has been renovated inside and out.

“I’m astonished at the beauty of what has been done in the restoration,” Oaks said in a news release. “ … What is here is a remarkable house of the Lord in the quality of the architecture, in the quality of all the finishing of the various rooms and in the beauty overall. It is marvelous, and it’s accentuated by extraordinarily beautiful original art that has been added.”

Fellow apostle David A. Bednar, who was born in Oakland, accompanied Oaks and recalled attending the original dedication more than 50 years ago.

“We’re standing not too far from an area where President McKay came out of the temple following the dedicatory session, and I stood there with my mother waiting for the opportunity to try to shake his hand,” Bednar said. “ … I never could have imagined I’d be here in this role and responsibility.”

In other temple news, the First Presidency announced a Jan. 22-Feb. 1 public open house for the new Durban Temple in South Africa followed by a Feb. 16 dedication.

Next act for Mama Dragons

The Mama Dragon Monologues: Mormon Mothers of LGBTQ Kids Speak Out” will get another staged reading next week, this time at The Lounge at Dixon Place in New York.

The play — which chronicles women who often are torn between devotion to their Latter-day Saint faith and love for their queer children — already had a staged reading in San Jose.

“[It] packs a deep emotional punch with its complex, layered message of faith, alienation, anger and love,” reports Broadway World.

This week’s podcast: The little pageant that could

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nephite dancers perform as Mormon Miracle Pageant gets underway in Manti, Wednesday, June 12, 2019, during the dress rehearsal. The final run for the pageant continues through Saturday, June 22.

For 52 years, the Mormon Miracle Pageant has been a dramatic staple in central Utah, drawing tens of thousands of visitors to the grounds of the historic Manti Temple.

But come Saturday night, when the spotlight goes dark, it will mark the last time the pageant will ever light up the summertime night.

This week’s guest, Merilyn Jorgensen, sang in the choir at that first performance in 1967 and eventually became the official historian, even compiling a 600-page book about its history.

She discusses the pageant’s humble beginnings, its memorable moments, its growth, the sadness of seeing it fade away, and the tiny “miracles” behind the Mormon Miracle Pageant.

Listen here.

Bordering on inhumane

In the wake of recent reports of mistreatment of migrants and detainees at the U.S. border, Mormon Women for Ethical Government called on Congress to set aside petty partisan politics and come together to adopt sweeping immigration reforms that will “ensure these kinds of inexcusable atrocities never happen again.”

“A crisis of this magnitude demands a proportionate response — a groundswell of indignation and determination,” the nonpartisan grassroots group wrote on its website, while urging U.S. citizens to “stand with us in defense of children and families.”

Join the chorus of commenters on new hymnal

(Courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Two girls sing from a Latter-day Saint hymnbook.

If you want your voice heard about which songs should go, stay or be added to the new hymnal and children’s songbook, speak up. The deadline for input is July 1.

The survey can be found here.

More birth control, fewer babies

The church teaches that husbands and wives, when they are physically able, have the “privilege and responsibility” to have children, though how many is strictly up to them.

Well, it’s clear that more and more member couples are deciding to have fewer and fewer children.

“Latter-day Saint families are still larger than the nation’s, but the difference is smaller compared to what it was in the early 1980s,” Religion News Service senior columnist Jana Riess writes. “With church leaders no longer condemning birth control, many U.S. Latter-day Saints appear to be using it.”

Riess notes, for instance, that 57% of Latter-day Saint Generation Xers have had zero, one or two children of their own.

In another column, Riess points to 20 “millennial-friendly” changes under church President Russell M. Nelson, including reversal of the hotly disputed LGBTQ exclusion policy, more equitable language in temple ceremonies and female missionaries being allowed to wear pants most of the time.

MTC case takes another twist

Joseph Bishop, seen here in a screen grab from a 2017 video interview with BYU police, answers questions about what he admits were inappropriate sexual interactions with sister missionaries when he was the president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day SaintsÕ Missionary Training Center in Provo in the early 1980s.

The Salt Lake Tribune has obtained a recording of a police interview with former Missionary Training Center President Joseph L. Bishop, who admitted sexual misconduct with two female missionaries.

In them, Bishop says he immediately told his church leaders in the 1980s about his misbehavior. That assertion contradicts an earlier statement from church officials, who have said they first became aware of the allegations in 2010.

The admission could have an impact on a lawsuit against the church brought by McKenna Denson, who said Bishop had sexually abused her at the faith’s flagship MTC in Provo in 1984. (Bishop has denied her allegation.) Her lawsuit is a bit up in the air after her attorneys suddenly quit the case.

Denson told The Tribune that Bishop’s explanation is more evidence of a church “cover-up.” Latter-day Saint officials declined to comment about the newly obtained recording.

Religion can lift the world, apostle says

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Gerrit W. Gong speaks at the sixth annual G20 Interfaith Forum in Japan on June 8, 2019.

Religious values can help bring peace to warring nations, uplift struggling peoples, and clean up a polluted planet, apostle Gerrit W. Gong told global faith leaders this month in Japan.

“Throughout history, religion has provided inspiration, discipline and transcendence, as well as moral wellsprings of faith, hope and goodwill,” Gong said in a transcript of his speech at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Tokyo. “They have helped define what is just, right, and in the common good.”

The gathering, a tuneup for next month’s larger G20 Summit next month in Osaka, focused on refugees, cross-cultural tensions, health, children, aging societies and the environment, according to a news release.

Gong, the faith’s first Asian American apostle, pointed to Latter-day Saints around the world who “promote inner and collective peace, protect and treasure precious natural resources, foster harmonious social cooperation and invite mutual respect for religious freedom and core moral values.”

Sharon Eubank, head of Latter-day Saint Charities and first counselor in the general presidency of the women’s Relief Society, participated in a panel discussion.

“The world is darkening and splintering and all of us feel it in whatever society we live in,” she said in the release. “But this kind of interfaith work is a unifying pull from the Holy Ghost — that all people of faith feel — that will allow us to bring things back together.”

Quote of the week

“In our post-9/11 world, some argue religion inherently leads to violence. However, historical and empirical analysis dispels the ‘myth of religious violence’ — the notion that religion ipso facto is somehow responsible for violence. We promote peace when all voices seeking the greater good participate, where none is disparaged or denied, even if the inevitable disagreements of healthy pluralism persist.”

Apostle Gerrit W. Gong, speaking at a G20 Interfaith Forum in Japan

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