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.
Nelson at NAACP
Church President Russell M. Nelson didn’t apologize for his faith’s former priesthood and temple ban. He didn’t even mention the now-discarded racial policy during his speech at the NAACP’s national convention in Detroit.
But the black leader who introduced the nearly 95-year-old prophet-president seemed to accept the church’s turnaround anyway.
Latter-day Saints “had the courage to say, ‘We have unfortunately been complicit in the evil of racism in this nation,’” the Rev. Amos Brown said. “‘But unlike some persons in this country, we are humble enough to say we are sorry, we are going to change our ways, we are going to do a new thing, sing a new song, talk a new talk, walk a new walk.’”
Those steps are taking place hand in hand with the nation’s oldest civil rights organization as the two institutions team up on a number of education and employment initiatives to help African American communities.
“We truly believe that we are brothers and sisters — all part of the same divine family,” Nelson told the audience. “ … We strive to build bridges of cooperation rather than walls of segregation.”
The church leader said people can put aside differences — past and present — to make life better for all.
“We don’t have to be alike or look alike to have love for each other. We don’t even have to agree with each other to love each other,” Nelson said. “If we have any hope of reclaiming the goodwill and sense of humanity for which we yearn, it must begin with each of us, one person at a time.”
In this week’s “Mormon Land” podcast, LaShawn Williams, an African American Latter-day Saint and an assistant professor of social work at Utah Valley University, discussed Nelson’s NAACP remarks and the state of race relations in the church.
Scholar to scholar
Religious scholar Patrick Mason enjoyed a firsthand look recently at the papers of one of the trailblazers in his academic field: the late Leonard J. Arrington.
Mason, the newly arrived chair of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, reviewed some of the Arrington treasure trove housed on the Logan campus, The Herald Journal reported.
“Leonard Arrington came along … and his writings really constituted some of the first — not the very first — kind of objective, historical analysis of the religion, its culture, its people…. He helped create a whole new field of scholarship we call Mormon history,” Mason said in a Q&A with the newspaper. “... Every single one of us in this field of Mormon history stands on his shoulders and the foundation that he laid.”
Politics took a back seat to service this week when several spouses of U.S. governors helped assemble hygiene kits at the church’s Humanitarian Center in Salt Lake City.
The guests, in town for a National Governors Association meeting, toured the facility and expressed hopes that their actions would inspire others.
“Hurricane season is coming up. Fire season is upon us. We know we are going to need these kits,” Sharon Eubank, head of Latter-day Saint Charities and first counselor in the women’s general Relief Society presidency, said in a news release. “For representatives from different states to come together and put them together — that’s a really good symbol of this nation pulling together to help somebody in need.”
New serving of alphabet soup
From EFY to FSY, be ready to RSVP.
Starting with a 2020 pilot program, the church is expanding its For the Strength of Youth conferences to the U.S. and Canada. Modeled after the Especially for Youth gatherings at Brigham Young University, these conferences will include “activities, devotionals and classes designed to provide opportunities to grow spiritually, socially, physically and intellectually,” the church said in a news release.
Youths can participate beginning the year they turn 14 and continuing until they graduate from high school.
The move represents another shift away from the Boy Scouts of America toward the church’s own global program for children and youths.
Fighting for friendship
T.C. Christensen’s new film packs quite a punch.
“The Fighting Preacher” tells the story of middleweight-turned-missionary Willard Bean, who, with wife Rebecca, steps into the religious ring in 1915, trying to reestablish Mormonism in the place of its birth: Palmyra, N.Y.
The pugilist-proselytizer — whose mission lasts nearly a quarter century — trades plenty of jabs and gibes with unfriendly locals but eventually wins acceptance not with his fists but his heart.
Little ones lost
A new memorial honors the more than 650 children who took part in the great Mormon migration of the mid-1800s but never made it to the Salt Lake Valley.
The youngsters’ names are etched in 17 large stones at This Is the Place Heritage Park on Salt Lake City’s east bench, accompanied by 47 bronze statues that detail many of their stories.
“We must never forget that those early pioneers survived because they had great faith — as you know, the faith that built this marvelous community,” senior apostle M. Russell Ballard said. “Many of [them] were limited in their education. Some of them could not read or write. But they knew deep in their hearts that God the Father and his son Jesus Christ would always be with them.”
Church leaders also pointed to the pioneering efforts of today’s immigrants.
“Utah is becoming more and more ethnically diverse [and] they’re all pioneers. So, this is really a way for us to highlight what Utah stands for,” general authority Seventy Craig C. Christensen said in a news release. “We hope it’s not lost that this is a memorial for children. And part of the sacredness of the gathering was the sacrifice that little children made, and mothers and fathers made to get here. And we see that in Utah today. You see immigrants coming here, looking for a better life and focusing on what they have to do to make a better life for their children.”
Putting heat on ICE
The immigrant theme continued this week when dozens of Utahns spent their Pioneer Day holiday honoring not only yesteryear’s Latter-day Saint ancestors but today’s pioneers as well: immigrants.
Protesting current U.S. treatment of immigrants and refugees, they sang hymns, quoted scriptures and prayed.
“As a Christian, as an LDS woman and as a Latina,” Claudia Loayza said, “I think we need to remind ourselves of our principles.”
Read one T-shirt: “Who would Jesus deport?”
The church has settled on a site for the Layton Temple.
The three-story, 87,000-square-foot edifice will sit on a nearly 12-acre plot at the corner of Oak Hills Drive and Rosewood Lane. Plans are not yet complete, and no groundbreaking date has been set.
The Layton Temple, along with those announced for Tooele County, Washington County and Saratoga Springs, will boost the total tally of Latter-day Saint temples in Utah to 21.
Now, the church is surveying members to see if those interviews should be expanded to children as young as 8 years old.
Not everyone is thrilled with the prospect.
“It horrifies me that children would be subjected to this type of questioning, and grooming to idolize leaders at a younger age, rather than lessening the damage of this practice,” Jody England Hansen, a Latter-day Saint suicide prevention trainer in Utah, told The Salt Lake Tribune.
Julie de Azevedo Hanks, a Salt Lake City therapist, opposes these meetings with Latter-day Saint youths, whether younger than 11 or older. “All one-on-one interviews with minors should be discontinued.”
Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff emphasized that the survey is “designed to simply gain information” and “is not an announcement of any change in practice.”
It is part of the faith’s ongoing effort, he said, to “seek [members’] opinion and experience regarding activities, perceptions, and participation in church programs.”
After more than 40 years, “Mormon Night at Dodger Stadium” is out.
But it’s safe to have “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Family Night.”
So organizers did, and apostle Neil L. Andersen tossed out the first pitch.
Quote of the week
“If there is anyone you want to be ‘LinkedIn’ to, wouldn’t the Savior be the perfect choice?”
General Primary President Joy D. Jones, to BYU-Idaho graduate
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.