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This week’s podcast: G.A. discusses tricky historical topics
For nearly two decades, Elder Steven E. Snow has served as a general authority.
For the past seven or so years, he has been the church historian. During that time, he has overseen the release of “Saints,” the first in a planned four-volume narrative history of the church, and the production of landmark essays that tackle some of the pricklier points of Latter-day Saint history and teachings.
Snow, who is poised to receive official emeritus status in the coming fall General Conference, talks about his tenure and some of the issues he confronted, including:
• How to explain Brigham Young’s role in the now-discarded race-based priesthood ban.
• How to detail the early days of Mormon polygamy and Joseph Smith’s plural wives, including one who was 14.
• The much-publicized news conference showcasing the so-called “seer stone” that historians say Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon, the faith’s signature scripture.
• His reaction to the 2015 policy on LGBTQ couples and their children and the subsequent reversal of the divisive directive.
• His relationship with former Church Historian Marlin Jensen, a fellow Democrat in a religion dominated by Republicans.
• His commitment to the environment and his hopes for additional eco-friendly policies from the faith.
• His excitement over the dynamic changes taking place under church President Russell M. Nelson.
Prophets can do no wrong, right? Wrong.
Doctrinally, Latter-day Saints don’t assert that their prophets can make no mistakes. But, culturally, they come pretty darn close to viewing their leaders that way.
“The dominant sensibility within the contemporary church is a very strong sense of — if not prophetic infallibility — something just shy of that,” Patrick Mason, head of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, told reporter Lee Hale in the latest airing of KUER’s “Latter-day” series.
Such attitudes can make it difficult for members when they disagree with a prophetic sermon or church policy, especially from leaders like the current church president, Russell M. Nelson, who is comfortable saying that God speaks to him.
So would, could or should a church president ever apologize for an action?
“I would personally hope so,” Mason told Hale. “The theology would certainly allow for it to happen. … I do think that at some point, some president of the church will be able to use the word apology.”
It may not happen anytime soon, though. Dallin H. Oaks, Nelson’s first counselor in the governing First Presidency, has notably dismissed such notions, arguing that “the history of the church is not to seek apologies or to give them.”
Dialogue’s new boss
Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, a staple in Latter-day Saint intellectual circles for more than half a century, has a new editor.
Taylor Petrey, associate professor of religion at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, has been tapped by the Dialogue Foundation’s board to lead the journal.
“I am thrilled to join Dialogue and to be a part of the legacy of this great journal,” Petrey said in a news release Thursday. “This journal reflects and shapes the best of Latter-day Saint thought, culture and scholarship, and I can’t wait to embark on the next phase of the LDS tradition’s premier intellectual and literary venue.”
Petrey has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religion from Pace University and a master’s and doctorate in theology from Harvard Divinity School. He currently heads the religion department at Kalamazoo.
His essay “Toward a Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology” received Dialogue’s “Best Article” award in 2011, the release noted.
“We are very excited that Taylor has agreed to become our next editor,” said Dialogue board chairman Michael Austin. “He brings a profound understanding of some of the most crucial issues in Mormon studies today — issues surrounding gender and sexuality, international Mormonism, interfaith connections, and inclusive theology. And he also understands what it takes to do academic publishing in the information age.”
Petrey replaces Boyd Petersen, who has been Dialogue’s editor since 2016.
Last year, Dialogue — published quarterly and primed with prose and poetry about the Latter-day Saint experience — made its content available online at no charge.
Next year, the release stated, it will partner with the University of Illinois Press to produce the print edition.
Give peace, er, love a chance
Latter-day Saints aim to marry for eternity. Yet, in today’s dating world, many potential romances don’t make it past one day.
To give budding relationships a chance to either blossom or wilt, some amateur Latter-day Saint matchmakers are pushing Thirty Day Bae, which pairs up couples and requires them to date for a full month.
One-and-dones are off the table.
“Matchmaking is an imperfect science,” Christine Cooke, a 29-year-old single lawyer who created the challenge, told The Washington Post. “It’s more than reading some bullet points on Tinder. ... There’s something about chemistry that can’t be faked. It’s either there or it’s not.”
And it usually takes more than one date to decide if sparks will fly or fall.
Uprooted in Park City
The church’s Family Tree Center, planted on Park City’s historic Main Street and closed since early 2018, may be for sale soon, The Park Record reported.
The three-story, 5,600-square-foot building, with street-level space and apartments above, is vacant now. But it may not be for long, given its prime — and pricey — location.
Ric Horgan, real estate project manager for the church, told the newspaper that the faith wants the property’s listing done before ski season hits the resort town.
The Family Tree Center originally opened for the 2002 Winter Olympics and sprouted into a popular stop for local members and out-of-state visitors.
QuitMormon? Not so fast.
Attorney Mark Naugle created the QuitMormon website, partly because he wanted to make it easier for disaffected Latter-day Saints to resign their membership in the faith.
Well, the process just got harder. Now, members who use the service must provide a notarized letter, too.
Why? The church says that among the thousands of resignation requests from QuitMormon, many were “fraudulent.”
But Naugle, himself a former member, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the extra step is just a “way to throw sand in our gears and slow us down again.”
The Paul problem
As Latter-day Saints dive into the writings attributed to the Apostle Paul during the next few months, questions surface surrounding the New Testament’s most prolific “man of letters.”
For starters, writes Religion News Service senior columnist Jana Riess, was he really an “apostle,” as in ordained? Or was it more of an honorary title.
What about his writings about women, his references to female leaders in the early Christian church, and his insistence on salvation through grace, not works?
Read Riess’ column here.
Brazil — home to nearly 1.4 million Latter-day Saints, the most of any country after the U.S. and Mexico — also is in line to have the third most temples.
A groundbreaking is set for Aug. 17 for the Belém Temple in northern Brazil, the church announced in a news release.
Seven temples are currently operating in Brazil, including the latest, in Fortaleza. Four more are planned, in Rio de Janeiro Brasília, Salvador and, of course, Belém.
Farther north, the church’s first temple in Haiti will open its doors to visitors Aug. 8 for an open house that runs through Aug. 17.
The colors used in the 10,396-square-foot temple in the capital of Port-au-Prince includes blue, green and gold, with a stylized palm-leaf pattern throughout, a news release explained. Carpet patterns represent the island’s vegetation, with turquoise blue and lime green representing the ocean.
Once the temple is dedicated on Sept. 1, Haiti, one of the Western Hemisphere's poorest nations with a poverty rate approaching 60 percent, will be in a position to offer its 23,000-plus Latter-day Saints the richest blessings of their faith.
In the Far East, the 23-year-old Hong Kong Temple has shut down to undergo extensive renovations, a news release stated, and won’t reopen until 2022.
“Like all buildings, systems wear out and updates and refreshing become necessary,” Brent Roberts, managing director of the church’s special projects, said in the release. “This work over the next three years will beautify and rejuvenate this beautiful House of the Lord.”
The five-story temple’s exterior stone will be replaced, the steeple removed, some windows reworked, new art glass installed and new artwork and furniture added.
Quote of the week
“I was very disappointed [with the church’s LGBTQ policy when it came out in 2015]. ... It didn’t seem well thought out. It was an amendment to the handbook. Why would we lead with we don’t bless the children of gay and lesbian parents? I mean, that just did not make sense to me. It was hard for me. ... I’m very, very glad they’ve reversed it.”
General authority Steven E. Snow on “Mormon Land” podcast
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.