This week in Mormon Land: The Latter-day Saint behind ‘Debbie’s Law,’ ‘forgotten’ spouses and a strike against guns

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell M. Nelson speaks to Latter-day Saints during an evening devotional at the Estadio Cementos Progreso, an outdoor stadium in Guatemala City, on Aug. 24, 2019.

(Courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Sharon Eubank, center, director of Latter-day Saint Charities and first counselor in the church’s Relief Society general presidency, at the G20 Interfaith Forum in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Sept. 27, 2018.

The church continues to nick the nicknames “LDS” and “Mormon” from its operations and entities.

The latest to fall: LDS Charities and LDS Family Services.

The church’s global humanitarian arm, directed by Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society’s general presidency, is now Latter-day Saint Charities, according to a recent announcement.

And Family Services, which provides emotional and behavioral health support, has dropped the modifier altogether.

‘Debbie’s Law’

Debbie Cole was sexually assaulted 30 years ago at age 19. At the prodding of others, the Irish Latter-day Saint pleaded for mercy for her attacker at his sentencing. But after serving six years behind bars, the man committed additional sexual assaults.

“I felt somewhat responsible because I spoke up for him,” Cole says in September’s Ensign, the church’s monthly magazine for adults. “The guilt I felt caused me to suffer from depression.”

She then got involved personally — volunteering at a rape crisis center, helping victims become survivors — and politically, pushing for heftier penalties for repeat sex offenders.

She wrote letters. She made phone calls. She knocked on doors. She gave speeches. She granted interviews.

After intense lobbying, the measure, dubbed “Debbie’s Law,” passed earlier this year.

“I recognize that criminals of this country have rights, but where are my rights?” Cole told The Irish Sun. “I have the right to be able to listen to the news or open a newspaper without having this guy’s name in front of me and reminding me of what I had to go through.”

All the while, Cole writes in the Ensign, her faith saw her through trying times.

“Priesthood blessings helped me because I was able to better understand what my Father in Heaven wanted me to know,” she explains. “ … I know I was able to get through this because I had the gospel in my life.”

While the attack and its aftermath still haunt her — “an experience like this will always be with you” — Cole never feels alone.

“Knowing that my Savior loves me gives me hope and focus,” she says. “ … It takes a lot of work to move forward after a traumatic event, but it is possible because of Jesus Christ.”

Crackdown against guns

Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune Two LDS chapels built adjacent to each other on Angel Street, in Kaysville, Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014.

Visitors are welcome at Latter-day Saint meetinghouses. The signs outside make that clear. But guns, even without a posted notice, most definitely are not.

Same goes for all “lethal weapons.”

The Utah-based faith emphasized that point recently, when it updated Handbook 2, an instruction manual for local lay leaders, strengthening its stance against firearms in church buildings.

“Churches are dedicated for the worship of God and as havens from the cares and concerns of the world,” the new policy states. “With the exception of current law enforcement officers, the carrying of lethal weapons on church property, concealed or otherwise, is prohibited.”

The previous policy deemed it merely “inappropriate" to have guns at church.

“Lethal weapons include a number of possible items, including guns,” church spokesman Daniel Woodruff told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Religion News Service senior columnist Jana Riess views the tougher anti-gun language as another step by the church away from the right wing of the Republican Party. Other examples: the faith’s more welcoming positions on immigrants and refugees.

Talks with the veep

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostles M. Russell Ballard. left, and Ronald A. Rasband, right, along with general authority Seventy Jack N. Gerard, second from right, meet with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019.

Vice President Mike Pence discussed religious freedom — at home and abroad — with apostles M. Russell Ballard and Ronald A. Rasband during a visit last week to Salt Lake City.

Latter-day Saints want to be able to “go anywhere in the world to witness and testify to what we believe, and not be persecuted or threatened because of our position on Jesus Christ,” Ballard told reporters after the meeting with Pence. “Everybody should have the same opportunity.”

Everyone doesn’t. Open proselytizing is severely restricted, if not banned outright, in many parts of the world, including Russia, where Latter-day Saint missionaries are called “volunteers.” Some have been detained and deported.

Ballard said Pence, who is an evangelical Christian, shares those missionary concerns.

This week’s podcast: The ‘forgotten’ spouses

(Photo courtesy of Kailey Shakespear) Josh and Lolly Weed before they divorced.

Child-safety advocate Ed Smart recently came out publicly as gay and revealed that he and his wife, Lois, are divorcing.

Such announcements from prominent newsmakers make headlines. But what about the straight spouses left behind? Some say they are the forgotten ones — that when their partner comes out of the closet, they go in.

Lolly Weed knows about this experience professionally and personally. A marriage and family therapist associate, she and her gay husband, Josh, ended their 15-year marriage last year, something they talked about on a previous “Mormon Land."

She returns to this week’s podcast to talk about the challenges these straight spouses face — the heartache, the betrayal, the faith trials, the damage to their self-esteem, and, for Latter-day Saints, the reality of a Mormon theology that, in essence, continues to encourage mixed-orientation marriages.

Listen here.

Latin American tour

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell M. Nelson helps Isabela Castellano lead congregants as they sing the hymn, "We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet." Nelson spoke at the General Rumiñahui Coliseum in Quito, Ecuador, on Aug. 26, 2019.

President Russell M. Nelson is nearing the end of his five-nation Latin American tour.

• In Guatemala, he urged Latter-day Saints to get back to the basics. “My counsel today is very simple,” he said. “Please keep the commandments of God.

• In Colombia, Nelson outlined steps that would bring members closer to Christ. “Study the scriptures as families. Pray together. Renew your baptismal covenants by regularly participating in the sacrament,” he advised. “Pay your tithes with grateful hearts. Attend the temple as often as your circumstances allow.”

• In Ecuador, he encouraged members to build eternal families. “The home must be God’s laboratory to love and serve. That’s where a husband loves his wife, a wife loves her husband, and parents and children love each other,” Nelson said. “Our Heavenly Father wants husbands and wives to be faithful to each other in a home where children are considered an inheritance of the Lord. Thanks to God’s great plan of happiness, families can stay together forever. Exaltation is a family affair.”

• In Argentina, he told of the perilous plunge he took when a small plane he was in caught fire before making an emergency landing. “Part of the tranquility I felt as death approached came from my knowledge of the gospel,” Nelson said in Castilian Spanish. “I was falling to my death. I was surprised that I was not afraid to die. I remained calm. Why? Because I knew that my wife [Dantzel, who died in 2005] and I had married in the temple. We had been eternally sealed to each other and our 10 precious children. I realized that our marriage in the temple was more important than any other achievement of my life. Temple clothes were more important than any other uniform I had worn. The temple covenants were more important than any other commitments we had made.”

Nelson’s final stop will be in Brazil.

Oaks on parenting

Wives and husbands need to lean on each other when problems pop up, President Dallin H. Oaks told more than a hundred couples at a parenting meeting earlier this month in Blackfoot, Idaho.

“A principle to married life is that you look to one another as you did across the altar as you were married in the temple,” Oaks, first counselor in the church’s governing First Presidency, said, according to the Idaho State Journal. “You look to one another for the solution of your problems. You don’t look to your siblings. You don’t look to your parents. You look first to one another.”

After Oaks’ speech, the paper reported, Becky Craven, second counselor in the Young Women general presidency, and area Seventy Kevin Hathaway led a panel discussion on a range of topics from pornography to LGBTQ issues.

“I just wanted to add a few comments on gender and gender identification,” Hathaway said in the news story. “While we recognize what LGBT means, we do not use those labels when we talk about people. We don’t say, for example, that person is gay. We say that person struggles with same-gender attraction.

“Why is that even important?” he asked. “It’s important because whenever we place a label or allow a label to be placed upon us, then we also — a lot of times by default — accept the lifestyle that comes with that.”

In a recent Salt Lake Tribune story, Calvin Burke, an openly gay Brigham Young University student, urged fellow Latter-day Saints to be respectful of the words LGBTQ saints use to identify themselves.

“Stop describing us as ‘suffering’ from ‘same-gender attraction,’ especially when the vast majority of LGBTQ saints don’t use those identifiers,” he said. The struggle “comes from the way the church culture treats us, not from our sexual orientation.”

The book ‘thief’

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ardis E. Parshall, Mormon research historian in Salt Lake City, surrounded by her stacks of books is an avid bibliophile.

Historian Ardis E. Parshall noticed something in a recent Covenant Communications book. Not only did some of the stories have, in Isaiah-speak, a “familiar spirit,” they also had some of the same phrasing and conclusions found on her respected Mormon history blog, Keepapitchinin.

The author took “my research, my uncanny skills at being able to follow a trail through the archives, my scholarly conclusions, my professional judgments,” Parshall told The Tribune. “These are not just ‘facts which cannot be copyrighted.’”

Parshall complained to the publisher’s parent company, church-owned Deseret Book, about the unattributed entries and won an undisclosed settlement.

Deseret Book’s representative was “more than fair to me,” she said. “He took my complaint seriously, immediately put people to work looking up my cataloged complaints, and listened to what I needed in order to make things right.”

As for the book, “Did You Know ... 501 Fascinating Facts From Church History,” it has been removed from Deseret Book’s website.

Feed the need

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Sharon Eubank, director of Latter-day Saint Charities, helps volunteers fill bags with pasta during a service project at the 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference in Salt Lake City, Monday, Aug. 26, 2019.

The 68th United Nations Civil Society Conference this week in Salt Lake City had a long-range vision of helping to build “inclusive and sustainable cities and communities.”

The service project connected to the three-day gathering had a more immediate aim: Assemble 375,000 meals for needy children, a goal that turned out to be too modest.

More than 4,000 volunteers of every stripe rolled up their sleeves, slapped on plastic gloves, donned colorful hairnets and took their places in assembly lines at the Salt Palace Convention Center to fill bags of food.

Latter-day Saint Charities, the church’s recently renamed humanitarian arm, partnered on the project with Feeding Children Everywhere, American Airlines and JustServe (the church’s volunteer network).

In the end, the troops put together more than half a million meals, a church spokesman said Wednesday.

Sharon Eubank, director of Latter-day Saint Charities and first counselor in the Relief Society’s general presidency, also discussed community-level disaster preparedness in a panel discussion at the U.N. gathering.

“I am convinced ... everyone can do something at a small scale,” she said in a news release. “In some places, this might be fancy 72-hour kits that we store someplace. In other places, this might be taking the staple food of rice, putting it in a soda bottle and storing it under the bed every time you cook so that you have a little bit of cushion if there are times when food and water [are] scarce.”

Virginia is for lovers … of temples

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Rendering of the Richmond Temple.

Yes, Virginia, there is a temple coming your way.

Exterior and interior designs were released this week of the state’s first Latter-day Saint temple, a two-story, 36,000-square-foot edifice planned for Richmond.

The building will contain elements found at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello and the University of Virginia, Bill Williams, director of temple design, said in a news release.

Quote of the week

(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) Apostle Ronald A. Rasband speaks during a news conference at the Church Office Building on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015.

“We need to be in a chorus, not soloists. ... We need all believers speaking together.”

Apostle Ronald A. Rasband on the importance of religious freedom

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