This week in Mormon Land: A rediscovered African American Last Supper and Romney’s lonely battle

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.

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 free newsletter in your inbox? Subscribe here.

Lost art … found

Latter-day Saint scriptures talk about hidden treasures, and one recently was found in a former church meetinghouse.

Crews transforming a Baptist-turned-Mormon-church into an acting conservatory in a Washington, D.C., neighborhood, the Washingtonian reports, uncovered a large sculpture of an African American Last Supper that had been tucked behind drywall for more than a decade.

The 232-square-foot frieze by Akili Ron Anderson, who teaches art at Howard University, “reflects a movement among African American artists, beginning in the late 1960s, to make the art in places of worship look like the people inside them,” the magazine notes. It may have been too large and costly to move when the church changed hands.

Anderson said his work was meant to convey that “Jesus is a black hero.”

The conservatory hopes the rediscovered piece finds its way to a museum.

To boot Trump, get Mitt

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.

American Mormonism may be among the reddest of religions (think Republican), but its leading political point person, Mitt Romney, is blue — at least about President Donald Trump’s foreign overtures targeting a Democratic rival.

New York Times columnist Timothy Egan sees the Utah senator as the best bet in removing the embattled president from office.

“Expelling Trump will be decided by appeals to our better angels. At this moment, those angels with the most influence are Mormons with an R on their jerseys,” he writes. “ … And, yes, that means our nation turns its lonely eyes to Mitt Romney.”

Egan, who casts Romney as the “ballast of conscience” for Senate Republicans, says the 2012 GOP presidential nominee “has a chance to make history — for his faith, and his country.”

Read his column here.

Mr. Mac, Mr. Missionary

(Tim Kelly | Tribune file photo) Mac Christensen, the man behind the Mr. Mac clothing stores, poses on a ladder along shelves of dress shirts in the spring of 1990 in what was then his new store at 135 S. Main in Salt Lake City.

For many a prospective missionary, the routine was essentially the same: Have interview, get medical exams, turn in papers, receive call, go to Mr. Mac.

Perhaps no private business was better suited to serve its chief clientele, especially in Utah, than Mr. Mac. With its Missionary Starter Package — a dark suit with extra slacks, black shoes, white shirts and colorful ties — the clothing store outfitted generations of budding proselytizers.

The man who built it all, Fred MacRay “Mac” Christensen, died Oct. 11. He was 85.

“We personally wait on customers,” Christensen once told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It’s personalized service as opposed to picking up a shirt yourself and taking it to the checkout. ... Our salespeople are real pros.”

Christensen also served as president of the then-Mormon Tabernacle Choir from 2000 to 2012.

This week’s podcast: Jane Manning James’ life, legacy

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Jane Manning James

When historian Quincy Newell was researching 19th-century African American Mormons, one name kept popping up: Jane Manning James.

This African American convert, who worked in church founder Joseph Smith’s household and eventually was “sealed” to him as a “servant,” probably still ranks as the most famous black female member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this side of Gladys Knight.

So Newell wrote a full-fledged biography of this pioneering black woman. Titled “Your Sister in the Gospel,” it was released earlier this year by Oxford University Press.

Newell, associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College in New York state, joined “Mormon Land” this week to talk about the remarkable life and legacy of Jane Manning James.

Listen here.

A shift on conversion therapy

The church signed off on a bill that would have prohibited Utah therapists from trying to alter the sexual orientation of minors when the measure went before the Utah Legislature earlier this year.

But, after that effort unraveled, the Salt Lake City-based faith came out this week against a licensing rule that would ban so-called conversion therapy for children.

“The church is concerned that the proposed professional licensing rule is ambiguous in key areas and overreaches in others,” it stated in a news release. “For example, it fails to protect individual religious beliefs and does not account for important realities of gender identity in the development of children.”

The release called on the parties either to amend the proposal or turn to lawmakers once again to address the issue.

The church’s latest stance disappointed Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah.

“The proposed rule would do nothing more than protect LGBTQ children from conversion therapy,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune, “a life-threatening practice that has been condemned by all of the state’s and the nation’s medical and mental health authorities.”

The old college try

Latter-day Saint missionaries sometimes go old school in Fredericksburg, Va., and take their proselytizing to the campus of the University of Mary Washington.

There, they reach out to students between classes. Some keep walking. Others stop and talk.

“They asked me about what my beliefs were, why I believed them, and if I had ever heard of the Book of Mormon,” sophomore Amani Guillaume told The Blue and Gray Press, the student newspaper. “I had heard of it, but knew nothing about it. As I was interested in trying new things, I chose to meet another time.”

The female missionaries now serving the school, which was founded in 1908, said they find younger people are more “open” to their message and usually are put at ease once they realize the two proselytizers are “not going to force anything on anyone.”

Crying over spilled … beer?

(Courtesy of FOX 13 News) A semitrailer carrying a haul of Bud Light beer overturned in a parking lot of a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse in Sandy on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2019.

The beer was flowing recently at a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse in Utah.

No, the Word of Wisdom hasn’t changed. The verboten brew was saturating parking places, not palates.

A beer-packing semitrailer had veered from the road after colliding with a pickup truck, police said, and dumped its load on the Sandy church’s parking lot.

Run, hide, fight and pray

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Two Latter-day Saint chapels built adjacent to each other on Angel Street, in Kaysville. Thursday, Aug. 21, 2014.

The church has updated its safety guidelines for members and lay leaders in case of an attack at a meetinghouse.

If, for instance, a shooting breaks out, the church’s advice is the same that experts give stores, schools, offices and other venues: First, run. If you can’t escape, try to hide. If found, fight back.

The church does add this instruction as well: “Always follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost.”

The instructions come after the church strengthened its policy against guns and other weapons in its buildings, stating that it “prohibits” all “lethal weapons” from its properties, unless carried by current law enforcement officers. Previously, the church deemed it merely “inappropriate" to have firearms in its buildings.

Tetanus offensive

(Photo courtesy of UNICEF and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A health worker vaccinates a baby as his mother holds him at the Centre de Sante le Rocher Maternity Hospital in Lubumbashi, Congo, November 2018.

The global fight against maternal and neonatal tetanus (MNT) has scored another victory. The World Health Organization has announced that the life-threatening disease that affects women of childbearing age and their offspring has been wiped out in Congo. This comes after similar progress was declared earlier this year in Chad.

Latter-day Saint Charities, UNICEF and Kiwanis International have teamed up in the effort.

A decade ago, tetanus still posed a considerable risk for women giving birth in nearly 60 nations. That number is down to 12, according to a church news release.

Temple updates

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Asunción Paraguay Temple.

Paraguay’s renovated temple in the capital of Asunción will be rededicated Nov. 3 after this week’s open house wraps up.

Apostle D. Todd Christofferson will do the honors.

“A stylized version of the Lapacho tree flower, which is the Paraguay national tree and flower, was used as inspiration throughout the [17-year-old] building from the lighting to [the] decorative paint and color scheme,” according to a news release. The South American country is home to nearly 95,000 Latter-day Saints.

Another newly remodeled temple, this one in North Carolina, was rededicated Sunday by apostle M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve.

The 20-year-old Raleigh edifice now includes an enclosed portico, a news release noted, and an Angel Moroni-topped steeple that stands 10 feet taller than the original.

This Saturday, a groundbreaking is planned for the Saratoga Springs Temple. The three-story, 87,000-square-foot structure — along with those announced for Orem, Taylorsville, Tooele Valley, Layton and Washington County — will bring the total tally of Latter-day Saint temples in Utah to 23.

In Hawaii, the Laie Temple is celebrating its centennial year.

Originally dedicated on Thanksgiving, Nov. 27, 1919, by then-President Heber J. Grant (and rededicated in 1978 and 2010 after two remodelings), the temple has had a profound impact on generations of members from Hawaii, the Pacific and Asia.

On Nov. 6, historian Clinton D. Christensen is scheduled to share stories he gathered for a newly published book about this temple. The 7 p.m. lecture is free at the Church History Museum in downtown Salt Lake City.

“Christensen’s presentation,” a news release said, “will include many faith-promoting accounts about how the temple came to Hawaii, the dedication of the temple, member excursions to the temple from far-off Pacific islands and Asia, eyewitness accounts about the temple during World War II, and how the temple helped one well-known Hawaiian face the destruction of the devastating 1946 tsunami.”

Quote of the week

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jana Riess speaks while recording the 100th episode of the "Mormon Land" podcast on Oct. 4, 2019.

“If I am so fortunate as to return to be with my Heavenly Parents and their son for all of eternity, that would be great cause for rejoicing. But it would be hollow and incomplete without the company of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters who have been knocked down, misunderstood and consigned to second-class status. If they don’t get to sit at the front of the bus to the Celestial Kingdom, I’ll gladly hang out with them in the Terrestrial. Or wherever else. And that, to me, is the gospel.”

Jana Riess, Religion News Service senior columnist

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