This week in Mormon Land: Missionaries get a new ‘bible,’ mission president wives don’t get a new title, and gender gap appears in new themes

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Missionaries Sister Freitas, left, from Brazil; Sister Zainab, center, from Italy; and Sister Tigno, from the Philippines, serving on Temple Square, review the new “Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ.”

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.

New missionary manual

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The new missionary handbook, “Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ.”

A bible. A bible. Latter-day Saint missionaries have a new bible.

It’s called “Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ,” and it spells out chapter and verse for proper missionary attire, conduct and procedures for the faith’s tens of thousands of proselytizers across the globe.

“We love our missionaries and greatly desire their physical, spiritual and emotional well-being and safety,” apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf, chairman of the Missionary Executive Council, said in a news release. “These standards will help protect and guide them as they seek to serve our Savior Jesus Christ.”

As promised, the new handbook, the first update in nearly a decade, includes a bolstered section on missionary safety, with references to a new series of videos on the topic. It also offers “guidelines to help missionaries become more culturally aware and sensitive, outlines policies regarding the use of technology and suggests ways to manage stress and obtain help with mental health challenges.”

Some excerpts:

• “You will be most safe when you follow the commandments and missionary standards and use common sense. But realize that even when you keep the commandments, you may experience trouble, sickness, or harm.”

• “Do not try to make deals with the Lord and expect specific blessings by adjusting what is required of you. … For example, don’t try to bargain with the Lord by getting up earlier, going without food or drink (beyond the monthly fast), or skipping a preparation day.”

• “You may invite the mission president’s wife, a senior missionary, or your missionary companion to join any interview with the mission president. Your decision to invite someone to join you should not diminish your mission leaders’ love, concern, or admiration for you.”

• “You may communicate with your family on your weekly preparation day via letters, emails, text messages, online messaging, phone calls, and video chat. … If your parents live in different locations, you may contact each parent separately on preparation day. It is not expected that you will call or video chat with your parents every week. You also are encouraged to contact your family on other special occasions, such as Christmas, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, your parents’ birthdays, and other holidays that are significant in your home country or culture. … When communicating with your family by phone or video chat, be wise in determining the duration of your calls.”

First among equals?

The new handbook refers to the male mission president and his wife as “mission leaders.”

“[They] are called of God and set apart to lead the mission,” it states. “Together they love and serve you, help you fulfill your purpose as a missionary, and help keep you safe and happy.”

For years, some observers have questioned why these husband-and-wife duos are not referred to as co-presidents. That doesn’t change in the new handbook.

“So even though they are ‘called of God and set apart’ and noted as both ‘leaders,’ only the husband gets a title,” Emily Jensen writes in a By Common Consent blog post. “Why would it be so hard to call them both mission presidents serving together? As it is, it just looks so bad. And as a woman only designated by her relationship to her husband, it’s hard not to see that they are not actually equal as mission leaders and that’s wrong.”

Nelson in Southeast Asia

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Choir members take notes while listening to President Russell M. Nelson speak at a devotional for church members and friends in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019.

Church President Russell M. Nelson undertook a four-nation trip to Southeast Asia this week. It included stops in:

• Vietnam: His first visit to this nation — and only the second by an LDS Church president — took him to the capital of Hanoi and, farther south, to Ho Chi Minh City. It came on the heels of the Utah-based faith receiving an official declaration allowing it to conduct religious activities in the country in accordance with a law enacted last year.

“I express to the leaders of the government and to all the leaders of Vietnam our heartfelt gratitude for the opportunity for our members of the church to worship here in dignity,” Nelson said in a news release.

The 95-year-old leader urged hundreds of Vietnamese Latter-day Saints gathered in a Hanoi hotel ballroom to love God and their neighbors, build their belief in Christ, tend to their families and learn more about their religion.

“Just as we’re responsible for our own education in our profession or our jobs, we’re responsible for our own education about the gospel,” he said. “Take it upon yourselves to see where you are low in your gospel understanding and add strength to where you are weak.”

(Rendering courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Phnom Penh Cambodia Temple.

• Cambodia: Paying his first visit to this country as well, Nelson unveiled a rendering of Cambodia’s first Latter-day Saint temple. It will be built on Russian Confederation Street, between the Cambodia Institute of Technology and the Institute of Foreign Languages near the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” he said as the image went up on a large screen. “I don’t know when the temple will be completed [Nelson announced it a year ago]. But I do know that, difficult as it is to construct a temple, it’s even more difficult to build a people ready for the temple.”

As in Vietnam, Nelson urged young Cambodians to hit the schoolbooks. Education, he said in a news release, is the “difference between wishing you could help other people and being able to help other people. Get all the education you can. Strive for spiritual and temporal self-reliance so you don’t have to depend on anyone else for your temporal or spiritual progression.”

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Three-year-old Tate Chan gives church President Russell M. Nelson a hug after a devotional in Singapore on Wednesday, Nov. 20, 2019. Tate's grandmother, Sarah Chan (right), watches.

• Singapore: Nelson celebrated 50 years since then-apostle Ezra Taft Benson dedicated this island city-state for the preaching of the Latter-day Saint gospel.

“Now is not only a time for us to look back, it is the time to look forward with excitement to the future,” he told members at a devotional, according to a news release. “What a glorious future is in store for you. … “I pray for the day when we will have a temple here in Singapore.”

Traveling with Nelson are his wife, Wendy, and apostle D. Todd Christofferson and his wife, Kathy. The foursome’s final stop will be Indonesia.

This week’s podcast: What if polygamy came back?

(Photo courtesy of Melissa Leilani Larson) Playwright and screenwriter Melissa Leilani Larson.

The church expressly forbids polygamy and has done so for more than a century. But plural marriage remains a part of its theology, enshrined in its scripture and practiced, at least through so-called sealings, in its temples.

Add to that the renewed chatter about legalizing polygamy in the U.S. and the question becomes: What if the church reinstituted plural marriage?

Melissa Leilani Larson, who wrote the screenplays for the movies “Jane and Emma” and “Freetown,” explored that notion in her play “Pilot Program.”

She discusses that play, her views about polygamy and its place in Mormonism’s past, present and future in this week’s podcast.

Listen here.

Children and Youth program detailed

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints broadcast a live "Face to Face" event for children, youths, parents, and leaders on Nov. 17, 2019, from the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. Church leadership introduced the church's new global children and youth program for youth between the ages of 7-18.

While a 13-year-old deacon will be reciting that he is a “beloved son of God,” his 16-year-old sister will be stating that she is a “beloved daughter of Heavenly Parents.”

That difference appears in the first line of the newly unveiled Young Men theme in contrast with the recently retooled Young Women theme. They are both part of the church’s new Children and Youth program, which kicks in Jan. 1.

Apostle Gerrit W. Gong led a worldwide “Face to Face” broadcast Sunday, providing further details of the global initiative. It will include:

• 8-year-olds receiving a picture of the temple and a ring.

• 12-year-old girls getting a medallion and gemstone necklace and boys receiving a ring that points them to the temple.

• Young men receiving a vial for consecrated oil the year they turn 18 to use with priesthood blessings and young women getting a pendant to add to their necklaces.

• Youths who complete their individual goals and fulfill gospel requirements earning a Christus statue and a certificate signed by the governing First Presidency.

A new Gospel Living app that will be available next year, according to a news release, for youths to keep a journal, track their progress and access uplifting music and videos.

“Properly used,” Gong said, “technology can help you live the gospel in a noisy, distracting and consuming world.”

The differing references to God in the two themes are drawing some attention inside the faith.

Religion News Service senior columnist Jana Riess called the new Young Men theme a missed opportunity for boys to give “honor to their Heavenly Mother as much as to their Heavenly Father. And that beyond praising her, they would see her as a sacred authority, as teenage girls are implicitly encouraged to do in their theme.”

So how do the themes stack up?

Well, as they teach in many a high school English class, feel free to compare and contrast them.

Here is the Young Women theme, which was modified to wide praise, especially from Latter-day Saint feminists, in last month’s General Conference:

"I am a beloved daughter of Heavenly Parents, with a divine nature and eternal destiny.

"As a disciple of Jesus Christ, I strive to become like him. I seek and act upon personal revelation and minister to others in his holy name.

"I will stand as a witness of God at all times and in all things and in all places.

“As I strive to qualify for exaltation, I cherish the gift of repentance and seek to improve each day. With faith, I will strengthen my home and family, make and keep sacred covenants, and receive the ordinances and blessings of the holy temple.”

Now, read the new Aaronic Priesthood quorum theme:

"I am a beloved son of God, and he has a work for me to do.

"With all my heart, might, mind, and strength, I will love God, keep my covenants, and use his priesthood to serve others, beginning in my own home.

"As I strive to serve, exercise faith, repent, and improve each day, I will qualify to receive temple blessings and the enduring joy of the gospel.

"I will prepare to become a diligent missionary, loyal husband, and loving father by being a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

“I will help prepare the world for the Savior’s return by inviting all to come unto Christ and receive the blessings of his atonement.”

Building bridges in the Big Apple

(Emily Leshner | The Associated Press)M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, speaks during an interview, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019, at The Associated Press headquarters in New York.

The church pulled out of Scouting but not before it was pushed, says M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

“The reality there is we didn’t really leave them; they kind of left us,” Ballard told The Associated Press in a recent interview at the news agency’s New York headquarters. “The direction they were going was not consistent to what we feel our youth need to have ... to survive in the world that lies ahead for them.”

The church will end its centurylong ties with the Boy Scouts of America at year’s end, replaced by the faith’s new worldwide Children and Youth program.

During his visit to the Big Apple, Ballard also met with United Nations officials, high-ranking diplomats, Jewish leaders, NAACP representatives and journalists from The New York Times.

“There’s always some risk when you are willing to put yourself in front of the press,” Ballard said in a news release, “but I think our experiences so far today have been very positive.”

The AP reported that the 91-year-old apostle also ventured back east to discuss preparations for next April’s bicentennial of church founder Joseph Smith’s “First Vision,” which took place in upstate New York.

Charity ever helpeth

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, speaks at the Utah Philanthropy Day luncheon in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019.

Apostle Dallin H. Oaks gave his two cents this week in support of those who give theirs — and often millions more.

As honorary chair of Utah’s 20th annual Philanthropy Day, the first counselor in the church’s First Presidency and a former Utah Supreme Court justice, made his case for value of private philanthropy.

“Millions of these ‘private associations’ — religious and charitable — are responsible for tens of millions of jobs and innumerable services that benefit our citizens at every level,” Oaks said in a news release. “ … The financial well-being of this essential private sector is dependent upon private contributions — philanthropy. And the impact of these private contributions on those they serve is magnified by the millions of volunteers motivated by … philanthropic ideals.”

Guv’s great-grandma

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency and Elder Gary E. Stevenson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles give Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan a personal family genealogy on Nov. 15, 2019.

Two apostles wowed Maryland’s governor recently when they gave him a copy of his personal family history.

“Amazing,” Gov. Larry Hogan told Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, and Gary E. Stevenson. “That is the only photograph I have ever seen of my great-grandmother. I can’t thank you enough.”

The Latter-day Saint authorities then traveled to Charlotte, N.C., where they spoke to lay leaders, members and missionaries.

“Their faith and their devotion was just palpable,” Eyring said in a news release of his meeting with 175 full-time missionaries. “I don’t know what they got out of it, but I got a boost to think, ‘Woah, these are servants of God.’”

Sisters speak

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Relief Society general President Jean B. Bingham speaks during the Sunday afternoon session of General Conference on April 1, 2018.

Yes, a new website, Spiritual Thoughts by Women, has sprung up, devoted to quotes from female church leaders, but it’s hardly the first or only such tool spreading the words of Latter-day Saint women.

The website General Conference Sisters offers, as the name states, conference quotes from and about women. It will be added to the Exponent II website later this year. LDS WAVE (Women Advocating for Voice and Equality) produced a “Words of Wisdom” booklet of passages for Latter-day Saint women.

There are other volumes that serve much the same purpose, including “The Witness of Women: Firsthand Experiences and Testimonies From the Restoration” and “At the Pulpit: 185 Years of Discourses by Latter-day Saint Women.”

Pulling back in Bolivia

Political unrest in Bolivia prompted the church to remove 63 missionaries from the Cochabamba Mission.

Most of the missionaries, all from North America, will be reassigned to other missions, and those nearing the end of their service will go home, according to a news release.

“All other missionaries throughout Bolivia are remaining where they are,” the release added, “and will continue with limited missionary work in those areas where it is safe to do so.”

The South American nation is home to more than 207,000 Latter-day Saints.

Temple update

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The renovated Baton Rouge Temple in Louisiana.

Apostle Quentin L. Cook rededicated the renovated Baton Rouge Temple on Sunday.

After the ceremony, he stood at the door and shook the hand of all those who attended.

“It's been an incredible blessing to be here and see the great diversity of people here,” Cook said in a news release. “There are other parts of the country that have this kind of diversity, but this is really special. You see people from different cultures and races, and they're all united by the gospel of Jesus Christ and that is a marvelous thing.”

The revamped building, Louisiana’s only Latter-day Saint temple, includes an enclosed portico and a taller steeple.

Quote of the week

“When I came to this church, I was a 13-year-old brash feminist. … I found this gospel to be incredibly feminist. I found it to be respectful of women. I think our institution will eventually catch up with the promise of that gospel. Eventually.”

Debra Jensen, professor of journalism and communication at Utah State University, in an interview with KUER.

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