This week in Mormon Land: Conference shuffle, polygamy puzzle and temple talk

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.

Conference change

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) People listen during the Sunday session of the 189th Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.

Church President Russell M. Nelson vowed last month that next April’s General Conference “will be different from any previous conference.”

He’s already making good on that promise.

The governing First Presidency has announced that the Saturday evening session — which normally would be for male priesthood holders — will now include all female and male members ages 11 and up.

A news release does not state what will take place in the session, but the faith will be celebrating the bicentennial of church founder Joseph Smith’s “First Vision,” in which the then-14-year-old boy said he was visited by God the Father and Jesus Christ, giving birth to the Mormon movement.

“We look forward to commemorating with members of the church the 200th anniversary of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ at this historic conference and throughout the year 2020,” the First Presidency wrote in a Nov. 22 letter to Latter-day Saint leaders around the world.

The Associated Press recently reported that M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, was in the Big Apple this month to talk about preparations for the bicentennial of the First Vision, which took place in upstate New York.

Saturday evening General Conference sessions usually alternate between a priesthood gathering in the spring for male priesthood holders age 12 and older and a women’s meeting in the fall for all women and girls ages 8 and up.

The polygamy puzzle

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The church has strictly barred polygamy for more than a century, but it remains very much a part of Mormon doctrine, enshrined in scripture, and practiced, at least through sealings, in temples.

Divorced or widowed men can be sealed (married for eternity) to multiple wives, while such women generally can be sealed only to one husband.

Church President Russell M. Nelson and his first counselor, Dallin H. Oaks, both married a second woman in the temple after their first wives died, so will those wives be sharing their husbands in heaven? And what about the Western world’s most famous polygamist, Brigham Young, who was sealed to more than 50 women?

The Salt Lake Tribune explored the issue of polygamy in the modern church and the angst, agony and questions it still brings to faithful Latter-day Saints.

Read it here.

Church backs ban on ‘conversion therapy’

Utah is poised to become the 19th state in the nation to prohibit “conversion therapy” for minors, thanks to an agreement reached by LGBTQ advocates and LDS Church officials.

“The stories of youth who have endured these so-called therapies are heart-rending,” Gov. Gary Herbert said, “and I’m grateful that we have found a way forward that will ban conversion therapy forever in our state.”

The church had signed off on a bill that would have barred Utah therapists from trying to alter the sexual orientation of minors when the measure went before the Legislature earlier this year. But, after that effort unraveled, the Salt Lake City-based faith came out against a licensing rule that would have banned the widely discredited practice.

Now, the parties have united behind licensing language patterned after the earlier legislative measure.

Marty Stephens, the church’s director of government relations, said in a statement that “we are grateful for the clarifications the new rule provides, and we support its adoption,” which could take effect in January.

“This is a beautiful way for us to start the Thanksgiving week,” Troy Williams, executive director of the LGBTQ rights group Equality Utah, told The Tribune.

Keeping Medicaid at BYU-Idaho

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) BYU-Idaho in Rexburg, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018.

Brigham Young University-Idaho has backed away from — and apologized for — a short-lived but much-reviled plan to disallow Medicaid as an acceptable form of health insurance for its students.

“The well-being of our students and their families is very important to us,” school administrators wrote. “We are grateful for the feedback we have received from our campus community and for the input of the local medical community. We apologize for the turmoil caused by our earlier decision.”

That turmoil was swift and sweeping.

“I am devastated,” Casey Wilson, a young mother preparing to register for classes at BYU-Idaho, told The Tribune. “I love school. I want to graduate. But we’re a struggling family, and we don’t have the money for [private insurance].”

The school has largely refused to say why it made the policy change — or the reversal — but students have embraced the about-face.

“We are so relieved,” senior Kaleigh Quick said.

This week’s podcast: Zandra Vranes on Latter-day lingo

(Photo courtesy of Mama Rine Clark) Zandra Vranes.

Latter-day Saints pride themselves on being a “peculiar people,” and they have their own peculiar parlance to reinforce that image.

Stake centers, active, inactive, investigator, Primary, callings, sealings, fast Sunday, Word of Wisdom, ward, baptism for the dead, garments, manifesto, the block. All these terms have specific meanings for members but can be head-scratchers for outsiders.

Zandra Vranes, co-author of “Can I Get an Amen?,” was raised in the church but is comfortable in black denominations, where women wear big hats and shout out their “amens.”

She joined this week’s podcast to talk about Latter-day lingo.

Listen here.

New missions

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saint missionaries.

The number of missions will jump back above 400 next summer.

The church recently announced that eight new missions will come on line in July 2020, giving it 407 missions worldwide.

The new missions are:

  • Brazil Recife South.

  • Cameroon Yaounde.

  • Ecuador Guayaquil East.

  • Ethiopia Addis Ababa.

  • Mozambique Beira.

  • Tanzania Dar es Salaam.

  • Texas Austin.

  • Texas Dallas East.

At one point, the church had some 420 missions before consolidations reduced that tally. The faith currently has more than 68,000 full-time missionaries serving around the globe.

“Three [of the new missions] are located in countries where the church currently does not have a mission headquartered within the country (Cameroon, Ethiopia and Tanzania),” independent research Matt Martinich wrote on ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com. “[This] announcement signals a major development with greater allocation of mission resources to receptive and underserviced areas of the world, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Nelson ends Southeast Asian journey

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell M. Nelson greets a member in Jakarta.

Church President Russell M. Nelson wrapped up his Southeast Asian tour with a visit to the most populous Muslim nation on the planet: Indonesia, a country where members are outnumbered 35,000 to 1.

There, he broached the topic likely on the minds of the country’s nearly 7,500 Latter-day Saints: When might they get their own temple?

“You will determine when that happens,” Nelson told the members gathered at a hotel in the capital of Jakarta.

While praising their faithfulness, the 95-year-old church leader pointed out that there would need to be enough members to staff and operate a temple, a news release noted, as he encouraged congregants to work on their family histories.

“It takes a long time to build a temple,” added Nelson, whose visit marked the 50th anniversary of the church in Indonesia. Then-apostle Ezra Taft Benson dedicated the country for missionary work in 1969.

This was the final stop for Nelson and his wife, Wendy, along with apostle D. Todd Christofferson and his wife, Kathy, on a journey that included visits to Vietnam, Cambodia and Singapore.

Garden is in a spot

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Quinn Porucznik, 10, left, and his sister Zoey, 13, feed the chickens that live in the community garden a few feet away from their home at the end of Elizabeth Street in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2019. The Poruczniks grow on one of the 42 plots at the garden, which has operated on church land for 43 years.

Inspired by then-church President Spencer W. Kimball’s 1976 appeal for members to grow their own fruits and vegetables, a congregation in east Salt Lake City set up its own garden.

Over the next 40-plus years, that patch blossomed into a beloved and bountiful community garden.

Now, the church wants to pave over the tomatoes, apricots, peaches, honey hives and chicken coops to make way for additional parking for the 33rd Ward and two other congregations that will be worshipping in the nearby meetinghouse.

Neighbors are pleading with the church to alter its plan and save the garden.

“We have a lot of people, we have a lot of ideas and a lot of ways that maybe we can create a win-win situation that works both [for the garden] and the consolidation [of wards],” community leader Esther Hunter said at a recent neighborhood meeting. “People are very anxious about the garden itself and hoping that we can find some way to solve it.”

As part of this congregational shuffling, the University of Utah plans to buy the historic University Ward chapel.

The 1924 building — crafted by the same duo who designed the temple in Cardston, Alberta — is a “jewel,” preservation architect Allen Roberts said, and “a significant piece of early modern Mormon architecture.”

Quote of the week

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Wendy Nelson speaks to Indonesian members in Jakarta.

“Jesus Christ makes it very clear that he does not like anger. By anticipating an interaction in advance, we can learn how to respond with love rather than anger, even when provoked. We can pray right in the moment to be given an extra measure of patience or compassion for a person who is lashing out in anger. … The scriptures are filled with inspiring examples [of those] who were serious about living the Savior’s doctrine of zero contention.”

Wendy Nelson, speaking to Indonesian members

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