This week in Mormon Land: When top LDS leaders backed the ERA; scholar who avoided excommunication joins splinter sect

(Salt Lake Tribune file photo) ERA supporters appear at the Utah Capitol in 2017.

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.

The ERA then and now

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Supporters of the Equal Rights Amendment rally at the Utah Capitol on Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019, to encourage Utah to ratify the ERA.

It turns out that there was a time when top female church leaders supported the Equal Rights Amendment.

On her history blog, www.keepapitchinin.org, independent researcher Ardis Parshall posted a copy of a Western Union telegram dated March 13, 1943, in which Amy Brown Lyman, Relief Society general president, and Lucy Grant Cannon, Young Women general president, lobbied then-U.S. Sen. Abe Murdock, D-Utah, to pass the amendment.

“We join with the women of the United States in their appeal for equal rights with men,” the two women wrote, “and urge your favorable consideration and vote for the equal rights amendment.”

The measure’s main clause, modeled after the Constitution’s 14th Amendment, was worded then the same as it is today: “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.”

Last week, the church came out against the ERA, reaffirming a position it took in the early 1970s, stating that its “position on this issue has been consistent for more than 40 years.”

Maybe so, but its position — as Parshall’s post suggests — certainly shifted from what it was 76 years ago.

Still Mormon after all these tears

(Courtesy photo) Gina Colvin

A year ago, Gina Colvin avoided excommunication on charges of apostasy. But just because she wasn’t kicked out of the church doesn’t mean she’s still in it.

The New Zealand religion scholar has — of her own volition and after many tears — joined the Community of Christ, an Independence, Mo.-based splinter sect, and requested her name be removed from the rolls of the Salt Lake City-based faith.

“Community of Christ has the same Kirtland beginnings as Brigham’s people, but it has, over its more recent history confronted many of the issues that the Utah church has yet to engage,” Colvin writes in a Patheos.com post. “And the result has been that they have emerged as a repenting church, a peace church, an honest church with an elegance in its ecclesiology and its theology that is breathtaking.”

The scholar, who also affiliated with the Anglican Communion, says her dissatisfaction with the LDS Church centered around a number of issues, including its male-only priesthood, “worthiness” interviews, tithing, LGBTQ stances and historical assertions about the Book of Mormon, its signature scripture.

So while Colvin wasn’t pushed out of the LDS Church, the pull of the Community of Christ proved to be more enticing. Besides, she adds, her new spiritual home allows her to keep her “Mormon roots right back to Emma Smith who, like me, refused to go with Brigham.”

New branches for the family tree

(Courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) FamilySearch is the genealogical arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Users can now add same-sex parents and same-sex couples to the church’s FamilySearch database, a development anticipated more than year ago.

This move to “accurately document the human family” does not signal any change in the church’s doctrinal disapproval of same-sex marriage.

“Same-sex couples are not sealed to each other, even if they have been legally married,” a news release stated. “A deceased individual who has lived in a same-sex couple relationship or who has been a party to a same-sex marriage may receive all other available religious rites in a temple for which he or she is eligible.”

Christmas devotional

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, speaks at the 2019 First Presidency Christmas Devotional.

Seasonal songs and sermons filled the Conference Center on Sunday for the annual First Presidency Christmas Devotional.

• Patrick Kearon of the Presidency of the Seventy urged members to simplify their yuletide schedules to better feel the Savior’s spirit and more ably serve others.

“Let us do more of what matters and much less of what doesn’t,” said Kearon, who joined the church as an adult on Christmas Eve in 1987. “Let us seek to do the works of Jesus of Nazareth — lift up the sorrowing, heal the brokenhearted, visit the prisoners, feed the hungry, clothe the naked and give a voice to the voiceless, the marginalized, the forgotten and the despised.”

Joy D. Jones, Primary general president, reminded Latter-day Saints that Christ is the perfect gift.

She told of a 9-year-old girl who, while Christmas shopping, noticed a jewelry display banner that proclaimed in large red letters: “The gift that never stops giving.”

The youngster came up with a gem of an answer. “Mom, I know what the gift is that never stops giving,” she said. “It’s Jesus!”

Her mother hastily responded, “No, sweetheart, it’s diamonds.”

Said Jones: “Try as we may, no material gift that we give will last forever. ... In this darkened world, we look beyond jewels to the light of the world. … Jesus Christ is the perfect gift — the gift that never stops giving.”

• Apostle Ulisses Soares recalled a harsh winter he spent after his arrival in Utah. The native Brazilian, more used to sandy beaches than snowy sidewalks, had slipped on the ice, breaking his wrist.

Two neighbors — like the angels who visited the isolated shepherds of the Nativity — came to his aid, clearing away snow and driving the cast-clad apostle to the office.

“As we approach Christmas, I wonder if we could become more like the angelic host by visiting modern shepherds to provide the good news of Christ, peace and comfort,” Soares said. “And I wonder if we can become more like the shepherds by responding to the call to visit and minister to the modern Josephs and Marys in our neighborhoods and communities to provide reassurance that God loves them and is watching and caring for them.”

Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency and a former Utah Supreme Court justice, encouraged members to live God’s laws to feel peace from the Prince of Peace.

“The Savior and his apostles had no program for world peace other than individual righteousness,” Oaks said. “They mounted no opposition to the rule of Rome or to the regime of its local tyrants. They preached individual righteousness and taught that the children of God should love their enemies and ‘live peaceably with all men.’

“War and conflict are the result of wickedness; peace is the product of righteousness,” he added. “ ... We cannot have peace among nations without achieving general righteousness among the people who comprise them.”

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square performs beloved Christmas numbers at the 2019 First Presidency Christmas Devotional.

Church President Russell M. Nelson attended the devotional but did not speak. The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square sang several Christmas classics.

Christmas message

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell M. Nelson, with his counselors Dallin H. Oaks, left, and Henry B. Eyring, right, greets attendees of the 2019 First Presidency Christmas Devotional in the Conference Center.

The First Presidency released its annual Christmas message, inviting people to “feel kinship to those who suffer and see one another as sons and daughters of God,” while gratefully acknowledging the Almighty’s “incomparable gift to us — his son, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Making amends with the ‘Black 14’

In October 1969, 14 African American players for the University of Wyoming planned to sport black armbands in the game against Brigham Young University to protest the LDS Church’s then-priesthood ban.

But their coach gave them the boot hours before kickoff.

A half-century later, the so-called Black 14 have received a long-awaited apology.

“To have your collegiate careers derailed as both students and athletes is a tragedy,” CNN reported. “Please accept this sincere apology from the University of Wyoming for the unfair way you were treated and for the hardships that treatment created for you.”

Today, the church’s former priesthood/temple ban is history, BYU and Wyoming aren’t in the same league anymore, and the Black 14 are Cowboys once again.

Helping kids, parents learn

(Photo courtesy of UNICEF) Joy D. Jones speaks at a UNICEF panel discussion in Geneva, Switzerland, on Dec. 5, 2019.

An estimated 63 million kids cannot attend school because of civil strife in their nations and so, as the classic Latter-day Saint children’s hymn goes, their “needs are great.”

Latter-day Saint Charities is nibbling away at those needs.

Last year, the church’s humanitarian arm expanded its partnership with UNICEF to bring early-childhood development activities to more than 36,000 youngsters affected by refugee crises in South Sudan, Congo, Kenya and Uganda, Primary general President Joy D. Jones reported last week at a U.N. conference in Geneva. The outreach also has helped 10,000 parents bring child development and caregiving best practices into their homes.

“As a faith-based organization, we believe all people are children of God, and we offer assistance without regard to race, religious affiliation or nationality,” Jones said during a livestreamed panel discussion. “We welcome collaboration with partners around the world to sustain progress and development for all children, especially those who are displaced.”

This week’s podcast: Loss of community?

From its earliest days, the church has emphasized community. But the global faith of 16.3 million members may be shifting somewhat from that collective approach.

Sunday services have been trimmed from three hours to two with a new emphasis on home-centered, church-supported gospel study. Scouting is on the way out, replaced by a more individualized program for young children and teens.

By most accounts, members are excited about and eager for the new direction, but could something be lost in the process? Matthew Bowman, head of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University, discusses that question and more.

Listen here.

Fairness for All Act

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaks in favor of the Fairness for All Act on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, near the U.S. Capitol in Washington.

The church voiced its support last week for the proposed Fairness for All Act, seen as a compromise that would protect LGBTQ individuals from discrimination while preserving religious freedom.

“The nation is more united when diverse individuals and groups can work cooperatively to advance sound policy,” the Utah-based faith said in a news release. “Alongside other religious organizations and denominations [including the Seventh-day Adventist Church] and important leaders of the LGBT community, the church endorses this balanced approach that fosters greater fairness for all.”

Rep. Chris Stewart is a chief sponsor of the measure.

“We have the principle of nondiscrimination that every American should be treated fairly and with respect and with dignity,” the Utah Republican said at a news conference in Washington, “and at the same time, a sincerely held belief that religious faith and principles also matter.”

Stewart’s legislation, pitched as the largest expansion of civil rights since the 1964 Civil Rights Act, would protect LGBTQ individuals against discrimination in housing and at work, while carving out exemptions — supporters called them protections — for religious reasons.

“No American should lose their home or job simply for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender,” say the bill’s backers. “All religious persons should be free to live, work or serve their community in ways that are consistent with their faith.”

The federal proposal is modeled after the so-called Utah Compromise, while provides LGBTQ individuals protections from housing and job discrimination while safeguarding religious liberties.

“Neither side has to lose,” Stewart said, “in order for the other side to win.”

But many LGBTQ groups say the bill requires too many losses for their constituents.

“For LGBTQ people living at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, this bill is a double whammy of dangerous rollbacks and discriminatory carve-outs,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “This bill is both wrong and harmful, and we strongly oppose it.”

These advocates instead back the Equality Act, which would bar discrimination on the bases of sexual identity. The LDS Church came out against the Equality Act earlier this year, arguing it “provides no protections for religious freedom.”

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah and a supporter of the Utah Compromise, sees positives in the Fairness for All Act, even with its shortcomings.

“Representative Stewart and many conservative faith organizations now recognize that LGBTQ Americans must be included in and protected by our nation’s civil rights laws,” Williams told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Although Equality Utah was not involved in drafting the Fairness for All Act, and we have significant concerns about some of the bill’s provisions, we look forward to beginning a dialogue with the bill’s sponsor.”

Let the debate begin.

Temple updates

The church unveiled sites for three temples, two in Utah and one in Texas.

• The three-story, 70,000-square-foot Orem Temple will be near 1471 S. Geneva Road, according to a news release.

• The three-story, 70,000-square-foot Taylorsville Temple will be at 2603 W. 4700 South.

• The single-story, 25,000-square-foot McAllen Temple will be on the northwest corner of Second Street and West Trenton Road.

All three temples were announced by church President Russell M. Nelson in October.

The McAllen Temple will be the fifth Texas temple. Utah will be home to 23 temples, counting those already operating and planned.

Quote of the week

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Patrick Kearon of the Presidency of the Seventy speaks at the 2019 Christmas devotional.

“Seek for quiet, solitary moments when you can ponder, pray and feel the loving kindness of the one whose birth makes any joy in any life possible. ... Take time to be still, to breathe, to wonder. Look up. Focus in on his great gift — the knowledge of who you truly are, and the understanding that trials here are fleeting and that joy here is just the beginning of joy to come.”

Patrick Kearon, Presidency of the Seventy

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