This week in Mormon Land: A new way to tithe, Salt Lake Temple closes, and a plea from President Russell Nelson

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

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.

Money talks

(Francisco Kjolseth | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) The sun rises on the Salt Lake Temple on Oct. 5, 2019.

The blogosphere is still buzzing about the church’s $100 billion investment stockpile. Here are some of the latest offerings:

• Sam Brunson, who teaches tax law at Loyola University in Chicago, offers this revolutionary idea for spreading the wealth — and the love — in a By Common Consent blog post: Have the church tap the annual returns on its $100 billion reserve fund to cover its yearly operating expenses, while faithful members pay their 10% — yes, tithing — to charitable organizations. “I see very little downside to members of the church getting a reputation for being big charitable givers,” Brunson writes. “And giving to charity has the added benefit of helping both our neighbors and our God at the same time.”

Forbes tax expert Peter J. Reilly examines Mormonism’s place in various tax cases and notes how member tithes all funnel to the church’s Salt Lake City headquarters. “I don’t think any other church operates in such a top-down manner,” he writes. “… The main source of outrage is that [church leaders] seem to have saved up too much money. I think this qualifies as a unique problem for a church.”

This week’s podcast: A Baptist preacher in Mormon land

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Pastor France Davis on Monday, Dec. 16, 2019.

Nearly 50 years ago, France Davis arrived in Utah, where he became the pastor of the state’s most prominent black congregation.

For 46 years, he led Calvary Baptist Church. But Davis is more than a preacher. He’s an educator, who has taught communication and ethnic studies at the University of Utah; a civic activist, who has served on numerous boards and commissions; and a civil rights icon, who marched for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery.

During his decades in the Beehive State, his words have carried a resounding moral clout and clarity that belie his small stature and soft-spoken nature.

As Davis retired at year’s end from the pulpit, he joined the podcast to talk about his time leading a Baptist church in the heart of Mormondom.

Listen here.

In other news

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

• In this bicentennial year of Mormon founder Joseph Smith’s “First Vision,” church President Russell M. Nelson is urging members anew to spread the faith’s gospel.

“God loves all of his children and has a vision for each of us. Just as he listened to Joseph’s prayer in 1820, he listens to you and yearns to speak with you through the Spirit,” Nelson wrote on social media on New Year’s Day. “We invite you to be a major part of sharing the message of the ongoing restoration of the Savior’s gospel. We will share more about this soon, but you can start today by acting on the invitations I extended to you at last General Conference to immerse yourself in the glorious light of the restoration.”

• Natasha Frost of the business news website Quartz explores the intersection of faith, finances and feminism by noting, among other things, the wage gap between men and women who earn degrees at church-owned Brigham Young University.

“Male graduates of BYU earn 90 times more than their female peers, with a median income of $71,900 by the age of 34,” she writes. “Female graduates, on the other hand, earn on average $800 per year. Even the wage gap at other religious universities is not quite so extreme.” A reason, Frost explains, is that many female BYU alumni forgo careers to focus on starting families.

• In a two-part seasonal essay, Times and Seasons blogger Kent Larsen examines Charles Dickens’ holiday classic “A Christmas Carol” and the pieces of Scrooge that exist in all of us.

“Scrooge doesn’t actually commit any act that would violate anyone. He doesn’t attack or hurt anyone,” Larsen writes. “He is rude, but not unusually so, for someone who just wants to be left alone. Yes, he doesn’t give when asked — but who of us has never turned anyone down when they asked for money? Can you really say that, in terms of actions, you haven’t done essentially the same things that Scrooge has done?”

Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess revisits seven top Mormon stories from 2019, including new female-friendly temple ceremonies, the LGBTQ policy reversal and the faith’s firm stance against vaping.

“We can only imagine,” Riess writes, “that 2020 — the 200th anniversary of when founding prophet Joseph Smith is supposed to have experienced his “First Vision” — will also be interesting enough to require steady doses of both vitamins and antacids.”

• A senior missionary from Utah died the day after he and his wife were in a Christmas Day car wreck in Iowa. Craig L. Meyocks, 66, was serving in the Nauvoo Mission in Illinois. His wife, Brenda Meyocks, was injured but is expected to recover.

(Photo courtesy of the Meyocks family and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Craig L. Meyocks and his wife, Brenda, senior missionaries working at the historic Nauvoo, Ill., site. Craig Meyocks died after an auto accident in Iowa; Brenda Meyocks was injured in the crash.

Temple updates

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake Temple, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019.

• Two of Utah’s four pioneer-era temples have now closed. The Salt Lake Temple shut down Sunday and will remain shuttered for four years as crews undertake a seismic retrofit and upgrade internal mechanical systems. The surrounding square, one of Utah’s most visited tourist attractions, will remain open but is also being reshaped. About 300 miles to the south, the St. George Temple, Utah’s first, closed in early November to undergo a three-year makeover. Temples in Logan and Manti also are scheduled for renovations. Dates and details of those projects have yet to be announced.

Quote of the week

(Rick Bowmer | The Associated Press) Boy Scouts salute during their meeting, in Kaysville on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019,

“As this centurylong stage of my church’s life comes to an end [with its official departure from Scouting], I express gratitude to my Dad, and to thousands of other Mormon leaders like him, who put on the cookouts (where everything was fried in bacon grease) and the campouts (where the tent caught fire in the middle of the snowstorm) and the Courts of Honor (where the little brother knocked over the painstakingly constructed Pinewood Derby racetrack). They did so with a humor befitting the inherent goofiness of it all, yet also respecting — sometimes because they believed it (as Dad did), and sometimes just because it was woven into the program itself — a vision that connected and challenged and situated innumerable Mormon-American boys in ways that sometimes actually taught them and inspired them and planted seeds inside their heads that made them, just maybe, a little bit different, a little bit geekier but also a little bit smarter and a little bit more capable than they would have been otherwise.”

Russell Arben Fox in a By Common Consent and an In Medias Res blog post.

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