This week in Mormon Land: Giving Machines earned $6M for charities, church presidents who got death threats, apostle visits volcano evacuees

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Residents in Gilbert, Ariz., gather to make their donations at a Giving Machine. Gilbert was one of 10 locations for the machines this past holiday season.

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.

Red cents — millions of them

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Giving Machines at University Place Mall in Orem on Nov. 25, 2019.

By doubling the number of Giving Machines, the church nearly tripled the amount given to charities this holiday season.

The 10 red machines, five more than in 2018, accounted for nearly $6.3 million in donations, up from the previous year’s $2.3 million, according to a news release.

The vending machines — which allow people to buy and donate goods such as meals, vaccines, shoes and glasses — were set up in locations stretching from Manhattan to Manila, London to Las Vegas and Salt Lake City to San Jose.

Swiping their credit cards thousands of times, donors provided nearly 256,000 items for global charities, including UNICEF, Church World Service, WaterAid, Water For People and International Medical Corps.

The effort marked the fourth year for the Light the World outreach initiative and the third year for the red machines.

FBI file shows threats against Monson, Hinckley

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) President Thomas S. Monson speaks at the 186th Semiannual General Conference in Salt Lake City in October 2016.

A newly released FBI file for Thomas S. Monson shows the late church president was threatened in 1990 by the same person who also threatened Monson's immediate predecessor, Gordon B. Hinckley.

The envelope carrying the threat to Monson and Hinckley was addressed to the “First Presidency You Devils.”

The letter inside read, in part, “you will never become president because I will KILL YOU FIRST.”

The FBI investigated the threat. No charges were filed. Much of the file was released to The Salt Lake Tribune in 2010 after Hinckley’s death in 2008.

There’s one other entry in the Monson file. In 1975, according to the records, Monson submitted to an FBI background check to join the board of Mountain States Telephone and Telegraph Co. (He passed.) Monson submitted an application containing his work and family history.

Come, follow Jesus

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle D. Todd Christofferson speaks to young adults at Utah Valley University in Orem on Jan. 12, 2019.

Don’t be afraid to follow Christ, a Latter-day Saint apostle urged the faith’s young adults Sunday, because Jesus will help ensure his disciples succeed.

“We need not live in fear of failure. We are not alone. We are not without help,” D. Todd Christofferson said. “Anyone who truly does commit to Christ, to full discipleship, cannot fail. … [Our God is] actively involved on our side, providing constant help, guidance and resources, and would probably give us more if we would accept it.”

Christofferson, in a devotional streamed from Orem’s Utah Valley University, said the rewards for living a Christian life outweigh any costs.

“Rather than fear the sacrifices of discipleship, we should welcome the opportunity to grow in spiritual power, to experience deeper joy, and to find, each of us, real meaning in our life,” said Christofferson, who turns 75 on Jan. 24. “…Mortality is so short. Make this time count so that your eternity will be one of joy, not regret. Do you not feel the Spirit telling you that this is right? Then go forward with confidence.”

This week’s podcast: Those mysterious gold plates

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Historian Richard Bushman.

Latter-day Saints are studying the Book of Mormon this year. This has focused renewed attention on the faith’s signature scripture and how it came to be — with stories of angels and gold plates and rocks called “seer stones.”

Discussing the text’s origins this week is Richard Bushman, author of the highly acclaimed Joseph Smith biography, “Rough Stone Rolling,” who is working on a book about the gold plates from which Smith said he translated the Book of Mormon.

Listen here.

Medicaid: Godsend or worldly handout?

Brigham Young University-Idaho’s brief flirtation with yanking Medicaid as an acceptable form of health insurance for its students continues to generate chatter.

Allison Kelley, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Virginia, addresses the question of whether Latter-day Saints as a whole should use Medicaid by revisiting the roots of the faith’s welfare programs and its views on past government assistance.

“Having LDS students on Medicaid is antithetical to the church’s commitment to individual ‘self-reliance,’” Kelley writes in guest column for The Washington Post. “Latter-day Saints consider the ability to provide for oneself and one’s family an ‘essential commandment in the plan of salvation.’ Yet church leaders have not historically opposed all forms of publicly funded social welfare, only those that are visible, stigmatized forms of government aid directed at the poor.”

Times and Seasons blogger Jonathan Green answers the query of whether members should use Medicaid head-on with a simple, unequivocal and enthusiastic “yes.”

“It’s a great program, especially its expansions through CHIP [Children’s Health Insurance Program] and the ACA [Affordable Care Act, or ‘Obamacare’],” he writes. “It assists in the births of around half the babies born in the U.S.”

Green also points to the church’s own policies and practices that confirm members can “use resources in the community, including government resources, to meet their basic needs, [including] hospitals, physicians and other sources of medical aid.”

No longer the ‘f’ word

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The church seems to have softened its stance on feminism since the days when then-apostle Boyd K. Packer identified it as one of the greatest dangers to the faith.

In an unsigned four-paragraph, 224-word piece published in this month’s New Era, the church endorsed feminism when it refers to “basic human rights and basic fairness for women” but expressed reservations when the term extends to “extreme ideas” out of harmony with the faith’s teachings.

“One of the very helpful things about this new statement is that the membership need no longer consider ‘feminism’ to be an ‘f’ word,” said Valerie Hudson, director of the program on women, peace and security at Texas A&M University. “Members of the church can now, without hesitation, self-identify as feminists without calling into question their faithfulness.”

See how other women reacted here.

Cook in Philippines

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles talks with a group of people at a meetinghouse being used as a temporary shelter for evacuees of the Taal volcano in the Philippines.

Apostle Quentin L. Cook met Wednesday with Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte about the growing threat from the Taal volcano and then visited evacuees who have taken refuge in Latter-day Saint meetinghouses.

“I have visited people in a lot of circumstances where they've lost their homes in fires and other kinds of tragedies, and I honestly can't remember a time when I've seen people who were quite as resilient and find a smile and [were] quite as happy,” Cook said in a news release after he visited with more than 180 people sheltered at the Batangas Stake Center located several miles from the volcano.

More than 450 people are being sheltered in five meetinghouses.

During his audience with the president, the visiting apostle also donated $20,000 on behalf of the church and announced a humanitarian project fund of $100,000, the release noted. The money will provide 5,200 food kits, 3,000 hygiene kits, 1,000 sleeping kits and face masks to protect people from the ash.

The volcano, about 35 miles south of the capital of Manila, began spewing ash Sunday, spurring fears of a massive eruption.

Cook gave Duterte a leather-bound copy of the Book of Mormon. “He really liked it. He liked the fact that his name was embossed on it. He said, ‘I won’t read it right now, but I’ll promise you that I’ll read it before I finish [my term in office].’”

Quick hits

• Apostle Gary E. Stevenson and his wife, Lesa Stevenson, will speak Feb. 29, the closing day of RootsTech 2020 at downtown Salt Lake City’s Salt Palace Convention Center. The four-day family history celebration also will feature an address by pro football Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith.

• Another apostle, Ulisses Soares, is scheduled to address LDS Business College students, faculty and staff Dec. 28 at the Assembly Hall on Salt Lake City’s Temple Square.

The 11:15 a.m. speech will be available on the LDSBC Devotionals webpage, according to a news release.

• Latter-day Saint women often find themselves locked in an inner tug of war as their religion preaches they are equal with men but follows practices, policies and procedures that treat them as anything but equals.

Alexa Jordan explores that push and pull in a recent Harvard Political Review essay.

“My [Latter-day Saint] culture and community … made me feel conflicted. They confused me. They filled me with uncertainty and, at times, even heart-wrenching despair,” she writes. “The very culture that I was raised in also confined me into a tight, glass box of expectations that was suffocating.”

In the end, Jordan argues, “a divine role as a mother should be revered but not preclude the realization of [a woman’s] full academic, physical and individual potential. Mormon women worldwide have the potential to put the ‘more’ in ‘Mormon’ — to make history, one shattered box at a time.”

• Civil rights attorney Carolyn Homer reveals her fears about having children — everything from the big impact a little one can have on her marriage, her career and her family’s finances to worries about the baby’s health, her own spiritual fortitude and falling short as a parent.

“I love playing with kids, but I don’t crave one of my own. Yes, I imagine I will someday convert my exercise room into a nursery and decorate it with dinosaurs,” Homer writes in a By Common Consent blog post. “…But I’m scared. Feeding on that fear is the awareness that my mid-30s have launched a biological doomsday clock. If I don’t get over my fears soon, it may be too late. … Yet I have to make a choice. A choice with consequences I can neither know nor predict, except that they will have eternal significance. I’m terrified.”

• After a neighborhood outcry, church officials have proposed a way to spare much of a beloved east Salt Lake City community garden that had been slated to become a parking lot for a nearby chapel.

“We are pleased that the church has recognized the value that community gardens bring to the community,” longtime gardener Jeff Barrett told The Tribune, “and we hope that our engagement going forward will build relationships and lead to an outcome that the church, the gardeners and the neighborhood can be proud of for decades to come.”

• McKenna Denson, who accused a former head of Provo’s Missionary Training Center of sexual misconduct, told a federal judge this week that she might drop her fraud lawsuit against the church.

Her case has been in legal limbo for months after her lawyers pulled out.

“I’m not sure I want to secure counsel” at this time, Denson told U.S. Magistrate Judge Dustin Pead on Tuesday. She now has two weeks to file a motion to dismiss the case, express interest in mediation or move forward to trial.

• A Utah judge fined a person $340 for shouting “stop protecting sexual predators” during a session of the church’s spring 2018 General Conference, FOX 13 reported.

“Your timing and your place is inappropriate,” the judge told the protester, “and also is in violation of the law.”

Temple update

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Rendering of the Bengaluru Temple in India.

The world’s largest Hindu nation will be getting its first Latter-day Saint temple.

The church unveiled a rendering this week of India’s Bengaluru Temple. The nearly 39,000-square-foot edifice will go up on 1.62 acres, according to a news release, along with a new two-level meetinghouse (replacing the current one on the site), church offices, a distribution center and housing for patrons.

Church President Russell M. Nelson announced the temple in April 2018. India, the world’s second most-populous country with more than 1.3 billion people, is home to nearly 14,000 Latter-day Saints in 45 congregations.

Quote of the week

“I appreciate the third line [in the church’s new statement on feminism]: ‘Men and women are equal — one is not superior to the other.’ … The church ought to be shouting that line from the rooftops of the temple.”

Margaret Olsen Hemming, Exponent II editor-in-chief

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