This week in Mormon Land: A handier handbook, a mock missionary repellent and a super coach

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

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 one and only true handbook

Members soon will be on the same page as their leaders when it comes to church policies and governance.

On Feb. 19, the faith is switching to a one-size-fits-all handbook.

Gone will be Handbook 1 (for stake presidents and bishops) and Handbook 2 (for all other lay leaders), replaced by “General Handbook: Serving in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” It will be online only, with regular updates, and available not only to every member but also to the general public.

“This new handbook is a part of the ongoing restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” apostle D. Todd Christofferson said in a news release. “ … This restoration has been and will continue to be a process of learning how to minister as Jesus would to a richly diverse world. We pray this new handbook will help church leaders use their God-given gifts to continue to bless lives in their ministry. We know there is room in this church for everyone.”

The new volume — smaller in size but wider in distribution — will boast 38 chapters. Nine of them are done with the remaining 29 due out this year and next.

Although the handbook entries have yet to be released, the new approach got an early thumbs-up from Religion News Service senior columnist Jana Riess for increased equality (women never had approved access to Handbook 1) and transparency.

“Giving members access to all the information can end some ignorance about the church’s various policies, only some of which have been made clear to members in the past,” she wrote. “ … Having one open-access handbook helps to empower the general membership.”

Missionary repellent

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

The satirical Babylon Bee, an Onion-like news website for Christians, “reported” recently about a new video doorbell designed to fend off Latter-day Saint missionaries and Jehovah’s Witnesses.

When the proselytizers come knocking, this tracting tracker — which The Bee dubbed Debate Ring Pro — recites verses supporting Jesus’ divinity and orthodox theology.

“Now instead of having an uncomfortable religious discussion with strangers, you can let your doorbell do it,” says the “inventor.” And if the porch preaching turns into a Bible bash, the smart bell plays peacemaker and says, “Listen, I don’t think we’re going to solve this issue today. Let’s just agree to seek the Scriptures faithfully and commit to praying for each other.”

Pulling back in Hong Kong

(Vincent Yu | The Associated Press) Medical staff strike over coronavirus concerns outside government headquarters in Hong Kong, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020.

The church is transferring 113 missionaries out of its Hong Kong Mission because working conditions have become difficult with the coronavirus outbreak.

After undergoing health screenings and quarantines, missionaries in Hong Kong and Macau will be reassigned to other missions, according to a news release. If they are near the end of their service time, they will be released.

The church recently sent two planeloads of medical supplies to Shanghai. The relief included 220,000 respirator masks, 870 protective goggles and more than 6,500 protective coveralls.

“While the church does not conduct missionary work in mainland China,” a separate news release stated, “there are more than 67,000 missionaries serving around the world and their health and safety is our top priority.”

A good Reid

(Chris O'Meara | The Associated Press) Kansas City Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt, right, hands the trophy to head coach Andy Reid after the Chiefs defeated the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl 54 on Sunday, Feb. 2, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla.

He already ranked as the winningest Latter-day Saint football coach in NFL history. Now, Andy Reid stands alone as the only Mormon ever to win a Super Bowl as head coach.

Reid’s Kansas City Chiefs mounted a fast and furious 21-point, fourth-quarter comeback to defeat the San Francisco 49ers, 31-20 in Super Bowl 54.

The well-respected and well-liked Reid — who played on the offensive line for legendary LaVell Edwards at Brigham Young University and then stayed on to help coach the Cougars for a short time before graduating to gigs with other colleges and eventually the pros — built a reputation as a generous, hardworking tactician who knows his X’s and O’s better than most people know their ABCs.

“This is what it’s all about,“ he said after the victory. “What a great team, great coaches. Appreciate every bit of it.”

This week’s podcast: Suffrage trailblazers

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The "Sisters for Suffrage: How Utah Women Won the Vote" exhibit at the Church History Museum, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019.

Next week, Utahns will celebrate the Beehive State as the first place an American woman voted under equal suffrage laws.

Feb. 14 is the 150th anniversary of that first female vote, cast by Seraph Young (Brigham Young’s grandniece).

Discussing the suffrage movement, what led up to the vote, and the role of Latter-day Saint women in the effort is Katherine Kitterman, co-author of a book with Rebekah Ryan Clark that has just been published by Deseret Book called “Thinking Women: A Timeline of Suffrage in Utah.

Listen to the podcast here.

High-minded high-tech

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Marcy Loveless and her son, both from Price, Utah, volunteer at the Silicon Slopes Serves event in Salt Lake City on Jan. 30, 2020. Loveless is also the co-founder of a nonprofit that helps distribute food to school-age children.

Thousands of attendees of Utah’s recent Silicon Slopes Tech Summit set aside their talk of branding, interfaces and data mining for a time so they could don hairnets and gloves and assemble meals for the state’s hungry residents.

Several nonprofits — including Hunger Fight, JustServe, Latter-day Saint Charities and Silicon Slopes — organized the service project.

The goal, according to a news release, was to package a million meals for distribution by the Utah Food Bank.

“Lots of people believe that hunger is just a problem outside of the U.S.,” Marcy Loveless, a volunteer from Price, said in the release. “What a lot of people don’t realize is ... there’s a lot of hunger right here in our own backyard.”

General accounting

The church used to publicly disclose its finances at General Conference. Then, about half a century ago, it stopped. And devout Latter-day Saints apparently have little yearning to see the practice revived.

A new poll for The Salt Lake Tribune shows that 54% of Utahns support the idea of having tax-exempt religious organizations publicly report their finances, but barely a third of self-identified “very active” Latter-day Saints favor such a requirement.

The results come in the aftermath of a whistleblower’s allegation that the church has amassed $100 billion in a reserve account from donations intended, but never spent, for charity.

Nearly two-thirds of Utah Protestants (71%), 61% of Catholics and 66% of “not active” Latter-day Saints favor such mandatory reporting.

“Somewhat active” Latter-day Saints are more divided, with 45% supporting the notion and 42% opposing it, according to the new survey. But “very active” members, who are more likely to have paid the 10% tithing the church encourages, are solidly against such a rule, with 57% against it (the bulk of them “strongly” so) and 35% for it.

Quick hits

• The church is scaling back its missionary force in Liberia as the West African nation grapples with supply shortages.

Some 23 missionaries who were nearing their departure date will return home, church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said in a news release, while eight other proselytizers due to arrive will serve temporarily in other missions.

The remaining 99 proselytizers in the Monrovia Mission have “adequate supplies,” he said, adding that the Utah-based faith will “closely monitor” conditions and make any necessary adjustments.

The church has more than 13,000 members in Liberia and nearly 50 congregations.

• Hundreds of Latter-day Saints gathered along the banks of the Mississippi River on Feb. 1 to mark the 174th anniversary of the Mormon pioneer exodus from Nauvoo, Ill.

“We're from Cedar Falls, Iowa; it’s about three hours [away],” church member Jeff Gabel told Quincy-based WGEM. “It's an important event, to sort of commemorate the expulsion or leaving of the pioneers because of the persecution they were facing.”

• U.S. Latter-day Saints may remain decidedly Republican in their political leanings, but they aren’t as enamored with the party’s standard-bearer.

A study from the Democracy Fund + UCLA Nationscape shows 55% of members approve of President Donald Trump’s job performance, with men (62%) being more on board than women (51%).

“Trump is underperforming among Republican Mormon women, who should be a reliable base for him,” writes Religion News Service senior columnist Jana Riess.

• BYU is encountering some flak for not allowing “nursing babies” at its April 30-May 1 Women’s Conference.

“It’s just really bizarre that at a conference about family and womanhood that they wouldn’t allow nursing children to be there,” Nataly Wixom-Burdick, who is a member with an 11-month-old baby, told The Tribune. “You’d think that a women’s conference would be aware of the struggles that mothers, especially nursing mothers, go through.”

School spokeswoman Carri Jenkins said that decision came “after considering the logistical and safety constraints in place and considering the needs of all conference participants.”

• President Bonnie H. Cordon, who leads the church’s Young Women organization, urged students who “long to feel loved” to seek heaven’s help.

“The word ‘google’ is now in the dictionary as a noun, verb and even an adjective,” she told a BYU devotional audience this week, “but I invite you to take your questions to the divine source that starts with a capital ‘G.’ Prayer may not offer you over 34 million results on a single topic, but through prayer you may be blessed with a clear mind and quickened understanding.”

• Police shot and killed a knife-wielding intruder at the Missionary Training Center in São Paulo this week.

No missionaries or staffers were injured, Nei Garcia, director of public affairs for the church in Brazil, said in a news release.

Temple updates

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Removal of the west end of the St. George Temple, added in the 1970s to accommodate an elevator, begins Jan. 20, 2020 in St. George. A new addition with an updated elevator and utilities system will go in its place. The anticipated completion of renovation on the temple is 2022.

• Demolition crews have torn down the 20th-century additions on the north and west sides of the 142-year-old St. George Temple as renovation of the historic edifice amps up.

“The point of all of this is to preserve the building while making it safer and more functional,” Emily Utt, the church’s historic sites curator, said in a news release.

Work on Utah’s first Latter-day Saint temple, originally dedicated in 1877, is expected to wrap up in 2022.

The iconic Salt Lake Temple also is shuttered — for four years — as it undergoes a seismic retrofit and other upgrades, along with a makeover of Temple Square, one of Utah’s most visited attractions.

Quote of the week

(Senate Television via AP) In this image from video, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, speaks on the Senate floor about the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020. Romney voted to convict Trump on one article of impeachment.

“I am a profoundly religious person. I take an oath before God as enormously consequential. I knew from the outset that being tasked with judging the president, the leader of my own party, would be the most difficult decision I have ever faced. I was not wrong. … My promise before God to apply impartial justice required that I put my personal feelings and biases aside. Were I to ignore the evidence that has been presented, and disregard what I believe my oath and the Constitution demand of me for the sake of a partisan end, it would, I fear, expose my character to history’s rebuke and the censure of my own conscience.”

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah and a Latter-day Saint, on his vote to remove President Donald Trump from office

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