This week in Mormon Land: Women’s group sticks up for Romney, tithing jitters revealed, an apostle meets a president

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon) Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, departs after the impeachment acquittal of President Donald Trump, on Capitol Hill, Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2020, in Washington.

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.

More Romney fallout

(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.

Sen. Mitt Romney’s decision to buck his party and vote to convict President Donald Trump may be as divisive in the pews of chapels as it is in the halls of Congress and at dinner tables across America.

But the nonpartisan Mormon Women for Ethical Government is standing up for the Republican Utah senator, publishing an open letter thanking him for his “tremendously courageous” stance and urging others to sign it.

“You cast a vote in defense of truth and with the power of personal conscience,” the letter states. “We join you in expressing our commitment to these principles.”

In a separate release, the grassroots nonprofit group lauded Romney, saying his “fearless choice should inspire us to persevere with similar courage and conviction.”

Elsewhere, Joseph Stuart, a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Utah, explored the relationship between Latter-day Saints and the GOP in the wake of Romney’s historic vote.

“The Republican Party may not take Mormon beliefs very seriously, but it does count on Mormon votes,” Stuart wrote for the Religion & Politics news site. “The relationship will likely remain one-sided unless more Latter-day Saints defect to the Democratic Party, which has not pursued their support in earnest. Mormon voters could be valuable constituents for either political party — if only party leaders value their theological convictions as much as they do their votes.”

Tithing worries

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Fear that members would stop paying their 10% tithing may not have been 100% the reason behind the church keeping its $100 billion reserve account so hush-hush, but it was a factor.

So said the top executive who oversees the fund in an interview with The Wall Street Journal.

“Paying tithing is more of a sense of commitment than it is the church needing the money,” Roger Clarke, head of Ensign Peak

Advisors, which manages the denomination’s investment holdings, told the newspaper. “So [church leaders] never wanted to be in a position where people felt like, you know, they shouldn’t make a contribution.”

Church officials described the fund as a “rainy-day account” and to help fund operations in poorer parts of the world — such as Africa, where the faith is booming — where member donations can’t keep up.

The church can’t predict “when the next 2008 is going to take place,” Christopher Waddell, second counselor in the faith’s Presiding Bishopric, told The Journal. “If something like that [an economic recession] were to happen again, we won’t have to stop missionary work.”

When the Great Recession hit, however, officials said the church trimmed the budget rather than tap its reserves.

Other takeaways from The Journal’s story:

• The church has invested millions in blue chip stocks, including Apple, Amazon, Chevron, JPMorgan Chase and Visa.

• Ensign Peak’s holdings include “$40 billion of U.S. stock, timberland in the Florida Panhandle and investments in prominent hedge funds.”

• Fund handlers are instructed not to invest in stocks associated with “alcohol, caffeinated beverages and tobacco,” Clarke said. The Word of Wisdom bars those substances (although caffeinated sodas are not part of that health code).

• The church’s expenditures total about $5 billion a year, and the reserve account has grown by about 7% annually.

• Officials said the global church gives about $1 billion a year to “humanitarian causes and charities.”

Julia Miner, a retired tax attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area, is proud of her conservative Mormon tradition of frugality. But there is a time, she told The Salt Lake Tribune, to use resources to help people.

“Isn’t amassing wealth and then saving it the equivalent of ‘burying talents’ that Christ condemned in the biblical parable?” Miner asked. “At some point, saving needs to be converted into good works and charitable giving.”

This week’s podcast: Next volume of ‘Saints’

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Brigham Young

In September 2018, the church released its first authorized, in-depth look at the faith’s history in nearly a century.

The four-volume set, known as “Saints,” will explore Mormonism from its humble birth to its current global presence. The first volume, “Saints: The Standard of Truth,” examined church history from 1815 to 1846. The second book, “Saints: No Unhallowed Hand,” which came out Wednesday, covers 1846 to 1893. It includes, for example, Brigham Young’s presidency, polygamy, the priesthood ban, the Mountain Meadows Massacre and lesser-known but equally meaningful moments in church history. The 700-plus-page volume ends with the Salt Lake Temple dedication.

Discussing the project this week are Matthew Grow, managing director of the church History Department and general editor of the Joseph Smith Papers, and Angela Hallstrom, a writer in the History Department and literary editor for the series.

Listen here.

The latest volume also reveals the many sides of Brigham Young.

Soares on tour

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder José A. Teixeira of the Presidency of the Seventy and Elder Juan A. Uceda of the Seventy discuss humanitarian projects with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei at the National Palace in Guatemala City on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020.

Apostle Ulisses Soares kicked off his tour of Central America this week by meeting with Guatemala’s newly installed president.

President Alejandro Giammattei greeted the Latter-day Saint leader at the National Palace in Guatemala City.

“We spent 30 minutes together talking about his initiatives, his projects, his ideas about humanitarian projects, nutrition of the children in this country,” Soares, a native of Brazil, said in a news release. “I think he has a great future, and people are very confident that he can do something. And we as a church, we want to join him on these initiatives as we are doing here in this country already.”

The 61-year-old apostle, traveling with his wife, Rosana, will journey next to Costa Rica and El Salvador.

Quick hits

• The best missionary message for Mormonism on college campuses may be the members themselves.

The IDEALS study shows that first-year students had the most negative opinion — of any group — of their Latter-day Saint classmates. But that changed if they became friends with a member.

“As long as Mormons don't speak in King James English and proselytize in the dorms, they beat expectations,” Latter-day Saint Michael Austin, executive vice president of academic affairs at the University of Evansville in Indiana, told The Tribune. “And when they turn out, as many of them do, to be generous, fun and friendly people, they beat expectations by a wide margin.”

• Apostle Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency and next in line to become church president, will appear with his wife, Kristen, in a livestreamed Face to Face event for youths Feb. 23 at 4 p.m. MST.

• President Jean B. Bingham, head of the church’s female Relief Society, traveled to the Philippines this month to see how a grassroots nutrition program is working there.

“The program that was done here was not something that was sent from [church] headquarters,” Bingham said in a news release. “But actually, the leaders sat down and counseled together. . . . They created a marvelous program that was really beneficial to the members here.”

• Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds, who is a Latter-day Saint, truly is a believer — in LGBTQ rights.

He recently went to Congress, the Gay Times reports, to lobby for a ban on conversion therapy, the widely discredited practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Temple updates

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Rio de Janeiro Temple in Brazil.

Public tours of the new Rio de Janeiro Temple will begin April 17 and run through May 2 before its dedication on May 17, the church announced.

Brazil — home to 1.4 million Latter-day Saints, the most of any country after the U.S. and Mexico — is in line to have the third most temples. Seven are operating with four more due to come on line.

Quote of the week

“Mormons are held in suspicion by both conservative fundamentalists (who think that we are religious heretics and cultists) and liberal intellectuals (who see us as conservative fundamentalists). Muslim students tend to be viewed with suspicion by conservative students but championed by liberal students in the name of tolerance and open-mindedness. Mormons are not foreign enough to benefit from this impulse, so we get it from both sides.”

Michael Austin, executive vice president of academic affairs at the University of Evansville

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