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.

Handier handbook

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The church has released a new General Handbook.

It replaces Handbook 1 (for stake presidents and bishops) and Handbook 2 (for all other lay leaders).

A detailed section on transgender individuals. “Gender is an essential characteristic of Heavenly Father’s plan of happiness,” the book says. “The intended meaning of gender in the family proclamation is biological sex at birth.”

This position cements in policy the views expressed by President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, before last fall’s General Conference.

Members who elect medical or surgical intervention to transition to the “opposite gender” or who “socially transition” — dress as the gender they identify as or change their names or pronouns — “will experience some church membership restrictions.”

Changes to disciplinary proceedings. “Membership councils” have replaced “disciplinary councils.” Excommunication is now termed “withdrawal of membership,” and disfellowshipment falls under “formal membership restrictions.”

“The idea behind these terminology changes is to ensure that we understand that when we make a mistake in our life, the Lord is always extending his arms of mercy,” Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the women’s Relief Society general presidency, said in a video accompanying the release.

Read more about the new handbook here.

BYU axes ‘homosexual behavior’ section from rules

(Photo courtesy of Franchesca Lopez) BYU has removed part of its Honor Code referring to “homosexual behavior," which led some students to celebrate on campus. Franchesca Lopez posted this photo on Twitter, which she called "my first gay kiss."

While the church was loudly trumpeting its new handbook, its flagship school was quietly removing a controversial section of its Honor Code.

Brigham Young University deleted the part that had banned “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings.”

The school acknowledged that the rules had been “updated” but added that the “principles of the Honor Code remain the same.”

A recent Cougar graduate, in an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, said that the Honor Code Office told him the change would mean LGBTQ students would no longer be disciplined for being in relationships — and kissing or holding hands — as long as they follow the faith’s existing expectation that couples remain chaste until marriage. (The church remains opposed to same-sex marriage.)

BYU officials tweeted that the office now will handle questions that arise on a “case-by-case basis.”

“Since dating means different things to different people,” they said, “the Honor Code Office will work with students individually.”

Second thoughts on the Second Coming

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé speaks at a news conference Friday, April 19, 2019.

The church’s rainy day funds are less about stashing money for Christ’s return, as has been widely reported, and more about providing safeguards against more earthly events — like credit crunches, stock slides and recessions.

So says the Presiding Bishopric, which is charged with overseeing the faith’s vast financial, real estate, investment and charitable operations.

In interviews with the church-owned Deseret News and Church News, second counselor W. Christopher Waddell said that there will be future economic slumps.

“How extensive, how dramatic, we don’t know,” he said. “ … Because of the reserves being carefully watched over, protected and wisely handled, we won’t have to stop missionary work, we won’t have to stop maintaining buildings and building temples, we won’t have to stop humanitarian and welfare work, we won’t have to stop education work.”

During the Great Recession, the leaders reaffirmed, the church chose to freeze hiring and budgets (save for humanitarian and welfare spending) rather than tap those reserves, which have been pegged at $100 billion.

Other highlights from the Deseret News and Church News interviews:

• Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé said humanitarian expenditures have doubled in the past five years and that the church now provides nearly $1 billion annually in humanitarian and welfare aid. “We hope we can do more and more in the future,” he said, “and, as the church grows, there will be more opportunities for doing good.”

• The church has 27 wheat storage facilities and funds nine refugee resettlement agencies in the United States. There also are more than 100 bishops’ storehouses across the globe.

• Brigham Young University and the faith’s other universities and colleges cost $1.5 billion a year to run, with funding from student tuition and church tithing.

• First counselor Dean M. Davies said the number of Latter-day Saints who tithe the full 10% is comparable to those who pay fast offerings.

This week’s podcast: The Sunday school manual

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Book of Mormon Videos, 1 Nephi 1–2, Season 1, Episode 8, depicts Lehi, his wife, Sariah, and their family as they sail to the promised land on the ship built by Nephi (Lehi's son) and his brothers (Laman, Lemuel and Sam).

A printed Sunday school manual contained a disavowed racist teaching that referred to “dark skin” in the faith’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, as a “curse” from God.

The church has acknowledged the error and corrected it in the online manual.

Is that enough? Many Latter-day Saints say no. They want the faith’s top leaders to issue a statement to members worldwide and use the mistake as a teaching moment to help combat persistent bouts of racism.

And what about the overall curriculum? Does it fulfill its stated goal of helping members “deepen [their] conversion” and help them “become more like Jesus Christ”?

Discussing those questions this week is Religion News Service senior columnist Jana Riess, who has written two columns (read them here and here) in recent weeks on the issue.

Listen to the podcast here.

Leaving Liberia

The church pulled all of its missionaries out of Liberia, at least for now, as the West African nation’s economy continued to deteriorate.

Earlier this month, the Utah-based faith shifted from Liberia more than 30 missionaries (most of them, who were nearing the end of their volunteer service, returned home). Last week, the church announced that the remaining 99 proselytizers in the Monrovia Mission were transferred “temporarily” from the country due to “increased difficulties in obtaining basic supplies and conducting missionary work.”

The mission president has reported “significant problems with a lack of supplies, particularly with fuel,” independent demographer Matt Martinich wrote at ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com. “The mission has been unable to obtain adequate amounts of gasoline to perform basic travel within the mission.”

As for the more than 13,000 Latter-day Saints in Liberia, spokesman Doug Andersen said the church in West Africa is “implementing a program to help members ... access staple foods and other commodities.”

Martinich noted that Liberia’s membership and congregational growth (there are more than 50 wards and branches there) during the past decade has ranked among the most rapid in the worldwide church, thanks largely to “improvements in local leadership development and member-missionary activity.”

S.I. salutes the ‘Black 14’

As part of Black History Month, Sports Illustrated highlighted the 14 African American football players for the University of Wyoming who, in 1969, planned to sport black armbands in a game against Brigham Young University to protest the church’s then-priesthood/temple ban.

The magazine saluted the players, who were booted from the team hours before kickoff, for showing the “power of protest and principle.”

A half-century later, the church’s racist ban is history, BYU and Wyoming aren’t in the same league anymore, the player-protesters have received an apology from their alma mater, and the “Black 14” have been embraced as Cowboys once again.

Soares in Costa Rica

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, right, greets Carlos Benavides Jiménez, president of Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly, on Feb 13, 2020.

Two days after an audience with Guatemala’s president, apostle Ulisses Soares met with Costa Rica’s top legislator.

“He's a wonderful man, very interested [in] the well-being of people,” Soares said of Carlos Benavides Jiménez, president of the legislative assembly.

The visiting Latter-day Saint leader also was welcomed by Catholic Archbishop José Rafael Quirós, who leads the Metropolitan Archdiocese of San José.

“Elder Soares has been opening many doors for us,” Peruvian general authority Seventy Juan A. Uceda said in a news release. “Some of our presidents know us a little bit. Once Elder Soares is there and talks to them about what we are, what we are doing for the country, the people, the society, there’s a different attitude, and I feel that.”

The next and final stop for Soares, and his wife, Rosana, during their Central American tour will be this weekend in El Salvador.

Quick hits

• Police have charged two Utah brothers with a hate crime in an alleged attack on a black Latter-day Saint missionary.

The missionary, who is from Panama, told police a group of six or seven people in a Payson neighborhood hurled racial slurs and curse words before punching and kicking him. The victim’s white companion was not touched.

Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said “mission leaders have worked to provide [the missionaries] the care and support they need.”

• Children can get a taste of the temple by visiting a new exhibit at the Church History Museum in downtown Salt Lake City.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A family takes a closer look at a baptistry ox once housed in  the Frankfurt Germany Temple. The ox,  now  included in the "Temples Dot the Earth: Building the House of the Lord"  exhibit  in Salt Lake City, represents  one of  the 12 tribes of Israel and is  being  used  as an educational  tool  to teach about temple baptisms.

The display, called “Temples Dot the Earth: Building the House of the Lord,” offers interactive experiences to help kids ages 3 to 11 understand the purpose of these sacred Latter-day Saint edifices.

One exhibit, a news release notes, is a wooden train track that demonstrates how Brazilian members journeyed over 3,000 miles by boat and bus to attend the São Paulo Temple.

The exhibition is scheduled to be up for about four years, mirroring the time the Salt Lake Temple, across the street, will be closed for renovation.

• In an op-ed for The New York Times, Sharlee Mullins Glenn recounts the election of President Donald Trump and why she founded Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

“Our motto,” she writes, “[is] we will not be complicit by being complacent. We believe that Jesus really meant it when he said that we should love our neighbors — meaning everyone, as the parable of the good Samaritan makes clear — and care for the poor, the sick, the homeless, the vulnerable. This is the calling of all Christians. We have been called to love.”

Temple updates

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles interacts with a South African Latter-day Saint during his ministry trip there in February 2020. There are over 65,000 church members and 190 congregations in the country.

• South Africa now has two Latter-day Saints temples.

Apostle Ronald A. Rasband dedicated the Durban Temple on Sunday, saying the building “took his breath away.”

“There are renditions in the glass and in the carpet of the protea flower, the national flower of Africa,” he said in a news release. “There are beautiful paintings that have been done locally, that show local scenes. And so, it’s a temple built for Africa.”

It marks the first time Rasband, who became an apostle in 2015, has dedicated a temple. The Johannesburg Temple opened in 1985.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Marcus B. Nash, left, president of the Africa West Area; former Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama, center; and Elder Edward Dube, right, general authority Seventy, tour church grounds in Ghana on Thursday, Feb 6, 2020.

• Former Ghanaian President John Dramani Mahama recently visited the grounds of the Accra Temple along with the church’s Missionary Training Center in Ghana.

The church is a “key stakeholder when it comes to the religious community,” Mahama said in a news release.

Quote of the week

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Anthony D. Perkins, general authority Seventy.

“The church is true and living. It can change. Having a handbook that is largely digitally delivered allows us to update it as new revelation is received as the church goes in new directions as part of its worldwide growth.”

General authority Seventy Anthony D. Perkins

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