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.

Hatch wins religious freedom prize

Orrin Hatch will join Dallin H. Oaks and Mitt Romney as Latter-day Saints awarded the Canterbury Medal from Becket, a leading religious liberty law firm.

Hatch, who served as a Republican senator from Utah for 42 years, is being honored, the organization said in a news release, for playing an “instrumental role in the passing of fundamental legislation in defense of religious liberty for people of all faiths.”

Becket pointed out that Hatch teamed up with his late Democratic friend Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts to write and pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. He also was the “principal author” of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and supported the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998.

The prize will be presented at a May 21 gala in New York.

Romney, who succeeded Hatch as a Utah senator, received his Canterbury Medal along with his wife, Ann, in 2008 soon after he left office as Massachusetts’ governor.

Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency and a former Utah Supreme Court justice, has given numerous sermons on the subject of religious freedom. He won the honor in 2013.

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Two Latter-day Saint meetinghouses built adjacent to each other in Kaysville.

New Wi-Fi access at church

You’re sitting in Sunday school and can’t, for the life of you, get into the internet and access that Book of Mormon video. What gives?

Well, have you tried the church’s new Wi-Fi network?

Yep, “Liahona” is replacing “LDSAccess” in church meetinghouses (another step away from use of the “LDS” moniker), the Church News reports. The change will be in full force come mid-April.

Oh, and you’ll need this password for the new network: alma3738. That’s the scriptural reference in which the “Liahona” is named.

Ensign College

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) LDS Business College will soon become Ensign College. Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020.
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From the “We All Saw This Coming” file: LDS Business College will be renamed Ensign College.

The Salt Lake City-based school was one of the most prominent church ventures that had yet to change its name to match President Russell M. Nelson’s push to erase the “LDS” and “Mormon” monikers.

That will change come September for the two-year college, which, by the way, will begin offering bachelor’s degrees in business management, communications and information technology.

‘Hear him’

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Christus and the biblical apostles in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors' Center.

Church President Russell M. Nelson posted a message across social media platforms Wednesday urging the world — and especially Latter-day Saints — to connect with Jesus Christ.

“In this special year as we commemorate the 200th anniversary of the First Vision [to church founder Joseph Smith],” Nelson said, “I invite you to think deeply and often about this key question: How do you hear him?

“I also invite you to take steps to hear him better and more often.”

The 95-year-old leader called on members to invite their friends to worship with them on Easter Sunday.

‘The greatest of these is charity’

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A nurse in Banyumas, Indonesia, stands next to a new mother. Nurses in this birthing center completed a Helping Babies Breathe course run by Latter-day Saint Charities facilitators.

The tally tells a tale:

• 316,790 people helped with clean water and sanitation.

• 181,398 people received greater food security.

• 129,819 people were provided with vision care.

• 83,555 people underwent maternal and newborn care.

• 52,381 people got wheelchairs.

Those numbers represent a sizable slice of the humanitarian aid rendered by Latter-day Saint Charities across the globe last year, according to the organization’s newly released 2019 Annual Report.

“This assistance," President Russell M. Nelson said during last fall’s General Conference, “is offered to recipients regardless of their church affiliation, nationality, race, sexual orientation, gender or political persuasion.”

In all the church’s humanitarian arm assisted in 142 countries and territories last year, including emergency efforts in more than 60 places around the world.

For instance, the agency helped — and is still helping — after cyclones wiped out crops in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe.

“When you see some of the big responses that happened last year like the cyclone in Mozambique, the famine responses, the work we did around different hurricanes and things like that, the core principle is to get on the ground and find out what people need right now and what they will need later on. And then we can work to fill in those gaps,” Latter-day Saint Charities President Sharon Eubank explained in a news release. “The annual report reflects some of the more intensive work we’ve done on the ground, finding out what’s the real need.”

The organization also helps with immunizations, refugees and a range of community projects. Earlier this month, for example, it provided blankets to 300 people in West Bengal, India.

The church’s humanitarian outreach has become a touchy topic after a “whistleblower” complaint accused the faith of amassing a $100 billion rainy day fund from contributions intended — but never spent — for charity.

The annual report did not put a dollar amount on the assistance provided in 2019. But the news release noted that donations to Latter-day Saint Charities represent “only a small part” of the church’s overall humanitarian and welfare expenditures, which amount to nearly $1 billion a year.

Since its birth in 1985, it added, Latter-day Saint Charities has supplied more than $2.3 billion worth of assistance in 197 countries.

“The annual report is part of our accountability back to the Latter-day Saints who have donated to the humanitarian fund on the tithing slip,” Eubank, who also serves as first counselor in the general presidency of the women’s Relief Society, said in the release. “This is part of our reporting back to the people who have given so much, so that they can see what their donations do.”

How firm a foundation — for paying tithes

(Photo illustration by Francisco Kjolseth)
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Some members stuff their cash or check into an envelope and hand it to the bishop. Others make their contributions online by transferring money from their bank accounts.

But hundreds of well-to-do Latter-day Saints establish nonprofit foundations to pay their tithes and other offerings.

A Salt Lake Tribune review of tax filings available on the website Grantmakers.io found nonprofits gave $89 million to the Utah-based faith or its philanthropic arms from 2010 through 2018.

The biggest foundation donor was the Rocky Woods Charitable Foundation, which sent $12.2 million to the church and its philanthropic arms over those years. The Larry H. and Gail Miller Family Foundation kicked in $5.6 million during that time frame.

Such foundations help wealthy individuals plan their giving over a span of years. “The private foundation doesn’t provide real tax advantages,” Latter-day Saint Sam Brunson, a tax law professor at Loyola University Chicago, told The Tribune. “But the convenience advantage is still there.”

This week’s podcast: The real Nauvoo

(Photo courtesy Utah State Historical Society) Nauvoo, Illinois.

Members may think they know all about Nauvoo, the Illinois city on the banks of the Mississippi River that blossomed into their faith’s headquarters from 1839 to 1846.

There, Latter-day Saints built a fast-growing city-state that rivaled Chicago. There, they established a militia. There, they built their second temple. And there, they buried their beloved prophet.

But few know that during those Nauvoo years, church leaders worked to rewrite the U.S. Constitution even as Mormon founder Joseph Smith ran for U.S. president. Few know how polygamy emerged even as Smith worked to conceal and control it and how he struggled even mightier to win converts to these unorthodox unions, especially in his own household. His brother Hyrum, who was slain with him at Carthage, for instance, went from a vehement opponent of plural marriage to a zealous proponent almost overnight, while Joseph’s first wife, Emma, only occasionally veered from her disdain for the practice.

Historian Benjamin Park, author of the newly released “Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier,” sheds new light on those subjects and more in this week’s podcast.

Listen here.

Coronavirus slows missionary, temple efforts

(Kin Cheung | The Associated Press) In this Monday, Feb. 17, 2020, photo, volunteers make handmade cotton masks in Hong Kong to help in the battle against the coronavirus.

The coronavirus is putting a crimp in missionary and temple work — along with worship services — in multiple Asian nations.

Latter-day Saint temples in Taipei, Taiwan, and Seoul, South Korea, have shut down (the Hong Kong Temple already was closed for renovation).

Proselytizing has been curtailed to varying degrees in Cambodia, Thailand, Mongolia, Singapore and South Korea. Missionaries in Hong Kong, meanwhile, are departing for new, temporary assignments.

Local Latter-day Saint leaders also are working to “support and minister to the needs of members in these areas,” a news release stated. “ ... We pray for all those affected by this illness and plead for the Lord’s blessings during this difficult time.”

Quick hits

(Photo courtesy of Utah Valley University) Sharon Eubank of the Relief Society general presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day speaks at the Utah Women’s Leadership Speaker and Dialogue Services event titled, “The Status of Women Worldwide,” at Utah Valley University in Orem on Feb. 19, 2020.

• A leading female executive in the global church has a message for women everywhere: Help change the world.

“We’re talking about becoming global citizens,” Sharon Eubank, president of Latter-day Saint Charities, said during a recent women’s forum at Utah Valley University in Orem. “ … Each of us can walk out of the hall this evening with an idea or two of something specific we ourselves can do to affect a cause we care about.”

• Three former members, who say they previously were converted through the Book of Mormon, are suing the church, alleging that it is violating its own teachings by accumulating wealth rather than spending it to further the faith’s mission.

Representing themselves in the case, filed earlier this month in Salt Lake City’s federal court, they allege the church is breaching the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act.

Members, the suit argues, “are manipulated into submission and servitude through fraudulent means, by false claims of infallibility of the church’s prophet, currently Russell M. Nelson, who promises members of the church prosperity and exaltation as gods and goddesses, if they will obey him.”

The plaintiffs seek, among other damages, the money they paid in tithing and other contributions to the church.

• Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, and his wife, Kristen, hosted a global give-and-take broadcast Sunday about the church’s new Children and Youth program.

“You can do this, and God will help you,” President Oaks told the young people. “He wants you to succeed. But there’s some things that you just have to do on your own. And setting goals and accumulating the desire to do what the Lord wants you to do is something that only you can do.”

• There are four new members of the Primary general board — all from Utah. They are Brittany Beattie of Riverton, Kaylene Porter Harding of Lindon, Christine C. Ivory of Holladay, and Amy M. Jones of Highland. These women help the organization’s general presidency lead the worldwide children’s program.

Temple updates

(Courtesy photo of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Washington, D.C., Temple.

• The Washington, D.C., Temple, the Oz-like edifice on the outskirts of the nation’s capital, will be rededicated Dec. 13 after a public open house from Sept. 24 through Oct. 31.

“For decades, millions of people have driven by or passed the Washington, D.C., Temple. It has become an iconic part of the D.C. beltway,” Aaron Sherinian, a longtime resident and volunteer public affairs media specialist for the church, said in a news release. “This fall, it can become an iconic part of people's lives in a new way. We invite people everywhere to join us inside the temple, to learn more about why it is so much more than a building and to feel the promise of peace it holds.”

The 160,000-square-foot structure, closed since March 2018 for renovation work after its original 1974 opening, is “one of the premier temples of the church,” Brent Roberts, managing director of the church’s Special Projects Department, said in the release. “The renovation that we're going through right now and that we’ll soon complete will allow the temple to function for many years to come.”

(Rendering courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Brasília Brazil Temple

• An exterior rendering of the Brasília Temple was released.

The single-story, 25,000-square-foot building is one of 11 temples either operating or planned for Brazil.

Quote of the week

“Finally I’m able to go to my school in peace; finally I’m able to study. It just feels surreal. I never would have thought I’d have been able to feel safe at BYU.”

Calvin Burke, an openly gay student, on recent Honor Code changes at the Provo school

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