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This week in Mormon Land: Latter-day Saints honor Yankee legend; church makes Enquirer cover, but not in a good way; temple predictions.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Mariano Rivera, left, former New York Yankees baseball great, and apostle D. Todd Christofferson share a laugh at the Latter-day Saint Professional Association’s annual banquet on Feb. 27, 2020, in New York City. Rivera was honored as this year’s Visionary Leadership Award recipient. The award goes to a community member who embodies moral and ethical qualities.

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.

(Kathy Willens | AP file photo) In this Sept. 26, 2013, photo, New York Yankees relief pitcher Mariano Rivera acknowledges the crowd's standing ovation after coming off the mound in the ninth inning of his final appearance in a baseball game in New York.

How do Yankee fans spell relief? M-a-r-i-a-n-o

He locked down more saves (652) than any other major leaguer, but Mariano Rivera’s biggest saves happened away from the diamond.

Donating 10% of his salary to his foundation, the baseball Hall of Famer helped save poor kids in the U.S., his native Panama and other nations in need of schools and schooling.

For this legendary relief pitcher’s equally legendary relief efforts, he recently earned the Visionary Leadership Award from the New York Latter-day Saint Professional Association.

“My faith in God and Jesus Christ is everything,” said Rivera, the only player ever elected unanimously to the Hall of Fame. “Without that, there’s no Mariano Rivera.”

Apostle D. Todd Christofferson was on hand at Manhattan’s Riverside Church to honor the blessed Yankee, who in turn has done so much to bless others.

“The Giving Back Fund ranked him 25th on its list of most-generous celebrity donors,” Christofferson said in a news release. “When you think of all the celebrities around, that is quite an achievement.”

The apostle took the occasion to announce that the church will donate 600 tons of food to 200 pantries across the Empire State to celebrate the bicentennial of church founder Joseph Smith’s “First Vision,” which occurred in upstate New York.

“Religious faith, freely exercised, promotes civic virtue and is vital to strong, flourishing communities,” Christofferson added. “I am not for a moment suggesting that religion is the only source of virtue within society, or that secular people cannot be highly moral. My point is simply that very often religion does the hard work of inculcating the habits and mores necessary for free and democratic societies to flourish.”

And Rivera, whose cut fastball helped him flourish as a player, credits his faith in Christ for helping him flourish as a humanitarian.

“It is what we do to others. It’s not what I did in baseball; it’s not what I did on the field,” Rivera said. “I believe that together we can change a lot of people’s lives.”

Enquiring minds want to know about Mormon money

Well, reports of the church’s $100 billion reserve fund made the cover of another national publication. This time on the cover of the National Equirer:

“$100 BILLION MORMON CHARITY SCANDAL EXPOSED!” blared the big headline, accompanied by photos of celebrities Donny and Marie Osmond and Julianne Hough, along with a smaller headline reading, “What church’s biggest stars didn’t know.”

Guess the alien babies, Elvis sightings and UFO abductions will have to wait.

(Photo courtesy of Brigham Young University) Acting President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles waves goodbye after speaking to BYU students at the Marriott Center on March 3, 2020.

The BYU roller coaster

Within a 24-hour period this week, Brigham Young University gave its LGBTQ students — and their allies — a case of Honor Code whiplash.

On Tuesday, in the wake of recent racist questions and anti-LGBTQ comments emanating from the Provo campus, senior apostle M. Russell Ballard urged students, faculty and staff to be loving and accepting of all God’s children.

“Marginalizing and persecuting people based on age, gender, nationality, religious preference or anything else can be hurtful and misunderstood,” said the acting president of the church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “ … We consider every person divine. To love your neighbor is to have compassion — even if they belong to a different group.”

Declaring that God is eager to “heal any wounded souls,” the 91-year-old Ballard, second in line after apostle Dallin H. Oaks to take the faith’s reins, warned against bigotry and encouraged Latter-day Saints to follow Christ’s example.

“What this provides is the antidote to anger, ill feelings, distress, hate and demonizing one another,” Ballard said. “Of all the universities in the world, BYU should be where Jesus’ teachings and commandments are proclaimed, discussed and lived.”

Then, on Wednesday morning, Paul V. Johnson, a general authority Seventy and commissioner of the Church Educational System that oversees all BYU campuses, reinstituted a ban on “same-sex romantic behavior,” saying that such actions as same-sex kissing and dating remain incompatible with the school’s rules.

Many had believed — and been told by school officials — that such prohibitions had been lifted last month, when BYU removed from its Honor Code a line barring “all forms of physical intimacy that give expression to homosexual feelings."

Hundreds protested the reversal later that day in one of the largest demonstrations ever on the Provo campus.

"Everyone is in so much fear now,” said Ciera Galbraith, a senior who is bisexual.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Students protest outside the student center at Brigham Young University in Provo on Wednesday, March 4, 2020.

On another topic, Ballard, the previous day, had lauded the young students for their activism on the issues of global sustainability and heightened transparency.

“Whether it is environmental, economic or social sustainability, I hope you will continue to find creative solutions to help protect the future for all of God’s children in our world,” he said. “We should do whatever we can to protect and preserve the Earth and to make life better for those who live here.”

(Courtesy photo of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A young Latter-day Saint boy passes the sacrament.

This week’s podcast: The handbook’s ins and outs

The church made a major shift recently when it published online, in full, its updated General Handbook, which spells out policies, practices and procedures in the worldwide faith.

Previous handbooks were for leaders only. Now rank-and-file members and even outsiders can be on the same page when it comes to church governance. The guidelines include, for instance, new nomenclature for church discipline and a new section on transgender individuals. It even urges Latter-day Saints to “partake” of the sacrament “with their right hand when possible.”

Discussing these developments and other changes in the new handbook is Jonathan Stapley, a scientist and historian whose recent book, “The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology,” won top honors from the Mormon History Association. He also is a popular blogger for By Common Consent.

Listen here.

(And read here what left-handed senior Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess has to say about the counsel to choose the right when it comes to communion.)

Temple predictions

After batting .500 in President Russell M. Nelson’s last round of new temple announcements (good enough for any Hall of Fame, especially given the world of possibilities), independent demographer Matt Martinich is out with his list of 10 “most likely” locations to have a temple named at next month’s General Conference.

They are:

• Benin City, Nigeria.

• Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

• Monrovia, Liberia.

• Angeles or Olongapo, Philippines.

• Tarawa, Kiribati.

• Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

• Missoula, Mont.

• Colorado Springs (Martinich’s hometown).

• Santiago or Tuguegarao, Philippines.

• Lubumbashi, Congo.

Keep your scorecards ready.

The coronavirus crisis

(Jae C. Hong | (AP photo) Commuters wearing masks stand in a packed train at the Shinagawa Station in Tokyo, Monday, March 2, 2020.

Next month’s General Conference is still on and missionary work is still taking place in Asia, but the global leadership sessions in Utah before the twice-yearly gatherings have been pushed back and proselytizing has been severely curtailed in nations stretching from Japan to Mongolia.

Concerns about the coronavirus have prompted the governing First Presidency to postpone the April leadership meetings — which draw church authorities from around the world — until the fall General Conference.

In 1919, a deadly Spanish flu epidemic forced cancellation of the April conference.

This year, the spreading coronavirus is now hampering Latter-day Saint missionary and temple work, along with worship services, in a number of nations.

Temples in Taipei, Taiwan; Seoul, South Korea; and Fukuoka and Sapporo, Japan, have shut down (the Hong Kong and Tokyo temples already were closed for renovation).

Proselytizing has been curtailed to varying degrees in Hong Kong, Japan, Cambodia, Thailand, Mongolia, Singapore and South Korea.

Worship services, meanwhile, have been suspected or limited across a number of locales, including in Hong Kong, Mongolia, South Korea and Japan.

Read here about how some Latter-day Saints are “having church” without going to church.

(Courtesy photo of the Utah State Historical Society) This photo of Brigham Young is from 1898.

Quick hits

• OK, it’s not a return to the days of Brigham Young, but Utah is poised to decriminalize polygamy.

If the governor signs on, plural marriage between consenting adults will be reduced to an infraction — an offense less than some traffic tickets — provided the parties aren’t also guilty of, say, fraud, domestic violence, sexual abuse or human smuggling.

For the record, the penalty today for Latter-day Saints found guilty of polygamy remains the same: loss of membership.

• Latter-day Saints in Adelaide turned out on a national holiday to clear damaged fence lines, cut down fallen trees, and remove debris in the wake of Australia’s devastating wildfires.

“I can't think of a better way to spend Australia Day,” John Orth of the Firle Stake (regional) Presidency said in a news release. “It was great to be out doing something meaningful to help our neighbors in need; those who we didn't actually know until we arrived at their properties.”

• The 10th annual RootsTech — described as the “farmers market” of family history — drew nearly 30,000 people to downtown Salt Lake City.

“Families today come in a multiplicity of sizes, shapes and configurations,” apostle Gary E. Stevenson told participants. “But whatever your family looks like, it needs to be protected.”

Keynote speaker Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, talked about discovering his enslaved ancestors from West Africa and how they helped shape his life.

“Every generation has its own journey. … Find out what’s inside of you,” he said in a news release. “That will give you the strength to not only go forward but also embrace what your past was all about.”

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Emmitt Smith, the National Football League’s all-time leading rusher and a former Super Bowl champion, shares his journey of connecting to his roots at RootsTech 2020 conference in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020.

• Henry B. Eyring, second counselor in the First Presidency, visited Idaho, where he met with the governor and lawmakers, huddled with faith leaders, offered the prayer before the state Senate and toured a food bank.

• The church is donating 40,000 pounds of food to inner-city churches and Catholic charities in Virginia, according to a news release.

Visiting apostle D. Todd Christofferson also met with Gov. Ralph Northam.

“We talked about the service work that members of the church do here,” Christofferson said. “We told him that we want our people to be the best citizens he has.”

Quote of the week

“Now that it is official church policy, will I start taking the sacrament with my right hand? Sure. Why not? I can switch-hit for the church. … I [do] so not because I agree this is important but because it is an easy thing my church is asking of me. This request doesn’t harm anyone; it’s not like I am being told to support legislation that harms LGBTQ people, for example. There are things I will not ever do for my church, lines I will not cross. But taking the sacrament with a different hand than is natural for me is just not one of them. This is not the hill this particular left-hander wants to die on.”

Senior Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess

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

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