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.
Daughters of ‘Heavenly Parents’
Church President Russell M. Nelson paid tribute to “all of our “Heavenly Parents’ adult daughters” on Mother’s Day.
“Every woman,” he wrote on Facebook, “is a mother by virtue of her eternal destiny!”
The 95-year-old church leader, who, in a 2015 General Conference sermon, urged Latter-day Saint women to speak up and speak out, reaffirmed that counsel.
“Dear sisters,” he wrote, “I say to you as I have said before: We need you! We need your strength, your conversion, your conviction, your ability to lead, your wisdom, and your voices.”
In a separate Facebook post, apostle D. Todd Christofferson said women bring a vital “moral authority” that too often is taken for granted.
“We rely on the moral force you bring,” he told Latter-day Saint women, “to the world, to marriage, to family, to the church.”
Nelson’s reference to “Heavenly Parents” is another example of the increasing number of earthly mentions to this divine duo from top church leaders. Latter-day Saint theology teaches the existence not only of a God the Father but also a God the Mother, a doctrine the religion touts in an official essay as “cherished and distinctive.”
President Russell M. Nelson wants Jesus Christ front and center not only in the church’s name but also in its meetinghouses.
To emphasize that, the governing First Presidency directed local lay leaders this week to place artwork that depicts Christ — or Jesus ministering to others — in all church foyers and entryways.
That will be the only art allowed in those prime spots. Banished to other parts of the building will be landscape paintings, portraits of Latter-day Saint leaders, bulletin boards, tables, easels, missionary plaques and other displays.
“To testify further of our central belief in Jesus Christ,” the First Presidency wrote, “we desire that our meetinghouses reflect an attitude of reverence for the Savior.”
So members should expect a new look greeting them when they return to worship services once the coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
“Artwork also can inspire faith and teach principles of the gospel,” a news release stated. “Framed artwork that focuses on the Savior should always be displayed.”
Local leaders have been told to inspect their foyers and entries yearly to “evaluate existing furnishings, artwork and finishes” and “replace and update” items as needed. If they need to get new artwork, the release included 22 paintings that top Latter-day Saint leaders have approved for church foyers.
“The church is clearly ... moving away from images that are particular to Mormons. Only two of the images are scenes from the Book of Mormon,” Margaret Olsen Hemming, editor-in-chief of the Mormon feminist magazine Exponent II, wrote in a blog post. “ … I love the idea of featuring works on our walls that center around Christ. But the figure of Christ that consistently appears in every single image in this group is comely, quiet, unemotional, and extraordinarily European.”
Olsen also hoped to see more women in the approved art, noting that seven of the nine artists are men.
This week’s podcast: BYU’s Honor Code reversal
Back in mid-February, Brigham Young University set off shock waves when it quietly removed from its Honor Code the section forbidding “homosexual behavior.”
Many students believed — and had been told by school officials — that the shift meant the prohibition against such actions as same-sex hand-holding, kissing and dating was no longer in place. The LGBTQ community and its allies celebrated.
Two weeks later, however, the Church Educational System, which oversees all BYU campuses, did an about-face, stating that “same-sex romantic behavior” remained incompatible with the school’s rules.
The reversal resulted in anger, frustration, protests and questions about what may happen to LGBTQ students when classes resume on campus.
Michael Austin, a BYU alumnus and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Evansville, a Methodist school in Indiana, discusses the issue on this week’s podcast.
Case closed. This attorney is a historian.
You could call Richard E. Turley Jr. an accidental historian.
The lawyer with a passion for the past liked to spend his lunch hours digging through documents at the Church Office Building.
Eventually, Turley became managing director of the faith’s History Department and wrote or co-wrote a number of acclaimed books, including “Massacre at Mountain Meadows: An American Tragedy,” and “Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case.”
“Rick’s prudent judgment, encyclopedic knowledge of church history, and good humor have given him a unique capacity to serve the church in many ways for over 30 years,” apostle Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “We were blessed to lure him away from his legal employment.”
The book is now closed on the recently retired Turley’s church employment but not his writing. After all, he still can make history.
Back home in Argentina
The church recently chartered a jet from Mexico to take 150 Latter-day Saint missionaries serving there and in Central American nations home to Argentina as part of the reshuffling of proselytizers amid COVID-19.
Partnering with the Chancellor’s Office of Argentina, the church gave all the remaining seats on the flight to nearly 100 Argentine citizens at no cost so they, too, could get home.
“To be a part of this operation and help these young adults return home is a proud moment,” Fede Pugliese, a Buenos Aires official, said in a news release. “This is a difficult moment that we are living.”
The trip was the first of several repatriation flights that the church and chancellorship plan to organize to return nearly 800 Argentine missionaries and other citizens left stranded by the pandemic.
A Catholic’s view
The silence from top Latter-day Saint leaders on Utah’s recent move to effectively decriminalize polygamy prompted a Catholic writer to say Mormonism is built on “shifting sand.”
Pointing to church founder Joseph Smith’s early denunciation and eventual embrace of polygamy to the Utah-based faith’s softening stance on homosexuality, blogger Anna Abbott writes in the National Catholic Register that the “most constant aspect of Mormonism is change.”
“The Catholic Church’s unambiguous ‘no’ to polygamy and same-sex marriage points to a greater ‘yes,’” Abbott argues. “ … The Catholic Church is built on the firm foundation of Scripture, tradition and natural law. Its teachings on marriage and family are protected by the Holy Spirit from the whims of popular demand. Mormonism, with its constantly changing doctrine, is like the house built on sand, not the church rooted firmly on the rock.”
Joseph Smith — ‘superhero’
Utah playwright Mahonri Stewart is taking a novel approach to the story of Joseph Smith.
“A New Age of Miracles,” his work of fiction released last month, explores Smith’s early years before publication of the Book of Mormon.
“I’ve had a strong interest in Mormon history since I was young,” Stewart told Ogden’s Standard-Examiner. “For decades, I’ve been studying it.”
In his book, readers will find references to angels, seer stones, treasure digging and heavenly visitations — the sort of mysticism that fascinates Stewart.
“I actually thought all the supernatural stuff was cool,” he told the Standard-Examiner. “I grew up with superheroes like X-Men, and I believed Joseph Smith had superpowers.”
While the novel treats Smith’s experiences as real, “it doesn’t paint a sanitized, Sunday school version of its historical figures,” notes a description on Amazon, “but meets them in their all too human faults and controversies, recognizing that they were complex and compelling human beings.”
Right now, Stewart is on his own complex spiritual journey.
“I’m LDS, but I’m transitioning to the Community of Christ,” he told the Ogden newspaper. “I still believe Joseph Smith’s claims, and I read the Book of Mormon. But I just have a different worldview.”
His 212-page novel is seen as the first in a series called “A Society of Prophets.”
Fork in the road
Erika Munson is stepping away from Mormons Building Bridges, the grassroots LGBTQ support group for Latter-day Saints she co-founded.
Fearing Bridges has tiptoed too far toward criticism of church leaders and policies, Munson has formed a new organization called Emmaus, named for the road where two biblical disciples walked with the resurrected Christ.
“We need to be both LGBTQ-affirming and church-affirming,” Munson told The Tribune.
For its part, Bridges will keep marching forward, said co-founder Kendall Wilcox, welcoming people anywhere along the spectrum of belief to its mission of bringing the LDS and LGBTQ communities closer together.
“We want to have a community,” Wilcox said, “in which both sides learn to build spiritual skills for responding.”
• Cambodian government officials met with Latter-day Saint authorities via videoconference to discuss the church’s ongoing medical relief efforts in the Southeast Asian nation.
“We appreciate the opportunity to work directly with government and community leaders on our humanitarian projects in Cambodia,” general authority Seventy Peter F. Meurs of the Asia Area Presidency said in a news release. “By working in close partnership with them and the hospital and clinic leaders in provinces we have been able to effectively reach and bless many people in the country.”
The church has conducted about 300 humanitarian projects in Cambodia in the past two decades.
• As missionaries continue to return home or depart for new assignments or reassignments, the church reinforced the need for the proselytizers and their families to follow all health directives.
“Families should limit the number of people picking up, dropping off, or accompanying a missionary based on local airport regulations,” church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said in a news release. “Whenever missionaries are inside the airport or an airplane, they should wear a mask, avoid congregating in groups, not shake hands or hug, and obey all social distancing measures.”
Those instructions were widely violated in late March when hundreds of missionaries returned to Salt Lake City International Airport from the Philippines.
• Debbie Marriott Harrison prayed for “deliverance from this pandemic that has covered the earth” when she represented the church in last week’s multifaith National Day of Prayer service at the White House.
Harrison, global cultural ambassador at Marriott International and a church public affairs official in Washington, D.C., also sought heaven’s blessings upon medical workers, scientists and government leaders while expressing gratitude to live in a “where we have the right to exercise our religious beliefs.”
The Latter-day Saint called her experience the “event of a lifetime,” a news release reported, saying she endeavored to make sure all listeners know “we are Christians.”
• BYU-Hawaii is getting a new president.
John “Keoni” Kauwe, dean of graduate studies at BYU in Provo and an internationally recognized Alzheimer’s researcher, will become the Hawaiian campus’s 11th president.
“This university is and will continue to be a place where people from across the world gather to be one in Christ and educate and uplift each other,” Kauwe said in a news release. “Diversity of culture, experience and thought is one of our greatest strengths.”
Kauwe spent several years of his childhood on the Hawaiian Islands and graduated from a high school there. He and his wife, Monica, will assume their new duties July 1, replacing John S. Tanner and his wife, Susan.
• The church sent two truckloads containing 39,000 pounds of food and commodities last month to the Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio, The Morning Journal reported.
“Everyone was so excited to see the food, it was perfect,” Susan Bartosch, Second Harvest director of external affairs, said. “We could see the miracles.”
• A semitrailer from the church delivered 37,000 pounds of canned soup, pork and beans, macaroni, sugar, flour and stew meat last week to the nonprofit Laramie Interfaith in Wyoming.
“Albany County is one of the most food insecure counties in the state,” Interfaith Executive Director Michael Vercauteren told the Laramie Boomerang. “One in five people in Albany County live with food insecurity.”
Another 17 are scheduled to come back on line May 18.
These temples are offering only marriage “sealings” by appointment only for couples who already have gone through a ritual known as the endowment. Only a few family members may attend, and all government and public health directives must be observed, including “the use of safety equipment such as masks.”
For the status of all temples and which are part of these “Phase 1” reopenings, click here.
Quote of the week
“Right now, I can’t take the sacrament on Sundays while other families are doing so. And if/when I get sick with COVID-19, there is no one in my family who is authorized to give me a priesthood blessing of healing. Withdrawing the sacrament from my life was not intended to be a punishment, but it sure feels like one sometimes.”
Jana Riess, Religion News Service senior columnist
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.