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.
End racism ‘once and for all’
Two years ago, church President Russell M. Nelson joined with NAACP leaders in calling for an end to “prejudice of all kinds.”
This week, they delivered much the same message but during a much different moment — coming amid nationwide protests in the wake of the George Floyd killing.
“Unitedly we declare that the answers to racism, prejudice, discrimination and hate will not come from government or law enforcement alone,” they wrote in an op-ed for Medium. “Solutions will come as we open our hearts to those whose lives are different than our own, as we work to build bonds of genuine friendship, and as we see each other as the brothers and sisters we are — for we are all children of a loving God.”
The article, signed by Nelson; Derrick Johnson, NAACP president and CEO; Leon Russell, NAACP board chairman; and the Rev. Amos C. Brown, chairman emeritus of religious affairs for the NAACP, decried Floyd’s death while in Minneapolis police custody as a “heinous act of violence” and urged “government, business, and educational leaders at every level to review processes, laws, and organizational attitudes regarding racism and root them out once and for all.”
For decades, the church’s policy barring blacks from its all-male priesthood and its temples kept the Utah-based faith at odds with the NAACP. “Both of our organizations have learned lessons from the past,” the Medium piece stated. Now, 42 years after that prohibition was lifted, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization and the church have become increasingly friendly.
But their emerging partnership has not borne the fruits that some NAACP leaders had hoped. While the two have collaborated on employment and education initiatives, those were “minor efforts,” Wil Colom, special counsel to the NAACP president, told The Salt Lake Tribune. They “do not befit the stature and magnitude of what the LDS Church can do and should do.”
The NAACP, Colom said, is “looking forward to the church doing more to undo the 150 years of damage they did by how they treated African Americans in the church.”
Church spokesman Doug Andersen noted that the partnership, formalized two years ago, is still evolving.
“Pilot projects involving money management and self-reliance have been completed in cities throughout the country with more to come,” he said. “Senior leaders from both organizations continue to engage in determining how best to meet the practical needs of both organizations.”
Heavenly Mother finally getting her due
The church’s six-paragraph entry about Heavenly Mother may be the shortest of the Gospel Topics essays, but the distinctive Latter-day Saint belief in a God Mom is giving birth to a long list of new books.
“We wanted to ensure that this guidebook was full of quotes from prophets, apostles and female church leaders. … .We were AMAZED at the sheer amount of information we found,” Krishna explained in an Association of Mormon Letters post. “A lot of us seem to carry the admonition from our childhood that Heavenly Mother is too sacred to talk about. Or there isn’t enough information about her. Or because church leaders were not discussing her, that neither should we. Or that people were simply not interested in her. The thing is, none of those are true!”
The books also feature diverse illustrations from dozens of Latter-day Saint artists around the globe.
From ‘Be One’ to be better
“Be One,” the 2018 gala celebrating the end of the priesthood-temple ban, brought joy to many Latter-day Saints.
Now, black members hope the continuing protests against racism and police brutality bring something else: change.
It may be happening. Many white members have been marching and posting Black Lives Matter on their social media accounts, calling their black friends to apologize for past statements, and sharing ways to discuss racism with their kids.
Brigham Young University President Kevin Worthen issued a statement, saying the church-owned school “stands firmly against racism and violence in any form and is committed to promoting a culture of safety, kindness, respect and love.” At the same time, he acknowledged, “there is work to do, on campus and throughout the nation, for us to better come together, to address injustice and to truly love one another.”
During the past two years, racist episodes have occurred at BYU, examples that were explored recently in the Provo school’s newspaper, The Daily Universe.
LaShawn Williams, a therapist and an assistant professor of social work at nearby Utah Valley University, told The Tribune that the church and its members need to reexamine, repent and reform.
In a recent Exponent II blog, Dumdi Baribe Wallentine recalled the racist comments she has encountered from white Latter-day Saint roommates, college friends and former mission mates.
“When black girls wear weaves it just looks like they’re trying to be white,” a former co-worker told her.
“Stop talking like that,” said an ex-missionary companion. “You’re not from the ghetto.”
Wallentine, a Nigerian Latter-day Saint, said she holds “no anger nor animosity” toward those white women, adding that they probably don’t realize “how cutting those comments are and how it basically tells a black woman that her very presence is threatening to them, how the very skin they are in offends them..”
Times and Seasons blogger Chad Nielsen said it is frustrating that church leaders “have a difficult time in addressing racism head-on.”
“Yes, we have had a few calls in recent years to abandon racism and prejudice,” he wrote last week, but, since 1990, “there have only been three or four General Conference talks that address the issue, even in passing.”
As BYU’s president said, there is work to do.
Black Latter-day Saints often feel invisible in their faith, especially in the U.S., says Melodie Jackson, a BYU graduate who served a mission to Brazil.
So Jackson and a group of members, according to an ABC4 Utah story, are starting a letter-writing campaign for black Latter-day Saints to share their experiences with top officials, including President Russell M. Nelson, and “to ask church leaders to include anti-racism training in church curriculum.”
She is using the hashtag #BlackLivesMattertoChrist to help gather the stories online.
This week’s podcast: Remembering flu victims
With the world in the grips of COVID-19, which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, Mormon research historian Ardis Parshall has been posting photos and vignettes of Latter-day Saints who died during the Spanish flu of 1918-20, which claimed tens of millions across the globe.
By doing so on her blog, keepapitchinin.org, she is putting a human face on what too often can appear in history books as cold statistics.
On this week’s podcast, she touches on some of the souls who were lost during this previous pandemic, discusses why she launched the project, and reveals how this labor of love has helped her and others cope with the current crisis.
As an apostle, Jeffrey R. Holland is used to public preaching.
Now, under a coronavirus lockdown, he finds himself often relegated to private pondering and even private penance.
“How unusual it is for some of us, including me, to be self-quarantined … spending time with myself that I don’t often have the opportunity to do,” Holland told Rabbi Alon Goshen-Gottstein with The Elijah Interfaith Institute in Jerusalem. “Some things I like about Jeff Holland … but some other things need work, need improvement.”
The 79-year-old apostle, offering a glimpse of what life is like for top church leaders in this unusual time, said in the videotaped interview that he has “suddenly become very, very anxious about the well-being of other people. In this moment, I’m concerned about specific people — my 90-year-old neighbor, my 95-year-old prophet. ... I see them for who they are, as children of God. I always did, but now with a threat in the air we can’t even see … it’s made it more personal.”
Holland said he cherishes what he is learning in this “provocative, rich period” but looks forward to meeting with members again.
Your ticket to conference: a computer or a TV
“Because of our concern for the health and safety of others [during the coronavirus pandemic], we have decided that the October 2020 General Conference will follow the same pattern as the conference held in April,” the governing First Presidency announced. “The general sessions will be broadcast as usual. However, the general sessions will not be open to the public.”
In the spring, speakers addressed a worldwide audience from a mostly empty auditorium in downtown Salt Lake City’s Church Office Building.
Not even all of the top 15 Latter-day Saint leaders were in the same room at the same time. Only those speaking and offering prayers at each session were in attendance. Choir music was prerecorded.
Speaking of music, those noon organ recitals from Salt Lake City’s Temple Square — sidelined during the coronavirus pandemic — will return June 22 via the internet.
The 30-minute “Piping Up” virtual concerts — each featuring a different Tabernacle or Temple Square organist — then will continue every Monday, Wednesday and Friday thereafter.
A kickoff concert is planned for June 17 at 7 p.m. MDT. The show, filmed without an audience will highlight all five organists — Richard Elliott, Andrew Unsworth, Brian Mathias, Linda Margetts and Joseph Peeples.
“I’ve continued to play, arrange, and compose on the organ during these past few months,” Eillott said in a news release. “I am thrilled to be performing again with my fellow organists, sharing our music with others, especially during these troubling times.”
• The church donated 1.5 million gloves, 70,000 N-95 masks, 50,000 coveralls, 50,000 face shields, 30,000 surgical masks and other equipment to South Africa’s health department to help in the fight against the coronavirus.
Dr. Zweli Mkhize, the country’s health minister, expressed thanks for the “generous” contribution, a news release said, worth an estimated $1 million.
• More than 41,000 pounds of groceries made their way to Massachusetts’ South Shore, courtesy of a shipment from the church.
“The thing I have said so many times since this pandemic began is my favorite two words, and they are ‘thank you,’” Interfaith Social Services Executive Director Rick Doane told the Weymouth News. “We have seen communities rallying and sending food and money donations.”
• Myla Wahlquist, a local Relief Society president, works at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, so she knew the need and led an effort to make 350 masks for the emergency room.
“It’s not easy, but people are so anxious to help,” she told the Thomasville Times-Enterprise. “We had people who don’t sew cutting fabric and prepping ties. … We were dropping off components to graduation groups, churches and other organizations. I had fabric all over town; I had metal all over town. It was everywhere.”
• Come Monday, 89 (more than half) of the church’s 160-plus temples around the world will be back in limited service.
Under a Phase 1 reopening plan, these temples will offer marriage “sealings” by appointment for couples who already have been endowed.
For the status of all temples amid the coronavirus pandemic, click here.
• A socially distanced groundbreaking for Argentina’s third temple has been set for Aug. 15.
• CNN recently reported on the church’s footprint in China and its plans to build a temple in Shanghai.
The story noted that the only people admitted to worship services in any of the faith’s 10 or so meetinghouses on the mainland are foreign nationals or Chinese members who converted while overseas.
Attendance at the proposed temple, which may have run into some governmental obstacles, also would be strictly limited.
“If an LDS temple has been announced in Shanghai,” Pierre Vendassi, an expert on Christianity in China, told CNN, “I think it means they probably had a ‘go’ from Chinese officials to do so.”
Patience, on the church’s part, eventually may pay off in China.
“Great progress usually doesn't happen in a straight line," Josh Steimle, a Latter-day Saint who lived in Shenzhen for two years, told the network. “Although there have been crackdowns on religion in China, perhaps the obedience of our members and the trust and friendship our church leadership has built up over the years by working openly with the Chinese government will help open doors.”
Quote of the week
“As we endeavor to heal the wounds of racism, it is critically important to understand that negative ideas toward others based on racial or cultural differences hurt not only those who are the focus of such an attitude; they hurt the practitioner just as much, if not more. … Some people acknowledge the problem but may not recognize it in themselves. Sometimes racism is so subtle, we may not realize we’re expressing it.”
Darius Gray, a founding member of the Genesis Group, in “Healing the Wounds of Racism.”
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.