This week in Mormon Land: High hopes for missionaries, a COVID-19 warning, and more scrutiny on race

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Two missionaries who were serving in Brazil have been reassigned to a Portuguese-speaking congregation in Salt Lake City. Mauri Dobbs, left, and Hannah Davidson make a plan for the week in their apartment, Thursday, May 28, 2020.

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.

A ‘bright’ future

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and chairman of the Missionary Executive Council, addresses new mission leaders at the Provo Missionary Training Center, Sunday, June 23, 2019.

Missionary work is hardly at a standstill. Far from it.

In fact, the coronavirus crisis has unleashed creative energies among proselytizers as they discover “new and wonderful ways” to spread the word, apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf, chairman of the church’s Missionary Executive Council, says in a newly released message.

“We are continuing to learn of the immense good that comes from the righteous and intentional use of technology,” Uchtdorf says. “Sometimes we think of the internet and social media as an enemy because there can be so much negativity there. However, the internet can be a friend to us when we use it correctly.”

Some missionaries are looping in friends from around the world to assist in virtual teaching. Others are sharing musical messages, gospel games and holding digital “Come, Follow Me” lessons with members and their neighbors.

“We have many success stories of missionaries who have used technology to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in extraordinary ways,” Uchtdorf says. “... The future of missionary work is bright.”

Especially, he adds, if missionaries and members remember to use these tools once the pandemic ends.

“I hope that we will not yearn to move back to something that didn’t work well in our lives before COVID-19, but rather look to the future with hope,” Uchtdorf says. “...I only hope that we carry this momentum, this energy up and forward in all areas of the church.”

‘COVID-19 alarm clock’

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during the Religious Freedom Annual Review, hosted by the Brigham Young University law school. The livestream was broadcast on Wednesday, June 17, 2020.

During the coronavirus pandemic, some governments termed religious services “nonessential.”

That classification rankled apostle David A. Bednar.

“While believers and their religious organizations must be good citizens in a time of crisis, never again can we allow government officials to treat the exercise of religion as simply nonessential,” Bednar said this week. “Never again must the fundamental right to worship God be trivialized below the ability to buy gasoline.”

Appearing Wednesday in a livestreamed message during Brigham Young University law school’s Religious Freedom Annual Review, Bednar emphasized the governmental power must be limited.

“Protecting a person’s physical health from the coronavirus is, of course, important,” he said, “but so is a person’s spiritual health.”

The apostle, who turned 68 on Monday, said the pandemic — during which the church itself suspended its services worldwide — is serving as a “wake-up call” to limitations in food and medical supplies, deficiencies in health care systems and the importance of religious freedom.

“The buzzer on the COVID-19 alarm clock just continues to ring and ring and ring,” Bednar said. " … In our understandable desire to combat COVID-19, we, too, as a society may have forgotten something about who we are and what is most precious. Perhaps we have not fully remembered that faith and the right to exercise it are central to our identity as believers.”

Holland hospitalized

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Jeffrey R. Holland speaks during the Sunday morning session of General Conference on April 5, 2020.

Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland is in the hospital, undergoing diagnostic tests for an unknown illness.

The 79-year-old leader, a popular speaker and former BYU president, was “admitted to the hospital last week following several days of illness,” spokesman Eric Hawkins said Wednesday in a news release. “He has been tested and does not have COVID-19. Other diagnostic studies are being done.”

No other information was released about Holland’s condition.

In a video posted last week by the Elijah Interfaith Institute in Jerusalem, Holland spoke of his self-reflection due to the pandemic’s isolation.

This week’s podcast: Mormonism and white supremacy

(Tribune file photo) Brigham Young, second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In 1852, Mormon pioneer-prophet Brigham Young infamously put the church on a path toward a racist practice barring blacks from the priesthood. Some 126 years later, church President Spencer W. Kimball ended the policy.

But racist doctrines and white supremacist views from LDS pulpits and within LDS pews hardly started with the priesthood ban and certainly didn’t stop with its removal.

Scholar Joanna Brooks, a professor of English and comparative literature at San Diego State University, explores these uncomfortable teachings and their ugly undercurrents in her new book, “Mormonism and White Supremacy: American Religion and the Problem of Racial Innocence.”

She joined this week’s show to discuss how coming to terms with the past and present could help the church build a brighter, more inclusive, more equitable future.

Listen here.

Apology challenge accepted

The church has never apologized for its now-discarded priesthood ban, but that isn’t stopping individual members from doing so.

Two Utah lawyers have crafted and posted a petition on Change.org that Latter-day Saints can sign to offer a “heartfelt apology” for helping to perpetuate “racist ideologies and behaviors” against black people.

“There’s not much I can do on behalf of the whole church,” Salt Lake City attorney Andrew Clawson told The Salt Lake Tribune. “But we thought it might make sense if we, as individual members, apologized on our own for our role in it.”

Many members “would feel really good if the church would make a formal apology for the past,” added fellow lawyer Bryant McConkie. “It would be tremendously meaningful.”

Elders feeling ‘blue’

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Under updated guidelines, the standard missionary attire is reemphasized, which includes a white shirt and tie and, in some areas, a suit coat. Additionally, in approved teaching areas, young men (commonly known as elders) may be able to wear a white or plain blue dress shirt with or without a tie. These exceptions will be determined by Area Presidencies.

Light-colored suits and blue shirts and no ties, oh my!

Yep, Latter-day Saint missionaries will no longer get a dressing-down for, well, dressing down.

With approval from their area authorities, these prim and proper proselytizers now can don blue shirts and forgo neckties.

“Missionary attire has regularly adapted over time according to location, style and custom,” apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf said in a news release. “These exceptions are a continuation of that process. In all our considerations, we keep top of mind the missionary’s calling to represent Jesus Christ, their health and safety, and the cultural sensitivities of the places where they serve.”

All elders will continue to wear a white shirt and tie and, in some areas, a suit coat, the release said, “when attending the temple, Sunday worship services, leadership and zone conferences, Missionary Training Centers, baptismal services and other church meetings.”

The move comes 18 months after the Utah-based faith loosened the dress code for female missionaries, allowing them to ditch their dresses and wear pants — at “their own discretion” — when they proselytize.

In 2017, the church also eased its employee dress code to include dress pants for women.

Missionaries on the move — again

Some 26,000 missionaries serving abroad had to return due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, most of them with significant time left on their missions have opted to head back right away to new assignments in their home countries.

“That was a great moment for me to see how many of them wanted to go back,” Brent Nielson, a general authority Seventy and executive director of the Missionary Department, said in a news release. “...We hear from almost every mission that they have a really long list of people who are waiting to be baptized as soon as the chapel can open.”

Two female missionaries who were serving in Brazil, for example, have been reassigned to a Portuguese-speaking congregation in Salt Lake City.

“I knew I’d be with Brazilian people again. I would be speaking Portuguese and that would add this element of familiarity,” Mauri Dobbs, a native of Santa Clarita, Calif., who served for a year in Brazil, said in the release.

“And here it’s so nice because we have smartphones and we can text people and … there’s Facebook that we can use,” said her companion, Hannah Davidson of Sandpoint, Idaho.

Of course, shuffling around all those missionaries was no small feat for church travel employees.

“This involved many weeks of very little sleep as we coordinated flights, whether those be commercial or charter flights, wherever the missionaries needed to go,” said Nanette Sorensen, Global Travel Services manager for the church’s Materials Management Department. “Between our staff here and the staff in the area offices, we saw miracles happen as borders opened up and we all worked together for this common good.”

Hatch on hold

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, shown in 2018.

Orrin Hatch will have to wait a few more months to collect his Canterbury Medal.

The former U.S. senator was selected back in February to receive the prize for his efforts to safeguard religious freedom. The Utah Republican was due to get the award in May, but the coronavirus pandemic has delayed the New York ceremony to Oct. 15.

“Over more than four decades of Senate service, I worked to build coalitions of common interest to preserve religious liberty for people of all faiths. Protecting these rights is essential to the future of our republic,” Hatch said in a news release. “Receiving the Canterbury Medal is an incredible honor, and I am committed to always live worthy of it by remaining steadfast in my devotion to religious liberty.”

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

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.

Activity rising

Data scientist Stephen Cranney recently crunched some numbers and found that church “activity” among Latter-day Saints in the U.S. may be on the rise.

Cranney, whose report appears in a Times and Seasons blog post, notes that his findings are based on numbers from the General Social Survey among those who self-identify as members.

The estimates, he writes, “suggest that ‘activity’ [those who attend services nearly every week] has actually been increasing” since 1995 and are higher now than they were in the early 1970s.

“Now, this could be because activity has in fact been increasing, and people who self-identify as Latter-day Saints are increasingly likely to go to church,” Cranney explains. “However, it could also be that the kind of cultural ‘Jack Mormon’ who maintained a cultural or hereditary affiliation is less likely to do so now than they were in the past (for whatever reason).”

French connections

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saints participated in the dedication of the Paris Temple in 2017.

Despite being mistaken at times as polygamists, Amish and Jehovah’s Witnesses, members and missionaries in France have seen a “slight increase” in convert baptisms.

But, reports independent demographer Matt Martinich, growing secularization — the tally of French people who claim no religion or are atheist is about the same size as those who identify as Roman Catholic — poses a significant obstacle to growth prospects in France, which, like Italy, is home to one temple and 10 stakes after seeing a number of smaller branches consolidated into larger wards.

“The outlook for future Latter-day Saint growth in France is mediocre,” Martinich writes on his blog at ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com, “due to low levels of member activity, inconsistent mission practices regarding the baptism of new converts, persistent congregation consolidations, reduction in the number of full-time missionaries assigned, few local members serving full-time missions, and mission policies isolating Muslims from mission outreach.”

Retail stores reopening

Church distribution outlets and Deseret Book stores have been reopening in four phases — appointment only, curbside services available, limited hours (no appointment required) and normal hours.

Customers can click here to see the status of each store.

The Salt Lake City church distribution store is open by appointment only, while the Deseret Book shop at downtown Salt Lake City’s City Creek Center — which had been closed for weeks — is now open for limited hours with no appointment required.

Hearing history

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) "Saints: The Standard of Truth" is the first of a planned four-volume history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As members wend their way through “Saints,” the multivolume history of the church, there is a companion resource they can take along for the ride.

The “Saints” podcast features interviews with historians, general authorities, writers and researchers working on this mammoth undertaking from the church’s earliest days to the present.

Hosted by Shalyn Back and Ben Godfrey, each episode explores a chapter from “Saints.” The first season discusses Volume 1, “The Standard of Truth,” while second season covers Volume 2, “No Unhallowed Hand.”

“In history, I feel like voices of women aren’t as prominent,” Back, a former social media and email marketing manager for the church, told the Church News. “But in ‘Saints,’ there is an incredible balance of bringing in women’s voices and experiences parallel to the leaders of the church and the other missionaries that we hear of.”

Godfrey, a product manager in the church History Department, looks forward to the interviews and what he — and listeners — can learn.

“I haven’t spent my whole life researching that one topic, but I know they have,” he said. “It’s really fun to have my own personal chance to ask my questions.”

The podcast can be found on many podcast-distributing platforms, including iTunes, Spotify and the Latter-day Saints Channel.

Choir tour reset

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square sings at conference April 7, 2019.

The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square will leave a year from this week for a tour of Scandinavia and the United Kingdom.

The trip had been scheduled for this summer but was delayed by the coronavirus.

Now the renowned singers and musicians will depart June 17, 2021, and return July 8, according to a news release.

The kickoff concert will be in Stockholm (June 19), followed by performances in Helsinki (June 22), Copenhagen, Denmark (June 26), Oslo, Norway (June 29), Edinburgh, Scotland (July 2), Cardiff, Wales (July 5) and Newport, South Wales (July 6).

Relief efforts

• Latter-day Saints have donated 12,000 masks to migrant shelters in Juarez, Mexico.

“One of the most pressing needs here is (COVID-19) protection. We are focused on migrant shelters and we are starting with face masks — 12,000 now and another 8,000 next month,” Ulises Chavez, a church representative in northern Chihuahua, told WATE 6. " … “We’ll be stopping the spread of COVID-19 with the face masks, but the most important benefit is that we’re showing love to another human being.”

• Latter-day Saint Charities provided masks, face shields, medical gloves, protective suits and hygiene sets to the Philippine navy and national police.

“We have been a part of the many collaborations with Latter-day Saint Charities for years,” MGEN Ariel R. Caculitan, commander of the Naval Reserve, said in a news release. “They have hearts that are willing to help.”

Temple updates

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Evan Schmutz, Philippines area president, speaks in June 2020 at groundbreaking for the Alabang Temple.

• A small-scale groundbreaking in early June launched work on the Alabang Temple in metro Manila.

Seven temples have been announced or dedicated in the Philippines, home to more than 805,000 members.

“This is a beautiful place that the Lord has chosen,” general authority Seventy Evan A. Schmutz, Philippines area president, said in a news release. “Through revelation and guidance, it has been found and is now being dedicated to the building of a temple.”

• Work also got underway Saturday on the Auckland Temple.

“The temple will be a beautiful, bright light in the city of Auckland, inviting all to come unto Christ,” general authority Ian S. Ardern, a native New Zealander and Pacific area president, said in a news release. “...We fervently and desperately encourage all to become and remain worthy to enter the temple.”

The country’s first and only other temple, in Hamilton, has been closed for renovation.

• The open house and rededication of the renovated Washington, D.C., Temple have been postponed until large public gatherings are deemed safe, a news release advised. The open house had been set to begin Sept. 24 followed by a rededication Dec. 13.

• Come Monday, 93 of the church’s 160-plus temples around the world will be back in limited service.

Under a Phase 1 reopening plan, these temples, including the one in Paris, 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.

Quote of the week

“I would hope the church does apologize for our past [racist teachings and practices]; I believe it’s necessary to move on. The people long to talk about it without any worry or fear that they’re criticizing the prophet.”

Andrew Clawson, Salt Lake City attorney

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