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.
The scriptures need a rewrite — or at least a thoughtful edit.
So argues Robert Bennett, an English professor at Montana State University.
In a By Common Consent blog post and a similar letter to The Salt Lake Tribune, Bennett adds this voice to those urging church leaders to remove references in the Book of Mormon and the Pearl of Great Price that describe God’s curse as a “skin of blackness.”
“These scriptures were a primary reason why Mormons both invented and upheld the priesthood and temple bans for so long, and their continued existence only further promulgates explicit racism,” he writes. “...The time has come to simply excise these racist tumors from our Holy Scriptures once and for all. ... I have had to read these painfully and blatantly racist scriptures my whole life, but I never want to read them again. My children have already had to read them, too, but is there any reason why my grandchildren should?”
Women in the Word
Exponent II blogger Emily Gilkey Palmer points to a problem she sees in the Book of Mormon — namely, the objectification of women.
She notes a number of examples in the church’s signature scripture — and shows how they fit into feminist categories of objectification — including:
• When Lehi’s sons fetch Ishmael’s daughters as future brides. “The purpose of bringing the women out of Jerusalem, soon to be destroyed,” Gilkey Palmer writes, “was so that they could reproduce and perpetuate Lehi’s lineage.”
• When King Lamoni offers Ammon one of his daughters in marriage — even though the intended couple apparently had never met. “The daughter,” the blog states, “seemingly exists to cement desirable partnerships between men.”
• When King Noah’s wicked priests abduct Lamanite women rather than return to their wives. “They needed sexual services and female labor,” Gilkey Palmer explains, “so they just took some other women and replaced their former wives with new ones.”
Touring a temple made easy
So you want to tour the Kirtland Temple?
Don’t bother making a reverse Mormon pioneer pilgrimage and traveling back to Ohio. The temple is closed to in-person visits until at least Sept. 1 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But you can book a guided virtual tour. The Community of Christ is offering these online journeys every weekday at 2 p.m. Eastern time. The $10 cost covers a preservation fee.
Click here to sign up.
You can also take a 3D virtual tour anytime for $7.
Battles at BYU
The racist views of Brigham Young have come under attack in recent days and so has his statue.
Vandals spray-painted in red the word “racist” on the replica of the Latter-day Saint pioneer-prophet that stands on the Provo campus that bears his name.
The church’s new multivolume history points to Young’s racism.
“Like other groups of Christians at this time ... many white Saints wrongly viewed black people as inferior, believing that black skin was the result of God’s curse on the biblical figures Cain and Ham. Some had even begun to teach the false idea that black skin was evidence of a person’s unrighteous actions in the premortal life,” states “Saints, Volume 2.” “Brigham Young shared some of these views, but before leaving Winter Quarters, he had also told a mixed-race Saint that all people were alike unto God. ‘Of one blood has God made all flesh,’ he had said. ‘We don’t care about the color.’”
Brigham Young University police said an “X” also was sprayed over the sign of the Abraham O. Smoot Administration Building.
The markings have since been scrubbed off.
A petition is calling for the Smoot Building to be renamed. Smoot, a former Provo mayor and BYU benefactor, owned slaves. A group also wants to require that students take a race and ethnicity class before graduating.
The school has formed a committee to look at inequality.
The panel’s initial charge is to “prioritize opportunities to better listen to, and better understand, the experiences of Black students, faculty and staff on campus,” according to a news release, “to help inform adjustments and changes that can assist BYU in being a more safe and welcoming place for BYU’s community members of color.”
Father north, at BYU’s Idaho campus, the Rexburg school is drawing flak after a short-lived Facebook page from the Performing and Visual Arts program compared the historic persecution of Latter-day Saints to centuries of slavery in America — suggesting Black people, too, can “RISE ABOVE.”
The comparison doesn’t work, critics say.
“Black people were taken from their families. Their names were changed. Their agency was 100% taken,” Richard Luyhengo, a Black international student at BYU-Idaho, told The Tribune. “And those very Saints were persecuting blacks, as well.”
Southern Virginia University makes a change
Back East, Southern Virginia University recently learned that its Durham Hall was named after a lawyer who publicly pushed for white supremacy.
So the independent school, which caters to Latter-day Saints, apologized and dumped the name from its main academic building.
Robert Lee Durham, who lived from 1870 to 1949, rose to president of the Southern Seminary, which became SVU’s campus. In 1908, he penned a novel, “The Call of the South,” that warned against race mixing.
“We understood it could be really hurtful and disrespectful to have a building named for a person who actually supported white supremacy,” SVU spokesman Chris Pendleton told the Deseret News.
This week’s podcast: Building a better BYU
Amid the nation’s reawakening on the issue of systemic racism, BYU President Kevin Worthen has conceded that “there is work to do” at the Provo campus.
Many students and alumni agree, and some of them have called on officials to rebrand the administration building, given that it bears the name of Abraham O. Smoot, a former benefactor who owned slaves.
On this week’s podcast, two of the activists behind this effort, Tristan Quist and Cole Stewart-Johnson, discuss why they are targeting the Smoot Building and how a name change may help make the university a more welcoming place for all. They also share their views about the monikers on other BYU buildings, some of which are named after past church leaders, and about the school’s name itself.
Holland out of hospital
Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland has resumed his “normal activities.”
The 79-year-old leader underwent a brief hospital stay for “observation” due to an undisclosed ailment.
“He and his family appreciate the prayers and concern on his behalf,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a news release.
Hawkins previously said Holland did not have COVID-19. No other information was released about the apostle’s health.
A popular preacher and former Brigham Young University president, Holland was ordained an apostle 26 years ago this week.
Out of Africa
Latter-day Saint leaders met recently with the newly enthroned king of the Ga State in southern Ghana.The church delegation gave Dr. Tackie Teiko Tsuru-II, among other gifts, a copy of the Book of Mormon.
“I want to thank you on behalf of all my chiefs, elders and my people,” the Ga king said in a news release. “God bless all the good works you are doing and may God reward you abundantly.”
He also noted that his people have always drawn their faith from theocracy.
“We are asking your church to partner with us to bring back theocracy within our cultures, traditions, societies and among the people,” he added in the release, “because true faith in God is what starts any kind of development through wisdom to bring people together for progress, peace and unity.”
Rasbands on the restoration
Apostle Ronald A. Rasband and his wife, Melanie, will discuss the church’s restoration Sept. 13 from the place where it all began: the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, N.Y., where Mormon founder Joseph Smith said he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ.
The Face to Face event, broadcast to young adults around the globe, also will focus on “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World” — a document the church issued in April’s General Conference.
The goal of Project Protect was to provide 5 million medical-grade masks for Utah health care workers in little more than a month.
Six weeks later, mission accomplished — and then some.
Final tally: more than 5.7 million masks, thanks to 800,000 volunteer hours, to aid the state’s efforts against the coronavirus.
“It has been heartwarming and somewhat amazing to see the dedication of the volunteers who have showed up, week after week, to cheerfully pick up the kits and then tearfully — and gratefully — deliver the finished masks,” President Jean Bingham, head of the women’s Relief Society, told the Church News. “I’ve seen mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, friends and neighbors, old and young, rally around this cause.”
Randy D. Funk, first counselor in the church’s Utah Area Presidency, joined other religious leaders in signing an interfaith appeal urging Utahns to wear face coverings and practice social distancing, “sacrificing a small measure of comfort for the sake of saving lives” from COVID-19.
“We recall that the greatest commandment is to love God, and the second is like unto it, to love one’s neighbor as oneself,” the religious letters wrote. “One cannot claim to love one’s neighbor while deliberately putting them at risk.”
• Come Monday, six more temples will reopen, boosting to 98 the tally of temples around the world back in limited service.
Under a Phase 1 reopening plan, these temples (including three in Mexico — Colonia Juárez Chihuahua, Guadalajara and Monterrey) 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 Sept. 5 groundbreaking has been set for the Orem Temple.
The three-story, 70,000-square-foot building with a center spire — but no Angel Moroni statue — is one of five new temples that have been announced for Utah, along with Syracuse, Taylorsville, Tooele Valley and Washington County.
Two other temples are already under construction in the state — in Layton and Saratoga Springs — which will bring the total number in Utah to 24.
• We also now know what Argentina’s Mendoza Temple will look like.
The church released an exterior rendering of the 21,000-square-foot, single-spire building. It, too, will not have an Angel Moroni statue.
Argentina, with more than 470,000 members, is home to five operating or planned temples.
Quote of the week
“We’re not good with the uncomfortable facts and contradictions in our history, in part because they’ve been used by outsiders to try to ridicule our faith. We’ve been in that space of defense for so long, and it has cost us dearly. When I think of how many families have been torn up in recent years over literal truth claims and faith crises, and how much wreckage it has created, we can see the cost. But we are a complicated faith, and we can hold those complications with humility.”
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.