This week in Mormon Land: A call for an anti-racism proclamation, a plea to dump all statues, and a streamlined church website

(Thomas Burr | Tribune file photo) A statue of Brigham Young, who led the Mormon pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley, is one of two statues of Utahns in the U.S. Capitol.

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 evils of racism — a proclamation to the world

Short of apologizing for its former priesthood-temple ban, the church could publish a proclamation — similar to ones it issued in 1995 on the family and in April on the restoration.

So suggests Times and Seasons blogger Chad Nielsen. He even crafted one — titled “All Are Alike Unto God” — gleaned by piecing together past statements from the church and its top leaders.

It begins by drawing from the faith’s 2013 essay “Race and the Priesthood,” declaring that “in theology and practice,” the church “embraces the universal human family” and that “God created the many diverse races and ethnicities and esteems them all equally.”

In an ode to the late apostle Hugh B. Brown, it ends with a “call upon all men and women, everywhere, both within and outside the church, to commit themselves to the establishment of full civil equality for all of God’s children. Anything less than this defeats our high ideal of the family of humankind.”

Choir celebrates 90 years on radio

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square sings during the Sunday morning session of the 189th twice-annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.

Generations have grown up tuning into Sunday’s “Music and the Spoken Word.”

On July 18, The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square will celebrate 90 years of the longest continuously running radio network broadcast with a special prerecorded show.

The 90-minute broadcast will feature interviews, song favorites, guest performances, and five Tabernacle organists playing a virtual quintet of the “William Tell” Overture.

“When the choir sings, there is no language anymore. There are no borders,” Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, choir adviser, said in a news release. “Music is a way for the church to reach out to all the world, all people, and communicate with them from the heart.”

The broadcast, at 7 p.m. MDT, will be available at TheTabernacleChoir.org, The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square YouTube channel, Broadcasts.ChurchofJesusChrist.org and the Latter-day Saints Channel.

BYUtv and BYUtv.org will air it July 19 at 5 p.m. MDT.

Statues of limitations

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Statue of Brigham Young on the BYU campus in Provo in December 2018.

Like author Charles Dickens, who wanted no statues erected of himself (a dying wish routinely ignored), By Common Consent blogger Carolyn Homer is no fan of such memorials.

So as the debate continues about whether to remove statues of, say, pioneer-prophet Brigham Young or BYU benefactor Abraham O. Smoot, Homer has a ready answer.

Do it.

“No person should be a permanent symbol of public adoration,” she writes. “...Statues celebrate wealth, conquest, or other worldly success while implying perfection and eliding flaws. Pedestals are cages. I hate them. … If the focus of our faith is to worship Christ, we should stop worshipping Brigham Young and Joseph Smith.”

Homer makes one exception — for Jesus. “He was perfect and he is our Savior.”

Oh, but not the Christus — “a white Jesus,” she says, “risen and triumphant” — that Latter-day Saints see at many of the church visitor centers.

“For me,” Homer says, “God is found in authentic vulnerability.”

Gospel study made simpler

(Screenshot courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) This shows a new, simplified menu coming to the church's website.

Seek and ye shall find — more easily than ever.

That’s what the tech team is promising with the church’s new website, thanks to a simplified navigation menu that will debut in coming weeks in 10 languages.

For example, “instead of having study content such as scriptures, magazines, lesson manuals, and General Conference spread out across the various navigation menus of the website,” a news release states, “you will be able to find all study-related content in the online Gospel Library — a single-access point similar to the Gospel Library mobile app.”

Of course, website changes can also confuse, especially at first.

“We know change can be hard for many people,” Lyman Kirkland, director of channels, said in the release, “but we wouldn’t make this change if the results of the testing [over an 18-month period] hadn’t shown positive outcomes for site visitors.”

Imagine change on LGBTQ issues

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Dan Reynolds performs with Imagine Dragons at the LoveLoud Festival at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, July 28, 2018.

June was Pride Month, so MEAWW (Media, Entertainment, Arts World Wide) featured Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds, a Latter-day Saint, LGBTQ ally and founder of the LoveLoud music festival.

The story discussed Reynolds’ activism and efforts — from inside the faith — to reshape Mormon culture and attitudes toward LGBTQ inclusion.

“I don’t feel a need to denounce Mormonism,” Reynolds says during an interview in the 2018 documentary “Believer.” “I do feel a need as a Mormon to speak out against things that are hurting people.”

The MEAWW piece also pointed to a Billboard Magazine interview in which the singer invited “all the political and religious leaders of Utah to join us as we show our LGBTQ youth that they are not just loved, but truly accepted and appreciated.”

Reynolds has previously talked about the film, his family, his fragile faith and why he still identifies as a Latter-day Saint — despite his misgivings about some church policies and teachings.

“If you ever want to make real change within your community or your religion … your family, you have to be a part of it,” he said during a June 2018 appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” “You can’t be from the outside yelling.”

This week’s podcast: Sexuality and gender

(Courtesy photo) Taylor Petrey, author of “Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism.”

Perhaps no issues have roiled members more than questions about race, gender and sexuality.

Scholar Taylor Petrey offers an original exploration of these topics and how they connect and intersect in his new book, “Tabernacles of Clay: Sexuality and Gender in Modern Mormonism.”

On this week’s podcast, Petrey, the current editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought and an associate professor of religion at Kalamazoo College, examines how the Utah-based faith’s views have shifted, especially since World War II, and what that evolution may portend for the future.

Listen here.

Hastening (in Hastings) the work

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Raiha Resean O'Shaughnessy, 12, of the Korongata Ward, does indexing on his laptop. Hastings, New Zealand, June 2020.

With one temple under renovation and the other under construction, New Zealanders still found a way to do temple work — even amid a COVID-19 lockdown. They just logged onto their computers.

Members in Hastings have indexed more than 956,000 genealogical records from the country’s 1865-1957 electoral rolls since mid-March. (Indexing makes these documents more searchable at the church’s familysearch.org website.)

In fact, the coronavirus cutbacks have boosted the effort.

“I was excited to have time to index daily as opposed to just weekends,” Sandy Bates said in a news release. “It started with my wife and me but grew to include more members of our family of eight” — along with an army of other volunteers.

Albania advances, Russia retreats

The church took a step forward in Albania last week, organizing its first district outside of the capital of Tirana.

But if the Adriatic nation succeeds in its strides to join the European Union, independent demographer Matt Martinich warns, it could slow church growth.

Other former communist nations that have become part of the E.U., Martinich writes on ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com, have seen some Latter-day Saints emigrate, leaving significant leadership voids.

He does, however, anticipate Tirana may get a small temple within a decade or two, since Albania’s closest temple is in Rome. At the end of 2019, membership in Albania stood at 3,216.

In Russia, meanwhile, the church has discontinued the Irkutsk District, which had three branches and had been formed in 2016.

“The church has frequently open and closed districts in many [Russian] cities,” Martinich writes in the June 2020 newsletter for cumorah.com. “This has appeared due to the ebb and flow of active members and area and mission efforts to conserve or encourage local leadership development.”

Biggest humanitarian response

The church has said its annual humanitarian and welfare expenditures typically reach about $1 billion.

Well, you best multiply that number this year, because the faith’s response to the global coronavirus pandemic has become its largest-ever relief effort.

“This is part of our DNA,” Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé, the ecclesiastical authority who oversees the church’s vast financial, real estate, investment and charitable operations, said in a new video. “We go and find those that are in need and try to help them, whether it is in our own community or faraway in other countries.”

The aid has amounted to 630 projects in more than 130 countries.

For starters, there are those convoys of kindness — in which the church sends 15 semis stuffed with food and other goods every week to places across the U.S. and Canada — that you’ve been reading about for weeks in this newsletter.

And here are some new examples from overseas:

• Latter-day Saint Charities donated hundreds of iPads to help students in quarantine in Terrassa, Spain, continue their studies electronically, according to a news release, and financed the production — using 3D printers — of more than 9,000 shields for medical workers, first responders and patients (including a newborn) in Valencia, Spain, along with more in Seville.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Health care worker and premature infant with protective visor manufactured by a 3D printer, paid for by Latter-day Saint Charities.

• The church’s humanitarian arm also delivered 5,000 washable face masks and other supplies to an emergency disaster training center in Pasig City, Philippines. Beehive Clothing in the Philippines aimed to produce 400,000 masks by July.

• The church also teamed up with the Barzani Charity Foundation to distribute 2,000 food parcels this week to a Syrian-Kurdish refugee camp in the Kurdistan Region’s Sulaimani province, the Kurdistan 24 broadcast news station reported.

More relief efforts

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Relief Society sisters sewed and donated 60 emergency hygiene bags and nearly 200 towels for homeless people in Helsinki.

Latter-day Saint women are living up to the Relief Society’s name, offering relief around the globe:

• They donated hygiene supplies and nearly 200 towels to the homeless in Helsinki.

• They sewed 1,200 face masks to safeguard children and the elderly in French Polynesia.

• They assembled care packages for missionaries quarantined in Brisbane, Australia.

• They made and donated masks to a mental health facility in Hachioji, Japan.

• They sewed and donated more than 400 masks and 160 laundry bags to nursing homes and health care facilities in Friedrichsdorf, Germany.

• And members in Queensland, Australia, contributed scrapbooks, coloring books, pens, pencils, sharpeners, erasers and small whiteboards to dozens of preschools in Papua New Guinea.

Temple updates

(Jeremy Harmon | Tribune file photo) The Philadelphia Temple in 2016.

• Come Monday, more than 100 temples will be open again.

The church announced that a dozen more temples — including ones in Boston, Rome, Philadelphia, Manhattan and San Diego — will be back in limited service.

However, two temples in Mexico — Colonia Juárez Chihuahua and Monterrey — that previously were to come back on line under a Phase 1 plan have shut down.

So 12 steps forward, two steps back.

Next week, the tally of temples offering marriage “sealings” by appointment for couples who already have been endowed will stand at 108.

For the status of all temples amid the coronavirus, click here.

Quote of the week

(Courtesy photo) Susan R. Madsen, director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project.

“We are women of influence. We are women of strength, and women who need to use their voices to move forward … really moving our countries and our cities and our world forward. … There’s never a better time [than] right now.”

Susan R. Madsen, a Latter-day Saint scholar and director of the Utah Women & Leadership Project, who was the keynote speaker at Interfaith Scotland’s women and leadership event.

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