This week in Mormon Land: ‘The Book of Mormon,’ like ‘Hamilton,‘ may reach TV; the richest church; a first for the ‘First Vision’

Courtesy | MagicSpace/Broadway Across America First national tour cast in the "Book of Mormon" musical.

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.

‘Book of Mormon’ on demand?

OK, Broadway fans, so by now you may have watched the movie version of “Hamilton” a half-dozen or so times since its release last week on Disney+.

But when, if ever, will you be able to binge on an authorized video of that bawdy — yet, some Latter-day Saints say, endearing — “Book of Mormon,” the musical that so mercilessly mocks, maligns and mangles church practices and preachings?

Good news. It could happen. Josh Gad, who played that nerdy but lovable liar, Elder Arnold Cunningham, wrote on Twitter that there is a tape “somewhere” of a performance by the original cast.

“We shot it in the last few months I was there,” he wrote, “but I have never seen it.”

So someday, devotees of the show may be able fire up the popcorn, plop in front of the TV, pick up the remote and turn it on.

‘Light of the Nations’ goes online

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Dancers in “Luz de las Naciones: A Home for All” (“Light of the Nations”) practice choreography in the Conference Center in Salt Lake City for a past performance.

The church’s “Light of the Nations” gala isn’t vanishing this year, but, due to the coronavirus, it won’t be staged live either.

Instead, two virtual “Luz de Las Naciones” celebrations — showcasing Latino cultures from across the globe — will take place online.

A Nov. 7 show will include video highlights from past events and feature an all-new Hispanic virtual choir, according to a news release. A Dec. 19 holiday performance will rejoice over the birth of Christ.

Richest church?

(Jeremy Harmon | Tribune file photo) Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Sunday, April 5, 2020.

A Kenyan news and entertainment website recently ran a tally of the world’s 15 wealthiest churches. Guess which faith topped the list?

Yep, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ahead of — get this — the Catholic Church in Vatican City, the Catholic Church in Germany, and the Church of England, among others.

Sourcing the list to user-generated content (UGC) and providing a Bloomberg link, the Tuko website story said the LDS Church “owns farms, ranches, orchards and hunting preserves across America and in some parts of Australia, Britain, Brazil, Canada, Argentina and Mexico.”

Of course, the Utah-based faith made headlines in recent months after news broke of its “rainy day” reserve that reportedly held $100 billion.

Church development runs into interference

(Rendering courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) This is an artist's rendering of a portion of the planned residential community near the site of the Tooele Valley Temple.

The Book of Mormon, the church’s signature scripture, declares that there must be “opposition in all things.”

Well, that holds true even for the church’s plans to build hundreds of new homes in a walkable residential community around its still-to-be-built Tooele Valley Temple.

Some residents are organizing a petition drive to stop — or at least alter — the recently approved rezoning for the proposed community about 30 miles west of Salt Lake City.

“It’s sad to me,” resident Monica Kennedy told FOX 13. “I hate that we are a small town and they are bringing in a big-city development.”

Besides the high-density homes, renderings show the project would also sport a regional park, playing fields, pickleball courts, a walking trail, water features and more.

Note: The Salt Lake Tribune and FOX 13 are content-sharing partners.

A first for the ‘First Vision’

(Al Hartmann | Tribune file photo) The Salt Lake Second Ward at 704 S. 500 East features this stained-glass window of Joseph Smith's "First Vision."

So when did Joseph Smith’s “First Vision” first become known as the “First Vision”?

Apparently not until 1849, when apostle Orson Pratt coined the term to describe the Mormon founder’s story of his face-to-face encounter with deity.

So says historian Steven C. Harper, author of “First Vision: Memory and Mormon Origins,” in a “10 questions” interview with Kurt Manwaring.

In his book and the interview, Harper examines the various accounts of the First Vision through the lens of memory studies.

“It’s a maxim that recent memories are accurate and distant memories are inaccurate. Those are reassuring things we tell ourselves, but they are unfounded,” Harper explains. “Memories are much more unpredictable than that. They are based on many more variables than the passage of time. So I wrote the book to challenge that problem generally and specifically to provide a more sophisticated explanation for the historical record of the First Vision.”

Harper tells Manwaring that Smith’s best-known, 1838 account is “characterized by a defensive persecution complex.”

The church’s first leader “might be pleased that we have grown out of our persecuted past enough to begin to put less emphasis on abominable creeds and corrupt professors,” Harper says, “and more emphasis on the Christ-centered redemption narrative emphasized in his 1832 and 1835 accounts.”

For instance, in the 1832 telling, the only one penned in Smith’s own hand, the Lord tells the pleading boy-prophet: “Joseph, my son, thy sins are forgiven thee.”

“I like to think,” Harper adds, “... that [Smith] would be pleased by the recent turn toward the story’s application for sinful, anxious teenagers who also need to know that people like them have successfully sought and [found] the God of love.

This week’s podcast: ‘Hamilton’ and the founders

(Disney+ via AP) In this image released by Disney+, Chris Jackson portrays George Washington, left, and Lin-Manuel Miranda portrays Alexander Hamilton in a filmed version of the original Broadway production of "Hamilton."

As Americans tune into the movie version of the Broadway megahit “Hamilton” amid a national debate about the virtues and vices of the nation’s framers, the question arises: How do and should Latter-day Saints view them?

Mormon scriptures prophecy that the Americas would sprout a place of “promise,” a “land of liberty.” Members are taught that God “raised up” these “choice spirits” to establish a divinely inspired Constitution and a Declaration of Independence that proclaims “all men are created equal.”

Yet many of the founders embraced slavery; others enabled it.

On this week’s podcast, Benjamin Park, an assistant professor of history at Sam Houston State University and author of the recently released “Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier,” discusses these principles and paradoxes.

Listen here.

FSY makes history

(Screenshot courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saint youths and their counselors are interviewed by Church Newsroom and Church News via Zoom video conference on Friday, June 26, 2020. Over 3,000 youths from more than 27 Caribbean countries and territories participated in the first-ever online For the Strength of Youth conference held on June 22-26, 2020.

Shall the youth conferences of Zion falter?


Not even amid a pandemic.

More than 3,000 Latter-day Saint youths and their friends from more than 27 countries and territories attended their first-ever online For the Strength of Youth conference last month.

“We want to follow the prophet in his priority of caring for the youth, so we held this virtual event for the first time,” general authority Seventy Jorge Alvarado, second counselor of the Caribbean Area Presidency and a native Puerto Rican, said in a news release. “This will ideally contribute to their missionary preparation, bearing good fruit to society as men and women of God.”

The five-day internet gathering featured classes, discussions, musical and dance performances, and sermons from church leaders, including apostle Dale G. Renlund, Young Women general President Bonnie Cordon and Young Men general President Steven Lund.

“[Heavenly Father] inspired our leaders to find a way to communicate with us,” Jennifer Fortuné, a 17-year-old from Haiti said in the release, “because he knew we were in great need to have this conference.”

Temple updates

Come Monday, 115 temples will be back in service.

Under a Phase 1 reopening plan, the church announced that six more temples — including the Los Angeles Temple and two in Washington state — will provide marriage “sealings” by appointment for couples who already have been endowed.

No Latter-day Saint temples in the world have yet reached Phase 2, offering all living ordinances by appointment.

For the status of each temple amid the coronavirus, click here.

Quote of the week

“Respect for human dignity is an essential principle of faith. Restrictions on religious freedom violate that dignity. These breaches not only impact individual conscience but have wide social, economic and spiritual consequences for entire nations. We stand shoulder to shoulder with all those who advocate respect for all faiths, including their right to worship. We actively support greater inclusivity and tolerance within our own societies and globally.”

General authority Seventy Gary B. Sabin, after a recent online webinar on “COVID-19, Religion and Belief”

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