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 path forward on race

(Tribune file photo) Early Latter-day Saint black convert Elijah Able, sometimes spelled Abel, was ordained to the priesthood.

A Mormon historian argues that the LDS Church could and should be a leading voice against racism, not because it never practiced it but rather because it did.

“Rather than be hobbled by our past racism, what if we owned it and used our shared history to stand in places of empathy?” W. Paul Reeve, head of Mormon studies at the University of Utah, asks in an article for the Faith Matters website. “...What if we were willing to speak up and stand up against systemic racism because we engaged in it ourselves and have come to understand its consequences?”

Reeve, author of the award-winning “Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness,” retraces the church’s evolution from a faith that initially offered membership, priesthood and temple privileges to “persons of all languages, and of every tongue, and of every color” to one that, starting with Brigham Young in 1852, instituted a racist priesthood and temple ban that lasted for more than a century.

Reeve even conjectures that Young himself likely sees the errors in his preachings and yearns for today’s Latter-day Saints to follow suit.

“Do we really believe that Brigham Young is somewhere in the eternities upset that we are not defending his racial position from 1852?” Reeve writes. “Surely he knows now why the Book of Mormon so emphatically testifies that “all are alike unto God…black and white.” Surely Brother Brigham has moved well beyond his 1852 racism and is urgently hoping we will do the same.”

The historian notes that the scriptures — from the Bible to the Book of Mormon — stand as witnesses to the evils of racism and that people need to let prophets “be human” and learn from their foresight and their faults.

“Racism is wrong no matter where it is found or who engages in it. If a prophet engages in racism, whether that be Brigham Young, Joseph F. Smith, or Nephi, it is still wrong,” Reeve says. “...Not all scripture is meant to be affirming. Some scriptures are meant to teach us the consequences of bad ideas and behavior by God’s people.”

Today’s Latter-day Saint prophet-president, Russell M. Nelson, recently called on “each of us to abandon attitudes of prejudice against any group of God’s children,” emphasizing that “any of us who has prejudice toward another race needs to repent!”

(Courtesy of University of Utah) W. Paul Reeve, head of Mormon studies at the University of Utah.

Go the distance

During the coronavirus pandemic, apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his wife are big believers in wearing face masks and physical distancing.

“Harriet and I are confident that physical distancing helps us to protect ourselves and others from the dangers of the pandemic,” he writes in a July 9 article on the church’s website, “and we try to comply as best as we can.”

But the 79-year-old church leader isn’t a fan of the term social distancing.

“We have learned how important and vital it is to our well-being to stay socially close to family, friends, and our brothers and sisters in the church,” he says. “Fortunately, today there are many amazing tools and means available, some supported by technology, to reduce social, emotional and spiritual distancing.”

The couple visit virtually with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. They celebrate birthdays, read bedtime stories and share gospel discussions.

Uchtdorf says frequent and fervent contacts with family and friends may even be more vital and meaningful nowadays.

“Somehow, these challenging times helped us to be more open about the feelings of our soul,” he adds. “We realized even more clearly how special it is not to hide or mask the feelings of our hearts from those we love most. During these special times, Harriet and I try to follow our own recommendation: Mask your face, don’t mask your heart.”

Uchtdorf removed that mask Tuesday so he could deliver a digital devotional address to students in the Brigham Young University-Pathway Worldwide program.

He urged the students to let their unfolding education help them become heroes in their own stories.

“We live in times where the pages of history are anything but empty. COVID-19 is forcing us to find and use different ways of communication,” the apostle said. “I am pleased to say the church’s Pathway program is way ahead of its time. … [It] can be a wonderful and informed guide as you set out on your own grand adventure to slay your own dragon.”

Another mask appeal

After witnessing an alarming spike in coronavirus cases, the church’s top Utah leaders amped up their support for masks by asking all members in the Beehive State “to be good citizens by wearing face coverings when in public.”

“Doing so will help promote the health and general welfare of all,” wrote the faith’s Utah Area Presidency. " ... Please join with us now in common purpose for the blessing and benefit of all.”

The three-member presidency, led by general authority Seventy Craig C. Christensen, said a “growing chorus” of medical experts has repeatedly reaffirmed that wearing a mask in public “will significantly reduce the spread of COVID-19.”

The letter stopped short of calling on government officials to require that Utahns don face coverings in public — a plea that many health care authorities have invoked.

But last month, Christensen’s first counselor, Randy D. Funk, joined other clergy in signing an interfaith letter encouraging Utahns to wear masks when out and about.

Jesus commanded his followers “to love one’s neighbor as oneself,” the letter stated, and “one cannot claim to love one’s neighbor while deliberately putting them at risk.”

This week’s podcast: A poet’s preachings

(photo courtesy Church History Library) Eliza R. Snow photograph by Edward Martin.

Eliza R. Snow ranks as the most influential Latter-day Saint woman of her time and after Emma Smith, wife of church founder Joseph Smith, perhaps the best-known woman in the history of the faith.

Snow was a poet and a preacher, a plural wife of prophets and a defender of polygamy, a leader of the Relief Society and a champion of women. Still, there is much Latter-day Saints don’t know about her.

That may change now that the church has launched a new website, called The Discourses of Eliza R. Snow, that brings together her sermons, nearly 1,200 of them.

On this week’s podcast, two of the forces behind the massive project — historians Jennifer Reeder and Elizabeth Kuehn — discuss how a reluctant public speaker became a powerhouse at the pulpit, how she viewed Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and how she traversed the Utah Territory, building up the faith’s women and rebuilding the Relief Society.

Listen here.

French Polynesia salutes member

French Polynesia’s president recently honored a prominent Latter-day Saint for service to his faith and his community.

President Edouard Fritch awarded Tetuanui Marama Tarati the Chevaliers of the Order of Tahiti Nui medal.

Tarati worked as a special-education teacher and school principal and has served as a bishop, stake president, mission president and temple president.

“I feel privileged to receive such a distinction,” Tarati said in a news release, “and I dedicate it to all the members of the church who work daily, just like me, to advance the cause of God in the service of our fellow men.”

Education Week, er, Day

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) BYU-Idaho in Rexburg in January 2018.

No need to travel to Rexburg for Education Week at Brigham Young University-Idaho.

The conference, usually a three-day affair, has been moved online and reduced to one day due to COVID-19.

The July 31 virtual conference will feature keynote speakers and a slate of classes and activities available for free on demand. Click here for offerings and viewing information.

What about BYU Education Week in Provo?

Well, the Aug. 17-21 in-person conference is off. It, too, will shift to online at a later date. The school’s website says registration information is expected in late July.

An Osmond marries

The youngest son of Latter-day Saint pop singer Donny Osmond is now a married man.

Josh Osmond, 22, married Summer Feldsted, 21, in a small backyard wedding June 12 in Utah after coronavirus limits scrapped plans for a temple ceremony.

“The wedding turned out more beautiful than we could have even imagined,” Josh, who served a mission in Italy, told Closer Weekly. “It was such a fun celebration of this new step we’re taking in life.”

Josh is the last of Donny and Debbie Osmond’s five sons to marry.

Garden variety

(Tribune file photo) The Joseph Smith sphinx in Gilgal Sculpture Garden in Salt Lake City.

What place features stone monuments to the biblical tales of Joshua, Daniel, Job, Elijah, Malachi and Ecclesiastes and, most notably, a stone sphinx carved with the face of Joseph Smith?

Answer: Gilgal Sculpture Garden, an urban oasis tucked behind homes and businesses in the heart of east Salt Lake City.

‘Voyeur’ bows out

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) This illustration celebrated the 40th anniversary of "Saturday's Voyeur."

The curtain has fallen on “Saturday’s Voyeur.”

After a 40-year run, Salt Lake Acting Company is ending the annual stage musical, which frequently lampooned Latter-day Saint culture in Utah.

“‘Saturday’s Voyeur’ leaves big shoes to fill,” SLAC’s executive artistic director, Cynthia Fleming, told The Salt Lake Tribune, “but ... if we’re going to launch SLAC into its next 50 years, while boldly upholding our mission to strengthen our community, it’s time for a change.”

The production derived its name from “Saturday’s Warrior,” a religious-themed family musical that rose to enormous popularity in Latter-day Saint circles in the 1970s.

Who was that guy?

Courtesy Uintah County Regional Center Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch. Seated, l-r: Harry Longabaugh (Sundance Kid), Ben Kilpatrick, Butch Cassidy. Standing, l-r, Will Carver, Harvey Logan (Kid Curry).

There’s a new book out about a famous “likely” Latter-day Saint?

Robert LeRoy Parker.

Who?

Well, you might know him better by his trade name: Butch Cassidy.

Charles Leerhsen has written “Butch Cassidy: The True Story of an American Outlaw.”

Christopher Knowlton’s New York Times review calls it a “worthy biography” of the “former Mormon farm boy and leader of the Wild Bunch, a gang of five immortalized in an old studio photo” and mythologized in the 1969 film classic “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

But was Butch, who was born in Beaver and grew up near Circleville, Utah, a Latter-day Saint?

Probably, says the Famous Mormons website, since his pioneer parents were and most children were baptized at age 8.

Temple updates

• Come Monday, 122 temples will be back in service.

Under a Phase 1 reopening plan, the church announced that seven more temples — including four in Brazil (Fortaleza, Manaus, Recife and São Paulo) — 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.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Pastor Jim Carpenter prayed for chairs to fill his fledgling Five30 Church and Events Center. His prayer was answered when, in May 2020, his Latter-day Saint friends called and asked him what he needed from their house of worship that was going to razed to build the Feather River Temple, Yuba City, Calif.

• On Saturday, an invitation-only groundbreaking will take place for the 38,000-square-foot Feather River Temple in Yuba City, Calif.

A decades-old stake center was razed to make room for the temple, announced in 2018 by church President Russell M. Nelson. Crews removed many of the former meetinghouse’s materials — from cabinets, doors and chairs to chalkboards, kitchen supplies and a baby grand piano — for use by others.

“Even though the building’s going away,” Yuba City Stake President Steve Hammarstrom said in a news release, “a piece of it is living on in more than a dozen churches and other … nonprofits and schools.”

Chairs went to the Bethel AME Church and the Five30 Church and Events Center, both in Marysville.

“We can’t afford to buy this stuff,” Bethel’s administrator, Gwen Ford, said in the release. “[These] things are going to be very, very helpful.”

Said Five30 Pastor Jim Carpenter: “My wife had just made a list and said, ‘Lord, we need water pitchers, and we need salt and pepper shakers.’ We walked [into the stake center kitchen] and there’s this tray full of 50 sets of salt and pepper shakers. I said, ‘I will take those!’”

And Marysville’s Faith Lutheran Church got the piano.

“We’re not a moneymaking church with our concerts,” Pastor Bernie Fricke said in the release, “but we certainly want to serve the community. So I was very happy for the church to offer that for us.”

(Image courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Rendering of the Red Cliffs Temple planned for St. George.

• The temple planned in southwestern Utah’s Washington County now has a catchier name.

It will be called the Red Cliffs Temple, an ode to the redrock wonders that surround its host city, St. George.

The three-story, 90,000-square-foot temple will be the city’s second such edifice. The historic pioneer-era St. George Temple, Utah’s first Latter-day Saint temple, is undergoing extensive renovation.

Quote of the week

“There are a couple of hard truths that need to be confronted when we talk about reactivation. The first is that most people will never come back to church, and the second is that for many, not coming back to church might be the right choice. Everyone acknowledges the first truth, though it is profoundly discouraging for many and a source of family rift. The second truth is more difficult to acknowledge but perhaps can be softened by saying ‘not the right choice … at least for now.’”

Blogger Steve Evans, in a By Common Consent post

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