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 prophecy that wasn’t
The story goes that senior apostle Wilford Woodruff journeyed in 1884 to southeastern Idaho — where Latter-day Saints were struggling to build communities — stood up in a wagon and prophesied that “beautiful temples” someday would rise there.
While temples now grace the region — in Idaho Falls and Rexburg with another under construction in Pocatello — there is no direct evidence Woodruff made such a prediction during his visit.
Instead, Gary Boatright, operations manager for church historic sites, explains in a recent “10 questions” interview with Kurt Manwaring that the temple reference in the “Wagon Box Prophecy” seems to have sprung from a 1940 pageant script celebrating the cornerstone-laying for the Idaho Falls Temple.
“During my 20 years with the Church History Department, I have come to appreciate the value, importance and power that come with sharing an accurate history,” Boatright tells Manwaring. “...A true and accurate history is genuinely faith promoting. There is no need to embellish the past. We are seeing the truth of this in ‘Saints,’ the new multivolume history of the church. An accurate history is also a faith-promoting history.”
New book salutes everyday disciples
Freshly released from co-authors James Goldberg and Ardis E. Parshall, with artwork from Carla Jimison, comes “Song of Names: A Mormon Mosaic,” a 146-page collection of prose and poetry about ordinary Latter-day Saints living extraordinary lives and everyday disciples exhibiting discipleship every day.
There is the story, for instance, of a Lebanese district president, Karim Assouad, who regularly ventured from Beirut to Damascus to take the sacrament to handfuls of faithful members in war-riddled Syria.
“Reaching out to areas that are remote or may be dangerous,” Assouad told Beirut’s Daily Star in 2015, “is what makes this church a worldwide church.”
In the book, poet Goldberg penned the following about Assouad’s miles of ministering:
In a quiet room while
church bells thunder
through the streets.
Or, once a month, in
a car on the road
to Damascus; praying
to be like Paul, while
hoping not, in these
days, to be blinded
by the sudden flashing
of an all-too-human
The co-authors see their book, full of diverse voices and eclectic experiences, as “part monument to the past, part offering to God, part meditation on what makes up the life of our faith’s particular kind of Saint.”
“When we are willing to look at our history closely, sympathetically, and honestly,” they write in the introduction, “Saints’ struggles with the pressures of the past can serve as laboratories of discipleship, giving us insight into what it means to follow Christ in all times and places.”
This week’s podcast: The apocalypse
Amid a global pandemic, civil unrest, a presidential election and, for many Utahns, repeated earthquakes, many biblical believers are thinking anew about the so-called apocalypse.
For Latter-day Saints, though, the end times have always been at the forefront of their theology. After all, the latter days are referenced in their faith’s official name.
Scholar Christopher Blythe, author of a soon-to-be released book, “Terrible Revolution: Latter-day Saints and the American Apocalypse,” joins the podcast this week to discuss, well, the “end of the world” or, at least, Mormonism’s ties to the prophecies, predictions and passions surrounding it.
And for more about Latter-day Saint fascination with the apocalypse, read here.
Nelson on ‘painful’ temple closures
Making the decision to shut down all temples worldwide back in late March due to the coronavirus pandemic didn’t come easily for church President Russell M. Nelson.
“That was painful; it was wracked with worry,” the 95-year-old leader said in a recent Church News video interview. “I found myself asking, ‘What would I say to the Prophet Joseph Smith? What would I say to Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff and the other [church] presidents, on up to President Thomas S. Monson?’ I’m going to meet them soon. To close the temples would deny all for which all those brethren gave everything, but we really had no other alternative.”
Of course, temples now are reopening — in phases — “cautiously and carefully,” noted Nelson, who appears in the video with his wife, Wendy Nelson.
Despite COVID-19 and the temple disruptions, Nelson said, “family history research and work has taken a huge leap forward. ... And remarkably, through all of this, the voluntary fast offerings of our members have increased.”
Temple time capsule opened
Ordinances performed in Latter-day Saint temples are intended to last forever, but items deposited in time capsules at those edifices may not.
Witness the books, photographs, notes, medallions and coins secured 128 years ago in a granite capstone under the Angel Moroni statue and recently removed from the iconic Salt Lake Temple.
Most of the artifacts — viewed in May by the governing First Presidency — were badly damaged.
“We did not expect to find much because we knew that the contents of the capstone had not been insulated from the weather,” church President Russell M. Nelson said in a news release. “But we wanted to be there anyway, just to be close and to pay tribute to the leaders and courageous pioneer craftsmen who against all odds built this magnificent temple.”
Experts have, however, positively identified, copies of the Bible, Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price, along with volumes written by pioneer apostle Parley P. Pratt.
Hopes of uncovering a photograph of Joseph Smith — there is no known photo of the church founder — evaporated when historians determined the damaged picture in the capsule probably was a common “cabinet card” copied from an already seen image of Smith.
PEF students get a break
For participants in the church’s Perpetual Education Fund program who are wondering how, during the coronavirus economic meltdown, they are going to repay their loans, there is good news: They won’t have to — at least for six months.
The church is deferring all PEF loan payments and interest charges between May and November.
“We are struggling to get enough money for our current necessities, like bills, food and mortgage,” a relieved Jessica Pacete, who received her bachelor’s degree in mining engineering from St. Paul University Surigao in the Philippines, said in a news release. “Indeed, I am so thankful and grateful for the COVID-19 deferment for six months. It is a great help for me.”
About 98,000 students in 75 countries are enrolled in PEF, which loans Latter-day Saints money for education and training. The students pay back those funds after they graduate and get jobs.
“I thank Heavenly Father for this opportunity that I can continue my studies with the help and consideration of PEF,” Marlou Ronato, who earned an accounting degree from the University of Luzon in the Philippines but has been unable to find work, said in the release. “I am thankful that PEF offered COVID-19 deferment.”
A decade ago, the then-20-something Tyler Glenn was “living my dream.” He and his Neon Trees bandmates were packing venues, thrilling fans, winning acclaim and topping the charts.
“That was the height of our career, and I still had no genuine bliss,” Glenn told Yahoo Music recently. “I knew the reason was I wasn’t living my truth.”
“I don’t believe it’s true. And I think that set me free,” the now-36-year-old singer told Yahoo about his exit from the church. “...I have found complete freedom and joy in the last three-ish years, leaving that behind.”
Not that it was easy. “Coming out of the church was almost personally harder for me than coming out as gay,” he said. “I always knew I was gay, but I kind of also always thought the church was true — until I realized it wasn’t. So for me, it was a bigger spiritual war inside of me, a bigger faith crisis inside of me, to come out and leave the church behind.”
Glenn and Neon Trees are back in the news with the recent release of their fourth studio album, “I Can Feel You Forgetting Me.”
A second look at ‘First Vision’ art
If you missed scholar Richard Bushman’s live lecture Sunday about “First Vision” art, you still can view it on the Center for Latter-day Saint Arts website.
In his virtual “Art and Vision” presentation, Bushman, author of the Joseph Smith biography “Rough Stone Rolling and the center’s co-executive director, displayed depictions of Smith’s reported boyhood encounter with the divine. He then discussed the artistic choices and theological messages found each piece.
There were realist, cubist and abstract works from around the world. Some portrayed God the Father and Jesus Christ as majestic supernal beings; others as more personal personages. Some showed them as light-skinned, some dark-skinned.
“Every culture sees the Father and the Son in familiar ways as people like themselves,” Bushman concluded. “...Seeing God with a black face compels us to realize we may be in for many surprises.”
Youths sing and testify
While you’re at it, you can also go back and view the Youth Music Festival, which aired Wednesday.
See and hear Latter-day Saint youths from around the world take the virtual stage to testify and perform gospel songs — including 16-year-old Liahona Olayan and her 17-year-old brother, Ammon, Hawaiian natives who performed three pieces.
“I know there’s a lot of people out there that have hard times,” Liahona said in a news release. “These songs have many messages, but our purpose ... is to bring people closer to Christ.”
Youth choirs from around the globe united on the youth theme song, “Go and Do,” sung in multiple languages, including Swahili and Maltese.
“Everybody’s going through some really hard things right now, and we are responding by saying, ‘Hey, let’s take some time and let’s celebrate what’s good,’” said Brad Wilcox, second counselor in the Young Men general presidency. “‘Let’s enjoy some good music together. Let’s come together from all over the world and feel the unity that exists among the youth of the church.‘”
• Latter-day Saint Charities recently delivered a truckload of food — 40,000 pounds of it — to Amarillo, Texas, to benefit Catholic Charities and the High Plains Food Bank, KAMR-TV’s Myhighplains.com reported. That’s enough to feed 1,400 families.
• The church also teamed up with The Salvation Army to distribute 120 food boxes and $2,000 in gift cards, according to Oklahoma’s Ada News.
“Working together, we’re determined to make a difference for as many as possible affected by this pandemic,” said Laurie Fried, director of emergency disaster services for The Salvation Army in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
• Come Monday, 127 of the church’s 168 temples will be back in service.
Under a Phase 1 reopening plan, the church announced that two more temples — the Córdoba Temple in Argentina and the Kinshasa Temple in the Democratic Republic of Congo — will provide marriage “sealings” for previously endowed couples.
This week, a dozen temples — including two in Germany and ones in Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota and Ohio — became the first to move to Phase 2, offering all living ordinances, complete with a newly altered endowment.
For the status of each temple amid the coronavirus, click here.
• Angel Moroni has found a new home — atop the soon-to-be-completed Winnipeg Temple.
Crews hoisted the 8-foot, 300-pound, gold-leaf statue into place Tuesday, the Winnipeg Free Press reported.
Area members have been waiting nearly a decade to see such a sight. The temple was announced in April 2011.
This edifice in Manitoba, Canada, has an open house scheduled for Oct. 22 to 31, with a dedication set for Nov. 8.
Quote of the week
“You cannot connect with heaven in a mass of clutter. You have to find those quiet moments in your life when you can contemplate the things of the spirit. In my experience, that’s when I get impressions. … Most things we hear from heaven we feel ultimately in our hearts, and then hopefully it trickles up into our minds and there helps guide us.”
Apostle M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.