This week in Mormon Land: Pros and cons of ‘social justice ideology’; a pledge to keep politics out of the pews; new poetry about Heavenly Mother

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Workers on the spire of the Salt Lake Temple, Tuesday April 21, 2020

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.

Finding Heavenly Mother

(Tribune file photo) Author Carol Lynn Pearson

Latter-day Saint poet-playwright Carol Lynn Pearson has a new volume of verses coming out next month.

“Finding Mother God: Poems to Heal the World,” according to its description on Amazon, invites all — “women, men, of any religion or of no religion ― to welcome [Heavenly Mother] home and set a permanent place for her at the family table.”

Mormonism teaches the existence not only of a God the Father but also a God the Mother, a doctrine the religion touts in an official essay as “cherished and distinctive.”

“What if much of the pain experienced by humanity is a consequence of a near-total eclipse in the heavens of the Female Divine?” Pearson asks in a news release. “What if the strange disappearance of God the Mother from history and from religion is not a cold case but can be cracked wide open? And what if we now acknowledge the missing half of God and invite the Mother — the essential Feminine Principle — back into the family? What if this is not just a cosmetic nicety but a cosmic necessity?”

Peeking at the poem “To Our Mother,” available at Amazon, we see the author explore the notion of a world that has turned its back on this celestial caregiver:

Remembering that Jesus named his Father

from the cross and said:

“Abba, Abba, why hast thou forsaken me?”

And remembering too that on the kibbutz I learned

that even today children speaking Hebrew

call their father “Abba”

and their mother “Ema”

I am amazed to find in my balancing hands

two balancing words

and the first speaking of the new word is this:

“Ema, Ema, why have we forsaken thee?”

Backing Biden

(Democratic National Convention via AP) In this image from video, Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden smiles after the roll call vote during the second night of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020.

While this week’s Democratic National Convention officially crowns Joe Biden as the party’s presidential pick, the former vice president is finding support from a population that typically tilts Republican: Latter-day Saints.

In a national virtual event, a parade of church members stepped forward to back Biden.

“We can probably all agree that Donald Trump isn’t good or right,” said Abigail Woodfield, president of BYU College Democrats. “I see this election as a way to correct what is good and right in this world.”

Said Atlanta attorney Bryndis Roberts: “On the one hand, we can continue with divisiveness and exclusion. Or, on the other hand, we can move forward in unity and inclusion. That’s why, for me, as a Latter-day Saint and as a Black woman, I am supporting Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. [Kamala] Harris [Biden’s running mate].”

Meanwhile, a Latter-day Saints for Trump Coalition has removed a picture of the Salt Lake Temple from its homepage after coming under fire for using an image of the iconic religious edifice in a political campaign.

Keeping partisanship out of the pews

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File) In this Jan. 3, 2018, file photo, the Angel Moroni statue, silhouetted against the sky, sits atop the Salt Lake Temple at Temple Square in Salt Lake City.

As the election season heats up and Latter-day Saints line up on opposing sides, the nonpartisan Mormon Women for Ethical Government is urging members to take a pledge “not to leverage or weaponize faith for political gain.”

Those who sign it agree to never:

• Use official church membership lists, email lists, or social media sites (such as ward or Relief Society websites) to support political candidates or promote political opinions.

• Use church icons, sacred symbols, buildings, or church-approved art to promote political candidates or policies.

• Advocate for, or speak negatively about, candidates, parties, or political ideologies in lessons, talks, and discussions at church.

• Condemn individuals for their personal political expressions or imply that any candidate or party has doctrinal, church, or divine support.

Praising the church for remaining neutral in partisan politics, the document concludes: “We believe we more closely approach Zion when we respectfully allow others to act according to their conscience and ensure that our religious spaces are free from the acrimony of politics.”

The debate about ‘social justice ideology’

Members should be wary of “social justice ideology,” argues Rebecca Taylor in a recent essay in Meridian Magazine, because it is “contrary to Latter-day Saint beliefs in profound ways.”

Taylor lists several reasons for her stance: This ideology views “immutable characteristics like whiteness as shameful — a kind of original sin”; promotes group identity over individual differences; promotes equality as the aim of life, rather than “the larger grand purpose of coming unto Christ and being perfected in him”; opposes “agency,” or the right to disagree; rejects objective truth; values the authority of “lived experience” over the teachings of scriptures and prophets; promotes division rather than unity; opposes principles of self-reliance; and “minimizes the need for children to be raised by their married biological parents” as laid out in the faith’s proclamation on the family.

Overall, social justice ideology “leads to confusion, chaos and destruction,” Taylor writes. “I believe that the worst feature of critical social justice ideology is that it exploits people’s goodness — even their most Christlike traits, their love and compassion for others.”

The critical social justice movement “is not the way to address problems,” she concludes. “Any truly effective program or practice will be congruent with the gospel of Jesus Christ, who is the author of healing, justice, and mercy.”

James Jones, a Black Latter-day Saint in Boston, writes a detailed rebuttal to Taylor’s argument, matching her point by point.

“Not only is social justice compatible with Latter-day Saint beliefs, but a theological imperative,” writes Jones, co-host of the “Beyond the Block” podcast. “We will never be the church we’re meant to be until social justice is part of our worship and ministering experience.”

Having white skin may be immutable, he says, but “whiteness” is a cultural construct, created to establish hierarchies.

And, while today’s Americans should not be “blamed” for slavery or Jim Crow laws, Jones writes, “all of us are responsible for addressing it for we have inherited their legacy.”

As to the authority of the scriptures over lived experience, he asks: “What else are the scriptures if not the documentation of the lived experience of the interactions between God, prophets, and peoples?”

On the issue of self-reliance, Jones posits that Black members “work even harder and are even more self-reliant because doing otherwise would all but guarantee defeat.”

The gospel of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saint beliefs “are inseparable from social justice,” he writes. “Jesus himself not only taught about equity, love, and more, but he also lived it. He spent most of his ministry in the margins. He broke the law to minister to the marginalized.”

Christ was crucified “because he was a threat to an unjust and corrupt political system,” Jones concludes. “If Latter-day Saints embracing the cause of social justice are social justice warriors, their leader is General Jesus H. Christ.”

Whose art is it?

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The LDS Church plans to remove three original paintings by LDS artist Minerva Teichert from an east Salt Lake City meetinghouse, including “Three women encountering an angel at the tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea,” and some local members are concerned.

For more than 80 years, works by famed Latter-day Saint artist Minerva Teichert have been part of sacred space in meetinghouses in Utah, Wyoming and Idaho, contributing to the worship experience.

This month, though, representatives from the faith’s Church History Museum in Salt Lake City were told to bring them into headquarters for preservation and security.

Several in an east Salt Lake City stake have already been removed — and replaced with digitally produced prints of the same size — as have the two in Teichert’s own home congregation in Cokeville, Wyo., which she pasted to the chapel walls herself.

It raises the question of who owns the art — the church or those who donated it to specific chapels? And where is the best home for the works?

For Tim Teichert, the artist’s grandson who lives and worships in the Wyoming meetinghouse where her work hung for decades, the answer is clear: Right where she left them.

Liahona points to new direction for magazines

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Copies of Liahona, the Friend and For the Strength of Youth, three new publications to be published starting in January 2021 by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Church magazines are about to enter a new era, without, ironically, the New Era.

And the Ensign, for that matter.

A staple in English-speaking Latter-day Saint households for five decades, the monthly Ensign for adults will fold at year’s end, the church announced in a news release, along with the New Era, its English-language companion for teens.

Instead, the church will publish three global magazines — the Liahona, for adults; For the Strength of Youth, for kids ages 12 to 18; and the Friend, for children ages 3 to 11.

“Church magazines are a valuable resource for learning about the gospel of Jesus Christ and feeling a sense of belonging in his church,” the governing First Presidency said in a letter to members. “Our desire is that members everywhere will subscribe and welcome this faith-sustaining influence into their hearts and homes.”

President Bonnie H. Cordon, who guides the Young Women organization, is pleased to see the New Era now become a worldwide For the Strength of Youth magazine.

“I love the name ... because the youth of the Church of Jesus Christ are strong,” Cordon said in the release. “...They will find answers to their questions. The truth of their divinity as sons and daughters of loving Heavenly Parents will be renewed.”

What’s brewing in Utah?

(Photo courtesy of Anheuser-Busch InBev) A new advertising campaign aims to make Budweiser the official beer of the Beehive State — complete with its own commemorative can.

This Bud’s for U-tah.

A new advertising campaign wants to make Budweiser the Beehive State’s official beer, complete with a promotional video and a red, white and blue commemorative can, which would include Delicate Arch, snowboarding, the Capitol and, yes, the Salt Lake Temple.

State regulators may have a thing or two to say about it, especially the label, since they traditionally have frowned upon depictions that are disrespectful of a faith that teaches its members to abstain from alcohol.

The Budweiser push is all in fun, of course, to mark the first anniversary of a Utah law allowing consumers to buy stronger beer in grocery and convenience stores.

This week’s podcast: What’s right with bishop’s interviews

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Local lay leaders such as bishops regularly interview youths and other members of their Latter-day Saint congregations.

The long-standing practice of having lay bishops interview teens and ask them questions about their faith and their lives, including any sexual activity, has come under fire in recent years.

A group called “Protect LDS Children” urged the church to stop the practice, citing examples of bishops who were insensitive and even abusive. Church leaders made changes, allowing, for instance, those being interviewed to have a second adult with them in these conversations. But critics and some mental health experts maintain the sessions should cease altogether.

Jennifer Roach, a therapist, recent Latter-day Saint convert and a victim of clergy abuse herself, believes the interviews serve a vital purpose. She shares her views on this week’s show.

Listen here.

Church retreats on housing near temple

(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 church has backed away from plans for high-density housing.

Plans to put high-density housing around the still-to-be-built Tooele Valley Temple are off.

The First Presidency pulled back after opponents appeared poised to get a spot on the ballot to reverse approval of the rezoning.

”There is a sincere desire on the part of the church to avoid discord in the community,” the church leaders wrote. “...We acknowledge the efforts of those who have raised questions and sincere concerns about the Tooele Valley Temple project, including the residential development surrounding the temple.”

Critics feared the housing project 30 miles west of Salt Lake City would change the area’s rural feel.

Records restored after fire

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The handover of digitized records took place at Sto. Nino de Pandacan Parish Church in the Philippines.

After precious parish records were lost when a fire gutted a Philippine Catholic church in Manila last month, FamilySearch, the LDS Church’s genealogical arm, restored those destroyed documents in the form of digitized data.

“I am deeply touched,” the Rev. Sanny de Claro, parish priest of the Sto. Nino de Pandacan Church, said in a news release.

The digitized records, covering 1778 to 1968, will also help prepare the parish for next year’s celebration of 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines.

Missionaries attacked

Two female missionaries were stabbed early Sunday morning after an intruder broke into their Houston apartment.

“The young women were taken to the hospital and are expected to recover,” church spokesman Daniel Woodruff wrote in an email. “We sincerely pray for them and their families as they deal with and heal from this ordeal.”

Relief efforts

• Church President Russell M. Nelson reported on social media this week that COVID-19 has spurred the church’s largest-ever humanitarian project. “To date, we have participated in 757 projects in 137 countries, spending many millions of dollars.” And, he said, much more will be required “and the church is eager to continue to help.”

• More than 20,000 Brazilian Latter-day Saints, with help from 200 others, united to cut, sew, pack and distribute more than 3 million reusable face masks.

“It was a very good experience to be able to help the people who need it most, because that is what the Savior would do,” 9-year-old Letícia de Souza, who helped produce 4,000 masks, said in a news release. “It makes people feel more loved.”

• The church is shaking up its cannery operations in Utah.

The Murray plant will close and move its operations farther north, to a newer and larger cannery in Harrisville.

Other church canneries are found in Garden City, Idaho; Houston; and Salt Lake City’s Welfare Square.

Temple updates

(Rendering courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Rendering of the Neiafu Tonga Temple.

• Next week, 138 of the church’s 168 temples around the world will be back in operation, providing marriage “sealings,” while 48 of those will be offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals,” including the newly altered endowment.

• The church released renderings of two 17,000-square-foot temples in the Pacific. The Neiafu Temple will be Tonga’s second, according to a news release, while the similarly designed Pago Pago Temple will be American Samoa’s first.

(Rendering courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Rendering of the Pago Pago American Samoa Temple.

• By-invitation-only groundbreakings are planned this fall for two more Utah temples.

Apostle Gerrit W. Gong will preside at the ceremony for the Taylorsville Temple in October, while apostle Jeffrey R. Holland will do the honors for the Red Cliffs Temple in November in his native St. George.

(Image courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) An artist's rendering, released by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, of the Taylorsville Utah Temple, which will have its groundbreaking in October 2020.

Temples also have been announced or are under construction in Layton, Saratoga Springs, Orem, Syracuse and Tooele Valley. Utah will be home to 24 Latter-day Saint temples. The historic Salt Lake and St. George structures are undergoing renovation.

• A groundbreaking for the temple in Salta, Argentina, was pushed back from Aug. 15 to Oct. 9.

Quote of the week

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks 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.

“Whether you feel like a hero or not, you are one. You are the hero of your own life’s story.”

Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf

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