This week in Mormon Land: Angel Moroni shows up on Catholic covers, temple prayer rolls go online, scholar discusses those gold plates

(Rick Bowmer, AP file photo) In this April 6, 2019, file photo, the Angel Moroni statue sits atop the Salt Lake Temple.

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.

Trouble With Angel

A Catholic publisher, it seems, “entertained” a Mormon angel unaware.

The Oregon Catholic Press put an image of Angel Moroni — of Book of Mormon fame — on the cover of two of its 2021 publications.

The painting by Latter-day Saint artist Jorge Cocco, an Argentine convert from Catholicism, depicts in “sacrocubist” style an angel standing on a golden globe, blowing a horn and holding a box or book of gold, the Catholic News Agency reported.

“The sounding of the trumpet at the last is a strong traditional Christian image. We chose this angel because he’s holding a trumpet and what looks like the book that will be opened at the last,” the apologetic Oregon Catholic Press explained. “...We saw a beautiful image of an angel, and nothing more.”

Most Latter-day Saints, of course, saw Moroni, one of their faith’s most iconic images.

A progressive pen

She wasn’t a rebel (back then), and she certainly wasn’t without a cause.

No, Josephine Spencer was a fiction writer, a journalist, a poet and a passionate progressive who ranked as one of the most prolific Latter-day Saint writers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And By Common Consent Press will be publishing the first volume of her collected works.

Spencer was a “committed progressive, a member of the Populist Party, a firm labor advocate, and a believer in a society that shared its resources equitably among all of its people,” co-editor Michael Austin (with historian Ardis Parshall) writes in a recent By Common Consent post. “Modern Latter-day Saints will probably be shocked at the way that Spencer’s fiction and poetry mix profound loyalty to Mormonism, uplifting morality tales for youth, and calls for the proletariat to rise up and throw off their chains. But this ideological combination was much easier to hold in balance during Spencer’s life, when many Latter-day Saints supported progressive movements.”

Temple prayers

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) An instruction room in the Rome Italy Temple.

When Latter-day Saints attend the temple, they routinely unite in prayer for individuals in need whose names have been placed on a “prayer roll.”

Now, the governing First Presidency has announced, members can go online and enter those names — perhaps a mother who is mourning, a sister who is sick, or a neighbor who has lost his job — by visiting any temple’s information page and clicking the prayer roll link.

Requests can also be made through the “Temples” section of the Member Tools app.

“The sick and afflicted will ever be with us,” writes By Common Consent blogger Jonathan Stapley, “and we should never cease to reach toward heaven on their behalf, whether by telegram, paper scrap or mobile app.”

The gold plates mystery

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) A picture of a smooth, brown, egg-sized rock is shown in the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon at a news conference Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Church History Library, in Salt Lake City. The church published photos of a small sacred stone it believes founder Joseph Smith used to help translate the Book of Mormon.

A church essay says founder Joseph Smith translated much of the Book of Mormon from gold plates by placing a “seer stone in a hat” and then dictating “aloud the English words that appeared” on the rock.

So how did he translate the faith’s foundational text from gold plates without looking at the plates?

It’s a fundamental question, one historian Richard Bushman tackles in a recent “10 questions” interview with Kurt Manwaring.

“Often Joseph Smith received a flash of revelation when he encountered certain items,” said Bushman, author of the acclaimed Smith biography “Rough Stone Rolling.” These physical objects acted as a “catalyst,” opening a conduit between earth and heaven.

“Could translation work like induction? If you move a magnet across a wire, the electrons start moving along the wire,” said Bushman, who is writing a book about the gold plates. “That is how electrical generators work. Could something analogous work for translation? We don’t know enough about the technology of revelation to do more than speculate.”

For his part, Smith simply stated that the plates were “translated by the gift and power of God.”

“He may not have known any more about it himself,” Bushman added. “He focused and the words came.”

The scholar also discussed the gold plates earlier this year on “Mormon Land” in an episode that still ranks among the podcast’s most popular. Listen here.

Apostle speaks about social justice

(photo courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Quentin L. Cook speaks during the Sunday afternoon session of General Conference on April 5, 2020.

Brigham Young made comments about race that “fall short of our standards today,” apostle Quentin L. Cook told faculty at the university that bears the pioneer-prophet’s name, but Mormonism’s modern Moses also preached that God made all flesh of “one blood” and doesn’t “care about the color.”

“Some of [Young’s] beliefs and words reflected the culture of his time,” said Cook, urging 21st-century readers of history to try to understand past leaders within the era they lived.

As for the present, Cook said the nation must overcome racial and social injustice and abandon attitudes of prejudice.

“My concern,” he added, “is that some are also trying to undermine the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights that has blessed this country and protected people of all faiths.”

We’ll get through this, Holland says

Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland worries that the coronavirus pandemic has so beaten down young people that they are giving up on their hopes, dreams and desires.

“I’m concerned particularly for young people who feel overly fearful or convinced that there’s no future and no reason to continue their education or get married or go on with a profession because somehow all of this is going to be a mess,” Holland writes. “Life has always been a little messy, but there is always a way through.”

The 79-year-old apostle, who was briefly hospitalized in June for an undisclosed illness, insists “marvelous things are still ahead for each of us individually and for all of us collectively.”

Appearing healthy and fit in a YouTube video, Holland also urged Latter-day Saints to continue to participate in seminary and institute, saying that where and when those classes resume will depend on “local circumstances and the restrictions for local schools.”

This week’s podcast: Pitches for Trump, Biden

(AP file photos) President Donald Trump, left, and former Vice President Joe Biden.

As the U.S. presidential race heats up, Latter-day Saints, like all Americans, are starting to choose sides. And both campaigns have begun courting church members, especially in battleground states with significant LDS voting blocs.

In recent decades, Latter-day Saints have overwhelmingly cast ballots for Republican candidates, though their support of Donald Trump in 2016 was not nearly as enthusiastic. Four years later, both camps see a chance to win over church members, asserting that their presidential nominee and party best represent Latter-day Saint values.

On this week’s podcast, Utah Rep. Kim Coleman, a member of the advisory board of Latter-day Saints for Trump, and Scott Howell, a former state senator who heads up the Joe Biden campaign in Utah, discuss faith, politics and why Latter-day Saints should vote for their candidate.

Listen here.

Republicans for Biden

(Cliff Owen | AP file photo) In this Oct. 2, 2018, file photo, then-Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz. participates in an interview at a forum held by the The Atlantic in Washington. Flake has endorsed Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.

Jeff Flake, a prominent Latter-day Saint Republican, continues to be a thorn in the side for President Donald Trump.

This week, the former Arizona senator joined other GOP politicians in endorsing the Democratic nominee for the Oval Office.

“Because I am gravely concerned about the conduct and behavior of our current president,” Flake said in a video, “I stand here today proudly and wholeheartedly to endorse Joe Biden.”

Another frequent Latter-day Saint Republican critic of Trump, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, has also said that he does not plan to vote for Trump, though he hasn’t revealed whom he will back.

Worship in the time of COVID-19

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A young priesthood holder offers the sacrament to a family during a modified church service in the Carrollton Ward, Washington, D.C., Aug. 16, 2020.

Whether listening to sermons in socially distanced pews or sharing testimonies around dining room tables, whether taking the sacrament with neighbors in a chapel or passing the bread and water among loved ones in a living room — worship continues for Latter-day Saints.

A new video shows how members around the world are “doing church” during the pandemic.

“With me as a single mother, with no priesthood holder in the family, it has been a challenge because we haven’t had the sacrament [as often],” Lizzie Mohodisa of South Africa explains in a news release. “But once in a while, our ministering brethren are able to come. It’s not every week as we have always been used to. But it is still a huge blessing.”

Some congregations, under strict safety protocols, have been able to assemble again.

“One of the main reasons the church was established was so that the Saints could meet together oft and fellowship together,” says Jeff Cuff of New Zealand. “To feel the spirit and the testimony of the other Saints is a wonderful thing to come back to.”

Caribbean youths talk God

(Screenshot courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Bryan Beras and Yissella Meléndez moderate the streamed interreligious panel discussion for Caribbean youths.

Hundreds of teens from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico tuned in recently to a livestreamed interfaith discussion about how they can build their ties to deity during COVID-19.

Latter-day Saint youths joined with members of the Assemblies of God and other Christians for the virtual back and forth.

“Remaining anchored when the world is full of bad news and distractions can be complicated, especially for youth,” Yissella Meléndez, a 17-year-old Latter-day Saint from the Dominican Republic, said in a news release, “which is why it’s important to increase our spirituality and strengthen our relationship with God.”

New challenge for Young Women

(photo courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Young Women general President Bonnie H. Cordon speaks during the Sunday morning session of General Conference on April 5, 2020.

The church’s Young Women have been urged to do something for the older women in their lives.

The challenge: Post on social media, using the hashtag #strivetobe, how a current or former Young Women leader had an impact on them.

“We love our Young Women leaders,” Young Women general President Bonnie H. Cordon said. “We’d like to hear how they’ve influenced your life, whether you’re a young woman now or a young woman long ago.”

This marks the second challenge as part of the Young Women organization’s sesquicentennial celebration. The first came in May, inviting female youths to do something meaningful relating to the number 150 — perhaps read 150 pages in the Bible or send 150 encouraging texts.

The yearlong commemoration’s crowning event will be a “Face to Face” devotional Nov. 15.

Choir cancels 2020 Christmas concert

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square Christmas concert is alive with music of the season featuring Broadway star Kelli O’Hara in the Conference Center on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019.

The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square won’t be performing its annual Christmas concert this winter due to the coronavirus pandemic.

But yuletide won’t be without the renowned troupe’s holiday music. PBS and BYUtv will telecast “Christmas with The Tabernacle Choir,” which was recorded last December and features performances by Broadway star Kelli O’Hara and actor Richard Thomas (“The Waltons”).

Choir President Ron Jarret called the cancellation of this year’s live performance “disappointing” but added in a news release that “we are exploring ways to continue the choir’s annual traditions of TV specials and recordings next year.”

Auditions for the choir also have been suspended until 2021.

Relief efforts

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A new coat of paint for the walls of the the Ghana Broadcasting Corp. by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Aug. 15, 2020, as part of the activities marking the 2020 All Africa Service Day project in Accra, Ghana.

• Latter-day Saint women have participated in volunteer efforts large and small in recent weeks.

For instance, Relief Society sisters in French Polynesia donated 2,100 masks for students returning to school in Punaauia, women in an Australian stake crafted beanies and scarves for orphanages in Myanmar, and Relief Society members in Ottawa, Ontario, knitted and crocheted nearly 75 hats for newborn children at an area hospital, according to a news release.

Meanwhile, Kahuwaero Katene, an 89-year-old Relief Society member in Wellington, New Zealand, relearned how to crochet and made blankets for friends.

• In the wake of Yemen’s deadly floods, Latter-day Saint Charities, the church’s humanitarian arm, teamed up with Rahma Worldwide to provide kitchenware, cooking fuel, rugs, pillows, blankets, mattresses, large tents and other supplies to help nearly 2,000 displaced families, according to a news release.

• Hundreds of West African Latter-day Saints planted trees, donated blood, painted buildings and spruced up parks in multiple nations as part of All Africa Service Day on Aug. 15.

While the work was limited somewhat by COVID-19, a news release noted, crews turned out in Ghana, Senegal, Liberia, Togo and Nigeria.

Temple updates

• Next week, 139 of the church’s 168 temples around the world will be back in operation, providing marriage “sealings,” while 68 of those also will be offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals,” including the newly altered endowment.

Quote of the week

“Today [Aug. 26) is Women’s Equality Day in the United States. This year it is an especially important day because we are celebrating 100 years since the adoption of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution, which granted women the right to vote. Today is important to me because I am reminded of the foundational work done by Relief Society sisters and suffragists who worked tirelessly to make a difference…. As you go about your day today, I hope you will take a few minutes to reflect on the amazing foundation these women created for us.”

Relief Society general President Jean B. Bingham

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