This week in Mormon Land: Moroni goes missing, BYU campuses make rankings, missionary work rebounds

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Angel Moroni sits atop the Nuku’alofa Tonga 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.

Missing Moroni

Yes, the Angel Moroni statue atop the iconic Salt Lake Temple has been taken down to undergo repairs. And, yes, temples are increasingly going up without the golden figure.

But now the famed Book of Mormon prophet is being replaced outright — at least in two Catholic publications.

The Oregon Catholic Press has announced that it will reprint two music editions, which had mistakenly included artwork depicting the trumpet-bearing Moroni, the Catholic News Agency reported.

“We admit our error and we apologize for the cover art,” the Oregon Catholic Press said, stating that it would “never knowingly use an image that is not authentically Catholic on our publications.”

BYU makes the conservative grade

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) The Abraham O. Smoot Administration Building on the campus of Brigham Young University.

Brigham Young University gets an A in conservatism, according to recent rankings from the data website Stacker.

While Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., tops the tally of the nation’s 50 most conservative colleges, BYU-Idaho in Rexburg comes in second, followed by the flagship BYU campus in Provo at No. 3. BYU-Hawaii in Laie clocks in at 33rd.

Stacker says it relied on the research website Niche to reach its results.

More about BYU

(photo courtesy Utah State Historical Society) Abraham Smoot

The debate about whether to rename the Abraham O. Smoot Administration Building took another turn.

Descendants of the school’s 19th-century benefactor, who also held three slaves, argue that dropping Smoot’s name “accomplishes nothing” and suggest that BYU can adopt more meaningful measures to address racism on the Provo campus.

The petition from current and former students pushing to remove the name maintains that Smoot’s slaveholding makes him “an inappropriate choice for a campus which cherishes diversity among its students, faculty and staff.”

Hatch medal on hold — again

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Then-Sen. Orrin G. Hatch in 2018.

That Canterbury Medal may have to be dusted off before Orrin Hatch receives it.

The former U.S. senator from Utah was selected back in February to receive the prize from Becket, a leading religious liberty law firm, for his efforts to safeguard faith freedoms. He was supposed to get the award in May, but the coronavirus pandemic pushed the New York ceremony back to Oct. 15.

Now, the gala has been punted all the way to May 27 of next year.

“I am proud to lead Becket in honoring the ‘Father of the [Religious Freedom Restoration Act],’” Becket President Mark Rienzi wrote in an email. “Senator Hatch’s legacy of championing protections for people of all faiths — and working across partisan lines to do so — has greatly strengthened religious liberty in the United States.”

Hatch will join — eventually — apostle Dallin H. Oaks (2013), along with Mitt and Ann Romney (2008), on the list of Latter-day Saints awarded the Canterbury Medal.

Roller-coaster missionary work on the rise

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Two missionaries who were serving in Brazil were reassigned to a Portuguese-speaking congregation in Salt Lake City. Mauri Dobbs, left, and Hannah Davidson make a plan for the week in their apartment, Thursday, May 28, 2020.

The missionary program, buffeted by the pandemic, is bouncing back.

After the number of full-time proselytizers plummeted from nearly 68,000 before COVID-19 struck to 42,000 in late April, their ranks rose to 52,000 last month, apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf, head of the missionary executive committee, said in a recent Church News article. Most are doing any contacting and teaching via technology from their apartments


New stakes, meanwhile, are again being formed.

The Cumorah Foundation’s monthly newsletter notes that the church created three stakes in August — the first since it suspended services in March.

The new stakes are in Newnan, Ga.; Orlando, Fla.; and Worcester, Mass.

Independent researcher Matt Martinich, who tracks church growth on his website, ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com, also pointed to two new branches being formed recently in Namibia and Botswana.

RootsTech just a click away

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Emmitt Smith, the National Football League’s all-time leading rusher and a former Super Bowl champion, shares his journey of connecting to his roots at RootsTech 2020 conference in Salt Lake City on Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020.

RootsTech, the annual family history extravaganza, will be a free virtual event this year.

Due to COVID-19, the conference, originally scheduled for Feb. 3-6 in Salt Lake City, will be available online Feb. 25-27.

“The pandemic is giving us the opportunity to bring RootsTech to a broader audience worldwide,” Steve Rockwood, FamilySearch International CEO, said in a news release. “A virtual event also allows us to expand our planning to truly make this a global celebration of family and connection.”

RootsTech Connect 2021 will offer livestream and on-demand content to accommodate differences in time zones for participants, the release said. Sessions also will be available to view after the event.

Visit rootstech.org to register.

This week’s podcast: Finding Heavenly Mother

In 2015, the church issued a short essay matter-of-factly affirming its belief in a Heavenly Mother.

It was only six paragraphs, barely 600 words. That left the subject wide open to imaginative exploration with more and more leaders and members embracing the idea and mentioning Heavenly Parents in writings and sermons.

Latter-day Saint poet Carol Lynn Pearson insists the world “needs” to find, or rediscover, Heavenly Mother, arguing that bringing her back “is not just cosmetic, it is cosmic” and can help bring peace, justice and harmony to the planet.

She undertakes that quest in her new volume of verses, “Finding Mother God: Poems to Heal the World,” and discusses it on this week’s podcast.

Listen here.

Rasbands to broadcast from ‘Jerusalem’

Apostle Ronald A. Rasband and his wife, Melanie, visit with a girl after a special meeting with Latter-day Saints impacted by the wildfires in Santa Rosa, Calif., in 2017.

Apostle Ronald A. Rasband and his wife, Melanie, will discuss the church’s restoration Sunday, Sept. 13, at 6 p.m. MDT in a Face to Face event broadcast to young adults around the globe.

The broadcast was planned to originate from the place the faith began: the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, N.Y., where Mormon founder Joseph Smith said he saw God the Father and Jesus Christ.

Due to COVID-19 travel limits, though, it now will emanate from a movie-set replica of ancient Jerusalem in Goshen, Utah.

The Rasbands will focus on “The Restoration of the Fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: A Bicentennial Proclamation to the World,” a document the church issued in April’s General Conference.

Relief efforts

(Roula Akiki and courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The devastation in Beirut after the Aug. 4, 2020, explosion.

• Latter-day Saint Charities, the church’s humanitarian arm, partnered with a handful of other relief agencies to provide nearly $2 million worth of food and medical supplies to Lebanon in the wake of last month’s deadly explosion at the Port of Beirut.

“We are grateful for the generous donations of Latter-day Saints around the world, which make it possible for us to quickly respond to this unexpected crisis,” Area President Anthony D. Perkins, a general authority Seventy, said in a news release. “We appreciate working with our trusted humanitarian partners to help provide needed medical supplies and food. The good people of Lebanon continue to be in our prayers during this difficult time.”

Beirut District President Maroun Akiki said all members in the area have been accounted for and a church meetinghouse near the blast site was not damaged. “We are thankful that none of our members were injured in the explosion,” he said, “and we mourn with those who lost loved ones.”

• Teaming up with a Catholic charity, Latter-day Saints in Mexico donated more than $320,000 (7 million-plus pesos) to purchase 38,500 food boxes stuffed with rice, beans, salt, cooking oil, sugar, soup, cornstarch, tuna and wheat to help individuals during the coronavirus pandemic.

“As a representative of the Catholic Church, in social work, we thank the Latter-day Saints for this gesture of compassion, love and generosity,” Father Rogelio Narváez Martínez, executive secretary of Cáritas Mexicana, said in a news release. “Our Latter-day Saint brothers don’t know the face [of the donation recipients], but they know what to do because they know where help is going to go.”

• In other outreach, more than 1,000 volunteers from the church’s Helping Hands program pitched in to help Cedar Rapids residents rebuild after severe thunderstorms destroyed crops and damaged homes in Iowa, according to a news release. In Tahiti, members sewed 8,400 masks to protect against COVID-19. Guatemalan Latter-day Saints provided 1,000 bags of food and hygiene supplies for coronavirus patients. In Singapore, church volunteers delivered 146 care packages to senior citizens and, in Honduras, the church gave away 1,500 masks, 6,000 pairs of gloves, hundreds of protective lenses, surgical caps, boots and gowns to medical centers.

Temple updates

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saints prepare to attend the Port-Au-Prince Temple dedication Sept. 1, 2019.

• Next week, 139 of the church’s temples — including the Port-au-Prince Temple in Haiti — will be back in operation, providing marriage “sealings,” while 79 of those also will be offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals.”

• Once the Manti Temple begins offering all living ordinances on Monday, the Monticello Temple will be the only operating Utah temple not to have advanced to Phase 2 of the reopening plan. Parts of southeastern Utah, where Monticello is located and which includes areas in the Navajo Nation, have been hard hit by the coronavirus. The historic Salt Lake and St. George temples are closed for extensive renovation.

• Ohio’s Columbus Temple also has shut down for renovation, a news release noted, while the Mexico City Temple has closed “until further notice.”

• The three-story, 89,000-square-foot Syracuse Temple will be built on a 12-acre site at the intersection of 2500 West and 1025 South in that Davis County city.

No rendering of the temple has been released.

It will be Utah’s 24th Latter-day Saint temple. Six more have been announced or are under construction in the Beehive State: Layton, Saratoga Springs, Orem, Red Cliffs in St. George, Tooele Valley and Taylorsville.

• Apostle David A. Bednar is scheduled to preside remotely for the November groundbreaking of the Bentonville Temple, the church announced.

The single-story, 25,000-square-foot temple will be the first in Arkansas.

• A November groundbreaking also is scheduled for the McAllen Temple. Elder Art Rascon, an Area Seventy, will preside.

The single-story, 25,000-square-foot temple will be the fifth in Texas.

Neither the Bentonville Temple nor the McAllen Temple will have an Angel Moroni statue, newly released renderings show. More and more temples are being built without the golden sculptures.

• Next month’s open house and dedication for the Winnipeg Temple in Manitoba have been postponed “until large public gatherings are deemed safe,” according to a news release. Once it opens, it will be Canada’s ninth temple.

Quote of the week

“As a Black woman who is often one of the few saints of color when you search through LDS hashtags, I felt more alone than ever [after George Floyd’s death]. I was used to being alone. I was used to my messages going over the heads of those who had spent their life in the church. Yet, when the silence came, I felt discarded and alone. I felt invisible. … I found myself unravelling and spiraling into raging anger as I watched members of the church who I had come to know and love as family condone racist behavior. Eventually I discovered that when it came to white and Black issues, most preferred the white way over the right way.”

Ramona Morris in an Exponent II blog post

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