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.
Till we meet — again
The gathering is underway.
More and more Latter-day Saint congregations are assembling again in person after the governing First Presidency updated guidelines last week for resuming Sunday services amid the coronavirus pandemic.
With approval from area presidencies, bishops can hold weekly sacrament meetings either virtually, “safely in person” or as a hybrid of the two — depending on local conditions.
Being able to watch sacrament meetings from home is new. Previously, virtual viewing of these worship services, at least in Utah, had been discouraged, even forbidden.
If in-person meetings are broadcast to those who can’t attend, the sacrament itself — or communion — cannot be shown.
In the Beehive State, the area presidency instructed that in-person Sunday worship services should be held every week and that each gathering could include up to 150 people — if congregants can be safely spread out.
In addition, stake conferences — regional meetings for a number of Latter-day Saint congregations — can also take place starting next month, either socially distanced in person or virtually.
She’s sick? Call for the sisters.
Some 136 years ago this week, Eliza R. Snow, then the general president of the Relief Society, was asked whether women needed to be “set apart” to administer to sick women through the “laying on of hands.”
“It certainly is not,” she wrote Sept. 15, 1884, in the Woman’s Exponent. “Any and all sisters who honor their holy endowments, not only have the right, but should feel it a duty, whenever called upon to administer to our sisters in these ordinances, which God has graciously committed to his daughters as well as to his sons; and we testify that when administered and received in faith and humility they are accompanied with all mighty power.”
A footnote to this entry on the church’s First Fifty Years of Relief Society website, notes that Snow’s answer referred “both to performing healing blessings and to the practice of blessing pregnant women, or ‘washing and anointing sisters who are approaching their confinement,’ not the similarly named temple ordinances.” Another footnote says the First Presidency, at the time, may have had a different view.
Latter-day Saint women performed healing blessings well into the 20th century before the practice ceased.
A political tug of war
Could the Latter-day Saint vote in this year’s presidential election shift from reliably Republican to decidedly disaffected?
That’s what Joe Biden is hoping and Donald Trump is fearing.
A recent Politico story examines how the Democratic and Republican nominees are targeting Latter-day Saints in the swing states of Arizona and Nevada.
While polls show most U.S. Latter-day Saints vote Republican and will back Trump, many remain uncomfortable with his personal behavior and his combative political style. That tepid support showed up four years ago, when LDS balloting for the GOP ticket slipped to 61%, according to Pew, a far cry from the 80% evident in 2004.
“I do think Trump in 2016 — there were questions among not just Mormons, but other communities of faith,” Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, who is Latter-day Saint, told Politico. But she’s betting Trump will do better this time around “because now he has a record” on issues such as abortion and religious liberty.
Democrats, not surprisingly, see it otherwise.
“I don’t understand how a member of the LDS Church could support somebody that is amoral and has shown his amorality from the time he came into our view,” former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat and the highest-ranking Latter-day Saint ever in Congress, told the news organization.
You can hear Latter-day Saint politicos make their respective pitches for the two major presidential candidates on a recent “Mormon Land” podcast. Listen here.
This week’s podcast: A push for ethical government
In 2017, after the election of President Donald Trump, several female Latter-day Saints, distressed by the increasing political polarization and eroding ethics in government, formed Mormon Women for Ethical Government.
The group, which is not endorsed by the church, is dedicated to seeking a peaceful, just and ethical world with a pledge to be faithful, nonpartisan and proactive, along with a commitment to civility. In a few short years, its membership has ballooned to more than 7,000.
Now, with the nation in the midst of another deeply divisive presidential race, the organization’s executive director, Emma Petty Addams, and Christie Black, an engagement director, joined this week’s podcast to talk about their group and its goals.
Face to Face with an apostle
Harry, a Latter-day Saint from California with “serious” doubts about the church’s truth claims and who is considering dropping his membership, had a blunt question: “Can you give me a reason why I should stay?”
Apostle Ronald A. Rasband had a blunt answer: “Don’t you do it. Don’t remove your name from the records of the church.”
Rasband, appearing Sunday in global Face to Face broadcast for young adults with his wife, Melanie, instead instructed Harry to “reframe your question this way — not as why you should stay but perhaps the more positive approach of why I and so many others choose to stay, including, I would suspect, hundreds of thousands of you who are watching this broadcast tonight. 'Think of it as, ‘Why do I choose to stay.’”
The Rasbands also addressed:
• World turmoil — “We know these are difficult times. We know there are those of you that are mourning. We know fires are burning, hurricanes are occurring, we know winds are coming,” Elder Rasband said. “And yet we can take comfort and confidence that the Lord Jesus Christ loves this church, loves his people and, as he has said numerous times, ‘If you stand on holy ground, ye need not be troubled.’”
• The Restoration proclamation — “[Church President Russell M. Nelson] allowed all of the apostles to write and edit the proclamation,” he said. “In the end, I want you all to know that we reached unity and we knew that what we were doing in preparing that proclamation to the world was the mind and will of Jesus Christ.”
New Book of Mormon video
And it came to pass that a new episode in the Book of Mormon video series did come forth — finally.
The church has released a special episode that stars Moroni, the final prophet in the faith’s signature scripture, as he wraps up his record in the ancient Americas before burying it for church founder Joseph Smith to unearth centuries later.
“It was a huge honor to play this great man,” John Munoa, a Latter-day Saint actor and a member of Southern California’s Luiseño Tribe, said in a news release. “...If I had to choose one thing about him that stood out the most, it would be his testimony of Jesus Christ ... as he ended up accomplishing this almost superhuman task of preserving this record for future generations.”
This episode will be the last to appear before 2022. COVID-19 has halted filming until 2021.
“We obviously wish we had more videos ready now for the study of the second half of the Book of Mormon,” Reyna Aburto, second counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society, said in the release. “Yet we are grateful that more episodes about Jesus Christ and his ministry in the Americas will be coming after the next two years of filming in 2021 and 2022.”
Youth conferences return
FYI, FSY is coming.
The church plans to hold For the Strength of Youth conferences starting in summer 2021 across the United States and Canada.
“Youth will participate in up to five days of devotionals, classes, and activities and engage in inspired learning opportunities and wholesome social experiences,” a news release states. “These will help youth strengthen their faith in Jesus Christ and feel joy and belonging as they live the gospel.”
Of course, local coronavirus conditions will have the last say as to whether, when and how these gatherings will occur, but local congregations are being advised to staff up and gear up for FSY conferences.
Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland would love to see all Pentecostals converted to Latter-day Saint teachings.
George Wood, former general superintendent of the Assemblies of God, would love to see all Latter-day Saints adopt Pentecostal preachings.
Despite their doctrinal differences and proselytizing desires, though, Holland and Wood are faithful friends. They discussed their relationship — one built on what unites them rather than what divides them — in a recent podcast.
In the past, if Wood spied a Latter-day Saint missionary on the street, he said, “I would try to avoid the conversation.”
Now the Pentecostal leader says he would go straight up to the young proselytizer and say: “Do you know Elder Holland?”
For his part, the apostle said he hopes his church’s missionaries “see themselves as true disciples of Christ,” and spend a “significant amount of time in service.”
The sounds of music
In 1910, from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1, two large horns suspended from the famed Salt Lake Tabernacle captured music that set the Tabernacle Choir on a 110-year path of recording history.
“The choir was one of the earliest choral ensembles to record its music,” choir President Ron Jarrett said at a recent news conference marking the anniversary. “No one then knew that first recording would lead to over 200 recordings that have showcased the choir from the early days of acoustic recording through long-playing records to modern digital compact discs and DVDs.”
A news release noted other highlights that form the legacy of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square:
• Utahn Harvey Fletcher, the posthumous Grammy winner who is widely regarded as the father of synthesized stereo sound, used recordings of the choir in his 1940 demonstration at Carnegie Hall.
• The choir released its first long-playing record in 1949.
• The first radio broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word” took place July 15, 1929. It remains the longest continuously running network broadcast in radio history.
• The choir released its first CD in 1981.
• Latter-day Saint Charities donated $2 million in cash to help the World Food Programme set up “hubs” around the globe and speed up distribution of food, supplies and other relief to nations in need.
The partnership with the U.N. program “has facilitated the efficient movement of these goods and supplies where they are most needed,” said Bryant Pankratz, senior manager of emergency response and refugee services for the church’s humanitarian arm. “It is really significant.”
Latter-day Saint Charities also gave an undisclosed sum to the World Food Programme to help feed more than 35,000 children in Somalia who are going hungry due to pandemic-related school closures.
• This week, 144 of the church’s temples came back on line, providing marriage “sealings” under Phase 1 of a worldwide reopening plan. Next week, 99 temples also will be in Phase 2, offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals.”
• A groundbreaking for Washington state’s fourth temple will take place next month.
• An exterior rendering of the Port Moresby Papua New Guinea Temple has been released.
The single-story, 9,550-square-foot temple will be the first for this Pacific island nation and its 31,000 Latter-day Saints.
• Construction is proceeding on the Pocatello Temple.
The 67,000-square-foot building, announced in April 2017, will be Idaho’s sixth temple.
“We were told initially that construction was expected to last up to three years,” Larry Fisher, a regional spokesman for the church, told EastIdahoNews.com. “We anticipate it wrapping up next year, but that’s not an official word.”
Quote of the week
“The reason that this statue [of Martha Hughes Cannon] is so meaningful to me and so many others is because for too long, the lives and accomplishments of women have been forgotten or overlooked.”
— Deidre Henderson, Utah state senator, at the unveiling of a statue honoring Latter-day Saint Martha Hughes Cannon, who, in 1896, became the first woman in the U.S. elected to a state Senate.
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.