This week in Mormon Land: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s review of ‘The Book of Mormon’ and looking back at three church milestones

(Charles Dharapak | AP file photo)Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is shown in her chambers at the Supreme Court in Washington, Wednesday, July 24, 2013. Ginsburg died Sept. 18 at age 87.

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.

What Nelson misses

Russell M. Nelson has spent much of his life going to hospitals — as a renowned heart surgeon caring for patients, as a mindful minister tending to ill congregants, and as a father, grandfather and great-grandfather welcoming new babies into his large family.

“This treasured experience brings me unspeakable joy every time,” the 96-year-old prophet-president wrote Sunday on Facebook. “I love holding these precious children in my arms and embracing them for the first time.”

Sadly, the coronavirus has halted that routine.

“[Wife] Wendy and I have resorted to greeting our new family members virtually,” he said. “We have missed holding these babies in our arms and look forward to the day when we can do so again.”

Nelson then pivoted to the coming General Conference and the chance for virtual viewers to “feel the depth of the Lord’s love for you.”

“Gratefully, even a pandemic cannot and will not stop the Lord from embracing us. His love is constant,” he said. “...You and I have a special opportunity to feel his love during the upcoming General Conference.”

RBG’s ruling on ‘The Book of Mormon’

(Doug Mills, AP file photo) In this Oct. 1, 1993, file photo, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, center, poses with her family at the court in Washington. From left are, son-in-law George Spera, daughter Jane Ginsburg, husband Martin, son James Ginsburg. The judge's grandchildren, Clara Spera and Paul Spera, are in front.

The racy but rollicking “Book of Mormon” musical apparently got a big thumbs-up from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the celebrated Supreme Court justice and champion of equality who died last week at age 87.

In her 2018 story of Ruth, granddaughter Clara Spera wrote about her beloved “Bubbie” and mentioned the Tony-winning show.

“You may know her as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or affectionately as the Notorious RBG, but to me she’s Bubbie,” Spera wrote in Glamour. “Bubbie with whom I spend most High Holy Days. Bubbie who took me to see ‘The Book of Mormon,’ where we both laughed until we cried.”

So the decision was unanimous. The performance won over both grandmother and granddaughter.

Memo to Senate: Not so fast

Count Mormon Women for Ethical Government among those urging the U.S. Senate to wait until after the election to select a replacement for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“We are disappointed by the rush to hold Supreme Court hearings in the midst of a highly contentious election,” the group said Tuesday on its Facebook page. “While we respect the constitutional right of the president to nominate and the Senate to confirm, there is no constitutional requirement as to timing. By pushing this nomination and confirmation forward, the president and Senate risk doing significant and lasting institutional harm.”

In a separate Salt Lake Tribune op-ed, Jennifer Walker Thomas, the group’s director of nonpartisanship, wrote that “the interests of the president and those of the country are in direct, irreconcilable conflict.”

“A justice chosen by the president and seated just weeks before Nov. 3 would likely be called upon to help determine election results,” she warned, “and ultimately could cast a deciding vote on legal and civic matters in which the president has personal interest.”

(Courtesy photo) Jennifer Walker Thomas is the director of nonpartisanship for Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

Thomas pointed to President Donald Trump’s “propensity” to put personal interests ahead of those of the nation and his efforts to undermine Americans' faith in the electoral process.

“The members of the Senate must choose between what is best for the president, personally,” she said, “or what is best for the institutional integrity of the United States.”

MWEG also lauded Ginsburg as a role model.

She “taught women how to push beyond the constraints placed upon them,” the group wrote on its website. “... While no single individual can take her place, her life’s work is best measured by the millions of women she empowered who will pick up where she left off. The women of MWEG are committed to continuing this work and taking up her challenge to ‘fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.’”

Smoot building continued

(Photo courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society) Abraham Smoot

Descendants of Abraham O. Smoot, who held three slaves, recently came out against the movement to rename the Brigham Young University administration building that bears the benefactor’s name.

Not surprisingly, not all of the members of Smoot’s vast family tree, agree.

BYU student Abraham Owen McKay says the Provo school should drop the name of his fourth great-grandfather from the building.

“I recognize [his] incredible contribution to BYU. … I feel a genuine love for Abraham and look forward to meeting him someday,” McKay writes in a Tribune op-ed. “However, his ownership of other humans is not something that can be overlooked or condoned by an organization that claims to love all persons. … [He] was a slave owner. His name is tarnished by that fact — a harsh reality that has changed the perception I hold of my own name.”

Church pushes to erase slavery clause

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) "Until we remove this language from our constitution, we are not equal," said Latter-day Saint Tamu Smith. A coalition of politicians, religious leaders and civil rights activists is urging Utahns to pass Amendment C on the ballot to remove old wording in the state constitution, Sept. 22, 2020, that they say still allows slavery as a punishment for crime.

The church is encouraging Utah voters to approve a ballot measure that would remove antiquated language from the state constitution that appears to permit slavery as punishment for a crime.

“There is no compelling reason for this to remain in our constitution,” Juan Becerra, manager of the church’s government and community relations, said at a Capitol Hill news conference. “And we fully support the removal of this through the amendment.”

Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, the only Black woman in Utah’s Legislature, said Amendment C represents part of a national movement to remove similar language from all state constitutions.

“Until we remove this language from our constitution, we are not all equal,” added Tamu Smith, of “Sistas in Zion” fame and co-author of “Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons.”

‘Obtaining the plates’

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) As the only surviving Nephite, a people of the ancient Americas, Moroni finishes writing about his people’s destruction. The final words Moroni writes are to ask all people to come unto Christ.

Some 193 years ago this week, church founder Joseph Smith and his wife, Emma, ventured to the Hill Cumorah in western New York in the dead of night, according to an account on the faith’s website, to retrieve the gold plates from which sprang the Book of Mormon.

That nocturnal excursion, just after midnight on Sept. 22, 1827, occurred four years after Smith had first unearthed the artifacts.

The latest episode in the Book of Mormon video series tells the story of Moroni, the final prophet in the faith’s signature scripture, as he wraps up his record in the ancient Americas before burying it. The installment concludes with Smith casting his eyes on the plates for the first time in 1823.

“At length the time arrived for obtaining the plates,” Smith wrote. “On the twenty-second day of September, one thousand eight hundred and twenty-seven, having gone as usual at the end of another year to the place where they were deposited, the same heavenly messenger [Moroni] delivered them up to me.”

Manifesto milestone

Flip to the back of the Doctrine and Covenants to Official Declaration 1 and you will find that Thursday marks another important anniversary in church history.

Some 130 years ago, on Sept. 24, 1890, church President Wilford Woodruff issued the Manifesto, signaling the beginning of the end to the faith’s participation in plural marriage.

“We are not teaching polygamy or plural marriage, nor permitting any person to enter into its practice,” the faith’s fourth president proclaimed. “... And I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.”

Although leadership then preached monogamy, some “new plural marriages were performed between 1890 and 1904, especially in Mexico and Canada,” as well as “a small number” in the United States, a church essay explains, giving rise to 1904′s “second Manifesto,” which effectively ended polygamy by making the practice punishable by excommunication.

Remembering a missionary first

On yet another historical note — this one a more recent 42 years ago — Mary Frances Sturlaugson became the faith’s first African American full-time missionary on Sept. 23, 1978.

“Sturlaugson really wanted to serve in Africa, and so she was disappointed when she found out that she was going to San Antonio, Texas, instead,” according to a story on The Juvenile Instructor website. “However, Sturlaugson wanted to extend the same kind of love to others that she received from the missionaries that taught her, and she found ways to do that as a missionary in Texas.”

Sturlaugson went on to write several books, including “A Soul So Rebellious” in 1980.

This week’s podcast: Church’s name in the media

(Image courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) New church symbol.

In August 2018, President Russell M. Nelson urged the media to use the faith’s full name and to stop employing the terms “Mormon church” or “LDS Church" — indeed to cease using “Mormon” altogether, even when referring to members.

A year later, Public Square Magazine, published from the perspective of Latter-day Saints, decided to survey whether various national news outlets — including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Associated Press and CNN — had complied and how it affected their coverage.

On this week’s podcast, Public Square Managing Editor Christopher Cunningham discusses the results, along with the challenges journalists face in heeding the church’s preferred style and the implications their word choices carry.

Listen here.

Good news for Spanish speakers

For Spanish speakers, the latest news from the church is now just a click away.

The website — noticias.laiglesiadejesucristo.org — consolidates content from the faith’s 18 newsrooms in Latin America.

“As part of this new website, we have incorporated technology that detects a person’s location upon visiting the website, so the experience they have while navigating the page is local and feels familiar to a Mexican, Peruvian, Dominican, Guatemalan or whichever country they’re connecting from,” David Parra of the church’s Information and Communication Services Department, said in a news release. “This means that people will see prioritized content from their country according to the detected location.”

Apostle Ronald A. Rasband noted that more than a third of Latter-day Saints speak Spanish as their first language. “Having a consolidated channel to distribute news of the church,” he said, “aligns well with the First Presidency’s desire to simplify the tools that we use. It helps us to better communicate with one voice.

Relief efforts

Latter-day Saints recently donated food, medicine and protective gear in countries across Latin America, according to a news release.

• In Mexico, the church gave nearly 400,000 articles of protective equipment for use in hospitals across the country.

• In Colombia, 5,000 donated kits of nonperishable food will help feed residents in the north, including more than 850 families in Arjona.

• In Chile, nearly 300 indigenous Mapuche and Haitian immigrant families received flour, diapers, milk and oil, thanks to an interreligious effort.

• In Bolivia, church representatives delivered $900,000 worth of food and biosafety gear to first responders and families in need.

• In Peru, the church contributed 7,000 pills of azithromycin, dexamethasone, metamizole and acetylsalicylic acid to a clinic along with 1,000 baskets of oats, oil, rice, sugar, canned fish and other staples to residents.

Temple updates

• Next week, 146 of the church’s temples will be providing marriage “sealings” under Phase 1 of a worldwide reopening plan. Of those, 103 temples also will be in Phase 2, offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals.”

(Rendering courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Cobán Guatemala Temple.

• A groundbreaking is planned in November for the Cobán Temple.

Announced in October 2019, the single-story, single-spired, 8,800-square-foot temple will be the third in Guatemala, which has more than 280,000 Latter-day Saints.

• The following month, in December, officials will break ground for the Okinawa Temple.

Announced in April 2019, the single-spired, two-story, 10,000-square-foot temple will be the fourth in Japan, home to more than 130,000 members.

(Rendering courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Okinawa Japan Temple.

• The groundbreaking for the Salta Temple has been pushed back again, due to COVID-19.

Originally set for Aug. 15, it first was delayed until Oct. 9 and now is scheduled to take place in November, according to a news release.

Announced in April 2018, the Salta Temple will be one of five built or planned temples in Argentina, home to more than 470,000 Latter-day Saints.

Quote of the week

“If we’re going to have pictures of Jesus in our [church] foyers, let’s have representations of Jesus as Black. We should have representations of Jesus as Asian. As Latino. As Native American. Etc. Portraying Jesus as exclusively white does real harm. It is confounding and off-putting to many who are not white, while it reinforces the superiority of whiteness both to those of us who are white and to believers who are not.”

— Sam Brunson in a By Common Consent post

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