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.

Mocker in chief?

(Courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Henry B. Eyring and President Russell M. Nelson, then head of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, visit with U.S. President Donald J. Trump and then-Sen. Orrin Hatch at Welfare Square in Salt Lake City, Dec. 4, 2017.

While President Donald Trump publicly praises and courts evangelicals, prosperity preachers and other religious conservatives, The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins reports, privately he mocks them and belittles their beliefs.

Same goes for Latter-day Saints.

“I’ve been curious about the president’s opinion of Mormonism ever since I interviewed him in 2014 at Mar-a-Lago,” Coppins writes. “During our conversation, Trump began to strenuously argue that Mitt Romney’s exotic faith had cost him the 2012 election. When I interrupted to inform him that I’m also a Mormon, he quickly changed tack — extolling my church’s many virtues, and then switching subjects. ... I’ve always wondered what Trump might have said if I hadn’t cut him off.”

Michael Cohen, a confidant-turned-critic of the president, told Coppins that Trump frequently poked fun at Romney’s religion, especially when he learned about the temple garments the faithful wear.

“Oh my god,” Cohen said. “How many times did he bring up Mitt Romney and the undergarments …”

A White House spokesman told Coppins that “people of faith know that President Trump is a champion for religious liberty and the sanctity of life, and he has taken strong actions to support them and protect their freedom to worship. The president is also well known for joking and his terrific sense of humor, which he shares with people of all faiths.”

(Coppins was a guest on the “Mormon Land” podcast in December 2018. Listen here.)

Robert Taber, national director of Latter-day Saints for Biden-Harris, released a statement commenting on The Atlantic’s story.

“It is clear that people of faith are only useful to this president as long as they remain a committed voting bloc for his agenda, and enough is enough,” he said in a Salt Lake Tribune story. “[Democratic presidential nominee] Joe Biden has defended our faith, shown respect to our leaders, and spoken in defense of religious liberty. A Biden administration will unify and heal our country, helping us turn the page on division and hatred.”

Conference special

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

This week, The Tribune published its largest ever pre-General Conference special section, which highlighted a range of topics within and about the faith, including:

• A deep examination of how scholars say church founder Joseph Smith may have translated the Book of Mormon without looking at the gold plates he says contained the church’s signature scripture.

• Snapshots from the campaigns of 10 Latter-day Saints — including Smith, Morris Udall, Orrin Hatch, two Romneys and Evan McMullin — who sought the U.S. presidency.

• Stories of how the coronavirus has reshaped missionaries and members, helping them to find new meaning in this new normal.

• A look back at the Woman’s Exponent, a magazine created by and for Latter-day Saint women that helped propel the suffrage movement.

• An explanation of how a church ranch is plowing new territory in land use.

• Interviews with some overseas scholars who fear a second Trump term could hinder church growth.

• How a Brigham Young University football player has adapted his life playbook because of the pandemic.

• A column by humorist Robert Kirby about counsel members received at conference a century ago.

Missionary’s ‘miracle’ recovery

When two female Latter-day Saint missionaries, serving in Texas, were stabbed in their Houston apartment by an intruder in August, the church did not name them.

This week, though, one of them, Lauren Willardson, identified herself, KUTV reported, and told her harrowing story of assault and what she sees as miraculous recovery in a Facebook post.

“Around 4 a.m., a man broke into the apartment where my companion and I lived and started attacking us in our sleep,” Willardson wrote. “We fought and prayed, struggling for our lives for about 15 minutes. After the struggle, through the power and mercy of God, the man left. My companion and I called 911 and were then rushed to the hospital. We found in the ambulance that I had sustained nine stab wounds — [in her hand, shoulder, ankle and intestines]. At the hospital, I had a lifesaving surgery and then received treatment for many days.”

Hello! My name is Lauren Willardson😊 I am a daughter of God, I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, and I am one of the...

Posted by Lauren Willardson on Saturday, September 26, 2020

The surgeon who operated on her told the young proselytizer “that if the knife in my shoulder had been turned even a degree to the left or the right, it would have sliced a main artery and vein and I would have bled out before the ambulance ever arrived,” she wrote. “What a miracle that we were protected and the knife glided in so perfectly.”

From having such “experienced trauma surgeons” to the president of the hospital where she was taken being a church member who let in her parents when no visitors were allowed due to COVID-19, Willardson said, “the evidence of God’s hand throughout this ordeal is overwhelming.”

She is at home recovering “nicely,” she wrote, but plans to return to missionary service “as soon as my doctors will allow.”

Finding that one in 8 billion

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Lorys Saavedra indexes FamilySearch records on her laptop in Centerville, Utah, on Thursday, May 14, 2020.

The world’s population stands at 7.6 billion. Add another 400 million and that’s how many searchable names are now available on FamilySearch.

The church’s genealogical arm recently reached the 8 billion mark — a milestone that may mean more on a personal level than on a global scale.

“It’s the personal family connections that matter most,” David Rencher, FamilySearch’s chief genealogical officer, said in a news release. “With each new record, there’s the possibility to find a missing link in the family tree. And that is soul-satisfying.”

FamilySearch adds more than a million new searchable records to its website every day, the release noted. And 7 billion of those 8 billion names went online in the past decade alone — thanks to partnerships, new technologies and volunteer labor.

This week’s podcast: an LGBTQ journey

(Photo courtesy of Ryan Di Spaltro) Matthew Gong

Many gay members have a story about their experience in the church.

Though all the narratives stand on their own, most involve these Latter-day Saints recognizing their attractions, trying to reconcile what they are feeling with what the church is teaching about homosexuality — that it is not a sin, just acting on it is — coming out, what they hope for the future, and how their family and friends respond.

On this week’s podcast, Matthew Gong, who works in artificial intelligence in Seattle, discusses his journey with his faith, his family, his friends and himself.

Listen here.

You can also read here how Gong went from waging an inner war to finding inner peace.

A full half-year

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Preservation specialists begin the process of cutting into and retrieving items from the time capsule within the capstone of the Salt Lake Temple on May 18, 2020, at the Church History Library.

This week, the church posted its semiannual World Report, looking back at developments that have happened across the globe since April.

The October edition included an exploration of the ways in which the coronavirus has affected the faith, the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s “First Vision,” and the opening of a time capsule from the under-renovation Salt Lake Temple in downtown Salt Lake City.

The report also mentioned that the Utah-based faith has “engaged in the largest humanitarian effort in its history” in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Latter-day Saint Charities, the church’s humanitarian arm, and its partners have been involved in 815 projects in more than 140 countries, “giving sustenance and hope.”

Mormon marshal arrives in ‘Fargo’

(Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Morris/FX) Timothy Olyphant stars as U.S. Marshal Dick “Deafy” Wickware in "Fargo."

Members may sense a “familiar spirit” in one of the characters in the new season of the TV series “Fargo.”

U.S. Marshal Dick “Deafy” Wickware, played by actor Timothy Olyphant, is “a priest of the Mormon church, and a member of the Quorum of Seventy.”

Remember, this season is set in 1950, so the Mormon moniker wasn’t out of bounds.

Tribune TV writer Scott D. Pierce notes that Deafy makes an immediate impression when he arrives in the third episode, scolding the Kansas City police chief for cursing, refusing a cup of coffee and explaining a bit of Latter-day Saint theology, with his own twist on it.

Co-executive producer/writer Enzo Mileti, who grew up in Park City and attended the University of Utah, helped sculpt the character.

“I’m not Mormon, but I did grow up in Utah,” Mileti told The Tribune. “And, of course, a lot of my friends are Mormons.”

Relief efforts

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Samantha Eldridge stacks wood from fallen trees that is being donated to the Urban Indian Center of Salt Lake on Wednesday, Sept. 16, 2020.

• The church is celebrating the bicentennial of the “First Vision” in western New York by making 200 deliveries to food pantries and charities across the Empire State.

All told, more than 800 tons of canned goods and nonperishable items — green beans, mashed potato granules, chili, salsa, macaroni, pasta and spaghetti sauce — will be delivered, according to a news release, enough to fill three dozen trucks with 45,000 pounds of food each.

The church is teaming up with faith-based pantries and other agencies (including Catholic Charities, Barakah Muslim Charity and the Salvation Army) in the massive effort.

Another unlikely partner: Rochester’s Three Heads Brewing, which gave up its forklift and loading dock for a day so the items could be dropped off.

“I assume it’s unusual, but you know, we are an open space for anyone,” co-owner Todd Dirrigl said in the release. “We are a community-based company, and we are here to help people out.”

• You could call them giving trees.

Thousands of majestic maples, oaks, pines and more may have been toppled by hurricane-force winds recently across northern Utah, but they haven’t stopped providing comfort.

Armies of Latter-day Saint volunteers teamed up with government agencies, Utah Navajo Health System and others to retrieve firewood from those fallen sentinels.

Result: Truckers delivered 3 million-plus pounds of firewood to the Navajo Nation and other Native American tribes in Utah.

“We don’t have heaters, we don’t have central cooling systems on the reservation, a lot of the homes here depend on firewood for food,” Pete Sands, a public relations specialist for Utah Navajo Health System, said in a news release. “...Even though we come from a different background, different cultures, we can still come together and help each other.”

• Members and missionaries alike are helping survivors of the devastating fires that destroyed thousands of homes and charred millions of acres in California, Oregon and Washington.

“This had given me a bird’s-eye view of the best of people,” Deni Goodwin, a new Relief Society president in Oregon’s Bear Creek Ward, said in a news release. “We’ve had cars donated, we’ve had money donated, we’ve had housing situations donated. People are so very good.”

Temple updates

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Piles of steel, copper, aluminum, stone and concrete are loaded and trucked to recycling plants from the Salt Lake Temple renovation project in this July 2020 photo. The sorting of the repurposed refuse is more time consuming but considered the right thing to do by the church and its contractors, the church said.

• Next week, 147 of the church’s temples, including the one in Santiago, Chile, will be providing marriage “sealings” under Phase 1 of a worldwide reopening plan. Of those, 107 temples also will be in Phase 2, offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals.”

• Curious how the four-year renovation work is progressing on the Salt Lake Temple after nine months?

Well, if you’re near downtown Salt Lake City, you can peer through window fences and see that much of the foundation has been exposed, allowing passersby to view the stones set by pioneers back in 1853.

Or you can click on a YouTube video for a close-up tour.

“It’s special to see those stones,” Andy Kirby, the church’s director of historic temple renovations, said in a news release. “It makes me think of the times in which the stones were laid, the resources that the [Latter-day Saints] had during those times and the struggles they were going through.”

• A socially distanced groundbreaking Saturday launched construction of the Brasília Temple.

The single-story, 25,000-square-foot building will be “the center of our worship. A place to be taught, comforted, invested with power from above,” general authority Seventy Adilson de Paula Parrella said in a news release.

The Brazilian native prayed that Latter-day Saints will “continue to strive to be good citizens who serve and bless our neighbors and ... never forget the poor and needy.”

Brazil, home to more than 1.4 million members, has seven operating temples and four planned for construction.

Quote of the week

“I don’t think there are many people who are openly queer and whose dad is now in one of the highest positions of authority in the LDS Church. If there are, I would love to meet them for a nice cup of group therapy.”

Matthew Gong, in a Facebook post

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