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.
Aside from the naming of six new temples, no major announcements took place at the past weekend’s all-virtual General Conference, but there were major addresses.
“Brothers and sisters, please listen carefully to what I am about to say,” the 96-year-old leader began. “God does not love one race more than another. His doctrine on this matter is clear. … Your standing before God is not determined by the color of your skin. Favor or disfavor with God is dependent upon your devotion to God and his commandments, and not the color of your skin.”
Nelson didn’t stop there. He said he grieves that "our Black brothers and sisters the world over are enduring the pains of racism and prejudice and challenged all Latter-day Saints to “lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice.”
• A day earlier Nelson’s first counselor, Dallin H. Oaks, tackled the topic in more detail, denouncing racism in the church and the United States.
As citizens and Latter-day Saints, “we must do better to help root out racism,” he said, adding that “this country should be better in eliminating racism, not only against Black Americans, who were most visible in the recent protests, but also against Latinos, Asians and other groups. This nation’s history of racism is not a happy one, and we must do better.”
Oaks voiced support for peaceful demonstrations against racism and police violence, while decrying those that turned violent.
“This does not mean that we agree with all that is done with the force of law,” he said. “It means that we obey the current law and use peaceful means to change it.”
• The 88-year-old Oaks, who is next in line to assume the church’s reins, waded into political waters as well, giving a vote of confidence to the U.S. electoral process.
“We will not participate in the violence threatened by those disappointed with the outcome,” he said. “In a democratic society, we always have the opportunity and the duty to persist peacefully until the next election.”
President Donald Trump, who is battling a COVID-19 infection, has come under fire for showing reluctance to accept the ballot counts from this fall’s contest against his chief rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Oaks did not name any specific candidates or parties but pointed out that partisan bitterness has sometimes crept into the church.
On Tuesday, the governing First Presidency urged U.S. members to be civil and Christlike in partisan matters, reminding them that gospel principles can be found in “various political parties.”
Other conference highlights
• Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland, one of many who referred to COVID-19, acknowledged he is frustrated with the pandemic.
“We are so tired of this contagion that we feel like tearing our hair out. ... Everyone agrees that this has gone on much, much too long,” he said. “...When will these burdens be lifted? The answer is by and by.”
• Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf acknowledged the suffering caused by the coronavirus, while adding that “our best days are ahead.”
That does not mean, however, that there won’t be “turbulence in our flight through mortality,” said Uchtdorf, a former pilot. “It doesn’t mean there won’t be unexpected instrument failures, mechanical malfunctions and serious weather challenges. In fact, things might get worse before they get better.”
• Apostle Dale G. Renlund cautioned members against self-righteousness, urging them to show mercy as Christ did.
People who love mercy “are not judgmental,” he said. They treat everyone “with love and understanding, regardless of characteristics such as race, gender, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, and tribal, clan or national differences.”
“Consistently using the correct name of the church, something that might seem like a small thing, is not small at all,” Andersen said. “... If the world is going to speak less of [Christ], who is going to speak more of him? We are! Along with other devoted Christians!”
Five women delivered speeches during the two-day conference.
• Michelle D. Craig, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, said prayer can help people find hope and see things in a new light.
“Jesus Christ sees people deeply. He sees individuals, their needs, and who they can become,” she said. “Where others saw fishermen, sinners or publicans, Jesus saw disciples; where others saw a man possessed by devils, Jesus looked past the outward distress, acknowledged him and healed him.”
• Lisa L. Harkness, first counselor in the general presidency of the children’s Primary, noted that adversity can fortify faith.
“Our faith increases as we choose to believe rather than doubt, forgive rather than judge, repent rather than rebel,” she said. “Our faith is refined as we patiently rely on the merits and mercy and grace of the holy Messiah.”
The women’s session featured three female speakers.
• Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency and head of Latter-day Saint Charities, said women “have power to remove prejudice and build unity” and “unlimited potential to change society.”
• Cristina B. Franco, second counselor in the Primary general presidency, said Jesus can “heal brokenness” when people have faith, repent and seek him.
• Rebecca M. Craven, second counselor in the Young Women leadership, emphasized that individuals can improve.
Enduring to the end “means changing to the end,” she said. “I now understand that I am not starting over with each failed attempt, but that, with each try, I am continuing my process of change.”
He said vs. she said
In 2015, Russell M. Nelson memorably urged Latter-day Saint women to “speak up and speak out.” But their words are rarely finding their way into General Conference talks.
Researcher Eliza Wells, in an Exponent II blog post, studied April conference talks by men and women from 1971 to 2020 and discovered that women comprise only 5.7% of quotations from gendered sources, while men make up 94.3% of the total.
“When quoting sources who are neither in the scriptures nor in the church hierarchy,” Wells writes, “prophets and apostles quote women 22.5% of the time and men 77.5% of the time.”
Female church leaders quote women more often than their male colleagues do, says Wells, who has a master’s degree from Stanford in religious studies, but “even in the women’s session, where female leaders quote women the most (13.2% of the time in the last five years), they still quote men more than twice as frequently as they quote women (30.9%).”
Do these statistics matter? Yes, Wells argues. “General Conference quotation matters because General Conference matters,” she concludes. “It is the most important event on the institutional church calendar.”
Gong and his wife test positive
Trailblazing apostle Gerrit W. Gong became the first member of the church’s upper leadership echelons known to have COVID-19.
His wife, Susan Gong, also has tested positive, the Utah-based faith announced in a news release Tuesday.
“Their condition is mild, but they are being cautious and their health is being carefully monitored by doctors,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins stated. “The church will follow all appropriate health protocols for contact tracing and will continue to follow health guidelines for this virus to protect church leaders, including self-isolation, as appropriate.”
Many of the church’s highest-ranking authorities are in their 70s, 80s and even 90s, and would be considered at high risk of complications if they contracted COVID-19.
As a precaution, other senior church leaders are being tested.
Unlike his colleagues among the faith’s top brass, the 66-year-old Gong did not attend the church’s General Conference in person over the weekend — his talk was prerecorded — when it was revealed then that he was “feeling well” after being exposed to the virus. Hawkins said the apostle viewed the all-virtual conference sessions from home.
In his sermon Saturday, Gong declared that “God’s love for all people is affirmed throughout scripture. ... In the household of faith, there are to be no strangers, no foreigners, no rich and poor, no outside ‘others.’”
About those new temples ...
They’ll be built in Santa Cruz, Bolivia; Tarawa, Kiribati; Port Vila, Vanuatu; Greater Guatemala City, Guatemala; São Paulo East, Brazil; and Lindon, Utah.
• The Lindon Temple will be 25th in the Beehive State and the seventh either existing or planned for Utah County.
Utah, where the church is headquartered, is home to about 13% of the global faith’s members and nearly 11% of its planned or operating temples.
• The Tarawa Temple will be the first in the small Pacific island nation of Kiribati.
Matt Martinich, an independent researcher who tracks church growth at ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com, noted that Kiribati was the country with the most Latter-day Saints (about 21,000) without a temple.
• The Port Vila Temple will be the first in Vanuatu, another Pacific nation.
• The Greater Guatemala City Temple will be the fourth in that Central American country.
• The Santa Cruz Temple will be the second in Bolivia.
• The São Paulo East Temple will be the 12th existing or planned temple in Brazil and the second in São Paulo.
By the way, Martinich correctly predicted a month ago two of the six temples announced Sunday — the ones in Kiribati and Bolivia. Santa Cruz, he wrote, “was the city outside of the United States with the most stakes  without a temple.”
This week’s podcast: How Joseph translated
Church founder Joseph Smith said he translated the Book of Mormon “by the gift and power of God” from ancient writings found on gold plates.
So, if Smith used this gift to translate the faith’s signature scripture, how might he have done it? Was there more to this mystical process? What role might a so-called seer stone have played? And what should members and outsiders alike keep in mind when considering the birthing of the global religion’s foundational text?
Latter-day Saint physician Samuel Brown, a religious historian and author of the recently released “Joseph Smith’s Translation: The Words and Worlds of Early Mormonism,” addresses those questions and more on this week’s podcast.
Statue of limitations
So, in case you didn’t know, Latter-day Saint temples don’t have to include an Angel Moroni on top.
It’s a good thing, too, because a lot of them don’t — and an increasing number of them won’t.
“While the Angel Moroni statue occupies a prominent place on many temples throughout the world — symbolizing the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ,” reads an updated church statement on the topic, “it is not a requirement of temple design.”
In all, 231 temples have been dedicated, announced or are under construction across the globe. Of those, 156 of the operating temples have the golden statues, and 15 planned ones with renderings will have them. That means 60 either don’t have them or may not when renderings are released.
Observers have noted that the escalating Moroni-less temple trend coincides with the leadership of President Russell M. Nelson. Since April 2018, the month of Nelson’s first General Conference as president, 49 temples have been announced. Of the 31 with available renderings, only five have Moroni statues.
“Organizations are always looking at rebranding if they think the current brand is antiquated, if it no longer is valid or in favor,” Allen Roberts, a Salt Lake City architect who worked on many temple exterior designs, told The Tribune. “I suppose they are trying to Christianize a church that claims to be Christ-centered. They would want to gradually pull away from images that don’t seem to reinforce that.”
For the first time in seven decades, the church has organized a Māori-speaking congregation in New Zealand.
“A new day begins and with it comes an opportunity for Te Reo Māori speakers to express their feelings in the language of their heart,” general authority Seventy Ian S. Ardern, a native New Zealander and the church’s Pacific Area president, said at a special meeting in Kaikohe. “From this pulpit will be heard expressions that some may have had difficulty to express in any language other than Māori and we applaud that opportunity. The Lord understands Māori and will welcome your prayers, the blessing of the sacrament and your testimonies in Te Reo Māori.”
• Next week, 148 of the church’s temples, including the one in Tampico Mexico, will be providing marriage “sealings” under Phase 1 of a worldwide reopening plan. Of those, 109 temples also will be in Phase 2, offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals.” Joining the latter list will be southeastern Utah’s Monticello Temple, meaning all 15 of the operating temples in Utah will be in Phase 2.
• India’s first Latter-day Saint temple will move a step closer to reality in December with a groundbreaking in Bengaluru, the church announced.
The 40,000-square-foot temple will serve nearly 15,000 Latter-day Saints in the world’s largest Hindu nation and the planet’s second most-populous country with more than 1.3 billion souls.
• In coming years, Zimbabwe will gain its first temple, with a December groundbreaking set for the Harare Temple.
The 17,250-square-foot building will serve the African nation’s 34,000-plus Latter-day Saints.
• Church officials will hold a groundbreaking next month for the Davao Temple.
The two-story, 18,450-square-foot structure will be the seventh operating or planned temple in the Philippines, home to more than 800,000 members.
• Church officials will break ground next month on the Antofagasta Temple, according to a news release. The 23,000-square-foot building will be Chile’s third temple.
• Next month, work also will begin on the Mendoza Temple. The 21,000-square-foot edifice will be Argentina’s fifth planned or operating temple.
Of note, none of the renderings for these five planned temples has an Angel Moroni statue.
Quote of the week
“Christianity is comforting but often it is not comfortable.”
Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland in fall 2020 General Conference
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.