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.

Black lives matter vs. Black Lives Matter

(Courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Dallin H. Oaks of the First Presidency talked to Brigham Young University students about racism on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

Black lives do matter, says Dallin H. Oaks, so much so that the credo ranks as an “eternal truth” that everyone should support.

That hardly means, the first counselor in the governing First Presidency adds, that every cause proclaimed under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement — from abolishing police to changing constitutional government — must be universally accepted.

Oaks told a mostly virtual audience at Brigham Young University this week that Latter-day Saints should heed church President Russell M. Nelson’s recent call to “lead out in abandoning attitudes and actions of prejudice toward any group of God’s children.”

Oaks balked at the push to remove names of slaveholders from campus buildings, warning that such efforts may be little more than a symbolic bow to political correctness.

Rather than quarrel over the past, he urged his listeners to “unite and improve the future.”

Some BYU students have lobbied school officials to drop the name of Abraham O. Smoot, a 19th-century slave owner, from the church-owned Provo school’s administration building.

Family proclamation turns 25

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell M. Nelson gives concluding remarks at General Conference on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2020.

This fall’s General Conference marked the 25th anniversary of “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,”

Yet the faith’s familiar document, which many thought might one day be canonized, was mentioned just once (and a second time in a footnote) throughout the two-day gathering. That came in the speech by President Russell M. Nelson, according to Salt Lake City researcher Christian Anderson.

And Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, who has repeatedly turned to the faith’s prescription for gender relations, hasn’t mentioned the proclamation at the past two conferences.

“Collectively, speakers used statistically fewer scriptures than expected, given a generally increasing trend,” Anderson said, “Continuing a trend since the mid-1980s, 33% of the verses were from the Book of Mormon, much more than the fewer 20% before that time period.”

Three passages — Moses 7:18 (referring to Zion as being “one heart and one mind”), Mosiah 2:41 (discusses how “blessed and happy” are “those who keep the commandments”), and Mosiah 3:19 (stating “the natural man is an enemy to God”) — were cited five times each, the researcher noted. Meanwhile, 2 Nephi 26:33 (“all are alike unto God”) got four citations, probably due to the talks about racism.

Conference speakers backed off “provincial references to Salt Lake (11 hits) after 34 hits in April, the most in 26 years,” Anderson said, “and a reversal of a strong decreasing trend since the mid-1990s.”

This week’s podcast: Ezra Taft Benson’s politics

(File photo) Ezra Taft Benson

Latter-day Saints used to be more evenly split between the two major political parties, supporting Democrats Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson for U.S. president.

But something happened in the 1960s. Latter-day Saints began moving to the right and became a reliably Republican voting bloc, a trend that was cemented with Ronald Reagan’s ascension to the White House and continues to this day.

Though there were many social factors behind this shift, one high-placed church leader may have helped shape Latter-day Saint political views for decades. His name: Ezra Taft Benson.

An apostle and onetime church president, Benson held political views that stretched further right than mainstream Republicans. He spoke out against communism — even calling Dwight D. Eisenhower, on whose Cabinet he had served, and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “Communists” — considered running on a presidential ticket with strident segregationist George Wallace, and wanted to name a member of the right-wing John Birch Society to the faith’s top quorums. But Benson got plenty of pushback for linking politics and religion from other church leaders, including David O. McKay, Gordon B. Hinckley and Boyd K. Packer.

On this week’s show, Matthew Harris, author of “Watchman on the Tower: Ezra Taft Benson and the Making of the Mormon Right” and a history professor at Colorado State University in Pueblo, discusses Benson and his influence on Latter-day Saint politics.

Listen here.

Is Trump like Captain Moroni?

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) An actor portrays Captain Moroni and the Title of Liberty in the Mormon Miracle Pageant on Wednesday, June 12, 2019.
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When Sen. Mike Lee looks at President Donald Trump, he sees another Captain Moroni, the determined liberty-loving commander of Book of Mormon fame.

“To my Mormon friends, my Latter-day Saint friends,” Lee, R-Utah, said as he pointed to Trump standing by his side at an Arizona rally, “think of him as Captain Moroni. He seeks not power, but to pull it down.”

Lee added, “He seeks not the praise of the world or the ‘fake news,’ but he seeks the well-being and the peace of the American people.”

Comparing Trump to Captain Moroni — who is a different character than the Moroni whose statue tops many Latter-day Saint temples — brought Lee swift attacks on social media and elsewhere.

Historian Benjamin Park tweeted, “I didn’t think I’d have to say this, and I don’t feel like writing a whole op-ed about it, but let me be clear: Donald Trump is not a Captain Moroni.”

Barbara Jones Brown tweeted that Trump is more like King Noah, an evil ruler in the Book of Mormon who overtaxed his people to support harlots and who burned a prophet at the stake for criticizing him.

(Ross D. Franklin | The Associated Press) Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks at a campaign rally for President Donald Trump at Phoenix Goodyear Airport Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020, in Goodyear, Ariz.

The stakes are high

COVID-19 may be slowing organizational shifts within the church, but it isn’t stopping them.

Independent researcher Matt Martinich, who tracks growth on his ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com website, pointed to the creation of the following seven new stakes in recent weeks:

• Queen Creek Heritage Stake, giving Arizona 116 stakes.

• Edmonton Young Single Adult Stake, giving Alberta three YSA stakes and 27 overall.

• Kumasi Suame Stake, giving Ghana 26 stakes.

• Rigby Holbrooke Stake, giving Idaho 134 stakes.

• Pointe-Noire Stake, giving the Republic of Congo three stakes with a fourth coming soon.

• San Antonio Pecan Valley Stake, giving Texas 78 stakes.

• Layton Utah Shoreline Stake, giving Utah 609 stakes.

Christmas concerts

O, come, all ye faithful choirs, ensembles, singers and musicians. Submit your holiday videos for possible inclusion in this December’s virtual Temple Square Christmas Concert series.

The winners will be broadcast on the church’s website throughout the holiday season.

“The musical performances may include fun and lighthearted holiday songs and inspiring and worshipful Christmas songs from various cultures and traditions,” a news release notes. “Original songs from throughout the world are also encouraged.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, these virtual viewings will take the place of Temple Square’s usual lineup of in-person Christmas concerts.

Those interested can email up to two videos to ChristmasatTempleSquare@ChurchofJesusChrist.org by Nov. 15.

Temple updates

• Next week, 149 of the church’s temples will be providing marriage “sealings” under Phase 1 of a worldwide reopening plan. Of those, 123 temples also will be in Phase 2, offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals.” No temples have begun Phase 3, which would make “all living and limited proxy ordinances” available by appointment.

Quote of the week

(Courtesy photo of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Ulisses Soares of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks from a recording studio on Temple Square in Salt Lake City to a Texas-based religious freedom conference on Oct. 28, 2020.

“Let’s not feel so threatened by a difference of opinion. Let us instead respect the sincerely held beliefs of our neighbors, and by doing so, you may find your own beliefs strengthened. Something as simple as speech and words can have a decisive effect on the health of civilization. We need to learn to both not give offense and not take offense. It is significant that countries with more religious freedom have more peace. And countries with less religious freedom have less peace.”

Apostle Ulisses Soares, speaking virtually to the Dallas–Fort Worth Alliance for Religious Freedom.

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