This week in Mormon Land: Nelson’s nighttime inspiration; a thumbs-up for proselytizing; the big election choice

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.

Nelson’s awakening

The holiday season may be approaching, but it isn’t always a silent night for President Russell M. Nelson.

That’s the time, the 96-year-old church leader says, when the Lord often speaks to him.

“A few weeks ago, I woke in the middle of the night with the thought that I should offer a prayer of gratitude to God for all of his children around the globe,” Nelson explained in a blog this week on the faith’s website. “Thoughts flooded my mind of all of the things for which we should be grateful and how expressing that gratitude could become a healing spirit in our lives.”

Thus was born the inspiration and motivation behind the prophet-president’s worldwide message last Friday and his call for members to turn their social media pages into a “gratitude journal” by posting what they were grateful for every day for a week by using the hashtag #GiveThanks.

“Since beginning my ministry as the president,” he added, “...I’ve had my share of unexpected awakenings.”

His wife attested to that last year.

“My husband will say during the night, ‘OK, Dear, it’s happening,’” Wendy Nelson said in a Church News video interview. “I just remain quiet and then soon he’s sitting up at the side of the bed writing.”

Stuart Reid, a former Utah legislator who previously worked in church public affairs, has said that Nelson is driven by “revelation” from the heavens. “The Lord really does speak to him in the night.”

So, the New Testament’s Joseph, the Book of Mormon’s Lehi and modern Mormonism’s Nelson — all say that night brings light.

But such enlightenment is not limited to spiritual leaders, Nelson said. “The marvelous privilege of receiving revelation is one of the greatest gifts of God to his children — available to every one of us.”

This week’s podcast: Why gratitude is healthy and helpful

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

President Russell M. Nelson urged members to “flood social media” with posts about gratitude — even as he acknowledged the pain of the coronavirus pandemic that has plagued the world.

In response, throngs of Latter-day Saints took to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Some saw it as a religious obligation. But it turns out that expressions of gratitude are good for mental health, too.

On this week’s show, Marybeth Raynes, a licensed clinical social worker and a licensed marriage and family therapist, discussed the benefits of giving thanks.

Listen here.

What’s wrong with proselytizing?

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saint missionaries in Africa

Conservative writer David Harsanyi has a message for Christian messengers trying to convert him and fellow Jews: Feel free to try. He won’t be offended.

“I’ve had several Christian friends try to turn me toward Jesus. I assume that they wouldn’t be very good Christians if they weren’t spreading the gospel,” he writes in a New York Post opinion piece. “It is, from what I gather, one of the central premises of the enterprise. Indeed, I’m often surprised at how shy Christians are at this task.”

Harsanyi is more surprised at those who criticize such proselytizing by labeling it anti-Semitic.

“Rest assured,” he writes in the Post, attacks on Jews aren’t coming “because of Mormon missionaries” or “Christians spreading the good word.”

So consider Harsanyi a convert — at least to proselytizing.

The 2020 election: a choice between right and wrong?

After the recent heated presidential election, an essay this week in Public Square Magazine suggests that the political polarization dividing the United States misses the mark by splitting Americans into two camps — each convinced that one side is right and the other wrong.

The writer, Ryan Clark Werner, points to church founder Joseph Smith, who reported that the Lord instructed him in the “First Vision” to join none of the current denominations. In his most famous account, Mormonism’s prophet-in-training said he had never considered that “all were wrong.”

“Notice,” Werner writes, “that he was taught not that these other churches were all wrong, but they all were wrong.

“We tend towards the opposite — condemning our opponents as being all wrong, rather than recognizing goodness and truth they still possess,” he adds. “In the same moment, we ... insist our side is all right, while overlooking evidence of our own troubling creeds and corruptions.”

Raising the stakes

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Young women take a picture with Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women general president, in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in 2019.

The church’s big tent is getting bigger as leaders create more stakes.

Ivory Coast, for instance, recently added a stake, independent demographer Matt Martinich reports on his ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com website, boosting the West African nation’s total to 16 stakes.

“The creation of several additional stakes appears imminent,” Martinich wrote, in the nation of 52,000-plus Latter-day Saints.

Republic of Congo, meanwhile, recently got its fourth stake as the African country inched closer to the 10,000-member mark.

Martinich also reported the formation of the Philippines’ 116th stake and three additional stakes in Utah — in Farmington, Lehi and St. George — bringing the Beehive State’s tally to 612.

Remembering Heber J. Grant

(Photo courtesy Utah State Historical Society/Tribune negative collection) President Heber J. Grant of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is greeted by a crowd at a train station in Salt Lake City in 1936.

Some 164 years ago this week, on Nov. 22, 1856, Heber J. Grant was born.

After being ordained an apostle at age 25, he eventually became the church’s seventh president.

Grant was installed during the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918 and served for almost 27 years — the second longest tenure after Brigham Young’s nearly 30 years — until he died on May 14, 1945.

Grant, trained as a businessman, presided over the church as it moved from its pioneer and polygamous roots into mainstream America — through Prohibition, the Great Depression and World War II.

Tyler Glenn recovering from stroke

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Tyler Glenn performs at Rice-Eccles Stadium in 2018.

Tyler Glenn, lead singer and songwriter for the band Neon Trees, has been hospitalized after suffering a stroke.

“I’m quite freaked out, being 36, ostensibly healthy and having this happen,” Glenn wrote this week on Twitter and Instagram.

The rock star underwent a “series of tests” at a Utah hospital and remained hopeful the “cloud” in his right eye would “dissipate.”

After rocketing to fame, Glenn came out as gay and, later, left Mormonism.

“I don’t believe it’s true. And I think that set me free,” the singer told Yahoo this summer about his exit from the church. “...I have found complete freedom and joy ... leaving that behind.”

Charity after the storms

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Church leaders hand off plastic bins filled with food donations to Cobán, Alta Verapaz government leaders in Guatemala in November 2020.

Latter-day Saint Charities, the church’s humanitarian arm, delivered thousands of emergency supplies and more than 120 tons of food to help Central Americans in the wake of Hurricanes Eta and Iota.

“Our unique position of strength is access to thousands of member volunteers within these impacted communities,” Sharon Eubank, the agency’s president and first counselor in the Relief Society’s general presidency, said in a news release. “Disaster-relief supplies and funding may come through Latter-day Saint Charities, but that assistance is made possible by the generosity of members ... and distributed by other member volunteers living in these communities. We are deeply thankful for the critical help they’ve given to serve their communities.”

Hurricane Eta’s relentless rains and winds spawned disastrous mudslides and floods. Hundreds of homes were destroyed in Honduras, for instance, along with 10 church buildings. Eight unharmed meetinghouses became temporary shelters.

Temple updates

• Next week, 154 of the church’s temples will be providing marriage “sealings” under Phase 1 of a worldwide reopening plan as the Bogota Temple comes back on line in Colombia. Of those, 129 temples also will be in Phase 2, offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals,” with Guatemala’s Quetzaltenango Temple and El Salvador’s San Salvador Temple joining that list. Two California temples, however, Sacramento and San Diego, have paused operations, the church has announced, due to “local COVID-19 restrictions.” No temples have begun Phase 3, which would make “all living and limited proxy ordinances” available by appointment.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Art Rascon, an area Seventy, speaks during the McAllen Texas Temple groundbreaking ceremony on Nov. 21, 2020.

• A socially distanced groundbreaking Saturday some 10 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border launched work on the McAllen Temple.

The single-story, 25,000-square-foot building will be Texas’ fifth temple, joining those in Dallas, Houston, Lubbock and San Antonio.

“As the central spire rises heavenward to this beautiful house of the Lord, might we as God’s children ever increase our faith and look to the heavens for wisdom and not to the ever-shifting values of the world,” Art Rascon, an area Seventy, said in a news release. “This temple will bring us closer to God.”

Rascon also expressed gratitude for the thousands of Latter-day Saints “in this lovely valley in southern Texas and across the border into Mexico” whose labors paved the way for this temple.

Quote of the week

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) Jana Riess speaks while recording the 100th episode of the "Mormon Land" podcast on Oct. 4, 2019.

“Thanksgiving was born amid disease and death, advanced amid war and death, and canonized amid poverty and death…. Marking both grief and gratitude aren’t antithetical to the Thanksgiving holiday; in fact, they’re baked into its very history.”

Jana Riess, Religion News Service columnist

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