This week in Mormon Land: Why Trump’s loss may be a win for the global church

Also: What critics may get wrong on LGBTQ teachings, and President Russell Nelson thanks the thankful.

(Erin Schaff | The New York Times) President Donald Trump speaks to reporters in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, on Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, 2020.

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.

Is Trump’s loss good for the church?

Did Donald Trump’s presidency harm missionary efforts in Europe? Not so much. Blame increasing secularization and other factors for that.

Will his failed bid for reelection, nonetheless, help proselytizing there? Maybe, but in a roundabout way. Namely, by “boosting the morale of the members, who will be less reticent to proclaim themselves as members of an ‘American church.’”

So argues Walter van Beek, a Latter-day Saint and a professor of anthropology at Leiden University in the Netherlands, in a Times and Seasons blog post.

Trump’s defeat is “good news” for the international church, the scholar states. “Most of the world uttered a deep sigh of relief after [Joe] Biden’s win: America came to its senses. Consequently, for church members their inherent connection with the U.S. has become less of a liability in social contacts.”

Europeans, van Beek writes, “judge American presidents on their performance in the international scene, and the promised return to political decency will restore something of the status of the USA and thus be beneficial to the church at large.”

‘Misrepresentations’ on LGBTQ issues

(Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Protesters march outside of Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City in 2008.

Many activists and former members have stepped away from the church because of what they believe the faith teaches about homosexuality, but such critics get so much wrong, Jacob Hess and Jeff Bennion write in Public Square Magazine.

The authors outline seven of these “misrepresentations,” including supposed teachings that: There are no gays in the church; that the church denies same-sex attraction is real; and that Latter-day Saint scripture preaches that those with homosexual tendencies are “broken, damaged, sick or evil.”

One of the biggest such falsehoods, they say, is that the only choice for gay members is between celibacy within the church, marked by loneliness, and love outside the faith.

This is only true if you link sex and love, Hess and Bennion write. Those who remain faithful can find fellowship, friendship and companionship with other Latter-day Saints, while awaiting a future marital relationship in the eternities.

A “quick conflation of sexual expression and love can do real damage — cheapening both true sexual love and nonromantic friendship alike,” they argue in the online magazine. “...Companionship in the church is denied no one striving to make and keep covenants, although there are expectations as to when and how sexuality is expressed.”

The piece also challenges the idea that prophets have vacillated on LGBTQ issues and have even issued “jolting reversals.”

Such assumptions are “a substantial overreach,” they write. “Left to the side is the possibility that these presiding leaders have been right all along — and that the confusion and grappling reflect more of the inability of the public to see the consistency in their teaching and the wisdom of what they are saying.”

They don’t mean to be “contrary,” the authors write, but “to shine a light on ... deceptions so widespread that they’re hardly even acknowledged anymore as falsities.”

This week’s podcast: Vaccines in church history

(Courtesy of University of Maryland School of Medicine via AP, File) This May 4, 2020, file photo provided by the University of Maryland School of Medicine, shows the first patient enrolled in Pfizer's COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine clinical trial at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore.

In the not-too-distant future, the United States and other nations will have a vaccination available, thankfully, for COVID-19, which has killed more than 1.5 million people and altered millions of more lives.

But besides the issue of who will get the vaccination first looms another question: Who will be willing to get it?

Debates about the value and efficacy of vaccines — as well as the socioeconomics of those who will get them and those who won’t — have raged throughout the 20th century and into the 21st.

Such a debate took place in the early 1900s in Utah over the smallpox vaccine, dividing prominent community members, leaders and Latter-day Saints, including top church authorities and the editor of the church-owned Deseret News.

On this week’s podcast, Ben Cater — who teaches history at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and has written about the religious politics at play in public health during the Progressive Era in Utah — revisits that period and how it may parallel our current times.

As Cater noted, in a quote often attributed to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.”

Listen here.

From giving thanks to giving service

Church President Russell M. Nelson gave thanks this week for all those who, well, gave thanks.

Latter-day Saints and others heeded his recent challenge and flooded social media with messages of gratitude — even as the globe grapples with the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am grateful and humbled that you would join in thanking God for his countless blessings,” Nelson wrote on Instagram. “I urge you to make expressing gratitude to God a part of your daily life.”

Now, the 96-year-old church leader said, it’s time to give more than words.

“As we enter the Christmas season and celebrate the living Christ, one of the most powerful ways we can show our gratitude is by serving his children,” he added. “Let us follow his example to ‘Light the World’ by loving and serving others, one by one.”

First Presidency’s Yuletide message

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Christus and the apostles in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors' Center.

The governing First Presidency harked to the “true spirit” of the season in its recently released Christmas message.

“The true spirit of Christmas comes because of the Christ,” wrote President Russell M. Nelson and his counselors, Dallin H. Oaks and Henry B. Eyring. “...The true spirit of Christmas is in the call of Jesus to ‘love one another.’”

The trio closed by inviting all to “share the true spirit of Christmas this season by hearing him — Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace and Light of the World.”

The First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional will be broadcast Sunday at 6 p.m. MST.

The Parshall prize

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Ardis E. Parshall, Mormon historian in Salt Lake City, surrounded by her books.

The Mormon History Association has established the Ardis E. Parshall Public History Award, a biennial honor that will bestow $1,000 on the producer of the best public history project in Mormon studies.

Parshall, an independent historian and the creative force behind the keepapitchinin.org blog, “exemplifies the spirit of this award through her major contributions in the public arena,” Taunalyn Rutherford, the association’s awards chair, wrote in the announcement. “... Parshall has used her exceptional research and writing skills to demonstrate that history is not only in the purview of the academic.”

MHA members Heather and Kelly Stone suggested the idea and pledged a $5,000 matching grant toward a $10,000 endowment for the prize.

“It can almost go without saying that I am stunned, humbled, honored, grateful to have this award named for me,” Parshall wrote in response. “I never dreamed of such a thing.”

Walking — and working — against hunger

When it comes to raising awareness about world hunger, top female leaders in the church are walking the walk — literally.

Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society’s general presidency — joined by second counselor Reyna I. Aburto, Primary general President Joy D. Jones and her first counselor, Lisa L. Harkness — recently took a hike, so to speak, in solidarity with the millions struggling across the globe to feed themselves and their families.

“Did you know that people who are hungry will often walk nine miles a day just to get food and water?” Eubank, president of Latter-day Saint Charities, wrote on Instagram. “...One way you can ... light the world is by walking a mile in solidarity with people who are hungry.”

The leaders are encouraging others to visit JustServe.org to help food banks and other organizations that fight hunger, a news release stated. More information on the walks can be found at crophungerwalk.org.

Relief for refugees

Speaking of Latter-day Saint Charities, it provided “substantial grants” to nine U.S. refugee agencies this year, according to a news release.

Those recipients were: the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; International Rescue Committee; U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants; Church World Service; HIAS; Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service; Episcopal Migration Ministries; Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC); and World Relief.

The assistance proved especially helpful during COVID-19.

“Many refugee and asylum-seeking families, including those who have been in the U.S. for some time, work in industries hardest hit by the pandemic, such as hospitality and food service,” Kelly Ricculli, deputy director of development for resettlement, asylum and integration at the International Rescue Committee, said in the release. “Some were suddenly unable to work and struggled to put food on the table.”

That’s where the church’s humanitarian arm stepped in, with grants that supplied food and financial support this year to more than 10,600 refugees and immigrants through 142 offices nationwide.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Zynab Adam, a former refugee originally from Sudan, organizes cleaning supplies and food for Utah Refugee Connection on Feb. 20, 2020, in Salt Lake City. The charity incentivizes local refugees to participate in educational courses that help them transition into their new communities. Latter-day Saints in Utah donated over $124,000 to the entity during the #LightTheWorld campaign.

Get out your calendar

OK, so General Conference next year will be, as usual, the first weekend of April and October (too soon to say whether they’ll be all-virtual again).

But when might other big church events take place in 2021?

You need not be in the dark. The Utah-based faith has released a schedule.

Highlights include:

• A worldwide devotional Jan. 10 for young adults, featuring apostle Gerrit W. Gong and his wife, Susan, followed by another one on May 2, with apostle Gary E. Stevenson.

• A global Friend to Friend broadcast for children Feb. 21, featuring apostle Ulisses Soares along with Primary general President Joy D. Jones, and her counselors, Lisa L. Harkness and Cristina B. Franco.

• A virtual Youth Music Festival on March 17. It will include songs, sermons and videos in multiple languages.

Also on tap: several Face to Face broadcasts, BYU’s Women’s Conference and pre-Easter performances of Handel’s “Messiah” by The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic, please continue to follow local and First Presidency guidelines regarding gathering to participate in these events,” the church states. “Information regarding whether an event will be virtual only, broadcast times, languages and viewing times will be sent to local leaders before each broadcast.”

Lights, cameras, but not as much action

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Shea family from Salt Lake City, McKell, Mikey Sammy, Avielle, Betsy and Scott take a selfie overlooking the Christmas lights on Temple Square, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.

Thousands of Christmas lights decked the trees, paths, planters and plaza on downtown Salt Lake City’s Temple Square.

But due to COVID-19, visitors — encouraged to mask up and space out — were prevented from strolling the glistening grounds themselves. They had to view them instead from the surrounding sidewalks and roads.

On debut night, those measures diminished the picture-snapping crowds but didn’t dampen the holiday mood.

“It is absolutely gorgeous,” Salt Lake City resident Bobbi Burton told The Salt Lake Tribune.

Temple updates

• The phased reopening of temples during the pandemic continues to move forward, with the occasional step back.

By next week, 115 of the faith’s temples will be in Phase 2, offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals.”

But five temples — all in Canada — that were in Phase 2 will retreat to Phase 1, providing only marriage “sealings.” Another 14 temples have “paused” operations due to “local COVID-19 restrictions.”

By Monday, 29 temples will be in Phase 1.

No temples have begun Phase 3, which would make “all living and limited proxy ordinances” available by appointment.

Two temples have yet to reopen since the coronavirus struck, a news release noted, and eight are being renovated.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A rendering of the planned Antofagasta Chile Temple at the groundbreaking ceremony of the temple on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020.

• A socially distanced groundbreaking launched construction of Chile’s third Latter-day Saint temple.

The 23,000-square-foot Antofagasta Temple temple was announced by church President Russell M. Nelson in April 2019.

“From this day on and for several years, the construction of the temple will be carried out. This will require coordination and work to excavate, remove rocks and materials that are not needed, to prepare it so that it is ready for the foundation that will make it a firm and stable House of the Lord. That strength in its foundation will allow it to withstand quakes that are not unfamiliar to this geography,” general authority Seventy Juan Pablo Villar, a Chilean native, said in the groundbreaking’s dedicatory prayer. “I invite us all to do the same within ourselves and ‘take out’ the things that are not needed from our lives, ‘remove’ the rocks that weaken our foundation and ‘prepare’ our spirits with firm foundations to support life’s trials and to stand tall in the face of the adversity.”

Chile is home to more than 602,000 members.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Juan Pablo Villar speaks at the groundbreaking of the Antofagasta Chile Temple on Friday, Nov. 27, 2020

Quote of the week

“The church teaches that we have a Heavenly Mother and Father and, though we don’t know all the specific ways they spend their energy, we are taught that they spend a lot of energy being available to us, always ready to listen. (This is taught explicitly about God the Father, implicitly about God the Mother.) I think that’s significant. And I think it reflects godliness when we make concerted efforts in our own lives to listen to each other.”

Anonymous author of an Exponent II blog

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