This week in Mormon Land: The missing women in Bethlehem; revisiting ‘Wear Pants to Church Day’; and the Uchtdorfs celebrate

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A handcarved Nativity scene.

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.

Dancing with Dieter

On Dec. 14, Latter-day Saint apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf and his wife, Harriet, celebrated 58 years of marriage.

As a way to express their continued delight in the union, the apostle posted a video on Instagram of the pair dancing exuberantly — pre-COVID-19, of course.

They met as teenagers at a Latter-day Saint church in Germany.

“She knew I had a crush on her, but we were just friends,” the apostle wrote. “We learned to dance together at our church activities. That was the time of foxtrot, boogie-woogie, and rock and roll.

“As you can see from this video,” he added, “...we still love to dance together.”

The Nativity’s missing persons

(Claude Paris | AP file photo) Christmas crib figures of Mary and Jospeh are pictured in the village of Aubagne, near Marseille, southern France in 2017.

Nativity sets adorn many a Christian household during the holiday season.

Barnyard animals. Shepherds. Perhaps wise men. Maybe an angel. Joseph. Mary. And, of course, the newborn Jesus.

But where was the attending midwife? asks Exponent II blogger ElleK.

“In the days of Jesus, birth was an exclusively female event: A laboring woman was attended by midwives and female family members,” she writes. “Only after the groans of productive agony had ceased and the blood and afterbirth were cleaned up were men permitted to enter. There is little reason to suppose Jesus’ birth was any different.”

Perhaps, ElleK speculates, these “forgotten women,” like so many other female figures, have been “written out” of male-kept histories.

So the blogger envisions a first Christmas with a “Bethlehem midwife who, with her assistants, attended to Mary even though Mary was poor and unlikely to be able to pay [and] the women who lived in the house whose stable housed the holy family.”

Remembering ‘Wear Pants to Church Day’

(Kim Raff | Tribune file photo) Julia Shumway walks out of her Latter-day Saint ward wearing pants in Salt Lake City on Dec. 16, 2012. Shumway was participating in "Wear Pants to Church Day."

Wednesday marked the eighth anniversary of Wear Pants to Church Day to highlight gender inequality in the faith.

“We do not seek to eradicate the differences between women and men, but we do want the LDS Church to acknowledge the similarities,” the group behind the effort said in 2012. “We believe that much of the cultural, structural, and even doctrinal inequality that persists in the LDS Church today stems from the church’s reliance on — and enforcement of — rigid gender roles that bear no relationship to reality.”

Since that day, some dress issues have been, well, addressed. Female missionaries now can wear slacks (though not at Sunday services) as can women who work for the church at its headquarters and its schools.

Of course, in these days of Zoom sacrament services, pants and even PJs may be the attire of choice for many members.

This week’s podcast: ‘The most American religion’

In a lengthy essay in The Atlantic posted online Wednesday, reporter McKay Coppins examines The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its history as “The Most American Religion.”

In a subtitle, the article states: “Perpetual outsiders, Mormons spent 200 years assimilating to a certain national ideal — only to find their country in an identity crisis. What will the third century of the faith look like?”

Coppins looks backward and forward, not as a dispassionate observer, but through his own lens as a practicing Latter-day Saint. He talks with scholars and politicians, insiders and outsiders, leaders and laypersons, even church President Russell M. Nelson.

In this week’s podcast, Coppins discusses a host of issues — from politics to race, community to missions, the Word of Wisdom to the “Book of Mormon” musical — and his Nelson interview, which began with a prayer.

Coppins explores the path Mormonism has followed and what steps the Utah-based faith could — and should — take as it treads into its next hundred years.

Listen here.

Lawsuit alleging abuse at the MTC fades away

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) In this April 5, 2018, file photo, McKenna Denson speaks with reporters during a news conference in Salt Lake City.

The explosive lawsuit against the church filed two years ago by McKenna Denson, alleging she had been sexually abused by the former head of the church’s flagship Missionary Training Center in Provo, has been dismissed.

That man, Joseph Bishop, denied raping her, though, in a recorded police interview obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, he did admit to some sexual misconduct.

There was no settlement in the case; the only agreement was that each side pay its own attorney fees.

The dismissal came after the lawsuit remained largely in limbo for more than a year in the wake of Denson’s lawyers unexpectedly quitting the case.

When she filed the suit in April 2018, making headlines across the nation, Denson said she wanted two things to come from it: justice and change.

“I’m ready for this,” Denson said at the time. “I’ve been ready. I think what makes me feel even more confident [is], I’m right. It happened. I was raped at the MTC. The church covered it up.”

Better late than ... ?

(File photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Then-Vice President Joe Biden greets apostles D. Todd Christofferson, left, and Ronald A. Rasband at the church's Family History Library in Salt Lake City in 2016. On Monday, the church congratulated Biden on his presidential victory.

Nearly six weeks after Election Day and more than a month after major news organizations declared Democrat Joe Biden the winner in the White House race — but only minutes after Monday’s Electoral College vote affirmed that outcome — the church congratulated the president-elect and his running mate on their victory.

“We congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on his election as president of the United States. We also congratulate Vice President-elect Kamala Harris,” the news release stated. “We invite people everywhere, whatever their political views, to join us in praying for this new administration and for leaders of nations around the world.”

The church also gave a nod to the outgoing administration. “We thank President Donald Trump and Vice President Michael Pence for their public service,” the release added, “and wish them and their families well in their future endeavors.”

In 2016, the Utah-based faith issued its official congratulations to Trump the day after his stunning Election Day triumph.

In 2012, the church acted even more quickly, congratulating President Barack Obama on election night for winning a second term after he defeated Republican Mitt Romney, the first Latter-day Saint ever to gain the presidential nomination of a major party.

Scott Howell, a former state senator who headed up the Biden campaign in Utah, welcomed the church’s statement but acknowledged he “would have liked that response to have come earlier.”

For his part, Rob Taber, the national director of Latter-day Saints for Biden-Harris, was just pleased to see the church’s release “coming so soon after the Electoral College finished the legal process.”

Taber and his group also have been pushing Biden to appoint Latter-day Saints to prominent positions in the incoming administration.

“There are Latter-day Saints historically who have served Democratic administrations,” Taber said, “and there are people who are extremely well qualified for many of these jobs.”

Renlunds ‘feeling well’

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Dale G. Renlund and his wife, Ruth Lybbert Renlund.

Dale G. Renlund, the second Latter-day Saint apostle to be diagnosed with COVID-19, is “feeling well” and continuing his quarantine, a church spokesman said last week.

Same goes for his wife, Ruth.

Both are “engaged remotely in their normal activities,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a one-paragraph news release. “All tests for other church leaders were negative.”

Hawkins did not say which other church authorities were tested.

In early October, apostle Gerrit W. Gong and his wife, Susan L. Gong, tested positive. They experienced mild symptoms and later were cleared.

Seminary to follow ‘Come, Follow Me’

Study of the standard works is being further standardized.

Come January, seminary students will follow the same “Come, Follow Me” course as the rest of the church for the entire year.

That means they’ll be digging into the Doctrine and Covenants, so all members — from the youngest teen to the oldest adult — will be on the same scriptural page.

“To get seminary course credit,” a news release noted, “students will need to read in that year’s book of scripture at least 75% of the semester calendar days.”

New online tool for parents

Good news for parents. A new feature on the church’s website makes it easier for them to manage their children’s online church accounts.

They can create an account, delete it or reset a password for any unmarried child under 18 in their household.

“Enabling parents to easily set up their child’s account and reset their password solves many challenges and frustrations,” Young Women general President Bonnie H. Cordon, said in a news release. “We look forward to more youth being able to log in and take advantage of Gospel Living Circles and other personalization features.”

Business is buzzing

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Yamnah Kalaf Toresh shows the honey she has harvested as part of a project to foster self-reliance in Jordan.

After losing her husband and two daughters and living as a Syrian refugee in Jordan, Yamnah Kalaf Toresh has not partaken of much sweetness in life.

Until now, thanks to Latter-day Saint Charities and a Jordanian relief agency. Oh, and bees.

The two charity groups set her up with a beehive, and now she is selling honey to area families and in stores. She also is renting a small apartment and saving money to build a two-room house.

“Yamnah is so happy now. She does not look like the same person,” volunteer Susan Zwahlen said in a news release “One small beehive has changed her life.”

The release noted that about 50 households, most of them led by widows, have become beekeepers under the project.

Relief efforts

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Harriet R. Uchtdorf, executive board member of the Christkindlmarkt SLC and wife of apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf, helps pack donated items into boxes in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. These boxes were to be distributed to the Navajo Nation.

• Helping the Navajo Nation became a family affair for the Uchtdorfs.

Yes, those Uchtdorfs.

Harriet Uchtdorf, wife of apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf, and her daughter, Antje Uchtdorf Evans, are executive officers with Christkindlmarkt SLC, which teamed up this month with Navajo Strong and the church in collecting and sending nearly 800 COVID-19 kits and 700 education backpacks to Navajo families.

“To do something for them just fills our hearts,” Harriet said in a news release.

Due to the pandemic, Christkindlmarkt SLC had to cancel its usual yuletide events.

“We didn’t know, of course, who we would benefit this year, and we were thinking of different organizations and groups in our community,” Evans explained in the release. “My mother had the wonderful idea of doing it for the Navajo [people].”

Said Harriet: “We have a good relationship with the Native Americans. My husband and I, because of our church traveling, we often went to those places and visited the Navajos. ... They’re just wonderful.”

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) With the Oakland Temple in the background, Latter-day Saint missionaries move USDA Farmers to Families Food Box Program boxes from pallets to the back of a vehicle on Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. Church members from Oakland and San Francisco congregations also participated.

• Latter-day Saints in the Bay Area united with other charities to deliver more than 80,000 pounds of donated food to those in need during the pandemic.

One of the distribution locations was the parking lot of the Oakland Temple.

“I came up to the temple this morning to pick up a load,” Bobby Miller, a former Berkeley, Calif., police captain and director of the Emeryville Citizens Assistance Program, said in a news release.

• Latter-day Saint Charities, the church’s humanitarian arm, recently provided 300 wheelchairs to the Pacific nation of Kiribati.

“The donation, consisting of wheelchairs and prosthetic components for artificial limbs, will go to the Tungaru Rehabilitation Services Department within the Ministry of Health and Medical Services,” Dr. Tinte Itinteang, the country’s health minister, said in a news release.

Temple updates

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saint leaders turn the soil together at the groundbreaking of the Zimbabwe Harare Temple on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.

• A groundbreaking ceremony Saturday for Zimbabwe’s first Latter-day Saint temple drew not only a general authority Seventy who was born there but also the president of the south African nation.

“I applaud your church leadership for its strategic decision to construct this temple in Zimbabwe,” President Emmerson Mnangagwa said in a news release. “This development is testimony to my government’s commitment to the protection of the right to freedom of worship as enshrined in our national constitution. The church, just like the family, remains an important institution for the nationalization of social norms, values and ethics.”

The single-story, 17,250-square-foot Harare Temple will be “beautiful and stunning,” said Edward Dube, first counselor in the Africa South Area presidency who was born in Chirumanzu, Zimbabwe. “Like every temple, it will stand not only as a manifestation of the faith of Latter-day Saints who live close by in this country and the neighbouring countries of Malawi, Zambia, and Mozambique, but also a manifestation of the faith of Saints all around the world.”

• The Taipei Temple is poised to become the first Latter-day Saint temple to resume the performance of vicarious ordinances for the dead during the coronavirus pandemic.

The church announced that the Taiwan temple would shift into Phase 3 of the church’s reopening plan Monday, a news release reported, allowing “all living and limited proxy ordinances” available by appointment.

Three more temples — in Nuku’alofa, Tonga; Apia, Samoa; and Brisbane, Australia — are expected to follow suit soon.

Come Monday, 123 temples also will be in Phase 2, offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals.” Another 24 will be in Phase 1, providing only marriage “sealings.” Meanwhile, 11 temples have “paused” operations due to “local COVID-19 restrictions.”

Quote of the week

“God bless our new president, Joe Biden. If LDS leadership, in their weekly meeting, offers prayers on his behalf, so much the better. And don’t wait five weeks, you apostles. He’ll need those LDS prayers on Day One.”

Blogger Dave B. in a Wheat & Tares post

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