Latest from Mormon Land: God’s silent partner, new mission for ex-governor’s top aide, Russell Nelson’s place in history

Also: A Latter-day Saint at Biden’s prayer service, apostles get COVID vaccine.

(File photo illustration by Amy Lewis | The Salt Lake Tribune)

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.

Silent partner?

In an open letter to Heavenly Mother, Exponent II blogger Mindy Farmer poses the question: Why is God the Father’s wife silent?

“I always envisioned you as an unwilling accomplice to patriarchy. While I could not reconcile the secrecy surrounding you with the strength and power I hope you hold, I never dared believe you complicit,” Farmer writes. “...I wonder why you don’t respond to my queries. ... Why have you deserted women? Why silence when we need your voice?... I wish you would appear and cleanse the earth of patriarchy — not so I could believe in your existence, but so I could believe in you.”

Mormonism teaches the existence not only of a Heavenly Father but also a God the Mother, a doctrine the religion touts in an official essay as “cherished and distinctive.”

V-Day for senior leaders

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Church President Russell M. Nelson receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

Latter-day Saint children sing the Primary song “Follow the Prophet,” and top church leaders hope members will do just that — and be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Church President Russell M. Nelson received his first dose of the “prayed and fasted for” vaccine Tuesday, along with his First Presidency counselors, five apostles over age 70 and their spouses.

Besides the 96-year-old Nelson, others getting shots were Dallin H. Oaks, 88; Henry B. Eyring, 87; M. Russell Ballard, 92; Jeffrey R. Holland, 80; Dieter F. Uchtdorf, 80; Quentin L. Cook, 80; and D. Todd Christofferson, 75.

“In word and deed, the [church] has supported vaccinations for generations,” the First Presidency said in a news release. “...The church urges its members, employees and missionaries to be good global citizens and help quell the pandemic by safeguarding themselves and others through immunization.”

Speaking out against political revolt

(John Minchillo | AP file photo) In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo, rioters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington.

The church made it clear that it stands solidly against the recent mob assault on the U.S. Capitol and other violent opposition to the U.S. election results.

“We condemn violence and lawless behavior, including the recent violence in Washington, D.C., and any suggestion of further violence,” the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote in a Friday news release. “...As citizens of the United States look ahead to the inauguration of a new president, we urge our members to honor democratic institutions and processes, and to obey, honor, and sustain the law.”

When asked previously for a response to the Capitol siege, the church pointed to a sermon at October’s General Conference by Dallin H. Oaks in which he stated that the church would oppose any post-election unrest.

“We peacefully accept the results of elections. We will not participate in the violence threatened by those disappointed with the outcome,” said Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice and next in line to assume the church’s reins. “In a democratic society, we always have the opportunity and the duty to persist peacefully until the next election.”

Citing “great concern” over the “political and cultural divisions” gripping the nation and the world, the latest release reminded members to put God before politics and urged all to “remember the precious and fragile nature of freedom and peace.”

The podcast: Ex-Senate leader on the state of politics

(John Locher | AP file photo)Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid tips his hat during a fundraiser for the Nevada Democratic Party, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, in Las Vegas.

As it welcomed a new president, a divided United States, a land of prophecy and promise to Latter-day Saints, stood at a crossroads.

A defeated and disgraced president had become the first commander in chief to be impeached twice. A violent mob had desecrated the People’s House and a shaken nation tiptoed into the future with as much trepidation as hope.

One Latter-day Saint who, perhaps more than any other, can bring insight to this turbulent time is former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid. The longtime Democrat served in Congress for 34 years, including eight years as Senate majority leader, the highest federal office ever achieved by a Latter-day Saint.

On this podcast, recorded last week, Reid recounts his early days as a Capitol Police officer, the pain he felt seeing the place he labored for so many years being ransacked, and why he believes top church leaders need to warn members to beware of aligning with “fringe” groups and causes, adding that Latter-day Saints who take part in this insurrection are giving the faith a bad name.

He also discussed his reconciliation with Sen. Mitt Romney after the 2012 presidential election, the role he believes the Utah Republican can play in reshaping the Grand Old Party, and why new President Joe Biden — “the nicest guy in the world,” he said — is capable of healing the nation and who, in his inaugural address, proclaimed: “This is America’s day. This is democracy’s day.”

As for the former president?

“Donald Trump will go down ... as the worst president in the history of the country. And that says a lot because we’ve had some pretty bad ones,” Reid said. “... So good riddance.”

Listen here.

Praying for Biden, U.S.

(Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP) Joe Biden is sworn in as the 46th president of the United States by Chief Justice John Roberts as Jill Biden holds the Bible on Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021.

Most members may have voted for his rival, but Joe Biden is giving his Inaugural Prayer Service an official Latter-day Saint presence.

Emma Petty Addams, executive director of Mormon Women for Ethical Government, will participate in the offering of a liturgical prayer at the all-virtual Thursday service.

“One of the missions of MWEG is to empower everyday women of our faith to proactively use our voices in the public sphere as we improve our communities,” Addams said in a news release. “We are grateful for this opportunity to join in prayer across a diversity of faiths to remember those who are suffering and to bless our nation at this time.”

The nonprofit group recently called for the “peaceful and lawful” removal of Donald Trump in the wake of last week’s assault on the U.S. Capitol.

New mission leaders picked

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Justin Harding, then-chief of staff to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, July 16, 2018. Harding and his wife, Bridget, will oversee the LDS Church's Philadelphia Mission.

Count the chief of staff of a recently retired governor among 105 newly assigned mission presidents.

Justin Harding — a top aide to former Utah Gov. Gary Herbert — and his wife, Bridget, will oversee the Philadelphia Mission in Pennsylvania. As a young man, Harding served a mission in Rochester, N.Y.

Click here to see who else has been called to mission leadership, including in the newly formed Mozambique Beira Mission.

The Beira Mission did not open last year as originally envisioned, independent demographer Matt Martinich noted, and will start up this July instead.

Cowboy State loses a mission

Wyoming no longer has its own mission.

The church folded the Wyoming Mormon Trail Mission this month and tucked it into Colorado’s Fort Collins Mission.

The Mormon Trail Mission “was organized in January 2015,” independent researcher Matt Martinich reports on his ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com website, “but its purpose appeared primarily related to managing church history sites in central Wyoming.”

Visits to such sites have plummeted during the pandemic.

Historical markers

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) President Russell M. Nelson on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, in Salt Lake City.

President Russell M. Nelson recently passed his three-year anniversary as leader of the global faith.

“This is [Christ’s] church and we are his servants,” Nelson declared at his first public appearance as president Jan. 16, 2018. “I know [Heavenly Father and Jesus], love them and pledge to serve them and you with every remaining breath of my life.”

He also spoke about prophetic fallibility.

“Give your leaders a little leeway to make mistakes, as you hope your leaders will give you a little leeway to profit by your errors,” Nelson said. “Don’t be offended by what may have been said or what may have transpired. Make sure you are square with your Heavenly Father.”

At the time, he was the second-oldest apostle to assume the presidency. Since then, he has become a force for rapid change.

At 96, he now has become the second longest-living Latter-day Saint prophet, a little ahead of David O. McKay and just behind Gordon B. Hinckley, who died at age 97.

Speaking of McKay, he died 51 years ago this week, on Jan. 18, 1970. He was succeeded Jan. 23 by 93-year-old Joseph Fielding Smith, who became the oldest apostle to become church president (a few months older than Nelson was).

FYI about FSY

(Photo courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A aerial view of a For the Strength of Youth conference in Brazil in 2016.

With For the Strength of Youth conferences now delayed until 2022, apostle M. Russell Ballard is instructing local lay leaders to stage ward or stake youth conferences this year instead along with Young Women and Aaronic Priesthood camps.

“Where permitted by local health and safety guidelines and when directions from area presidencies allow, these activities should be held in person,” writes the acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. “Where group gatherings are not permitted, virtual alternatives should be used.”

The FSY gatherings had been expected to begin this summer in the U.S. and Canada, but the pandemic prompted the postponement.

A changing Utah

This is the place, increasingly, for Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, agnostics, atheists and Latter-day Saints.

Salt Lake County’s diverse faith mix continues to swell while the number of Latter-day Saints slides.

Last year, according to church data, the percentage of Latter-day Saints living in Utah’s most populous county slipped to 46.89% of its population, the seventh straight year for such a dip. The overall number of members in the county fell by 5,734.

The LDS percentage of Utah’s population continued its six-year drop. Members of the state’s predominant faith now account for 60.02% of its residents, down from 63.33% in 2014.

That diversity isn’t reflected, however, in the Utah Legislature, where 86% of the officeholders are Latter-day Saints.

Temple updates

(Image courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) An artist's rendering of the Deseret Peak Utah Temple.

After retreating in August on plans to put high-density housing around the proposed Tooele Valley Temple, the church announced that it will relocate and rename the temple as well.

The three-story, 70,000-square-foot, newly named Deseret Peak Utah Temple — with the same exterior and interior designs as the originally envisioned edifice — will be built west of the intersection of 2400 North 400 West in Tooele.

The valley’s temple had been scheduled to go up northwest of the intersection of Erda Way and Highway 36. But the temple and especially the now-abandoned residential community proved divisive in the community.

“The First Presidency expresses gratitude for the faith and prayers of church members in this area,” a church news release stated this week, “and continues to encourage all people to treat one another with kindness and Christlike love.

(Rendering courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) An artist's rendering of the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Temple.

• The 32,000-square-foot, single-story, center-spired Pittsburgh Temple will be built in Cranberry Township.

Announced April 2020, it will be the second temple in Pennsylvania, home to more than 52,000 members. The Philadelphia Temple was dedicated in 2016.

• In February, four more temples are scheduled to begin offering limited vicarious ordinances for the dead — along with all living ordinances — as part of the church’s Phase 3 reopening during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a news release.

Three temples in Australia (in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth) along with the Suva Temple in Fiji, will expand operations, joining those in Taipei, Taiwan; Nuku’alofa, Tonga; Apia, Samoa; and Brisbane, Australia.

Come Monday, 121 temples will be in Phase 2, offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals.” Another 17 will be in Phase 1, providing only marriage “sealings.” Meanwhile, 19 temples have “paused” operations due to “local COVID-19 restrictions.”

Quote of the week

(Photo courtesy of BYU) David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks to students at Brigham Young University in the Marriott Center on Jan. 19, 2021.

“The mighty miracles in our lives are exactly the same today as they always have been for devoted disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. The identical spirit that drew Latter-day Saints to the temple in Nauvoo clearly was at work in November of last year [when several North American temples stayed open for 72 hours straight in advance of planned closures]. And it is operating today and will continue into the future. The day of miracles has not ceased.”

Apostle David A. Bednar, in an address at Brigham Young University.

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