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.
Was the priesthood ban a mistake?
The best explanation for the now-discarded policy that prevented Black members from entering the priesthood or temples for more than a century may also be the simplest.
It was an earthly mistake, not a heavenly mandate.
So argues historian Jonathan Stapley in a recent By Common Consent blog post.
“It is worth noting that just 20 years ago, the idea that the ban was mistaken was outside normative belief in the church,” Stapley writes. “Several things have changed in the intervening years, and now many prominent voices among the Saints express belief in a mistaken restriction.”
For starters, the church has repeatedly and emphatically disavowed past explanations — such as black skin being a sign of “divine disfavor, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life.”
In addition, top Latter-day Saint authorities themselves have acknowledged that their predecessors, at times, “simply made mistakes” — from apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf in a 2013 General Conference address to Russell M. Nelson in his 2018 debut news conference as church president in which he asked members to “give your leaders a little leeway to make mistakes.”
Stapley disputes various scriptural references that members sometimes use to justify the 1852-1978 priesthood ban as a divine decree, saying that they “perpetuate damage to the Body of Christ, and contribute to a loss of faith among our people.”
“If you are going to assert a belief that the temple and priesthood restriction was the will of the Lord, you must also assert, per recent directives, that church leaders were simultaneously completely wrong about it and taught false and damaging ideas to the church for generations,” he writes. “Such a position necessarily undermines the confidence in the church’s ecclesiastical governance — the reason for a belief that the restriction was God’s will in the first place.”
Instead, Stapley urges reluctant members to acknowledge the error.
“I recognize that many people in the church grew up being taught that God directed the temple and priesthood restriction, he concludes. “Changing beliefs can be hard. I believe that in this case it is worth it. I believe that changing here not only prevents damage to faith, it increases faith.”
Biden revives faith office
President Joe Biden has reestablished the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships — and Latter-day Saint backers of the new commander in chief couldn’t be happier, especially with his choices to oversee the agency.
Melissa Rogers, the new executive director, and Josh Dickson, her deputy, “have a long track record of working with Latter-day Saints in a variety of capacities,” Robert Taber, who headed up Latter-day Saints for Biden-Harris during the presidential campaign, wrote in an email. “...Dickson, in his capacity as national faith engagement director of Biden for President, conducted multiple community listening sessions with Latter-day Saints and partnered with us in sponsoring three national town halls.”
The office, established by George W. Bush and continued under Barack Obama, foundered under Donald Trump.
Biden, the nation’s second Catholic president, is reviving it. “This is not a nation that can, or will, simply stand by and watch the suffering around us. That is not who we are. That is not what faith calls us to be,” the new president said in a Religion News Service story. “...We still have many difficult nights to endure. But we will get through them together and with faith guiding us through the darkness and into the light.”
Taber sees religion playing a role in combating the COVID-19 pandemic, systemic racism and climate change while boosting economic opportunity and humanitarian efforts around the world.
“Religious liberty is at its strongest when it is a shield that protects and unites people of all faiths, and none, in defense of civil rights, human dignity and the common good,” Taber wrote, “rather than a shield used to discriminate and divide.”
This week’s podcast: A retiring Robert Kirby reflects on his years as a Mormon humorist
For more than a quarter century, Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby poked fun at Mormon history, practices, culture and members themselves, including one particular member: Robert Kirby.
His brand of comical commentary brought not only winces and complaints but also personal insights and even community healing. He reached out to crime victims and those who had lost loved ones. He officiated at LGBTQ weddings. Mostly, though, his musings brought laughter and a lovable irreverence to reverent things.
A former police officer, he joked about being a cop in the Celestial Kingdom. He boasted that he could “beat up” an aging Gordon B. Hinckley, drawing a private reprimand from his local church leader and, it turns out, private chuckles from Hinckley himself. And his piece about “five kinds of Mormons” is seen as a classic of Latter-day Saint satire.
Now, after thousands of columns and millions of laughs, Kirby has retired. So brace yourselves, listeners, as he joins this week’s podcast to talk about his career as a religion humor columnist.
Last week’s podcast: A gay BYU Honor Code administrator shares his story
For the past 25-plus years, it has been the policy at church-owned Brigham Young University that it is OK to be gay, but not to act on it.
There are clearly BYU students who are open about their LGBTQ identity, while living the church’s standard of celibacy. But what about faculty and bosses?
Ben Schilaty is a licensed therapist and BYU Honor Code administrator who has written his story in a newly released book, “A Walk in My Shoes: Questions I’m Often Asked as a Gay Latter-day Saint,” put out by the church’s publishing house, Deseret Book.
In last week’s show, Schilaty — who co-hosts with former Cougar mascot Charlie Bird the “Questions From the Closet” podcast — talks about coming to terms with his sexual orientation, his falling in love with another man, his commitment to living as a devout Latter-day Saint, the evolution of church LGBTQ policies, BYU’s short-lived Honor Code change, and his work at the faith’s flagship school.
A heavenly thumbs-up?
What’s this? “The Book of Mormon” musical has God’s endorsement?
You might think so from a recent playful promotion urging Londoners to buy tickets to the bawdy yet beloved show when it opens July 12 at the Prince of Wales Theatre.
“CALLING ALL ELDERS OF LONDON,” the Facebook ad proclaims. “Tickets to see God’s favourite Musical at the Prince of Wales theatre are now BACK ON SALE!
“Wha’cha waiting for, BOOK TO COME SEE THE MORMONS FROM JULY 2021, NOW!”
No way to verify the Almighty’s approval.
Church account makes $6B
All that pandemic-induced buying from Amazon paid off for what is believed to be the church’s largest investment fund.
The tech-heavy Ensign Peak Advisors fund grew by more than $6 billion in 2020, FOX 13 reported, a 16% jump.
Its Amazon holdings shot up by about $650 million, the station noted, and its Tesla account mushroomed from $1 million to $330 million, thanks largely to the clean energy company’s 5-for-1 stock split.
A new filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission also showed the fund divested from some oil companies during the year, according to FOX 13, dumping 15% of its stake in Chevron.
The Ensign Peak fund is part of an overall church investment portfolio that was pegged at $100 billion barely a year ago.
Note: The Tribune and FOX 13 are content-sharing partners.
Friend to Friend
Seven-year-old Brianna Villsnil of Salt Lake City and 10-year-old Payson Inkley of Centerville will co-host Saturday’s show for English-speaking Primary youngsters around the world.
“A lot of kids are going to learn about Jesus, and I’m helping them,” Brianna beamed in a news release. “It just makes me feel so happy and proud of myself.”
The interactive broadcast — available on the church’s website Saturday starting at 11 a.m. MST — will feature messages from general Primary President Joy D. Jones, church President Russell M. Nelson and apostle Ulisses Soares. It will include activities such as singalongs and crafts that can be done at home.
“The core message of this whole event is that we can help just like Jesus,” Jones said in the release, “and that by following his example, we can help others and make our communities and our families a much better place where we all feel the love of the Savior.”
Native speakers also will emcee broadcasts in Spanish and Portuguese. Next month, shows will be available in Cantonese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Russian, Cebuano and Tagalog. They will spotlight children from across the globe, including Tahiti, the Philippines, Uruguay, Poland and the United Arab Emirates.
“We want to reach all the kids, every single child around the world in their own language,” said Argentine native Cristina B. Franco, second counselor in the Primary general presidency, “so they can understand [the gospel] better.”
Making Primary more than secondary
Concerned about children who haven’t been able to attend Primary for nearly a year, Utah church leaders are urging parents, with support from Primary leaders, to provide gospel learning activities at home.
“We ask leaders to pay close attention to children whose parents struggle with temporal and spiritual challenges,” the Utah Area Presidency writes. The authorities also encouraged leaders and teachers to “remain connected with all Primary children by creatively utilizing available options — virtual contact, letters, text messages, home deliveries, and in-person visits where safety protocols can be maintained.”
Beyond Sabbath experiences, they urged lay leaders to “seek new options and times (including weekdays) to conduct virtual or in-person Primary classes” where health guidelines permit as long as COVID-19 safety protocols are followed.
Football’s dynamic duo
Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and his star quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, share a passing pedigree that extends back to the “father of modern football”: LaVell Edwards.
Reid, of course, the winningest Latter-day Saint football coach in NFL history, played for — and coached under — the legendary Edwards at BYU.
Now, get ready for some degrees of separation. Kingsbury, played at Tech under Mike Leach, who coached with UTEP offensive coordinator Hal Mumme, who visited Edwards to learn about his aerial attacks, which have become a staple in today’s game.
“While the connection between Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes may not be familial, they have deep roots that have helped them dominate the modern NFL,” Hampton writes. “They are both branches of a coaching tree whose trunk is LaVell Edwards.”
Apostles to lead area devotionals
Latter-day Saint apostles are going into all the world — virtually.
Six of them will take turns leading devotionals for members ages 18 to 30 in areas around the globe, according to a news release. The sessions will be streamed in various languages on YouTube.
Feb. 21 • Apostle Neil L. Andersen and his wife, Kathy Andersen, will speak to French-speaking young adults.
• March 7 • Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland, Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé and Young Women general President Bonnie H. Cordon will address members in Europe and Africa.
• March 7 • Apostle M. Russell Ballard, general authority Seventy Brent H. Nielson and general Relief Society first counselor Sharon Eubank will speak to North Americans.
• March 13 • Apostle Ronald A. Rasband will address members in Asia and the Pacific.
• March 14 • President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, apostle D. Todd Christofferson and his wife, Kathy Christofferson, will speak to Spanish speakers in Latin America and Spain.
• March 21 • Ulisses Soares and his wife, Rosana Soares, will address Portuguese-speaking young adults in Brazil, Africa and Europe.
Wife of emeritus G.A. dies
She served with her husband in a number of church positions, according to her obituary, including as leaders of the North Carolina-Virginia Mission and overseeing Utah’s Mount Timpanogos Temple.
The couple, who married in the Salt Lake Temple in 1955, also lived in Tokyo when Rex served in the presidency of the Asia North Area.
Born in Escondido, Calif., Bonnie “contracted polio as a young girl during the polio epidemic but made a full and miraculous recovery,” her obituary noted, “an experience she always thought of as a blessing and not a trial.”
She is survived by her husband, their six children, 30 grandchildren; and 36 great-grandchildren.
• Latter-day Saints got their first peek this week at what the Syracuse Temple will look like. The church released a rendering of the three-story, 89,000-square-foot edifice.
The Beehive State currently has 15 operating Latter-day Saint temples. Two more, the historic Salt Lake and St. George structures, are undergoing renovation. Eight others, including the one in Syracuse, are either under construction or planned.
• Starting next week, 14 temples will be in Phase 3 of the church’s reopening plan, offering limited vicarious ordinances for the dead, along with all living ordinances, during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a news release.
Most other temples are in Phase 2, providing “all temple ordinances for living individuals.” About a dozen are in Phase 1, allowing only marriage “sealings.”
Meanwhile, 13 temples have “paused” operations due to “local COVID-19 restrictions.”
See this list for the status of all temples.
Quote of the week
“President [Russell] Nelson’s plea to ‘lead out in abandoning prejudice’ flips this ordinary construction. He did not use ‘lead out’ to ask Latter-day Saints to promote a positive virtue, like inclusivity or love. Instead he asked us to abandon an existing negative trait: racial prejudice. His words frankly acknowledge that our members harbor racist sentiments. But importantly, the prophet did not stop at urging private repentance. Implicit in ‘leading out’ is an element of public performance. In the work of abandoning prejudice, we should be as a city upon a hill. ‘Leading out’ is not a quiet act.”
— Carolyn Homer in a By Common Consent blog post
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.