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.
Mission president dies; young elder drowns
Giovanni Pelin Pangan, a Filipino who with his wife oversaw the Philippines Iloilo Mission, died Tuesday of an apparent heart attack.
“We express our love and support to President Pangan’s family,” church spokesman Sam Penrod said in a news release, “and to all of the missionaries ... who have served under this faithful leader.”
Last week, Fernando Antonio Ramos Garcia drowned in a river in Nahulingo, El Salvador. The young elder, a native of Juayúa, El Salvador, had been serving in the El Salvador San Salvador West/Belize Mission for a year.
“Our sincerest condolences and prayers are with Elder Ramos’ family and loved ones as they remember his life and mourn his passing,” Penrod said in an earlier release. “We pray they will feel the love of our Heavenly Father at this tragic time.”
The latest deaths bring to five the number of Latter-day Saints lost while serving full-time missions this year.
Three young proselytizers perished in January. A 24-year-old elder serving in his home country of Haiti died after being admitted to a hospital with “health complications.” A 19-year-old elder from Utah was killed in a car crash in Arkansas, and a 20-year-old Nigerian serving a mission in his homeland died on New Year’s Day after a “sudden health episode (unrelated to COVID-19).”
Previous studies have shown that fatality rates for missionaries rank far below those of similarly aged young adults around the world. Two years ago, the church also launched a stepped-up safety campaign, including a 12-part video series known as “The SafetyZone,” to teach its young ambassadors how to protect themselves.
Nelson going back to school
Russell M. Nelson is about to receive his third degree from his alma mater.
The 96-year-old church president earned a bachelor’s from the University of Utah in 1945, followed by his medical degree two years later before going on to become a pioneering heart surgeon.
On May 6, the Beehive State’s flagship school will award Nelson an honorary doctorate at its virtual commencement ceremony.
“Honorary degrees are awarded to individuals who have achieved distinction in academic pursuits, the arts, professions, business, government, civic affairs or in service to the university,” the U. said in a news release, noting that Nelson had trained generations of cardiac surgeons as a faculty member for nearly two decades at its medical school.
Educate women, Relief Society leader urges
Proverbs teaches that a “wise man” will “increase learning.”
Same goes for women, according to President Jean B. Bingham, head of the church’s all-female Relief Society.
In fact, she told international diplomats and business leaders Monday, education is key not only to lifting girls and women but also communities and the world.
Bingham, delivering her virtual keynote address on International Women’s Day, acknowledged that opportunities for schooling don’t come to all women across the globe, stating that “one of the greatest impediments [to women’s] success and happiness is lack of education.”
She then challenged her audience to help change that.
“As leaders, we are in a unique position to influence those who create the policies that will open the doors to education for women and girls,” Bingham said at the fifth annual International Women-in-Diplomacy Day symposium, according to a news release. “I extend an invitation to each of us to leverage the advantages we enjoy in order to create more opportunities for our sisters around the world.”
The shows won’t go on
For the Hill Cumorah Pageant, there will be no grand finale, no farewell performance, no last curtain call.
The church announced this week that the show would not be staged, due to the coronavirus pandemic, for a second straight year. Or ever again.
Instead, the spectacle from Palmyra, N.Y., will be celebrated with a broadcast of the 2019 pageant to “commemorate the contributions of tens of thousands of volunteer participants through the years,” a church news release stated. (It can be viewed starting July 9 at broadcasts.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.)
First performed in 1937 as a missionary tool for the Utah-based faith, the pageant from the cradle of Mormonism drew annual crowds that reached the tens of thousands.
In 2018, however, church leaders announced that “larger productions, such as pageants, are discouraged,” later confirming that the Hill Cumorah Pageant would be ending.
“It makes me sad, but I totally support the decision,” David Cook, a longtime church leader in Rochester who helped with the pageant for more than three decades, said this week. “The fact is the pageant simply is not the draw it once was.”
For his part, Jerry Argetsinger recalled the show’s glory days.
As the pageant’s artistic director in the 1990s, he saw attendance shoot up by 10% every year. It jumped by 20% in 1997, when Latter-day Saint pop star Donny Osmond left his starring role in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in Toronto to join the cast of no-names in New York.
Playing Samuel the Lamanite, a Book of Mormon prophet, Osmond donned “a wig, but no beard,” he told Playbill at the time. “And, in a throwback to ‘Joseph,’ I’m in a loincloth. I just can’t seem to get away from loincloths.”
Osmond appeared in the pageant — for no pay like the rest of the performers — along with his wife and sons.
The pageant was a family affair for Argetsinger, too. His wife, Gail, for instance, created more than 3,400 costumes over a 20-year period for the performances.
“Our home is filled,” he said, “with memorabilia from the definitive religious outdoor drama in America.”
Utah has lost its piece of pageant history as well.
Manti’s popular Mormon Miracle Pageant gave its farewell performances in 2019 after a run of more than half a century.
On Tuesday, the church also announced plans for three other pageants:
• The Nauvoo Pageant in Illinois will not be performed this year, but will return July 5-30, 2022.
• In Arizona, the Mesa Easter Pageant, which has not been performed since renovations on the Mesa Temple began in 2018, will resume when that work is completed.
• The British Pageant will return in 2022, although dates have not been announced.
BYU’s rainbow connection
Students shined a light on LGBTQ issues at Brigham Young University last week by lighting up the mountainside Y above campus in rainbow colors.
The illuminating event — achieved with the help of 76 Pride-colored flashlights — came on the one-year anniversary of when the church-owned school sent out a letter clarifying its stance on same-sex romantic behavior.
LGBTQ students and their allies celebrated. But their joy was short-lived. Three weeks later, the school said that same-sex relationships remained incompatible with BYU’s rules.
“That day felt like a betrayal for a lot of LGBTQ students,” Bradley Talbot, a gay student who organized the Y lighting, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “It was traumatic. So this was a day for us to reclaim that and try to turn it into something positive.”
Said Danny Niemann, a gay senior, “If BYU won’t show their love to us, we’re going to make sure our love is visible to them.”
A new trend in ‘hire’ education at BYU
There’s a change afoot in religious studies at BYU.
Preference for bringing on board new professors will go toward those who had taught in the Church Educational System.
That could mean an ancient scripture position going toward a candidate with advanced degrees who taught high school “seminary” classes or college “institute” courses over a scholar with academic credentials and experience in, say, the Old Testament.
While this hiring shift may contribute toward the school’s religious mission, some worry it could come at the expense of its academic aims.
“College courses serve a different, more rigorous, place than Sunday school classes. They serve a different place than private extracurricular religion classes,” Samuel Brunson, a Latter-day Saint who teaches tax law at Loyola University, a Jesuit school in Chicago, wrote in a By Common Consent blog post. “And students are best served by people with subject matter expertise.”
Michael Austin, a BYU alumnus and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Evansville, a Methodist school in Indiana, said the church’s flagship campus needs to give attention to scholarship and discipleship in religious education to arm students with empathy and spiritual maturity.
“It does not serve students well to create a religious education curriculum built exclusively around their own religion,” Austin told The Tribune. “This actually works against empathy by creating graduates who are very sure of their own perspective and less likely to see the world through anybody else’s eyes, which is a prerequisite for genuine empathy.”
He noted that technology also has exposed rising generations to many questions about religion.
“Students who can work through these questions in a safe environment often develop a mature and meaningful testimony that can’t be shaken by new historical information or social positions that they disagree with,” Austin added. “Students who don’t have this experience often end up leaving the church. A religious studies curriculum built around affirming faith often ends up dismissing honest, difficult questions, or trying to make them seem easy.”
Choir tour delayed — again
The Tabernacle Choir’s European tour has been pushed back for a second time due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The trip to Scandinavia and the British Isles, originally planned for 2020 and then rescheduled for 2021, now will take place in 2022.
The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square will take their performances to the same places on the initial itinerary: Stockholm, Sweden; Helsinki, Finland; Copenhagen, Denmark; Oslo, Norway; Cardiff, Wales; and Edinburgh, Scotland.
The church’s showcase troupe got a new name nearly 2½ years ago and a new logo last year. During the pandemic, however, its live performances have ceased. Its weekly “Music and the Spoken Word” program, the longest continuously running network broadcast in radio history, has featured reruns of past shows, and performances at twice-yearly General Conferences also have been from previous recordings.
A global songfest
Songs, sermons and videos — with performances from across the globe — will be featured March 17 in a Youth Music Festival.
“Music is such a crucial way to get God’s message across because I think it transcends all social, language and economic barriers,” Latter-day Saint singer Patch Crowe said in a news release. “It’s able to speak directly to people’s hearts.”
Twenty-six years ago this week, Gordon B. Hinckley became the church’s 15th president.
He was ordained March 12, 1995, nine days after the death of 87-year-old Howard W. Hunter.
Hinckley would lead the worldwide faith for nearly 13 years, until his death on Jan. 27, 2008, at age 97.
President Russell M. Nelson, the second longest-living Latter-day Saint prophet, will turn 97 on Sept. 9.
History meeting is moved
The Mormon History Association had planned to hold a large indoor conference this year in Rochester, N.Y.
That plan is, well, history.
Instead, the group will offer online programs and smaller, in-person gatherings June 10-12 at Utah Olympic Park in Park City.
“The new theme for this year’s conference, ‘Restoration, Reunion, and Resilience,’ incorporates the ‘Restoration’ aspect of the originally planned theme for Rochester, focusing on historical explorations of the Restoration,” the group announced on its website, “while also highlighting the restorative aspect of reuniting again in a glorious outdoor setting in the wake of a global pandemic.”
Registration and details for the hybrid conference will be posted at mormonhistoryassociation.org.
• President Bishop Gérald Caussé sent a video thank-you last week to UNICEF, members and other partners for their efforts in the worldwide battle against COVID-19.
Caussé, who oversees the faith’s financial, real estate, investment and charitable operations, pointed to Latter-day Saint Charities’ recent $20 million donation to help the United Nations agency procure and distribute 2 billion vaccines by year’s end.
“You have done so much to care for children and their families and help meet their basic needs and fulfill their potential,” he said in praising UNICEF’s long record of relief. “As members of a global community, we hold hope in our hearts, not only of overcoming the pandemic, but of seeing a brighter future for all children, their parents and their families.”
• Latter-day Saint women in and around Chattanooga, Tenn., planned to celebrate International Women’s Day through service, the online news site Chattanoogan.com reported.
Their itinerary: Help preserve cemetery records, make sack lunches for homeless individuals, volunteer at a zoo, sew superhero capes from young patients, prepare community gardens, and escort dogs — wearing “Adopt Me” vests — from an animal center on field trips.
• Missionaries in California’s San Jose area have logged more than 13,000 hours boxing and distributing nearly 4 million pounds of goods at the Second Harvest of Silicon Valley food bank.
“We love the spirit of the volunteers who have stepped up,” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a news release. “That has made all the difference for our community.”
• Fourteen temples are 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. They will be joined next week by five more temples, in Cardston, Alberta; Kona, Hawaii; Laie, Hawaii; Papeete, Tahiti; and San Salvador, El Salvador.
Most other temples are in Phase 2, providing “all temple ordinances for living individuals.” Starting next week, 10 temples will be in Phase 1, allowing only marriage “sealings.”
Meanwhile, six temples have “paused” operations due to “local COVID-19 restrictions.”
See this list for the status of all temples.
Quote of the week
“I believe it is time for communities of faith to embrace the work of diversity, equity and inclusion as an integral part of the work they are called to do… I also believe that God is calling all of us to work and lead in new, inclusive ways that are desperately needed in the world today. Progress toward gender equity can lift everyone, and if we can truly unleash the positive impact of women of faith in equal partnership with men, miracles will happen.”
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.