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.
X-ing out the MX
Forty years ago Wednesday, the church helped shoot down controversial plans to base a nuclear missile system in Utah’s West Desert.
In a detailed, descriptive and impassioned 700-word statement issued May 5, 1981, the governing First Presidency decried the arms buildup, the destabilizing nature of the proposed MX deployment, and the impact the weapons plan could have on the environment, the economy and all of humanity.
“By way of general observation, we repeat our warnings against the terrifying arms race in which the nations of the earth are presently engaged,” then-church President Spencer W. Kimball and his counselors wrote. “We deplore in particular the building of vast arsenals of nuclear weaponry.”
They feared the MX — labeled a Peacekeeper and one of the most lethal nuclear weapons in history — would, in fact, become a peace breaker, noting that “men have seldom created armaments that eventually were not put to use.”
“Our fathers came to this Western area to establish a base from which to carry the gospel of peace to the peoples of the earth,” they added. “It is ironic, and a denial of the very essence of that gospel, that in this same general area there should be constructed a mammoth weapons system potentially capable of destroying much of civilization.”
The church’s forceful opposition helped turn public opinion in Utah against the Cold War-era proposal, and the U.S. eventually abandoned the MX project.
Weed patch near the temple
It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood in Snowflake, Ariz.
There is the Latter-day Saint temple, gleaming majestically on Canyon Drive and topped by a golden Angel Moroni statue with 18,000 square feet beneath its single spire.
And there, across the highway, is …. wait, what?
A pot farm.
Yep. In fact, the 40-acre greenhouses may be the largest one in North America dedicated to cultivating cannabis.
So how did this marijuana farm end up sprouting near the temple in a town of 6,000 residents founded by Mormon pioneers?
The New York Times takes readers on that journey. Suffice it to say it was a bumpy ride.
Little children, big questions
Kids ask the darndest things — and so should adults.
“One of the most common questions frustrated adults hear from a toddler is: ‘Why?’ Children are little philosophers. And they’re not satisfied with ‘because I said so.’ They want reasons,” Rushforth writes. “And then when they hear the reason, they want a reason for the reason, and a reason for that reason. Just as children ask questions, we should, too. After all, the church started because a teenage boy had a question.”
In that spirit, Rushforth wonders “why,” for instance, “can’t the sacrament be blessed by telephone or over a Zoom call? If we can offer baptism to the deceased, why can’t we offer the sacrament to single women in a pandemic?”
COVID dissent divides some members
From the start of the pandemic, top church leaders endeavored to be “good global citizens” — suspending in-person services, shuttering temples, reassigning missionaries and more — to help quell the spread of COVID-19.
Not all Latter-day Saints, however, agreed with those and other preventive moves and when they turned on one another over various coronavirus responses — ranging from mask-wearing to physical distancing to vaccinations — they turned off some fellow congregants.
“There’s a mismatch of being taught so specifically about how we’re supposed to treat people in our communities and follow the advice of the brethren,” Bountiful resident Bryan Mortensen said in a Salt Lake Tribune story. “Here we are being asked to do some of the smallest things church leaders have ever asked us to do, and yet people’s attitude was, ‘No, we’re not doing that.’”
When fellowship turned to feuds, some members found themselves in a new kind of faith crisis.
That’s hardly unusual. Patrick Mason, head of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, said religious doubts often stem from social conflicts. After all, “churches are also communities.”
This week’s podcast: Teaching kids about Heavenly Mother
In recent years, the church has more fully embraced its teachings about Heavenly Mother, but she has been a part of the faith since virtually the beginning.
She has long been celebrated in song and verse, but now members and leaders have begun to openly discuss her and debate her qualities.
Two Latter-day Saint women, McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding, have written a handful of children’s books about women in scriptures — poets, priestesses and prophets as well as judges and generals — but their most recent works are about Heavenly Mother herself.
Manti Temple murals are here to stay
Was it the art of compromise that saved art from being compromised?
No, it was a divine decree, according to church President Russell M. Nelson, who announced Saturday that the treasured murals by Minerva Teichert will remain in the Manti Temple — a reversal of a previous plan.
“As we have continued to seek the direction of the Lord on this matter,” Nelson said in a prerecorded message, “we have been impressed to modify our earlier plans for the Manti Utah Temple so that the pioneer craftsmanship, artwork and character will be preserved, including the painted murals loved by so many. We will leave those murals where they are located now — inside the Manti Utah Temple.”
Instead, the Salt Lake City-based faith will build a new temple (Utah’s 27th) seven miles away, in Ephraim. Nelson now has announced 70 new temples since taking the faith’s helm more than three years ago. Utah has 15 operating temples, though at reduced capacity due to the coronavirus pandemic, with two (Salt Lake and St. George) undergoing renovation. Another 10, counting Ephraim, are in the works.
Come October, the pioneer-era Manti Temple will shut down for a multiyear renovation as well. When it reopens, the murals, spruced up and ready for show, will be there.
“Oh my gosh; this is huge,” an emotional Jody England Hansen said on hearing the news. “I am thrilled.”
The post-renovation open house is expected to draw big crowds as Latter-day Saints and others flock to see the celebrated murals and other pioneer handiwork.
Apostle Ronald A. Rasband called the mural decision a heavenly “revelation” and said that protests, petitions and phone calls — even a march in downtown Provo — opposing the art removal played no role in the about-face. Credit instead, he said, “the prayers of the people in this part of Utah.”
One element will be gone from Manti, though: The “live” endowment ceremony will be eliminated — as it has been in all of the faith’s temples — replaced by a filmed version.
Church responds to fraud suit
Attorneys for the church say there is really only one thing a California federal court can do with James Huntsman’s fraud lawsuit against the faith: Toss it out.
In late March, Huntsman accused church leaders of funneling tithing money promised for charities and church work instead toward multibillion-dollar insurance and real estate ventures.
In a response filed this week, lawyers for the church say Huntsman made those gifts without placing any conditions on them at the time, giving him no legal basis to ask for them back.
They argue his case is “without merit” and that portions contain more “editorial comment” than legal arguments.
The leaders of the church’s all-female Relief Society greeted guests at last week’s all-virtual Brigham Young University Women’s Conference with this advice: Be welcoming to all.
“The promise of Relief Society is that we can become a Zion society,” general President Jean B. Bingham said. “When we look at one another from an eternal perspective, we can see each one as an eternal sister.”
But there is a room for “improvement,” Bingham added. “Studies have shown that the number one reason people leave religion is that they feel judged or unwelcome. That is cited more often than doctrinal disagreement or lack of belief.”
To that end, her first counselor, Sharon Eubank, who heads Latter-day Saint Charities, the church’s humanitarian arm, invited her friend Jessica Livier “Liv” Mendoza de la Vega to talk about her experience as a self-identified queer Latter-day Saint.
Liv said she has never been hurt by the “gospel” but rather by what members have said to her.
For nearly two decades, she thought she was “broken” because of her attractions, but now she knows she is loved by God and Jesus Christ just as she is.
And just as she should be by her Relief Society sisters.
“My eternal identity,” Liv said, “is not something anyone can take away from me.”
Latter-day Saint to help lead fight for women’s rights
One of the church’s top diplomats has a new global gig.
McConkie — who with husband Oscar has been serving as a government affairs missionary for the faith at the United Nations — will help promote gender equality and the empowerment and defense of the rights of women and girls.
“The committee shares information and provides a platform where women and men come together to show how society benefits from women’s equal access and opportunities to participate in policy and decision-making,” the group’s website states, “[and] to help women build their confidence in order to gain in advancing their status.”
McConkie previously served in the Young Women general presidency.
Uniting in times of disaster
Floods, fires, earthquakes and storms can send communities reeling, but they also can bring healing.
How? By turning foes into friends and antagonists into allies as competing sides unite to respond, rescue, rebuild and provide relief.
“One of the great lessons that can be learned — if there’s any silver lining in a disaster,” Sharon Eubank, president of Latter-day Saint Charities, recently told a California legislative panel, “is that we can set doctrine aside, we can set politics aside, and we can find common ground to build back up our communities.”
Ideally, she said, this bridge building should take place before the waters rise, the flames erupt or the winds blow.
“We have to be worried about common ground and how to build social cohesion and do some of the smaller projects [that connect] people who would never interact in any other way,” Eubank, a native of Redding, Calif., said in a news release. “I would urge this panel and others that are listening to look at the larger picture before the disaster actually happens and build up community communication and relationships. And let’s practice on small projects before the disaster happens so that we have enough social cohesion to go forward.”
Eubank, who doubles as first counselor in the general Relief Society presidency, also noted that, in its disaster response, the church:
• Aligns with local government priorities.
• Allows victims to participate.
• Involves the community.
• Seeks sustainable service opportunities.
• Pursues local solutions with local resources.
Mourning with Israel
Latter-day Saint leaders joined a host of others in expressing condolences for the dozens killed and scores injured in a stampede during a religious celebration in Israel.
“We are truly saddened to learn of the tragedy at the Lag b’Omer celebration on Mount Meron,” the church’s Middle East/Africa North Area Presidency wrote in a news release. “We offer our faith and prayers for the families of the deceased, those injured and all involved. We are mindful of Israel’s mourning at this time and extend our sympathy to our Jewish friends throughout the world.”
Historic forum in Russia
Three years after church President Russell M. Nelson famously stated that a temple would be built in a “major” Russian city, a location has yet to be announced.
But movement for the church is happening in Russia.
The nation is home to three stakes and nine districts, and the church recently participated in the first Moscow Interfaith Young Adult Forum — along with Muslim, Catholic and Lutheran representatives.
“It was important for us to hear the voice of young people, to find out how they see interreligious and, more broadly, intercultural interaction,” Ilgizar Davletshin, secretary of the Forum Organizing Committee, said in a news release. " … I believe that dividing people by race, skin color, religious beliefs are relics that need to be eradicated, and this is the mission of the youth.”
Cool, you’re a Jet
Zach Wilson is now a Jet setter.
He surpassed Ty Detmer, Steve Young, Jim McMahon and a long line of BYU quarterbacks in at least one statistic by becoming the highest Cougar ever selected in a regular NFL draft, going No. 2 to the New York Jets.
“It was awesome,” Wilson told the Jets Overtime Special. “It was everything I’d hoped and dreamed for. I’ve worked my whole life for this situation, so I was so excited getting that phone call. It was amazing.”
Now, whether Wilson — dubbed the “Mormon Mahomes” in some circles — becomes the second coming of Kansas City’s star QB only time and talent will tell.
• In February, Latter-day Saint Charities donated $20 million to help UNICEF distribute 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines across the globe.
So far, that effort has reached at-risk populations in 121 countries and territories.
The first delivery of 600,000 vaccines reached Ghana in February.
“These vaccines are going to have a positive impact in the lives of Ghanaians, and people will gradually go back to a more normal situation. And children will also benefit,” Anne-Claire Dufay, UNICEF’s representative in Ghana, said in a news release. “We’re leaving no one behind.”
Since mid-April, more than 49 million vaccine doses have been shipped far and wide.
“It is unprecedented in the history of the world,” Dr. Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF’s representative in India, said in the release, “where partners have come together to make this happen and to bring a vaccine which is going to be lifesaving to countries all over the world.”
• The church donated 60 twin beds to Hope House, a four-story women’s shelter, in Spokane, Wash., according to a news release, and teamed up with the Catholic Church to contribute furniture worth $50,000 to Clare Hall, a homeless shelter, in Milwaukee.
• In Latin America, the church provided 11 tons of rice, vegetable oil, beans, fish, salt and spaghetti noodles (enough to support about 2,000 families affected by the coronavirus pandemic) in Lima, Peru, a news release noted, and 2,000 pounds of clothing to a shelter in the border city of Reynosa, Mexico, to help migrants awaiting asylum from the U.S.
“They only come with what they are wearing, so they need to change clothes to have a decent [experience] at the shelter,” director Catalina Carmona Librado said in the release. " … I feel a lot of satisfaction seeing that they are served with dignity.”
In August, a groundbreaking ceremony will launch construction of the Salvador Temple, one of 13 temples either built or planned in Brazil.
Brazil is home to more than 1.4 million Latter-day Saints, the third most of any nation behind the U.S. and Mexico.
Quotes of the week
“It seems that taking time for ourselves is often the most difficult, and yet it is very important. I have heard it described as pausing long enough in the busy work of sawing to sharpen the saw blade.”
— Apostle Gary E. Stevenson, in a recent worldwide devotional for young adults.
“Life can be so busy. It’s important that we slow down at times to recharge and take a closer look at our own personal needs, like rest, exercise, recreation and personal spiritual development.”
— Lesa Stevenson, in that same devotional.
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.