Latest from Mormon Land: Imagining what each apostle would do as church president

Also: A defense of the nuclear family draws fire; a second glance at the church’s “singles” majority; a famous advocate for transgender sports; and more from the political front.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors' Center in 2019. A new blog explores what each apostle would be like if he became the church president.

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.

Rating the apostles

Do you ever wonder what direction the various apostles would take the church if they became the faith’s president?

Well, Ziff, the pen name for a blogger at the Zelophehad’s Daughters website, has, and he’s developed a scale ranging from “strong fundamentalist” to “strong progressive” for the church’s Big 15 (the three members of the governing First Presidency and the dozen in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles) to help with the forecast.

“I’ve put each member on a five-point scale, based on my sense from what he’s said in conference and other venues,” Ziff explains. “I’m sure you’ll disagree with me on at least some of them.”

For what it’s worth, here is whom he slated in each category:

Strong fundamentalist • Neil L. Andersen.

Lean fundamentalist • Russell M. Nelson, the current president, Dallin H. Oaks, M. Russell Ballard, David A. Bednar, Ronald A. Rasband.

Status quo • Henry B. Eyring, Quentin L. Cook, D. Todd Christofferson, Gary E. Stevenson, Ulisses Soares.

Lean progressive • Jeffrey R. Holland, Dale G. Renlund, Gerrit W. Gong.

Strong progressive • Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

The blogger also took a stab at changes some of these apostles might institute. Here are samples:

Oaks • “Family proclamation is canonized. LGBT members face church discipline if they speak their sexual orientation or gender identity out loud at church.”

Holland • “Bishops are permitted to perform same-sex marriages in church buildings. Family proclamation is quietly removed from its most prominent locations in manuals and on the church website.”

Uchtdorf • “Temple recommend question list is reduced to two: Do you love God? and Do you love your neighbor? Q15 issues apologies for polygamy, priesthood/temple ban and exclusion policy.”

Bednar • “Ban on loud laughter is expanded to include all laughter.”

Andersen • “Family proclamation is double canonized, being added to both the [Doctrine and Covenants] and the Pearl of Great Price.”

Ziff also speculates that apostles from all sides of the religious spectrum would permit the return of the “Mormon” nickname.

Nuclear (family) fallout

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tad R. Callister speaks during General Conference in April 2019. A recent piece he penned defending the nuclear family is drawing some criticism.

An emeritus general authority’s recent defense of the nuclear family is stirring debate in the Mormon blogosphere.

“If you were asked, ‘What is the greatest challenge facing our nation today?’ how would you respond?” Tad R. Callister, former Sunday school general president, asks in a Church News article. “The economy, national security, immigration, gun control, poverty, racism, crime, pandemics, climate change? While each of these is a valid concern and deserves attention, I do not believe that any of them strikes at the heart of our greatest challenge — a return to family and moral values. To put our prime focus on other challenges is to strike at the leaves, not the root, of the problem.”

Satan “disguises his plan of attack,” he adds, “with alluring labels such as ‘pro-choice’ for abortion, ‘love and compassion’ for endorsement of same-sex marriage, and ‘environmental emergency’ for promotion of a zero-growth population agenda. Each of these proposals, however, constitutes a frontal attack on the family unit and its survival.”

Callister concludes by urging Latter-day Saints to be “archdefenders of the nuclear family and God’s moral values.”

A By Common Consent blogger questions, among other arguments, how the former high-ranking church leader could “characterize climate change mitigation efforts as ‘a frontal attack on the family unit and its survival.’”

“It’s not just that the editorial is dismissive of efforts to address the very real impact of climate change on God’s children … it’s also the bizarre focus on the nuclear family,” counters Peter LLC. “...Dismissing the effects of poverty, pandemics and climate change on families while yearning for a revitalization of a checkered past is not going to protect families from being pushed over the edge by Satan.”

Armenian retreat

The church appears to be in a tailspin in Armenia.

Independent demographer Matt Martinich reports that the faith posted that it has discontinued its two districts in the country and has slashed the number of branches, or congregations, from 11 to four.

“This is an unprecedented development for the church in Armenia,” Martinich writes at ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com, “where a stake briefly operated between 2013 and 2016.”

There were nearly 3,600 Latter-day Saints in Armenia at the end of 2019. If that count holds true today, that would put the ratio at 900 members for every one congregation.

“There has not been any other country in the world,” Martinich states, “to have experienced such a dramatic decline in congregations, national outreach, and active membership as Armenia during the past several decades.”

‘Singles’ claim elicits a double take

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

A principal takeaway from April’s General Conference was the revelation from two apostles that most adult Latter-day Saints in the United States are — as in the global church — “unmarried, widowed or divorced.”

Does that mean the majority of adult U.S. members are single? Data scientist Stephen Cranney isn’t so sure.

In a recent Times and Seasons blog post, Cranney points to a number of respected surveys that “consistently show” at least 60% of adult Latter-day Saints are married.

Cranney concedes that it’s possible the church — unlike those self-reported polls — may be citing actual membership records. Then again, he notes, the faith’s records also can be woefully outdated (ask virtually any congregation’s membership clerk).

Along with other explanations for the discrepancy, Cranney states that many of those “widowed or divorced” members may have remarried.

“Are half of all self-identified Latter-day Saints single?” the researcher asks. “I doubt it. Does this change anything about the messages given in response to these statistics? No. Whatever the specifics, the case is that a significant portion of the church is single, and no point that was made in conference hinges on whether we’ve actually crossed the ‘majority single’ threshold yet.”

QAnon gains converts

(Jacqueline Larma, The Association Press) In this Aug. 20, 2020, file photo, a man in a QAnon T-shirt walks among Donald Trump supporters in Old Forge, Pa. A recent survey ranks Latter-day Saints among those most likely to believe in the QAnon conspiracy theory.

Last week, we reported that 46% of Latter-day Saints believe the “big lie” — the false narrative that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump.

Well, there’s more evidence that sizable chunks of members are being politically snookered.

A survey by PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) found that Latter-day Saints joined white evangelicals and Hispanic Protestants as the most likely to believe in the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory.

This apocalyptic and convoluted theory is centered on the baseless belief that Satan-worshipping pedophiles are plotting against Trump and that a coming “storm” soon will cast out those evil forces from positions of power.

PRRI separated QAnon aspects into three separate questions, Religion News Service reports. One focused on the pedophile assertion, another asked about the coming “storm,” and a third inquired about whether respondents believed “because things have gotten so far off track, true American patriots may have to resort to violence in order to save our country.”

Nearly a fifth (18%) of Latter-day Saints buy into the supposition about devilish pedophiles running the world. Even more (22%) believe a storm will cast out these evildoers. And almost a quarter (24%) say patriots may have to use violence to rescue the nation.

All those figures are higher than the general U.S.population.

The QAnon findings are interesting, given that the church added a post-election section to its online General Handbook warning members to beware of misinformation.

“Many sources of information are unreliable and do not edify,” the handbook states. “Some sources seek to promote anger, contention, fear, or baseless conspiracy theories…. Seek out and share only credible, reliable and factual sources of information. … Avoid sources that are speculative or founded on rumor.”

PRRI calculated that 21% of Latter-day Saints are QAnon believers, 55% are doubters and 24% are rejecters.

The national survey’s margin of error was pegged at plus or minus 1.5 percentage points. That number would be higher for subgroups.

This week’s podcast: Why members bite on conspiracy theories

Matthew Bowman, head of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University who will be teaching a class on conspiracy theory in America this fall and who just completed a book about UFO belief for Yale University Press, discusses that question and more on this week’s show.

Listen here.

Hatch gets 2021 Canterbury Medal — finally

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Salt Lake Chamber awards then-Sen. Orrin G. Hatch the 39th Giant in Our City award in 2018. Hatch recently was awarded the Canterbury Medal for his efforts to safeguard religious freedom.

The wait is over for Orrin Hatch.

After learning way back in February 2020 that he had been awarded the prestigious Canterbury Medal for his defense of religious freedom, Utah’s former longtime U.S. senator finally collected the coveted prize at a gala last week in Park City.

“I am proud to have preserved religious freedom for people of all faiths through legislation such as [the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act], which is needed today more than ever,” a “humbled” Hatch said in a news release. “Religious freedom was sewn into the very fabric of this country from the beginning, and protecting the right of conscience for every American is essential to the future of our republic.”

The big event was twice delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ceremony originally was bumped from last May to October, then pushed back all the way to this month.

The 87-year-old Hatch became the fourth Latter-day Saint to win the medal. Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the faith’s governing First Presidency and a former Utah Supreme Court justice, collected the honor in 2013. Hatch’s successor in the Senate, Mitt Romney, received the Canterbury, along with his wife, Ann, in 2008 soon after he left office as Massachusetts’ governor.

“Senator Hatch’s relentless work to pass RFRA unquestionably solidified religious liberty protections for all Americans,” Becket President Mark Rienzi said in the release. “Through his efforts, he has helped protect faithful Sikhs serving in the military, Native American worship traditions and sacred sites, prisoners who turn to their faith while incarcerated, and nuns who care for the elderly sick and dying. Without RFRA and without Senator Hatch’s commitment to religious liberty, our freedom of conscience would simply not be what it is today.”

Romney rewarded for his courage

(Stefani Reynolds | The New York Times) Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, departs the Senate Chamber at the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday, May 19, 2021. Romney was awarded the Profile in Courage Award from the Kennedy Family Foundation.

Sen. Mitt Romney took a bipartisan swipe at political extremists as he accepted the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, The Associated Press reported.

“Many of us have been disappointed of late by the actions of some people who’ve chosen the easy way, playing to the crowd, itching the ears of the resentful with conspiracies and accusations,” the Utah Republican said last week. “I take heart in the fact that such displays are still newsworthy and are generally met with disdain.”

The Kennedy Family Foundation saluted Romney, a frequent critic of former President Donald Trump, for his “historic vote in the 2020 presidential impeachment trial, and his consistent and courageous defense of democracy.”

The 74-year-old Romney, the first Latter-day Saint to win a major party’s White House nomination, became the first senator in U.S. history to vote to convict a president from his own political party.

In 1994, the now-Utah Republican lost to Sen. Edward Kennedy, the late liberal lion from Massachusetts. Later, as the Bay State’s governor, Romney worked with Kennedy to pass a landmark health care bill.

Imagine Dragons singer is a believer in trans sports

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) LoveLoud founder Dan Reynolds, shown in 2018, is now speaking out in support of transgender athletes.

Count rock star Dan Reynolds among those who oppose banning transgender athletes from participating in female sports — something a number of states have done and Utah is still debating.

“Our trans youth absolutely need to be playing sports,” the Imagine Dragons frontman and Latter-day Saint, told Attitude, Britain’s best-selling LGBTQ magazine. “And they need to be playing sport with what they identify as.

“Statistically, kids who play sports have better life expectancies and are happier,” he added. “Looking at our trans youth, who are super at risk, the suicide rate is skyrocket high. We can either give them sport or take it away. Or force them into a situation that is dangerous for them. You take them out of the dangerous situation and give them sport.”

Reynolds has been out front not just on stage with his music but also with his LGBTQ advocacy, launching the highly successful LoveLoud fundraising concert and becoming increasingly vocal for trans athletes.

“For people who are like: ‘They’re taking over the Olympics!’ — no, they are not,” he told Attitude. That is false. ‘Well look at this one example!’ No. I’m sorry. Don’t give me one example. Let’s talk about the masses. And by the way, our kids’ lives are more important than sport.”

‘Witnesses’ reaches theaters

Witnesses,” the winning feature movie from this year’s LDS Film Festival, opens in theaters this week.

Mark Goodman’s film tells the story of the foundational Latter-day Saints who swore to the coming forth of the church’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon.

Also from The Tribune

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Full-time missionaries with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — Jakob Ezell, left, of Seattle; James Miller of Laie, Hawaii; and Seth Perrault of Fresno, Calif., talk about finding potential converts through social media, rather than door-to-door contacting, on Tuesday, May 18, 2021.

• Explore the church’s legal legacy as a corporation as it labored to stay on the right side of the law and remain true to its principles. This includes a recent change that President Russell M. Nelson, no doubt, wholeheartedly endorsed, merging the faith’s corporate titles into one. Now, it’s simply the church’s full name.

• See why, in some areas, the church’s post-pandemic missionary work will include a return to door-to-door contacting. “In the past year, we have learned much about using technology and social media to build relationships,” Dave Weidman, managing director of the Missionary Department, tells The Tribune. “As pandemic restrictions ease, however, missionaries will move forward with both in-person and online teaching. They will use whatever combination is appropriate for their local needs and societal conditions.”

• Find out why LGBTQ plaintiffs are suing the federal government and pointing fingers at Brigham Young University campuses in Provo and Idaho. “I was just living in constant fear of being expelled,” says a recent graduate. “And I was too far along in my degree to transfer. I didn’t want to, either. All of my family went there. And everyone deserves to go to a religious school if they want to.”

BYU-Pathway gets a new leader

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Brian K. Ashton is the new president of BYU–Pathway Worldwide.

BYU–Pathway Worldwide is putting thousands of students in more than 150 countries on the road to success and, starting in August, will have a new president.

Brian K. Ashton, field operations vice president for BYU–PW, will take the reins of the online higher education program in August, according to a news release.

He succeeds Clark G. Gilbert, the former president of BYU-Idaho and CEO of the Deseret News who was named a general authority Seventy in April and will become commissioner of the Church Educational System.

Celebrating 60 years in the Philippines

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Taniela Wakolo of the Philippines Area Presidency speaks at the unveiling of a statue of the "First Vision" outside the Missionary Training Center in the country.

A new sculpture of Joseph Smith’s “First Vision” now adorns the entrance to the Missionary Training Center in the Philippines.

The unveiling marked the 60th anniversary of missionary work beginning in earnest in the nation.

“The First Vision not only symbolizes your beginnings as a church but also the revelation of the Spirit in every believer,” Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte said in a video tribute. “...Your six decades of steadfastness in your mission to spread the light and give service to the poor are testaments of God’s unwavering presence in our lives.”

What’s new in old Nauvoo

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Mary, walk with others through Historic Nauvoo on Saturday, May 29, 2021.

Visitors can step back into the Mormon past as a renovated portion of Historic Nauvoo welcomes in-person and virtual tours.

On Saturday, apostle Quentin L. Cook dedicated the city’s Temple District, which includes the rebuilt temple and the area around it.

The 2002 dedication of that temple, Steven Olsen, a senior curator of church historic sites, said in a news release, made it clear that there “was an important message missing in Historic Nauvoo — and that was, ‘Why is this building here, and why did these people construct it [in the 1840s]?’”

So, in 2014, the church crafted a 25-year plan to upgrade the site, with the Temple District as its first phase. Work is to be completed in 2039, the bicentennial of Nauvoo’s founding.

In this part of the city:

• Church founder Joseph Smith wrote what is now Doctrine and Covenants Section 128 about baptisms for the dead.

• Smith worked with architect William Weeks on the temple’s design.

• Eliza R. Snow penned the famed poem, “My Father in Heaven,” which became the text to the beloved hymn “O, My Father” and includes an overt reference to the faith’s belief in a Heavenly Mother.

“The words of this hymn reflect our doctrinal understanding of the existence of a Mother in Heaven,” Cook said in the release. “Our doctrine confirms that each of us is a beloved spirit son or daughter of Heavenly Parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny.”

Go to NauvooHistoricSites.org to schedule an in-person or virtual tour.

Relief efforts

(Rahma Worldwide) New blankets and food are distributed to refugees in Sudan.

Latter-day Saint Charities is partnering with the U.N. and a number of other humanitarian organizations to help Sudan recover from devastating floods, according to a news release.

Together, they have:

• Supplied food, bedding, protective floor coverings and insect repellent to Ethiopian refugees in the country.

• Provided new arrivals with water, hygiene supplies and, for kids, “school in a box” kits.

• Helped bring soap, water cans, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, hygiene items and water purification tablets to villages.

These efforts and more come as church officials increase their ties to the African nation. A Sudanese delegation met last month in Salt Lake City with top church authorities. In February 2020, David A. Bednar became the first Latter-day Saint apostle to visit Sudan.

Temple updates

• This month and next, 60 temples — including all 15 operating temples in Utah — are scheduled to shift to Phase 3 of the church’s reopening plan by offering limited vicarious ordinances for the dead, along with all living ordinances, to members who make online reservations, according to a news release.

Quote of the week

“It’s just not much fun being a Mormon anymore…. Not fun anymore? I’m sure someone will comment that church isn’t supposed to be fun, but it at least has to be interesting enough that people will come back for more. The church needs repeat customers.”

— Dave B. in a Wheat & Tares blog.

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