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.
Church buys a ranch and a hotel
Real estate arms of the church have made a couple of multimillion-dollar deals in recent weeks:
• Farmland Reserve’s AgriNorthwest outbid a Bill Gates-linked company, offering $209 million to obtain Easterday ranch properties in eastern Washington, the agricultural news site Capital Press reports. The purchase still requires court approval.
This acquisition, The Daily Beast notes, will add coveted water rights and 12,000 productive acres (potatoes, onions and cattle herding) to the church’s vast landholdings, which include more than 600,000 acres in Florida, or about 2% of the Sunshine State’s overall landmass.
• Property Reserve bought a 200-room Residence Inn by Marriott on Maui for nearly $100 million, according to Pacific Business News.
Hawaii Reserves, a church-affiliated property manager, also owns the Laie Courtyard by Marriott near the faith’s Polynesian Cultural Center, the business journal reports.
Atomic angst mushroomed after WWII
Last month marked the 40th anniversary of the church dropping a bombshell, forcefully speaking out against basing MX nuclear missiles in Utah’s West Desert.
But it was hardly the first time top Latter-day Saint leaders had expressed opposition to atomic weapons and the arms buildup.
In 1946, independent historian Ardis Parshall notes in a recent keepapitchinin.org blog post, apostle J. Reuben Clark, then a member of the governing First Presidency, lamented the “fiendish butchery” exhibited by the United States in dropping atomic bombs on Japan — which he termed the “crowning savagery” of World War II.
“We in America are now deliberately searching out and developing the most savage, murderous means of exterminating peoples that Satan can plant in our minds,” Clark said in the October General Conference. “We do it not only shamelessly but with a boast. God will not forgive us for this.”
This week’s podcast: Sexual orientation of young members
A recent U.S. survey found rising numbers of Gen Zers who self-identify as Latter-day Saints say they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or other.
The latest figure is almost double what researchers Jana Riess and Benjamin Knoll found in their 2016 Next Mormons Survey.
On this week’s show, Knoll, an associate professor of politics at Centre College in Kentucky, and Calvin Burke, an openly gay senior majoring in English at Brigham Young University and a media manager for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, discuss these latest findings and their implications for the church now and in the future.
Lessons for a better Primary
Fun in Primary need not be secondary.
In fact, it may be fun-damental to helping Latter-day Saint children get the most out of their Sunday classes.
Exponent II blogger Mindy Farmer offers five ways to make Primary “more kid-friendly, engaging, and — gasp — fun.”
• Emphasize fun. Yes, that’s her first tip. She once saw kids in a Primary class in London playing hallway bowling. “I’m certain they had a spiritual goal in my mind,” she writes,” “but, more importantly, they focused on engagement, activity and variety.
• Emphasize relationships. “Give kids five minutes to ‘visit’ each Sunday before formal activities begin.”
• Keep them moving. In essence, go through the motions, complete with wiggle breaks, scavenger hunts, skits, walks, games, anything that helps get kids out of their chairs and into learning.
• Kid-friendly lessons. Develop a “fun, active, engaging” curriculum, Farmer says. “...Kids need variety, creativity and clever repetition of ideas.”
• Support leaders and teachers. All “kidding” aside, the adult volunteers in Primary need help, too, she concludes, with better training, more resources and generous funding.
No men allowed — or needed
It’s camp season for Latter-day Saint girls, and Exponent II blogger Abby Hansen has some questions about the dress code:
Why, for instance, are shorts not allowed (save for mandatory ones to be worn over one-piece swimsuits)?
“It makes sense to ask people to bring long pants in case of unseasonably cold weather in June,” Hansen writes, “but why not also allow them to bring shorts in case of unseasonably hot weather?”
Bare midriffs are verboten (even though boys often go shirtless at their camps). “Are [leaders] worried about the girls getting a sunburn on their bellies, or are they worried about girls not dressing modestly enough around the priesthood holders that will be at camp?”
That brings up another point. Why, Hansen wonders, are men there at all? “Camping is not an activity that requires men to happen,” she says. “Women can set up tents and build campfires and administer first aid all on their own. In fact, having men come to camp every year with us when I was a teenage girl greatly impeded my ability to learn outdoor skills.”
If the “modesty” restrictions are in place simply because men sometimes may be around, Hansen argues, “then let’s solve this issue by kicking the men out of the girl’s camp as well. Problem solved!”
MTC is again living up to its name
A long-standing rite of passage is back.
Missionaries are returning to Missionary Training Centers.
On Wednesday, for the first time in 15 months, the faith’s flagship MTC in Provo opened its doors to prospective proselytizers — 248 of them, to be exact.
There, the fully vaccinated missionaries will undergo in-person training before traveling to their assigned areas.
Similar numbers of fully vaccinated missionaries are expected to enter the Provo facility on Wednesdays in coming weeks, according to a news release, as COVID-19 restrictions ease.
Other MTCs around the globe are poised to begin following suit.
This year in Jerusalem
BYU’s Jerusalem Center soon will welcome back students, too, and in time for the 2021 fall semester.
After canceling programs during the pandemic, the center began accepting applications this week, according to an announcement on its website.
The 125,000-square-foot, eight-level building on Mount Scopus, overlooking the Mount of Olives, is the church’s premier site for academic pursuits in the Holy Land.
Students “live in the center while studying a core curriculum focused on the Old and New Testaments, ancient and modern Near Eastern studies and the Hebrew and Arabic languages,” the website states. “Classroom study is integrated with field trips spanning the length and breadth of the Holy Land, as well as travel to Jordan and to either Egypt or Greece.”
Applications for priority placement will be accepted through July 2, with the semester set to start Aug. 31.
Moments from history
• This month marks the 191st anniversary of Emma Smith, wife of founder Joseph Smith, officially becoming a member. Oliver Cowdery baptized Mormonism’s first lady June 28, 1830, in Colesville, N.Y., nearly three months after the fledgling faith’s organization.
• Fourteen years later, almost to the day, Emma would lose her husband and brother-in-law. A mob gunned down Joseph and Hyrum Smith on June 27, 1844, at Carthage Jail in Illinois — 177 years ago this Sunday.
• Seventeen years ago this week, the faith’s 15th and oldest-ever president, Gordon B. Hinckley, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
“He’s always shown the heart of a servant and the gifts of a leader,” then-President George W. Bush said. “Through his discipline and faithfulness, he has proven a worthy successor to the many fine leaders before him.”
The date was June 23, 2004, Hinckley’s 94th birthday.
Also from The Tribune
• Dozens of #DezNat warriors, those Twitter troops enlisted in an online battle to protect the faith from any they view as foes, apparently are retreating from the digital battlefield by erasing their social media accounts.
This is “what happens to some people on the alt-right when people start calling attention to what they are doing,” researcher Amy Chapman of Columbia University told The Salt Lake Tribune. “They hide.”
No doubt many will not miss their verbal attacks and harsh memes, some of which clearly crossed the line set by church leaders to “exemplify civility in all online interactions.”
Of course, #DezNat still has a sizable army engaged in the fight.
Learn more about the pullback here.
• It has been more than two months since apostle Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, delivered his Easter sermon about the U.S. Constitution.
And while “we the people” across the United States may have moved on, Latter-day Saints haven’t. They’re still discussing, dissecting, debating and, in some quarters, disputing it.
The talk was the focus of a forum this month at BYU’s Religious Freedom Annual Review.
An expert panel — including a retired federal judge, a former Utah Supreme Court justice (who had served with Oaks on the bench), a history professor and legal scholars — felt the senior apostle was addressing the country’s “perilous moment,” as Latter-day Saint Thomas B. Griffith, who stepped down last year from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, put it, and summoning members to “be better people than we have been and to do so with regard to the toxic political atmosphere that predominates” the nation.
Divisiveness, added Jane Wise, an associate director of BYU’s International Center for Law and Religion Studies, is “a danger to our country as well as to our souls.”
Americans today are “as polarized as we have ever been,” Wise said. “... Blind loyalty to any political party can reap frightening consequences.”
Read more from the panel discussion here.
BYU Broadcasting gets new boss
Jeff and Karen Simpson’s mission ended before it started.
Called to lead the Yakima Mission in Washington starting next month, Jeff will instead take over as managing director of BYU Broadcasting, the church announced this week.
Simpson — who previously worked as president and publisher of the Deseret News, chief operating officer of Deseret Book, and CEO of Bonneville International — will oversee BYU’s radio, television and digital channels.
He replaces Michael Dunn, who was named a general authority at April’s General Conference.
Choir shows will go on
The Tabernacle Choir’s twice-postponed Heritage Tour of Europe is back on — for next year.
The Tabernacle Choir and Orchestra at Temple Square will perform June 18, 2022, in Stockholm; June 21 in Helsinki; June 25 in Copenhagen, Denmark; June 28 in Oslo, Norway; July 1 in Edinburgh, Scotland; July 4 in Newport, South Wales; and July 6 in Cardiff, Wales.
Choir President Ron Jarrett said the tour’s name is a nod to the roots of some of the troupe’s earliest members.
“We stand on the shoulders of these musical pioneers who created a legacy that has influenced the entire world for good,” Jarrett said in a news release. “What an honor it will be to share the joy and peace the music of the choir brings in some of the very places where it all began.”
The church’s premier performing group got a new name in 2018 and a new logo last year.
• The church’s Deseret Mill and Pasta facility is cranking out even more wheat, flour, rice, beans, oats, macaroni, spaghetti and cake mixes.
The nearly 86,000-square-foot Kaysville plant in northern Utah plans to expand the production of more than 30 foodstuffs.
“For 2020, our plan at Deseret Mill and Pasta was to produce 480,000 cases of food,” manager Roberto Gaertner said in a news release, “but we ended up making 922,000 cases.”
The stepped-up production paid off as the church stepped up its charitable outreach during the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing 32 million pounds of pasta, flour and other goods to food banks across the country.
• Latter-day Saint meetinghouses famously advertise “visitors welcome.” And more than a dozen church centers in seven states proclaim “immigrants welcome.”
The Utah-based faith runs welcome centers in places like Las Vegas and Mesa, Ariz., to help newcomers to the U.S. access free legal services, improve their English, and progress on the path to citizenship so that they can land better jobs and live better lives.
“It doesn’t matter how they got here,” area Seventy Broc Hiatt said in a news release. “Our concern is that they are children of Heavenly Father, and they need help. We can provide it, and we’ve covenanted to provide it. We are simply here to love Heavenly Father’s children and provide the help to them that he would provide if he was here.”
That help is on the rise. Welcome Centers, the release noted, saw their immigrant and refugee numbers shoot up by more than 15% last year by offering in-person and virtual services.
Gesseca Hooeer, who came from Ecuador, is one who will be forever grateful.
“[When I first came to America] I was looking for resources around me [to help] learn the language with more people like me,” she said in the release. “This was the last option — and my best option, my best decision.”
• Public tours of the Pocatello Temple are set to run from Sept. 18 through Oct. 23, followed by a dedication set for Nov. 7, according to a news release.
The three-story, 67,696-square-foot edifice, announced in 2017, will be one of seven operating or planned temples in Idaho, home to more than 462,000 members.
M. Russell Ballard, acting president the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, is scheduled to preside at three dedicatory sessions.
• The church has settled on sites for three proposed temples announced at the latest General Conference.
The single-story, 25,000-square-foot Farmington Temple, New Mexico’s second, will rise on a 6.62-acre patch at the intersection of College Boulevard and Windsor Drive.
The one-story, 25,000-square-foot Grand Junction Temple, Colorado’s third, will go up on a 6.94-acre site at the intersection of Horizon Drive and North 12th Street.
The two-story, 38,600-square-foot Burley Temple, Idaho’s seventh existing or announced temple, will be built on a 10.1-acre site at 40 South and 150 East.
Exterior renderings of these three temples have not been released.
• Take a virtual tour of the four-year renovation of the Salt Lake Temple and surrounding Temple Square by viewing the latest images from the four-year project.
You’ll see photographs of steel trusses added to the temple roof (part of a seismic upgrade), further excavation to make room for additional floors north of the temple, a finished tunnel underneath North Temple street that will connect the Conference Center parking lot to the temple, and a bare spot where the Church Office Building plaza’s fountain once sat.
Quote of the week
“I’m glad that I get to experience both home MTC and the MTC in person. Even though we were on Zoom, I felt so connected with my teachers in my district and my companion, so it was a really good experience.”
— Addison Harward, called to the Scottsdale Mission in Arizona, on entering Provo’s MTC.
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce. Subscribe here.