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.
Pandemic privacy in the pews
If your bishop wants to ask if you’ve been vaccinated against COVID-19, he can.
If a Relief Society counselor wants to announce that a woman in last week’s meeting has tested positive, she can.
If a Sunday school president wants to require all attendees of a Gospel Doctrine class to wear masks, he is free to do so.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, or HIPAA, often is cited — wrongly, it turns out — as the reason leaders or officials can’t ask or relay such medical information.
“HIPAA does provide that a ‘person who knowingly and in violation of this part … discloses individually identifiable health information to another person shall be punished’ with fines and potential imprisonment,” Brunson notes. “But — and this is critical — those penalties do not apply to just anybody who discloses individually identifiable health information to another person. It has to be someone who does so in violation of the HIPAA rules.”
And the universe of potential HIPAA offenders is relatively narrow: Think health plans, health care clearinghouses, certain health care providers, and Medicare prescription drug health card sponsors.
Explains Brunson: “If you’re not one of these four types of people — and the church is not — HIPAA doesn’t apply to you.”
Church leaders could, of course, issue their own rules forbidding such practices, but the feds haven’t done so.
Post-pandemic sacrament services
As members increasingly return to in-person sacrament meetings and COVID-19 restrictions begin to go (even in the face of rising risks from the Delta variant), many Latter-day Saints argue some pandemic-era changes should stay.
By Common Consent blogger Rebecca J recently shared her list:
• Keep the stepped-up hand-washing and sanitizing.
When it comes to the sacrament, or communion, you can almost hear the universal amens for that one.
• End services with the sacrament.
“If nothing else,” she writes, “having the sacrament at the end means that chronically late people will be less likely to miss it.”
• Stick with shorter meetings.
“Fifty minutes is a perfectly round number,” Rebecca J adds, “giving us a 10-minute passing period before starting the second hour.”
• Don’t pull the plug on livestreamed services.
“This is controversial because there are a lot of people — a lot — who would rather watch church in their pajamas than get up and shower before noon.” But Zoom church — “Zurch,” she calls it — “was a godsend for people who couldn’t attend because of health reasons. … It was also good for people who, because of work/sleep schedules or new babies or depression or whatever, simply couldn’t drag themselves out of bed in time to get ready. … Regardless of their reasons, isn’t it better for people to have the opportunity to engage remotely than for them not to engage at all?”
Oaks wins patriotic praise
When it comes to the U.S. Constitution, President Dallin H. Oaks has spent his adult life studying it, interpreting it, upholding it, teaching it, preaching it and, frankly, loving it.
Last week, he gained yet another honor for his devotion to God, family, freedom and country — this time from America’s Freedom Festival at Provo — and heaped praise on the nation’s imperfect but resilient founding document in the process.
“Our original Constitution, adopted in 1787, had what our distinguished [former] Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, herself a member of our most prominent minority, called some ‘birth defects,’” Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, said in a news release. “Nevertheless, it was our best hope for freedom and self-government. It remains so. Let us be united to defend the great principles of the United States Constitution and to use our precious freedoms to further the work of our faith and to serve our fellow men.”
Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice and teacher at the University of Chicago Law School, received the Becket Fund’s prestigious Canterbury Medal in 2013 for championing religious liberty. In the latest General Conference, he offered a stirring sermon on the Constitution that is still being debated.
A budding missionary
Four years ago, Deserae Turner lay critically wounded in hospital with a gunshot wound in the head.
Now, the 19-year-old northern Utahn is planting flowers, cultivating a career and sowing hope as a church service missionary.
“Lots of people were giving me flowers on my homecoming from the hospital. I just fell in love with flowers,” Turner told FOX 13. “... Right now, I am donating my flowers and putting them in bouquets and vases to donate them to hospice care and nursing homes.”
Turner expects to make flowers a budding business enterprise.
“The thing about flowers, they’re all so different, but they’re beautiful like me,” she said. “I am a disabled, high-functioning girl, but I’m beautiful.”
Note • The Salt Lake Tribune and FOX 13 are content-sharing partners.
Why ‘The Chosen’ chose a ‘Mormon Jerusalem’
“The Chosen,” a popular TV series chronicling the life of Christ through the eyes of those who knew him, was the first non-Mormon production allowed to film at the church’s “little Jerusalem.”
And the cast and crew will be returning to do more filming.
“In Utah, the Mormon church actually built a first-century set recreation of Jerusalem that looks more authentic than almost anywhere I can find in Israel,” Dallas Jenkins, creator and producer of “The Chosen,” recently told The Washington Times, explaining that two unnamed Latter-day Saint apostles paved the way for use of the set near Goshen, about 70 miles south of Salt Lake City.
“I just shared my heart,” Jenkins told the newspaper. “I [said], ‘Hey I’m not LDS, but I want to tell Jesus stories and make Jesus known around the world.’ … And they believed in the concept of what we were doing.”
Eastern university gets Mormon collection
Along the way, Prince has amassed an impressive array of books, documents and other Mormon memorabilia.
Now he’s donating that collection to the University of Virginia.
“Built over a lifetime of research in, and writing about, Mormonism, it is widely recognized as one of the finest private collections in the world,” Kathleen Flake, the school’s head of Mormon studies, said in a news release. “In terms of 20th-century materials, it is unique.”
Intriguing items include old Beehive handbooks, a dictionary of Sign Language terms for Latter-day Saints, a typed-up and copied newsletter, called “Affirmation,” for gay and lesbian members, mission magazines from around the world and myriad out-of-print books.
“What began as a passion regarding in-print books turned into an obsession regarding out-of-print books, an entirely new world for my reading,” Prince said in the release. “... I was quite happy to obtain reprints and photocopies of works that, if original, would have had values into the six-figures.”
Realizing his collection “needed to have a second life,” Prince handed it over to the University of Virginia, making the school a leading site, outside of Utah, for the study of Mormonism.
This week’s podcast: The life of Emma Smith
She was church founder Joseph Smith’s first scribe. She created the first Latter-day Saint hymnal. She was the first president of the women’s Relief Society. She was, indeed, the faith’s first first lady. Yet Emma Smith, beloved wife of Joseph Smith, remains a mystery to many members.
Jennifer Reeder, a historian for the Utah-based church, seeks to break through that mystery and the myth in her new biography, appropriately titled “First: The Life and Faith of Emma Smith,” revealing Emma’s undying love for her prophet-husband and her feeling of betrayal at his practice of polygamy, exploring her painful loss of young babies and her lifelong commitment to her surviving children, examining her fractious relationship with Brigham Young and the Utah church and her eventual embrace of the Reorganized Church (now called the Community of Christ).
On this week’s show, Reeder talks about Emma Smith, the “elect lady” of early Mormonism.
Rooting for another virtual RootsTech
Organizers had more than a million reasons to make next year’s RootsTech Connect an all-virtual event.
After all, that’s how many visitors, from 240-plus nations, participated in this year’s free online showcase.
“After RootsTech Connect 2021, we realized that we could bring the joy of family history to millions of people, no matter where they are, through an online, virtual RootsTech experience,” Steve Rockwood, FamilySearch International CEO, said in a news release. “... We heard from thousands of people from all over the globe that the 2021 online experience allowed them to participate for the first time and enjoy the power of learning and connecting virtually. And it created an expansive online archive for learning that is now available for free all year long.”
So, RootsTech Connect 2022 is set for March 3–5, with registration starting in September.
In-person genealogical gatherings aren’t being forever shelved. The release noted plans to offer a hybrid online and in-person model. The in-person event anticipated for London this fall, however, is off.
Family History Center reopens
Stuck at home and separated from loved ones during the pandemic, millions switched on their computers to connect with long-lost kin.
Now, with COVID-19 restrictions easing and temples slowly resuming proxy ordinances, family history research is poised for another boost.
The remodeled Family History Library in downtown Salt Lake City reopened this week after a 16-month shutdown, complete with upgraded technology, better lighting, new desktop scanners, expanded room for interactive experiences and more.
Moment from history
• Forty-nine years ago this week, 73-year-old apostle Harold B. Lee was ordained July 7, 1972, as the church’s 11th president.
Instrumental in the development of the faith’s welfare program and its correlation efforts, Lee would serve only 18 months as its leader. He died Dec. 26, 1973, at age 74.
From The Tribune
• The Book of Mormon depicts the Lamanites as dark-skinned, cursed and rebellious rivals to the mostly righteous Nephites.
Such references can make it difficult for Native American Latter-day Saints to navigate the church’s signature scripture, especially since the book’s introduction describes the Lamanites as “among” their ancestors.
Native Americans are increasingly speaking out about how their stories and traditions fit with what they are taught at church.
There is no “generic ‘American Indian’ experience or Mormon-Indian experience, nor is there a Lamanite identity that can be uniformly applied to all Indigenous peoples,” according to Elise Boxer, coordinator of the Native American studies at the University of South Dakota. “The inclusion of varied perspectives that challenge the Lamanite history and identity will enrich the historical narrative and empower tribal nations and peoples to tell their own stories.”
The Tribune explores this issue here.
• More than a thousand Brigham Young University students — including LGBTQ students and allies — gathered at a Provo park for what some called the school’s first unofficial Pride march.
View Tribune photos from the event here.
Philippines seeks more missionaries
The pandemic forced 1,700 Latter-day Saint foreign missionaries to flee the Philippines.
Now, members of the Philippines Area Presidency want to restock those numbers with homegrown proselytizers. So they launched the “I Will Go, I Will Serve” campaign.
The goal: 4,600 full-time Filipino missionaries serving in the country by December 2022. Right now, there are 1,900, but many of those are nearing the end of their service.
“We are confident,” general authority Seventy Taniela B. Wakolo said in a news release, “that the rising generation of Filipino Latter-day Saints will step up to the challenge as their forefathers have been doing since the church started here 60 years ago.”
• Recalling the “excruciating decision” nearly 16 months ago to shut down all temples worldwide, President Russell M. Nelson marked a milestone this week: All the church’s operating temples have opened again, at least to some degree.
“With the reopening of the Kyiv Ukraine Temple today, every temple in the world has now reopened and resumed some level of operations!” he wrote Monday on Instagram. “... This is cause for celebration!”
Eight temples, including the pioneer-era Salt Lake and St. George temples, are undergoing renovation. Another nine have paused operations due to area COVID-19 restrictions but they had reopened at some point during the pandemic.
“I am grateful,” wrote Nelson, a former heart surgeon, “for the many scientists, health care workers, and leaders who have stemmed the tide of this virus such that we can now safely gather in larger numbers.”
Quote of the week
“The idea that a mother should not be working outside the home or doing anything that would take energy away from her own family had been taught by the prophet, by general authorities, and repeated in church lessons. At the time, it seemed like a commandment — not a script — to many of us. At that time in my life, it felt kind of low, kind of selfish, slightly dirty, for a woman with children to be working for money, especially outside the home unless financially necessary. I think that’s how a lot of men would feel right now ... if they were to consider asking their wives to contribute to the family finances so that they [the men] could have more time with their kids.”
— Holly Miller in a By Common Consent blog post.
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce. Subscribe here.