Latest from Mormon Land: A new push to whack BYU’s beard ban. And is ‘pride’ a wicked word?

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | Salt Lake Tribune)

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.

No need to fear the beard

If Brigham Young wanted to enroll at his namesake university, he’d have to do at least one thing: shave.

And not to be splitting hairs, but plenty of other former Latter-day Saint prophets would have to dust off their razors as well.

After all, beards, minus a few exceptions, are banned at Brigham Young University and have been since the 1960s, when they were viewed as a symbol of anti-war, anti-establishment rebellion.

Now, yet another push is underway to trim that policy, especially since today’s scruffy style is seen as more hip than hippie.

(Tribune file photo) Brigham Young, second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Under current BYU rules, his beard would not be permitted on campus.

Warner Woodworth, an emeritus professor at BYU’s Marriott School of Business, has launched a “Bring Back the Beard” Change.org petition — similar efforts have been tried before — to end what he calls the “dumb” and “silly” prohibition.

“Beards are clearly prophetic,” the petition’s webpage states. “They were used by righteous men from Adam down through the ages. While [church founder] Joseph Smith couldn’t grow a good beard, most of his leading Brethren could and did.”

Woodworth argues on Facebook that the “pandemic has again clarified the irrelevance of certain ‘rules’” and points to the 2017 removal of the hard ban against selling caffeinated soft drinks like Coca-Cola on campus.

So will BYU become a haven for the unshaven?

Maybe not, but the petition insists a “policy change is more relevant than ever since COVID-19, when many male faculty and students grew beards throughout 2020-21.”

Woodworth seems confident that this pro-beard blitz will succeed.

“When we pushed to allow women staffers to be able to wear pants on campus, it took years of advocacy for the change,” Woodworth writes. “The BYU beard policy is the next bad policy” that needs to go.

“Years ago, [BYU’s former president and current apostle] Dallin Oaks noted that he wouldn’t be surprised if the beard policy changed in the future,” the petition asserts. “That time is now.”

Let the whisker campaign begin.

Pride and prejudice

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Pride Flag flies over Salt Lake City Hall on Tuesday, June 1, 2021. Latter-day Saints are debating use of the word "pride."

The church’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, preaches against pride. A former prophet, Ezra Taft Benson, famously warned members to “beware of pride.”

So is pride a wicked word?

Some members view it that way — to the point that they refuse, for instance, to embrace Pride Month, which celebrates the LGBTQ community.

Such “obvious bigotry” rankles Exponent II blogger EM.

“We all know that there is more than one definition of pride in the English language,” EM writes. “Only the most uptight pedant refuses to say ‘I’m proud of you,’ when a child makes progress, on the grounds that the word pride is bad. We know that some kinds of pride are bad, and some kinds are fine, or even good.”

And the pride expressed during Pride Month, the blogger argues, is unquestionably good.

“God wants us to rejoice in being created as we are, and to love others as they are,” EM says. “To me, there is nothing remotely contradictory about a Mormon honoring Pride Month. I’m glad you like you! I’m glad you feel good about your spirit, and your body! Most of all, I’m glad you’re here, alive, sticking around with us.”

So “pride,” with its five letters, is hardly a “four-letter word.” And “love” may have four letters, but it’s no “four-letter word” either.

“I know Pride Month is ‘over,’” the blog concludes. “The commandment to love is still a thing in July.”

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As the worlds turn

(William Anders | The Associated Press) This Dec. 24, 1968, file photo made available by NASA shows the Earth behind the surface of the moon during the Apollo 8 mission. Latter-day Saints often debate past teachings that members someday would be able to get their own planets.

So, is the notion that exalted beings someday may create their own worlds a part of Mormonism’s theological universe or not?

Brigham Young, for one, preached that they will. Others have, too.

Such teachings have been seized upon by critics, mocked in the media and belted out in Broadway’s “Book of Mormon” megahit musical.

But the church downplayed that characterization in its 2014 “Becoming Like God” Gospel Topics essay, stating that the “doctrine of exaltation is often … reduced in media to a cartoonish image of people receiving their own planets,” adding that “while few Latter-day Saints would identify with caricatures of having their own planet, most would agree that the awe inspired by creation hints at our creative potential in the eternities.”

A Q&A on the church’s website further dismissed the planetary paradigm, proclaiming that the “idea is not taught in Latter-day Saint scripture, nor is it a doctrine of the church” and blaming “speculative comments unreflective of scriptural doctrine.”

So what gives in this long-running doctrinal drama?

Scientist-historian Jonathan Stapley briefly explores the evolution of Latter-day Saint cosmology in a recent By Common Consent blog post and what some see as shifting theological views.

“Sometimes our beliefs change, and sometimes they should,” he writes. “... I appreciate that the church has changed its caffeine policy, and that people who were all-in on the old policy have experienced discomfort as the church backed away from it.”

Stapley notes that “while the church hasn’t really changed on the becoming like God thing over the last couple of decades, it wouldn’t break my heart if they did in some ways, even though it would cause some discomfort elsewhere.”

2021 missionary death toll rises

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) José Maria Batalla and Valeria Battalla.

A mission president who was battling COVID-19 died this week, becoming the eighth full-time missionary — and second mission president — to perish this year and the first missionary fatality in 2021 to be publicly linked to the coronavirus..

José Maria Batalla, who with his wife, Valeria, led the Bolivia Cochabamba Mission, died of cardiac arrest almost two months after contracting the coronavirus, church spokesperson Sam Penrod said in a news release.

Batalla, who hailed from Nordelta, Argentina, was in a rehabilitation hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

“We express our love and condolences to President Batalla’s family, along with the missionaries he led,” the release stated. “We pray that all will feel the Savior’s love as they honor and remember this faithful leader and his devotion to the church.”

Half of the missionary deaths this year have been due to various health ailments. Three came in vehicle accidents.

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 after a “sudden health episode (unrelated to COVID-19).”

In March, a 21-year-old missionary drowned in his homeland of El Salvador, and a 48-year-old mission president in the Philippines died of an apparent heart attack.

In May, an 18-year-old missionary from Utah and his 20-year-old companion from Colorado were killed in a head-on collision in Denton, Texas.

Remembering Rex D. Pinegar, 1931-2021

Emeritus general authority Seventy Rex D. Pinegar, who was a boxer in the Navy, a college educator in his career and a longtime leader in the church whose service took him to many parts of the world, died June 24. He was 89.

Pinegar was “gentle, yet strong,” his family’s obituary states. “He was the consummate teacher, well read, creative, and artistic. His sense of humor was quick and dry, and he used it often to make difficult or hard situations less so, more for others than for himself.”

Pinegar was born Sept. 18, 1931, just before his twin brother, Max. During the Korean War, the elder Pinegar served on the USS Bairoko before returning home to marry Bonnie Lee Crabb in the Salt Lake Temple.

After graduating from BYU and earning master’s and doctorates in California, he returned to Provo to join the education faculty at BYU.

In 1971, he and his wife were assigned to lead the North Carolina-Virginia Mission. A year later, then-church President Harold B. Lee called him to be a general authority, a post he held until receiving emeritus status 30 years later.

The couple then oversaw the Mount Timpanogos Temple in American Fork for three years. Bonnie died in February.

Rex’s twin brother, Max, who presided over the church’s Language Training Mission in Provo as it transformed into the Missionary Training Center, died in 2014.

For Rex Pinegar, faith and family came first.

“The right kind of treasures are our families,” he said in a 1990 General Conference sermon, “and those divine attributes and qualities of character that are taught and learned in gospel-centered homes.”

A pageant encore

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Pageant actors portray a scene of Jesus Christ visiting civilizations in the Americas as part of the 2019 Hill Cumorah Pageant in Manchester, N.Y., about three miles south of the Sacred Grove.

Denied the chance to give a farewell performance, the now-discontinued Hill Cumorah Pageant did get a virtual send-off.

On Friday, apostle D. Todd Christofferson led an online devotional to pay tribute to the pageant’s legions of volunteers during its eight-decade run and to view a recording of the 2019 show.

“I express profound thanks to each and all of the thousands who over the years, since 1937, have had any role in or made any contribution to the Hill Cumorah Pageant: America’s Witness for Christ,” Christofferson said in a news release. He pointed to praise from late apostle Marion G. Romney, who said the show has helped viewers see that the heavens are open, “that God has spoken again, that Christ still lives and has revealed himself in this dispensation.”

Jerry Argetsinger, artistic director for the pageant in the 1990s, noted that participation in the annual spectacle was a family affair for multiple generations of Latter-day Saints. His wife, Gail, for instance, created more than 3,400 costumes over 20 years for the performances.

“Our home is filled,” he told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this year, “with memorabilia from the definitive religious outdoor drama in America.”

The devotional and pageant broadcast can be viewed at broadcasts.ChurchofJesusChrist.org through next week, according to the release. Afterward, the pageant will be available at Gospel Media.

From The Tribune

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square sings during the Sunday morning session of the 189th twice-annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019. The choir is retuning to live performances.

• Fans of The Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square can shout their own “hallelujah” chorus. The world-renowned singing troupe is returning to live performances.

After a pandemic-induced, 16-month hiatus, the choir and orchestra will stage a live broadcast of “Music and the Spoken Word” on Sept. 19. Audiences will be welcomed back Oct. 10.

Due to COVID-19, the choir has been airing reruns of its weekly show, the longest continuously running network broadcast in radio history. In fact, the first “Music and the Spoken Word” broadcast aired 92 years ago this week, on July 15, 1929.

The choir also is scheduled to sing live — instead of airing past recordings — at three General Conference sessions Oct. 2 and 3. The twice-yearly conference will be all-virtual for the fourth straight time but will return to the Conference Center auditorium.

Read more here.

• As a group, Latter-day Saints are getting older.

The median age for members is 47 (up from 44 seven years ago), according to PRRI’s newly released 2020 Census of American Religion. The nation’s oldest believers are white evangelical Protestants, with a median age of 56, and the youngest are Muslims, with a median age of 33.

In addition, the highest concentration of Latter-day Saints in counties with more than 10,000 residents is found, not surprisingly, in Utah County (72%), home to the faith’s premier school, BYU in Provo. The second highest is Madison County, Idaho (68%), which includes Rexburg and BYU-Idaho.

Read more here.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Church President Russell M. Nelson receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City.

• Top church leaders have not only encouraged members and missionaries to be vaccinated against COVID-19, but they also have set the example by getting the shots themselves. The photograph of President Russell M. Nelson’s rolled-up sleeve has been distributed far and wide.

Even so, the church has been reluctant to require vaccinations in many of its operations.

That’s not the case at BYU-Hawaii. The campus will insist that its students be vaccinated before they return this fall.

“Hawaii is a unique place, and it’s taken a hard-line approach with COVID,” school spokesperson Laura Tevaga told The Tribune. “The state has been closed down forever. It’s just slow, slow, slow to reopen now, and for good reason.”

BYU’s other campuses, in Utah and Idaho, are not requiring vaccinations. State politics as much as church policy may be at play here. Those Intermountain West states are red on the partisan map while Hawaii is blue — and blue states generally have seen higher vaccination rates.

Read more here.

Temple updates

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Rendering of the Nairobi Kenya Temple.

• A ceremonial groundbreaking will take place Sept. 11 for the Nairobi Temple, the first in Kenya.

General authority Seventy Joseph W. Sitati, who was born in the East African nation of 55 million people, is scheduled to preside, according to a news release. Kenya is home to more than 14,500 Latter-day Saints.

• A groundbreaking will be held Aug. 21 for the Pittsburgh Temple, Pennsylvania’s second.

The single-spired, one-story, 32,000-square-foot temple will go up on a 5.8-acre site in suburban Cranberry Township.

General authority Seventy Randall K. Bennett will preside at the event, according to a news release.

Pennsylvania’s other temple is in Philadelphia. The state has more than 52,000 members.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) An artist's rendering of the Pittsburgh Pennsylvania Temple.

Quote of the week

“The biggest thing I learned as bishop was not to judge people by their outward ‘church’ appearances. The members that looked like they had it all together and were the ‘strength’ of the ward sometimes had the most problems, and the partially active member could have extenuating circumstances, and be the most Christ-like person in the whole ward.”

Bishop Bill, in a Wheat & Tares blog post

Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce. Subscribe here.