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Latest from Mormon Land: Coffee-flavored jelly beans a sin? How some members go too far.

Plus: How the M-word is Christian; why Latter-day Saints are learning about Muslims; and how Latter-day Saints feel the most connected to their neighbors.

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

These are excerpts from our free Mormon Land newsletter, a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Want this newsletter with additional items in your inbox? Subscribe here. You also can support Mormon Land with a donation at Patreon.com/mormonland, where you can access, among other exclusive gifts and content, transcripts from our “Mormon Land” podcasts.

Going to extremes

Religion can prompt believers to do things that, frankly, even their religion doesn’t really require.

Wheat & Tares blogger Hawkgrrrl shared some “extreme or silly things” she came across recently on social media that Latter-day Saints reported they had done or thought when they were younger that showed their, well, Mormon-ness.

• Confessed to a bishop about trying a coffee-flavored jelly bean.

• Thought dating before age 16 was illegal.

• Feared it was a sin to read aloud the words “hell” or “damn” in scriptures.

• Prayed for Jesus to illuminate some white rocks she found.

• Would not let avatars drink alcohol in video games.

• Told clerks they needed to repent for serving coffee-flavored ice cream.

• Intentionally got history questions wrong on tests if they contradicted church teaching.

So when you’re feeling sad, you can simply remember these “ridiculous” things (see the blog’s list) and then you won’t feel so bad.

What’s Christian about the M-word? Plenty.

(Rick Bowmer | The Associated Press) The Book of Mormon, the signature scripture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

That the church is backing away from most uses of the “Mormon” term is abundantly clear. But talk that the moniker somehow robs members of their Christian identity may be misguided.

So argues Spencer Greenhalgh, an assistant professor of communication at the University of Kentucky and a self-proclaimed Book of Mormon fan, in a By Common Consent blog post.

Greenhalgh describes how “Mormon” evolved in the church’s signature scripture, going from an apparently derogatory term — used as a way to describe a place “infested … by wild beasts” — to an exalted status that the like-named narrator repeats it over and over as a symbol of Christ’s redemptive mission.

“All this was done in Mormon,” the prophet-editor Mormon writes, “yea, by the waters of Mormon, in the forest that was near the waters of Mormon; yea, the place of Mormon, the waters of Mormon, the forest of Mormon, how beautiful are they to the eyes of them who there came to the knowledge of their Redeemer.”

Greenhalgh points out that centuries after Jesus’ visit to the “land of Bountiful” — the undisputed climax of the Book of Mormon drama — the narrator and his father were not named after that locale.

“For this family, ‘Mormon’ appears to be the most compelling reminder of the promise of redemption,” the scholar states.

“My argument here is not that all Book of Mormon-believing Christians should call themselves ‘Mormon,’” he adds. “...Yet, it would be a tragedy if we forgot (or never even learned!) how ‘Mormon’ symbolizes deep Christian commitment — or if we prevented people from again redeeming that name to apply it to themselves.”

Embrace Muslims

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostles David A. Bednar and Gerrit W. Gong speak at the final session of the two-day BYU conference, “The Islamic World Today: Issues and Perspectives,” on Oct. 19, 2021.

Two apostles have given Latter-day Saints a homework assignment: Learn more about Muslims.

When doing so, they’ll discover some similarities. Both groups believe in a founding prophet. Both pray daily and fast regularly. Both have unique scriptures. And both eschew alcohol.

Yes, there are “core” doctrinal differences, apostle David A. Bednar said in a news release, “but many of our values and the ways in which we practice our respective faiths are similar and reflect our love of God and of our fellow man.”

Fellow apostle Gerrit W. Gong said understanding more about Muslims “will help us be more kind and more accurate in what we say and feel about each other.”

Speaking at the finale of a two-day conference, “The Islamic World Today: Issues and Perspectives,” at Brigham Young University, the two apostles challenged members to jettison any mistaken, offensive or disparaging views they may hold of Muslims.

“Such biases cause those who feel that way to overlook the kindness and goodness of the overwhelming majority of all Muslims,” Bednar said. “To suggest that all Muslims are tied to grievous crimes here in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world is … inaccurate and offensive to Muslims. Muslims disavow any such actions, just as Latter-day Saints do. Every major religion has extremists who misinterpret the teachings of their own religion or who seek to do wrong in the name of religion.”

To help members in their study of the world’s 1.8 billion followers of Islam, the church is producing a new pamphlet titled “Muslims and Latter-day Saints: Beliefs, Values and Lifestyles.”

Latter-day Saints the most ‘connected’

Maybe it’s the lay clergy or those ministering assignments or the congregations divided by geography, but Latter-day Saints feel more connected to their neighbors than members of any other religious group.

Some 72% of Latter-day Saints say they feel at least somewhat connected to their communities, according to the American Enterprise Institute’s newly released national report from the Survey Center on American Life, with 24% feeling “very” closely connected.

That outpaces the 62% of white Catholics who feel somewhat connected to their neighbors and neighborhoods, followed by white mainline Protestants (61%), Jews (58%) and white evangelical Protestants (57%), the survey shows. Fewer than half of Hispanic Catholics (48%) and Black Protestants (48%) feel that way. Religiously unaffiliated Americans feel the least connected; with 41% saying they feel at least some closeness to their neighbors.

The report also found that 45% of Latter-day Saints believe residents in their area would be very willing to help their neighbors when trouble strikes — again the highest of any religious group.

Milestones

(Photo courtesy of Jerri Harwell) An early Genesis Group presidency: Darius Gray, left, Ruffin Bridgeforth and Don Harwell.

• The Genesis Group, a support congregation for Black Latter-day Saints, is celebrating its golden anniversary this month.

To do so, it is holding a barbecue on Saturday, Oct. 23, from noon to 3 p.m. at the Corner Canyon Stake Center, 13366 S. 1300 East, in Draper, Utah. Genesis is providing the meat, condiments and drinks, and asks attendees to bring a side or dessert. That evening, from 6 to 7:30, the group will continue the celebration in words and song with a devotional at the Tabernacle on downtown Salt Lake City’s Temple Square. It will be livestreamed on the church’s broadcast page.

On Oct. 19, 1971, apostles Gordon B. Hinckley, Thomas S. Monson and Boyd K. Packer set apart Ruffin Bridgeforth, Darius Gray and Eugene Orr, respectively, as Genesis’ first presidency.

The organization continues to meet to this day.

“Genesis was, and is, a unique unit of the church,” Gray writes on the group’s website. " ... We are not an auxiliary like the Relief Society but we are more than a ‘fireside’ while less than a ward. What fireside has a presidency set apart to a specific purpose? What fireside has its own auxiliaries? ... Genesis is by design not like any other unit of the church, but there is beauty in that special calling. There is also responsibility. We exist and serve at the pleasure of the leadership of the Lord’s church. Our purpose is the Lord’s purpose — we help to bring souls to the restored gospel.”

• Some 118 years ago this week, Black pioneer Green Flake died.

A member of the vanguard pioneer company to enter the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, Flake was born into slavery Jan. 6, 1828, in North Carolina.

He was baptized, according to the Century of Black Mormons website, on April 7, 1844, in Mississippi and later moved to Nauvoo, Ill., with his enslavers.

“Green, along with two other enslaved men, Oscar Crosby and Hark Lay, arrived in the valley on July 22 as members of the advance party,” the website reports. “... Green was already planting crops by the time Brigham Young arrived on July 24.”

Flake died Oct. 20, 1903, in Idaho Falls at age 75.

This week’s podcast: The genesis of Genesis

Darius Gray, in some respects still the soul of the Genesis Group, talks about the Black support congregation’s founding, its promise, its purpose and its future.

Listen here.

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