Latest from Mormon Land: Why Santa would never last at BYU; and Harry Reid’s Democratic dream

Also: A look back at the church’s $35M purchase of a “priceless” Book of Mormon document.

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

These are excerpts from The Salt Lake Tribune’s 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.

Santa and the Honor Code

A post-Christmas reflection: Santa may be a saint, but he would have a hard time sticking at Brigham Young University.

Forget the pipe the right jolly old elf holds tight in his teeth (a Word of Wisdom no-no) and that red suit (is he a fan of rival Utah?), the snow-white whiskers alone would do him in.

But are beards bad? No, of course not. Members are free to sport them. But they are banned at the church’s flagship school (though thousands of petitioners hope to change that).

Richard Ostling notes in a recent Get Religion post that Latter-day Saint apostle Dallin H. Oaks stated in 1971, when he became BYU president, that beards — and long hair, for that matter — are not “inherently wrong.”

“In the minds of most people at this time,” he explained, “the beard and long hair are associated with protest, revolution and rebellion against authority.”

A key question: Does that still hold true today? After all, Oaks himself hinted back then that the facial hair prohibition might be clipped.

“The rules are subject to change,” he said, “and I would be surprised if they were not changed at some time in the future.” But the rules are with us now.”

And, more than a half-century later, they still are.

Harry’s hope for a blue wave

(Jae C. Hong | The Associated Press) Then-Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., pictured in 2006, predicted more Latter-day Saints would become Democrats. Reid died Dec. 28, 2021.

For true-blue Democrat Harry Reid, his faith’s future appeared truly blue.

The former Senate majority leader, who died last week after becoming the highest-ranking elected Latter-day Saint in U.S. history, believed climate change, economic justice and civil rights eventually would color the politics of rising generations and steer more and more members to the left, historian Benjamin Park writes in The Washington Post. “Speaking to BYU students in 2007, Reid acknowledged that Democrats were a minority in the faith but optimistically noted that ‘we won’t be for long.’”

Park isn’t so sure, pointing to members’ solid support of former President Donald Trump — he snared 72% of their vote in 2020 — and a poll showing nearly half (46%) wrongly believe the election was stolen.

A convert to Mormonism, Reid preached that he was a Democrat not despite his Latter-day Saint faith but because of it.

“As Reid hoped, younger Mormons do lean Democratic, but the LDS Church’s hardening on wedge issues like gender and sexuality make their future in the faith uncertain,” Park writes in The Post. “If they do decide to follow Reid’s example and pave a liberal Mormon path, they will not be able to take for granted a symmetry between faith and politics, like he did.”

‘Priceless’ purchase

(Jeremy Harmon | The Salt Lake Tribune) A page from the original printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon is displayed at the Church History Library on Sept. 21, 2017.

The church’s 2017 purchase of the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon for $35 million ranks among the “most expensive” acquisitions ever of a book or manuscript, according to The Market Herald.

At the time, historian John Hajicek compared the purchase — from the Community of Christ — as the religious equivalent of the United States buying the U.S. Constitution.

“This is a founding document of the LDS Church,” Hajicek said. “It is priceless.”

In fact, the 2021 purchase of the first printing of the final text of the U.S. Constitution for $59.6 million also made The Market Herald’s list, along with Bill Gates’ 1994 acquisition of Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex Leicester writings for an amount that today would top $70 million.

This week’s podcast: Gordon Monson’s 20 reforms

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gordon Monson.

Longtime Salt Lake Tribune sports columnist Gordon Monson usually writes about first downs, double-faults, 3-pointers and four-baggers. He is at home commenting on what takes place on basketball courts, football fields and baseball diamonds.

Occasionally, though, he enters another arena — that of religion. A practicing Latter-day Saint, he has opined about Sabbath observance, BYU’s Honor Code, even how Jesus might behave at a ballgame.

In that spirit this past weekend, he offered 20 reforms he would like to see his church undertake.

On this week’s show, he discusses those suggestions on topics ranging from missions to money, Word of Wisdom to Sunday sports, tithing to temple worthiness, women’s equality to General Conference talks.

Listen here.

From The Tribune

• As the omicron variant continued its spread across the globe, more than 15% of the missionaries at the church’s flagship Missionary Training Center tested positive for COVID-19, the church reported last week.

The Provo MTC, which resumed in-person training in June, “continues to operate at a reduced capacity,” according to a news release, and has launched “additional protocols” to safeguard the proselytizers-in-waiting, only a “few” of whom have reported being symptomatic or feeling ill.

Read the story.

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