Latest from Mormon Land: A look at the resolution of a titanic evolution debate among top LDS leaders

That’s just one of the tidbits in the coming volume of “Saints.” Also this week: Africa leads the way in church growth, and apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf visits Ukrainian refugees in Poland.

Latter-day Saint leaders Joseph Fielding Smith, left, and B.H. Roberts, were entangled in a debate about the origin of humans.

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The origin of an evolution debate

When the third volume of “Saints” comes out April 22, you may want to jump ahead to Chapter 21 and read the tantalizing account of the doctrinal dispute that erupted in the early 1930s about evolution between apostle (and eventual church president) Joseph Fielding Smith and general authority B.H. Roberts.

“Elder Roberts believed that fossil evidence proved humanlike species had lived and died on earth for millions of years before God placed Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden,” the book states. “Elder Smith, however, argued that such beliefs were incompatible with scripture and church doctrine. He believed these species could not have existed before Adam’s Fall introduced death into the world.”

The debate made its way to the top. In the end, the governing First Presidency punted on the quarrel, urging Smith and Roberts to stick to core teachings and reaffirming the church’s 1909 statement on “The Origin of Man.”

“[Church President] Heber J. Grant and his counselors wisely decided to take a neutral position on the issue, affirming their faith in scripture while also acknowledging that they were not scientists and did not care to rule on something that was, by their own admission, outside their purview as ecclesiastical leaders,” Scott Hales, general editor and lead writer of “Saints, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent (1893–1955),” told Kurt Manwaring in a recent interview. “Stories like this remind us that faithful church members, like Elder Roberts and Elder Smith, sometimes disagree — and that’s OK.”

The book, the third in the church’s anticipated and acclaimed four-volume history, also notes that Grant “had great respect for modern science and for scientists like apostles James E. Talmage and John Widtsoe. … Like them, he was open to the discovery of new truths outside of scripture, and had faith that science and religion could ultimately be reconciled.”

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Growing places

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A Latter-day Saint baptism in Africa.

This much is clear from the church’s recently released membership numbers: Africa is the growth king.

Armed with 2021 statistics (2020 figures never were released due to the pandemic), independent researcher Matt Martinich has compiled a list where the church grew fastest during the past two years — and 10 of the top 14 are in Africa.

Here are his top five:

• Democratic Republic of Congo, up 29.4%.

• Tanzania, 28.8%.

• Liberia, 22.6%.

• Angola, 19.2%.

• Benin, 18.6%.

The rest can be found at lds church growth.blogspot.com.

Martinich called the church’s rapid expansion in the Democratic Republic of Congo (which had 89,136 members at year’s end) one of the “most significant developments” in the report, noting the Central African nation accounts for only 0.53% of the church’s worldwide membership but 8.4% of its growth since the end of 2019.

And where did Latter-day Saint membership fall fastest? These were the top five:

• Montenegro, down 16.7%.

• Reunion (a French department), 12.2%.

• Kazakhstan, 10.9%.

• Grenada, 9.59%.

• Bosnia and Herzegovina, 8.22%.

France saw its membership slip by 4.3%, losing 1,730 Latter-day Saints in the past two years (the most of any country). Its membership now stands at 38,200.

The United States, not surprisingly, gained the most total members (41,987) for a total tally of 6,763,019, followed by the Philippines, Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria and Mexico.

Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf visits Ukrainians

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf met Sunday, April 10, 2022, with Ukrainian refugees in Warsaw, Poland.

Shattered by war, ripped from their homeland and overwhelmed by grief and uncertainty, Ukrainian refugees received assurance this week that “good things will happen for you” from one who knows what it’s like to flee from nation to nation.

Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf — twice a refugee himself in postwar Europe — visited Ukrainian refugees in Poland on Sunday, urging them to keep their hope centered on the Savior.

“The focus on Jesus Christ is a focus which will give you the peace in your heart to get through this in one piece, in a way you can smile at your children,” he said, according to a news release. “And when your husband, your father, your friend is not with you, you can think and pray for them. And when you unite again, you will say, ‘I knew it would happen because I believe good things will happen again for all of us.’ And good things will happen for you.”

Uchtdorf reminded the refugees that God is with them. “He will make things right in the end, as he always does,” he said. “Maybe not in our own time schedule. But certainly in his time schedule.”

He saluted them as examples to the world “for goodness, for determination to follow the path of liberty and freedom, and to stand up for what is right.”

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Ukrainian refugees wear a pin supporting their home country of Ukraine as they attend a youth meeting with Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in Warsaw, Poland, on Sunday April 10, 2022.

Uchtdorf’s wife, Harriet, assured the refugees that “Heavenly Father is aware of you. I know that Jesus Christ loves you, each and every one of you. He really loves you…you are not alone.”

Members in Poland are helping the refugees with food, water, medicine, shelter and other needs. Stacy Chandler, a Latter-day Saint women’s leader there, has said the humanitarian crisis “will change the face of the church in Poland forever.”

From The Tribune

(Postcard from Peggy | The Salt Lake Tribune)

• The Tribune’s Peggy Fletcher Stack interviewed the academic director of Brigham Young University’s Jerusalem Center for Near Eastern Studies from Jerusalem in this special edition of “Mormon Land.”

Listen to the podcast.

• Stack, who is on assignment in the Middle East, also has been offering daily “postcards” from the Holy Land during Christian Holy Week.

You can read them here.

• Steeples are a common sight in most Utah neighborhoods, but Salt Lake City’s newest one comes with an uncommon pairing: a 25-story skyscraper. The church unveiled a new meetinghouse Friday at the base of its downtown 95 State at City Creek office building.

Read the story and view a photo gallery.

Read their commentary.

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