Latest from Mormon Land: What JFK said about Latter-day Saints weeks before his assassination

Also: Apostle Quentin Cook says there’s no mass exodus of young people from the church; President Russell Nelson makes pitch for seminary and institute.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Then-church President David O. McKay with U.S. President John F. Kennedy in the Tabernacle in September 1963.

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JFK’s Tabernacle speech weeks before he went to Dallas

Sixty years ago this week, John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas.

Just two months earlier, the 46-year-old Kennedy — nation’s first Catholic president (Joe Biden is its second) — visited the global headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

During a Sept. 26, 1963, speech in the historic Tabernacle on downtown Salt Lake City’s Temple Square, in which Kennedy defended the shift in U.S. foreign policy away from isolationism toward increased international partnerships, the young commander in chief heaped praise upon Utah’s predominant faith and its emergence on the world stage. (A copy of his address can be viewed in the online archives of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.)

“Remember that the Mormons of a century ago were a persecuted and prosecuted minority, harried from place to place, the victims of violence and occasionally murder,” said Kennedy, with then-church President David O. McKay in attendance, “while today, in the short space of 100 years, their faith and works are known and respected the world around, and their voices heard in the highest councils of this country. As the Mormons succeeded, so America can succeed, if we will not give up or turn back.”

The president concluded by invoking the faith’s famous pioneer-prophet.

“This country will continue its commitments to support the world in freedom,” he said, “for as we discharge that commitment, we are heeding the command which Brigham Young heard from the Lord more than a century ago, the command conveyed to his followers, ‘Go, as pioneers, to a land of peace.’”

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) U.S. President John F. Kennedy visits the Tabernacle in September 1963. Then-church President David O. McKay is in the background.

Three years earlier, Kennedy, then a candidate for the White House, had spoken in the Tabernacle barely a month before the 1960 election.

In that Sept. 23, 1960, address, he lauded the religious liberty and diversity found in the United States. (This text, too, can be read on the website of the JFK Presidential Library and Museum.)

“Tonight I speak for all Americans in expressing our gratitude to the Mormon people — for their pioneer spirit, their devotion to culture and learning, their example of industry and self-reliance,” the then-Massachusetts senator said. “But I am particularly in their debt tonight for their successful battle to make religious liberty a living reality — for having proven to the world that different faiths of different views could flourish harmoniously in our midsts — and for having proven to the nation in this century that a public servant in his chosen faith was still capable of undiminished allegiance to our Constitution and national interest.”

The latest ‘Mormon Land’ podcast: The top hierarchy

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Top leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at General Conference in October 2022.

With senior apostle M. Russell Ballard’s death, church President Russell Nelson’s back injury and apostle Jeffrey Holland’s recent illnesses, Latter-day Saint historian Matthew Bowman discusses the faith’s hierarchy and the men at the top who are summoned to a lifetime of guiding this global religion.

Listen to the podcast.

Rising generation is on the rise

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Quentin L. Cook laughs as his wife, Mary Cook, speaks during the Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023.

• In Sunday’s worldwide devotional for young adults, apostle Quentin Cook attempted to set the record straight about, well, membership records. “Youth and young adults are not less active or leaving the church in higher numbers than in the past, as has been widely circulated,” he said, according to a news release. “The number of missionaries called to serve has significantly increased. The percentage of church participation for the rising generation shows a continuous upward trend. Moreover, the number of young adults attending [the church’s college] institutes has also been increasing.”

• Separately, President Russell Nelson, in two videos, invited young people to enroll in the church’s seminaries and institutes.

Seminaries are four-year programs for teens ages 14 to 18.

“Seminary will help you to know your Savior, Jesus Christ, and deepen your conversion to him and to his restored gospel,” he said in the video. “What else can happen? In seminary, you can begin to learn how to receive personal revelation. And what a difference that will make in your life! You can learn how the Spirit speaks to you.”

Institutes, often tied to college campuses, are for young adults ages 18 to 30.

“Institute will offer you inspiring instructors, faithful friends and a feeling of belonging,” Nelson said in a separate video. “It will help you to see why living the gospel leads to never-ending happiness. Attending institute will help you to live the gospel and to feel more joy — right now.”

From The Tribune

• Apostle Jeffrey Holland, who turns 83 next month, has been promoted to acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, replacing M. Russell Ballard, who died last week.

• In an address at Ballard’s funeral, Holland, now second in line after Dallin Oaks to lead the church, reveals that he himself was unconscious for three weeks and at “death’s door” during a hospital stay this year.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Apostle Jeffrey R. Holland speaks at the funeral for M. Russell Ballard, longtime Latter-day Saint apostle, at the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023.

• The church announced this week that Holland will rededicate the renovated historic temple in his hometown of St. George on Dec. 10.

• Farther north, another pioneer–era Utah treasure, the renovated Manti Temple, will reopen next year, giving the general public a chance to see its cherished Minerva Teichert murals.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Manti Temple is one of 28 existing or planned temples in the Beehive State, home to more than 2 million Latter-day Saints.

• If the world truly is getting more “secular,” does that mean it is becoming less “religious”? Maybe not, notes Tribune guest columnist Matthew Bowman, depending on how one defines “religious.”

• The family proclamation has been hotly dissected, debated and disputed in the U.S., but the document isn’t necessarily viewed as contentiously around the world.

• The church has won approval to construct a somewhat-divisive visitors center near the Nauvoo Temple. So now it’s time to build — and to heal.

• KSL, the Deseret News and other church media outlets are getting a new boss.

• Yes, the church has conservative and progressive members, says Tribune columnist Gordon Monson, but they can all worship, serve and love together.

• Apostle Dieter Uchtdorf paid tribute to fallen soldiers at a military cemetery in Utah on Sunday and warned against labeling others.

(Charles Howard | Special to The Tribune) Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Utah’s honorary German consul, James Burton, pay tribute to war dead at Fort Douglas Cemetery on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023.