Latest from Mormon Land: Temple changes to church image woes, the LDS stories you read the most in 2023

Also: Latter-day Saint scholar makes national best-books list; the Mormon Battalion’s place in history; and an airport welcome center for returning missionaries.

The Mormon Land newsletter is The Salt Lake Tribune’s weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Support us on Patreon and get the full newsletter, exclusive access to all Tribune religion content and podcast transcripts.

The year’s top stories

In keeping with the biblical expression that “the last shall be first,” we take this opportunity on the last week of the year to review the Latter-day Saint stories that finished first among readers in 2023:

• The latest changes in the faith’s temple ceremonies put more focus on Jesus and further boost gender equity.

• A Pew Research Poll shows the church’s public relations team has work to do: Turns out, Americans view Catholics, Protestants, Jews, evangelical Christians, Muslims and atheists more favorably than Latter-day Saints.

• A directive ousting women’s leaders from the stand during Sunday services in the Bay Area draws disappointment, frustration and anger.

• Latter-day Saint apostle M. Russell Ballard is accused just weeks before his death of sharing tithing records with Operation Underground Railroad, an allegation the church and a key prosecutor knock down.

• The church puts thousands of acres up for sale in Missouri, raising more than a few eyebrows among members, but it still holds tens of thousands of additional acres in its former and future Zion.

LDS scholar makes national best-books list

(Courtesy) Melissa Inouye, author of "Sacred Struggle: Seeking Christ on the Path of Most Resistance."

Melissa Inouye’s latest book, “Sacred Struggle: Seeking Christ on the Path of Most Resistance,” exploring the ups and the downs of this roller-coaster ride we call life, has made Religion News Service’s list of the 15 best books of 2023.

“Balancing cancer treatments and parenting struggles,” RNS writes, the Latter-day Saint scholar “offers a compassionate, unflinching look at the unavoidability of suffering — and points to the power of Christ to be present even in our darkest moments.”

You can hear Inouye discuss her journey and these themes in a “Mormon Land” podcast from November and these excerpts from that interview.

More best books

(Alice Faulkner Burch) Alice Faulkner Burch is the editor of “My Lord, He Calls Me: Stories of Faith by Black American Latter-day Saints."

Speaking of great reads, Times and Seasons blogger Chad Nielsen has identified his favorite books from the year.

His tally includes:

• “Lowell L. Bennion: A Mormon Educator.” Author George Handley discussed the legendary humanitarian last week on our “Mormon Land” podcast.

• “Let’s Talk About Race and Priesthood.” During his March “Mormon Land” appearance, author-historian W. Paul Reeve flatly stated that he doesn’t believe the former priesthood/temple ban on Black members was of “divine origin.” You can relisten to that podcast and reread the excerpts.

• “My Lord, He Calls Me: Stories of Faith by Black American Latter-day Saints.” Released in late 2022, this collection doesn’t sugarcoat the challenges these members of color face, sometimes from those they sit next to on Sundays. Editor Alice Faulkner Burch and others talked about the project in this Tribune story from January.

The latest ‘Mormon Land’ podcast: The battleless battalion

(David Noyce | The Salt Lake Tribune The Mormon Battalion Historic Site in San Diego in October 2023.

Why the Mormon Battalion, a ragtag band of hundreds of reluctant riflemen, along with dozens of women and children, is remembered more for its march and what it did in times of peace than in war.

Listen to the podcast.

From The Tribune

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Family members gather at Salt Lake City International Airport to welcome Latter-day Saint missionary Kaysen Sperry home from a two-year mission to Peru in October 2023.

• Salt Lake City’s airport boasts the place to greet returning Latter-day Saint missionaries.

• You best tune in on time for the 2024 Rose Parade if you want to catch a performance by “American Idol” alum David Archuleta. The former Latter-day Saint missionary, who has since left the faith, will be first up in the New Year’s Day procession.

• Three potential new gravesites of Mountain Meadows Massacre victims may have been discovered in southwestern Utah.

(Mark Eddington | The Salt Lake Tribune) The site of the Mountain Meadows Massacre in southwestern Utah in December 2023.