The Mormon Land newsletter is a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether heralded in headlines, preached from the pulpit or buzzed about on the back benches. Want Mormon Land in your inbox? Subscribe here.
This week’s podcast: The history behind the priesthood/temple ban
Numerous news stories and commentaries are appearing as the LDS Church celebrates the 40th anniversary of the lifting of the faith’s priesthood and temple prohibition on black Mormons.
But, for all the buzz, the former ban itself remains a mystery to many. For instance, it’s easy to say when it ended, June 8, 1978, but more difficult to pinpoint when it started. And who began it? And why?
W. Paul Reeve, the Simmons Professor of Mormon Studies at the University of Utah and author of the award-winning book “Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness,” knows the answers to those questions. The prohibition, he notes, traces back to the LDS Church’s second prophet, Brigham Young, spurred partly by his worries about interracial marriage, and was cemented in place by its sixth leader, Joseph F. Smith. But there’s so much more to the story. Listen here.
A Facebook fast …
And Twitter. And Instagram. And Pinterest. And Tumblr. And Snapchat. And, well, you get the picture.
President Russell M. Nelson is challenging Mormon youths around the globe to go on a social media fast for one week. That’s right — abstaining for seven straight days from posting your latest hiking photos or seeing what your friend is eating for breakfast or weighing in on the latest White House controversy.
“I acknowledge that there are positives about social media,” Nelson told LDS youths in a worldwide devotional. “But if you are paying more attention to feeds from social media than you are to the whisperings of the Spirit, then you are putting yourself at spiritual risk — as well as the risk of experiencing intense loneliness and depression.”
The Mormon leader also warned of another “downside” of social media.
“It creates a false reality,” he said. “Much of what appears in your various social media feeds is distorted, if not fake.”
Joyous ‘Be One’ celebrates a revelation to remember
Yes, there were songs, stories and sermons. But African drumbeats? Spirited dances? Kaleidoscopic clothes? Wild applause? Standing ovations?
This was not your typical assembly at the LDS Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City. And why not? It was, after all, advertised as a “celebration."
The “Be One” gala marked the 40th anniversary since the June 8, 1978, announcement of the “revelation” ending the faith’s ban on black men and boys holding the priesthood and on black women and girls entering Mormon temples.
After a short speech by Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, in which he acknowledged the pains of the past and condemned continuing racism in the present, the evening belonged to black Latter-day Saints — their songs, their dances, their history, their faith.
Grammy winner Gladys Knight brought tears to the eyes and the crowd to its feet with her rendition of “Somewhere” from “West Side Story.” Each line — from “there’s a time for us” to “there’s a place for us” — found new poignancy and purpose as the performers gloried in their “new way of living” and urged all to “find a way of forgiving.”
Before and after the priesthood change
The Sunday before June 8, 1978, black Mormons were sitting in the pews, praying for the day they would be able to pass the sacrament, bless their children and be “sealed” to their spouses for eternity.
The next, they were administering the bread and water, baptizing their kids and entering temples.
That’s how quickly and dramatically life changed for black Mormon men and women with the so-called LDS emancipation proclamation.
Eugene Orr, for instance, was ordained immediately and soon called as a counselor in his ward’s bishopric.
Darius Gray says gaining the priesthood made him “whole.” And Jerri Harwell notes that “all of a sudden, the eternities were opened up to me — a mission, then temple marriage and sealing.”
City Creek South?
You could call it City Creek South or City Creek Lite.
The real estate investment arm of the LDS Church has announced plans to erect a new mixed-use development near the faith’s Mesa Temple, which is being renovated.
The Utah-based church completed a similar — albeit much larger — project in the heart of Salt Lake City with its City Creek Center.
The Mesa makeover, covering 4.5 acres along a light rail line, would include 12,500 square feet of ground-floor shops, 240 apartments, 12 town homes, 70,000 square feet of landscaped open space and underground parking.
“We’ve been planning this project for years,” Matt Baldwin, real estate development director for City Creek Reserve, said in a news release. “We’ve talked with city and county government leaders, city planning staff and other local developers. We want to enhance and beautify this block, but we also want to make sure what we’re proposing is what downtown Mesa needs.”
It is, according to a former Mesa city manager.
“What CCRI has envisioned is exactly right for downtown Mesa right now,” Mike Hutchinson states in the release. “… This project will bring renewed vitality to this key block on Main Street.”
The Arizona Republic has reported that not everyone is pleased with the redevelopment proposal for the admittedly run-down historic district. Preservationists are lamenting, for instance, the 1950s bungalows that would be lost in the process.
If city regulators sign off on the plan, construction is expected to begin in September with completion set for late 2020 or early 2021.
Arizona bar complaint targets church’s law firm
Elsewhere in Arizona, a prosecutor has filed a complaint with that state’s bar association against an attorney and a Salt Lake City law firm representing the LDS Church.
James Schoppmann, chief deputy of the Mohave County attorney’s office, alleges that a lawyer with Kirton McConkie had given legal advice to a Mormon bishop in Kingman regarding a child abuse case even though that attorney had no license to practice there.
A lawyer with a Phoenix firm, representing the LDS Church and Kirton McConkie, called the bar complaint “inaccurate, misleading and baseless nonsense.”
Mass transfers from Nicaragua
The reason: continued violence and deteriorating conditions, according to a news release.
The missionaries were “moved to temporary assignments in North America, South America, the Caribbean and New Zealand,” the release stated. “The church will continue to monitor developments in Nicaragua and make a decision in the future regarding the eventual return of missionaries.”
The couple, the baker and the policymaker
The LDS Church applauded a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing a Colorado Christian baker to refuse to make a wedding cake for a gay couple.
“This nation’s laws can protect both religious liberty and the rights of LGBT citizens,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement. “That is the meaning of fairness for all.”
The jury is still out, however, on the larger issue of LGBT rights vs. religious freedoms. The narrowly focused 7-2 ruling didn’t address that wider topic.
Utahns A-OK with church leaving BSA
Mormons and the Boy Scouts were tight as a square knot for more than century before those ties frayed and ultimately unraveled last month with the LDS Church’s decision to cut loose from the youth organization.
Despite the longtime association and the far-reaching effect it will have on LDS culture, most Utahns — and Beehive State Mormons — support the split, which takes effect at the end of next year.
A poll for UtahPolicy.com shows 69 percent of Utahns “strongly” or “somewhat” back the LDS Church severing its links to the Boy Scouts of America, while 94 percent of “very active” Mormons — many of whom probably had “very active” Scouts in their families — also favor the parting of ways.
The May 15-25 survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Quote of the week
“We realize that only the comprehension of the true Fatherhood of God can bring full appreciation of the true brotherhood of men and the true sisterhood of women. That understanding inspires us with passionate desire to build bridges of cooperation instead of walls of segregation.”
President Russell M. Nelson
"Be One” celebration
June 1, 2018
Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.