Mormon Land explores the contours and complexities of LDS news. It's hosted by award-winning religion writer Peggy Fletcher Stack and Salt Lake Tribune managing editor David Noyce.
Fifty years ago this month, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints established the Genesis Group, a support organization for Black members. It came at a time when men and women with African blood were denied access to the priesthood and temple. Genesis served as a quasi-branch of the faith, meeting on the first Sunday of every month. It was like no other church organization — not an auxiliary like the Relief Society but more than a “fireside.” When the priesthood and temple ban on Black members was lifted in 1978, Genesis continued to meet, offering fellowship to Black members, many of whom struggle to this day worshipping in a mostly white church. As Genesis celebrates its golden anniversary, one of its original leaders, Darius Gray, talks about the group's founding, its purpose and its future.
When the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints amped up its plea in August for masking and vaccinations, some conservative members who oppose such COVID-19 measures balked. Now they know how it feels, responded many progressive Latter-day Saints, who have found themselves similarly on the outs with top church leaders on a range of issues from women's rights to same-sex marriage. Such was the setup for a major Washington Post story about the rise of liberal Latter-day Saints, especially among younger members. On this week's show, author Emily Kaplan joins us to discuss her piece and the tug of war taking place between progressive and conservative forces within the faith.
The recently completed 191st Semiannual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provided 10 hours of sermons from the faith's top leaders, including four women among dozens of men. In this fourth straight all-virtual conference, worldwide listeners heard speeches about mental illness, the importance of temples and dissension among the membership. Speakers also focused on the need to hold fast to faith in Christ, use the church's full name, and take precautions against the coronavirus pandemic. On this week's show, Emily Jensen, a writer and web editor for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, discusses the weekend's sessions — the words, the music, what inspired, what disappointed, and what the proceedings may mean moving forward.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was once known almost as an ethnic group. In the past three-plus years, since President Russell M. Nelson took the helm of the 16.6 million-member global faith, elements of that identity have been stripped away. Statues of the Angel Moroni, a figure from the faith's signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, are rarely being added to the tops of new temples. The “live” endowment temple ritual, created as a kind of religious theater, has been replaced by a film. Class names for Young Women, including Beehive, Mia Maid and Laurels, have been scrapped. Long-standing outdoor pageants have ended. Nelson has declared that even using the name Mormon is a “major victory for Satan” and has generally prohibited its usage. What's happening to the Utah-based faith? Is it in danger of losing its identity? Liz Layton Johnson, a Latter-day Saint blogger who lives in Saudi Arabia with her family, discusses those questions and more for a church she describes as “in flux” as it strives to chart a unifying, yet distinctive, future.
In today's world, ideas about sex are ever present and often confusing. Sexual relations can bond couples together, or be abusive, manipulative and unhealthy. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like most faiths, views the creation of life as sacred, but it also sees sexual intimacy as an expression of love. The Utah-based faith does not preach sex as “original sin,” but it also sometimes sends conflicting, even harmful messages about human desire to members, producing guilt and shame. There are also endless questions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the evils of pornography, and what constitutes healthy sexuality. On this week's show — streamed live Tuesday night to our Patreon supporters — we invited the following panel to explore the wide-ranging issues surrounding sexuality and Mormonism: • Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, a licensed therapist who specializes in working with Latter-day Saint couples on sexuality and relationship issues. • Michael Austin, a university administrator who has a deep interest in Mormon theology, particularly the nature of sexuality. • Jacob Hess, a mindfulness teacher and writer at Public Square Magazine who has explored the problems of pornography.
If Brigham Young wanted to enroll at his namesake university, he'd have to shave his beard. A number of other former Latter-day Saint prophets would have to do the same. Warner Woodworth, an emeritus professor from Brigham Young University, argues that's just wrong. So he launched a Change.org petition urging the Provo school to end its prohibition on whiskers. Others have tried before to overturn the 1960s-era beard ban but failed. Still, Woodworth is confident this push will succeed. On this week's show, Woodworth talks about his campaign to “bring back the beard” at BYU.
Eugene England was at the center of Mormon intellectual life from the early 1960s until his death 20 years ago. As the founder of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, a popular professor at Brigham Young University, and a widely respected essayist, England was one of the most influential — and controversial — figures in the modern church. He lived in the crosshairs between religious tradition and reform, tackling issues of race, feminism, orthodoxy and the nature of God. He was a devout and believing member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who sustained leaders even as they sometimes chastised him and eventually forced him out of the school he loved. On this week's show, Latter-day Saint scholar Terryl Givens talks about his newly released biography, “Stretching the Heavens: The Life of Eugene England and the Crisis of Modern Mormonism.” He also explores England's influential essays (his preferred literary medium), his frequent feuds with church higher-ups (including the late apostle Bruce R. McConkie), his ultimate ouster from BYU (in an era well before apostle Jeffrey R. Holland's recent speech at the faith's flagship school), and his lasting imprint on intellectual pursuits in Mormonism.
Did sea gulls save Mormon settlers' crops? Did Brigham Young mysteriously and miraculously leave a space in design plans for the Salt Lake Temple that later would be filled by elevators? Did Elvis Presley make margin notes in a Book of Mormon? Was Yoda of “Star Wars” fame really modeled after former church President Spencer W. Kimball? Those are just some of the stories that float around Latter-day Saint circles. But are they true? Keith Erekson, director of the Church History Library, answers those questions and more in his new book, “Real vs. Rumor: How to Dispel Latter-Day Myths.” Even more important, he arms readers with the tools needed to discern for themselves the difference between fact and fiction whether in religion, politics, medicine or other fields. On this week's show, Erekson talks about myth-busting and faith-building. He also answers the most common question he receives: Does the Church History Library have the sword of Laban of Book of Mormon fame?
Latter-day Saint apostle Jeffrey R. Holland addressed Brigham Young University faculty and staff this week, urging them to be committed to the school's “unique mission” and the church that sponsors it. He made headlines for criticizing faculty members who challenge teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, including its stance on same-sex marriage. The popular apostle even questioned why a BYU valedictorian would choose his 2019 commencement address to come out as gay. If maintaining the faith's policies on LGBTQ issues ends up costing the school some “professional associations and certifications,” Holland said, “then so be it.” On this week's show, Michael Austin, a BYU alumnus and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Evansville, a Methodist school in Indiana, discusses the reverberating ramifications of the speech and how it could impact the Provo school's academic research, professional ties, athletic alliances, classroom interactions and more.
The delta variant of COVID-19 is surging across the country, with nearly half of all Americans still not fully vaccinated. As the enduring pandemic once again grows dire, Utah hospitals have been overwhelmed with mostly unvaccinated patients battling the disease. The new emergency prompted the top leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to issue yet another, even more forceful, message last week to members to wear masks and get vaccinated. Dr. Samuel Brown is witnessing the pandemic's devastating toll up close, and all too personally, as an intensive care unit physician-scientist at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray. Brown, who doubles as a religious historian, is also the author of a new book, “Where the Soul Hungers: One Doctor's Journey From Atheism to Faith.” On this week's show, he talks about his experiences treating COVID-19, his thoughts about fellow Latter-day Saints who choose not to wear masks or be vaccinated, and how the pandemic has affected his faith.
Scaffolding surrounds the Salt Lake Temple. The two visitor centers are no more. The plaza behind the Church Office Building is mainly dirt. Clearly big changes are in store in and around Temple Square, which ranks among Utah's most popular tourist attractions, drawing millions of visitors from near and far every year. You may be wondering what this place in the heart of downtown Salt Lake City will look like when all the work is done. Where will the Christus statue wind up? Will the sculptures of church founder Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum return? And what about the holiday Christmas lights? On this week's show, Ben Metcalf, manager of temple visitors centers for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, talks about this massive makeover and what guests can expect when the four-year project ends.
The New York Times recently took up the topic of temple garments in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The piece focused on Idaho Falls member Sasha Piton, who is urging the church to produce softer, more comfortable and breathable garments, which the faithful wear as a private and personal reminder of their religious commitments. Piton, who posts on Instagram under her moniker, themormonhippie, had shared her concerns about the holy underwear with her more than 25,000 followers. It apparently resonated in Latter-day Saint circles, drawing thousands of comments and private messages. It is just one subject the Mormon millennial discusses on social media. On this week's show, talks about garments, The Times article and other issues for young members of the Utah-based church.
In the 1940s, Trappist monks looked to create new monasteries in unlikely places, places not dominated by Catholics. They found just such a spot in a high mountain valley in Mormon Utah. For 70 years, Holy Trinity Abbey in the scenic Ogden Valley served as a religious refuge, where monks pondered and prayed, worked and worshipped, lived and died. For a young Michael O'Brien, torn by his parents' recent divorce, however, the monastery and his family's frequent trips up “Abbey Road” offered a more personal connection as the monks provided spiritual fathering, committed counseling, timely mentoring, religious role modeling and paths to peace. A now-grown O'Brien, a Catholic who works as an attorney in Salt Lake City and often represents The Salt Lake Tribune in legal matters, captures all that and more in his soon-to-be-released memoir, “Monastery Mornings: My Unusual Boyhood Among the Saints and Monks.”
This week, Utahns and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are remembering the 1847 arrival of Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley. Not everyone, however, believes this epic migration is cause for unmitigated celebration. After all, these settlers ended up displacing Native Americans and transporting slavery to the region. On this week's show, W. Paul Reeve, head of Mormon studies at the University of Utah, and Elise Boxer, coordinator of Native American studies at the University of South Dakota and a Dakota from the Sisseton and Wahpeton bands, discuss how we should treat Pioneer Day.
As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints return to in-person worship after more than a year of COVID-19 restrictions, the question has become: Which pandemic-era changes should stay and which should go? Will members who are homebound or don't feel comfortable in crowds still be able to watch services via Zoom? Will extra health precautions like hand-washing by deacons continue? Will anyone wear masks again, especially during flu season or when germs are prevalent? Rebecca Jensen, a longtime blogger with By Common Consent, wrote recently about those questions and more. On this week's show, she talks about post-pandemic Mormonism.
She was church founder Joseph Smith's first scribe. She created the first Latter-day Saint hymnal. She was the first president of the women's Relief Society. She was, indeed, the faith's first first lady. Yet Emma Smith, beloved wife of Joseph Smith, remains a mystery to many members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Jennifer Reeder, a historian for the Utah-based church, seeks to break through that mystery and the myth in her new biography, appropriately titled “First: The Life and Faith of Emma Smith,” revealing Emma's undying love for her prophet-husband and her feeling of betrayal at his practice of polygamy, exploring her painful loss of young babies and her lifelong commitment to surviving children, examining her fractious relationship with Brigham Young and the Utah church and her eventual embrace of the Reorganized Church (now called the Community of Christ). On this week's show, Reeder talks about Emma Smith, the “elect lady” of early Mormonism.
In an unexpected and bold move, President Russell M. Nelson announced a partnership with the NAACP in 2018 — just days before The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrated the 40th anniversary of the end of its centurylong priesthood and temple ban on Black members. In recent weeks, the Utah-based faith elevated this unlikely alliance with the nation's oldest civil rights organization by unveiling nearly $10 million in scholarships and humanitarian aid. On this week's show, NAACP President Derrick Johnson talks about how the former foes — the church once barred Black members from holding its priesthood or entering its temples —became friends, why this evolving relationship is important, and where it is headed.
A recent U.S. survey found that more than a fifth of Gen Zers who self-identify as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or other. Nearly that many millennials (19%) do as well. That is almost double the 10% that researchers Jana Riess and Benjamin Knoll found in their 2016 Next Mormons Survey. On this week's show, Knoll, an associate professor of politics at Centre College in Kentucky, and Calvin Burke, an openly gay senior majoring in English at Brigham Young University and a media manager for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, discuss these latest findings and their implications for the Utah-based faith now and into the future.
The Mormon History Association's just-completed annual conference offered the usual smorgasbord of delectable scholarly presentations relating to Mormonism. The 2021 theme for the hybrid in-person and online meeting in Park City was “Restoration, Reunion and Resilience.” There were sessions on polygamy and early Latter-day Saint experiences in Nauvoo, Ill., and Kirtland, Ohio, along with discussions of race, LGBTQ issues and the Mark Hofmann bombings. The historians also recognized that they were gathering in the ancestral lands of several northern bands of the Ute Indian Tribe. In addition, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced plans to rehabilitate the Hill Cumorah, the Manchester, N.Y., spot where founder Joseph Smith said he unearthed gold plates that contained the faith's signature scripture, the Book of Mormon. On this week's show Barbara Jones Brown, the association's executive director, and Jenny Lund, this year's president and director of the church's historic sites, share highlights and insights from the conference and plans for the future.
Editor's note: Due to an error in postproduction, we've replaced a previous version of this episode. Late in 1843, top leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent letters to the five leading candidates for the U.S. presidency, asking each what he would do, if elected, to address the persecution the faith had suffered and to protect it from future repression. Unsatisfied with the responses, they turned to a new candidate: their own prophet, Joseph Smith. Thus began the church founder's quixotic quest for the highest political office in the land that ended with his assassination five months later. While Smith's short-lived, long-shot bid for the White House focused on securing the constitutional rights of religious minorities, he campaigned on a host of other issues as well, including the abolition of slavery, the expansion of the nation's borders, the reestablishment a national bank and the elimination of prisons. Spencer McBride, associate managing historian of the Joseph Smith Papers project, explores that 1844 campaign, including the tug of war between federal power and states' rights, on this week's show and in his new book, “Joseph Smith for President: The Prophet, the Assassins, and the Fight for American Religious Freedom.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sprang from a young boy’s quest for religious truth, so it may seem strange that sizable numbers of its members are falling for political claims that stretch so far from the truth. A recent survey shows, for instance, that 46% of Latter-day Saints believe the “big lie” — that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump. Another poll lists Latter-day Saints — along with white evangelicals and Hispanic Protestants — as the most likely to believe in the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory, alleging that the world is run by a shadowy cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles. Why are so many members and others embracing these outlandish tales? What’s the appeal of such conspiracy theories? Are these strictly about politics or could more be at play? Matthew Bowman, head of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University who will be teaching a class on conspiracy theory in America this fall and who just completed a book about UFO belief for Yale University Press, discusses those questions and more.
As we approach the third anniversary of President Russell M. Nelson’s plea for members, media, academics and all others to start using the full name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and stop using the term “Mormon,” an outside religious scholar is suggesting a, shall we say, different approach. In fact, an opposite approach. Peter Thuesen, in a recent blog post, says the church should instead lean into the Mormon moniker. Use it. Admire it. Embrace it. A religious studies professor at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, Thuesen explains his reasoning and why the church should reconsider its well-known nickname.
Proselytizing has been a hallmark of Mormonism since its founding. It has become common to see pairs of young men, called “elders,” or young women, dubbed “sisters,” sporting black nametags and talking to people about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In recent years, however, the faith’s global evangelizing program has shifted in tactics, especially during the pandemic, with less emphasis on so-called tracting (spreading the word from door to door) and more on technology (seeking and teaching converts online). On this week’s show, David and Kathleen Cook of Rochester, N.Y., talk about innovations they enacted as mission presidents in Chile from 2013 to 2016, their work today as service missionary leaders and the ever-evolving nature of proselytizing and humanitarian service.
For 34 years, the Rev. Tom Goldsmith of Salt Lake City’s First Unitarian Church has been a prominent presence on Utah’s religious landscape. At the helm of his left-leaning congregation, Goldsmith championed social justice causes like immigration reform and climate change. He has shaped his congregation into a refuge for believers who do not feel at home in more conservative faiths, including the LDS Church. Now he is retiring and will give his final sermon Sunday. On this week’s show, he reflects on his ministry, including his dispute with Salt Lake City after it sold a chunk of Main Street to the LDS Church, congregant Tim DeChristopher’s monkey-wrenching of an oil and gas lease auction, and his church providing sanctuary to a Honduran immigrant.
In recent years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has more fully embraced its teachings about Heavenly Mother, but she has been a part of the faith since virtually the beginning. She has long been celebrated in song and verse, but now members and leaders have begun to openly discuss her and debate her qualities. Two Latter-day Saint women, McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding, have written a handful of children’s books about women in scriptures — poets, priestesses and prophets as well as judges and generals — but their most recent works are about Heavenly Mother herself. On this week’s show, Krishna and Spalding discuss their two latest books, “A Girl’s Guide to Heavenly Mother” and “A Boy’s Guide to Heavenly Mother.”
D. Michael Quinn, the noted historian who died last week at 77, had an outsized impact on academic explorations of the church’s past. He was a prodigious researcher, who wrote 10 books and numerous essays. Though a believer in the faith’s founding events, Quinn resigned from church-owned Brigham Young University under pressure and subsequently was excommunicated from the faith in 1993 as part of the famed “September Six” for his writings about women and the priesthood, as well as about post-Manifesto polygamy. On this week’s show, Ross Peterson, retired professor of history at Utah State University and former editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, discusses Quinn’s life and work.
Natasha Helfer, a licensed sex therapist and member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, faced a disciplinary hearing Sunday on her membership status. She was accused of apostasy for her public stances on masturbation, same-sex marriage and pornography, positions she says are consistent with the consensus in the mental health community. Due to procedural differences, Helfer wound up not attending the hearing, so the council took place without her. On this week’s show, Latter-day Saint sex therapist Jennifer Finlayson-Fife and a friend of Helfer, discusses those topics and the effect this move by church leaders may have on mental health professionals and their Latter-day Saint patients.
His father died when he was 7 years old. Raised by his mother and his maternal grandparents, he committed himself to hard work and diligent scholarship. He became a star student, earned a degree at one of the nation’s most prestigious law schools and launched a legal career that would see him rise to the Utah Supreme Court with whispers that he someday could land a seat on the country’s highest court. Then, virtually overnight, Dallin H. Oaks changed his life’s trajectory, trading his career in the law for a commitment to his Lord. He accepted a call to be an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a lifetime appointment in which he now stands as the top counselor to President Russell M. Nelson and next in line to assume leadership of the global faith. On this week’s show, historian Richard Turley, talks about his recently released biography, “In the Hands of the Lord: The Life Story of Dallin H. Oaks,” which documents the personal journey of a church leader known for his devotion to religious liberty, his doctrinal dissections and his pointed preaching from the pulpit.
General Conference for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was, for the third straight time, all-virtual due to the pandemic. That didn’t stop it from being timely and topical. Those who tuned in heard about Christ and the resurrection (especially on Easter Sunday), the faith’s international footprint, repeated recognitions that most of the 16.6 million members are single, condemnations of cyberbullying and racist attacks, and an extensive exploration of the Constitution and the bounds of partisan politics. And only two women spoke. On this week’s podcast, Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess, author of “The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church,” looks back at the highlights, lowlights and memorable moments from conference and what some of them may portend the church’s future.
James Huntsman, a member of a prominent Latter-day Saint family, recently accused The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of fraud and sued to recover millions of dollars in tithing. Huntsman alleges that the global faith has “repeatedly and publicly lied” about its use of billions of dollars in member donations solicited to pay for missionary work, temple-building and other educational and charitable operations. Citing a whistleblower’s much-publicized IRS complaint about the church’s $100 billion “rainy day” fund, Huntsman’s federal lawsuit states that millions instead went toward commercial enterprises. On this week’s podcast, Sam Brunson, a Latter-day Saint and a tax law professor at Loyola University in Chicago, talks about the lawsuit, the church’s investment reserves, its tax implications and the faith’s finances.
For the past year, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, like others around the world, have dealt with a health care crisis that is both personal and societal. Even without the coronavirus pandemic, however, members face moral choices about medical issues throughout their lives. They must decide whether to continue a doomed pregnancy, whether to test a fetus for a genetic disorder, whether to vaccinate their children for sexually transmitted diseases, or whether to discontinue treatment of a dying parent. As they grapple with these personal questions — as well as the ethical questions surrounding health and healing in society at large — many people look to principles spelled out in their religion to provide answers and moral guidance. Latter-day Saints may turn to their 96-year-old prophet-president, Russell M. Nelson, who is a former heart surgeon with respect for medical and scientific wisdom. On this week’s podcast, Courtney Campbell, a philosophy professor of religion and culture at Oregon State University and author of the recently published “Mormonism, Medicine, and Bioethics,” examines these medical topics — from abortion to birth control to vaccines and end-of-life care — and makes his case for why Latter-day Saints should support universal health care.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced that it will discontinue the “live” presentation of a religious ritual known as the “endowment” in its iconic Salt Lake Temple. Instead of members acting out the scripted roles of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, for instance, a film version used in other temples will be shown. The faith’s governing First Presidency also said that historic wall murals, which help set the tone and understanding of the ceremony, had been removed. Similar changes are planned for the Manti Temple, which houses a Mormon masterpiece by artist Minerva Teichert. The moves sparked an outcry from preservationists and many church members. Here to talk about the changes is Jody England Hansen, who served as a volunteer worker in the Salt Lake Temple before it closed to undergo renovation.
A new documentary, “Murder Among the Mormons,” has become a big hit this month on Netflix. It recounts the 1980s story of document forger Mark Hofmann, who tried to upset the traditional historical narrative regarding the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by producing fake artifacts. When he got entangled by his own financial double-dealing, Hofmann attempted to cover up his counterfeiting by setting off separate bombs that killed one of his clients, Steve Christensen, and Kathy Sheets, the wife of Christensen’s former business partner. He then injured himself in a third blast. The three-part series offers not only a riveting whodunit dissection of deadly crimes but also a fascinating exploration of Mormon history. On this week’s podcast, co-director Jared Hess, of “Napoleon Dynamite” fame, discusses the documentary, the haunting footage the filmmakers found, the phony discoveries Hofmann pulled off (including the big one he was plotting to peddle before his crimes unraveled), the callous calculations revealed in the mind of this killer, and the lessons Latter-day Saints and their leaders can take away from the whole sad saga.
Brigham Young University released a 64-page report from a faculty committee last week on “Race, Equity and Belonging” at the Provo school. It exposed widespread and significant concerns about the mistreatment of minority students who attend the private university owned by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many students of color end up transferring or dropping out as a result of experiences that “left many disillusioned, brokenhearted and struggling.” The report noted that “current systems at the university are inadequate for coordinating services for students seeking assistance with challenges related to race” and recommended 26 changes as “first steps” toward addressing the problems. On this week’s podcast, BYU law professor Michalyn Steele, the committee’s only Native American, discussed the report and why she remains optimistic that meaningful changes will occur to make the school a better place for all.
Michelle and John Amos are both converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Both are graduates of Southern University, a historic Black college. And both are high-powered engineers. Michelle worked for NASA for 30 years, including as part of the team that developed the Mars 2020 rover. Her husband, John, after a 21-year career with the Navy and Navy Reserve, became an engineering director at the global company Siemens Energy. Now the Amoses are overseeing more than 200 young Latter-day Saints as they lead the church’s Louisiana Baton Rouge Mission. During this last week of Black History Month, the couple talk about their conversion, their careers, their mission and their perspectives about racial issues in their faith.
For more than a quarter century, Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Kirby poked fun at Mormon history, practices, culture and members themselves, including one particular member: Robert Kirby. His brand of comical commentary brought not only winces and complaints but also personal insights and even community healing. He reached out to crime victims and those who had lost loved ones. He officiated at LGBTQ weddings. Mostly, though, his musings elicited laughter. He brought a lovable irreverence to reverent things. A former police officer, he joked about being a beat cop in the Celestial Kingdom. He boasted that he could “beat up”an aging Gordon B. Hinckley. And his piece about “five kinds of Mormons” is seen as a classic of Latter-day Saint satire. Now, after thousands of columns and millions of chuckles, Kirby is calling it quits. He’s retiring. So brace yourselves, listeners, as he joins us today via Zoom from his holding cell in Herriman to talk about his career as the nation’s only religion humor newspaper columnist.
For the past 25-plus years, it has been the policy at Brigham Young University that it is OK to be gay, but not to act on it. That echoes the position taken by the school’s owner, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There are clearly BYU students who are open about their LGBTQ identity while living the church’s standard of celibacy. But what about faculty and bosses? Ben Schilaty is a licensed therapist and BYU Honor Code administrator who has written his story in a newly released book titled “A Walk in My Shoes: Questions I’m Often Asked as a Gay Latter-day Saint,” put out by the church’s publishing house, Deseret Book. In this week’s show, Schilaty — who co-hosts with former Cougar mascot Charlie Bird the “Questions From the Closet” podcast — talks about coming to terms with his sexual orientation, his falling in love with another man, his commitment to living as a devout Latter-day Saint, the evolution of church LGBTQ policies, BYU’s short-lived Honor Code change, and his work at the faith’s flagship school.
In 2018, John Paul Bellum came up with a Twitter hashtag, #DezNat, which stands for Deseret Nation, to help like-minded conservatives within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints find one another on social media. Bellum said he was hoping to rally members willing to defend the faith, its leaders, its history, its doctrines and especially its teachings on the family — all of which he saw as under attack online. Since then, #DezNat has been used in hundreds of thousands of tweets, including some with memes threatening violence toward perceived critics. On this week’s podcast, researcher Mary Ann Clements, who has tracked and written about #DezNat for the Latter-day Saint blog Wheat & Tares, discusses this internet movement, its origins, its purposes, its evolution, its ideas about race, its place in online Mormon culture, the fears some of the posts engender, and the LDS Church’s response to these messages.
In his new book, “Restoration: God’s Call to the 21st-Century World,” scholar Patrick Mason explains how 16.5 million members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can — with help from the billions of others across the globe — “renovate the world.” Mason emphasizes that while Mormonism’s “ongoing restoration” is more about looking forward than backward, the church and its members must discard some historical and cultural baggage, including racism, sexism and colonialism, to reach its ultimate destination. He also calls on Latter-day Saints to take up the cause of the “Messiah of the marginalized” and lift all the children of their Heavenly Parents. Mason, head of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, joins this week’s podcast to talk about his book, these topics and more.
As it prepares to welcome a new president, the United States, a land of prophecy and promise to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, stands at a momentous moment. A defeated, disgraced and divisive president has become the first commander in chief to be impeached twice. A violent mob has desecrated the People’s House, eroding the very foundation of democracy. And, amid threats of more unrest, a shaken nation tiptoes into the future with as much trepidation as hope. One Latter-day Saint who, perhaps more than any other, can bring insight to this turbulent time is former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid. The longtime Democrat served in Congress for 34 years, including eight years as Senate majority leader, the highest federal office ever achieved by a Latter-day Saint, before retiring in 2017. On this week’s podcast, Reid recounts his early days as a Capitol Police officer, the pain he felt seeing the place he labored for so many years being ransacked, and why he believes top church leaders, perhaps the governing First Presidency, need to warn members to beware of aligning with “fringe” groups and causes, adding that Latter-day Saints who take part in this insurrection are giving the faith a bad name.
In a wide-ranging interview published in Sunday’s Salt Lake Tribune, revered Mormon historian Richard Bushman, author of the acclaimed Joseph Smith biography “Rough Stone Rolling,” talked at length about his childhood in Oregon, his mission in New England and his education at Harvard, where he wrestled with his faith in God. He also discussed the mystery of the gold plates, from which the Book of Mormon sprang, his understanding of truth, and his perspectives on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — its past, present and future. Bushman discusses those topics and more on this week’s podcast.
This year’s global pandemic brought extraordinary actions inside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Worship services were halted. Temples were closed. Missionaries were released, recalled and reassigned. Humanitarian outreach reached record levels. And there was much more: Major denunciations of racism were given. Changes to church practices and parlance were announced. A new symbol and proclamation were unveiled. Patrick Mason, head of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, discusses the year in Mormonism on this week’s show and what it all may mean moving forward for the global faith.
The group FairMormon is dedicated to defending The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from critics and rebutting falsehoods about the faith’s history and theology. FairMormon is particularly concerned about the influence of a 2013 volume called the “CES Letter,” which provides a long list of what it sees as problems with the church’s descriptions of its past, including founder Joseph Smith, his “First Vision,” translation of the Book of Mormon and polygamy. So FairMormon enlisted a handful of Brigham Young University actors and writers to produce satirical videos with essentially a twofold mission: Tear down the “CES Letter” and build up these younger members. Will the mocking nature of these videos work? What is the best way to tackle controversial aspects of Mormon history? On this week’s shows, Michael Austin, a Latter-day Saint writer, BYU alumnus and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Evansville, where he works every day with college students, addresses those questions and more.
In a lengthy essay in The Atlantic posted online Wednesday, reporter McKay Coppins explores The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its history as “The Most American Religion.” In a subtitle, the article states: “Perpetual outsiders, Mormons spent 200 years assimilating to a certain national ideal — only to find their country is in an identity crisis. What will the third century of the faith look like?” Coppins’ piece looks backward and forward, not as a dispassionate observer, but through his own lens as a practicing Latter-day Saint. He talks with scholars and politicians, insiders and outsiders, leaders and laypeople, even church President Russell M. Nelson. In this week’s podcast, Coppins talks about the path Mormonism has followed and what steps the Utah-based faith could — and should — take as it treads into its next hundred years.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted a video this week from apostle Dale G. Renlund in which he pleaded with members to put on masks and put off assembling in large gatherings in response to the coronavirus pandemic. “Wearing a face covering,” he said, “is a sign of Christlike love for our brothers and sisters.” Renlund, a former cardiologist, emphasized that he was speaking not as a physician, but as an apostle, a position of great respect within the Utah-based faith. His words were just the latest in a series of statements and actions by top church leaders in support of public health guidelines. Still, they triggered strong debate between Latter-day Saints who support mask-wearing and those who don’t. A key question: Are so-called anti-maskers among the church’s membership guilty of not following their prophet? The short answer is yes, according to Latter-day Saint writer Emily Jensen, the web editor for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Jensen discusses that question and the wider implications for the church in this week’s podcast.
In the not-too-distant future, the United States and other nations will have a vaccination available, thankfully, for COVID-19, which has killed more than 1.5 million people and altered millions of more lives. But besides the issue of who will get the vaccination first looms another question: Who will be willing to get it? Debates about the value and efficacy of vaccines — as well as the socioeconomics of those who will get them and those who won’t — have raged throughout the 20th century and into the 21st. Such a debate took place in the early 1900s in Utah over the smallpox vaccine, dividing prominent community members, leaders and Latter-day Saints, including top church authorities and the editor of the church-owned Deseret News. On this week’s podcast, Ben Cater — who teaches history at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego and has written about the religious politics at play in public health during the Progressive Era in Utah — revisits that period and how it may parallel our current times.
As a global faith leader, President Russell M. Nelson urged members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last week to “flood social media” with posts about gratitude — even as he acknowledged the pain of the coronavirus pandemic that has plagued the world. In response, throngs of Latter-day Saints have done so. Some might even see it as a religious obligation. But it’s not just a good religious act. Therapists see the expression of gratitude as good for mental health, too. On this week’s show, Marybeth Raynes, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist in Salt Lake City, discusses the benefits of giving thanks.
In October 1969, 14 African American players for the University of Wyoming planned to sport black armbands in a football game against Brigham Young University to protest the then-priesthood/temple ban on Blacks in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (that ban ended in 1978). Their coach booted them off the team hours before kickoff. Now, more than 50 years later, the “Black 14,” as they have been called, are actually teaming up with the LDS Church, to bring 180 tons of food to people in need in nine U.S. cities stretching from Maryland to Wyoming. On this week’s podcast, Mel Hamilton, one of the original Black 14 whose son actually converted to Mormonism, talks about the experience, past and present.
Before the presidential election, some pollsters and pundits suggested that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might play a key role — despite their relatively small numbers. Indeed, many members became actively involved on one side or the other, forming groups like Latter-day Saints for Trump and Latter-day Saints for Biden. They seemed especially visible in Western swing states like Nevada and Arizona. So, for instance, did Latter-day Saints help turn the traditionally red Grand Canyon State blue? Quin Monson, a Brigham Young University political science professor who also is a partner at Y2 Analytics, gives a “qualified yes” to that question. He offers more insights on Latter-day Saint voters and how their partisan leanings have changed — and may change — on this week’s podcast.
Most bishops of a Latter-day Saint congregation give the church five years of their lives as they shepherd the spiritual and even temporal well-being of hundreds of families and individuals in their area. Because they are volunteers, that means they do this while holding a full-time job as well as taking care of the needs of their own families and loved ones. Ross Trewhella, however, served his Latter-day Saint parishioners in Cornwall, United Kingdom, for 12 years — almost unheard of for a bishop in modern Mormonism. In this week’s podcast, he reflects on the highs and the lows, the challenges and the rewards, the members and the memories after more than a decade of service — and how he feels now about relinquishing his seat at the front of the chapel.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints used to be more evenly split between the two major political parties, even supporting Democrats Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson for U.S. president. But something happened in the 1960s. Latter-day Saints began moving to the right and eventually became a reliably Republican voting bloc, a trend that continues to this day. Though there were many social factors behind this shift, one high-placed church leader may have helped shape Mormon political views for decades. His name: Ezra Taft Benson. A Latter-day Saint apostle and onetime church president, Benson held political positions that went further right than mainstream Republicans. He spoke out against communism — even calling Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “Communists” — considered running on a presidential ticket with ardent segregationist George Wallace, and wanted to name a member of the right-wing John Birch Society to the faith’s top quorums. But he got plenty of pushback for linking politics and religion from other church leaders including David O. McKay, Gordon B. Hinckley and Boyd K. Packer. Matthew Harris, author of “Watchman on the Tower: Ezra Taft Benson and the Making of the Mormon Right” and a history professor at Colorado State University in Pueblo, joins us today via Zoom to talk about Benson and his influence on Latter-day Saint politics. Matthew, welcome.