Mormon News Report: 27 June 2017

Mormon News Report: 27 June 2017

12-year-old girl
No part of me is a mistake’ – 12-year-old US girl comes out in Mormon church
If you aren’t living on the Mormon internet like the rest of us, the story of 12-year old Savannah bearing a testimony in church (where she came out as gay), having her mic cut, and the subsequent aftermath might not have hit your radar. I’m behind a bit on this, as it really blew up last week (with coverage from EVERYONE). Here’s a few stories to get you caught up: The BBC has coverage here, US World & News Report has their coverage here, and Elna Baker (fellow Mormon) wrote an OpEd in the New York Times here.

Forgive me, but I’m going to paste what I wrote on social media about the aftermath: In an ideal world, this is used as a training moment not just for that bishopric / stake presidency, but for all throughout the world. In an ideal world, bishops, stake presidents and other ecclesiastical leaders talk about the “elephant in the room” of being LGBTQ and faithful LDS, discuss the purposes and piety of LDS Fast & Testimony meetings, on the different situations that occur during F&T meeting, and how to make sure the inevitable uncomfortable situation where you need to ask someone to end a testimony early can be transformed into a powerful experience instead of a shameful experience.

That’s an ideal world.

Instead, my feeling is that this will continue to be weaponized on either side of the LDS religious spectrum, and specifically from the believing LDS side, will be used as a cautionary tale of retrenchment instead of a constructive case study to spur open and honest discussion.

It’s easier to retreat to our own camps and echo chambers (on either side) where we will be “safe” rather than putting ourselves out there, seeing it from the other side, and coming to the middle.

I really like GetReligion, especially when they cover Mormon topics. Their whole purpose is to see how the media covers religion, and if they “get religion” while they are covering it. I find they don’t evangelize, and are focused much more on the quality of reporting vs. a specific agenda. Julia Duin weighs in on Savannah’s testimony (and the subsequent coverage), and writes “There are all kinds of journalism challenges in this story: The big questions are whether the CNN team is actually interested in what is going on right now, in terms of Mormons adapting some – repeat, “some” – of their doctrines to the LGBTQ age. Also, there is this: How stable is the sexual identity of a 12-year-old female?” While I have some disagreements with the conclusions Duin makes regarding the fluidity of Savannah’s sexuality at her age (and it’s weird we’re having that discussion about a 12-year old), Duin’s analysis of the coverage specifically by CNN is very good. Duin links to a FAIRMormon article on Savannah and Fast & Testimony meetings, and writes “For anyone interested, here is the Mormon view of what these meetings entail and why a fair number of Mormons feel that Savannah chose the wrong place to make her statement. And no matter how articulate and passionate this tween was, should the reporter have pressed the mother more on why the child was being used to make such a point? It was not an easy story to do but a few more questions could have been asked.” I’m not seeing this story pop up on the newswires much this week, but I can also see this story having legs for maybe another week as other outlets offer their take. I’m just saying it’s a very complex issue on every side of the aisle, and simplifying and weaponize Savannah doesn’t do anyone any good.
Nervous about your Muslim neighbors? Then invite them over for dinner (Deseret News)
Three years ago, the Pew Research Center released a “feelings thermometer” survey which looked at the feelings of the US population towards certain religious groups (0 = coldest or negative, 100 = hottest or positive). Mormons were at 48 (3rd lowest), while Muslims were at 40 (lowest). However, the survey found that if you knew someone from that religious group, your rating went up. For example, Mormons went from a 48 to a 53 if someone was personally familiar with a Mormon (and down to a 44 if they had no familiarity). Muslims went from a 40 to a 49 if someone was personally familiar with them (and down to a 35 if they were unfamiliar). Kelsey Dallas writes “Walking through her ward’s gymnasium on that night in early June, catching snippets of conversation about school activities and family members, [event co-host Kristen] Hodges was amazed by how quickly barriers between people had broken down. “I saw people sitting at tables with people who were new to them,” she said. They asked and answered questions about religion and chatted about dessert options.” Food really is the great barrier breaker.
Lucy Mack Smith’s “History of Joseph Smith by his Mother,” at least among academic circles, isn’t considered the most reliable account of the life of Joseph Smith – it doesn’t stand the test of academic rigor. Elizabeth Reid writes that Susan Evans McCloud’s “Stories of Lucy Mack Smith: Mother of the Restoration” “attempts to give greater detail of Lucy Mack Smith’s history by retelling many of the happenings” in Smith’s other books. Credit where credit is due, however – Reid writes “Also, there are several instances throughout the book where McCloud takes too much literary license and assumes certain feelings were expressed or felt when historical records don’t indicate any such emotions. While this book is interesting, it is mostly a retelling of what has already been written in the past with scant new information for LDS history lovers.” I haven’t read the book, but at 90 pages, that’s about my feelings as well.
Elder Sitati talked with media members about the Nairobi, Kenya temple and participated in a panel discussion to answer questions about temples and the Church.
Artifacts exhibited include the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon, an 1830 first edition of the Book of Mormon, a couple of rare Mormon gold coins, and two Kirtland Safety Society notes from 1837. Some very interesting items, especially the Kirtland Safety Society notes (as the failure of the Kirtland Safety Society was a major point in the early LDS Church). An interesting quote: “In my opinion, the original manuscript is the most important record in possession of the Church,” said Brandon Metcalf, archivist at the Church History Department. “This is the first time we’ve ever loaned a page of the original manuscript because it is so rare. Many of the pages that did survive are illegible, and so it’s one of our most treasured collections.”
As if national political polarization isn’t bad enough, my view is that religious polarizartion in Utah is increasing as well. Utah is 62.8% Mormon, while Salt Lake County is 50.07% and neighboring Utah County stands at 84.7%. Matt Martinich, who covers Mormon demographics, told the Trib’s Matt Canham “Salt Lake County … has become increasingly more cosmopolitan, housing has become more expensive, and the church has overall really struggled in urban areas,” said Martinich, who lives in Colorado. Whereas, Utah County has bigger homes that often are cheaper, attracting younger Mormon families who also may want to live near others from the same religion. For Mormons deciding where to live, Martinich suggests that Salt Lake County “is just culturally less attractive, economically less attractive, socially less attractive.”
Interesting legwork by Christopher Cunningham of Mormon Hub, who looked at 6 LDS senators and their stance on the new proposed health care bill. Among the six, Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) was non-commital, Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) has “pinned his vote to a pending analysis from the Congressional Budget Office,” Dean Heller (R-Nevada) “appears to be one of the more hesitant GOP supporters of the bill,” Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) is opposed, Mike Lee (R-Utah) is opposed, and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who helped draft the bill, was also non-committal.
Image result for child skull mountain meadows massacre
Mountain Meadows has always been hard to write about. This story isn’t much easier – and I don’t know if the Massacre saga will ever fully end.
A BYU graduate who is a former CIA officer sold secret documents to Chinese intelligence officials, according to charges filed this week in federal court. WHOOPS.
“LDS Church colleges and universities have finalized an amnesty policy that shields student victims and witnesses of sexual assault from honor code investigations, BYU announced Friday. The policy, also adopted at BYU-Idaho, BYU-Hawaii and LDS Business College, is intended to encourage students to report assaults without concern that the Honor Code Office might punish them for violations that could be uncovered during an assault investigation. BYU also announced that nearly 43 percent of students completed a campus climate survey about perceptions and issues related to sexual assault.”
BYU-Idaho campus
From an official notice emailed to BYU-Idaho students on Friday, June 23, two items stand out to me: “The appropriate campus office for reporting sexual misconduct is the Title IX Office, not the Student Honor Office. The Title IX Office will not share information regarding a victim or witness with the Student Honor Office.” I’m glad they are making it explicitly clear that the Title IX office is the correct place for students to report this – and I would hope the Honor Code office has received direct and clear instructions that students should be directed to the Title IX office and they should not be involved. Second, “BYU-Idaho’s Sexual Misconduct Policy is currently being revised to include an amnesty statement to encourage the reporting of any form of sexual misconduct. That formal change in policy will take some time; but for now, please know that anyone who reports an incident of sexual misconduct to the Title IX Office will not be disciplined by the university for any Honor Code violations occurring at or near the time of the reported misconduct. Being a victim of sexual misconduct is never considered a violation of the Honor Code, and we want victims to seek the help they want and need without any concern about their status as a student.” It’s about time.
Image result for lds church in cuba
The LDS Church now has a district in Cuba. Peggy Fletcher Stack follows up with LDS demographer Matt Martinich about what’s next for Cuba and the Church.
In this post – a Mormon site who thinks Mormons are downright hilarious. Spoiler alert – this isn’t a good example of that.
Imagine Dragons
Dan Reynolds also talked about his feelings on the LDS Church and the current LGBT climate surrounding the church with Billboard’s Brian Anthony Hernandez: He talks extensively about his feelings regarding the current state of LGBT / Mormon relations, and talked a lot about his Love Loud concert taking place August 26 in Provo Utah, featuring Steve & Barb Young, Imagine Dragons, Neon Trees, Tyler Glenn, and more. He has a lot to say about everything going on with the LDS Church and the LGBT community, so much so that I can’t quote it all, but it’s definitely a must-read.
The opening pages of an 1869 copy of <em>The Book of Mormon</em>, printed in Deseret.
Travel site Atlas Obscura picks up on the Deseret Alphabet and the very interesting history behind the language system designed to simply spelling and bridge language barriers.
Content Warning – this will discuss pornography consumption with a Mormon connection. The Mormon connection here is mostly for the state of Utah. PornHub released statistics about gay pornography consumption, and found that 5.1% of all pageviews on PornHub were for gay adult pornography. Interestingly, both Idaho and Utah’s search terms compared to the rest of the United States painted an interesting picture – Idaho was 437% to search for gay pornography with the term “”Mormon,”” while Utah was 837% more likely to search for gay pornography with the term “”Mormon.”” “
I love this kind of data stuff – via Lauren Markoe of Religion News Service: In 2015, 58% of Mormons favored allowing a small business owner in their state to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people, if doing so violates their religious beliefs, compared to 38% opposing the statement (sample size of 740 respondents). In 2016, 42% favored the statement while 52% opposed the statement. “But in the new 2016 survey…Mormons showed the second-highest rates of approval. About 42 percent of Mormons backed businesspeople who deny services in the latest survey, as opposed to the 58 percent who favored them the previous year.”
Rockers Dan Reynolds and Wayne Sermon of Imagine Dragons (fellow Mormons) sat with Michel Martin of NPR to talk the newest album, and … naturally … Mormonism came up. Concerning his current faith, Reynolds said “But as far as faith — it never came easy for me. And in fact, I really struggled with believing in Mormonism since I was young. I grew up in a large family — eight boys, one girl — and everybody went on missions and everybody seemed to be super full of faith. And for me, I really had a hard time believing in anything, even a God.”
So this could be interesting – Stephen Kerr is a British Conservative politician who has been a Member of Parliament (MP) since June 2017. He’s also a fellow Mormon, including serving as the “National Priesthood Chairman of the Public Affairs Committee for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints,” and creating a Stregic Plan for Great Britian. The Sunday Herald is reporting that “gay men were ‘outed’ by homophobic church leaders when Kerr was a high-ranking figure in the church,” and has called on Kerr to clarify whether or not he supports equality.This is a continuing back-and-forth between Kerr and the Herald, and will be interesting to see if they continue to pursue Kerr.
From “Police Monday sought the public’s help in tracking down an approximately 50-year-old man who sexually assaulted a girl outside a church in Riverside. The attack occurred about 2:30 p.m. Sunday in a trash bin area outside the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at 5900 Grand Ave. “The investigation determined a juvenile female victim was pulled into an enclosed dumpster area by an unknown adult male suspect,” police said. “After a sexual assault occurred, the victim was able to get away from the suspect.””
Today in history, Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith were assassinated at Carthage Jail (1844) via the Boston Globe
Mormons Behaving Badly: “An 81-year-old Orem karate instructor who encouraged young men to get their Eagle Scout awards and go on Mormon missions was charged Monday with sex crimes against a 14-year-old girl. Kenneth Higa is charged in 4th District Court with two counts of object rape, a first-degree felony, and two counts of sex abuse of a minor, a third-degree felony. On four occasions between Dec. 1, 2016 and June 25, Higa inappropriately touched one of his students while giving her a massage during private karate lessons, according to charging documents.”
Sister Barbara Ann Woodhead Winder, former Relief Society general president for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died on June 25, at the age of 86.
For those of you in New York City, the first “Mormon Arts Center Festival” will take place this year from June 29 – July 1. The Deseret News has highlights of some of the art and artists to be featured.
A woman uses social media on her laptop
Mormons on social media can be both fun and awful. If you want to see some of the best and worst, check out the hashtags provided by the Mormon Hub
Richard NW Lambert, vice chairman of Mormon Historic Sites and a retired assistant United States attorney, makes the pitch in the Deseret News that George A. Smith “desereves to be remembered and celebrated.” Lambert goes through Smith’s history both in the Utah legislature (19 years) and his Mormon history. A great bit of history from a great scholar.
Fellow Mormon and U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) announced on Twitter yesterday his father, Dean Flake, passed away at the age of 85.
Homelessness in Utah is becoming more and more of a talking point – we covered some of the passionate town hall meetings happening early in 2017 (or was it late 2016? I should really be covering Mormon news more…) in Utah regarding homeless shelters in certain cities, and Jon Ogden (writing in the Deseret News) weighs in on the moral imperative to helping the homeless.