Latest from Mormon Land: A class for questioning members; famed mural finds new home

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 exclusive access to Tribune subscriber-only religion content, extended newsletters, podcast transcripts and more.

You have questions? Is this class the answer?

The church’s Gospel Topics essays tackle some of the thornier aspects of its history and teachings.

Did founder Joseph Smith translate the faith’s foundational scripture, the Book of Mormon, by peering at a rock in a hat? Did members abandon polygamy in 1890? Did Brigham Young order the Mountain Meadows Massacre? Do Latter-day Saints believe in a Heavenly Mother and that humans can become like God?

These provocative pieces addressed questions raised by, among others, skeptical outsiders and committed critics.

Now, a new institute class aims to do the same — for young Latter-day Saints.

The course, titled “Answering My Gospel Questions,” is intended to help students examine and discuss specific questions they have, and learn how to find answers from reliable sources.

“This course is part of a larger effort to meet the needs of young adults in inviting and relevant ways,” Chad Webb, administrator of seminaries and institutes, says in a news release. “It will allow them to faithfully address current questions and issues.”

The first lesson acknowledges that “many” young adults have questions about the church’s doctrine, teachings, policies and history. “This lesson will provide students with the opportunity to explore different sources provided by the church to address their questions,” the teacher manual states. “They will also consider why these sources are trustworthy.”

Sources are key. Patrick Mason, head of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, recently told The Salt Lake Tribune that those researching church history, for instance, should stick with primary sources and the work of professional historians.

“Go look at the original stuff and make your own judgments,” he said. “Don’t just rely on what somebody on the internet happened to say about it.”

The sixth lesson, on diversity and unity in the global faith, reminds students that they “belong to an international church that encompasses a variety of cultures, races, nationalities and languages.”

It includes a video of Black Latter-day Saint Darius Gray, co-founder of the Genesis Group, explaining the beauty of diversity.

“If you look around you don’t see just one type of flower with one color. … You have all of the diversity of the field, every variety of flora and fauna out there, and God is the author, whether it’s the fishes of the sea, the fowl of the air. God loves diversity,” Gray says. “He created me as I am. You, whomever you are, as you are. Relish it. Take pride in it. … Know that God positioned you for what you were and are so that you might learn and share the positives of that experience with others. Diversity is good.”

The next eight lessons focus on topics chosen by class members. They are encouraged to turn to resources found on the church’s “Newsroom, Guide to the Scriptures, General Conference, Life Help or Topics pages.”

Those Topics pages cover subjects ranging from abortion to Zion, garments to the Godhead, polygamy to priesthood, the Word of Wisdom to women in the church.

By Common Consent blogger Emily Jensen points to the new class as a possible response — and help — to waves of young people leaving the faith.

“The church understands the tsunami coming at them,” she writes, “if this new institute class is any indicator.”

She also discusses this in the latest “Mormon Land” podcast.

World’s fair mural finds a permanent home

(Courtesy of Brigham Young University-Idaho)
This “Purpose of Life” mural, which appeared at the Osaka World Expo in 1970. is now on display at the BYU-Idaho Center.

The church’s “Purpose of Life” mural is being repurposed.

The well-known artwork, which turned heads and some hearts at the New York World’s Fair in the mid-1960s, is now part of a permanent exhibit at the Brigham Young University-Idaho Center.

It is joined by the Japanese “Purpose of Life” mural that wowed and wooed viewers at the Osaka World Expo in 1970.

“The displays at the Mormon Pavilion really made an impact on how people perceived the church, and it led to a lot of growth for the church,” Kyoung DaBell, curator at the BYU-Idaho Jacob Spori Art Gallery, said in a news release from the Rexburg school. “These events forever changed the perception of the church worldwide.”

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Images from the murals — depicting a person’s journey from a premortal realm with God, through key moments in mortality and an ultimate return to the hands of the Almighty — made frequent appearances in church manuals and pamphlets, and a short film, “Man’s Search for Happiness,” featured at the New York fair became a proselytizing staple for years to come. The original movie is still available online as is the 1986 remake.

We thank thee, O God, for new lyrics?

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
A young woman plays a hymn on the piano from the church’s Spanish hymnbook. Many members have thoughts about what they’d like to see in the new hymnal being developed.

When the church’s long-awaited and long-debated revised hymnal reaches the pews, many Latter-day Saints yearn to see not just fresh songs but also new tones in old tunes.

One blogger, for instance, would welcome tweaked verses in one of the faith’s standards.

“I’m really not a fan of the lyrics in “We Thank Thee, O God, for a Prophet” that celebrate how the wicked people are about to get their comeuppance,” argues Ziff, the pen name for a writer at the Zelophehad’s Daughters website. “I’m thinking here of these lines: ‘The wicked who fight against Zion / Will surely be smitten at last’ [and] ‘While they who reject this glad message / Shall never such happiness know.’”

The writer sees these phrases as holdovers from the church’s persecuted past, adding “that they feel way out of place” in the current climate.

From The Tribune

• On this week’s “Mormon Land,” Emily Jensen, web editor for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, and her 17-year-old daughter, Cecily, discuss why young Latter-day Saints leave the faith, how parents should respond, and what the church is or could be doing to help.

Listen to the podcast.

(Courtesy; Copyright © 2022 Noah Van Sciver) This panel from Noah Van Sciver’s “Joseph Smith and the Mormons” covers Joseph Smith explaining plural marriage to his wife Emma Smith.

• With this month’s release of “Joseph Smith and the Mormons,” readers can explore the life of the church founder through the eyes — and artwork — of acclaimed graphic novelist Noah Van Sciver, who grew up Latter-day Saint and concedes that there are “uncomfortable” parts to Smith’s story “that I don’t really know how to make comfortable.”

Read the story.

• In issuing a spirited plea Wednesday from Rome for a global push to protect faith freedoms, Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the church’s governing First Presidency, cautioned that “religious rights cannot be absolute.”

Read the story.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints)
President Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, delivers a keynote address at the Notre Dame Religious Liberty Summit in Rome on July 20, 2022.

• Tribune columnist Gordon Monson tackles a big question: Where do LGBTQ individuals fall in Mormonism’s eternal plan?

Read his column.

• After BYU’s speech program stopped providing gender-affirming voice therapy to transgender clients, its accreditation appeared in doubt. But a national group has decided the school still meets its standards.

Read the story.

• Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess sees President Russell M. Nelson’s effort to excise use of the “Mormon” moniker as another step in assimilating the faith into the religious mainstream.

Read her column.

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