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Latest from Mormon Land: New biography examines how Emma Smith felt ‘betrayed’ by Joseph’s polygamy

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 this free newsletter in your inbox? Subscribe here.

Emma, we hardly knew ye

A second new book takes a look at Mormonism’s first couple.

Last week, we reported on “Know Brother Joseph,” a recently released compilation of essays about church founder Joseph Smith.

This week, we focus on his beloved wife, the faith’s first first lady.

Appropriately titled “First: The Life and Faith of Emma Smith,” church historian Jennifer Reeder turns to letters Emma wrote to Joseph, minutes from church meetings, documents brought to light in the groundbreaking Joseph Smith Papers project and more artifacts to paint a fresh portrait of this “elect lady.”

“I wanted to write a book not putting Emma on a pedestal but examining the complexities of her life,” Reeder told By Common Consent blogger Jonathan Stapley. “I wanted to make Emma real, and in a sense, relieving readers of the binary views of Emma as either the perfect wife of Joseph or the woman who left the church. I was serious and honest and open about her complications.”

It wasn’t easy either, especially since Emma never left a journal.

Published by church-owned Deseret Book, “First” tackles head-on some touchy topics, including Emma’s take on polygamy.

Her editors urged her to “write freely and clearly about polygamy and what happened to Emma after Joseph’s death,” Reeder says. “… Plural marriage didn’t just affect her relationship with Joseph, it spread throughout Relief Society and post-martyrdom” and “left Emma feeling betrayed and upset.”

Writes Times and Seasons blogger David Evans of this new volume: “Reeder isn’t blind to Emma’s flaws, but neither does she judge. … [She] is careful to separate her speculation (based on her expertise and the historical record) from what is actually documented. The word ‘may’ appears time and again: Emma may have been thinking this or she may have been feeling that. While we as readers might wish to know the inner goings on of Emma with greater certainty, Reeder’s honesty in this regard is refreshing.”

Seeing double in the temple

(Rendering courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Syracuse Utah Temple

When the renovated Salt Lake Temple opens, it won’t be the only Utah temple with two fonts to accommodate baptisms for the dead.

Newly released blueprints, seen here, show the Syracuse Temple will have twin baptistries as well, researcher Matt Martinich reports at ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com. “Baptistries in many of the large Utah temples are often highly utilized and result in limited opportunities to meet demand from patrons.”

A groundbreaking for the Syracuse Temple is set for June.

This week’s podcast: Remembering historian D. Michael Quinn

(Tribune file photo) D. Michael Quinn at the LDS Church History Library on Aug. 9, 2013. He died last week at age 77.

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 church 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.

Listen here.

Therapist appeals her ouster

(Salt Lake Tribune archives) Natasha Helfer

A sex therapist who had her membership withdrawn recently for publicly and repeatedly opposing the church’s doctrines, policies and leaders on sexuality issues is fighting her removal.

Natasha Helfer addressed her appeal to the governing First Presidency.

“I am sad that the [membership] council decided to proceed not only without me being able to personally share my thoughts in my defense,” she wrote on Facebook, “but also without being willing to meet with the 6 witnesses that had been approved prior to the council.”

Recalling a Mormon, oops, moment

The London School of Economics revisited the “Mormon moment” sparked by Mitt Romney’s presidential run.

“The church responded with an ‘I’m a Mormon’ media campaign, featuring a diverse range of ordinary folks, to help demystify and destigmatize their community,” Judd Birdsall, senior research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University, wrote. “‘I’m a Mormon’ adverts even appeared on British buses in 2013 around the time that ‘The Book of Mormon’ musical opened in London.”

Such an ad blitz wouldn’t fly today, of course, now that church President Russell M. Nelson has grounded use of the Mormon moniker.

As the world turns, the church turns to the world

(Photo courtesy of UNICEF and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saint Charities has supported global immunization initiatives led by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. Here, a woman receives a vaccination in Chad.

For years, top church leaders have been striving to make a difference in the world, and they’ve discovered that teaming up with the United Nations makes a world of difference.

The growing partnership allows this relatively small global faith of 16.5 million members to bring food, shelter and immunizations to billions across the planet. In late February, the church gave $20 million to UNICEF for COVID-19 inoculations in a program aimed at distributing 2 billion vaccines by year’s end.

The church “joins with diverse organizations around the world to solve some of the greatest and most challenging issues,” spokesperson Doug Andersen says. “Solving complex problems such as childhood hunger, racial inequality, and disease requires open communication, sharing resources, and building common ground with organizations and individuals who may share some, but perhaps not all, of our perspectives.”

Some Latter-day Saints aren’t happy about the church’s U.N. ties. To many of them, the global body is a communist front, or worse, a symbol of the biblical Antichrist.

Read more about this clash of ideas and ideals here.

Calling the shots

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Church President Russell M. Nelson receives the first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Salt Lake City. The church is encouraging members and missionaries to be immunized as well.

As it did with its missionaries in Utah, the church is encouraging — but not requiring — its full-time proselytizers across the globe to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to “safeguard themselves and others.”

“Under the direction of their mission leaders,” a news release stated, “mission medical coordinators are monitoring the availability of the COVID-19 vaccine in their mission and informing missionaries when they may receive it.”

The release reaffirmed the faith’s policy that “individuals are responsible to make their own decisions about vaccination.”

Of course, to fully follow the prophet — as the church’s Primary children sing — members and missionaries alike would roll up their sleeves and get the vaccine. After all, church President Russell M. Nelson, a former heart surgeon, got his first dose in January.

Historic sites to again greet guests

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Carthage Jail in Nauvoo, Ill., soon will be reopening to visitors.

The historic closures of church historic sites soon will be, well, history.

Starting next month, as COVID-19 restrictions continue to ease, the Utah-based faith will begin a phased reopening, welcoming back guests at 22 attractions stretching from the cradle of Mormonism in upstate New York, to Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, Utah and California.

See which places are poised to come back on line and when here.

Singles minded

(Trent Nelson | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, shown here in 2017, will appear in a Face to Face event with single adult Latter-day Saints.

The church’s most visible single female leader, Sharon Eubank, will join general Relief Society President Jean B. Bingham and apostle Neil L. Andersen in a Face to Face event June 13 for single adults ages 31 and older.

“Every member, no matter their circumstances, has so much to contribute,” Eubank, Bingham’s first counselor and president of Latter-day Saint Charities, said in a news release, “and we hope to better recognize this of members of the church.”

Singles account for more than half the church’s membership, a point repeatedly driven home in the recent General Conference.

Fire guts meetinghouse

Fire damaged, and possibly destroyed, a church meetinghouse Monday in Fruita, Colo., Grand Junction’s Daily Sentinel reported.

“It’s shocking, and it brings tears,” Aimee Patrick, who had attended services there the day before, told the paper. “It’s sad to see something you love damaged and destroyed. We saw the windows where we were just sitting yesterday morning blown out by the fire.”

Park or homes?

After a fire heavily damaged a Utah meetinghouse nearly two years ago, the church decided to sell the building in Cottonwood Heights rather than repair it.

Now, hundreds of neighbors and elected officials are asking the church to preserve the adjoining three-acre park as open space.

Developers, however, are eying the property for housing. At this point, the mayor told The Salt Lake Tribune, the coveted patch probably will go to the highest bidder.

Temple updates

• This week, seven Utah temples — Cedar City, Manti, Mount Timpanogos (in American Fork), Payson, Provo, Provo City Center and Vernal — joined the eight other operating Utah temples in offering baptisms for the dead.

On May 10, 27 more temples will follow suit as part of the faith’s phased reopening plan amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Quote of the week

(Jeremy Harmon | Salt Lake Tribune file photo) Jana Riess speaks while recording the 100th episode of the “Mormon Land” podcast in 2019.

“I find excommunication to be not only a theologically barbaric practice but also one of dubious utility. It doesn’t come from the example of Jesus. It also doesn’t work. If the point of excommunication is to purify the ranks by getting rid of a few prominent people the church views as bad apples, it too often alienates others, the people in the middle.”

Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess after the ouster of Natasha Helfer

Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.

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