Mormon News, August 10–14

In the News

“WE DON’T FREELANCE”
A recent speech by Michael Otterson at the FairMormon conference shed light on how the LDS Church Public Affairs department works. Otterson, head of the department, insisted all 47statements have the approval of the highest church authorities and that “we don’t freelance.” The public affairs department, derisively called “President Newsroom” by some critics, has come under increased scrutiny. While in the past the most important statements from church leaders came during General Conference, today they largely come from public affairs, released online at mormonnewsroom.org. After the speech, Ronan James Head posted several questions for the public affairs department at By Common Consent. He suggested, in part, that the department was attempting to “neuter…criticism by claiming that Public Affairs always speaks for the Brethren.”

NEW DRAMA DEPICTS MORMONS
Over the past fifty years large numbers of Latter-day Saints have joined the ranks of the FBI and the CIA, and now a new ABC drama, “Quantico,” is putting Mormon characters onscreen. The show follows several new FBI recruits through their training in Quantico, Virginia. Executive producer Joshua Safran said “When I went down to Quantico and they told me how many Mormon recruits they have, I thought that was really amazing to be able to showcase that.” One aspect Latter-day Saints may not appreciate is a Mormon character who strips down in the locker room to reveal his temple garments.

MORMONS HELP HOMELESS
Local LDS wards in Orlando, Florida, have joined an interfaith initiative headed by the Central Florida Commission on Homelessness to help end chronic homelessness in the region. The commission has converted a former motel into government-owned housing to help men and women gain stability and transition away from living on the streets. Local church members donated food and toiletries to make the process easier. Local leaders appealed to the “highest tier”—likely the Quorum of Twelve Apostles—in Salt Lake City for permission to help. With that permission granted the total donations approached $100,000.

On the Blogs

After the LDS Church released images last week of Joseph Smith’s seer stone, some Mormons insisted the news that Smith used the stone to translate the Book of Mormon was nothing new. Brian Whitney, a historian writing at Worlds Without End, explored official LDS publications, past and present, to get a sense of how commonplace discussions of Smith’s seer stone were. He concluded that, while some official publications did mention the stone, it was usually in the context of also discussing the Urim and Thummim, ancient translators Joseph said he received from the Angel Moroni when he obtained the gold plates. This connection to the Urim and Thummim, Whitney concludes, gave a spiritual aura to Smith’s seer stone and de-emphasized its use in treasure seeking before the publication of the Book of Mormon.

Upcoming Conferences

Three upcoming Mormon studies conferences will explore a range of issues relating to Mormon history and the Latter Day Saint experience. September 24–27, the John Whitmer Historical Association will meet in Independence, Missouri, and host papers on community and other topics. A week later, October 1–3, the Utah State Historical Society conference will gather in Salt Lake City under the theme “Exploring Utah’s Multicultural Past.” In addition, post-conference tours of Iosepa, Utah, (October 3) and Topaz, the World War II Japanese internment camp (October 10), will take place. The following week, October 8–9, the University of Utah will host “Black, White, and Mormon: A Conference on the Evolving Status of Black Saints within the Mormon Fold.”

Congratulations!

Devery S. Anderson, an editor for Signature Books, saw a twenty year journey of research and writing culminate in the release of his book this week. Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement is available now from the University Press of Mississippi in hardcover. E-book editions will be available soon.

News update by John Hatch, acquisitions editor