Mormon News December 12-16


The “99% Invisible” podcast from the American Institute of Architects highlights things most people don’t notice—the “unnoticed architecture and design” elements that shape our world while remaining “invisible” to the average person. Past podcasts featured details like the NBC chimes, “the first trademarked sound,” and the length of the lines painted on freeways. This week, 99% Invisible covered the “Plat of Zion,” or the grid system created by Joseph Smith and implemented by Brigham Young in designing Salt Lake City. Podcast producer Sam Greenspan spoke with Keith Erekson, director of the LDS Church History Library, as well as Emily Utt, the historic sites curator for the church. In discussing the motivation for Salt Lake City’s famous grid design, Greenspan also spoke with Benjamin Park, a Mormon Studies historian and assistant professor of American religious history at Sam Houston State University. The podcast also recognizes the difficulties urban designers and city planners encounter when trying to modernize Salt Lake. When Smith designed his utopian city, he hoped to reduce crime by giving residents plenty of space, where “each church member would have a plot of land for fruit trees and vegetable gardens, along with a home.” Now, the large blocks and wide streets make Salt Lake City menacing to pedestrians and often unnavigable without a car.Signature Books office


In a panel discussion regarding the relationship between academia and the LDS church, Marlin K. Jensen compared the church’s growing pains in accepting its history to the bleeding ulcer he developed during his tenure as Church Historian, stating, “We’ve learned we’re much better off to be friends with the academy rather than enemies.” Panelists also noted that as the internet made church history more accessible to members, church leaders realized “There was no way on earth that the Church History Department could be anything but transparent.” Lisa Tait, a historian at the LDS Church History Library hopes the church continues to evolve in integrating once controversial history into church materials, “We have talked about the idea of embracing scholarship, embracing the perspectives, the methods and techniques and strategies and sources and knowledge that are out there, and how we can model encountering and evaluating and working with those sources in a way that will help members of the church, … ” J. Spencer Fluhman, director of the Maxwell Institute of Religious Scholarship at BYU, worries that the abundance of information now available makes it difficult to truly understand complex issues, claiming that “while I cheer on every move toward candor and full disclosure, it’s getting harder and harder to actually get at meaning because the appetite for sustained argument is evaporating.”


A new LDS Church song comparing purity to being “white” has been pulled from production. “The song is being pulled, pending further review,” stated church spokesperson Eric Hawkins. The song received intense criticism from Mormons of color and others, who immediately noticed racially insensitive undertones in the lyrics, especially the oft repeated chorus line, “they can be white.” As Janan Graham-Russell, a black Mormon writer from Illinois noted, “Because ‘white’ and ‘whiteness’ are so entangled with the concept and experience of race, this song is very inappropriate … I get the doctrinal idea but more care should be taken with anything involving the word ‘white’ and the LDS Church because of its history and the present experience of black members.” Furthermore, although Graham-Russell doesn’t criticize the song’s writer, a seventeen-year-old Asian Mormon living in Utah, she does believe its initial publication is “symptomatic of not having honest conversations about race and what has been said about whiteness and blackness in our history,” as well as a “lack of inclusive voices in positions of authority.” In a blog post at Wheat & Tares, blogger Rigel Hawthorne argues that even though the song does not explicitly refer to race, “it is what will be heard … Congregants who are not musicians generally don’t pay attention to the lyric close enough to catch the full meaning … But the one line that will be heard is ‘They (those people) can be white.’”

news update by Steph Lauritzen