Mormon News, May 16–20

In the News

LDS Church Public Relations responded this week to ongoing reporting by the Salt Lake Tribune on sexual assault at BYU by accusing the Tribune of “gotcha journalism.” The church said it was Mormon Newsnot given an opportunity to respond to “extraordinary claims” and further commented that the stories published by the Tribune do not “represent the ideals BYU or Church leaders follow when responding to victims.” The statement comes on the heels of yet another story that profiled victims who said they faced a presumption of guilt after reporting their assault.

Former US Senator Bob Bennett, a Mormon who represented Utah as a Republican, reportedly turned his last thoughts to Muslims and the mistreatment he believed they had suffered under the rise of Donald Trump in American politics. Bennett, who passed away two weeks ago at age 82, asked his son if there were any Muslims in the hospital where he lay dying and said, “I’d love to go up to every single one of them to thank them for being in this country, and apologize to them on behalf of the Republican Party for Donald Trump.” Bennett, according to family, was “appalled” at Trump’s popularity and repeatedly expressed concern for Muslims in the United States.

Ernest Michel, 92, an Auschwitz survivor, passed away on May 7. Both of his parents died at the Nazi concentration camp and it was only Michel’s skills as a calligrapher that kept him alive after he was forced to forge death certificates for exterminated Jews. Michel came to the United States and became active in Jewish causes. In addition to raising millions of dollars, he was integral in persuading the LDS Church to stop including Jews killed during the Holocaust in its proxy baptism for the dead program. Michel learned both of his parents had been posthumously baptized; since then the church has changed its policies to prevent Mormons from performing the ordinance for Holocaust victims.

On the Blogs

Jana Riess wrote this week at Flunking Sainthood about the closely held Mormon belief that “the prophet will never lead the Church astray.” She diagnosed three different problems with this outlook, all centered around the core LDS teaching of free agency. Riess said the belief denies individual members agency; it denies the prophet agency; and it denies the living institutional church agency. Riess argued that the LDS faith “is a dynamic and life-giving organism with its own origin story, mission, and holy end. We do it a disservice when we cease to remember that it is not an institution that stands outside of the beautiful, agentic human beings who are its living members.”

In Books

Signature Books released two important titles recently that delve deeply into the Mormon past. Island Adventures: The Hawaiian Mission of Francis A. Hammond, 1851–1865, by John J. Hammond, reveals little-known details about the first Mormon missionaries to Hawaii and their complicated relationships with the natives. Hammond has written a lively tale that bursts with new information on every page. He is speaking at Sunstone Kirtland this weekend in Ohio on the book.

Glorious in Persecution: Joseph Smith, American Prophet, 1839-1844, by Martha Bradley-Evans, is a close look at the last five years of Joseph Smith’s life in Nauvoo, Illinois. Bradley-Evans reframes these years through the lens of Smith’s own narrative of himself as a persecuted prophet. The result is an engrossing read that challenges what we think we know about the Mormon prophet’s last years. Both titles are available now on Kindle and in hardcover formats.

News update by John Hatch