Mormon News, May 9–13

In the News

The Salt Lake Tribune continued its reporting on rape and sexual assault in LDS Church-owned schools this week, but shifted to look at how past LDS teachings might lead to victim earthblaming. The old mantra “better dead clean than alive and unclean” remains a powerful shaming tool in Mormonism that discourages victims from reporting assaults. Some BYU students said that after they talked to their bishops about being victims of violence, the bishops handed them a copy of the Miracle of Forgiveness and talked them through the need to repent. Current church policy, spelled out in the Handbook of Instructions that is unavailable to the general membership, says rape victims “are not guilty of sin,” and that leaders should help victims “overcome the destructive effects of abuse.”

The Salt Lake Tribune, a competitor of the LDS Church-owned Deseret News since the 1870s, is in the process of being purchased by Paul Huntsman, son of Utah businessman Jon Huntsman Sr. The Tribune and the Deseret News negotiated a joint-operating agreement decades ago to save on printing and advertising costs. But under a complex new agreement restructured by the LDS Church and the current Tribune owners, a New York hedge fund, Tribune profits were reduced and the newsroom shrunk as staff were laid off. The deal even gave the Deseret News approval over who could own the Tribune, which means the LDS Church could veto any potential buyer it finds unacceptable. Critics, including non-profit groups like Save the Salt Lake Tribune, argued this could destroy the Tribune, Utah’s largest independent voice, and give the LDS Church a de facto monopoly on news in Salt Lake City.

The FLDS community on the Arizona/Utah border has survived numerous threats to its existence, including the imprisonment of leader Warren Jeffs for sexual assault. But two recent lawsuits, one for money laundering and fraud, and another earlier this year for violation of the Fair Housing Act, have challenged the community in new ways. Reporter Molly Oswaks of Vice wrote this week that these lawsuits could “break the foundation” of the group’s power because they have targeted  underlying structures of civil support, including police and local law enforcement. The hope, Oswaks wrote, is that current political and legal authority will be stripped from the FLDS leaders and turned over to individuals more amenable to US laws.

In Books

The Joseph Smith Papers, Documents, Volume 4, was released this week. The book includes revelations, minutes, letters, and more documents centered around Joseph Smith during the years 1834 and 1835. The papers reveal Smith’s preoccupation with redeeming Zion, even after the Army of Israel (Zion’s Camp) disbanded, his efforts to raise funds for the Kirtland temple, and new organizational offices, including the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

In Memoriam

Historian Ronald Walker, author of several books and articles, passed away this week at the age of 76. Walker was known for his work on the Godbeite movement and for Massacre at Mountain Meadows, which he coauthored with Richard Turley and Glen Leonard. While tributes of Walker discussed his work, he was also universally remembered as a kind, generous soul, a nuanced historian, and a faithful Latter-day Saint.

News update by John Hatch