Mormon News, October 19–23

In the News

Dallin H. Oaks, known for his hard-line stance against marriage equality, said this week that Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis was wrong to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples. Oaks, who lillydid not mention Davis by name, made the statement in a speech to a conference in Sacramento. Although Oaks was not speaking in front of an LDS audience, his comments were featured by the church on its Newsroom website, giving it the air of church approval. The comments dispel the notion that Mormon leaders, unlike some clergy and even conservative politicians, approve of civil disobedience to combat gay marriage. While some commenters saw this as a momentous step forward, others warned that Oaks was simply reaffirming his long-held deference to the law and that the speech could not be interpreted as a change in church policy.

M. Russell Ballard faced criticism this week after a video surfaced of a speech he gave in Buenos Aires, Argentina, last year. Ballard appears to be critical of Catholic beliefs in the footage, telling his Mormon audience that “they don’t know who God is. They don’t know who the Savior is; nor do they know who the Holy Ghost is.” Mormons, who have long proclaimed that theirs is the only true church, had softened their critiques of other faiths in recent years and opted for a more inter-faith approach, especially during the presidency of Gordon B. Hinckley. In the past, comments like Ballard’s would have quickly faded away, but in the Internet age, LDS leaders are learning that anything they say might be recorded and shared with the world.

On the Blogs

Angela Clayton, blogging at By Common Consent, wrote last week on what it means to be “authentic” in the LDS Church. “Authenticity is a virtue very much in vogue right now,” she wrote, as rank-and-file Latter-day Saints grapple with challenges inside of the faith. However, as Clayton discusses, concepts such as individuality, self-actualization, and authenticity are recent developments in the human experience. For most of history, people have been tribal, communal, and did not separate who they are from the group(s) they belong to. She argued for balance with diplomacy and the recognition that it is difficult for us to know who our authentic selves really are. In emphasizing the importance of respect, Clayton wrote that “some people seem to wear tactlessness like a badge of honor.”

Ardis Parshall shared another unique slice of Mormon history this week on her Keepapitchinin blog. Parshall found a 1937 newsreel calling Mormons “the wealthiest churchgoers in the world.” After the newsreel debuted, the church-owned Improvement Era magazine launched an advertisement highlighting “wealthiest churchgoers” line to sell subscriptions. Parshall writes that this is “a relic of the days when the Church magazines carried advertising, not just for Mormon businesses and events but for any product or service that didn’t violate Church standards and policies.”

In Memoriam

Trevor Southey, a renowned Utah artist, passed away this week after suffering from cancer and Parkinson’s disease. Southey became a gay Mormon icon for what his friend Jim Dabakis called the “supreme honesty” in how he lived his life. Southey, in a reply to occasional critics over the use of nudity in his artwork, said in an oral history for the LDS Church History Library, “I think [critics] come with too much agenda. And so LDS people would dismiss this painting as nasty because there’s this naked woman in it. I think it’s a real shame. And heaven forbid, I don’t know how they cope with going to Europe and going through all the piazzas and museums where they’re confronted with nudity which has been there for 500 years. They stop seeing the moment they see the nudity. What they fail to realize is in whose image are we created? There’s a sanctity about the nude. And even when it’s [Robert] Mapplethorpe … there is a kind of brutal reality about what he’s dealing with there, very honest. And I think honesty should be a very important part of the LDS culture.” Here at Signature Books, we already miss him.

News update by John Hatch, acquisitions editor