Mormon News, October 5–9

In the News

For the first time in more than a century, the LDS Church had to fill three vacancies in the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. After much speculation, the three men set apart as apostles were 47Ronald A. Rasband, Gary E. Stevenson, and Dale G. Renlund. While the picks followed a long-established pattern of choosing white men from the Intermountain region with business acumen, some Mormons could not hide their disappointment at the lack of diversity. Others noted that, while the three men are all from Utah, Stevenson and Renlund have lived outside of the United States for extended periods and speak foreign languages that can benefit the international church.

In one of the stranger General Conference happenings in recent memory, a website seen as trying to profit off of a talk was taken down after complaints surfaced online. Devin Durrant, a member of the Sunday School presidency, gave an address inviting Mormons to “ponderize” the scriptures—a portmanteau of ponder and memorize. Durrant invented the word, he said, as a way to deepen his appreciation for LDS scriptures. But within minutes of the talk, a website run by Durrant’s son Ryan popped up selling merchandise, including t-shirts and wristbands, emblazoned with “Ponderize.” After an outcry that Durrant’s family was attempting to profit off of his sermon, the website changed briefly to state all profits would be donated to the missionary fund, but within a few hours, it vanished entirely. Devin Durrant later apologized, acknowledging he was aware of his son’s website before he gave the talk.

Frank VanderSloot, a Republican political donor who is LDS, lost a legal battle this week against the liberal news publication, Mother Jones. VanderSloot sued Mother Jones after the site published stories about his massive donations to Mitt Romney, another Mormon, and his anti-gay activism, including purchasing billboards in Idaho and suing local newspapers. VanderSloot’s wife also donated $100,000 to pass Proposition 8 in California, a ballot measure openly supported by the LDS Church. As Mother Jones documents, VanderSloot’s efforts are part of a “chilling” movement by some billionaires to force news organizations to think twice before running news stories about them.

Dr. Mark Juergensmeyer, a professor at UC Santa Barbara, recently canceled a scheduled address at BYU’s Law and Religion Symposium after he learned the university expelled Mormon students who lose their faith. Juergensmeyer wrote that while he was honored at the invitation to speak, he was troubled by the hypocrisy of BYU’s policies that allow non-Mormon students to enroll but punish and expel students who enroll as Mormons but then later leave—either formally or informally—the LDS faith. BYU defended its policy by stating it is published on its website and that students who attend the school are aware of the standards they agreed to follow when they enrolled.

On the Blogs

Jacob Baker, writing at By Common Consent this week, lamented what he sees as a binary mentality among Mormons and ex-Mormons. He argued that many ex-Mormon writings, including the CES Letter, are just the opposite side of the same LDS apologetics coin. That is, these writings assume a black-and-white mentality of Mormonism, where it is either 100% true or a fraud. Baker goes on to write that “if you are familiar with sophisticated writings by philosophers, theologians, and historians in other faiths,” it is possible to understand that there are other ways of experiencing the Mormon religion. Baker positions himself in a “forbidden middle zone…. I’ve come to a fairly peaceful place with all that and see both those sides as equally boring.”

News updated by John Hatch, acquisitions editor