Mormon News, September 15–19

In the News

A federal judge ruled this week that Vergel Steed, a member of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, cannot be compelled to testify in a child labor investigation because the testimony violates his religious utebeliefs. U.S. District judge David Sam cited the controversial Hobby Lobby ruling earlier this year that exempted religious believers from providing birth control to their employees if they felt it contradicted their beliefs. But now, as Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned in her dissent three months ago in the Hobby Lobby case, religious believers are leaning on that ruling to exempt themselves from other laws. The U.S. Department of Labor has been investigating fundamentalist Mormons for removing children from school to engage in work without pay, potentially violating child labor laws. Vergel Steed was called to testify about the treatment of the children, but he refused, saying it would violate his covenants with the church. Judge Sam agreed, utilizing the Hobby Lobby decision as a precedent.

Kimberly Winston, writing for the Religion News Service, examined the emergence of social media in the past decade as a vehicle Latter-day Saints have utilized to push back or challenge orthodox beliefs. Winston highlights, for example, gay Mormons who have relied on platforms like Facebook or Twitter to speak out and share their experiences. Mitch Mayne, a prominent gay Mormon, said that social media allows Latter-day Saints to connect with others who might share the same concerns and even create an organized movement. Gone are the days when Mormons who might questions aspects of the church’s teachings had to suffer in silence in their wards and stakes; like-minded believers and doubters are just a few clicks or taps away. The church responded to Winston by saying that scripture and divine revelation—not popular opinion—guide the faith.

The Republican Party can count on the support of most Mormons for the foreseeable future, according to a new book by three authors studying Mormons and politics. David Campbell, John C. Green, and Quin Monson argue in their book, Seeking the Promised Land, that young Mormons are more likely to be Republican than older Mormons, a trend at odds with most national polls that show young people are overall more likely to be Democrats. Part of this stems from days past when Mormons felt more comfortably aligned with progressive political parties. But now church members “live in a tight-knit, insular subculture,” Salt Lake Tribune reporter Robert Gehrke says, “that sets itself at odds with the evolving social norms and shares conservative social values.”

On the Blogs

J. Stuart, writing at the Juvenile Instructor blog, asks what the Mormon History Association can do to become a more diverse organization that champions studies of non-white, non-western Mormonism. Stuart uses a powerful speech by Jehu J. Hanciles, delivered as the Tanner Lecture at the 2014 Mormon History Association conference in San Antonio to make his case. Hanciles noted that only a miniscule number of articles in LDS publications explore anything beyond white Mormon culture and history, and that an even smaller number are actually written by people of color. Stuart goes on to offer helpful suggestions of how Mormon studies organizations might go forward to reflect growing diversity within the LDS church.

News update by John Hatch, acquisitions editor