Mormon Land-logo

Mormon Land

Religion & Spirituality

Mormon Land explores the contours and complexities of LDS news. It's hosted by award-winning religion writer Peggy Fletcher Stack and Salt Lake Tribune managing editor David Noyce.


United States


Mormon Land explores the contours and complexities of LDS news. It's hosted by award-winning religion writer Peggy Fletcher Stack and Salt Lake Tribune managing editor David Noyce.







Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

After 50 years, feminist voice still rings out in the pages of Exponent II | Episode 437

Claudia Bushman was 40 years old, a mother of six and working on an advanced history degree when she, essentially, was volunteered to become the first editor-in-chief of Exponent II, an independent feminist magazine for Latter-day Saint women. That was 1974. Rachel Rueckert, a 30-something novelist, career woman and the magazine’s current top editor, wasn’t even born then. Despite the age difference, the two share an important passion: giving voice to women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As the magazine celebrates its 50th anniversary, Bushman and Rueckert discuss their feelings about the magazine, the personal stories it has shared, how it has changed over the decades, what it has accomplished, and why they believe it remains relevant — and crucial — today and will stay that way well the future.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

A look at LDS missionary folklore and what it says about the faith | Episode 436

Few groups exist in the world like missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They may be assigned to different countries or speak different languages, but for 18 months to two years, tens of thousands of these mostly young proselytizers share the same strict schedule, routine, identity and purpose: namely, to share the good news of — and seek converts to — their religion. More than a million have served in the church’s history, so missionary stories are practically as ubiquitous in the 194-year-old global faith as are soaring steeples, crying babies and tiny sacrament cups. Some stories are inspiring. Some are scary (with odes to devilish humans and even Satan himself). Some are funny. And some are, well, tall on tale and short on truth. Talking about these narratives, some of which are cataloged at church-owned Brigham Young University, on this week’s show are folklorist Christine Blythe, executive director of the Mormon History Association, and her husband and fellow folklorist, Christopher Blythe, author of “Terrible Revolution: Latter-day Saints and the American Apocalypse.” Together, they host the Latter-day Saint podcast “Angels and Seerstones.”


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Did Joseph Smith practice polygamy? | Episode 345

In 2014, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published an official essay detailing Joseph Smith’s marriages to multiple women. After decades of insisting otherwise, the Community of Christ, formerly the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has since conceded that the faith founder did participate in polygamy. Highly regarded scholarly works have documented Smith had at least 33 wives, and most historians widely accept that the church leader preached — albeit privately — and practiced plural marriage. So why is this issue gaining increased attention in various Mormon circles and why are so-called polygamy deniers arguing that Smith had but one wife, Emma, while pinning the practice instead on perhaps the Western world’s most famous polygamist, Brigham Young, and his associates? What does the evidence really show? Why is this debate springing up now? And what do the competing factions stand to win or lose? Answering those questions and more on this week’s show are Brooke LeFevre, a doctoral candidate at Baylor University who has written about the experiences of 19th-century Latter-day Saint women in plural marriages, and Matthew Bowman, chair of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University who penned a recent Salt Lake Tribune column on the topic.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

"Leadership roulette" for same-sex LDS couples | Episode 344

Janette Petersen, a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had been attending Sunday services with her wife, Tammy, as faithfully as her job would allow for nearly five years when her membership was withdrawn. Although the letter she received informing her of the decision did not state a reason, Janette told The Tribune her local lay leader, known as a stake president, had pinned it on her marriage. The church teaches that while being attracted to individuals of the same sex is not a sin, physical intimacy is and that marriage ought to be between a man and a woman. Ryan and Liz Giles, on the other hand, have been faithful members of two congregations — one in Houston and their current ward in Washington state — since the two women tied the knot in 2021. They have yet to have their membership challenged. All three women join us today to talk about their church experience as individuals in same-sex marriages, and what they believe is behind the inconsistency playing out when it comes to treatment of couples like them.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

The case for a group dedicated to protecting Latter-day Saint civil rights | Episode 343

For 115 years, the NAACP, the nation’s oldest civil rights organization, has been advancing the cause of justice for Black Americans. For 111 years, the Anti-Defamation League has been doing much the same for Jewish Americans. And for 104 years, the American Civil Liberties Union has been safeguarding the constitutional rights of everyone in the United States. So which group is protecting, advocating and advancing the rights of Latter-day Saints? While The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints certainly looks out for its own interests and apologetic groups defend church teachings, no independent organization is dedicated to civil rights for members. It’s time to change that, argues Public Square Magazine. In a recent staff editorial, the online publication written from a Latter-day Saint perspective, called for the establishment of a civil rights organization to advocate for the rights of members in “political, legal and cultural spaces.” On this week’s show, Public Square Managing Editor C.D. Cunningham and Associate Editor Brianna Holmes discuss why such a group is needed, how it could operate and whom it could benefit.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Why a pastor is teaching evangelicals about the LDS Church | Episode 342

Jeff McCullough took a trip to Utah in 2020, and it changed his life. No, the evangelical pastor didn’t convert to the state’s predominant religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and he didn’t launch a virulent campaign to explore what some have seen as Mormonism’s heresies. Instead, he felt a divine call to launch a YouTube channel, titled Hello Saints, to, as he put it, “fight criticism with curiosity.” “Most of my Christian friends didn’t say very nice things about the people from the LDS Church,” McCullough says in his introduction, “and I don’t really like that.” So the 43-year-old Hope Chapel minister from the Bible Belt, who calls himself a “recovering Mormon basher,” set about exploring the beliefs and practices of the Utah-based faith, eager to build bridges between that church and evangelical Christians. McCullough now lives in the Beehive State and has produced more than 90 short videos comparing and contrasting “the lifestyle, culture and beliefs of Mormons and mainstream Christianity,” including questions like these: Are Mormons Christians? What do Christians and Latter-day Saints agree and disagree about? On his journey to familiarize himself and his audience with this unfamiliar faith, he has viewed General Conference, attended Sunday services, read the Book of Mormon and toured a Latter-day Saint temple. His Hello Saints channel, which operates as a nonprofit, has 60,000 subscribers and nearly 7 million views. He is currently hosting a virtual summit with interviews and presentations by Latter-day Saints and evangelicals on topics ranging from Jesus and marriage to politics and heaven. On this week’s show, McCullough discusses his online efforts, his approach and what he hopes to accomplish.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

What happened behind the scenes before and after the Black priesthood ban ended | Episode 341

Forty-six years ago this month, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, under then-President Spencer W. Kimball, lifted its prohibition preventing Black men from entering the all-male priesthood and Black women and men from participating in temple rites. This historic shift, the most significant since the faith stopped practicing polygamy, abruptly ended this racist ban, but it hardly ended racism within the church. After all, 126 years of theological justifications for the ban remained, including influential works such as “Mormon Doctrine” by apostle Bruce R. McConkie. Cleanup still needed — and needs — to be done. Building on President Gordon B. Hinckley’s outreach efforts, current church leader Russell M. Nelson has called on members to lead out against racism and has cemented ties with the NAACP. Matthew Harris’ new book, “Second-Class Saints: Black Mormons and the Struggle for Racial Equality,” explores the history of the priesthood/temple ban, from its racist roots under Brigham Young to its removal and its aftermath, with an eye especially on its effects on Black Latter-day Saints. With unprecedented access to the papers of Kimball, McConkie, Hugh B. Brown and Joseph Fielding Smith, Harris offers an insider view of the decision-making process among the church hierarchy regarding issues of race and this momentous move. Join us for this conversation.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

The surprising news about LDS Church growth | Episode 340

For The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there is much to celebrate in its latest statistical report: The worldwide growth rate in the 17.2 million-member faith is growing. The expansion of congregations is expanding. And the number of U.S. states with declining membership is, well, declining. East Africa, meanwhile, is booming, the U.S. is rebounding, and many growth measures have met or surpassed pre-pandemic levels. Still, there are causes for concern: West Africa, unlike the continent’s eastern and central regions, has seen its Latter-day Saint growth slow. While the U.S. enjoyed an increase in net membership, it once again had the largest net decrease in wards and branches. California continues to bleed Latter-day Saints and growth rates in Utah, home to the global faith’s headquarters, remain near historic lows. On this week’s show, Matt Martinich, an independent researcher who tracks church movements for the websites and, dissects all this data and deciphers what the numbers say about the state of the church.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

What was lost when the LDS Church started emphasizing covenants over community | Episode 339

Since shortening its Sunday services and refocusing its curriculum more than five years ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has trumpeted a home-centered, church-supported approach with an emphasis on covenant-making and covenant-keeping. This shift has some members worried about a loss of community. Gone are roadshows, pageants, sports leagues, cultural celebrations and more. While there has been an explosion of temple building, there has been a slowdown in chapel building. The church meetinghouse of today has become just that — a house for staid and stiff meetings, mainly on Sunday — and not the buzzing and bustling community centers of yesteryear. Would a return to some of that past help not only the church’s present but also its future? Candice Wendt, a staff member of McGill University’s Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and a contributing editor at Wayfare magazine, wrote about the church’s evolution from community to covenants in a recent blog post for Exponent II. She joined us for this week’s episode of “Mormon Land” to talk about what she feels is lost in the church’s efforts to emphasize individual covenants over community building. As she put it “I find when community connection and belonging get weak, motivation to be engaged in the faith tradition falters and religious life actually becomes a lot less relevant to people.”


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

The LDS Church isn’t dying in Germany, but it is changing | Episode 338

Born in West Germany, Ralf Grünke has been a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for most of his life. But it was complicated. And, among his Catholic and Lutheran peers, that meant he sometimes keenly felt his “otherness.” Still, being “an ugly duckling between the swans,” Grunke has written, was a “blessing in disguise.” He studied his own faith deeply, reading everything he could find, pro or con, as well as other faiths, and developed a strong foundation spiritually and scholarly. He now enjoys a spectrum of friends and contacts among all religions, while representing the Utah-based church. Grunke is the church’s assistant communication director for Central Europe, headquartered in Frankfurt. He joined “Mormon Land” for a special on-location podcast in Hamburg about the faith’s status on the Continent.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Why leaders’ efforts to keep women in the faith could backfire — and what could work | Episode 337

Without a doubt, says writer and scholar Caroline Kline, Latter-day Saint leader President Camille Johnson would have heard former church presidents telling working mothers to “come home” and focus on their families. Instead, she pursued a 30-year career as a corporate lawyer. In this episode of “Mormon Land,” Kline, assistant director of the Center for Global Mormon Studies at Southern California’s Claremont Graduate University, explains just how radical it is that the top brass of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are lauding her as a role model — and why their decision to do so may be a tough pill to swallow for some. The author of “Mormon Women at the Crossroads: Global Narratives and the Power of Connectedness” also breaks down what she sees as an increased anxiety by church leadership over female members’ activity and level of devotion, why their current efforts to reverse worrisome trends could backfire and what they could do instead to make women feel more at home.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Will a top LDS women’s leader ever again be seen as a ‘13th apostle’? | Episode 336

The role of women in any patriarchal faith is always fraught. It is especially confusing in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which celebrated women who led the charge for suffrage while also practicing polygamy. Past Latter-day Saint women like Eliza Snow and Emmeline Wells held high-profile positions in the hierarchy almost until their deaths — Susa Young Gates, an influential daughter of church prophet Brigham Young, was even dubbed a “13th apostle” — while today’s top female leaders are in and out in just five years. Earlier general presidents of the women’s Relief Society were well known to members and wielded wide personal power, but, like the current high-level female leaders, they never held offices as “general authorities.” Now comes word that, unlike yesteryear, today’s General Relief Society Presidencies don’t even meet weekly with an apostle “liaison” to the governing First Presidency. On this week’s show, April Young Bennett, a blogger and essayist for Exponent II who has seen the evolving changes for Latter-day Saint women, discusses where top female leaders stand in today’s church, what could or should be done to elevate their status, and whether women’s ordination is the only way to truly balance the gender scales in the global faith.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

How near-death accounts became apocalyptic and why they attract Latter-day Saints | Episode 335

All kinds of believers and nonbelievers have described brushes with death in which they briefly left their bodies to see and feel otherworldly elements. While most scientists say these “near-death experiences” are the product of neurons firing in particular ways under particular stress, many who are religious view them as objective encounters, occurring in space and time. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints seem particularly intrigued by the way such experiences affirm their teachings of the afterlife and have rushed to buy the many books on the topic, including Betty Eadie’s 1992 bestseller, “Embraced by the Light,” and, more recently, John Pontius’ “Visions of Glory: One Man’s Astonishing Account of the Last Days.” While Eadie’s book tapped into New Age Mormonism popular in the 1980s and ‘90s, “Visions of Glory” — and the writings of Chad Daybell, a Latter-day Saint writer in Idaho who has been accused of murder — seems to draw on apocalyptic and political speculations. On this week’s show., historian Matthew Bowman, director of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University in Southern California and author of “The Abduction of Betty and Barney Hill: Alien Encounters, Civil Rights, and the New Age in America,” discusses this genre and its implications in Latter-day Saint culture.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

What happens inside LDS families when a loved one leaves the faith | Episode 334

Few conversations are as fraught as those among family members who disagree about ideas they hold dear, and none more so than religion. Such exchanges can be especially painful for believers in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a faith that can be all encompassing with strong teachings about here and the hereafter, especially about family relationships, and practices that reflect those teachings. So what happens in families when some hold firm to the faith and others walk away? How do parents, children and siblings respond to those who have chosen a different path? Can they still love one another or does judgment make that impossible? Do they talk about it or do they slink away in silent agony? Utah Valley University’s Kimberly Abunuwara, director of the humanities program, came up with an unusual way to explore these questions. She enlisted a group of students to interview various families about how their attachment to — or distance from — Mormonism affected their connections and communications. The team then staged a performance, titled “In Good Faith,” in which student actors used those firsthand accounts from members and former members to reveal these wrenching experiences. In a special “Mormon Land” episode, recorded live at Orem’s UVU, Abunuwara and two of the student performers — Brielle Szendre and Caleb Voss — are discuss what they discovered, how the experience affected them and what others can learn from this effort.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

A conversation about General Conference | Episode 333

The recently completed 194th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may merit no more than a mere mention in the history books of Mormonism. There were no theological breakthroughs, no major policy changes, no sweeping shake-ups among the top echelons. But the sessions did feature significant speeches, memorable moments and notable nuances. A British church leader delivered his debut conference sermon as an apostle. A longtime apostle returned to the conference pulpit after an extended absence. A Black general authority rose in the ranks to a historic level. Speakers publicly addressed the private wearing of so-called temple garments by the faithful. And the church’s aging senior leadership, led by a prophet-president inching ever closer to the century mark, made conspicuous accommodations to conference procedures. On this week’s show, Emily Jensen, web editor for Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, and Patrick Mason, head of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, look back at the conference and what it may mean to the church and its 17.2 million members moving forward.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Who should decide when, where and how often Latter-day Saints wear temple garments? | Episode 332

Latter-day Saint leaders seem to be concerned about what they believe is the causal, even “cavalier” wearing of religious underclothing by devout members. Indeed, in a recent speech, a general authority Seventy reportedly condemned women who wear temple garments only on Sunday and to the temple and the rest of the week can be seen in “yoga pants.” He warned that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was planning to issue stricter rules about the wearing of garments. The standard instruction has essentially been for women and men to wear them “day and night.” According to a recent survey, though, some women are donning them when and where they want — and they don’t, it seems, view that as disobedience or inappropriate. At the same, it is getting tougher to find clothing, especially for women, that completely covers garments. On this week’s episode, author Kristine Haglund, former editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, and Laura Brignone, a Latter-day Saint research analyst at Sacramento State University, discuss the challenges in wearing garments, what some members are choosing, and what it means for their faith.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

What LDS women want — in the wake of a controversial ‘priesthood power’ speech | Episode 331

A decade after the Ordain Women movement within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made national news, another feminist issue is getting lots of media attention. During a March 17 meeting to celebrate the creation of the church’s Relief Society, J. Anette Dennis, first counselor in the faith’s global women’s organization, declared that “there is no other religious organization in the world that I know of that has so broadly given power and authority to women.” Dennis went on to say that “other faiths ordain women to roles like priest or pastor, but those individuals represent a small minority when compared to the total number of women within their congregations.” In the Utah-based church, all women “who choose a covenant relationship with God in the House of the Lord are endowed with priesthood power directly from God.” It is a sentiment that has been expressed previously by Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the church’s governing First Presidency, and by Sheri Dew, a former counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency. But when the church posted Dennis’ quote on Instagram, a flood of responses from women ensued — more than 15,000 comments. And, in an unusual acknowledgment, the church’s social media team promised to share the “thoughts, feelings and experiences” with the faith’s leaders. On this week’s show, discussing this speech, the overwhelming response it generated and the role of women in the church, are Julie Hanks, a Latter-day Saint therapist in Utah, and Amy Watkins Jensen, a Latter-day Saint middle school humanities teacher in Oakland, California, who created the Women on the Stand letter-writing campaign in the wake of women’s leaders being removed from the stand at worship services in the Bay Area.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

Preserving the Kirtland and Manti temples — through the eyes of LDS historians | Episode 330

In the past, historians and preservationists were not always pleased with how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints treated its treasured buildings. Bulldozing Utah’s Coalville Tabernacle and gutting the Logan Temple led to cries of anguish from insiders and outsiders alike. These days, though, the same groups are lauding the painstaking and resplendent renovation of the faith’s pioneer-era Manti Temple, which is now open to public tours. And they are reassured by the Salt Lake City-based church’s plans for its recent purchase of Mormonism’s first temple, in Kirtland, Ohio. On this week’s show, Matthew Grow, managing director of the church’s History Department, and Emily Utt, a curator of Latter-day Saint historic sites, discuss these preservation efforts.


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

A look at the Kirtland Temple’s past and its future under a new owner | Episode 329

The recent acquisition by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints of Mormonism’s first temple — in Kirtland, Ohio — along with historic buildings in Nauvoo, Ill., similarly tied to founder Joseph Smith and his band of believers thrilled the global faith’s members. For followers of the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the longtime diligent, devoted caretakers of these properties, the sale, which that faith’s top leaders acknowledged was “painful,” brought sadness, heartache and tears. While grateful for the good the $192 million purchase price will do for the Community of Christ’s future, they lament losing ownership of these cherished pieces of their past. On this week’s show to discuss that past and that future is David Howlett, a Community of Christ historian, visiting religion professor at Smith College in Massachusetts and author of “Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Sacred Space.”


Ask host to enable sharing for playback control

The Huntsman case, ‘copycat’ tithing lawsuits and expanding LDS Church wealth | Episode 328

Money talks. It makes headlines, too. Just ask The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Utah-based faith’s finances have become a source of discussion, debate and, yes, dissent among insiders and outsiders. In recent weeks, the church’s chief investment arm, Ensign Peak Advisors, has seen its publicly reported stock portfolio shoot past $50 billion, helping to propel the global faith’s total wealth to an estimated $265 billion. Days ago, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals handed the church a mini-victory, agreeing to rehear the fraud lawsuit brought against it by a prominent Utahn, James Huntsman, who has accused Latter-day Saint leaders of misleading members about how the faith spends tithing funds. In addition, the church has been targeted in at least five states by a string of what it has called “copycat” tithing lawsuits seeking class-action status. On this week’s show, Salt Lake Tribune reporter Tony Semerad, who has been tracking the church’s finances and legal entanglements for a number of years, helps sort out all this money maneuvering and courtroom drama.