It’s that time of year when everyone does their year in review columns. He’s mine with a more Church focus. I don’t claim this is comprehensive but it’s the major stories I saw over the last year.
The year started with a new prophet (the 17th) and press conferences. A small pseudo-scandal was the release of Elder Uchtdorf from the First Presidency. Some, looking back to the 60’s, saw this as a slight of a very popular Apostle. More likely Pres. Nelson given his age wanted consistency in the First Presidency and brought his expected successor, Dalin H. Oaks, in as counselor. Elder Eyring was maintained.
Unlike basically any other new First Presidency though, Pres. Nelson quickly made major changes in church structure and organization. The last year saw age changes for young women and the Aaronic Priesthood, the merging of High Priest and Elders into one group, the replacement of Home Teaching and Visiting Teaching, the reduction of Church to two hours, a whole new teaching program, a new hymnal announced, alternating Women’s and Priesthood sessions at conference, a strong emphasis on using the full name of the Church, pants for sister missionaries and statements suggesting all this was just the beginning. I think expectations are high that this is just setting things up for the real big changes. April may prove to be quite interesting. Next year we’re expecting the replacement for Scouts and there are strong rumors of major changes to the temple. I’d argued that we’ve not really seen anything like this since at least the days of Heber J. Grant. The only change that comes close in my lifetime was Pres. Kimball’s revelation on blacks and the priesthood. But that came well into his Presidency.
Adding fuel to all the expectations was Sis. Nelson saying, “he’s free to follow through with things he’s been concerned about but could never do. Now that he’s president of [the Church], he can do those things.”
While not akin to the so-called September Six of 1993, there were many prominent church courts. Gina Colvin, a prominent figure in Mormon Studies who has been a constant critic of many aspects of the church faced a court but wasn’t excommunicated. (She attends a non-Mormon church) Sam Young of Texas was excommunicated presumably for his PR war trying to end bishop interviews of the young. Including a hunger strike. (The Church, possibly due to public concern, now allows a second person into such interviews) Podcaster Bill Reel was also excommunicated after his podcast pretty well had turned into criticizing the Church regularly.
Nationally in politics members made news with Mitt Romney becoming the new junior Senator from Utah. Given his prominence nationally and as a former Presidential candidate he’s expected to play a much larger role in the Senate. Some expect him to be a potential foil for Donald Trump in the expected hearings in Congress on Trump as well as once news of the Mueller probe results are released. While no longer Mormon, Kirsten Sinema replaced Jeff Flake as Senator from Arizona. Sinema is a BYU graduate but left the Church shortly after graduating at 18.
The other big news in politics was Rob Porter a staffer for Donald Trump and previously for Orin Hatch, had physically and emotionally abused both of his ex wives. It appeared that in at least one case the Bishop may have put Porter’s career above supporting the abused women. This led to discussions of improving Bishop training and paying attention to reports women give of abuse.
Saints, the new history book by the Church targeting regular members was released in September. It received great praise for breezy prose and injecting more focus on women in the church into the history. Some criticized some controversies such as polyandry or Helen Mar Kimball’s marriage not getting enough coverage. However overall it received glowing reviews. It was a new era for authorized Church history. This first volume just covered the era of Joseph Smith. Forthcoming volume will cover the rest of the 19th and 20th century.
In other history news the Church published the long anticipated book on the Book of Abraham and papyri materials. By making the materials widely available that scholars could only dream of in the 90’s, I suspect we’ll see a resurgence of work on the Book of Abraham.
Other history news was a study from BYU showing that Joseph Smith made use of Clarke’s Bible Commentary for portions of the JST work. This was exciting work that helps illuminate how Joseph saw the revision of the Bible as well as understanding his methodology.
Comedian David Cross raised hackles when he made a tweet for his University of Utah show wearing garments.
Missionary numbers continued to drop as changes to mission programs proceeded including ease of getting into non-proselytizing missions. According to the Deseret News the Church had out 63,597 missionaries in 407 missions. The pre-surge (2012) numbers were 58,?990. There were also stories we discussed here of as many as ? of all missionaries coming home early – often for health (including mental health) reasons. The converts per missionary has been flat after a substantial drop during the surge. In particular the number of converts the past few years has been down substantially over pre-2014 numbers not seen since the early naughts. (See this old discussion for some of the statistics) This has led to some to question the age drop to 18 as well as various other changes in missionary work over the last 10 years.
The biggest story of the year was charges by McKenna Denson that the former MTC President, Joseph Bishop, had raped her while she was at the MTC. She went to a Fast and Testimony meeting in Bishop’s ward in California at disrupted the service taking over the microphone. Controversy erupted over the ward Bishop’s decision to put his hand on her to direct her away from the pulpit. Many thought the appropriate thing to have done was cut off the mic and close the service. Controversy continues on the story. The court decision of her lawsuit against the Church has yet to be decided.
I know I’m missing some stories. So feel free to chime in with the stories I missed.