Thomas S. Monson

Thomas S. Monson

Thomas S. Monson

Thomas Spencer Monson (born August 21, 1927) is an American religious leader and author, and the sixteenth and current President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church). As president, Monson is considered by adherents of the religion to be a “prophet, seer, and revelator” of God’s will on earth. A printer by trade, Monson has spent most of his life engaged in various church leadership positions and in public service.

Monson was ordained an apostle at age 36, served in the First Presidency under three church presidents and was the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles from March 12, 1995 until he became President of the Church. He succeeded Gordon B. Hinckley as church president on February 3, 2008.

Monson has received four honorary doctorate degrees, as well as the Boy Scouts of America’s Silver Buffalo and the World Organization of the Scout Movement’s Bronze Wolf—both awards the highest given in each organization. Monson is a member of the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts of America, the organization’s governing body.

Monson is chairman of the Boards of Trustees/Education of the Church Educational System, and was appointed by Ronald Reagan to the U.S. President’s Task Force for Private Sector Initiatives. Monson married Frances Beverly Johnson Monson in the Salt Lake Temple in 1948 and they are the parents of three children. Frances Monson died on May 17, 2013.

Monson was born on August 21, 1927, in Salt Lake City, Utah to G. Spencer Monson (1901–1979) and Gladys Condie Monson (1902–1973). The second of six children, he grew up in a “tight-knit” family—many of his mother’s relatives living on the same street and the extended family frequently going on trips together. The family’s neighborhood included several residents of Mexican descent, an environment in which he says he developed a love for the Mexican people and culture. Monson often spent weekends with relatives on their farms in Granger (now part of West Valley City), and as a teenager, he took a job at the printing business that his father managed.

From 1940 to 1944, Monson attended West High School in Salt Lake City. In the fall of 1944, he enrolled at the University of Utah. Around this time he met his future wife, Frances, whose family came from a higher social class on the east side of the city. Her father, Franz Johnson, felt an immediate connection because Monson’s great uncle had baptized him into the LDS Church in Sweden.

In 1945 Monson joined the United States Naval Reserve and anticipated participating in World War II in the Pacific theater. He was sent to San Diego, California, for training, but was not moved overseas before the end of the war. His tour of duty lasted six months beyond the end of the war, and after it was completed he returned to the University of Utah. Monson graduated cum laude in 1948 with a bachelor’s degree in business management. Monson did not serve a full-time mission as a youth. At age 21, on October 7, 1948, he married Frances Beverly Johnson in the Salt Lake Temple. The couple eventually had three children: Thomas Lee, Ann Frances, and Clark Spencer. His wife died on May 17, 2013.

After college he rejoined the Naval Reserve with the aim of becoming an officer. Shortly after receiving his commission acceptance letter, his ward bishop asked him to serve as a counselor in the bishopric. Time conflicts with bishopric meetings would have made serving in the Navy impossible. After discussing the matter with church apostle Harold B. Lee (his former stake president), Monson declined the commission and applied for a discharge. The Navy granted his discharge in the last group processed before the Korean War. Lee set him apart six months later as a bishop—mentioning in the blessing that he likely would not have been called if he had accepted the commission.

Monson taught for a time at the University of Utah, then began a career in publishing. His first job was with the Deseret News, where he became an advertising executive. He joined the advertising operations of the Newspaper Agency Corporation when it was formed in 1952. Monson later transferred to the Deseret News Press, beginning as sales manager and eventually becoming general manager. While with Deseret News Press, Monson worked to publish LeGrand Richards’s A Marvelous Work And A Wonder. He also worked with Gordon B. Hinckley, the LDS Church’s representative on publications, with whom he later served in the First Presidency.

On May 7, 1950, Monson became an LDS bishop at age 22. He had previously served as ward clerk, ward YMMIA superintendent, and as a counselor in a bishopric. At the time, Monson’s Salt Lake City ward contained over 1,000 people, including 85 widows whom he visited regularly. He continued his visits to these widows when he was released after five years of service. He brought them gifts during the Christmas season, including poultry he had raised himself. Monson eventually spoke at the funerals of each of these women. Also during his time as bishop, 23 men from his ward were serving in the United States military in the Korean War. He wrote personal letters to each of these men on a weekly basis. At least one of these men became fully involved with the Church as a result of Monson’s communication.

During the time Monson was bishop of the 6th-7th Ward sacrament meeting attendance in the ward quadrupled.

In June 1955, at age 27, Monson became a counselor to Percy K. Fetzer (later first president of the Berlin Mission), president of the Salt Lake Temple View Stake. He was replaced as bishop of the 6th-7th ward the following month. In the stake presidency, Monson oversaw the stake’s Primary, Sunday School, MIA, athletics and budget. He served in the stake presidency until June 1957, when he moved to Holladay, Utah. In Holladay, Monson became a member of the ward building committee, with the assignment to coordinate ward members’ volunteer service to build a chapel.

In 1959, Monson became a mission president at age 31. His youngest child, Clark Spencer Monson, was born during the time he was mission president. When he became mission president there were 130 missionaries serving in the mission, with the number of missionaries later peaking at 180. As mission president, he presided over the church’s Canadian Mission until 1962, supervising church missionaries who were not much younger than he was. The Canadian Mission consisted of Ontario and Quebec; it was under the leadership of Monson that missionary work began among the French-speaking population of Quebec. Much of the missionary work under his direction was done among immigrants from such places as the Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Italy, the Soviet Union and Hungary. Jacob de Jager, who would later be an LDS general authority, was among the immigrant converts.

In addition to overseeing the missionaries, since there were no local stakes, Monson was also responsible for all operations of the church in the area. When he became mission president, there were 55 church branches, divided into 9 districts, under his direction. When he became president, most districts and branches were presided over by full-time missionaries. Monson changed this to have local members serve as presidents of branches and districts soon after arriving.

As mission president, Monson encouraged members to remain in eastern Canada and work to build up the church there instead of migrating to the centers of the church in Utah or Alberta as many had done in the past. To assist in this effort, to increase the perception of the church and an air of permanence, and to allow better reach to potential members, he initiated a major building program to replace the rented halls most branches met in with permanent structures.

With the organization of a stake in Toronto on August 14, 1960 much of Monson’s efforts at building the church in Ontario came to fruition. However most of the mission’s area remained in districts and a more complete strengthening of the church in Ontario would not come about until the dedication of the Toronto Ontario Temple in 1990, which Monson attended as a member of the First Presidency.

Immediately after returning from Canada, Monson was called to serve on the Valley View Stake High Council in Holladay. Two months later he was made area supervisor over nine stake missions, which included the Winder, Wilford, Monument Park, Monument Park West, Hillside, Highland, Parleys, Sugarhouse and Wasatch stakes. These stakes were in either Salt Lake City or its east-side suburbs, except for the Wasatch Stake, based in Heber City, Utah. He was also made a member of the Priesthood Genealogy Committee and later the Priesthood Home Teaching Committee.

Upon his return to Utah after his mission to Canada, Monson resumed his work with the Deseret News. He was the assistant general manager of the Deseret News Press, the printing arm of the press mainly doing non-newspaper printing. A month later he was made the general manager of the Deseret News Press. At the time, it was the largest printing plant in the United States, west of the Mississippi River. Monson remained in this position until he was called as an apostle in 1963, at age 36.
Monson was sustained a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at general conference on October 4, 1963. He was the youngest man called to the quorum in 53 years and 17 years younger than the next youngest member, Gordon B. Hinckley. He was ordained an apostle and set apart as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve on October 10, 1963 by Joseph Fielding Smith.

As an LDS Church apostle, Monson worked in many capacities all around the world. With his business background, he helped oversee many operations of the church, including KSL Newsradio and Bonneville International. He was chairman of the Scripture Publication Committee in the 1970s that oversaw publication of the LDS Church edition of the King James Bible and revised editions of LDS Church scriptures containing footnotes and guides. He has also overseen the church’s Printing Advisory, Missionary Executive and General Welfare committees. While an apostle, he continued his education and received a master of business administration degree from Brigham Young University in 1974.

From 1965 to 1968 Monson had the responsibility of overseeing church operations in the South Pacific and Australia. During this time he organized the first LDS stake in Tonga.

Monson also oversaw church operations in Eastern Europe and helped the church gain access to its members in the Soviet bloc. In 1982, he organized the first stake in East Germany and was instrumental in obtaining permission for the church to build a temple in Freiberg, East Germany, in 1985.

From 1965 until 1996 Monson was a member of the Deseret News Publishing Company board of directors. He was made chairman of the board of directors in 1977.

Monson also served for several years on the boards of businesses and organizations not owned by the LDS Church. From 1969 to 1988 Monson was on the Mountain Bell Board of Advisors. He served as a member of the board of directors of Commercial Security Bank, and chaired the bank’s audit committee for 20 years. In 1993 when the bank was bought out by Key Bank, Monson was made a member of the Board of Directors of Key Bank. This was one of multiple positions that Monson resigned in 1996 when it was decided that General Authorities should leave all business boards of directors, with the lone exception of the board of Deseret Management Corporation.

In the mid-1950s Monson was the secretary of the Utah State Roller Club, a group of pigeon breeders.

Monson was also a member of the National Executive Board of Boy Scouts of America starting in 1969. From 1971 to 1977 he served on the Utah State Board of Higher Education and the Utah State Board of Regents. From 1981 to 1982 he was a member of the Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives appointed by Ronald Reagan.

Following the death of church president Spencer W. Kimball in 1985, newly selected church president Ezra Taft Benson asked Gordon B. Hinckley and Monson to serve as his first and second counselors. Monson and Hinckley also served as counselors to Benson’s successor, Howard W. Hunter. When Hinckley succeeded Hunter in 1995, Monson became his first counselor. He served until Hinckley’s death on January 27, 2008. As the second in seniority among the apostles behind Hinckley, Monson simultaneously served as President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Boyd K. Packer (then third in seniority behind Hinckley and Monson) served as Acting President during that time.

Monson became the 16th president of the LDS Church on February 3, 2008, succeeding Gordon B. Hinckley, who had died seven days earlier. Monson selected Henry B. Eyring and Dieter F. Uchtdorf as his first and second counselors, respectively. When Monson was born, there were fewer than 650,000 members of the church in the world, with most of them being based in the western United States. When he became president, there were over 13 million members worldwide, with the majority of the membership living outside the United States and Canada. As of October 2012, 31 temples announced by Monson are either under construction or in planning.

Monson and his counselors in the First Presidency met with President George W. Bush on May 29, 2008 during Bush’s visit to Salt Lake City. He and apostle Dallin H. Oaks met with U.S. President Barack Obama and Senator Harry Reid in the Oval Office on July 20, 2009 and presented Obama with five volumes of personal family history records.

As President of the Church, Monson has dedicated thirteen (and rededicated three) LDS Church temples: the Rexburg Idaho Temple (2008), Curitiba Brazil Temple (2008), Panamá City Panamá Temple (2008), Twin Falls Idaho Temple (2008), México City México Temple (re-dedication; 2008), Draper Utah Temple (2009), Oquirrh Mountain Utah Temple (2009), Vancouver British Columbia Temple (2010), Gila Valley Arizona Temple (2010), Cebu City Philippines Temple (2010), Kyiv Ukraine Temple (2010), Laie Hawaii Temple (re-dedication; 2010), Kansas City Missouri Temple (2012), Calgary Alberta Temple (2012), Boise Idaho Temple (re-dedication; 2012) and Gilbert Arizona Temple (2014).

As a counselor in the First Presidency, Monson dedicated seven church temples: Buenos Aires Argentina Temple (1986), Louisville Kentucky Temple (2000), Reno Nevada Temple (2000), Tampico México Temple (2000), Villahermosa México Temple (2000), Mérida México Temple (2000), and Veracruz México Temple (2000). Monson also attended the dedication of many other church temples while a member of the Quorum of the Twelve and while in the First Presidency.

Monson has continued to be active in community and civic affairs. He is past president of the Printing Industry of Utah and a former board member of the Printing Industries of America. A Life Scout and Explorer crew member in his youth, Monson has served in several adult Scouter leadership capacities: merit badge counselor, member of the Canadian LDS Scouting Committee, chaplain at a Canadian Jamboree, and a member of the General Scouting Committee of the LDS Church for ten years. He has been a proponent of the Scouting for Food drive, and since 1969, he has served on the national executive board of the Boy Scouts of America. He also represented the Boy Scouts of America as a delegate to the World Conferences in Tokyo, Nairobi and Copenhagen.

He served on the Utah State Board of Regents. In December 1981, U.S. President Ronald Reagan appointed Monson to the President’s Task Force for Private Sector Initiatives. He remained with the initiative until it completed its work in December 1982.

In June 2008, Monson and his counselors in the First Presidency sent a letter to local congregations in California, urging them to support Proposition 8 by donating their time and resources, stating that, “Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.” In the 2012 Utah voter list he was listed as a registered Republican voter.

Monson has received various awards related to his volunteer and educational involvement. In 1966, Monson was honored as a distinguished alumnus by the University of Utah. His first honorary degree, an Honorary Doctorate of Laws, was conferred upon him in April 1981 by Brigham Young University. Subsequent honorary degrees include a Doctor of Humane Letters from Salt Lake Community College (June 1996), an Honorary Doctor of Business from the University of Utah (May 2007), and an honorary doctorate degree in Humanities from Dixie State College (May 2011).

For his service to Scouting and the community, Monson has received the Boy Scouts of America’s Silver Beaver (1971) and Silver Buffalo (1978) awards, the latter being the highest honor bestowed by the BSA. In 1993, Monson also received the Bronze Wolf, the highest honor and only award bestowed by the World Organization of the Scout Movement. The citation for this award (conferred at the October 1993 Priesthood Session of the church’s general conference) says, “In his assignments throughout the world as a leader of [the LDS Church], President Monson has worked tirelessly to bring about the advancement of Scouting in many countries. He has worked closely with the World Organization of the Scout Movement to find ways to strengthen the links between the Church and national Scout associations. He is a committed, solid, hard-working volunteer in the Scout Movement. His Scouting leadership has been exemplary.” In connection with the LDS Church’s centennial celebration as a chartered sponsor, the BSA announced that the Leadership Excellence Complex, located at The Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve in West Virginia, would be renamed the Thomas S. Monson Leadership Excellence Complex and also awarded him Scouting’s Medal of Honor for saving the life of a girl who was drowning when he was 12 years old. The Salt Lake chapter of Rotary International also honored Monson at its international convention with its Worldwide Humanitarian Award.

In’s “80 Over 80,” a list of the most powerful octogenarians, Monson placed first in 2009, and was first again in 2010. In 2011, Gallup listed Monson as one of “Americans’ 10 Most Admired Men”.

Monson has written a number of books, some of which are compilations of speeches given by him, or of inspiring quotes. Others discuss particular LDS gospel themes. He also wrote Faith Rewarded which is an autobiographical account about his work in leading the church in Eastern Europe.

Craig D. Jessop

Craig Jessop

Craig Jessop

Craig D. Jessop is an American academic, musician and singer best known for his tenure as the music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from 1999 to 2008.

A native of Millville, Utah, Jessop has been a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was a student of Robert Shaw and received his B.A. from Utah State University, M.A. from Brigham Young University and D.M.A. from Stanford University.

He has been the director of the National High School Choir Festival since its founding in 2005. The event, held at New York’s Carnegie Hall, auditions schools from around the country to inspire and enable young singers in learning great works of music and performing with renowned musicians from around the world.

He has also spent seven years as a baritone with the Robert Shaw Festival Singers and performed in the choirs of Helmuth Rilling and John Rutter. Jessop earned a doctorate of musical arts in conducting and performance practice from Stanford University (1980), with an earlier master’s degree in music education from Brigham Young University. He completed a bachelor’s degree in music education at USU in 1973.

Prior to his association with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Jessop had a distinguished career as a Lieutenant Colonel from the United States Air Force, where he was director of the Singing Sergeants (1979–1987), commander/conductor, Band of the United States Air Forces in Europe (1987–91) and commander/conductor of the Air Combat Command Heartland of American Band (1991–95).

He began his career in education as director of choral activities at Granite High School in Salt Lake City.

Jessop was named Associate Director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in 1995 and became Music Director in 1999. Under Jessop’s direction the Utah choir won many awards, including the Special Recognition Award from the International Radio and Television Society Foundation and a National Medal of Arts presented by George W. Bush. He served in that position until suddenly resigning on March 4, 2008. At an evening rehearsal he appeared long enough to read a statement, to the surprise and confusion of choir members and community members. Jessop explained he was “at a major crossroads of life” and would return to “the career that I originally began [in] my musical journey” and spend “more time together with our children and grandsons.”

Jessop and his wife have four children and five grandchildren.

Jessop became head of the Music Department at Utah State University, in Logan, Utah, on May 5, 2008. He has also been named director of the American Festival Chorus, a new 270-member choir headquartered at Utah State University. The choir performed with the Utah State University Symphony Orchestra on November 11, 2008 in a Veteran’s Day tribute. On November 15, 2008, the American Festival Chorus and Orchestra debuted with a performance of Mozart’s Requiem. On February 28, 2009, Dr. Jessop was invited to guest conduct a special concert with the Choirs of BYU. On April 2, 2010, Utah State University announced[6] that Craig Jessop would become the first Dean of the Caine College of the Arts (CCA) at Utah State, created out of a split of the College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences into two colleges: CCA and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. On December 22, 2012, Dr. Jessop conducted Joy to the World Christmas Musical Celebration Hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in central Oklahoma. The 60 orchestra member and 300 choir members are volunteers from many faiths in central Oklahoma, with the core membership drawn from 44 Latter-day Saint congregations.

Mack Wilberg

Mack Wilberg

Mack Wilberg

Mack Wilberg (born in 1955 in Orangeville, Utah) is a composer, arranger, conductor, choral clinician and the current music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He was the associate director of the choir and music director of the Temple Square Chorale for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from May 1999 until his appointment as director on March 28, 2008.

Mack Wilberg was raised in Castle Dale, Utah, and served an LDS mission in South Korea where he was part of New Horizons, a vocal group made up of LDS missionaries.

Wilberg attended Brigham Young University upon finishing his missionary service, and earned a bachelor’s degree in music in 1979. He concentrated on piano and composition. He then earned a master’s and a PhD in music from the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California.

He is a former professor of music at Brigham Young University (BYU) where he directed the Brigham Young University Men’s Chorus and Concert Choir. At BYU he was a member of the famous American Piano Quartet which included Paul Pollei, himself, and different other pianist at different times (Massimiliano Frani, Del Parkinson, Ronald Staheli, and Douglas Humphreys). This group toured throughout the world and commissioned many original works. Wilberg himself made many of their arrangements. His compositions and arrangements are performed and recorded by choral organizations throughout the world. In addition to the many compositions he has written for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, his works have been performed by such artists as Renée Fleming, Frederica von Stade, Bryn Terfel, the King’s Singers, Audra McDonald, David Archuleta, Natalie Cole, Brian Stokes Mitchell and narrators Walter Cronkite and Claire Bloom.

Wilberg’s father was part owner of the family’s Wilberg coal mine but died well before the 1984 fire.

He is married to Rebecca and has four children.

Ryan T. Murphy

Ryan T. Murphy

Ryan T. Murphy

Ryan T. Murphy (born 1971) has since March 2009 been the associate music director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, working with music director Mack Wilberg. Ryan Murphy’s previous positions have included directing choirs at the New England Conservatory of Music and the Walnut Hill School for the Arts. He has also been music director at the Tuacahn Amphitheatre and Center for the Arts and the Sundance Institute in Provo.

A native of Newtown, Connecticut, Murphy attended Brigham Young University, earning a bachelor’s degree (1997) and a master’s degree (2002). In 2009, he received a doctorate in choral conducting from Boston University. While a student at BYU Murphy served as an assistant to then BYU professor Mack Wilberg.

Women Auxiliary Leaders Provide Training in the Southeast

Members of the general presidencies of the Relief Society, Young Women and Primary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were in the southeastern section of the United States 11-14 September to meet with local leaders.

atlanta sister mcconkie

Photos courtesy of David Winters

Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, Primary general president, and Sister Carol F. McConkie, first counselor in the Young Women general presidency, visited congregations in South Carolina and Georgia, where they attended meetings with five different congregations and held a couple of evening devotionals in Atlanta.

Sister Burton encouraged the local leaders to minister in small and simple ways. “Can you think of a time when your life has been touched by someone who did a small and simple thing?” she asked.

sister wixom training southeast us

Sister Wixom told the men and women that Primary (the Church’s organization for children between the ages of 18 months and 12 years) is where children should feel secure and included and urged them to teach the messages of the Primary songs. “It’s the songs that will stick with us,” she added.

Sister McConkie encouraged the leaders to use the online tools to teach the youth, and she invited the men and women to participate in the Church’s social media efforts by using the #sharegoodness hashtag made popular by Elder David A. Bednar’s recent talk.

Sister Carol F. McConkie, first counselor in the Church’s Young Women general presidency, poses for a selfie with youth in Atlanta, Georgia, on 13 September.

Church leaders frequently travel to various parts of the globe to visit with members and provide instruction to local leaders. Some of those participants traveled several hours to attend the training sessions and meet the sisters.

wixom mcconkie atlanta

These same sisters are involved in planning the general women’s meeting that will be held in a couple of weeks, a semiannual meeting for all women and girls age eight years old and older. Representatives from the women’s organizations will be speaking at the event at the Conference Center.

Sister Wixom said there was an “excitement” about the first general women’s meeting which was held last March. “I think it surpassed every one of our expectations,” she said.

sister mcconkie atlanta girls

They encouraged the women and girls to attend the meeting that will be broadcast to local stake centers on 27 September.  “Women love to gather,” explained Sister Burton. “We build each other when we’re together.”

“It truly is edifying to just be together and to feel the Spirit of the Lord together,” concluded Sister McConkie.


The Mormonizing of America

America Mormon

There are nearly seven million Mormons in America. This is the number the Mormons themselves use. It’s not huge. Seven million is barely 2 percent of the country’s population. It is the number of people who subscribe to Better Homes and Gardens magazine. London boasts seven million people. So does San Francisco. It’s a million more people than live in the state of Washington; a million less than in the state of Virginia. It’s so few, it’s the same number as were watching the January 24, 2012, Republican debate.

In fact, worldwide, there are only about fourteen million Mormons. That’s fourteen million among a global population just reaching seven billion. Fourteen million is the population of Cairo or Mali or Guatemala. It’s approximately the number of people who tune in for the latest hit show on network television every week. Fourteen million Americans ate Thanksgiving dinner in a restaurant in 2011. That’s how few fourteen million is.

Yet in the first decade or so of the new millennium, some members of the American media discovered the Mormons and began covering them as though the Latter-day Saints had just landed from Mars. It was as though Utah was about to invade the rest of the country. It was all because of politics and pop culture, of course. Mitt Romney and John Huntsman were in pursuit of the White House. Glenn Beck was among the nation’s most controversial news commentators. Stephenie Meyer had written the astonishingly popular Twilight series about vampires. Matt Stone and Trey Parker had created the edgy South Park cartoon series–which included a much- discussed episode about Mormons–and then went on to create the blatantly blasphemous and Saint-bashing Broadway play The Book of Mormon. It has become one of the most successful productions in American theater history.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen Mormons sat in the US Congress, among them Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader. Mormons led JetBlue, American Express, Marriott, Novell, Deloitte and Touche, Diebold, and Eastman Kodak. Management guru Stephen Covey made millions telling them how to lead even better. There were Mormons commanding battalions of US troops and Mormons running major US universities. There were so many famous Mormons, in fact, that huge websites were launched just to keep up with it all. Notables ranged from movie stars like Katherine Heigl to professional athletes to country music stars like Gary Allan to reality television contestants and even to serial killers like Glenn Helzer, whose attorney argued that the Saints made him the monster he was. The media graciously reminded the public that Mormon criminals were nothing new, though: Butch Cassidy of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid fame was also a Mormon, they reported.

2012-08-23-NBC-RC-MormonAmericaMost media coverage treated this “Mormon Moment” as though it was just that: the surprising and unrelated appearance of dozens of Mormons on the national stage–for a moment. More than a few commentators predicted it would all pass quickly. This new Mormon visibility would lead to new scrutiny, they said, and once the nation got reacquainted with tales of “holy underwear” and multiple wives and Jewish Indians and demonized African Americans and a book printed on gold plates buried in upstate New York, it would all go quiet again and stay that way for a generation. In the meantime, reruns of HBO’s Big Love and The Learning Channel’s Sister Wives would make sure Mormon themes didn’t die out completely.

What most commentators did not understand was that their “Mormon Moment” was more than a moment, more than an accident, and more than a matter of pop culture and fame alone. The reality was–and is–that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has reached critical mass. It is not simply that a startling number of Mormons have found their way onto America’s flat-screen TVs and so brought visibility to their religion. It is that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter- day Saints has reached sufficient numbers–and has so permeated every level of American society on the strength of its religious value–that prominent politicians, authors, athletes, actors, newscasters, and even murderers are the natural result, in some cases even the intended result. Visible, influential Mormons aren’t outliers or exceptions. They are fruit of the organic growth of their religion.

In 1950, there were just over a million Mormons in the world. Most of these were located in the Intermountain West of the United States, a region of almost lunar landscape between the Rocky Mountains to the East and the Cascades and Sierra Nevada Mountains to the West. The religion was still thought of as odd by most Americans. There had been famous Mormons like the occasional US Senator or war hero, but these were few and far between. There had even been a 1940 Hollywood movie entitled Brigham Young that told the story of the Saints’ mid-1800s trek from Illinois to the region of the Great Salt Lake. Its producers worked hard to strain out nearly every possible religious theme, a nod to the increasingly secular American public. Though it starred heavyweights like Vincent Price and Tyrone Power, the movie failed miserably, even in Utah. Especially in Utah.

Then, in 1951, a man named David O. McKay became the “First President” of the Latter-day Saints and inaugurated a new era. He was the Colonel Harlan Sanders of Mormonism. He often wore white suits, had an infectious laugh, and under- stood the need to appeal to the world outside the Church. It was refreshing. Most LDS presidents had either been polygamist oddballs or stodgy old men in the eyes of the American public. McKay was more savvy, more media aware. He became so popular that film legend Cecil B. DeMille asked him to consult on the now classic movie The Ten Commandments.

Empowered by his personal popularity and by his sense that an opportune moment had come, McKay began refashioning the Church’s image. He also began sharpening its focus. His famous challenge to his followers was, “Every Member a Missionary!” And the faithful got busy. It only helped that Ezra Taft Benson, a future Church president, was serving as the nation’s secretary of agriculture under President Eisehower. This brought respectability. It also helped that George Romney was the revered CEO of American Motors Corporation and that he would go on to be the governor of Michigan, a candidate for president of the United States, and finally a member of Richard Nixon’s cabinet. This hinted at increasing power. The 1950s were good for Mormons.

Then came the 1960s. Like most religions, the LDS took a beating from the counterculture movement, but by the 1970s they were again on the rise. There was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, a symbol of Americana when Americana was under siege. There was Mormon Donny Osmond’s smile and Mormon Marie Osmond’s everything and the three-year run of network television’s Donny and Marie in the late 1970s that made words like family, clean, talented, patriotic, and even cute outshine some of the less-endearing labels laid upon the Saints through the years. New labels joined new symbols. A massive, otherworldly, 160,000-square-foot Temple just north of Washington, DC, was dedicated in the 1970s, a symbol of LDS power and permanence for the nation to behold. Always there was the “Every Member a Missionary!” vision beating in each Saintly heart.

mitt romney family lds mormonBy 1984, the dynamics of LDS growth were so fine-tuned that influential sociologist Rodney Stark made the mind- blowing prediction that the Latter-day Saints would have no fewer than 64 million members and perhaps as many as 267 million by 2080.3 It must have seemed possible in those days. In the following ten years, LDS membership exploded from 4.4 million to 11 million. This may be why in 1998 the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual meeting in Salt Lake City. The Mormons–a misguided cult in the view of most traditional Christians, most Baptists in particular–had to be stopped.

They weren’t. Four years after the Baptists besieged Temple Square, the Winter Olympic Games came to Salt Lake City. This was in 2002 and it is hard to exaggerate what this meant to the Latter-day Saints. A gifted Mormon leader, Mitt Romney, rescued the games after a disastrous bidding scandal. A sparkling Mormon city hosted the games. Happy, handsome all-American Mormons attended each event, waving constantly to the cameras and appearing to be–in the word repeatedly used by the press at the time–“normal.”

The LDS Church capitalized on it all. It sent volunteers, missionaries, and publicists scurrying to every venue. It hosted grand events for the world press. It made sure that every visitor received a brochure offering an LDS guided tour of the city. Visitors from around the world read these words: “No other place in America has a story to tell like that of Salt Lake City–a sanctuary founded by religious refugees from within the United States’ own borders. And none can tell that story better than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

Largely unchallenged, the Mormon narrative prevailed.

What followed was the decade of the new millennium we have already surveyed. Mormons seemed to be everywhere, seemed to be exceptional in nearly every arena, seemed to have moved beyond acceptance by American culture to domination of American culture. At least this was what some feared at the time.

But Mormons did not dominate the country. Far from it. Remember that they were not even 2 percent of the nation’s population as of 2012. True, they were visible and successful, well educated and well spoken, patriotic and ever willing to serve. Yet what they had achieved was not domination. It was not a conspiracy either, as some alleged. It was not anything approaching a takeover or even the hope for a takeover

Few observers seemed to be able to explain how this new level of LDS prominence in American society came about. They reached for the usual answers trotted out to account for such occurrences: birth rates, Ronald Reagan’s deification of traditional values, the economic boom of the late twentieth century, a more liberal and broadminded society, even the dumbing down of America through television and failing schools. Each of these explanations was found wanting.

The Mormon Machine

lds missionaries book of mormonThe truth lay within Mormonism itself. What the Saints had achieved in the United States was what Mormonism, unfettered and well led, will nearly always produce. This was the real story behind the much-touted “Mormon Moment.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had risen to unexpected heights in American society because the Mormon religion creates what can benevolently be called a Mormon Machine– a system of individual empowerment, family investment, local church (ward and stake level) leadership, priesthood government, prophetic enduement, Temple sacraments, and sacrificial financial endowment of the holy Mormon cause.

Plant Mormonism in any country on earth and pretty much the same results will occur. If successful, it will produce deeply moral individuals who serve a religious vision centered upon achievement in this life. They will aggressively pursue the most advanced education possible, understand their lives in terms of overcoming obstacles, and eagerly serve the surrounding society. The family will be of supernatural importance to them, as will planning and investing for future generations. They will be devoted to community, store and save as a hedge against future hardship, and they will esteem work as a religious calling. They will submit to civil government and hope to take positions within it. They will have advantages in this. Their beliefs and their lives in all-encompassing community will condition them to thrive in administrative systems and hierarchies–a critical key to success in the modern world. Ever oriented to a corporate life and destiny, they will prize belonging and unity over individuality and conflict every time.

These hallmark values and behaviors–the habits that distinguish Mormons in the minds of millions of Americans– grow naturally from Mormon doctrine. They are also the values and behaviors of successful people. Observers who think of the religion as a cult–in the Jim Jones sense that a single, dynamic leader controls a larger body of devotees through fear, lies, and manipulation–usually fail to see this. Mormon doctrine is inviting, the community it produces enveloping and elevating, the lifestyle it encourages empowering in nearly every sense. Success, visibility, prosperity, and influence follow. This is the engine of the Mormon ascent. It is what has attracted so many millions, and it is the mechanism of the Latter-day Saints’ impact upon American society and the world.

Mormons make achievement through organizational management a religious virtue. It leads to prosperity, visibility, and power. It should come as no surprise, then, that an American can turn on the evening news after a day of work and find one report about two Mormon presidential candidates, another story about a Mormon finalist on American Idol, an examination of the controversial views of a leading Mormon news commentator, a sports story about what a Mormon lineman does with his “Temple garments” in the NFL, and a celebration of how Mormons respond to crises like Katrina and the BP oil spill, all by a “Where Are They Now?” segment about Gladys Knight, minus the Pips, who has become–of course–a Mormon.

Mormons rise in this life because it is what their religion calls for. Achieving. Progressing. Learning. Forward, upward motion. This is the lifeblood of earthly Mormonism. Management, leadership, and organizing are the essential skills of the faith. It is no wonder that Mormons have grown so rapidly and reached such stellar heights in American culture. And there is much more to come.

THE MORMONIZING OF AMERICA by Stephen Mansfield, © 2012. Published by Worthy Publishing, a division of Worthy Media, Inc., Brentwood, TN.\


LDS conference talks may be given in native languages

general conference languagenativeSALT LAKE CITY — The internationalization of the LDS Church continued Monday with news that will change the sound of its semi-annual general conferences.

“Speakers at the general conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints whose primary language is not English now have the choice to deliver their talks in their native tongue,” church spokesman Dale Jones said in a statement.

“In those cases, English subtitles will be shown on screens in the Conference Center and a live English interpretation will be provided for all other English-language broadcasts including satellite, cable, television, and the Internet.”

The announcement immediately drew widespread interest and praise.

“I’d rather hear them speak in Portuguese,” Roberta Loftus, who moved to the United States from Rio in 2000, said of Brazilian church authorities who speak in conference. “The talks flow more naturally that way and the emotion comes across better.”

Loftus, who lives in Provo, Utah, said another positive is that the new policy opens doors for potential church leaders gifted in spiritual matters but not in languages, since it can be difficult and intimidating to speak a second language in a public setting.

The change also provides a wrinkle for Americans accustomed to hearing English in every setting.

“Americans are not used to translations or reading subtitles,” Loftus said. “It’s not something that’s generally done in America. It might be difficult for some to adapt.”

The new policy will be implemented at the next conference, Oct. 4 and 5. It’s unclear how many of the 30-35 speakers, who are not announced until they talk, will take up the invitation, but there is potential for several languages to be spoken. At the last general conference in April, for example, talks were delivered by five church leaders for whom English is an additional language.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the church’s First Presidency, was born in Czechoslovakia, raised in Germany and speaks German. He delivered three talks at the April conference.

Talks also were delivered by four members of the First Quorum of the Seventy who speak other languages:

— Elder Michael John U. Teh of the Philippines, past president of the Philippines Area

— Elder Carlos H. Amado of Guatemala, past president of the Central America Area Presidency

— Elder Claudio D. Zivic of Argentina, who lives in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and serves as first counselor in the Caribbean Area Presidency

— Elder Marcos A. Aidukaitis of Brazil, second counselor in the Brazil Area Presidency

The church has more than 15 million members around the world. In addition to the 595,000 households in North America that tune in for the Sunday morning session of general conference, conference sessions arebroadcast to 7,000 church buildings in 96 countries.

In all, people in 197 countries and territories view conference sessions, which are translated into 94 languages with video and audio available in 70 languages.


6 Mormon sisters share uplifting music with millions on YouTube

gardiner sisters music mormon lds singersThe Gardiner family has a motto: If you work hard and put the Lord first, you can do anything you set your mind to.

That’s what the father of Hailey, 21, Allie, 20, and Mandi, 19, taught his daughters years ago and continues to tell them today. And the women from North Carolina, known as the Gardiner Sisters, have taken it to heart. It motivates them to pursue their dream of making music that inspires and uplifts.

“We dedicate ourselves to trying to be the best people we can first, the best sisters that we can first, and then hopefully that will translate over into our music,” Hailey told the Deseret News.

During the past year, the Gardiner Sisters have acquired millions of views on YouTube and thousands of Facebook followers, and on Aug. 29, they sold out their first ticketed concert in Los Angeles.

Mandi, Allie and Hailey’s journey began at ages 6, 7 and 8, respectively. Music had always been a part of their lives, but it was then that their mother taught them three-part harmony.

“I think it was from that time on that we realized it was something that we really liked to do, and then we started singing at church, and then it turned into little festivals, and then it turned into concerts, and then it warped into what it is now,” Allie said.

After setting up a YouTube channel in 2007 and posting covers of popular songs in 2009, the Gardiner family moved their eight children to Los Angeles to support the sisters’ dream.

“Our whole family up and moved from North Carolina for a year, and actually we did that twice in high school,” Hailey said. “Our parents have always believed in us and were so supportive of us pursuing our dreams.”

Although the family moved back to North Carolina after a record deal didn’t come through, the Gardiner Sisters continued to pursue their goal.

As their younger siblings grew older and became interested in their music, Hailey, Allie and Mandi added sisters Lindsay, 15, Abby, 12, and Lucy, 6, to their group.

Week after week, the Gardiner Sisters uploaded videos of themselves singing acoustic covers of popular songs. In 2012, a cover of the One Direction song “Kiss You,” which now has more than 5 million views, struck a chord with viewers and became the Gardiner Sisters’ first viral video.

“It’s funny because we’ve been posting videos for fun for years and it was totally random. … It was just kind of lucky the way (‘Kiss You’) exploded, and our channel has been growing pretty consistently since then,” Allie said.

Today, the Gardiner Sisters continue to make videos with all six sisters, covering music from Disney love songs to Colbie Caillat and One Republic.

The Gardiner family also has two boys, Ben, 11, and Tim, 8, who don’t enjoy singing as much as their sisters but are still involved.

“We gauge how funny our content is by if we can get our brothers to laugh or not because they’re pretty hard critics,” Hailey said. “But if we can get our brother Ben, especially, if we can get him to laugh at our videos, or if he asks to watch our videos, we’re like, ‘Yes!’ That’s our goal.”

While the sisters admit they don’t always get along, performing together is something they cherish.

“Ever since we were little, our dad always told us after we had fights, ‘You guys are best friends,’ and we’d be like, ‘No we’re not!’ ” Allie said.

“But as we’ve gotten older, we’ve gotten so much closer, and it’s so much fun to work with your best friends in the world. … It’s also a great support system. You can trust your sisters with anything. They’re great people to have alongside you through ups and downs of the industry.”

But it’s been the support of their parents that has helped the Gardiner Sisters climb to where they are now.

“Our parents’ support has been a world of difference in what we do,” Mandi said. “They have supported us from day one. Our mom taught us everything we know. They continue to help us and believe in us.”

Their parents have also instilled a love for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and a spiritual perspective in them.

“I think in the industry what they say is it takes seven ‘no’s’ to get a ‘yes,’ ” Hailey said.

“Well, we’ve had about 700 ‘no’s’ and still waiting for that ‘yes.’ But our parents have always been there, and they’ve told us if you want this you can have it, you just have to put the work in, and if you are putting the Lord first and working to glorify him and move his work forward, he’ll help you and he’ll magnify your efforts. And we truly believe that.”

The Gardiner Sisters’ standards differentiate them from other YouTube groups.

“I think we decided when we were really young that we always wanted to share songs that were positive and uplifting and real and had good messages to them,” Hailey said.

“Even if we have the option of changing lyrics, usually we just won’t even cover the song if there is something questionable in it. We try and pick songs that reflect us and what we believe in. Everything that we put out is really stuff that we care about ourselves.”

They also choose uplifting songs because they recognize the impact they can have on their audience.

“We try to be good examples for girls. That’s kind of missing, I think, positive girls that you can look up to and know that all of our content will be clean,” Allie said. “Parents don’t have to worry about our channel and what we’re posting.”

As members of the LDS Church, the sisters use music to share the happiness their family finds in the gospel.

“We consider our band and our YouTube channel, we call it our mission, it is our mission we feel in this life. We have access to homes, and doors are opened for us to come in all over the world through the Internet, which is really powerful, and we don’t take that for granted,” Hailey said.

“We definitely are aware of the influence we can have, and we try every day to share the light and the joy of the gospel and to glorify our Savior Jesus Christ in everything that we do.”

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President Uchtdorf visits Provo City Center Temple, ‘Studio C’ cast and other local attractions

president uchtdorf provo temple construction

President Uchtdorf at construction site of Provo City Center Temple


Putting a bright orange vest over his suit coat and wearing a hard hat, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, got an up-close look at the construction that is transforming the ruins of the Provo Tabernacle into the Provo City Center Temple.

“Though it’s still a construction site, you can already feel the beauty of the completed temple,” he said. “I am looking forward to when it will be dedicated and used by the many young people and Church members of all walks of life who will go to the temple right there in the heart of the city. It’s wonderful to see that even though the tabernacle burned down it is coming back more beautiful than ever before.”

The tabernacle was gutted by fire that broke out on Dec. 17, 2010. During the October 2011 general conference, President Thomas S. Monson announced plans to reconstruct the edifice as a temple, later named as the Provo City Center Temple.

President Uchtdorf visited the temple site on Aug. 21. He and Andy Kirby, project manager, climbed scaffolding surrounding the temple.

“I saw on the walls some of the stones colored by the fire. I felt sad that the tabernacle burned down, but it is rising like the phoenix from the ashes and will bring about something much greater.

“I had the privilege of speaking at stake conferences in the Provo Tabernacle and was able to meet and sing with the members there. Now, one can see how this edifice has been elevated in preparation for a higher purpose. The tabernacle has blessed the Saints spiritually and temporally. The temple will provide eternal blessings to those living now and to future generations, descendants of those who built the tabernacle.”

President Uchtdorf spoke with admiration of those who built the Provo Tabernacle, which was dedicated in 1898 by Elder George Q. Cannon. He described some of the sandstones and bricks from the original structure that are being reused in the temple’s construction and spoke of the craftsmanship that went into building the tabernacle.

“From the scaffolding around the temple all the way up to the highest level, I could see how the sandstones were put in place. The bricks were mostly made by hand. The slate roof was beautifully done.

“Back then, many who worked on the tabernacle were volunteers. It isn’t like now where we have professional contractors and construction crews. Most were volunteers who went after their regular jobs, fulfilling the hours they committed to render this volunteer service. As you see the stones and the bricks, you can feel how these men and women bent their backs and worked hard, with a heart full of joy, to build a place to worship their God. I’m pleased that even though the tabernacle burned down, something greater is coming out of it. Those who built the tabernacle will be pleased it was not destroyed but has been reborn, in a way, to a higher purpose.”

President Uchtdorf made two trips to Provo during the week. On Aug. 20, he and his wife, Sister Harriet Uchtdorf, visited the recently remodeled Monte L. Bean Life Science Museum, which features wildlife artwork and carvings by President Boyd K. Packer (Please see Church News, June 2, 2014).

Afterward, they met with the BYU football team, where President Uchtdorf offered encouragement to the players and staff and participated in a question/answer period.


President and Sister Uchtdorf with cast of Studio C

On Aug. 21, before visiting the temple site, President and Sister Uchtdorf toured the BYU Broadcasting building. While there, they stopped in at a dress rehearsal for BYU Television’s “Studio C,” and spoke with the cast and crew.

Part of President and Sister Uchtdorf’s visit to Provo was something of a sentimental journey. “When they have BYU Campus Education Week, we like to spend an hour or so on campus and see how things are going,” he said. “Harriet and I and our children participated way back when our children were small. We went to all different kinds of presentations and made friends with people sitting next to us. Sometimes I wish I could go again and just sit in, but it’s kind of difficult now to do that.”

President Uchtdorf said he felt an excitement on the campus. “People were rushing from one event to another, talking and visiting. You could see the sociality. People came together – couples, friends, families. It was just as we remembered it back when we attended. Education Week is a wonderful experience.”

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