Every year Meridian picks our top ten Church stories of the year, which includes both stories about the Church and stories about its members. This year was sober, exciting, vibrant, sometimes disconcerting, but the news flowed in a steady stream from our pages keeping our readers not only in the know about events, but also updated with savvy analysis. It has been a year to be inspired by considering the loss of our prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, and the seamless passing of the mantle to President Thomas S. Monson.
It has been a time to be dismayed as we’ve watched prominent news sources sometimes spread misconceptions about us and a breathtaking economic downturn. We’ve watched Latter-day Saints in California mobilize to pass a marriage protection amendment and take sometimes harsh consequences for merely exercising their rights as citizens.
So here they are-our top ten stories of the year with links to some of the Meridian stories that covered them. We invite readers to add to this list by emailing us at [email protected] We are always glad to hear from you.
1. End of an Era-President Gordon B. Hinckley Passes Away
As news of President Hinckley’s passing began to circulate Sunday night, January 27th, 2008 students on the BYU campus spontaneously gathered and began to sing hymns, notes of appreciation and sorrow began flooding the Internet, Utah governor Jon Huntsman ordered flags to put at half-mast, and Latter-day Saints knew that they had lost a giant.
The word spread through text messaging among many high school students in Utah to wear their Sunday best to school on Monday as a symbol of their respect.
With President Hinckley at the helm, we eagerly awaited each General Conference session to see what new announcement would be made. The Nauvoo Temple announcement took our breath away, but there was always a surprise, a stride forward as the Church not only enjoyed unprecedented growth, but also leaped ahead in every area.
We had come to rely so much upon his goodness and vision, we thought that he would never leave us. He had served as president of the Church since June 1995, and for many converts and young people, they had never known any other.
Remembering President Hinckley : Access our special section on President Hinckley with multiple articles here.
2. President Thomas S. Monson-A Prophet for Our Times
In a noisy political season when the decision about who would be the next U.S. president played out in contention and mixed opinions, the next president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ was decided in a quiet, orderly, divine way – set by a pattern planned long in advance that assures that the new leader has been seasoned and trained and assumes responsibility ready to lead without a blip on the screen.
President Uchtdorf, who called himself “joyfully overwhelmed,” was the first member of the First Presidency to be born out of the United States in recent history. He said that President Monson had the gift not only to reach out to the one, but also to continents. “President Monson has such a feeling for the needs of individuals and the needs of all the world.”
He said that when people ask him if this is a global church, he responds, no; it is a universal church, not for any one nation or ethnic group.
3. Mitt Romney’s Run for U.S. President Exposes Some Bias against Latter-day Saints
Mitt Romney’s bid for the presidency put the Church under the media’s glare and exposed bias against Latter-day Saints that frankly was a disappointing surprise to most of us who have long considered ourselves mainstream. Many pundits also suggested that his religious affiliation went a long way to undoing his candidacy. Though he resisted, he finally gave a speech about how his religion would inform his outlook and decisions if he were elected, and it was excellent. The Washington Post reported that Romney had been torn about giving this speech, “telling advisers that he had a “comma problem.” Political journalists always follow his name by a comma, the words “a Mormon,” and another comma.
“If I give a speech about Mormonism,” he complained privately, “I’ll never get beyond the comma problem.”
4. Standing up for Marriage in California
In a letter that was read over the pulpit to California congregations, the First Presidency advised members that, “Our best efforts are required to preserve the sacred institution of marriage.”
“We ask that you do all you can to support the proposed constitutional amendment by donating of your means and time to assure that marriage is legally defined as being between a man and a woman.”
With that request Latter-day Saints in California were mobilized to pass Proposition 8 and responded by donating more than an estimated $20 million to the campaign and canvassed the state urging citizens to vote “yes.”
Though the amendment passed 52% to 47%, the victory was immediately challenged and the Church became a target. Protests were held in front of many temples, graffiti was scrawled on church buildings and individual members lost their jobs under pressure from the angry opponents of Prop 8.
Some pundits looked at the pointed protests against the Church and saw it as a challenge to everyone’s religious liberty and proclaimed, “We are all Mormons now.”
5. New Temples Dedicated and Announced
New temples continue to dot the earth with four more dedicated this year in Rexburg, Idaho; Twin Falls, Idaho; Curitiba, Brazil; Panama City, Panama. The Mexico City Mexico Temple was rededicated in November.
The Rome Italy Temple was among nine temples announced in 2008. Others included three in Arizona-Gila Valley, Gilbert and Phoenix-as well as Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Kansas City, Missouri; Cordoba, Argentina; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Trujillo, Peru.
- President Monson Dedicates the Rexburg Temple
- Five New Temples Announced at Conference
- Temple Announced for Greater Kansas City Area
6. Monumental Historical Work- The Joseph Smith Papers
In 2008 the Church launched a landmark literary project – the publishing of the inaugural volume of the “Joseph Smith Papers. ” Joseph Smith was the first prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Marlin K. Jensen, Church historian and recorder, has called the Joseph Smith Papers Project “the most significant Church history project of this generation.”
This unprecedented compilation, published by The Church Historian’s Press, will eventually comprise 30 volumes, including journals, correspondence, discourses and written histories, as well as legal and business documents.
The first volume of this work had been out only two weeks when it was completely sold out.
7. Church Reaches out Worldwide in Humanitarian Aid
Many Church members hardly realize how efficiently and far the Church reaches out in humanitarian aid across the globe. In 2008, the Church was again active in efforts such as providing relief to victims of hurricanes and other natural disasters such as the flooding in Myanmar.
The Church sent dozens of semi-truck loads to the Gulf region to aid those areas devastated by Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike and the hundreds of volunteers wearing t-shirts that say Mormon Helping hands became a welcome sight to victims of these devastating storms.
8. Elder Ballard Urges the Correction of Misconceptions
Elder M. Russell Ballard urged Latter-day Saints to use the Internet to share their faith. He said, “There are conversations going on about the Church constantly. Those conversations will continue whether or not we choose to participate in them. But we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches.
“While some conversations have audiences in the thousands or even millions, most are much, much smaller. But all conversations have an impact on those who participate in them. Perceptions of the Church are established one conversation at a time.”
9. Mormon Tabernacle Choir Changes Leadership
Mack Wilberg was named as the new director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, replacing D. Craig Jessop, who had served in that capacity for 8 years.
He is internationally recognized for his choral compositions and arrangements and publishes exclusively with Oxford University Press. His biography on the Oxford University Press Web site states, “Wilberg’s arrangements and compositions, with their grandeur, energy, and charm, inspire performers and audiences everywhere.”
Apparently this is accurate as t he “Spirit of the Season” by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Orcherstra at Temple Square topped Billboard magazine’s classical album chart for 2008, according to the Associated Press.
- Mack Wilberg Named New Director of Tabernacle Choir
- Rejoice and Be Merry! Mack Wilberg Brings Us inside the Tabernacle Choir
10. Individual Latter-day Saints Noteworthy in Popular Culture
Latter-day Saints have long been noteworthy in business, science and sports. According to a recent Pew Forum Poll, Latter-day Saints are overrepresented for our numbers in Congress at 2.6% though we represent only 1.7% of the population. Glenn Beck speaks to a huge audience every day via talk radio and television.
This year, however, we’ve seen many Latter-day Saints receive national attention in the popular culture. David Archuleta and Brooke White were finalists in American Idol, before an audience of millions, with David finishing second. He returned to Salt Lake to an adoring, cheering crowd. Though opinions are mixed among Meridian readers about Stephenie Meyer’s vampire books, she has dominated the New York Times bestseller list and we have also seen Richard Paul Evans, Brandon Mull, and Jared Wright on the list this year. It is a good time to be an LDS writer.
- Passing of President Hinckley
- A New Prophet-President Thomas S. Monson
- Mitt Romney’s Run for President Exposes Some Bigotry Against Latter-day Saints
- Standing up for Marriage in California
- New Temples Dedicated and Announced
- Joseph Smith Papers
- Humanitarian Aid-Mormon Helping Hands Make a Difference
- Mack Wilberg Named New Mormon Tabernacle Choir Director
- Elder Ballard Calls for Members to Correct Misconceptions
- Latter-day Saints Stand Out in Popular Culture
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints topped local headlines in 2008, beginning the year with its first change of leadership in more than a dozen years and ending in the midst of controversy over its opposition to gay marriage.
The death of LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley and the naming of President Thomas S. Monson as his successor was the unanimous choice among Deseret News editors, reporters and readers as the top Utah story of 2008.
Those same journalists and readers also ranked the LDS Church ‘s involvement in the passage of California ‘s Proposition 8, along with the protests and criticism that followed, as one of the biggest stories of the year – No. 3 on the readers’ list and No. 4 on the Deseret News staff rankings.
President Hinckley died on Jan. 27 at age 97 after guiding the LDS Church through explosive growth during his more than 12 years as president. Worldwide church membership grew from 9 million to more than 13 million during his administration, and dozens of new temples were constructed.
On Feb. 4, President Monson was introduced as the 16th president of the LDS Church , following a pattern of succession that has been established and developed throughout
In June, LDS Church leaders encouraged members to support California ‘s Proposition 8 by contributing funds and grass-roots organizing.
The constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman was supported by 52 percent of California voters Nov. 4, overriding the California Supreme Court ruling in May that briefly allowed gay marriage.
Three days later, an estimated 3,500 members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community gathered at City Creek Park near Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City to speak out against the LDS Church for encouraging its members to support Proposition 8.
Protesters in California and other parts of the nation also demonstrated outside LDS meetinghouses and temples, and others called for boycotts of Utah businesses.
The LDS Church also got attention during the 2008 presidential election with Mitt Romney’s ultimately unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination – the fifth biggest Utah story of the year, according to Deseret News editors and reporters. News readers ranked the story at No. 8.
Romney, a member of the LDS Church , won Utah ‘s GOP primary with an overwhelming 90 percent of the vote. He also amassed nearly $6 million in campaign donations from Utahns.
The LDS Church was indirectly connected to another top story of 2008 – the April raid of the Yearning for Zion Ranch, a polygamist compound outside Eldorado , Texas . Deseret News journalists ranked th
After child welfare workers and law enforcement responded to a phone call alleging abuse, hundreds of children were removed from the Fundamentalist LDS Church compound.
The FLDS Church is a breakaway sect of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which renounced polygamy more than a century ago.
Also weighing heavily on readers’ and journalists’ minds in 2008 was the shaky state of the economy – ranked by Deseret News journalists and readers as the second biggest story of the year.
Other stories in the readers’ top five were Murray ‘s David Archuleta finishing second on “American Idol,” and gas prices soaring to more than $4 per gallon but finishing the year around $1.50 a gallon.
The lone sports story to crack the top 10 on either list was the University of Utah ‘s undefeated and Bowl Championship Series-busting football season. The Utes’ quest for perfection, which continues Jan. 2 against once
The year began on a somber note with the passing of 97-year-old President Gordon B. Hinckley on Sunday, 27 January. Thousands of people, both Latter-day Saints and friends of other faiths, waited for hours in the cold wintery weather to attend the viewing of this beloved prophet. His funeral was attended by approximately 20,000 people in the Conference Center.
President Hinckley served as president of the Church from 1995 to 2008. He oversaw rapid progress in the building of temples worldwide and the number of missionaries serving full-time missions. The Church grew considerably during his administration and now numbers more than 13 million members worldwide.
President Hinckley’s first counselor, Thomas S. Monson, became the 16 th president of the Church on 3 February. President Monson had served as first counselor to President Hinckley since March of 1995. As President Monson noted in his address at President Hinckley’s funeral, the two had been friends for a long time. “We were friends long before either one of us was called to be a general authority of the Church, and we have served side by side for over 44 years in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and in the First Presidency.” Serving with President Monson in the new First Presidency are President Henry B. Eyring as first counselor and President Dieter F. Uchtdorf as second counselor.
Publishing and Church History
In 2008 the Church launched a landmark literary project – the publishing of the inaugural volume of the “Joseph Smith Papers. ” Joseph Smith was the first prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Marlin K. Jensen, Church historian and recorder, has called the Joseph Smith Papers Project “the most significant Church history project of this generation.” This unprecedented compilation, published by The Church Historian’s Press, will eventually comprise 30 volumes, including journals, correspondence, discourses and written histories, as well as legal and business documents.
Sometime during 2008 the 140 millionth copy of the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ was distributed, passing another milestone in the book’s history. Since it was first published in 1830, the Book of Mormon has been taken worldwide by over a million missionaries. It is currently available in 107 languages.
The dedication and announcement of temples continued throughout the year. The first temple dedicated by President Monson as president of the Church was the Rexburg Idaho Temple in February. Three other temples were dedicated during the year – Curitiba Brazil in May and the Panama City Panama and Twin Falls Idaho temples in August. In November, the Mexico City Mexico Temple was rededicated.
The Rome Italy Temple was among nine temples announced in 2008. Others included three in Arizona – Gila Valley , Gilbert and Phoenix – as well as Calgary, Alberta, Canada; Kansas City, Missouri; Cordoba, Argentina; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Trujillo, Peru.
Recognizing the importance of marriage to society, the Church encouraged members in California and Arizona to support broad-based coalitions to define marriage as between and man and a woman. Both ballot measures passed in November.
The Church was active in humanitarian efforts including, for example, providing relief to victims of hurricanes and other natural disasters such as the flooding in Myanmar. The Church sent dozens of semi-truck loads of supplies to the Gulf Coast to aid those affected by Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike. Many other humanitarian efforts were conducted worldwide.
Commemorating the Priesthood Revelation
On 9 June 2008, thousands packed the Salt Lake Tabernacle to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the revelation in June 1978 to extend the lay priesthood to men of all races. Church leaders and members, including many who are African American, spoke to those attending the gathering. A video was also produced to celebrate the event.
In response to an address given by Elder M. Russell Ballard, many more Latter-day Saints in 2008 began using the Internet to share and discuss their faith with others. The address by Elder Ballard was published in the Church’s Ensign magazine.
Mormon Tabernacle Choir
And in 2008 a new director was appointed to lead the world-renowned Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Dr. Mack Wilberg was named as its director in March by Mac Christensen, president of the choir. Wilberg replaced former director Dr. Craig Jessop, who led the choir for over eight years.