Visitors to The Atlantic’s website might be surprised to see a large picture of a Latter-day Saint temple at the top of the site’s home page. Members of the Church will be pleased to find that they can read the words of their prophet, President Russell M. Nelson, in an exclusive interview granted to writer McKay Coppins, a Latter-day Saint himself. The article is a personal essay in which Coppins addresses the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, both the Church at large and in the life of just one of its 16 million members worldwide.
Raised a member of the Church, Coppins opens the article by acknowledging that after being “cooped up in quarantine, watching the world melt down in biblical fashion,” he was reminded of lyrics he sang as a child, “Follow the prophet, he knows the way.”
Those lyrics led him, even as a successful journalist, to explore his faith in an article that covers a lot of ground in a single (albeit lengthy) piece. From Joseph Smith and Brigham Young to the Church’s history with race to Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy, the article explores what Coppins describes as “a quest for assimilation” as he recounts the Church’s experience in America since Joseph Smith’s First Vision in 1820. Coppins highlights the ways in which Latter-day Saints have sought to define “themselves in opposition to their damaging caricatures.”
“If America thought they were non-Christian heretics, they would commission an 11-foot statue of Jesus and place it in Temple Square. If America thought they were disloyal, they would flood the ranks of the military and intelligence agencies. (At one point, Brigham Young University was the third-largest source of Army officers in the country.) To shake the stench of polygamy—which the Church renounced in 1890—they became models of the large nuclear family,” Coppins says.
The article touches on many of the most scrutinized aspects of our faith.
“When I asked him what he’d say to LGBTQ people who feel that the Church doesn’t want them, he told me, ‘God loves all His children, just like you and I do,’ and ‘There’s a place for all who choose to belong to His Church.’ But when I asked whether the prohibition on same-sex relationships might someday be lifted, he demurred. ‘As Apostles of the Lord, we cannot change God’s law,’ he said. ‘We teach His laws. He gave them many thousands of years ago, and I don’t expect He’ll change them now.’”
And yet, the author notes that throughout their interview, amidst answers to many hard-hitting questions, President Nelson “preaches a gospel of silver linings.”
Coppins writes, “When I ask him about the lockdowns that have forced churches to close, he muses that homes can be ‘sanctuaries of faith.’ When I mention the physical ravages of the virus, he marvels at the human body’s miraculous ‘defense mechanisms.’ Reciting a passage from the Book of Mormon—'Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy’—he offers a reminder that feels like a call to repentance: ‘There can be joy in the saddest of times.’”
Read the full article here.