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Last week, my editor reached out to me with an article idea. A former contestant on “American Idol” had announced plans to serve a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and it felt to him (and me) like a great opportunity to revisit our coverage of her time on the show.

When I agreed to write the story, my editor reminded me to be careful about how I described her announcement. She wouldn’t be taking a mission trip, he said. She’d be serving a mission.

Having been with the Deseret News for 10 years, I wasn’t surprised by the reminder. But I have been surprised at times over the years by how frustrated my Latter-day Saint colleagues can get with people who don’t heed that advice.

Since I grew up in and still identify with the world of Protestant Christianity, I’m very used to the phrase “mission trip.” I took annual mission trips as a teenager. I worked for a mission trip company in college. I support friends’ kids’ fundraisers for their own mission trips.

For these reasons and others, I’ve always sympathized with reporters who describe a Latter-day Saint mission as a mission trip. They aren’t trying to cause confusion, I’d tell my colleagues. They’re just used to the phrase.

After I wrote the “American Idol” story — being careful to use the phrase “serve a mission” throughout — I circled back with my editor and some others to talk about why “mission trip” feels wrong to them.

They explained that, in their minds, “mission trip” fails to capture the significance of the work that Latter-day Saint missionaries take on. These missionaries don’t serve for a week or a summer, they serve for 18 months to two years. They embed themselves in a new community and, in many cases, a brand new culture.

Their comments reminded me that long-term missionaries for Protestant groups are usually referred to just like that — as missionaries, rather than as people on a long mission trip. I began to better understand why it might be frustrating for a Latter-day Saint to see “mission trip” in a headline.

The whole episode reminded me of how tricky it is to be a reporter, especially a religion reporter. You have to balance your interest in using common terms and phrases with the need to respect and understand the people you’re writing about.

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Term of the week: ‘Jesus Calling’

“Jesus Calling” is a popular Christian book that’s sold more than 45 million copies. Its devotionals are written as if Jesus himself is speaking to the reader, which is why some faith leaders see it as problematic or even dangerous.

Last week at its annual meeting, the Presbyterian Church in America voted to investigate “Jesus Calling” to determine if it is appropriate for Christian readers. The decision was somewhat shocking, since the book’s author, Sarah Young, died less than a year ago and since the book has been out for two decades, according to Christianity Today.

Before the vote, Young’s widower addressed the crowd, arguing that his wife’s goal was to point people to scripture, not to rewrite or add to scripture.

But Young’s opponents won out, which means two PCA committees will now undertake studies on “Jesus Calling.” One denominational leader said the goal of the research is not to condemn the author, but, instead, to think about how the book is used in religious settings, Christianity Today reported.

What I’m reading...

John Hawthorne, a former sociology professor who has spoken with me in the past about the future of faith-based colleges and universities, wrote an interesting essay last week about the work of chaplains at Christian schools.

The Lakota tribe is celebrating the birth of a rare white buffalo in Yellowstone, since it sees such animals as signs of good times ahead, according to The Associated Press. “For the Lakota, the birth of a white buffalo calf with a black nose, eyes and hooves is akin to the second coming of Jesus Christ,” explain one Indigenous leader to The Associated Press.


My colleague, Jennifer Graham, wrote a thoughtful analysis of Tucker Carlson’s career based, in part, on her (admittedly stalker-ish) road trip to the small town in Maine that he now calls home.

I’m rereading my Q&A with Colorado baker Jack Phillips from last year ahead of his latest appearance in court this week. The Colorado Supreme Court is weighing whether Phillips, who won in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018, violated the law when he refused to make a gender transition cake.

Odds and ends

Can you answer this “Jeopardy!” clue?

  • “The LDS paper called this News, a word in the Book of Mormon, was established in 1850 and is still around today.”

It’s the Deseret News, of course! Check out my story on Deseret’s time in the “Jeopardy!” spotlight to see what else was asked about 19th century newspapers.

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