As 2020 draws to a close, the Church News podcast takes a look back at all that has happened during this unique and challenging year, which has been defined by the coronavirus pandemic, natural disasters, political tensions and civil unrest.
As a journalist and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deseret News Editor Doug Wilks discusses why the Deseret News aims to not just deliver the news but also to elevate understanding, enlighten, and, most importantly, increase hope for their readers. He explores the world’s current divisive climate and how his experience as the president of the historic Salt Lake Stake allows him to temper sorrow and cultivate empathy in his day-to-day life.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As 2020 draws to a close we look back on all that has happened during this unique and challenging year, defined by the Covid-19 pandemic, natural disasters, racial and political tensions, violence, and a lack of civility and trust in the media. This year has also been a seminal year for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its members. Today, I welcome Doug Wilks, editor of the Desert News, to the Church News podcast. He has served as editor of the Desert News since November 2016. During that time, he has increased the strength and rigor of the news report and has been instrumental in extending the reach of the Desert News to millions of readers across the globe. Doug has worked in the news industry for more than 35 years and joins us today to talk about this unique and challenging year. Doug, it’s great to have you with us.
Doug Wilks: It’s good to be here, Sarah. Thanks for the invitation.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Doug is also president of the Salt Lake Stake so he is uniquely positioned to also talk about news and how it impacts the Church of Jesus Christ. So let’s begin today with an overview of all that has happened during this important year.
Doug Wilks: What? Did things happen this year? I was out for a bit and maybe missed it. It’s been a remarkable year, obviously both difficult and tragic for some, but fascinating, because it also provides an opportunity for personal reflection. And as President Nelson has taught us, and other Church leaders have taught us, you can take adversity and make opportunity out of it. The whole year was really framed by the coronavirus. That’s not news. Everybody knows that. But we first became really aware of it that last week of December, in 2019, when news started coming out of China about the virus. And then the first case in America was in Washington, across the lake there from Seattle, in a care facility, and that was on Jan. 20. And then in Utah and across the state on March 11 when Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz was diagnosed, that’s when everything really, really changed. That’s when sports leagues were shut down. People started realizing this is going to be serious. And that’s when the closure started happening, impacting the economy. So, in terms of faith, in terms of our daily life, everything was framed basically by the coronavirus starting in January, February and March.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, and then that impacted and rippled into the way we worship. The First Presidency in March closed meetings worldwide. A few weeks later they closed temples. As borders of countries were closing, tens of thousands of missionaries were sent to their home countries. We also had an opportunity to look at what is essential in our lives. And so many of us discovered, or already knew, that religion is essential. This year also was a seminal year for the Church in that it was celebrating the 200th anniversary of the First Vision. President Nelson started the year on Jan. 1, with a very special invitation to us. He said, “I invite you to be a major part of sharing the message of the ongoing restoration of the Savior’s gospel.” And so that shaped the year in a very unique way.
Doug Wilks: Well, it certainly did, didn’t it. And it set us up to cope with some of these difficult challenges. Religion has always been vital, and for people of faith, it’s how you live your life. You don’t really separate your life. As a journalist, I don’t separate my life from my spiritual life. There’s a quest for truth, right? And religion, we know the source of that truth. We know it’s Jesus Christ. In journalism, they often talk about a first draft of history, but you’re seeking to get to the heart of it. Now media has been criticized all this year. And maybe we’ll get into that a little bit. But the quest for truth, and following Jesus Christ’s example has been a very important part of this. This year, one of the things that’s so fascinating, is there’s this natural intersection between understanding the source of truth and the seeking of that truth. And if you looked at Jesus Christ as an example, He was the perfect leader, but He was also the perfect follower. The scriptures tell us He never did anything except it was the will of His Father, our Heavenly Father, God. And yet, everybody followed Him, and He’s the most seminal person who’s ever walked the earth. We, of course, believe He was divine, the literal Son of God. But when you look at that importance, that example, can we follow what our Church leaders and our political leaders are telling us and also lead out? And, as a journalist, you want to lead out in that space as well. So that intersection of leadership and followership has been very interesting, particularly in the world of media this year.
Sarah Jane Weaver: A lot of people have been talking about faith, including so many of the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ. Elder David A. Bednar offered two very high profile addresses on this topic. But in addition to that, President Dallin H. Oaks, President Henry B. Eyring, Elder Quintin L. Cook, and Elder Ulisses Soares also spoke on religion as being essential.
Doug Wilks: Well, they certainly did. And it became front and center this year, in society and in the courts. You know, the Church was very good citizens. And when they opted to not hold general conference in person, meaning that the 20,000-seat Conference Center was empty, they did that in an interest of good health, but they sought ways. How do you worship God? You don’t eliminate worship, you just figured out how to do it. And you can’t close the churches and say, that’s fine, and then open the bars, right, or open clubs and deem those essential services but not faith. So the essentialness, the necessary necessity of faith in people’s lives, became a strong topic of conversation. And we wrote many news stories about that. It reached the courts. And of course, the Supreme Court ruled on a case in New York about a month ago, saying that the government didn’t have any right to be discriminating against churches. And it spoke of the need for public health, the need to make standards that are universal. So when you start picking and choosing and put faith at the bottom of the pile, that’s where they ran into trouble.
Sarah Jane Weaver: One of the first things the Church did, as the pandemic was starting to intensify throughout the world, was say, “We want to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.” And, and they let out. And they said, “We’re not going to bring leaders home who are serving in foreign countries, and we’re going to hold general conference from a remote location.”
Doug Wilks: Well, and the global nature of the Church really came into play, when you’re looking at Asian countries and seeing what happened over there. And the Church had to make decisions to protect the Saints and all of society in those countries. And since it was starting over there, it became just a crucial, it became crucial for them to address it immediately. As it happens, my brother-in-law and sister, Ann and Brad Taylor, have been mission presidents in Seoul, Korea, now for two and a half years. And we talk on occasion. And my first, you know, real knowledge of what was happening was through them because this struck Korea first, and they shut down society. And that’s a culture that wears masks. They were able to successfully, to kind of, control it for a while. They’ve since had a resurgence. But one of the super spreader events happened in a church in Korea, not The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but a different church. So I watched with great interest and communicated with them. But they were on the forefront of having missionaries leave that mission and come to other destinations, home countries or the United States. So, at one point, they only had a few dozen missionaries there. But even in that there was great opportunity.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yes, in fact, Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, who is chair of the Church’s Executive Missionary Council, said that in one 24-hour period, there were 32,000 missionaries criss-crossing the globe to their home countries. It’s remarkable.
Doug Wilks: My sister’s shared some photos where they had a big whiteboard in kind of the mission office — or it might have been the chapel there in Seoul, Korea, — and they had brought all the missionaries in and they had to, within two days, organize airplane travel for the whole mission. And it had the destination of each of the missionaries. And this was, of course, incredibly emotional and painful and difficult for them. But it also looked at the familial nature of trying to do the right thing, trying to protect the community, trying to protect the young, Latter-day Saint missionaries, as well as the older Latter-day Saint missionaries, which were really who, you know, the Church was trying very hard to protect. And just see that the work can go forward. The work didn’t slow down in Korea. They’ve done a remarkable job. And the closeness that my sister and brother-in-law have had with the Korean missionaries, the ones who were there with daily calls and devotionals. And they’ve invited people to come speak to them. And it’s been beautiful to see even in its challenges.
And again, [reflected in] work in the stake for Salt Lake City. We had many of those missionaries come to Utah and into Salt Lake City. And the question became, “How do you help support those missionaries? How do you help them do the work?” And also the mental health of missionaries is vital. You know, it’s a different looking mission than that what they anticipated. And sometimes it’s our expectations which undo us, and to be able to see, “Oh, this is different. How do I capitalize on this? How do I ‘Hear Him’ if you will?” There was a lot of that kind of conversation following the counsel of the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a person we believe, as a prophet of God, who has spent the year talking about the Restoration, and about hearing Him. “Now, how do I personalize that?” If you’re a missionary in your apartment, or you’re a person working from home, or a journalist trying to get a true story, how do you do that? And that’s where the intersection of journalism and faith comes together. Though, I know for some that might be blasphemy.
Sarah Jane Weaver: It is interesting that during this special year when we need so much flexibility, President Nelson did direct us all to personal revelation. You know, in that original invitation, he said, “I invite you to think deeply and often about this key question. How do you hear Him? I also invite you to take steps to hear Him better and more often.” And so in this unique conference that comes at April when so many people are looking for peace and direction and comfort, the Prophet stands up and says, “I am not the source of this.” He certainly did deliver peace, but he directed everyone to the Savior.
Doug Wilks: Yeah. And I think that’s the, that’s the message. And really, it’s the message of every conference. It’s the message of every prayer we send Heavenward, because we pray in the name of Jesus Christ. You know, it was interesting to me that after COVID kind of came front and center on March 11, it was only a short week later, when the earthquake hit Salt Lake City. And I live in downtown Salt Lake. It’s about 7 in the morning. And boy, our apartment building shook and shook and shook and I’m from California. I’ve been in a lot of earthquakes. I was in Loma Prieta in 1989, which was devastating and difficult and lasted a long time. This didn’t have the loss of life, and there was some damage. But when the Trumpet fell from the angel Moroni, statue, you go, “Well, here we are, here we go.”
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, that was a 5.7 earthquake. And it did bring down the trumpet of the Angel Moroni [from the Salt Lake Temple], a little sooner than they had expected. They were planning to remove that as part of the renovation of the Salt Lake Temple that’s also happening during this unique year. The interesting thing for me about that is the Angel Moroni sits on top of a capstone, which had a time capsule included in it. So when they took that down, they actually were able to open up the temple capstone time capsule. I love the fact that the whole First Presidency wanted to be there. When they did that, even President Nelson acknowledged that they didn’t really expect to find much, because they knew that the contents had not been totally insulated in all the years that they had been there. In fact, they’d been up there 128 years. But, he said, “We wanted to be there anyway, just to be close and to pay tribute to the leaders and courageous pioneer craftsman, who against all odds, built this magnificent temple.” That was such an interesting way to look back and reflect on all the history in this area.
Doug Wilks: Well, and living downtown in Salt Lake City, our stake, you know, it was the first stake in 1847 and all who live in that stake, we feel the weight of that, we feel the weight of the sacrifice. So when that capstone came down, it really wasn’t about what was in there. It was about the people who put those things in there. Elder Bednar just recently spoke to the graduates of BYU–Idaho, and I have a daughter who graduated, whom we’re very proud of. So we were listening to that, and it’s remote, it’s broadcast. So we’re sitting in a living room watching it on a computer screen. But his message reflected the sacrifice of those who went before. And he noted that the first virtual classroom in Idaho at BYU–Idaho, when he was there as president was 20 years ago. And the foundation that was led benefited all those students graduating last, you know, the other night. And in this case, their work, their sacrifice will benefit those ahead. And that’s kind of the same every time we see the temple. It doesn’t have to be the capstone, it’s the temple itself. It’s a sacrifice of the pioneers. And it’s the sacrifice of people who are being persecuted. Right, or ridiculed. Or, in a cancel culture, can you stand up for your beliefs or you’re gonna get shut down? And so you build faith and try and find your place in the world as you go forward.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You know, so many have said that so many things that were revealed in recent years, to senior leaders of the Church and implemented, are the things that are sustaining us now. In a recent podcast I did, Richard E. Turley Jr., who is the former assistant Church historian, said he finds it interesting of how President Nelson was prepared to lead the Church at this time. He said he thinks it’s interesting when a pandemic is affecting the whole world, that the Prophet on earth is also a medical doctor. So, so much happened that prepared the Church to, to face the challenges that came this year.
Doug Wilks: Well, listening to what he has had to say — and he often says, as a man of faith and a man of science — and he’s able to give us direction, even the direction of the Lord, with that framework. He is a man of great empathy. And to me, that’s almost the most important trait. Perhaps it is the most important trait that you’re looking at. You’re seeing someone sitting across from you, and you say, “Oh, you are a brother, or you are a sister.” And therefore, no matter what ails you, that gives you a familiar responsibility to do something. Again, living in downtown Salt Lake City, the homeless are front and center. And I spend a lot of time walking from work, walking downtown, and conversing with those who are homeless. And even saying the homeless puts them in a category as opposed to a person where you learn their name. And then you learn their station, what they’re trying to do. Do they want to get a job? And then, in some cases, you get to know them. And then on my walk, I can speak with them by name, and it’s a different conversation. More comfortable for them, more comfortable for me. Some of that’s been lost a little bit with COVID, because people are a little fearful coming up to each other. But it’s, um, it’s a strong draw, to have empathy for people. And, I think, our Prophet exudes that.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah, and during this year, when so many people are looking inward, the Church has continued an outward focus. President Nelson himself has asked members to answer and respond to some very specific invitations. We’ve talked about a couple of those, when he asked us to, to study the Restoration, and when he asked us to hear Him. In October conference, he asked us to “let God prevail” in our lives and to contemplate everything that means. And then, just a few weeks ago, in November, he said, “Let’s be more grateful. Why don’t we all give thanks?”
Doug Wilks: Well, gratitude has been really an important principle. No, it’s great to hear you just kind of list those things and go, Oh, yeah, I remember that now. But is it front and center in my life. He invited us to fast several times, right, with other people in the world, to try and bless those who are sick and ailing, but also to help the scientists and the health care workers to protect them and to develop vaccines. Gratitude for that capability is a great trade, and it helps you endure anything. You can endure anything for an hour. And if you can endure it for an hour, then maybe you can endure it for a couple hours. And maybe you can endure it for a full day. And I’ve often thought, when you’re trying to do something very, very difficult, can you keep that mindset of gratitude? There is an interesting thing that Kalani Sitake, the coach of Brigham Young University, did. BYU had such a good year this year, and people were very excited. And he was on ESPN during one of the shows where BYU was ranked and they weren’t ranked as highly as everyone thought they would be or as high as everyone thought they should be. And one might expect him to be very, very critical of that. But the very last thing he said in that interview was “give thanks.” I think this was before Thanksgiving. It was after President Nelson had talked about gratitude. And so that message of gratitude that the Prophet shared ends up in a sports world, or in a journalism world, or in a family newsfeed. So it’s great to see how that’s spread across the world.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And then invitation actually had two parts, he asked us to give thanks. And he, as a 96-year-old leader, turned us to social media to use as a platform to extend that message across the globe. And then he asked us to pray. And actually in his invitation to us, he showed us what that looks like and offered a prayer to the world, not as a Prophet of the Church, but as a leader and a religious leader to the world.
Doug Wilks: Well, that’s even doing what the Savior taught us to do, right. In the Lord’s Prayer in the Bible, the Savior taught us how to pray. And gratitude is a key part of that, and an acknowledgement that there’s something greater than ourselves, that God’s will will be done. And yes, for President Nelson to do that it was both beautiful, needed and newsworthy, right. What do others think about that invitation? And empathy builds, as you do things like that.
Sarah Jane Weaver: So this invitation — which you mentioned also followed, two worldwide fasts of Latter-day Saints fasting and praying and petitioning God for the well-being and healing of the earth — also came at a time when everyone, it seems, in so many nations were talking about race, and some of those racial tensions actually spilled into the Streets of Salt Lake City in early June. Can you talk about what it was like to cover those in the media?
Doug Wilks: There was one day of pretty significant violence in Salt Lake City, on a Saturday and a police car was overturned and set on fire. And yet, most of the protests were fairly peaceful. And people were respectful and trying to find solutions. There was basically a protest every day for a few months, in Salt Lake City and in other places across the country, and in other countries of the world where people were looking at racial injustice, looking at law enforcement. And it became almost an introspective process for each individual and each city or township, each state, to take a look at it. And we reached out to wonderful people like Theresa Dear, whom I know is an acquaintance of yours, in the NAACP, seeking counsel and advice. And we wanted to publish her words, which we did, and to try and amplify those words and the good works. Racial injustice will probably always be with us. But it changes as we build the empathy, right? It’s the same thing. It’s the same eternal principle. And if you can identify those eternal principles in daily life, and it from a journalistic point of view, what’s the principle at play here, then you can find a solution. It’s not just writing about bad things. It’s writing about the good things. It’s a solutions journalism model. And we practice that here at the Deseret News.
Sarah Jane Weaver: It seems like so many people were doing their best to spread understanding during this time, you know, including President Nelson. A few days after the death of George Floyd on May 25, President Nelson posted a message on his social media accounts to crying that death. And he followed it up with some really clear direction, and counseled to everyone in the world on race in October General Conference. In fact, he started those remarks in October General Conference by saying, “Brothers and sisters, please listen carefully to what I am about to say. God does not love one race more than another. His doctrine on this matter is clear. He invites all to come unto him black and white, bond and free, male and female.”
Doug Wilks: Again, not just a message for Latter-day Saints, but a message to the world, a newsworthy message to the world. And it was remarkable to see that we did you know, from a journalism standpoint. We wanted people to understand what was happening in the streets. But we also wanted to understand the rhetoric or the commentary that was going on. And we did a lot to try and help people understand Black Lives Matter. And we get a lot of criticism for that, because people get a point of view. Black Lives Matter is certainly a national organization. And people have a view of that. There are also local organizations that use that title that are not affiliated at all with the national group. And then as a movement that many people are a part of, which is supporting a principle, you know, of inclusion and equality, and love, that also has a place in Black Lives Matter. And President [Dallin H.] Oaks also went down and addressed that issue.
Sarah Jane Weaver: President Oaks was speaking at BYU. And he actually talked about what can bring peace in this time of anxiety and racism and other problems. And then, and then the solution, of course, was the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Doug Wilks: Right. The perfect follower, the perfect leader. How do we get there? It’s a lifelong quest. And it’s an enjoyable quest, but it allows us to overcome a year like 2020. When you say, OK, what am I going to do to better myself? All a follower is someone who’s humble, someone who recognizes that there’s something greater than themselves. As a journalist, we’re often talked about as being very arrogant, that we’re going to tell you what you need to know. And that’s it, and you should trust us. And Heaven forbid someone else say something else. Well, with the internet, everyone’s, you know, putting out information and we try to be very, very credible. But the best journalists are the ones that have empathy, the ones that can really not just shine a light into a space but shine a light into a space and say, “OK, now what can we do to help? What can we do that really lifts someone, whether it’s out of poverty or out of homelessness, or just into a better place?” There’s so many graduates from BYU-Idaho, that were all ages, all walks of life, all stages, a large number started through the Pathway program, which was the Church’s effort globally to pull people out of poverty. It’s an amazing thing happening right now with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And it’s a little easier to view it through the prism of 2020 because you see just what good they do.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You know, this year also was marked by wildfires in California and Oregon and Washington and parts of Idaho, as well as many other areas in the in the United States, so I’m sure you were focused mostly on California because you have some connection to that area.
Doug Wilks: Huge connection, every connection. We raised our family up in Napa Valley and Sonoma, Sonoma County, Santa Rosa in Healdsburg. In fact, one of the homes we lived in, in Santa Rosa, burned to the ground in one of the fires. We have many friends, I think we counted 13, that lost their homes in those fires. It’s tragic, gets emotional, very, very difficult. We felt horrible that the fire had happened. And then we felt horrible for feeling horrible, because we did not, personally, my wife and I, or our family, suffer any loss. But there’s a great outpouring of help for the Saints in Santa Rosa and Napa and otherwise other places. And they’re trying to figure out how to cope with their new reality because they’re having fires every year. And so self-reliance becomes a key element. Is that where they want to be? What do they do? And for Church members, they’re trying to say, “OK, I need to hear Him and find out my direction for my life.” And for members who, who, for people who aren’t members of the Church. They’re trying to assess their lives and are seeking something.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Yeah. And in this year, you know, there were 49,000 wildfires that burned 8.7 million acres in the United States. And, President Nelson had great empathy for those people. He actually delivered a special message to members of 23 stakes in the western United States. And he promised them something pretty special, at a time when they had lost so much. He said, “If you wonder if happy days will ever return, I assure you that they will. He said your children will have many opportunities to grow and progress, and your families will enjoy a promising future.”
Doug Wilks: That’s a wonderful thing to hear from a Prophet of God, isn’t it? it’s sometimes hard in the moment to believe that. I have a lot of journalism friends at the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and they won a Pulitzer Prize for their fire coverage. But it was devastating, almost debilitating, exhausting. And so you go through these things, and you learn something else, and you learn what’s valuable and important. And of course, it’s the life of your loved ones that’s important and the associations with your friends. That’s important. Again, sometimes empathy is forced upon us. We know that’s part of the meaning of life to go through trials. But as you look at these news events, and you see it through the eyes of individuals, it becomes very, very personal. And at the Desert News, it’s big, you know, every day I find a reason to laugh or cry. But we really want to do a good job to help. And that’s kind of what the focus, hopefully will be in 2021. How do we move on and move forward?
Sarah Jane Weaver: When this year ended, when so many people turned to the media, you have a major election occurring in the United States, and a little bit of distrust of many in our profession.
Doug Wilks: Not a little bit. A lot of distrust. You know, the polls, you know, you look at the polls from the past decades. And yeah, journalists don’t fare very well. A lot of that is on us as journalists, right? There’s been a fracturing of media, but some of it is on others, you know. President [Donald] Trump and that administration, you know, the media really went after him. On the other hand, he called the media the enemy of the people. So media doesn’t want to go to war with someone. They want to cover it well. But there are some media who do want to go to war with someone. So because all that information is everywhere, it’s sometimes very, very difficult for people to find out Well, what’s the trusted news source that I can look to? Who can I trust? And yeah, I get emails every day from people who think we’re not doing it right. But we’re trying.
Sarah Jane Weaver: It was also interesting that as everyone was looking and preparing for this huge election in the United States, that just a few days after the historic general conference that the Church held in October, the First Presidency actually issued a statement. It was issued directly to citizens of the United States. It spoke to the privilege and the duty they have of electing community and national leaders. And then it urged every Latter-day Saint to be an active citizen by registering and exercising their right to vote.
Doug Wilks: Right. And it’s, you know, the Church certainly has a position of political neutrality. But perhaps this year more than others, you can see that members of the Church of Jesus Christ have different political views. You might have the same principle. How do we lift people from poverty? But you might believe that’s a real local concern, and you might believe it’s a real federal concern, but you can find agreement in the need to help people out of poverty. So I do think the Brethren want us to be engaged. They want us to vote. More people voted in this election than any other, for both candidates for president. And now moving forward, you accept that process and you move on to 2021. And say, “OK, how do we work together in Congress? How does local government work together with the federal government?” And it’s not easy. There’s a lot of things at play. But trusting government as government runs the institutions that has, you know, been weakened. And media trust in media has also been weakened. So we want to build up that trust.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And now just a few days before Christmas, we are looking at concluding this year. And of course, as you just mentioned, looking into 2021, Christmas season looks a little different downtown this year.
Doug Wilks: You know, it’s a lot quieter. People complain about the hustle and bustle, and you can’t get around if you have a car. And this year we complain about “wow, nobody’s down here, it doesn’t feel the same.” So always something to complain about. But what you do love is seeing the Christmas lights at Temple square even from afar, right? You can’t go on there. Because it’s you don’t want people to get sick. But just people still wanting to do good, wanting to do the right thing. And people aren’t as much shopping as they are trying to figure out: How do I help my mother? How do I help my brother? Gatherings that will happen, you know, during Christmas, are the same kind of difficulties that happened during Thanksgiving. The families that I talked to that are happy are the ones doing an extra measure of service. For my own mother, we didn’t gather for Thanksgiving. But my wife and I were able to go down and spend some time with her after we had COVID tests and we’re free. And I know some of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren went by and from the lawn saw her. And I know that was happening over and over again. So it’s not necessarily what we would prefer. But when you look beyond yourself, you say, “Wow, that was that was unique. We’re going to remember that.” And that’s kind of nice. I hope everyone has a wonderful Christmas. Journalism doesn’t stop. We publish every day. Things are happening every day. But, you know, even in the newsroom, you want to take a moment to pause and reflect on how the year has gone.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And you know, the First Presidency when they issued their 2020 First Presidency Christmas message, said the unique experiences of this year actually help us reflect. And the true spirit of Christmas really becomes the Spirit of Christ.
Doug Wilks: It is you know, I had an interesting conversation with another editor in the newsroom. And there was a headline that they wanted to run that talked about 2020 as a bad year. I said, “It’s not a bad year.” He said, “It’s a horrible year.” I said, “It’s a horrible year for some people. For others. It’s a fantastic year.” In my own family, I have two children that had babies this year. I just mentioned my daughter graduated. There’s been some successes in other areas. By the same token, I had a child that had to relocate from one state to the other for a new job opportunity. But in every sense, it’s a year. It’s not a bad year or a good year. It’s a year full of trials and tribulations that meet people in different places. And so it gives us a chance to be reflective. Now I say that acknowledging that some people have lost their lives, family members have lost loved ones. People are sick, long-haulers have COVID and they don’t know how these symptoms are they ever going to abate. So I’m not making light of that in any measure. But what I am saying is finding the light of Christ, there’s peace and joy, right? “Peace be unto you become glad tidings of great joy.” These message are coming out of pretty tumultuous times. But God knows that and He knows us. And that’s why it’s such an enjoyable season that I hope we can find some peace in.
Sarah Jane Weaver: In a recent podcast, Sister Joy D. Jones, who’s the Primary general president, said she had found as she has spoken to Primary children throughout the world, that this was a really good year for them. They were able to spend so much more time with their parents. They were able to spend time at home. And many people, amid this really challenging year, learned what was essential in their lives.
Doug Wilks: Well, my wife and I certainly found that out, you know, instead of going to Church at 7 in the morning and having meetings till 2 or 3. If you’re in some kind of leadership position in the Church, we would get up and say, “What’s the offering we want to give to the Lord today?” In fact, when President Nelson was teaching us about keeping the Sabbath Day holy years ago, I believe that was what he said his example to us. “What is the offering we want to give to the Lord today?” So instead of getting working on a Saturday afternoon and saying, “Oh, what’s the agenda for a high council meeting or as a bishop? Do we have everything locked and loaded for a wonderful, wonderful sacrament meeting?” It’s “How will I worship today? How will we accomplish it? How will I take the sacrament? How will I get to the sacrament to this person I know doesn’t have it?” And so it became devotional, it became worship. And that’s what I hope that my wife and I take, and the Salt Lake Stake takes into the new year, that when COVID does abait, when we’re gathering together, which will be fantastic to have that fellowship, that we won’t lose sight of the true message that we’ve learned from this year, which is that we need to hear God, listen to Him, and show our devotion by perfect followership to a Perfect Being. If I can do that, I’ll be happy.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, we do have a tradition at the Church News podcast where we always give our guests the last word, and we have them all answer the same question. And the question is, “What do you know now?” And much of that you already answered. But is there something very specific that you know now at the end of 2020, both as a journalist and as a Latter-day Saint and as a leader of a local congregation here at headquarters, that you didn’t know before?
Doug Wilks: I know that you’re not always going to be happy with decisions that are made. And that can be professionally, that can be within a family. It can be within the Church. But it’s irrelevant to your own behavior. How do you react? What are you going to do? Do you follow the commandments? Do you not? Your choices are not based on necessarily the actions of others. So whether it’s COVID-19, or an earthquake, or racial unrest, you know, who knows is a comet falling in a month, that would kind of wrap up everything, right? Probably not. But none of it really impacts your own ability to make choices for your life. And as long as you’re pointed to the right North Star, in this case, the Savior. And that goes for journalism to you know, you know, you don’t leave yourself at the door, when you come in to do your profession, whether you’re a journalist, or a doctor, or you know, someone else. You just try to follow the right path. And once you know that the path is true, then you stay on it. So that’s what I’ve learned, that whatever happens shouldn’t really impact my behavior and how I approach my life, my family and other people.