This week in Mormon Land: Congregations cut in Mexico, teen hoops star chooses church over basketball, missionaries may face new hurdles in Europe

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The Mormon Land newsletter is a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whether heralded in headlines, preached from the pulpit or buzzed about on the back benches. Want Mormon Land in your inbox? Subscribe here.

Less is more in Mexico

Mexico boasts the second largest population of Mormons of any nation (behind the United States) but the number of LDS congregations there is shrinking.

In the past month or two, the Utah-based faith has eliminated seven stakes and 53 wards and branches (many with only 40 to 100 active members), independent LDS demographer Matt Martinich reports in a recent blog post.

This restructuring “does not indicate a sudden drop in church attendance or member activity/convert retention rates,” Martinich writes. “Rather, these changes were likely many months or years in planning due to many wards in these cities with few active members and emphasis from the area presidency for better utilization of meetinghouse space.”

Still, this “significant” reduction, he adds, shows the church in Mexico “has appeared to experience the lowest ‘real growth’ productivity of any country in the world with a significant LDS presence (more than 100,000 members) during [this decade].”

Mexico, with more than 1.4 million Mormons, now has 1,933 wards and branches, down from 1,987 at the end of 2017, a 2.7 percent drop.

Such congregational consolidations can pay off in the long run. After the church discontinued two stakes and 17 wards and branches about seven years ago in Guadalajara, Martinich notes, that area sprouted four new wards/branches and saw stronger, more fully functioning congregations take root.

In addition, pockets of Mexico still report solid LDS growth. The Colorado-based Martinich points, for instance, to Cancún, Querétaro, Mérida, Orizaba and Xalapa.

Young basketball star benched for his beliefs?

Mosiah MacDonald chose hymns over hoops, prayers over picks and sermons over scrimmages — and the decision apparently cost the 15-year-old Mormon a spot in New Zealand’s basketball championships.

According to a Stuff.com news report, MacDonald parted ways with his Manawatū team after the coach doubled the Sunday practice schedule from one workout at 4 p.m. to two sessions — at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. — for two full months.

That regimen would amount to too much Sabbath time on the hardwoods and not enough in the pews, MacDonald’s family said, so the budding star, with dreams of playing college hoops in the U.S., found himself sitting on the sidelines during New Zealand’s big tourney.

“Now he has no opportunity to go to the nationals,” his father, Jared MacDonald, told Stuff, “not because of lack of talent or ability, but because he chooses to go to church.”

New proselytizing hurdles in Europe?

Mormon missionaries in Europe soon may need to go about their record keeping a bit differently to comply with privacy laws.

The European Court of Justice declared this week that Jehovah’s Witnesses must obtain consent from people before they take down their personal details during door-to-door preaching, Reuters reports.

Longtime Mormon Wilfried Decoo, a retired Brigham Young University professor who lives in Belgium, believes this ruling inevitably will apply to Mormon missionaries.

“The implementation as such seems simple: Whenever missionaries make a promising contact and want to record name, address and other data, they should ask permission,” DeCoo writes in a blog for Times and Seasons. “ … To what extent would this complication affect Mormon missionary work, since it may be assumed that the church will obey the law, but also that many people would not want their name and address to be recorded in the data of a ‘sect’?”

Decoo suggests new European privacy laws may have other impacts on Mormon membership records as well.

Scott Sommerdorf | The Salt Lake Tribune Affirmation LGBT Mormons march during the 2016 Pride Parade on Sunday, June 5, 2016, in Salt Lake City.

Church makes historic LGBTQ contribution

Affirmation and the LDS Church don’t see eye to eye on every issue, but they do share the same vision in the battle against suicide.

To that end, the LDS Foundation, the church’s charity division, donated $25,000 to the LGBTQ support group to help pay for suicide-prevention training for Affirmation’s leaders.

In some ways, though, the grant was about more than money. It marked the first significant collaboration between the LDS Church and Affirmation, an independent organization for LGBTQ Mormons and ex-Mormons.

It also marked yet another effort by the church to combat the growing problem of suicide, especially among young people. Just last week, the faith released a new series of videos calling for compassion and love for those experiencing suicidal thoughts and feeling marginalized. Mormon apostle Dale G. Renlund also denounced as “totally false” the “old sectarian notion that suicide is a sin and that someone who commits suicide is banished to hell forever.”

(Photo courtesy of Blue Fox Entertainment) The plaintiffs in Kitchen v. Herbert, the legal case that made same-sex marriage legal in Utah, gather outside the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver in 2014, in a scene from the documentary "Church & State." The plaintiffs are (from left): Laurie Wood, Kody Partridge, Derek Kitchen and Moudi Sbeity.

Now showing: ‘Church & State’

The lawsuit made headlines. The ruling made history. Now the film is making its theatrical premiere.

Church & State,” the award-winning documentary about the Kitchen v. Herbert legal case that paved the way for same-sex marriage in Utah, is launching a weeklong debut in Salt Lake City before it becomes available via online streaming later this summer.

The movie, from co-directors Holly Tuckett and Kendall Wilcox, offers a behind-the-scenes peek at the landmark lawsuit that took on the LDS Church, Utah and the overwhelming majority of Beehive State voters who years before had endorsed a ban on gay marriage — one that a federal judge eventually struck down, saying it demean[ed] the dignity of same-sex couples for no rational reason.”

(Photo courtesy of the LDS Church) U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday, July 6, 2018, in Germany.

Uchtdorf back in Germany

As the LDS Church’s chief point person for Europe, apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf sure is making a point of being in Europe.

He and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a fellow Mormon, met last week with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The three discussed a host of global issues, according to an LDS Church news release, including the refugee crisis gripping Europe and the state of U.S.-German relations.

“The chancellor welcomed us warmly and expressed her thoughts about the things that Germany is currently moving with care and very vividly [on],” Uchtdorf said in the release.

It marked the first official meeting between a German chancellor and a top LDS leader.

On the refugee front — an issue that hits home with Uchtdorf — the release noted that German Latter-day Saints have been actively involved in 69 projects since 2015 and have supported the work with almost $3 million (2.5 million euros).

The 77-year-old apostle, whose family converted to the LDS Church while living in Germany, was a refugee twice — once while leaving Czechoslovakia, where he was born, and again when fleeing then-East Germany to West Germany.

“The exercise of one’s faith,” Uchtdorf said in the release, “is inextricably linked to the fundamental right of all — whether religious or not — to think, express, and act upon, and, of course, in our Christian faith always includes practical help for one’s fellow man in need.”

During their visit, Uchtdorf and Hatch also laid a wreath at the Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp to honor those who perished under Nazi rule.

In May, Uchtdorf trekked to Eastern Europe, visiting Moscow; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Tallinn, Estonia.

Kirby chimes in on hymns

Tribune columnist Robert Kirby may be tone-deaf, but he knows a snappy tune when he hears one — and he wants more of them at church.

So his prescription for curing the sacrament meeting blahs and blues — after the LDS Church announced plans to publish a new hymnal — calls for more, well, blues, along with a healthy dose of bongos, bagpipes or whatever else to liven up services.

Scripture study gets a boost

Mormons soon will receive new words to help them study the Word.

A new manual, “Come, Follow Me — For Individuals and Families,” will be provided to every LDS household to assist members in studying the scriptures at home.

“Living by and reading the word of God,” the governing First Presidency wrote in a June 29 letter, “will build faith in Heavenly Father and his plan of salvation and in the savior Jesus Christ and his atonement.”

This first batch of manuals will cover the New Testament, which Mormons will study in Sunday school and children’s Primary classes next year.

Starting in January, new teaching materials (“Come, Follow Me — For Primary” and “Come, Follow Me — For Sunday School”) also will be used.

Eventually, these new resources, including digital versions, will cover the four main books of LDS scripture: the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price.

Quote of the week

“Every community has different challenges and different reasons for their resilience in facing them. For many, especially a tightly knit faith-based community like the Yazidis [in northern Iraq], their faith is the one crucial resource that will allow them to pull deeply from the wellsprings of life that are sacred to their tradition. It is just as precious to them as water, food and air. By preserving a person’s faith, we help preserve their future.”LDS apostle Jeffrey R. Holland on the persecution faced by northern Iraq’s Yazidis

Mormon Land is a weekly newsletter written by David Noyce and Peggy Fletcher Stack. Subscribe here.