This week in Mormon Land: A secret Facebook attack, the Catholic gap and Gladys Knight’s ‘Super’ song

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 this newsletter in your inbox? Subscribe here.

This week’s podcast: Temple worship through the years

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) The remodeled Ogden Temple on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014

Latter-day Saint temples have been in the news a lot lately. New temples open. Older ones close for renovation. And groundbreakings take place around the globe. Capturing the most attention: recent changes bringing more gender equity to temple ordinances. Historian and author Devery Anderson has documented the evolution of temples in the church’s history for his 2011 volume, “The Development of LDS Temple Worship.”

Listen here.

The ‘Black 14’ and the BYU game they missed

Fourteen African-Americans on the University of Wyoming football team planned to make a play for civil rights on Oct. 18, 1969, when the Cowboys hosted LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University.

Their game plan: Sport black armbands to protest the church’s racial policies, which, at the time, prevented black males from entering the priesthood.

But the players were kicked off even before kickoff. Their coach booted them from the team on the eve of the game.

A half-century later, the church’s priesthood ban is history, the Cowboys and the Cougars aren’t in the same league, and members of the “Black 14” are reflecting on an event that changed their lives forever.

Six of those players recently returned to the Laramie campus as part of Black History Month to discuss what happened 50 years ago.

In a Journal Review story, they emphasized that they had decided to wear the armbands only if the coach gave his permission for the protest. But they got the heave-ho, they added, before they could even ask for his blessing.

“We were kicked off for a protest that never happened,” Tony McGee said in the article. “We were punished for something that never happened.”

Ad-ding a new wrinkle

The Daily Beast’s Kevin Poulsen reconstructed how a former Latter-day Saint concocted a controversial Facebook ad blitz that targeted specific church members.

Masked as church-friendly ads, the spots instead delivered information about the thornier parts of church history.

“Truthful information,” he told the Daily Beast, “is the most powerful weapon.”

Names and email addresses for the campaign, dubbed MormonAds, came from disillusioned former members.

One ex-Latter-day Saint even served up the contact information of his still-believing wife, the story stated. The secret ad push netted her, but, in the end, she slipped away. She stuck with the faith.

Grand gathering in the Grand Canyon State

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The world leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Russell M. Nelson, encourages members in the Phoenix area to increase their faith practices in the home. He and his first counselor, President Dallin H. Oaks, spoke to Latter-day Saints in State Farm Stadium Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019.

President Russell M. Nelson ventured to Arizona on Sunday to spread the word — in print and from the pulpit.

In an op-ed for the Arizona Republic, the 94-year-old church leader bemoaned the rise of secularism and the fall of spirituality.

“Not long ago, belief in God was a given and expressions of faith the norm,” he wrote. “But, in recent years, we have experienced a shift from a world in which it seemed impossible not to believe in God to one in which faith is simply an option — and far too often subject to ridicule.”

Arguing that a life with God is better than one without, Nelson pointed to faith in God as the “pre-eminent force for good in this world.”

The prophet-president later built on his quest to boost spirituality in a sermon to some 68,000 Latter-day Saints at State Farm Stadium, the massive domed arena in Glendale, where the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals play.

Nelson urged Arizonans to make their homes centers of learning and spirituality, according to a church news release, advising them to “pray each day" to determine how best to do this.

Dallin H. Oaks, his first counselor in the governing First Presidency, noted the many changes enacted in the year since Nelson took the church’s helm and reminded members that improvements in their personal lives are even more vital.

“The changes that make a difference to our position on the covenant path are not changes in church policies or practices,” Oaks said, "but the changes we make in our own desires and actions.”

The meeting was believed to be the largest single gathering of Latter-day Saints in Arizona history.

Myth-busting about ex-members

Senior Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess — whose hotly anticipated book, “The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church,” is due out in March — revealed more results about her research.

This time, she poked holes in four myths about former Latter-day Saints, including the fallacy that most of them give up not just on the church but also on God.

Turns out, 86 percent still believe in an Almighty, she writes, and many cling to “basic Christian teachings about Jesus and the afterlife.”

Catholic detente, sort of

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Rome Italy Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The church is poised to dedicate its Rome temple not all that far from the Catholic capital. It partners with Catholic charities around the globe. It teams up with Catholic leaders on religious liberty and other issues. It does all this despite the two faiths’ significant doctrinal differences.

That theological gap is so wide, in fact, that the Vatican officially fails to recognize the Utah-based church as Christian.

Crux, an independent online purveyor of Catholic news, pointed to Latter-day Saints’ rejection of the Trinity and original sin as among the reasons for the Vatican’s stance.

“Catholics who marry a Mormon are supposed to follow the same process as marrying a non-Christian,” Crux noted, “and likewise, Mormons who wish to enter the Catholic Church must go through the formal process for non-Christians.”

Another MTC closure

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Argentina Missionary Training Center, located in Buenos Aires, will close July 1.

The number of Missionary Training Centers worldwide will drop to 11 this summer. That’s down from 15 just a couple of years ago.

Last week, the church announced that the MTC in Buenos Aires, Argentina, will shut down in July. This comes after closures in the Dominican Republic, Chile and Spain.

“The decision comes as church leaders continue to seek the best use of resources worldwide,” church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said in the release.

The remaining MTCs are in Utah, Colombia, England. Ghana, the Philippines, Mexico, New Zealand, Guatemala, Peru, Brazil and South Africa.

MTCs, including the flagship facility in Provo, are boot camps, of sorts, where new missionaries undergo intensive language study and gospel grounding before embarking on their proselytizing service.

Temples update

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Artistic rendering of the Praia Cape Verde Temple.

A groundbreaking has been set for May 4 for the Cape Verde Temple, the first for the multi-island country off the west coast of Africa.

The single-story structure will feature a spire — with no Angel Moroni — reflective of the area’s architecture, according to a news release.

The temple, going up in the capital city of Praia, was announced in October. Construction is expected to begin this year and take about two years.

Oh, what a Knight

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip) Gladys Knight sings the national anthem before the Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in Atlanta.

The world’s most famous black Latter-day Saint won raves for her rendition of the national anthem at this year’s Super Bowl.

Gladys Knight, the “Empress of Soul,” belted out a stunning “Star-Spangled Banner,” a performance that won wide praise — wider certainly than Maroon 5’s much-panned halftime show and wider perhaps than the offense-starved game itself.

Some criticized Knight’s willingness to sing the anthem in the first place, seeing it as a slap at former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling during the anthem to protest police brutality.

Then she sang, and the Twitter tributes erupted.

Knight’s vocals — in her native Atlanta — even sparked an offshore wagering war, ESPN reported, as bettors lined up to lay down cash on how long her song would take.

Suicide prevention

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Ronald A. Rasband speaks at the Church Education System’s annual “Evening with a General Authority” devotional on Temple Square on Friday, Feb. 8, 2019.

Apostle Ronald A. Rasband urged church educators in a global broadcast to be a vanguard in the battle against teen suicide.

“There is no template for who is at risk,” Rasband is quoted as saying in a news release. “These youth play the trombone, sing in the choir, play on soccer teams, or bag groceries after school. They come to church — some of them — they are the friends of those who come to your classes, though some have long since set aside religion for themselves.”

He encouraged educators to be on the lookout for any warning signs among their students — “disappointment, a botched quiz, a breakup, a string of bullying, academic stress, and what we might call adolescent misery.”

Rasband was a member of the Utah governor’s Teen Suicide Prevention Task Force.

Quote of the week

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Wendy Nelson, wife of President Russell M. Nelson, speaks during the Sunday, Feb. 10, 2019, devotional in State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.

“What a wonderful Valentine gift we can give to our Heavenly Father and to our Savior — as we humble ourselves and open our hearts to receive their love and as we keep the Lord’s commandments with ever-increasing exactness.”

— Wendy Nelson, wife of President Russell M. Nelson

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