This week in Mormon Land: A stunning reversal of gay policy; ex-missionaries embrace immigrants; and Nelson to scale Everest?

(AP Photo/Tashi Sherpa, File) In this Nov. 12, 2015, file photo, Mount Everest is seen from the way to Kalapatthar in Nepal.

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: Missionary rebuild

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

After surveying thousands of returned Latter-day Saint missionaries, independent researcher Matt Martinich determined that “urgent reform” was needed to help the church achieve real growth.

He offered his suggestions in a recent post on his website, ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com, and discussed them further in a Tribune story and podcast.

Read the story here. Listen to the podcast here.

LGBTQ policy is no more

It took more than 120 years before the church lifted the ban on black males holding the priesthood and black females entering the faith’s temples.

The church’s controversial LGBTQ policy, on the other hand, lasted barely three years.

On Thursday, the governing First Presidency announced an end to that November 2015 edict, which deemed same-sex member couples “apostates” and generally barred their children from religious rites.

“Previously, our Handbook characterized same-gender marriage by a member as apostasy,” Dallin H. Oaks, first counselor in the First Presidency, said in a news release. “While we still consider such a marriage to be a serious transgression, it will not be treated as apostasy for purposes of church discipline.”

In addition, Oaks said, “children of parents who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender may be baptized without First Presidency approval if the custodial parents give permission for the baptism.”

Top Latter-day Saint leaders say this news, which they characterized as a “positive” development, came as a result of “continuing revelation.”

“We need the Lord’s direction to meet changing circumstances,” second counselor Henry B. Eyring said, “and he has guided changes in practice and policy throughout the history of the church.”

Church President Russell M. Nelson, who in January 2016 called the previous LGBTQ policy a revelation from God, said in the release that the Lord leads the church “revelation upon revelation.”

Mission: immigrants

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saint missionaries teach a young man in Lyon, France.

Latter-day Saint missionaries who serve abroad return home to the U.S. with more than a new language on their tongue. They apparently also bring back more empathy for immigrants in their heart.

Pointing to researcher Jana Riess’ Next Mormons Survey, Margaux Curless, an economics and finance major at Centre College in Danville, Ky., reports that U.S. missionaries — especially young men — whose stints took them to another country are more likely to believe that immigrants strengthen the nation.

“Working with and forming relationships with people from other nationalities could result in greater respect for their talents,” Curless writes in a Religion in Public blog post,“ as well as increased sympathy for harsh situations abroad or lack of opportunity.”

Centered on Christ

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Christus, a statue of Jesus Christ on display on Temple Square Thursday, March 7, 2013, in Salt Lake City

From “I’m a Mormon” to “I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ.”

Truly, President Russell M. Nelson’s call to a new Latter-day Saint lexicon isn’t particularly catchy, specific or distinctive, but it may not be all that surprising.

After all, historian John Turner notes, it’s a continuation of a trend to cement the Utah-based faith firmly in Christ’s corner.

“From my vantage point, the setting aside of the term ‘Mormon’ is best understood as part of what I call Mormonism’s Christocentric turn,” Turner writes in a Patheos blog post. “ ... Over the past several decades, the church has become even more robustly Christocentric, both in its substance and in its messaging.”

For instance, the church added “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” as a subtitle in 1981 to the Book of Mormon, its signature scripture. It also redesigned its logo in 1995 to feature the words “Jesus Christ” more prominently.

Newsroom follows suit

MormonNewsroom.org, an online staple for religion journalists and church observers across the globe, is now found at Newsroom.ChurchofJesusChrist.org, the church announced.

Don’t fret, though, the former web address still will get you there.

Dan Reynolds to be a four-time dad

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dan Reynolds performs with Imagine Dragons, at the Loveloud Festival at Rice-Eccles Stadium, Saturday, July 28, 2018.

After a brief separation, Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds and his wife, Aja Volkman, are back together and expecting a fourth child.

“I’ve been on the road for a decade now. I’m looking to take a little bit of time off. I have three little girls, and, well, I have one on the way,” Reynolds said on Fox 5’s “Good Day New York.” “I actually haven’t told anybody that. There it is. The news is out. We just found out we’re having a boy [in] October.”

So does Reynolds, a Latter-day Saint and the driving force behind the LoveLoud LGBTQ fundraising concerts, see a fifth child in his future?

“I think we’re done. … It’s the Mormon way, I know, to have, like, a million kids, but it’s, like, four already feels like a million kids, to be honest with you,” he said. “Three I guess, then fourth on the way. I think we’re done.”

Green Flake — the film

(Tribune file photo) A reproduction of an 1897 Tribune woodcut of Green Flake, one of nearly 100 slaves brought to Utah in pre-Civil War days.

On the heels of last year’s release of “Jane and Emma” comes a film about another early African American convert: Green Flake.

A Kickstarter campaign is underway to raise money for a movie telling the story of the Southern slave who became a member of pioneer-prophet Brigham Young’s team that entered the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847.

The project is the baby of Mauli Junior Bonner, the film’s writer, creator and director, who also did the music for “Jane and Emma.”

The Green Flake film — about half of it is already shot, according to the Kickstarter page — boasts a cast that includes Alex Boye, David Osmond, Yahosh Bonner and Clotile Bonner Farkas.

This fundraising push aims to amass $65,000. As of Wednesday, it had topped $18,000.

Temple guessing game

The church announced 19 new temples last year — seven in the spring General Conference (including firsts for Russia and India) and a dozen in the fall (including firsts for Puerto Rico and Cambodia).

So, with another conference just days away, where will the next temples land? Independent researcher Matt Martinich, who tracks church growth religiously, takes a stab at that in a post at ldschurch.blogspot.com.

Mining a range of church stats and trends, he unveiled his top 10 tally of “most likely” temples to be announced (culled from a longer “likely” list):

  • Benin City, Nigeria

  • Colorado Springs, Colo.

  • Freetown, Sierra Leone

  • Monrovia, Liberia

  • Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea

  • Ribeirão Preto, Brazil

  • Rogers, Ark.

  • Santa Cruz, Bolivia

  • Tacoma, Wash.

  • West Valley City, Utah

We’ll all be watching this weekend, Matt, to see how close you come.

Special conference offerings

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Before every General Conference, The Tribune publishes a special section about Latter-day Saint trends, teachings and culture. Among other topics, this year’s stories explore:

Nelson’s peak performance

(AP Photo/Tashi Sherpa, file) In this Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, file photo, trekkers pass through a glacier at the Mount Everest base camp, Nepal.

On a list of April Fools’ fibs, this one ranks high — more than 29,000 feet high.

The whopper comes courtesy of Religion News Service senior columnist Jana Riess when she broke the “news” — on April 1, of course — that 94-year-old church President Russell M. Nelson planned to climb Mount Everest.

“He has been in Nepal for weeks of on-site training for next month’s adventure, growing acclimated to the area’s altitude and gradually ascending to Base Camp,” she wrote. “ … If the technology works, Nelson will still participate live in the church’s semiannual General Conference this weekend, joining via satellite phone to provide an audio message to the religion’s more than 16 million members.”

Yes, Nelson seems to have boundless energy. Yes, he appears more than fit. And, yes, he may not even have hit his peak as president. But scaling the world’s highest summit? You’d have to be sucking in a lot of Everest’s thin air to fall for this bit of playfully fake news.

Kuwait’s blessing

The church has had a congregation in Kuwait for several decades. Now it has something else in the Persian Gulf state: official recognition.

This recently granted distinction from the government there allows Latter-day Saint leaders to better serve the needs of the nearly 300 members — including expatriates — who live and work in Kuwait, notes a news release.

“This development does not pave the way for any proselytism with full-time missionaries,” independent demographer Matt Martinich told The Tribune. However, it “will allow for more public awareness of the church in the country and greater freedoms in terms of its operations.”

Quote of the week

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Dallin H. Oaks speaks at the General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018.

“The changes we have experienced in our church meetings and policies should help us, but by themselves they won’t get our members to where our Heavenly Father wants us to be. The changes that make a difference to our position on the covenant path are not changes in church policies or practices but the changes we make in our own desires and actions.”

President Dallin H. Oaks

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