This week in Mormon Land: Church’s TV channel signs off — sort of; life after Scouting; and Africa rising

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Young women in Ohio cook together. The church’s new program for children and youths encourages personal development through gospel learning, service, activities and personal development.

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 free newsletter in your inbox? Subscribe here.

No more Mormon Channel?

The next time you tune in the Mormon Channel, you’ll find that it’s now in tune with the church’s edict to banish virtually all things “Mormon.”

The church station’s new name is — sound Moroni’s trumpet — the Latter-day Saints Channel.

OK, it’s not the most stunning change. After all, the new moniker mirrors that of other renamed church operations, including Latter-day Saint Charities.

Still floating out there is LDS Business College. No word yet on a new identity for the church’s two-year college.

More movement in Africa

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Daniel Thera, minister of religious activities, speaks during the recognition meeting of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Sept. 12, 2019, in Mali, West Africa.

The church had an “in” when it recently won formal recognition from the government of Mali — namely, a two-time presidential candidate in the West African nation who had converted to Mormonism and graduated from Brigham Young University.

That politician, Yeah Samake, who also has served as Mali’s ambassador to India, called it a “historic and memorable day for the people of Mali, and for the Latter-day Saints in general, but [especially] for the saints in Mali.” There are now about 70 members in the overwhelmingly Muslim country of 18 million.

“Muslims are very tolerant, but our constitution is secular,” Samake said in a news release. “All religions are welcome in Mali.”

Minister of Religious Activities Daniel Thera echoed that sentiment, stating that “Mali is an open country for all religions.”

There are four full-time missionaries serving in the capital of Bamako, the release noted, but that number is expected to swell. The formal recognition allows the church’s members and its missionaries to teach Malians regardless of their religious affiliation.

Membership has been mushrooming across Africa, which now has more than 650,000 Latter-day Saints.

In Sierra Leone, for instance, Bo, the West African nation’s second largest city, recently got its third stake (a regional cluster of Latter-day Saint congregations). The three stakes in the city of 175,000 all came within 22 months.

“No other city in the world, where no stakes previously operated, has ever had so many new stakes organized in so short a period of time,” independent demographer Matt Martinich reported at ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com. “ ... There are now six stakes and three districts in Sierra Leone.”

Martinich included Bo on his recent tally of 10 places most likely to be named for a new temple at next month’s General Conference.

Nelson on LGBTQ policies

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) President Russell M. Nelson speaks to students in the Marriott Center at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, Sept. 17, 2019.

In his most detailed public explanation to date about the hotly disputed 2015 LGBTQ policy and its 2019 reversal, church President Russell M. Nelson told young adults that both stances were motivated by love.

The original policy labeled same-sex Latter-day Saint couples “apostates” and barred their children from religious rituals, including baptism, without permission from top church officials.

Latter-day Saint leaders reasoned that “because parents are the primary exemplars for their children, we did not want to put young children in the position of having to choose between beliefs and behavior they learned at home and what they were taught at church,” Nelson explained in a sermon (read the speech here) broadcast globally from church-owned Brigham Young University. “We wanted to facilitate harmony in the home and avoid pitting children and parents against each other.”

While reaffirming the church’s opposition to gay marriage, the 95-year-old prophet-president said authorities “knew that this policy created concern and confusion for some and heartache for others. That grieved us.”

“Whenever the sons and daughters of God weep — for whatever reasons — we weep,” he said. “So, our supplications to the Lord continued.”

Some 3½ years later, Nelson added, those prayers led to the about-face.

Though leaders “cannot change the laws of God,” he said, they “can adjust policy when the Lord directs us to do so. … Because the restoration [of the Latter-day Saint gospel] is ongoing, policy changes will surely continue.”

It may not have looked like it, Nelson said, but the 2015 and 2019 policies “were both motivated by love — the love of our Heavenly Father for his children and the love of the brethren for those whom we serve.”

Working toward a more educated world

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé and Sharon Eubank, head of Latter-day Saint Charities and first counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, participate in a panel discussion at a worldwide gathering in Geneva, Switzerland, on Sept. 17, 2019.

Education opens the door to better jobs, stronger citizens, healthier families and happier lives.

So said Presiding Bishop Gérald Caussé in a keynote address this week at a United Nations conference in Geneva.

“A generation with diminished access to education is a generation with diminished employment opportunities, diminished capacity to provide for themselves and their families, diminished ability to contribute to their communities and a diminished hope for the future,” said Caussé, who oversees the church’s real estate, investment, financial and humanitarian operations. “ ... If we want to support the well-being of host populations, reduce extremism and tensions, and invest in future economic growth — we must work differently and in partnership to achieve our goal of a world where education is accessible to all individuals regardless of their status.”

Sharon Eubank, first counselor in the female Relief Society’s general presidency and head of Latter-day Saint Charities, led a panel discussion with leaders from UNICEF, Catholic Relief Services and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“There’s much greater help when we work and partner together,” Eubank said in a news release. “The issue of education for displaced children is important, and we need each other.”

What comes after Scouting?

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Young men in Ohio learn to make a film together. The church’s new program for children and youths encourages personal development through gospel learning, service and activities, and personal development.

So, are you curious about the church’s new global program for children and youths, the one poised to replace Scouting come Jan. 1?

Well, be sure to stick around after the first hour of your Sunday meeting block Sept. 29. That’s when members worldwide will watch a 48-minute video explaining the “vision and basic principles” of the initiative. Under the umbrella name Children and Youth, the new program encourages kids to grow spiritually, physically, socially and intellectually.

Headlining the video, a news release stated, will be President Russell M. Nelson.

“Over the years, the church has provided a variety of efforts to help children and youth. We would not be where we are today without them,” Nelson says in the video in a salute to Scouting and other previous programs. “Now the time has come for a new approach, designed to help today’s children and youth throughout the world. Instead of giving you many specific assignments, we are inviting you to counsel with the Lord about how you can grow in a balanced way. It will be rewarding and fun. But it will also take some effort on your part.”

The video also will feature apostle M. Russell Ballard, Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham, Young Women General President Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Men General President Stephen W. Owen and Primary General President Joy D. Jones.

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Booklets for the church’s new program for children and youths.

During that second hour, members also will receive booklets about the new program, the release noted, with more information to come in a Nov. 17 Q&A broadcast with apostle Gerrit W. Gong.

This week’s podcast: The Debbie behind ‘Debbie’s Law’

(Photo courtesy of Debbie Cole) Debbie Cole was sexually assaulted in 1989 at age 19. Ireland recently enacted “Debbie’s Law,” which allows for tougher penalties for repeat sex offenders.

Debbie Cole was sexually assaulted in 1989 at age 19. Thus began a 30-year emotional and spiritual odyssey for this Irish Latter-day Saint — days of agony, anger, reconciliation, recovery, resolve and reform — all of which culminated earlier this year with the passage of “Debbie’s Law,” which allows for tougher penalties for repeat sex offenders.

Cole discusses her journey and how her faith helped see her through it on this week’s podcast.

Listen here.

Temple update

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Lisbon Portugal Temple.

Apostle Neil L. Andersen dedicated the church’s first temple in Portugal on Sunday, nearly a decade after it was first announced.

“I feel a great joy in my heart to see this temple here in Lisbon,” Portuguese native José A. Teixeira of the Presidency of the Seventy said in a news release. “I am sure that this joy is shared by all members of the church in Portugal.”

The 24,000-square-foot edifice features a 134-foot gold-leafed spire topped by an Angel Moroni statue and includes designs based on derivatives of indigenous azulejo tile star patterns that reflect the region’s Moorish heritage.

More than 45,000 Latter-day Saints live in Portugal.

Missionary dies

(Courtesy of the Keck family) Bryant Keck, 19, of Sanford, Colo., died from injuries suffered in accident while serving in the Canada Vancouver Mission.

A 19-year-old Latter-day Saint missionary has died from injuries suffered in a collision last week with a truck in Kamloops, British Columbia, that also left his companion critically hurt.

Bryant Keck of Sanford, Colo., died Tuesday with his mother by his side, the church said. He had been serving in the Canada Vancouver Mission.

His companion, 19-year-old Dallin Thompson of Sahuarita, Ariz., remained in critical condition at a hospital.

“We hope everyone involved in this tragedy will feel the comfort and peace of the Holy Spirit during this difficult time,” church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said in an emailed statement.

‘Out of Liberty’ and into theaters

(Photo courtesy Samuel Goldwyn Films / Rockwell Film Group) Jasen Wade plays Samuel Tillery, a jailer assigned to keep six Latter-day Saint leaders in custody and out of danger, in the drama "Out of Liberty."

Filmmaker Garrett Batty wanted to tell the story of Joseph Smith’s four-month imprisonment in Liberty Jail through the eyes of the man who held the keys — not the keys to the Latter-day Saint priesthood but rather the keys to the dark and dingy cell itself.

“The jailer really is grounded in his values of justice, in right versus wrong,” Brandon Ray Olive, a nonmember who plays the Mormon founder, told The Salt Lake Tribune. “While he’s doing this job, which is to keep these ‘heathens,’ if you will, imprisoned, he also has to keep this mob from getting to them. Then he starts to really question his role — and is that defined by the law, or by something that you feel internally?”

Out of Liberty” debuted last week in Utah and Arizona.

Quote of the week

(Photo courtesy Samuel Goldwyn Films / Rockwell Film Group) Brandon Ray Olive plays Joseph Smith, founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in the drama "Out of Liberty."

“I see Liberty Jail as an origin story for who Joseph [Smith] becomes. This was the lowest point of his life. ... He’s not feeling prophetic at the moment, he’s not feeling God with him. What better opportunity to explore the human side of this person?”

Actor Brandon Ray Olive, who plays the church founder in the film “Out of Liberty

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