This week in Mormon Land: Liberals leery at BYU; Wyoming’s ‘Black 14’ team up with church; Uchtdorf approaches big birthday

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Statue of Brigham Young on the BYU campus in Provo in 2018.

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.

The right — and left — to free speech at BYU

When asked to share their political views, liberal students at Brigham Young University, unlike their conservative classmates, may be more inclined to sit on their hands than raise them.

The 2020 College Free Speech Rankings put BYU dead last among 55 top schools as the most difficult university in the U.S. for left-leaning students to practice freedom of expression.

At the same time, the church’s premier college finished as the fourth friendliest for students with right-leaning politics.

“It might be more difficult for left-leaning students to feel as fully accepted politically on campus there as they might, say, at Oberlin (obviously) or in fact most other higher education campuses today,” Dave Dix, a 1987 BYU alumnus told RealClearEducation, which helped compile the study. “However, that might be offset by this: Mormons are some of the kindest, most genuine, and caring people I’ve ever met, and they tend to show a great deal of respect for others. I am not a practicing Mormon and haven’t been for decades; nonetheless, it is my experience that they are a very friendly, accepting culture.”

Amelia Nielson-Stowell, who graduated from the Provo school in 2005 and led the campus Democrats, told RealClearEducation that her professors “encouraged and respected” free speech.

“Among the student body at large, no, free speech was not respected,” Nielson-Stowell said. “My support of the LGBTQ community was also mocked by students during a religious class. I participated in a BYU College Democrats vs. BYU College Republicans debate and our side was booed loudly so many times, the moderator had to keep calming the crowd so our viewpoint could be heard.”

Former foes team up on mercy mission

(Photo by Andy Carpenean/Laramie Boomerang) John Griffen, right, ties a black armband on the arm of his former teammate Mel Hamilton before a Black 14 panel discussion Nov. 3, 2009 in Laramie, Wyo.

In 1969, the University of Wyoming’s “Black 14” football players stood up against the church over its racial policies.

Fifty-one years later, the former opponents are on the same side.

The ex-Cowboys — with their “Mind, Body and Soul” initiative — are teaming up with the church and their alma mater to deliver up to 180 tons of food to the Wind River Indian Reservation and eight other vulnerable communities.

In October 1969, 14 African American players for Wyoming planned to sport black armbands in a game against BYU to protest the church’s priesthood/temple ban, which ended in 1978. Their coach booted them off the team hours before kickoff.

Looking back at the past dispute, “Black 14” member John Griffin told the Gillette News Record, “we never would have guessed this [current charitable collaboration] would have happened.”

Another former Wyoming player, Mel Hamilton, said he met last year in Salt Lake City with three Latter-day Saint apostles, who showed him around the church’s distribution center.

“The food was good,” Hamilton told the News Record. “They gave us samples. It was just as good as you would buy.”

He was told the church could supply and deliver half a million dollars of nonperishable items. No problem. “They do it all the time,” Hamilton added. “They just need a good cause.”

With rising food shortages amid the coronavirus pandemic, they found one.

(Mead Gruver | AP file photo) This 2019 photo shows part of an alleyway mural in downtown Laramie, Wyo., that honors the Black 14.

Postgame present

After 60 minutes of blocking and tackling, blitzing and blasting, shoving and slamming, BYU fullback Kyle Griffitts and linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi took a softer approach after the Cougars pounded Western Kentucky 41-10 on Halloween night.

They gave two of their opponents a Book of Mormon.

“We were just talking during the game and I wanted to learn more of their faith,” Hilltoppers offensive lineman Gunner Britton told SB Nation’s Vanquish the Foe website. “They were great guys.”

It wasn’t your typical postgame exchange, but sharing the faith’s signature scripture certainly is a part of every missionary playbook.

Celebrating Uchtdorf; remembering Kimball

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf speaks at General Conference on Oct. 3, 2020.

On Friday, Dieter F. Uchtdorf will join the ranks of octogenarians. Yes, that’s when the popular apostle will turn 80 years old.

Twice a refugee, Uchtdorf was born Nov. 6, 1940, in Ostrava, Czechoslovakia. Later, in 1952, he and his family fled then-East Germany to West Germany.

Uchtdorf joined the German air force and later became a commercial airline pilot and executive. He married Harriet Reich in 1962 and became an apostle in October 2004.

Meanwhile, Thursday marks the 35th anniversary of the death of the church’s 12th president, Spencer W. Kimball.

An apostle for 42 years and church president for 12, Kimball saw the number of operating temples double and the number of missionaries jump by 50% during his tenure. In 1978, he famously ended the ban that kept Black men and boys from being ordained to the all-male priesthood and Black women and girls from entering temples.

Kimball died Nov. 5, 1985, in Salt Lake City. He was 90.

(Tribune file photo) Spencer W. Kimball, right, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, presides over a session of General Conference in October 1978, with counselor Marion G. Romney.

This week’s podcast: A longtime bishop looks back

Most Latter-day Saint bishops give the church five years of their lives as they shepherd the spiritual and temporal well-being of hundreds of families and individuals in their area.

Because they are volunteers, they do this while holding a full-time job as well as taking care of the needs of their own families and loved ones.

Ross Trewhella served his Latter-day Saint parishioners in Cornwall, United Kingdom, for 12 years — almost unheard of for a bishop in modern Mormonism.

In this week’s podcast, he reflects on the highs and the lows, the challenges and the rewards, the members and the memories after more than a decade of service — and how he feels now about relinquishing his seat at the front of the chapel.

Listen here.

(Courtesy photo) Ross Trewhella was recently released after serving 12 years as a Latter-day Saint bishop in England.

Called to serve — abroad

Missionaries who returned to serve in their home countries during the coronavirus pandemic are starting to be assigned to other nations — but only a “very limited number.”

“This process is deliberate and cautious,” church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said in a news release Wednesday. “... All missionary travel is dependent upon local conditions and air travel restrictions, and some missionaries may not depart for several months.”

The full-time proselytizers, he added, will be instructed to “follow established public health guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19” — including quarantining when they arrive at their assignments.

Bible, Book of Mormon, Quran — What’s the difference?

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo)The Book of Mormon.

It may surprise many Latter-day Saints that 65% of Americans view the Book of Mormon, the Quran and the Bible as “all expressions of the same truths.”

That finding comes courtesy of a newly released nationwide survey from the American Bible Society and the Barna Group.

More than half (52%) of self-identified Christians disagreed with that assessment.

The survey also found a wide variance in how Americans view the Bible. A quarter (24%) say that it is “the actual word of God, meant for literal interpretation.” Nearly a third (31%) say it is “inspired,” but some parts “are symbolic rather than literal.” Some 15% say that “while the Bible is inspired, it contains errors.” About 11% believe that “it is not inspired” and is “primarily the authors' interpretations of God.” About 18% view the Bible as “just another book of teachings.”

More on Black lives matter

(Screengrab from BYUtv) Apostle Dallin H. Oaks addressed racism and Black lives matter at a Brigham Young University address on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020.

Dallin H. Oaks continues to draw attention for his recent declaration that “Black lives matter,” calling the statement “an eternal truth all reasonable people should support.”

“Praise the Lord!” exulted Cathy Stokes, a Black Latter-day Saint who joined the church in Chicago in 1979 and now lives in Utah. “It has been a long time coming. … At last, [church leaders] have spoken with their hearts. I think it has been in their hearts all along, so now their hearts and their words are the same.”

Darius Gray, co-founder of the Genesis Group, a support organization for Black Latter-day Saints, called it a “monumental moment.”

Oaks, the 88-year-old first counselor in the governing First Presidency, “boldly emphasized the most basic of Christian truths when stating that Black lives matter,” Gray told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Those simple words have given solace to millions around the world, not just in the USA, while they’ve simultaneously been mischaracterized as everything opposite of what it means to be American.”

Oaks, a former Utah Supreme Court justice and next in line to lead the church, said that not everything done under the banner of the Black Lives Matter movement — including “abolishing the police or seriously reducing their effectiveness or changing our constitutional government” — commands universal backing. “All these are appropriate subjects for advocacy,” he added, “but not under what we hope to be the universally acceptable message: Black lives matter.”

That’s a “starting point,” said LaShawn Williams, an African American Latter-day Saint and an assistant professor of social work at Utah Valley University. “These are important conversations we need to have about advocacy for change. These conversations can’t happen if we aren’t all reasonable enough to agree that Black lives matter.”

Tamu Smith, of “Sistas in Zion” fame, was at a store when she got a call to listen to Oaks' talk.

“When he said, ‘Black lives matter,’” Smith recalled, “I got emotional.”

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo)This June 5, 2013, photo shows Darius Gray, co-founder a support organization founded in 1971 for Black Latter-day Saints called the Genesis Group.

The path more traveled

BYU–Pathway Worldwide is reaching even greater heights in higher education.

The global online learning program has topped 50,000 students, a news release noted, and stretched into more than 150 nations.

This year, 33,000-plus students enrolled in PathwayConnect, a one-year program that helps them return to college, according to the release. That’s up 19% from 2019.

And nearly 60% of the international participants, who now make up a majority of the student body, went on to the online degree program.

More than 6,700 students are in Africa and 2,100-plus are in the Philippines.

“We live in times where the pages of history are anything but empty. COVID-19 is forcing us to find and use different ways of communication,” apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf said in July. “I am pleased to say the church’s Pathway program is way ahead of its time.”

A virtual fiesta

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) Performers rehearse for their performance of “Luz de las Naciones" in 2018.

The lively songs, dances and storytelling that make up the multilingual “Luz de las Naciones (Light of the Nations)” Latin American cultural celebration will be online this year.

A Nov. 7 program will feature a Hispanic virtual choir and video highlights from past events, according to a news release, while a Dec. 19 yuletide event will celebrate Christ’s birth.

“This year’s theme is ‘Unidos en Esperanza,’ or … ‘United in Hope,’” general authority Seventy Jorge T. Becerra said in the release. “The program expresses our unwavering belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ.”

View both broadcasts at EsperanzaEnJesucristo.org.

Waiting for a temple

Uganda (17,887 members), Mozambique (15,032) and Liberia (14,538) top the list of nations with the most Latter-day Saints without a temple or plans for one.

“The church has achieved significant progress with the announcement of temples in countries where no temples previously operated, particularly in areas with comparatively few members,” independent researcher Matt Martinich writes on his ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com website. “This is the first time in decades that there are countries with fewer than 7,000 members ranked in the list of the 10 countries with the most members without temples.”

Rounding out Martinich’s tally are Madagascar (12,887), Mongolia (12,261), Malaysia (10,845), Republic of Congo (8,542), Indonesia (7,561), Marshall Islands (6,976) and Jamaica (6,668).

Temple updates

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Gerrit W. Gong of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Susan, participate in the groundbreaking of the Taylorsville Temple on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020.

• Next week, 149 of the church’s temples will be providing marriage “sealings” under Phase 1 of a worldwide reopening plan. Of those, 127 temples also will be in Phase 2, offering “all temple ordinances for living individuals.” No temples have begun Phase 3, which would make “all living and limited proxy ordinances” available by appointment.

• Recently cleared to resume his duties after a bout with COVID-19, apostle Gerrit W. Gong dedicated the site of the Taylorsville Temple on Saturday to serve members living along northern Utah’s Jordan River corridor.

“Gathered in these times, in person and via technology, we acknowledge and rejoice with faithful generations, including in historic ‘over Jordan’ communities, who have, here at heart, made this valley home,” the 66-year-old Gong prayed. “We celebrate the continuing legacy and promise of their righteous lives and examples.”

The three-story, 70,000-square-foot structure is one of 25 Latter-day Saint temples operating, announced, under construction or under renovation in Utah.

“We’re just watching the temples start to dot this land,” general authority Seventy Craig C. Christensen, the faith’s Utah area president, said in a news release. “It’s a reflection of the strength of the saints in Utah.”

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Benjamín De Hoyos, a South America area and regional church leader, speaks at the groundbreaking of the Salta Argentina Temple on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020. De Hoyos also offered the service's dedicatory prayer.

• General authority Seventy Benjamín De Hoyos presided over a groundbreaking Wednesday for Argentina’s Salta Temple.

“I am grateful to God to live at a time when a temple will be built,” Celeste Viveros, a young woman from Salta, said in a news release. “Like the Primary hymn’s lyrics, ‘I love to see the temple,’ here, in the city of Salta.”

The South American nation has temples in Buenos Aires and Córdoba, with plans for a fourth, in Mendoza.

Quote of the week

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) Peter M. Johnson, general authority Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. speaks at General Conference in Salt Lake City on Sunday, Oct. 6, 2019.

“We can’t fight hate with hate. We must look to love to have peace and harmony, and be willing to make a sacrifice ourselves to make that happen. Racism is a chronic — and, for some, a self-inflicted disease — whose symptoms can be mitigated through a variety of remedies and programs. But it can only be cured with a true understanding of what it means to love God with all our heart, mind and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. … The Lord loves diversity — if he didn’t, he would have created everything exactly the same. The Lord also loves oneness, inclusiveness and belonging.”

Peter M. Johnson, the faith’s first African American general authority and now leading the Manchester Mission in England.

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