Latest from Mormon Land: How to teach anti-racism at church; ‘Graceland’ group to perform at RootsTech

Also: A deeper discussion of #DezNat; church growth in Africa; selling a Family History Center in Park City.

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.

Anti-racism 101

(Jeremy Harmon | Tribune file photo) President Russell M. Nelson of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints appears with NAACP leaders Leon Russell, center, and Derrick Johnson on May 17, 2018, where the two groups emphasized a need for greater civility and called for an end to prejudice.

Church President Russell M. Nelson has challenged Latter-day Saints to root out racism within the church and “lead out” against prejudice in the wider world.

In that spirit, civil rights attorney Carolyn Homer has devised a lesson plan to help Latter-day Saints learn how to combat this “pernicious and pervasive evil.”

Homer does so, in a By Common Consent blog post, by quoting scriptures, church policies and church presidents. She includes discussion questions, inappropriate statements that members sometimes use to justify racist attitudes, and ways to counter those incorrect arguments.

Some Latter-day Saints still cling to outdated theories, for instance, saying that “dark skin is part of the curse of Cain” or that Black people were “less valiant in the preexistence.”

Homer points to the church’s “Race and the Priesthood” essay, which “disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects unrighteous actions in a premortal life.”

“Past prejudice is no excuse,” she writes, “for current sin. Particularly not when leaders of this church, Christians throughout the centuries, and Jesus Christ himself have excoriated the evils of racism and cultural prejudice.”

If members allege that “Black Lives Matter is a hate group” and proclaim that “all lives matter,” Homer turns to, among others, Dallin H. Oaks, Nelson’s first counselor, who preached in a Brigham Young University devotional that “Black lives matter,” calling it “an eternal truth all reasonable people should support.”

Homer’s lesson plan also tackles the sins of white supremacy, white nationalism, anti-immigrant rhetoric, and put-downs of lower-income individuals.

“Let us go forth with a renewed commitment,” she concludes in her By Common Consent post, “to preach the peaceable gospel of Christ’s universal love.”

This week’s podcast: A deep look at #DezNat

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Here are some of the Twitter postings by #DezNat users, who claim they are defending The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from “apostates.”

In 2018, John Paul Bellum came up with a Twitter hashtag, #DezNat, which stands for Deseret Nation, to help like-minded conservatives within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints find one another on social media.

Bellum said he was hoping to rally members willing to defend the faith, its leaders, its history, its doctrines and especially its teachings on the family — all of which he saw as under attack online.

Since then, #DezNat has been used in hundreds of thousands of tweets, including some with memes threatening violence toward perceived critics.

On this week’s podcast, researcher Mary Ann Clements, who has tracked and written about #DezNat for the Latter-day Saint blog Wheat & Tares, discusses this internet movement, its origins, its purposes, its evolution, its ideas about race, its place in online Mormon culture, the fears some of the posts engender, and the LDS Church’s response to these messages.

Listen to the podcast.

Read The Salt Lake Tribune’s in-depth story about #DezNat.

‘Graceland’ group to perform

(John Stillwell — Pool via AP) Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs at the Royal Albert Hall in London in 2018 during a concert to celebrate the 92nd birthday of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. The group will be performing at RootsTech Connect in late February 2021.

Grammy-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo will be among the featured performers at this month’s RootsTech Connect online conference.

The South African singing troupe, which catapulted to international fame on Paul Simon’s 1986 “Graceland” album, will bring a musical message of love, peace and harmony to the all-virtual family history conference, slated for Feb. 25-27.

The choir members are “well-known for performing in Zulu styles, highlighting their roots through their rhythms and harmonies,” according to a news release from FamilySearch, the church’s genealogical arm. “They’ve brought South African music to the forefront of pop culture on several occasions, earning them the title of ‘Cultural Ambassadors of South Africa’” from late President Nelson Mandela.

Other speakers scheduled for this year’s RootsTech conference — all online and all free for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic — include Utah Valley University President Astrid S. Tuminez, Australian rugby star Will Hopoate and Latter-day Saint apostles Jeffrey R. Holland, David A. Bednar, Gary E. Stevenson and Dale G. Renlund.

Making strides in Africa, Russia

(File photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saints in the Democratic Republic of Congo celebrate their temple in the capital of Kinshasa.

Before fall 2017, Nampula, in northern Mozambique, had one branch. On Sunday, it became the center of the fifth stake in the Southeast African nation.

This evolution, notes independent demographer Matt Martinich, represents “some of the most rapid growth ever reported by the church” in the modern era.

The new stake stands as a “major accomplishment” for the Mozambique Maputo Mission, The Cumorah Foundation states in its January newsletter. The newly formed Mozambique Beira Mission will begin operations in July.

Elsewhere in Africa, the church created its sixth district in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Martinich reports on his ldschurchgrowth.blogspot.com website. The country — with nearly 70,000 members, one completed temple and a planned one — has 23 stakes.

In Russia, the church has reestablished the Ufa District, which had been discontinued a decade ago.

“At one point, there were four branches in the city of Ufa, whereas today there is only one branch,” Martinich writes. “The reinstated district also includes Perm, another city that used to have its own district until 2012.”

Russia now has three stakes and nine districts. Nearly three years ago, church President Russell M. Nelson famously stated that a temple would be built in a “major” Russian city. That location has yet to be announced.

Church finds buyer for Park City building

(File photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The church has reached an agreement to sell the building that housed its Family Tree Center on Park City's Main Street.

The church’s former Family Tree Center, planted on Park City’s historic Main Street, has a prospective buyer, The Park Record reported.

A spokesperson told the newspaper that the church is “finalizing the sale of the building” at 531 Main. No amount was listed. But the three-story, 5,600-square-foot structure, with street-level space and apartments above, sits in a prime — and pricey — spot in the resort town.

The Family Tree Center originally opened for the 2002 Winter Olympics and sprouted into a popular place for out-of-state visitors.

Film of the year

(Photo courtesy of Film Movement) Bartosz Bielenia stars as Daniel, an ex-con who ministers to a small-town parish, in the Polish drama "Corpus Christi."

Public Square Magazine, an online outlet published from a Latter-day Saint perspective, has named “Corpus Christi” as its first Film of the Year.

The Polish drama, released in February in the U.S., tells the story of a prisoner-turned-wannabe-priest who ministers to a small parish.

“Just like authentic faith, ‘Corpus Christi’ ultimately offers no simple morals or easy lessons,” writes Christopher D. Cunningham, Public Square’s managing editor. “But it points toward the enduring, if complicated, relationship we have with faith and seeking to find meaning in our lives.”

Nominated for an international feature Oscar, the movie also won raves from a range of critics.

“It’s easy to imagine that an English-language remake of this film would probably be a wacky, fast-paced comic farce about a charismatic con artist constantly on the verge of getting caught,” writes Christy Lemire, in her review for RogerEbert.com. “Mercifully, ‘Corpus Christi’ is more interested in exploring the potential gray areas of pious deeds, and doesn’t necessarily make the road to redemption a smooth one.”

Missionary dies

A 24-year-old missionary serving in his home country of Haiti died last week after being admitted to a hospital with “health complications.”

Saintlouis Pointdujours Dortilus began his missionary service in September, church spokesman Sam Penrod said in a news release.

“We send our love and prayers to the family of Elder Dortilus,” Penrod said, “and to the missionaries in the Haiti Port-au-Prince Mission as they remember this faithful missionary.”

No other details of his death were released.

Dortilus is the third Latter-day Saint missionary to die this year. A 19-year-old elder from Utah died Jan. 7 in a car crash in Arkansas, and a 20-year-old Nigerian serving a mission in his homeland died on New Year’s Day after a “sudden health episode (unrelated to COVID-19).”

Suffer the women and children

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Children’s Justice Center is an agency located throughout Utah as well as in other states. It helps child abuse victims and their families. The church gave the CJC a $300,000 donation in January 2021 to help buy a second location in Utah County.

General Primary President Joy D. Jones has endured some “sleepless nights” during the pandemic filled with worry — not about herself but about the most vulnerable in society.

She rests a bit easier knowing that Rebecca Martell, director of the Utah County Children’s Justice Center, and Liz Owens, CEO of Utah’s YWCA, are there with their co-workers to help women and children who have become victims of domestic or sexual violence.

To that end, Latter-day Saint Charities, the church’s humanitarian arm, recently donated $300,000 to the Children’s Justice Center and $250,000 to the YWCA.

“My prayers are with you and with all those who seek after your services and your love and your care,” Jones told the women in a news release. “...My heart is deeply grateful for anything that would bring comfort to a child and their family and help them realize they are not alone, that there are so many people who care, and that it shouldn’t happen again, that they can be comforted to know they are safe and protected and can go forward and have productive lives and heal from this tremendous trauma.”

Relief efforts

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder José Bernardo Hernández, left, and San Pedro Sula Mayor Armando Calidonio Alvarado, right, are surrounded by over 171,000 pounds of food that was delivered to help Hurricanes Eta and Iota survivors in need on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021, in a warehouse in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

• The church provided 37,500 pounds of clothing and 171,168 pounds of food to help more than 20,000 people affected by Hurricanes Eta and Iota in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

“I want to express thanks for this act of solidarity,” Mayor Armando Calidonio Alvarado said in a news release. “This great gift for the people that are in most need is very important for our city. We know of the church’s great spirit to help their neighbor. Thank you for thinking of San Pedro Sula and for heeding our call.”

(Photo courtesy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saint Charities provided 40,000 pounds of food that was repackaged and then distributed by 75 volunteers from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, additional community volunteers and members of the National Guard in Florissant, Mo., on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021.

• To celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Latter-day Saints teamed up with the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis and the National Guard in distributing food, toiletries and personal protective equipment to more than 3,500 families in Florissant, Mo.

Latter-day Saint Charities provided 20 tons of food.

“There could be no better way to honor the legacy and leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. than to give to those in need,” Jeremiah J. Morgan, an area leader for the church, said in a news release. “...As the youngest of five children raised by a single mother, I know what it means to receive charity like those that made possible the food and other items distributed by the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis. The joy that comes to a young boy as he looks through a box of food left on the porch is something special.”

• The church’s English Connect program is connecting students and families in French Polynesia.

Johnny Brothers and Repeta Conroy are taking classes with their sons, Enoha and Hinoï.

“The English Connect activity allows us to improve as a family because the four of us are in the same class. We have the same focus and the same center of interest. It’s very rewarding,” Repeta said in a news release. “We do our homework at the kitchen table and talk and share a lot. We take 10 minutes to speak in English when eating and sometimes, we designate someone to pray in English.”

Maeva Ching Soy, manager of the program in the South Pacific territory, has launched four classes in the Punaauia Tahiti Stake.

English Connect is a companion to the church’s self-reliance courses designed to empower individuals and families.

Temple updates

• Next week, eight temples will be in Phase 3 of the church’s reopening plan, offering limited vicarious ordinances for the dead, along with all living ordinances, during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a news release. Meanwhile, 23 temples have “paused” operations due to “local COVID-19 restrictions.”

Quote of the week

“I had a friend who had need of your [YWCA] crisis center. As I took her over and she went through the process, it was truly the beginning of healing for her. That was something that she could not have done on her own. We all wish that these services weren’t necessary. But they are. And without your intervention, these people could not change the trajectory of their lives.”

Jean B. Bingham, Relief Society general president

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