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 Mormon Land in your inbox? Subscribe here.

This week’s podcast: The politics of pot

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Plants for medical marijuana in Colorado in 2014.

Soon after the church announced its opposition to a Utah ballot initiative on medical marijuana, emails began appearing in the inboxes of Latter-day Saints across the state. In them, the church stated that while it “does not object to the medicinal use of marijuana,” it is dead set against this particular ballot measure, declaring matter-of-factly: “We urge voters of Utah to vote NO on Proposition 2.”

Will the church succeed in defeating what, to this point, has been a popular proposal? Will the email blast prove effective or could it backfire? If the initiative passes, is it evidence of the church’s waning influence in Utah? If it fails, would it reinforce the notion that the state is essentially a theocracy, governed not by elected leaders but by a sustained religious hierarchy?

Morgan Lyon Cotti, associate director of the Hinckley Institute of Politics, discusses those issues and more on this week’s podcast.

Another hint of a two-hour block?

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Dallin H. Oaks speaks at a news conference in the lobby of the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City, Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2018.

The rumors of a churchwide shift to a two-hour Sunday meeting block are spreading faster than a flu in the nursery.

And President Dallin H. Oaks did nothing to tamp down that buzz during a sermon to young married Latter-day Saint couples in Los Angeles last week.

Oaks, first counselor in the governing First Presidency, told the couples that church leaders are well-aware of the time demands that callings often place upon members.

“We have spent many hours talking about how we can simplify our church programs to perform their essential function for a wide variety of family circumstances,” Oaks said, according to a story in the Church News. “Now, I am pleased to tell you that some help is on the way and more is under discussion.”

No other details were reported.

Spider-Man’s latest Marvel-ous work is a wonder

(AP Photo/Richard Drew, File) In this Nov. 21, 2012, photo, workers inflate the Spider-Man balloon for the annual Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York.

Your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man may not be so friendly after all — at least to the LDS Church.

The Hollywood Reporter pointed out that a recent comic book showed the web-slinging crime fighter sporting, of all things, a “CES Letter” logo.

The reference probably was a mystery to most Marvel fans, but many Latter-day Saints know that Jeremy Runnells penned and posted his “Letter to a CES [Church Educational System] Director” in 2013 spelling out the author’s questions about the faith’s theology, history and truth claims.

Runnells resigned his church membership in 2016, complete with his own YouTube announcement.

Marvel Entertainment later told The Hollywood Reporter that the CES patch would be “removed from all subsequent printings, digital versions and trade paperbacks.”

The company also released a statement from artist Ryan Ottley, insisting he has “no animosity” toward Latter-day Saints.

“My entire family are members, as are many of my friends,” he said. “ … The reference was in regards to a subject I am interested in and a personal decision I made in my life.”

Suite dreams for traveling scripture readers

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) The Book of Mormon is shown Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, Salt Lake City. Sheraton, Westin and other Starwood hotels are finding their religion. Marriott International, which bought Starwood two years ago, has begun putting copies of the Bible and the Book of Mormon in Sheratons, Westins and other hotels in the Starwood family.

If the Book of Mormon is “another testament of Jesus Christ,” then the volume’s growing presence in hotel rooms is a testament to the expanding Marriott brand.

Marriott International, whose founders are Latter-day Saints, bought Starwood (which includes Sheraton and Westin outlets) two years ago and plans to place copies of the faith’s signature scripture along with the Bible in 300,000 rooms in its newly acquired hotels by year’s end, according to The Associated Press.

Marriott gets the Bibles for free from Gideons International, AP reports. The tab for the Books of Mormon are shared by the Marriott Foundation and the LDS Church.

The dual scriptures have been staples in Marriott hotels for six decades.

The safest drink is no drink

The senior author of a massive new worldwide study on alcohol consumption offers these words of wisdom:

“What has been underappreciated, what's surprising, is that no amount of drinking is good for you," Emmanuela Gakidou, a professor of global health at the University of Washington, told The Washington Post. “People should no longer think that a drink or two a day is good for you. What's best for you is to not drink at all.”

The sobering study, covering nearly 200 countries and involving more than 500 researchers, conceded that moderate drinking can help lower the rate of heart disease and diabetes but pointed out that many other health risks drown out those potential benefits.

Robert Brewer, who oversees the alcohol program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Post that if consumers heed U.S. dietary guidelines — one drink a day for women and two for men — “the risk of harms across the board is going to be low. It's not going to be zero. But it's going to be low.”

So the latest word on alcohol sounds very much like the first word on the subject in the faith’s Word of Wisdom:

“Inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good,” the Doctrine and Covenants advises. “... And, again, strong drinks are not for the belly.”

Parlor parlance game

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Church Office Building, located at 50 E. North Temple, Salt Lake City, is home to the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As Mormons, oops, Latter-day Saints stumble, fumble and bumble in their attempts to heed their prophet’s admonition when referring to the LDS Church, oh, wait, “the Church of Jesus Christ,” we asked readers to come up with acceptable substitutes for Mormonism, er, uh, make that “the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.”

What did they come up with? How does Ziontology sound? Or Latter-day Saintism? You see, it ain’t easy. Just check out the story.

Teaching kids the three R’s of racism: reality, repentance and redemption

| Courtesy Photo Melissa Inouye

Melissa Inouye, a senior lecturer at New Zealand’s University of Auckland, has developed a Primary lesson to teach children about black Latter-day Saint history and inform them about past and persistent racism inside the faith.

“In far too many situations, Latter-day Saints treat racism as a ‘rights issue,’ a ‘political issue,’ or a ‘problem that brown and black people sometimes have.’ But racism is a righteousness issue,” Inouye writes in the SquareTwo online journal. “… I therefore developed a lesson for Primary-age children about the unrighteousness of racism.”

The lesson, crafted with input from black Latter-day Saints and which includes a song and various activities, tells stories about early black Mormons Elijah Able and Jane Manning James.

“Stories like young Jane Manning and her siblings walking until their shoes wore out, and calling on God for help, should be as familiar as the stories of Mary Fielding Smith and her sick ox, or the young men who carried people across the icy river,” writes Inouye, a Latter-day Saint of color whose mother is Chinese-American, father is Japanese-American, and husband is Canadian-American. “ … Teaching children about the contributions and good examples of black Latter-day Saints, and teaching children to recognize the toxicity of racist rhetoric and ideas, will both help protect our children from being deceived by the harmful, hateful and false messages of the world and give them tools to proactively help, heal and preach the truth.”

When missions turn dangerous

Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune

In an expansive two-part series, The Salt Lake Tribune details the harrowing stories of two former female missionaries who were sexually assaulted during their proselytizing service and their efforts — since returning home — to help the church better respond to such crimes and improve the overall safety of its 63,000-plus missionaries.

“The first traumatic event was my assault,” says one of the women. “And the second traumatic event was the reaction of this institution that I trusted.”

Says Brent H. Nielson, who oversees the faith’s missionary department: “We weren’t responding well, not as good as we could have. We’re trying to get better.”

Quote of the week

“Unless we could say we’re completely comfortable that this is a place where we’d have a family member serve, we won’t assign missionaries there.”
Gary Crittenden, managing director of the missionary department

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