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Latest from Mormon Land: Church wealth, DezNat, speeches by Holland and Oaks among year’s top stories

Also: Fallout from Trump’s election loss, COVID slump and David Duchovny’s novel.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks to faculty at Brigham Young University on Aug. 23, 2021. His remarks urging BYU faculty to stop aiming “friendly fire” at church teachings against same-sex marriage triggered heated debate.

These are excerpts from The Salt Lake Tribune’s free Mormon Land newsletter, a weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Want this newsletter with additional items in your inbox? Subscribe here. You also can support Mormon Land with a donation at Patreon.com/mormonland, where you can access, among other exclusive gifts and content, transcripts from our “Mormon Land” podcasts.

The year’s best and biggest

As the calendar turns to a new year, here is a look back at some of the top stories in or about the church we reported in 2021:

• Advertising technology billionaire Jeff T. Green, believed to be the wealthiest Utah native, resigns his church membership.

• In a much-debated address, Latter-day Saint apostle Jeffrey R. Holland urges Brigham Young University faculty to stop aiming “friendly fire” at church teachings against same-sex marriage.

• In the wake of James Huntsman’s tithing lawsuit, we examine other legal actions accusing the church of fraud in its financial dealings.

• Angel Moroni statues are increasingly missing from temples, pageants have been pulled, even the very word “Mormon” has been all but banished. We explore whether the church is in danger of losing its identity.

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

• Apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf makes headlines — not from the pulpit but in politics — when his name turns up on federal reports showing donations to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign and other Democratic candidates.

• For decades, the church has handed over Utah membership data to help the state in its planning — until this year. It chooses not to do so in 2021 because COVID-19 hindered the accuracy of those numbers.

• Historian D. Michael Quinn, who was ousted from the faith as part of the ‘September Six’ but remained a believer throughout his life, dies at 77.

(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.”

• We dig into the trenches of the online battlefields to report about #DezNat, self-appointed warriors who defend the church’s doctrines and practices with piercing posts that sometimes include mocking, bullying and threats.

• After apostle Dallin H. Oaks’ landmark Easter sermon about the Constitution, experts weigh in on this “perilous moment” in U.S. history.

• The church’s flagship school finds itself the focus of many news stories. At the center looms this question: Is the Provo school getting “too liberal”? Some students, alumni and orthodox members say yes — at least when it comes to LGBTQ, race, religious and political issues.

Tops from the newsletter

The weekly newsletter resonated, too, with items that drew tens of thousands of readers, including:

• Church growth fell off a COVID cliff in 2020, with convert baptisms cut in half and new children of record down by nearly a third.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

• A Latter-day Saint law professor argues top church leaders should go big to refute Donald Trump’s “big lie,” especially after a poll shows 46% of U.S. members wrongly believe the 2020 election was stolen.

• The same legal scholar wonders aloud whether the IRS ever will penalize the church after a whistleblower accused the Utah-based faith of amassing a $100 billion “rainy day” account intended for — but never spent on — charity. To date, there has not been a public peep from the tax agency about the allegation.

• Real estate arms of the church bolster their bottom lines with a couple of multimillion-dollar acquisitions in eastern Washington and Hawaii.

• “X-Files” watchers know that “the truth is out there,” and David Duchovny fans know that so is his latest novel, “Truly Like Lightning,” whose central character converts to an “originalist” brand of Mormonism complete with polygamous wives. The ambitious book contains a hilarious baptismal interview, an engaging spin on the faith’s fundamentalist undercurrents and, well, plenty of profanity.

Latest from The Tribune

(Dennis Cook, AP) Then-Sen. Harry Reid appears at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington in 2006. Reid died this week at age 82. He appeared on a “Mormon Land” podcast earlier this year.

• Former Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, who rose to Senate majority leader to become the highest-ranking elected Latter-day Saint in U.S. history, died Tuesday at age 82.

The church lauded Reid as a “devoted and capable public servant who was dedicated to his family, his faith and his country.”

“We are grateful for his tireless service in each of these facets of a life well-lived,” it said in a news release. “We pray that Senator Reid’s loved ones will be blessed and sustained at this tender time of parting and in the years ahead.”

In one of his last extended interviews, the Democrat appeared on our “Mormon Land” podcast, where he talked about the Capitol siege, Joe Biden, Donald Trump, Mitt Romney and the need for top church leaders to warn members against aligning with “fringe” groups and causes.

Listen to the podcast.

• Author James Goldberg, a self-described Sikh-Jewish-Mormon, has a new young adult novel out. “Bollywood Lovers’ Club” is about a Sikh girl and a Latter-day Saint boy navigating dating, college applications and family expectations.

Goldberg, who is trying to nurture a “Mormon renaissance” in writing and art, says too many Latter-day Saint authors ignore their own culture.

Read the story.

• “The Good Shepherds” pokes fun at the church’s wealth, but the satirical musical has a serious goal: to get members talking about how best to use that money.

“If enough people are talking about the fact that the church should be doing more with their insane fortune,” playwright David Nolan said, “… it has the power to literally save human lives.”

Read the story.

• A recent Sunday school lesson on “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” seemed “out of place,” argues a BYU political scientist, especially since polls show most young Latter-day Saints support same-sex marriage.

The lesson and the call to change government policy to reflect the proclamation seem to be “intended to reignite … culture wars rather than end them,” Richard Davis writes. “... Bringing back the culture wars is not likely to help the church to retain young adults who have no problem with same-sex marriage.”

Read his commentary.

• A 24-year-old missionary in Africa became the 11th full-time Latter-day Saint proselytizer to die this year.

Tshiama Anaclet Tshiama, who hails from the Democratic Republic of Congo and was serving in the Ivory Coast Abidjan East Mission, died Dec. 19, possibly from an undiagnosed medical condition.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Elder Tshiama Anaclet Tshiama died at age 24 while serving in the Ivory Coast Abidjan East Mission.

Read the story.

• A retired church historian has helped solve the riddle about who else is buried in unmarked graves near pioneer-prophet Brigham Young in Salt Lake City.

Read the story.

• Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess explores new polling that shows many young Latter-day Saints continue to attend church and youth activities but say they also have been harmed by religion.

Read her column.

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