Latest from Mormon Land: Church buys up Iowa farms; Trump ridicules Romney book

Also: Actor who portrayed Joseph Smith and a “September Six” writer-editor die; a new tithing lawsuit is filed; dozens of new missions will be coming; and a Latino concert approaches.

(Jim Slosiarek | AP) A farmer is silhouetted against the setting sun in 2020 near Walford, Iowa. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owns tens of thousands of cropland acres in the state.

The Mormon Land newsletter is The Salt Lake Tribune’s weekly highlight reel of developments in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Support us on Patreon and get the full newsletter, exclusive access to Tribune subscriber-only religion content and podcast transcripts.

Church’s Iowa farm team

(Charlie Neibergall | AP) Baseball players reenact a scene from "Field of Dreams" at the movie set in Iowa. The church owns tens of thousands of acres of rich farmland in the state.

“Is this heaven?” a father asks in the classic baseball film “Field of Dreams.”

“It’s Iowa,” his son responds.

And farmland in the Hawkeye State, it turns out, is becoming a fruitful dream come true for the church’s real estate brokers.

Deseret Trust, a landholding arm of the Salt Lake City-based faith, owns at least 22,000 acres of rich cropland in 21 Iowa counties, worth more than $250 million, reports The Gazette in Cedar Rapids.

“We see farmland as a stable long-term investment,” trust spokesperson Dale Bills tells the newspaper. “The land owned in Iowa is leased to and worked by local farmers.”

The trust plopped down $23 million, for instance, last November for 1,800 cropland acres in Lee County, The Gazette notes, and $2.1 million in February for some 160 acres in Tama County.

See where else the church owns land in Iowa — and across the nation — in The Salt Lake Tribune’s 2022 database, the most extensive and exhaustive look to date of the faith’s vast U.S. property holdings.

Trump and Romney trade jabs

(Carolyn Kaster | AP) In this Nov. 19, 2016, file photo, then-President-elect Donald Trump calls out to the media as Mitt Romney leaves the Trump National Golf Club in New Jersey. Seven years later, the two continue to trade verbal jabs.

The Los Angeles Times praised the new “scoop-rich” biography of Mitt Romney, and The New York Times pointed to how it blends “straightforward” history with the “intimacy” of a political confession.

But does Donald Trump like the new book, titled “Romney: A Reckoning”?

Bet you know the answer.

“Mitt Romney, a total loser that only a mother could love, just wrote a book which is, much like him, boring, horrible, and totally predictable,” the former and hopes-to-be-future president wrote on social media. “I am very proud to be the one who forced this Left Leaning RINO out of politics. He wanted to run sooo badly, but knew he couldn’t win in the great State of Utah without my Endorsement and Support, so he QUIT.”

It’s true that Romney isn’t seeking a second term, but Trump gets at least this much flat wrong: The Republican senator didn’t write the book; Atlantic reporter — and fellow Latter-day Saint — McKay Coppins did.

When Coppins sent Trump’s “review” to Romney, Vanity Fair reports, the Utah senator fired back: “Ha, ha, ha. He’s such a whack job.”

Odds are these won’t be the last zingers the two politicians hurl at each other.

The latest ‘Mormon Land’ podcast: Blessed — and needed — are the peacemakers

(AP; provided) Former U.S. appellate Judge Thomas Griffith, left; and founder of Interfaith America Eboo Patel. The two discuss bridge building on this week's "Mormon Land."

What if Latter-day Saints became as skilled at peacemaking as they are at proselytizing? So asks Eboo Patel, founder of Interfaith America and author of “We Need to Build: Field Notes for Diverse Democracy.” If they do, he says, they can play a vital role in building bridges across partisan divides. Patel and retired federal Judge Thomas Griffith, a Latter-day Saint convert and a member of the American Bar Association’s newly created Task Force for American Democracy, discuss how and why members should embrace that challenge. Listen to the podcast.

Actor who played Joseph Smith dies

(Kathy Hutchins/Hutchins Photo via AP) Richard Moll, shown in 2010, is best known as the gentle giant bailiff Bull on the original “Night Court." He also portrayed church founder Joseph Smith in a 1977 film.

• Actor Richard Moll, best known as the bald, bulky bailiff Bull on “Night Court,” has died at age 80.

So why is he in this newsletter? Because he also portrayed church founder Joseph Smith in the 1977 film “Brigham,” about pioneer-prophet Brigham Young.

“That movie isn’t nearly as bad as its reputation,” Casey Griffiths, a church history professor at Brigham Young University told The Tribune last year. “I mean, it’s bad, but it still gets credit for dealing with some of the controversial stuff.”

As for Moll’s performance, the scholar said he was “actually surprised that I liked him.”

From The Tribune

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Lavina Fielding Anderson: April 13, 1944 — Oct. 29, 2023.

Lavina Fielding Anderson, one of the “September Six” disciplined by the church 30 years ago and a prolific editor who had a deep impact on Latter-day Saint scholarship for decades, has died at age 79.

• More missionaries will mean more missions. As the proselytizing force tops 72,000, the church plans to create 36 new missions next year, boosting the total tally to 450 — the highest number in the faith’s 193-year history.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Latter-day Saint missionaries spread their message in Paraguay.

• The church faces a new tithing lawsuit, this one seeking class-action status and independent oversight of the faith’s finances.

• The practice of embattled therapist Jodi Hildebrandt continued to thrive among Latter-day Saints years after church and BYU officials were warned about her.

• In a salute to pioneering Latinos, hundreds of performers are preparing to dazzle a packed Salt Lake City Conference Center as this year’s “Luz de las Naciones (Light of the Nations)” takes the stage this weekend.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Dancers prepare at the dress rehearsal Oct. 27, 2023, for "Luz de las Naciones," a celebration of Latino heritage set for Nov. 3 and 4, 2023.

• Speaking of concerts and crowds, LoveLoud, the annual music extravaganza to benefit LGBTQ young people whose first show won the church’s official endorsement, will share the spotlight Friday at Salt Lake City’s Delta Center.

• And with the political spotlight now falling on Mitt Romney, read this previous Tribune story about how he modeled his life after his famous father, George Romney, who, like his son, rose to governor and ran for the White House. It’s taken from the 2015 book “Mormon Rivals” by our former colleagues Matt Canham and Thomas Burr.