Latest from Mormon Land: Church buys Nebraska farms; ‘Idol’ alum David Archuleta feels shunned

Also: An interview with the head of the faith’s most visible retailer; the church lights up Times Square for Christmas; women’s leaders are removed from the stand; and two noteworthy LDS historians die.

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 all Tribune religion content and podcast transcripts.

Hot for Husker turf

We told you earlier this month about the church’s farm frenzy in Iowa. Now comes news about its aggressive agricultural acquisitions in neighboring Nebraska.

According to the Flatwater Free Press, the faith has become Nebraska’s biggest land buyer, scooping up more than 57,000 acres between 2018 and 2022.

The nonprofit news site’s analysis shows the Utah-based church owns about 370,000 acres of ag property in the Cornhusker State and soon could become Nebraska’s largest landowner, eclipsing longtime titleholder Ted Turner.

A spokesperson for Farmland Reserve Inc., a church-affiliated real estate company, says Latter-day Saint officials view cropland as solid investments that generate “long-term value to support the church’s religious, charitable and humanitarian good works.”

The Nebraska Farmers Union, however, laments the faith’s buying spree, arguing that it drives up prices and aces out smaller farmers.

The Flatwater Free Press notes that the church’s agriculture businesses pay income and property taxes, “though an unknown amount of revenue is given to the church itself.”

You can see where the church owns land 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.

‘Cold’ front chills Archuleta

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) David Archuleta performs at LoveLoud in Salt Lake City earlier this month. The singer says Latter-day Saint friends have been "cold" to him since he left the faith.

David Archuleta, the “American Idol” singing sensation whose public coming out made headlines 2½ years ago, says his Latter-day Saint friends have been less than, well, friendly since he left the faith.

“I used to give them a hug and stuff, and now they’re just reaching out their hand,” the pop star tells People magazine. “I’m like, ‘I haven’t changed. I’m still trying to show my love to y’all,’ but it’s like, ‘You know what? They’ve moved on from me.’”

Archuleta, who says he’s trying to rebuild his life as an “adult queer person,” wonders aloud why he cares that these onetime warm friends have turned “cold.”

“I’m still trying to get these people’s approval even though I’m no longer a part of this, and don’t believe it anymore,” he tells People. “I just need to move on.”

The latest ‘Mormon Land’ podcast: The woman who runs Deseret Book

(Courtesy) Laurel Day, president of Deseret Book.

On this week’s show, Deseret Book President Laurel Day talks about her vision for the church’s global company; its new openness in detailing the faith’s unvarnished history; the increased visibility it is giving to women; the part she plays in deciding what is published and what is put on — and sometimes pulled off — the shelves; and D.B.’s role in building the worldwide church.

Listen to the podcast.

Start spreadin’ the news

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Crowds at Times Square in New York watch 15 digital billboards simultaneously display Christmas messages from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Monday, Nov. 27, 2023.

For the first time ever, the church’s Light the World Giving Machines, along with 15 Christmas-themed digital signs, are lighting up New York’s Times Square.

“Times Square is perhaps the brightest place on the face of the earth,” Monsignor Kevin Sullivan of Catholic Charities and the Archdiocese of New York, said in a news release. “Lighting the world is needed now more than ever. Catholic Charities is so proud to partner with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and all of these other organizations who are bringing light to what is admittedly a very dark world.”

From The Tribune

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Church leaders Henry B. Eyring and Dieter F. Uchtdorf shake hands with top female leaders on the stand at General Conference in 2017. Women's leaders recently were removed from the stand in Bay Area congregations.

• Many women in Bay Area congregations are hurting after an area president ordered an end to a tradition of Relief Society leaders sitting on the stand during services. In addition, Tribune columnist Gordon Monson offers his solution.

• Some nonreligious nonprofits worry about how James Huntsman’s tithing lawsuit against the church could foil their fundraising.

• The Latter-day Saint historian whose landmark article traced the church’s former racist priesthood/temple ban to Brigham Young has died.

• Another Latter-day Saint historian, a “Ted Lasso-like” scholar who led a Utah college and guided thousands of students, also has died.

• From Yoda to Mary Poppins and Mister Rogers, movie characters offer plenty of pearls of great price. A Latter-day Saint father and daughter mined these theological gems in their new book, “Hidden in Hollywood: The Gospel Found in 1001 Movie Quotes.”

• Religion News Service columnist Jana Riess explores what that chapel fire in Chevy Chase, Md., says about the state of community in the church.

(Pete Piringer | Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service) Fire burns through a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse in Chevy Chase, Md., on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023.