Latest from Mormon Land: A Latter-day Saint community gets richer, thanks to marijuana

Also: Most members believe the Book of Mormon is real history and that founder Joseph Smith saw God; a behind-the-scenes look at the end of the priesthood/temple ban; Russell Nelson’s 100th birthday wish; two 20-year-old missionaries die in crash.

The Mormon Land newsletter is The Salt Lake Tribune’s weekly highlight reel of news in and about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Join us on Patreon and receive the full newsletter, podcast transcripts and access to all of our religion content — for as little as $3 a month.

Grass grows greener in Snowflake

A tiny Latter-day Saint community has gone to pot.

Yes, Arizona’s Snowflake has discovered a new cash crop: marijuana.

Home to one of the faith’s temples, the town of 6,600 residents “boasts the largest cannabis greenhouse in the state, which is employing some 200 people, all of them busy as bees cultivating weed for the heathens,” The Arizona Republic reports. “... It creates a particular conundrum for the faithful, because many of those employees are Latter-day Saints.”

To be clear, toking recreational reefer is certainly against the faith’s Word of Wisdom, but partaking of properly prescribed and legally obtained medical marijuana isn’t.

As for helping to grow grass — legally, of course — well that’s kosher for members, too.

And Copperstate Farms’ 40-acre operation has been a blessing for the bottom line of Snowflake, a heavily Latter-day Saint town founded by Mormon pioneers about 150 miles northeast of Phoenix.

“Our revenues have increased, our population increased, our building has increased, and Copperstate has been a part of that,” Town Manager Brian Richards told The Republic. Snowflake’s sales tax receipts have shot up by nearly 287% between 2016 and 2023.

Believing key truth claims

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) A depiction of church founder Joseph Smith's "First Vision." A survey shows most members believe in Smith's boyhood encounter with deity.

Did church founder Joseph Smith actually see deity — as he reported in various accounts of the “First Vision”?

Is the faith’s signature scripture, the Book of Mormon, a literal history of people who lived in the ancient Americas?

While a number of Latter-day Saints hold nuanced views of those two questions, it turns out most members take those truth claims at face value — at least according to survey results reported by Stephen Cranney and Josh Coates in a recent Times and Seasons blog post.

The researchers discovered that 80% or more of Latter-day Saints believe the Book of Mormon is a true record of ancient people who actually existed.

About 2% to 5% view the volume as inspired but not historical, the survey showed. Even fewer see it as uninspired fiction.

As to the First Vision, about three-quarters “strongly” side with Smith, while another 15% or so believe it to some degree. About 5% of members disagree that Joseph Smith saw God the Father and Jesus Christ, and about 4% are somewhat agnostic about the question.

The latest ‘Mormon Land’ podcast: Second-class Saints

(Al Hartmann | The Salt Lake Tribune) A choir for the Genesis Group, a support congregation for Black Latter-day Saints, rehearses in 2016. Matthew Harris' new book, “Second-Class Saints: Black Mormons and the Struggle for Racial Equality,” examines the faith's former priesthood/temple ban from its racist roots to the decades after its removal.

Forty-six years ago, the church, under then-President Spencer Kimball, ended the racist priesthood/temple prohibition against Black members. But that hardly ended racism within the faith. On this week’s show, Matthew Harris, author of the soon-to-be-released “Second-Class Saints: Black Mormons and the Struggle for Racial Equality,” explores the history of the ban, from its racist roots under Brigham Young, to its removal and its aftermath, with an eye especially on its lasting effects on Black Latter-day Saints.

Listen to the podcast.

Around the world

(Excel Entertainment) Jacqui Gray, left, and Matthew A. Brown play missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Richard Dutcher's 2000 drama, "God's Army." Dutcher is working on another film.

• Richard Dutcher, the creative force behind the 2000 hit film “God’s Army,” is working on a new movie, titled “Jesus Is Enough,” about a Latter-day Saint missionary who becomes a born-again Christian. Dutcher also tells EastIdahoNews.com about his exit from Mormonism. In 2007, he says, he wondered if the church were true. “A voice that was so clear, so powerful — I’m sure it wasn’t audible — just said, ‘Of course it isn’t true,’” Dutcher recalls. “Thirty seconds before, I was a complete believer and 30 seconds later, the only thing I knew was that … everything I believed wasn’t true.”

Public Square Magazine, an online publication focused on Latter-day Saints, is calling for the establishment of a civil rights organization to “advocate for the rights of Latter-day Saints in political, legal and cultural spaces” — akin to, say, the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Relief Society General President Camille Johnson meets Relief Society sisters in Guatemala City, Guatemala, at a meetinghouse on Sunday, June 2, 2024.

• Armed with the Spanish she learned as a mission leader in Peru, President Camille Johnson, global leader of the women’s Relief Society, is in Central America this week, visiting, first, Guatemala and, later, Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. “It has really been a treat to be with the Guatemalan Saints over the last couple of days,” she said in a news release. “This is a beautiful place. It is so very green. And the people are even more beautiful than the land.” She also told the church’s local leaders that “the work of Relief Society is joyful. We should be the happiest women on Earth.”

From The Tribune

(Bethany Baker | The Salt Lake Tribune) Singers perform a new hymn, one of 13 from the new hymnbook, at the Salt Lake Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 30, 2024.

• They could be dubbed the lucky 13. Anyway, this baker’s dozen of songs, led by fan fave “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” rose to the top to become the first to be released for inclusion in the new hymnbook.

• Documents show the church is a venture capitalist, investing millions of dollars in innovation. Not all of it pays off.

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

• Church President Russell Nelson turns 100 in September. See what he wants from you for his birthday. No, it’s not a tie.

• The church’s latest membership statistics show cause for celebration and concern. Revisit excerpts from — or relisten to — last week’s “Mormon Land” podcast.

Two missionaries were killed when their vehcile hit a semitruck in North Dakota. This brings to five to the number of publicly reported deaths this year of full-time Latter-day Saint proselytizers.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Jacob Aaron Kesler, left, from Ely, Nevada, and Robert “Tommy” Gardner, from Riverton, Utah, died Tuesday after their vehicle struck a semitruck.

• Tribune guest columnist Eli McCann introduces us to the master and the monster of his domain: angel dog Duncan and devil dog Louie.

• Apostle Gerrit Gong dedicated the Taylorsville Temple, one of 19 currently functioning in Utah and one of 30 existing or planned Latter-day Saint temples in the Beehive State.

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) The Taylorsville Utah Temple is pictured on the day of its dedication, Sunday, June 2, 2024.