Category Archives: History

Would Jesus Fit In?

HawkGrrrl asks some questions about whether Jesus might fit into the modern Mormon mold:

Some folks have developed some weird notions about Jesus that in fact differ greatly from the Jesus represented in the books of the Bible (which were written many years after his death anyway). The Jesus I hear people talking about is feminized and sometimes even, dare I say, Republican. As Mormon Heretic pointed out yesterday, Jesus’ behaviour was often much edgier than we tend to think; he would suffer the little children to come unto him, even if there was no other adult present to chaperone them. He would talk to women one on one without making a big deal out of it or wetting himself out of fear of what people might think.

When I read about Jesus in the Bible, it’s hard to imagine a version of that person attending church. What would a modern Mormon Jesus look like? I picture Daniel Faraday from LOST, a skinny, edgy, nervous guy who is the smartest person in the room and unfathomable to the rest of us but with kind, soulful, discerning eyes. Or so I imagine. Of course, if he’s attending an LDS church, he will also have to be dressed and groomed like an Eisenhower era federal agent, and my imagination simply isn’t that good. So Daniel Faraday in a white shirt with a skinny black tie is the closest I can get.

What would Jesus do if he were attending a Mormon church? Based on what’s written about him, here are a few things I think we should expect:

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Posted by on August 13, 2012 in History, Scripture


Should the Church get out of the History Business?

Richard Bushman was interviewed by John Dehlin back in 2007. Bushman advocated the position that Church history should be left to the professionals, and the Church should avoid entanglements with history.

John Dehlin, “Did you know Leonard Arrington, Lowell Bennion, and T. Edgar Lyon? Can you talk a little bit about about (1) what you felt or experienced during what many call the Camelot years of church history, (2) how you got hooked up to help Leonard Arrington to work on the sesquicentennial series that he was hoping to write, and then (3) and (4) how you felt when that got cancelled and how you felt about the way that that era sort of concluded?”

Bushman, “Well, I didn’t know T. Edgar Lyon very well. I knew his son very well, he was a bishop in the same building where I was. We both had a young singles ward in Cambridge. I knew Lowell Bennion only late in life. I didn’t come up to that university of Utah pattern, but Leonard I knew pretty well. My first job was at BYU, and when I arrived, somehow he had gotten wind of it and knew I was a Ph.D. in history from Harvard, and he wrote me a personal letter welcoming me to the state and the historical profession.

I realized that this is a person that takes responsibility for the whole direction of Mormon historiography, and that really was his style. He was sort of the grandfather and dean of the whole operation, not just at USU, not just at the church, but everywhere. Then I worked with him closely thereafter when my wife got started working with the Boston women on the pink issue of Dialogue, and founding Exponent II, he got wind of it and sent those women a small grant, 1000 bucks or so to help put out Mormon Sisters. It was just a gesture those housewives needed. They didn’t know if they could do it. They were just amateurs. Of course among them was Laurel Ulrich, a very skilled amateur, but they were not historians, and he knew that a little something would sort of confirm their hopes for this book, so I just felt like he was an encompassing figure of great personal magnitude. I really loved him. I would say he was one of the men I really loved during my life.”
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Posted by on August 7, 2012 in History


Communalism and the Foreign Past of Mormonism

Benjamin Park of Patheos looks at the early community focused nature of Mormonism:

“You didn’t build that.” This one-line quip of Barack Obama has received plenty of attention. The topic of pundit television shows, talk radio, and a plethora of made-for-Facebook posters, that brief sentence has struck a nerve amongst the American ideal, based on the myths of Andrew Carnegie and Donald Trump, of self-made man. In this country, our national myth declares, one’s potential is only limited by desire and effort. This is a narrative founded by Benjamin Franklin, sacralized by the Transcendentalists, and crystalized by Henry Ford. This particularly “American” mind-set has also been adopted as a core of Mormon culture in the 20th and 21st centuries: the hard-working, forward-moving, and success-attaining image so poignantly represented in Mitt Romney.

Yet such an individualistic refrain has an unusually communal religious pedigree. The verses quoted in the epigraph, which represent a large thrust of Joseph Smith’s expanded scripture, were part of a revelation Smith received in March of 1832. Prior to that, he had previously received a handful of revelations outlining an economic worldview hinged upon communal sharing, principles that were referred to as the Law of Consecration. The basic premise was simple: all possessions, talents, and any other form of ownership are due to divine appointment, and all humans were mere stewards working toward communal stability. To believe in private ownership was to overlook the hand of Providence, and to assume personal precedence over communal need was a severe sin.

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Posted by on August 5, 2012 in History, Scripture


The Great Hawaiian Cat Massacre and Joseph F. Smith

Talking of kindness to animals – this post from Amanda at the Juvenile Inspector seemed appropriate:

This year, I am planning on flying to Honolulu to do research on Mormon communities such as Laie and Lahaina.  Hawai’i’s official tourism website assures me that I will enjoy the “clear, blue waters of Kailua beach,” “the metropolitan cityscapes of Honolulu,” and “the historic architecture of Iolani Palace.” (  Had I traveled there in the nineteenth century, however, I would have found myself surrounded not by luxurious hotels and volleyball courts but a multitude of half-fed, half-wild dogs and cats.

When William Root Bliss visited the city in 1873, he discovered that what should have been a quiet port city had been transformed into a noisy, yowling place by the pets of its residents.  “Every family,” he reported, “keeps at least one dog; every native family a brace of cats.”  In addition to these beloved pets, there were five thousand homeless animals and a gaggle of cocks and chickens for cockfighting.  As soon as dusk hit, a single crow would caw, asking how Bliss liked “Hoo-ner-loo-loo.”  It wasn’t long before a dozen of his compatriots had joined in.  The dogs would then begin to howl, joined by the cats who protest with “every vowel sound in the Hawaiian language.”  It was impossible, he wrote, for him to sleep.  Although Mark Twain did not comment on his ability to sleep in Honolulu, he wrote in Roughing It that when he arrived in Honolulu, he saw a profusion of cats – “Tom cats, Mary Ann cats, long-tailed cats, bob-tailed cats, one-eyed cats, wall-eyed cats, cross-eyed cats, gray cats, black cats, white cats, yellow cats, spotted cats, tame cats, wild cats, individual cats, groups of cats, platoons of cats, companies of cats, regiments of cats, armies of cats, multitudes of cats, millions of cats, and all of them sleek, fat, lazy and sound asleep.” Nor was it simply travelers who noted the massive number of animals in Honolulu.  Even local newspapers sometimes opined the infestation.  On March 19, 1875, for example, The Islander reported that a young girl passing through the island had simply said “O I saw plenteo dogs!” when asked to describe Honolulu.  The newspaper then told its audience that the description was “a brief and truthful description” of the city in its “salient points.”  The number of dogs had been increasing in the city in spite of the attempts of the government to control the population.

Although the earliest Mormon missionaries arrived nearly twenty years before these reports were printed, they too noted the prevalence of animals in the city – the numerous, dogs, cats, hogs, and chickens that seemed to swell the streets.  Joseph F. Smith, in particular, noted their presence in his diaries.  He found their ubiquity within the homes of native Hawaiians disturbing.  With few exceptions, he wrote in his July 4th, 1856 journal entry, “hoges, doges, cates and they live together.”  The animals he saw were not the clean pets that he had envisioned in Utah.  He saw “doges particularly besides other animals, compleately covered with the itch so that there have had all left their bodies in a scale.”  What disturbed him most was the close contact such animals had with his food.  In one Hawaiian home, he complained, he had seen a dog “its eyes and mouth… drolling,” its body more skin than bones, and its flesh covered with “running sores and scabs” standing over the “calabash of poi” that he was to eat.

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Posted by on April 11, 2012 in History


Mormonism’s Forgotten Conscience (re: Animals)

A post of the treatment of animals from Claudia, and the Doves and Serpents blog.

A few years ago, I came across a gem of a little book which I wish would be a standard work in the book collection of any Mormon.

Kindness to Animals and Caring for the Earthcompiled by Richard D. Stratton, “contains over 200 statements and stories on kindness to animals and caring for the earth from leaders, scholars, scientists, astronauts, historians, and frontiersmen of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Approximately ninety percent of the passages are from prophets and apostles, including excerpts from nearly every President of the Church.  Each share their opinions, stories, or heartfelt expressions on kindness to animals and respect and admiration for the natural world.”

George Q. Cannon, counsellor in the First Presidency under Brigham Young and editor of the Juvenile Instructor, probably wrote more concerning the humane treatment of animals than any member of the Church. In 1868 he began writing editorials advocating kindness to animals by 1897 had founded the Sunday School-sponsored “Humane Day” (aka “Mercy Day”), an annual event dedicated to animal welfare.  In addition to Humane Day, the LDS Church held “Bird Day” from 1913-1915, where a certain day was appointed for Sunday Schools to teach about the preservation of birds locally.

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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in History


Polygamy Numbers

Ben Park shared this critique of the popular misconception that only 3% of Mormons practiced polygamy:

[In early August], FAIR went live with their Mormon Defense League website.[1] Among the “false claims” the website seeks to debunk concern the LDS Church’s current relationship to polygamy. In an effort to distinguish the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from polygamous groups in the western United States, the MDL emphasized that plural marriage was a limited practice that had been officially stopped over a century ago. (Including perpetuating the unfortunate rhetorical battle over the label “Mormon”–a battle of deep irony when considering our frustration of others refusing us the label “Christian.”) To answer the question of the number of Mormons who practiced polygamy, it replied that “modern estimates of LDS members practicing polygamy prior to 1904 range between 2% and 20%.” While the website does admit that it is tough to get an accurate number, and that it depends on who you count within the statistics, their final number (2% to 20%) is unfortunate in that it is not only false but misleading.

The MDL shouldn’t be blamed as the first organization to present this number. The 2% figure, which has been perpetuated for over a century through many sources, probably originated with the Utah Commission in the mid 1880s, which in turn was probably received from the LDS Church itself in hopes to downplay the practice of polygamy in the era of federal prosecution. It was then echoed in the Reed Smoot Trials from 1904-1907 as the Church sought to distance itself from its polygamist past. The figure appeared in many public venues–most notably LDS-owned newspapers–in the 1930s as LDS Leaders worked to put distance between themselves and the growing fundamentalist organizations. It still crops up today, most notably in President Hinckley’s interview with Larry King where it was presented that “between two percent and five percent of our people were involved in [polygamy].”[2] If only 2% of Mormons practiced polygamy, this reasoning tends to argue, then it wasn’t nearly as bit a role within the Church as detractors would like to claim.[3]

The biggest problem with this number is that it is demonstrably wrong. Demographical work done by Kathryn Daynes and others that shows that the number of Mormon individuals living in polygamous households was closer to 20 to 30%, with variations over time and region.[4] One would have to take some seriously narrow parameters to get anything close to 2%, and some very optimistic framing to have a top number of 20%. Granted, there were decades and areas that had lower percentages, but there were plenty of times and periods that made up for it.

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Posted by on October 24, 2011 in History, Marriage


We Are A Warlike People

President Kimball’s Sobering Assessment Illuminated by the Case of the Mormons in the Third Reich.

By Alan Keele, Professor Emeritus of German Studies, Brigham Young University

I begin with some words of President Spencer W. Kimball from the Ensign of June, 1976. His article commemorated the 200th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence in 1776 and is entitled: “The False Gods We Worship.” President Kimball wrote:

We are a warlike people, easily distracted from our assignment of preparing for the coming of the Lord. When enemies rise up, we commit vast resources to the fabrication of gods of stone and steel … and depend on them for protection and deliverance. When threatened, we become anti-enemy instead of pro-kingdom of God; we train a man in the art of war and call him a patriot, thus, in the manner of Satan’s counterfeit of true patriotism, perverting the Savior’s teaching: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;”(Matthew 5:44-45) … What are we to fear when the Lord is with us? … Our assignment is affirmative: … to carry the gospel to our enemies, that they might no longer be our enemies.

President Kimball had similar things to say in the First Presidency Statement on the Basing of the MX missile five years later, in 1981, as well as in his Christmas and Easter Messages around that same time. (The remarkable revelation on the Priesthood in June of 1978 fell directly between these pronouncements.)

President Kimball’s inspired words of 1976, 1978, and 1981 were unprecedented and courageous. Anyone alive at that time will remember clearly how much fear and hatred had been generated by the Cold War and the policy called Mutually Assured Destruction, appropriately abbreviated MAD. I recall people I otherwise considered sane seriously advocating a preemptive nuclear first strike on the Soviet Union.

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Posted by on September 19, 2011 in History