I returned yesterday from attending the 3rd annual conference of the Associação Brasileira de Estudos Mórmons (Brazilian Mormon Studies Association) inspired with the fascinating subjects covered during the conference and ready to dive into another year of research in preparation for next year’s conference. In particular, one presentation was groundbreaking, changing the perception of Mormonism in Mexico before WWII.
A total of six presentations were made, ranging from discussions of tolerance and apologetics to freemasonry and visions. Two presentations were given by teleconference, and to an audience made up principally of Brazilians. Only one presentation was given in another language (Spanish) and interpreted into Portuguese.
Here are a few notes on the presentations made, in the order that they were given:
Religião Salva? (Does Religion Save?)
Beginning the conference, Marcelo Ponciano discussed the contradictions inherent in the existence of many religions, and in particular the difficulties that arise because of intolerance. Ponciano sees an improvement in human values accompanying the globalization of information which permits a rise in understanding and empathy for those of other religions. In particular, Ponciano notes that the Mormon belief that other religions may have some truths that Mormonism doesn’t yet understand and suggests that Joseph Smith’s teaching of universal friendship means that mormons should be part of the effort for tolerance.
A relação entre mormonismo e maçonaria (The Relationship of Freemasonry and Mormonism)
The next presentation, by Luciano Lucas, looked at the history of Freemasonry in Mormonism in an attempt to clear up many of the prejudices that exist among Mormons in Brazil against Freemasonry. While English-speaking Mormon historians may be well acquainted with Joseph Smith’s participation in Freemasonry and Spencer W. Kimball’s clarification that Mormons are not prohibited from becoming masons, Lucas, himself a freemason, discussed a 2004 incident in Brazil in which an active LDS Church member was denounced to the Area Presidency for promoting freemasonry on the Internet. While the Area Presidency sent a letter, to be read in all wards and branches in Brazil, clarifying the Church’s position, it was not read in many wards and a significant portion of Brazilian members remain with the impression that freemasonry is incompatible with Mormonism.
A visão de Henry B. Moyle no Brasil (The Brazilian Vision of Henry B. Moyle)
Justin Bray, a preservation specialist on the Joseph Smith Papers project, gave the next presentation, an account of a vision given to Apostle Henry B. Moyle on his trip to South America in 1956. Then a recent member of the Quorum of the Twelve, Moyle was told by President David O. McKay that he would have a vision when he arrived there, which preoccupied Moyle during his trip to South America and first few days there. The promised vision then came, somewhat unexpectedly, while Moyle was giving his first talk, at a missionary conference in Brazil, and Moyle related what he saw immediately to the missionaries. The vision was, according to Bray, “detailed and specific” and led many missionaries to describe the experience in their diaries. Among the predictions in the vision was the promise that Brazilians would begin to see visions of missionaries and LDS meetinghouses in Brazil. Bray’s presentation gave examples of how this was fulfilled. Especially interesting was the inclusion of a white hat on missionaries, which sometimes had the appearance of a halo, in some of the visions. The mission president had earlier required that missionaries all wear white fedoras to help them stand out in public. Bray’s presentation was, in my view, one of the highlights of the conference.
O papel da apologetica sud no século XX (The role of LDS Apologetics in the 20th Century)
Returning presenter Marcelo Silva traced the history of Apologetics from Origenes and Tertulian to C. S. Lewis and modern practitioners among various Christian religions, as well as, briefly, the history of Mormon apologetics and of Mormon apologetics in Brazil (which, he claimed, began with the translation into Portuguese and xerox-copy distribution of Melvin McDonald’s Day of Defense). He then proceeded to make a case for apologetics as a kind of check on scholarship, suggesting that the inherent bias in apologetics is necessary to provide that check. Personally, I was very pleased at this presentation, since I’m not aware of any other attempt to describe the history and role of apologetics–something that might be useful for cases when apologetics goes too far, as has occurred on occasion.
Zapatismo e mormonismo na região dos vulcões (Zapatism and Mormonism in the Volcano Region)
This presentation by Mexican historian Moroni Spencer Hernandez de Olarte was probably the most important given at the conference and one that will significantly change our perception of Mormon history in Mexico. The two book-length histories of the Church in Mexico both cover the effect of the Mexican Revolution on the Mormon colonies in northern Mexico, which led to many Mormons fleeing for their lives and a couple of martyrs, but ignore the interaction in the southern portion of the country. Hernandez looked at the participation of the mormon converts in the area southwest of Mexico City, where the church had flourished in the last years of the 19th century and first decade of the 20th century. Unlike those in the colonies, these converts, who generally had Indian blood, saw in the southern leader, Emilio Zapata, “a man of God” and in his cause a “standard of liberty” that would free the oppressed, including the Indians or Lamanites. Hernandez documents the participation of these church members in the revolution, including, in one case, virtually an entire branch of 200 people, and in another case, a Zapatista military leader who was married to a Mormon and who joined the LDS Church after the revolution. The presentation went on to indicate that the same members who participated in the Mexican Revolution went on to join the Tercera Convencion scism of 1936-1946.
Estudos Mórmons no Brasil: esboço de um guia (Mormon Studies in Brazil: outline of a guide)
This last presentation was my own, cut short significantly because delays from previous presentations left me with half the time allotted. I was able to make two points: First, that Mormon Studies has benefited significantly from the efforts of volunteers and amateurs, and this is especially true in Brazil, which has just a few trained academics in the fields that involve Mormon Studies. This means that the field of Mormon Studies will continue to depend on the efforts of amateurs, and indeed, amateurs have an important role to play in the study of Mormonism. Second, I pointed out that Mormons in Brazil who don’t speak English largely don’t have access to the Church’s documentation for their own history, let alone that of the Church in general, so their efforts are best employed in two areas–original research into Mormonism in Brazil (where they can find local resources, such as materials produced by outsiders and the resources of individual members) and, for those who read English, the presentation, through translation, summation and analysis, of the work already done in English.
The quality of this conference has, I think, improved each year, and may attract more attention when the papers presented are published, as the Association plans to do later this year. Like the older and larger European Mormon Studies conference, this is a welcome effort to emphasize the international in Mormonism and expand Mormon Studies to a wider audience.