Church History

A Look at Life on the Trail

July 24, 2015 | one comment
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A Look at Life on the Trail

On a recent corner-to-corner drive across the state of Wyoming, I paralleled the Mormon Trail for about 200 miles: from where the trail intersects I-25 (about 80 miles north of Cheyenne), through Casper (site of the first Mormon ferry), along Wyoming 220 past Independence Rock, Devil’s Gate, and Martin’s Cove, then up US 287 past Split Rock to the Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater River. I’ve never been much for pioneer tales, but I enjoyed taking in the landscape that was the common experience of the first twenty thousand Mormons who made the overland trek to Utah. Read more »

Review: Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy

June 10, 2015 | 9 comments
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Merina Smith’s Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy: The Introduction and Implementation of the Principle, 1830-1853 (USU Press, 2013) does a very nice job summarizing scholarship on the LDS practice of polygamy during Joseph Smith’s lifetime and for the decade following his death. The focus of the narrative (which is based on the author’s recent PhD dissertation) is on the development of a theological narrative to support and justify the early practice of LDS polygamy. The author makes the point that a convincing theological narrative or justification was a necessary prerequisite for the acceptance and practice of polygamy by Joseph’s... Read more »

Review: Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding

May 6, 2015 | 148 comments
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You have probably heard about Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding (Greg Kofford Books, 2015; publisher’s page) by Brian C. and Laura H. Hales. It has been getting a lot of attention, coming as it does in the wake of the recently released polygamy essays at LDS.org. Furthermore, the book follows the three-volume treatment of the history and theology of Joseph Smith’s polygamy, authored by Brian C. Hales and (for volumes 1 and 2) Don Bradley and also published by Kofford. Not having read the three volumes, I assume the 100 pages of narrative text in this shorter... Read more »

Review: For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830-2013

April 21, 2015 | 15 comments
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Review: For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830-2013

It’s time for a discussion of Russell Stevenson’s For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism: 1830-2013 (Greg Kofford Books, 2014; publisher’s page). I bought my copy at a book signing at Benchmark Books in Salt Lake. Deseret Book is carrying the book, but if you live in Utah County go pick up a copy at Writ & Vision, Brad’s new operation (on West Center in Provo, used to be Zion’s Books). We are fortunate to have Russell presently doing a guest blogger stint here at T&S, so I look forward to his responses to... Read more »

Polygamy: Public Practice

March 31, 2015 | 23 comments
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In my prior post, I looked briefly at the origins of polygamy. Again using documents from B. Carmon Hardy’s Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy: Its Origin, Practice, and Demise (Arthur H. Clark, 2007), I will now look at the public practice of polygamy in early Utah. How did the Saints in Utah explain it to the world and what did visitors to Salt Lake City say about what they observed? Read more »

Polygamy: Origins

March 19, 2015 | 48 comments
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Once upon a time, no one except critics wanted to talk about LDS polygamy. But TV shows, court cases, and four Gospel Topics essays on the subject — which run to 32 pages of material when I printed them out — have changed the game. Now everyone is talking about polygamy. The current LDS position, however, is still as murky and convoluted as ever. Historical explanations, doctrinal justifications, and even simple factual descriptions of LDS polygamy remain controversial (see earlier posts at T&S, BCC, JI, M-Star, FMH, and most recently Kiwi Mormon). To this expanding conversation on polygamy, add... Read more »

Incredulous About Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

January 8, 2015 | 306 comments
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Incredulous About Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

Entrenched in Mormon Culture I am a 7th generation Mormon who grew up in Utah County. I attended church all my life, had regular family scripture study and FHE. My dad was a BYU math professor and my mom a devout scripture scholar. I graduated from seminary and graduated from BYU (with all its required religion courses) and married a 5th generation, returned missionary in the temple. And I didn’t learn that Joseph Smith personally practiced polygamy until I was in my 20s. I had heard the story about Emma pushing Eliza down the stairs, causing a miscarriage in... Read more »

Book Review: The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History

December 15, 2014 | 13 comments
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Book Review: The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History

I don’t have time to do a proper review of the 490 pages of The Council of Fifty: A Documentary History (Signature Books, 2014), edited by Jedediah S. Rogers, so I am just going to start writing and see what happens. The book hits the bookshelves today, so it’s a potential Christmas gift for the Mormon history fan in your life. Read more »

Historians Saying Interesting Things … About Mormonism

November 6, 2014 | 5 comments
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Between the new polygamy essays at LDS.org and the new religion curriculum at the BYUs, there has been a lot to argue about this week. Let’s try something a little friendlier: The Mormon History Association’s Tanner Lectures: The First Twenty Years (U. of Illinois Press, 2006). It has been on my shelf a couple of years now. I recently pulled it down as part of my new plan to actually read the LDS books that I buy. The book contains 21 articles, all variations on “Mormonism and X” but all terribly interesting. That template derives from MHA’s format for... Read more »

Practical Apologetics: The First Vision

September 4, 2014 | 86 comments
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It’s not surprising that the First Vision has become one of the faith issues that gets kicked around the Internet these days. Visions are personal experiences of one particular person, so little effort or justification is needed for a third party to doubt or disbelieve another’s account of a vision. Most Mormons find it easy enough ignore or reject visions recounted in other Christian traditions without much reflection. As Steven C. Harper notes, “It is vital to recognize that only Joseph Smith knows whether he experienced a vision in 1820. He was the only witness to what happened and... Read more »

A Baseball Team in Every Ward

July 19, 2014 | no comments
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A Baseball Team in Every Ward

In the late 16th century Henry IV of France expressed a desire that everyone in his realm would “have a chicken in his pot every Sunday.” That idea showed up again in Herbert Hoover’s promise of a “chicken in every pot”—the politician’s promise of prosperity. I’m not sure whether “a baseball team in every ward” is a promise of prosperity or programming gone awry, but that is essentially what leaders of the MIA suggested in 1922—some years before Hoover made his ill-fated promise. They wrote: “Each ward should have an organized baseball club, and each stake should have an... Read more »

Stirring Up the Saints: The Mormon Reformation

May 2, 2014 | 4 comments
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So I read Bigler and Bagley’s The Mormon Rebellion: America’s First Civil War, 1857-58 (U. of Oklahoma Press, 2011) last week. It will certainly convince you that the Utah Territory of the 1850s was the Wild Wild West as much as it was Zion. Checking the footnotes, it seems like the narrative is built primarily on reports from dissenters, which I suppose is where you turn for facts if you think Mormons were all liars, thieves, and murderers. There wasn’t much historical context provided, say about levels of violence in other western settlements or maybe something about that Second... Read more »

Mormonism: The Last Fifty Years

January 16, 2014 | 14 comments
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Mormonism: The Last Fifty Years

Over the holidays I read The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (OUP, 2013), by J. B. Haws, a BYU history prof. Technically, the book is a study of how the LDS Church and Mormonism in general is perceived by the American public, and the author presents survey data throughout the book to gauge the ups and downs of the various ways that Mormons and the Church are viewed. No doubt the book is required reading for every LDS Public Affairs employee. But for most readers the book also serves quite nicely as a... Read more »

The Life and Times of Parley P. Pratt

September 12, 2013 | 2 comments
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The Life and Times of Parley P. Pratt

I recently finished reading Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (OUP, 2011), by Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow. Most Mormons know Pratt by name from reading the Doctrine and Covenants. A few Mormons have read Pratt’s autobiography, which gives some idea of the extent of his missionary travels, but provides little detail about his influential writings or his busy family life (he had 9 wives and 23 children at the time of his death). Any reader of this biography will come to appreciate just how significant a role Pratt played in the early LDS Church,... Read more »

Not quite “Faith in Every Footstep”

July 24, 2013 | 19 comments
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51flZG0qY2L

It’s no surprise that my favorite book about the pioneers was not written by a Mormon. Read more »

Can Books Cause Problems? Reflections on Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

December 20, 2012 | 39 comments
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I recently did a quick read of John G. Turner’s Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet and posted notes here. Here is my one-sentence summary: “Turner gives a balanced if candid portrayal of Brigham, one that mainstream Mormons should be able to read without serious difficulties.” But not everyone agrees. Some very bright people think the book might very well cause problems for mainstream Mormons and should therefore perhaps be avoided. It’s a serious question: Can books cause problems? If so, what do we do with those problem books: Ignore them? Hide them in locked cases? Burn them? Read more »

Joseph Smith and Baseball: The Evidence

November 7, 2012 | no comments
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Joseph Smith and Baseball: The Evidence

“In the 1830s, on the western frontier of Missouri, ball was the favorite sport of Joseph Smith, founder of a new religious sect called the Mormons1.” A couple of years ago I received as a Christmas present the Baseball documentary by Ken Burns, the PBS series that as much as anything has driven my current fascination with the game and led to the Mormon Baseball blog. Early in the first of the documentary’s 10 parts, the narrator makes the above claim, something that even today I don’t hear from Mormon historians. Could it be that Joseph Smith played and... Read more »

Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza, Brazil (part 3)

August 16, 2012 | 9 comments
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Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza, Brazil (part 3)

. Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza by Emmanuel Santana The 2004 race for mayor was more exciting. The “Juraci Era” had put Fortaleza’s voters in the mood for change. Inácio Arruda and Moroni... Read more »

Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza, Brazil (part 2)

August 15, 2012 | no comments
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Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza, Brazil (part 2)

.  Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza by Emmanuel Santana Out of the books and stories of their elders. I can not remember anything of Moroni’s first election, since occurred just a few years... Read more »

Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza, Brazil (part 1)

August 14, 2012 | 6 comments
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Moroni Torgan and the Church in Fortaleza, Brazil (part 1)

The following is a translation from an article written by Emanuel Santana and published on the Brazilian group blog, Vozes Mórmons. I have divided it into three parts because the post is so long and raises so many questions about politics and the Church—things that strike me as repeatedly-covered issues in the U.S. and perhaps Canada, but which are new territory in Brazil and elsewhere around the world. This first part covers background information, from the introduction of the Church in Fortaleza to Moroni Torgan’s arrival and rise to prominence as Brazil’s first Mormon Congressman. Read more »

The Kirtland Church: A Review of Hearken O Ye People

August 10, 2012 | 8 comments
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The Kirtland Church: A Review of Hearken O Ye People

I received my review copy of Hearken, O Ye People at work; I opened it and began to read on the El heading home. And, from page 1 (or, actually, page xvii), my jaw dropped. Staker started his book with an almost-15-page chronology of Kirtland, beginning in May 1796 as a group begins to survey townships in the Western Reserve and ending on July 6, 1838, when Kirtland Camp leaves Kirtland to settle in Missouri. For that chronology alone, Hearken, O Ye People is worth its price, at least for those form whom the Kirtland years are overshadowed by... Read more »

Nothing to Apologize For (Part II)

July 25, 2012 | 63 comments
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I argued in Part I that the move from “apologetics” to “Mormon Studies” requires a bracketing of truth claims that may serve legitimate scholarly purposes, but that carries with it certain significant risks.  The New Mormon Studies presents orthodoxy as stifling and itself as intellectually liberating, but it risks purveying a more subtle and powerful conformism, the conformism of secular academic prestige and careerism.  This is intended, not as a condemnation, but as an alert.  We ought to embrace... Read more »

Nothing to Apologize For (Part I)

July 20, 2012 | 75 comments
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The recent unpleasantness at BYU’s Maxwell Institute has, the reader will have noticed, triggered much comment on the internet, including celebrations in some quarters over the supposed demise or at least eclipse of certain defenders of the faith at the Institute —characterized by some as apologists — who have been willing over the years to call out arguments they see as weakly reasoned and hold critics of the Church to account for their claims.   Although I do not... Read more »

O Pioneer! Book Review of Villages on Wheels

July 11, 2012 | 4 comments
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Kimball__Villages

The 4th of July is a week of intense patriotic celebration in Provo.  Freedom Festival is the biggest party of the year here. People go all out with block parties, fireworks, parades, races, and art contests. We end the week exhausted. As a relative newcomer to Utah Valley, I’ve wondered why is Independence Day is such a big deal here. It turns out that Provo is simply upholding pioneer tradition: “Both Mormons and American travelers commemorated July 4th with elaborate patriotic observances. They generally stated at daybreak with gun and cannon salutes, and continued with cheers, speeches, toasts, feasts,... Read more »