Church History

Secrets from the Research Library

October 12, 2006 | 17 comments

My Utah history columns for the Salt Lake Tribune have a limit of 650 words; the Relief Society articles need to fit a single page. The brevity of these accounts may mask the complexity of the work behind them, so put on your deerstalker caps and I’ll recreate the process, using Frances Swan Clark as the example. Read more »

On the Road to Mountain Meadows

October 9, 2006 | 31 comments

Two years ago I wrote an article entitled “‘Pursue, Retake & Punish’: The 1857 Santa Clara Ambush.â€? You can read it here if this essay triggers your interest; the short version is this: Read more »

Natural Succession or the Prophetic Death Card?

July 27, 2006 | 63 comments

Does God control who is Church President by ending life (using the “death card”)? Or does he control who is President by controlling the order in which Apostles are called? Of course, both can be true (or neither depending on your theological persuasion), but let’s examine these questions systematically. Read more »

Could the Restoration have Happened Elsewhere and Elsewhen?

July 20, 2006 | 81 comments

The common answer heard today in the Church is no. A variety of reasons are usually given: Read more »

O’Dea’s The Mormons Part I: Strain and Conflict in the Church

July 14, 2006 | 32 comments

Thomas F. O’Dea’s The Mormons (1957) is a classic text in Mormon studies. So much that the Mormon Social Science Association is currently putting together an edited volume Read more »

Joseph Smith chopped down the Sacred Grove

June 14, 2006 | 57 comments

Twelve years ago my family piled in a rented RV and drove cross-country to attend a wedding reception for my older brother and his wife in Minnesota. On the way we stopped at the church history sites in Missouri, including Independence, Liberty Jail, and Far West. Read more »

Prophecy vs. History

March 24, 2006 | 32 comments

Not too long ago, I stumbled across the PBS presentation of Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel (2d ed. 1999). It reminded me of dealing with the book at college and enjoying the ideas presented and the sweeping take of world history that it offered. But while watching the presentation and contemplating the message of the book itself, I was reminded about how much Diamond’s whole analysis depends solely on inference from extremely scant historical evidence. Read more »

Another Martyr

March 5, 2006 | 17 comments

DESERET EVENING NEWS Monday, March 5, 1888 ANOTHER MARTYR Elder John B. Johnson departed this life at the Utah Penitentiary at an early hour this morning (March 5th). Read more »

RSR: Walter van Beek on Joseph Smith

December 9, 2005 | 16 comments

O Lord; thou art stronger than I, and hast prevailed; I am in derison daily, everyone mocketh me. Jeremiah 20:7. Read more »

RSR: The Politics and Personality of a Prophet

December 8, 2005 | 4 comments

For many good reasons, Joseph Smith has always been the least known and the most speculated about of all the prophets of this dispensation. Read more »


October 14, 2005 | 12 comments

Last week Janice and I spent several days in Cornwall, Great Britain, with the BYU students doing London Study Abroad. Read more »

David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism

August 16, 2005 | 78 comments

David O. McKay presented a dramatic contrast to his predecessors: an athletic, movie-star-handsome, clean-shaven figure who often wore a white double-breasted suit; contrasted to the dark-suited, bearded polygamists (or, in the case of George Albert Smith, son of a polygamist) who preceded him as Church President ever since Joseph Smith. In an age prior to professional image-makers, he instinctively grasped the importance of appearance, and coupled it to the substance of a professional educator to become an icon of Mormonism whose persona did much to change the negative image of the Church in much of the world. Read more »

Visions–Medieval and Modern

August 6, 2005 | 31 comments

I had just completed the oral defense of my admission-to-PhD-candidacy exams, which emphasized the writings of medieval visionaries and mystics. My advisor extended his hand, and with his typical wry smile, said: “Congratulations. You passed. Now, go home and have a vision!” We all had a good laugh, but for different reasons. They all laughed because they don’t believe visions are possible. I laughed because I knew how much it would unsettle them to know that I do. Read more »

Game Theory and Mormon History

June 14, 2005 | 17 comments

So let’s think about Zion as a prisoner’s dilemma (PD). Read more »

Sectarianism vs. Assimilation

April 14, 2005 | 26 comments

Which should we be more strenuously avoiding, and how? Clark Goble suggests that the Church in “the last decade and a half has focused on building on common ground. But that has also (IMO) had unfortunate doctrinal consequences on the population as well as I believe leading to the decrease in conversions the last 5 – 8 years.” Read more »

The Problems of the Great Apostasy

March 2, 2005 | 57 comments

One the bed-rock doctrines of Mormonism (to the extent that we have any bed-rock doctrines) is that the church set up by Christ fell away from the true gospel, lost its priesthood authority, and slipped into apostasy. It seems to me that we have two fundamental problems with the doctrine of the Great Apostasy. Read more »

The Evening When Mormons Could Once More Become Americans

February 15, 2005 | 29 comments

I have been reading Kathleen Flake’s excellent book on the Reed Smoot hearings, and it has me thinking Smootish thoughts. Read more »

268M in 2080

February 5, 2005 | 62 comments

Most members of the Church are probably familiar with the estimate made by (nonLDS) sociologist Rodney Stark that, if current growth patterns hold, there will be 268 million members of the Church by the year 2080. Read more »

Joseph Smith, Justice Frankfurter and the Great Writ

January 28, 2005 | 31 comments

It is time for the post that you have all been waiting for, the one of the place of Mormonism in habeas corpus jurisprudence. Read more »

David O. McKay: Father, Teacher, Prophet

January 7, 2005 | 29 comments

On Sunday I received this year’s course curriculum for RS and Priesthood: a diminutive paperback with a striking portrait on the cover, entitled Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay. Read more »

A Mormon Washington Post?

December 30, 2004 | 12 comments

Among other reasons that I like living in Washington DC is the Washington Post. It is on occasion of course a partisan rag, but, hey, it is my partisan rag. It is certainly much better than the trash that they read in some city farther up the coast. The world might have been different, however, had the Post gone Mormon. Apparently it almost did. Read more »

How Corporations Saved the United Order (kind of)

December 23, 2004 | 9 comments

One of the great advantages of blogging is that you can ramble on regardless of whether or not what you are saying is of any interest to anyone else. Hence this post. I feel it is time that we had the discussion that you have all be waiting for: The one on real estate leases, corporate law, and the United Order. Read more »

The Church and the Tribe

December 15, 2004 | 16 comments

The church seems to have replaced the tribe as God’s pattern for organizing his people–or has it? When God covenanted with Abraham, the covenant was with Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 17:7-8+). This covenant was to be fulfilled in part through Abraham’s righteous leadership as a father Read more »

Galen, Holmes & Hot Drinks

October 18, 2004 | 29 comments

One of the odder bits of Mormon interpretation is the strange life of “hot drinks.â€? These are the actual beverages forbidden by the Word of Wisdom. As we all know they have come to mean coffee and tea with hot chocolate and Diet Coke forming border cases for some, and no one really objecting to herb tea or hot cider. What is going on here? Read more »