Kristine’s description of her lunch with Esther Peterson got me to thinking about other women I wish I could have met. I was somewhat surprised that Louie Felt and May Anderson popped into my mind. These two women were the first two presidents of the Primary. Between them they presided over the Primary from 1880 (at its beginning) to 1940. Louie Felt was a plural wife; May Anderson never married. (May was quite a few years Louie’s junior.) Neither had children. I take my title from the title of an article about the two that appeared in the Children’s Friend, the magazine they edited together for decades.
I’ve been interested in one line of recurring discussion in all the talk about Mel Gibson’s movie. (Keep in mind I’m focusing on “talk” about the movie; I haven’t yet seen the movie.) On the one hand, the charge that the movie is anti-Jewish. On the other, the counter that it’s not; that it’s telling the gospel story of crucifixion, the atonement. My point would be that these two views may not be exactly contradictory. I recently reread The Origins of Satan (1993) by Elaine Pagels. Her argument has framed my own response to discussions about Gibson’s movie—and to my thinking recently about Joseph Smith’s “prologue” to his New Translation of the Bible (contemporary Mormons know this prologue as Moses 1).
So why do I always resist the rather obvious point. The Sunstone crowd is greying, the Mormon history crowd is greying. . . . There is an easy answer, I suppose. I’m from the old Sunstone crowd. I’m greying. Maybe I don’t like facing the obvious. But I really don’t think that’s it exactly.
I spent a fair amount of time Sunday evening reading David Bigler’s book Forgotten Kingdom: The Mormon Theocracy in the American West, 1847-1896nk that Bigler’s book is written in the best tradition of local antiquarianism rather than professional history per se. There is very little attempt (even by history writing standards) of synthesis or analysis. Rather he puts a high premium on lively narrative and close attention to local detail ? e.g. he tells you the current street addresses of the locations of skirmishes or events from the days of Deseret and in the footnotes bemoans the vandalism of historic markers. To the extent that the book has a thesis or any analysis it is very simple: The Good Guys Won.
One of my most prized worldly possessions is a complete set of the Journal of Discourses. I love these books. I love the way that they look. It probably has something to do with my fascination with law books, which they closely resemble. I also love the sermons. They are a wonderful mass of exhortation, speculation, advice, brow beating, and occasionally sublime testimony. They also have a wonderful ability to surprise you. A couple of Sundays ago, I pulled down a volume at random and started reading a sermon. (I do this from time to time.) While I was doing this, I came across the following attack by Brigham Young on New Testament religious communism. No joke:
As we all know, in 1978 the President Kimball and the Quorum of the Twelve (sans two members) recieved a revelation proclaiming that all worthy males — regardless of race — could now recieve the priesthood. Following the long and torturous course of the “Negro Doctrine” as it was called would, of course, require a great deal of careful discussion and research. No one in his right mind would attempt to do so in a blog post. Here goes.
I was researching the rarity of some early Church documents my stepfather collected over the years, when I came across John Hajicek’s website, mormonism.com. It seems he’s a non-LDS resident of Independence, Missouri, and he has amassed what looks like the largest collection of LDS-related historical materials, rare books, manuscripts, and artifacts in private hands. It makes for truly fascinating reading. Has anyone ever seen or studied this or any other significant collection of historical Church materials?
Kathleen Flake of Vanderbilt divinity school has just published what looks like a very interesting book with UNC press. She traces out the history of the Reed Smoot hearings, arguing that they were a pivotal event in defining the role of religion in American public life. Reed Smoot was an monogamist Apostle who was elected to the Senate at the turn of the 20th century. At the time, many Mormons continued to be polygamists from pre-Manifesto plural marriages. In addition, there had been a large number of secret, post-Manifesto plural marriages. These marriages, along with accusations that the Church controlled Utah politics led to a challenge to the seating of Mr. Smoot. The hearings were a protracted ordeal for Smoot and the Church, and eventually President Joseph F. Smith was called to testify before the Senate committee. Smoot was eventually seated and served into the 1930s. For many years the Mormon branch in Washington D.C. met in Reed Smoot’s living room. According to one story that I have heard, for a brief period J. Reuben Clark, who was working in the Theodore Roosevelt administration and was one of the few Mormons in DC who was not a Smoot protege, stopped attending church because he couldn’t stand Smoot.
The Church is often accused of being secretive about its history. My tendency is to think that this is a bit overplayed. No less an iconoclast that Will Bagley (of Blood of the Prophets fame) has stated that he doesn’t think that there is any secret history of Mormonism to be written. This is not to say that there aren’t some documents that I would love to see!
I don’t really believe in coincidences since my last visit to Palmyra, New York, where I learned of the deep relationship between Jello and Mormonism
In April 1982, the First Presidency announced that male missionaries would thenceforth serve missions of 18 months, rather than two years. The justification for the change: “It is anticipated that this shortened term will make it possible for many to go who cannot go under present financial circumstances. This will extend the opportunity for missionary service to an enlarged body of our young men.” I had been a member of the Church for less than six months. In September 1982, I was called by President Spencer W. Kimball to serve in the Austria Vienna Mission for a period of 18 months. After returning home, I obtained a teaching position at the Missionary Training Center in Provo. On November 26, 1984, during my first semester as a teacher at the MTC, the First Presidency announced that the length of missions would be changed back to two years.
I am facinated by the way in which a place carries with it the memories of a people. The Civil War provides an example of what I am talking about. The trauma of that event is seared into the landscape of the eastern United States.
Every day for the year of 2003 I read a diary entry by Samuel Pepys, the incomparable 17th century English diarist. The ten-year Pepys diary is being put online a day at a time by Phil Gyford, a British computer person, (www.pepysdiary.com) and the international community that has gathered and comments on the daily entries is similar to this, a tight ingrown, but very learned and witty group.
Since the publication of Leonard Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdon, the writing of Mormon history has largely been professionalized. The major players in the field are no longer autodidacts like B.H. Roberts or Joseph Fielding Smith. Rather, they are by and large university trained historians, generally with an emphasis on 19th century American history. So here is my question, if we think of ourselves not as Mormons but as students of history, has the “New Mormon History” (if I may use that now loaded phrase) taught us anything? My answer: Not much.
Condercet was a French social theorist in the opening decades of the 19th century and is credited with first discovering a paradox of majority voting that bears his name. Here is the paradox: Imagine that you have a group of three people (A,B, and C) who are voting on three different alternatives (X, Y, and Z). A prefers X to Y and Y to Z. B prefers Y to Z and Z to X. C prefers Z to X and X to Y. If X is paired in a vote with Y, then X wins (A and C against B). If Y is paired with Z, then Y wins (A and B against C). But – and this is the kicker – if Z is paired with X, then Z wins (B and C against A). In other words, even if the individual preferences of A, B and C are transitive, the collective preferences of A, B, and C are not. Put in starker terms, if you control the order the votes are taken in, then you can get any outcome you want because any choice can be defeated by one of the others. I have often wondered if this paradox might in part account for how Brigham Young became president of the Church.
While reading Wilford Woodruff’s diaries recently, I discovered that I have been living in a cursed part of the country. What am I to make of this, and the more general phenomena of Mormon cursing?