Category: Church History

The Totality of Mortality

When I picked up my manual to prepare to teach Gospel Doctrine this Sunday, I figured it would be a lesson about the spirit of Elijah (second week = section 2 = turning hearts, etc). I was surprised and delighted to find that Lesson 2 is instead about the atonement, highlighting powerhouse passages in Doctrine & Covenants sections 19, 76, 88, and 93. While reading the material I was reminded of a favorite quote from Chieko Okazaki on the topic and had a hankering to share it.

Hugs and Kisses

It’s holiday season, which means more friends and family and greetings, in person or otherwise, than usual. Add to that a few weddings receptions and you can get downright sore from all the hugging and hand-wrenching. Not to mention confused by the vast array of possibilities for saying hello or goodbye or Merry Christmas or Happy New Year to someone. It’s enough to make even the most seasoned anthropologist dizzy.

Past and Present

It’s an intellectual banality to point out that how one thinks of the present structures how one thinks about the past. The cliché, however, is useful when thinking about Mormon history.

President Hinckley and J. Edgar Hoover

The FBI released its files on Gordon B. Hinckley last week in response to a FOIA request from the Salt Lake Tribune. Apparently the FBI conducted a background check on President Hinckley in 1951 in order to ensure he wasn’t a communist and clear him for a potential position with Voice of America. The results… no dirt. The verdict seemed to be that this Gordon B. Hinckley was a “loyal American” whose reputation and work ethic were unimpeachable. The whole (slightly redacted) file is pretty interesting and definitely worth a look.

The Difficulty of Theological Interpretations of Mormon History

Providing a theological interpretation of Mormon history is tricky. I’ve argued elsewhere that one of the reasons that Mormons care so much about history is that in some sense they regard it has having a normative force. Part of how we understand God’s will is by offering an interpretation of our past that sees in it the working out of God’s purposes. On this view, God is involved in the story of the Restoration and a careful parsing of that story will reveal something about God. This, of course, is the sort of thing that sets the teeth of professional historians on edge, and avoiding this sort of interpretative frame work was one of the central obsessions of the New Mormon History. For the record, I am sympathetic to the NMH and I think that we gained a tremendous amount of insight and understanding by bracketing theological questions and just trying to understand the nuts of bolts of past events…

“Nobody Knows” Screening

Heads up for those in the D.C. area. Earlier this Spring I posted a notice about a great series of events that Greg Prince, co-author of David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism, hosted at his house in Potomac, Maryland. After a brief summer interlude, Brother Prince is back at it. The speaker at his next meeting will be Darius Gray, who will screen and discuss his recently completed documentary, “Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons” (which he co-wrote and produced with T&S alum Margaret Young). Brother Gray served in the presidency of the Genesis Group–a Church-sponsored support group for black Latter-day Saints–for three decades and is truly a pleasure to hear speak. The meeting will be on Sunday, October 19th, at 7:00 p.m. Those interested in attending need to RSVP to Brother Prince as soon as possible (gprince at erols.com). When you do, request his address (I’d rather not post it here) and let him…

Visions and Enivison

I am sorry I have not been posting more regularly. Hurricane Ike slowed me down a bit. However, everything is starting to get back to normal. So…. Here we go. If the nineteenth century Mormon experiment in planning claimed anything, it claimed to be founded on revelation.

Changing Conceptions of Zion

The Mormon conception of Zion has changed dramatically over the past century. Today’s members of the church are likely to define “Zion” as wherever the members of the church are: LDS homes, congregations, and stakes. While the conception of Zion in the 19th century may have included these elements, these Saints were determined to literally be Zion communities

Returning to Zion

Given all that might be said of Mormonism, it should not come as a surprise that a lot of interesting topics sit pretty much neglected. One of these, I would argue, is the Mormon contribution to building settlements in the United States.

Why Visit Mountain Meadows?

A week ago I visited Mountain Meadows for the first time. I was surprisingly hard to find. While the site does appear on maps of the area, there aren’t any signs until you get within a mile of the entrance. That is a shame.

Pioneers and Indians in Utah Valley

Just last week I heard a familiar comment at church: Brigham Young’s policy was to feed the Indians rather than fight them. The actual record of relations between Pioneers and Indians was a bit more complicated, especially in Utah Valley, the watery jewel of early Utah.

Yesharah

Did you know that BYU had a combined-gender missionary club in the early 1920’s named the Y.D.D.? It took me a month to discover the secret of the initials: “Young Doctors of Divinity.”

Christianity by Continent

I recently read Martin Marty’s The Christian World: A Global History (2007). The subtitle is slightly misleading, as Marty recounts Christian history on a continent-by-continent basis. The last two chapters, covering the modern return of Christianity to Africa and Asia, raise issues of particular interest to the LDS experience: correlation and assimilation.

Death and Doctrine, II

Can you help me a bit more with this topic? . . . Since LDS funeral sermons were given exclusively by men before 1900, they make an interesting comparison with LDS women’s death poetry of the same time period.

Carl and Mathilda

Let us praise pioneers. Of all sorts, but today especially the traditional sort. I myself am thinking of Carl and Mathilda, whom I came to know through one of those wholly unexpected spine-tingling unbelievable fantastic experiences.

Cycling Through Mormon History

For you, summer might be a succession of beaches, barbeques, and baseball games, but for one young man this summer is an extended bicycle tour of American religious sites. He has posted excellent photos of his visits to the Smith family farm and the Hill Cumorah Pageant that I’m sure you’ll enjoy. If he makes it to SLC, someone should throw him a party or something.

Foundation and Apostasy

What if the historical evidence for the foundation of the early Christian church is indistinguishable from evidence for its apostasy? What if the early church and its scriptures only arose through processes of decay?

LDS Historical Sites

A couple of months ago I heard a presentation on the general topic of historical sites that the Church owns and manages. I came with a pocketful of snarky questions but left with some appreciation for how tough the task is and (on the whole) how well the sites are set up and managed. I’ll give a couple of paragraphs summarizing the talk, then a couple of paragraphs commenting on historical sites I have visited.

Summer Seminar update

For those interested in the BYU summer seminar, I’ve revised the post, adding the titles of and abstracts for the papers.

BYU Summer Seminar

The annual summer symposium, this year “Joseph Smith and His Times,” will be held on Thursday, August 9, 2007. The symposium will feature papers by twelve summer seminar fellows on the theme “Mormon Thinkers, 1890-1930,” covering topics ranging from the influence of Herbert Spencer on Mormon thought to Mormonism and Modernity.

Missing Essentials

Once upon a time, there was a book called Essentials in Church History. It was first published in 1922 and authored by Joseph Fielding Smith, who was made Assistant Church Historian in 1906 and an Apostle in 1910 (then President of the LDS Church from 1970 to 1972). For many years, this book (in one of its many successive editions) was part of every ward library and was found in most LDS homes. It was sort of expected that Mormons would read the book and know their history. It may have been faith-promoting history, but at least it spent 500 pages telling the story.

A Mormon Narrative for the 21st Century

Historians don’t just catalog events, they assemble events into stories or “historical narratives.” But to really be relevant or worth reading, a given historical narrative has to tap into a bigger theme or “grand narrative” (using the term rather loosely). I’m going to flesh out that concept a bit, then float some observations on the emerging grand narrative that might frame Mormon history in the 21st century.