Category: Church History

How Corporations Saved the United Order (kind of)

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.

The Church and the Tribe

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

Galen, Holmes & Hot Drinks

One of the odder bits of Mormon interpretation is the strange life of “hot drinks.� 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?

Relics

One of my more prized possessions is a small chunk of limestone. It is about 8 inches long, roughly the size of two fists. Its value lies in the fact that is is a piece of one of the shattered sunstones of the original Nauvoo temple.

A Book I Would Like to See

With luck we should soon be hearing from Professor Royal Skousen, who is the mastermind of the critical text of the Book of Mormon. There is another critical text edition that I would like to see: A critical text of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Mormon Images: Office Decor and the Place of Mormonism in American History

A few weels ago I finished my stint at the public trough and left the service of the federal courts. I know work for the law firm of Sidley, Austin, Brown & Wood in Washington, DC. The identity of the firm is significant only because this is the firm (and office) where Rex E. Lee practiced law for many years. There is actually a three-foot tall bronze statute of Lee outside the office’s moot court room (named in Lee’s honor). As you might expect, the firm’s DC office hosts a sizable continent of LDS attorneys and their office decor reflects the the trajectory of Mormonism within American society.

A Matter of Taste

I just received an announcement for a talk next week in our business school. The title is “Practicing Polygamy with Good Taste: The Evolution of Inter-organizational Collaboration in the Life Sciences.” The paper on which the talk is based has a different title, but the reference to polygamy has me wondering about this person’s perception of polygamy. Given the implicit contrast, I assume that he views polygamy negatively, but I have never thought of polygamy as being a matter of taste. Then again, last week in priesthood meeting, the subject of the Church’s website was raised by the teacher, who was marveling at the various ways that he could sort information. I asked whether we could sort conference talks to hear only the ones discussing commandments that we like. To which the natural response was, “We don’t need a computer filter to do that.”

Davis Bitton: “I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church”

Davis Bitton, one of the Mormon church’s most prominent historians, has written an essay with the provocative title, “I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church.” First delivered at the 2004 FAIR Conference, his purpose is to distinguish the gospel, of which he has a testimony, from church history, of which he does not. Meridian Magazine has published the essay here. I don’t find his reasoning persuasive.

“Our Mothers (and Grandmothers) Knew It”: The Testimony of Talitha Cumi Garlick

A controversial event in Church history occurred when Brigham Young and Sidney Rigdon both presented their arguments to the Church regarding who should lead after the death of Joseph Smith. Many members of the Church have heard that when Brigham Young rose to speak, he seemed to sound like and even look like Joseph Smith, indicating to many witnesses that the mantle of the Prophet had fallen on Brother Brigham. I had long wondered if this story was simply wishful thinking. But when I later found the brief autobiography of my ancestor, Talitha Cumi Garlick (after two marriages, it was Talitha Cumi Garlick Avery Cheney – I’m from the Cheney line) and read her testimony of that event, the story became more credible, closer to home.

The Drama of Procedural Nonsense

I appreciate Kaimi’s post about the jury instructions in Reynolds. But I do object to his claim that the procedural arcana at the beginning of that opinion are of no interest today. The substantive law that they deal with — the number of grand jurors necessary in an Article II territorial court — are not of current interest, but the issue is the final chapter of a dramatic story that tells you something about the world of legal hardball that 19th century Mormons played in.

Was Polygamy Good for Women?

I think there is an unexamined assumption that polygamy in general is misogynistic, as if there were an equation in our minds and three or four or five women were needed to be ‘equal’ to one man in a polygamous worldview. I am wondering if we might explore that assumption.

My Pioneer Ancestors

I joined the Church in February of 1962, as a teenager living in San Antonio, Texas, where my father was stationed at the time. (He was in the Army, studying hospital administration at Fort Sam Houston, in a Baylor extension program.) My parents and my younger brother joined at the same time. My parents were both from Knob Noster, Missouri, near Warrensburg, in Johnson County, about fifty miles east of Independence. Many of my ancestors were living in the area when the Saints were in Independence and probably took part in the persecutions. If I understood my mother correctly, I am related, collaterally, to Governor Boggs. As a result, genetically my heritage has something to do with the Saints move west to Utah, but it isn’t the kind of relation to the Utah pioneers that would qualify me to join the Sons of the Utah Pioneers.

Belated Good-Bye

I missed it at the time, but last month Rhee Ho Nam died. The name probably means very little to most of you, but Brother Rhee was one of the noble and great ones. A very early convert to the Church in Korea, he served as the first Korean stake president, and at one time was the president of the mission where I served: Korea Pusan. When I was a missionary, you would still lots of Rhee Ho Nam stories from members in Pusan. After I returned from my mission and re-enrolled in BYU, Brother Rhee taught one of my Korean classes. He was a warm, funny person, and one who provided tremendous service to the Kingdom and to the Korean saints. A heroic Mormon has passed on.

Church PR and the CIA

As many people are aware, the Church currently employees a New York based PR firm. The topic has come up from time to time in press accounts about the Church, and journalists have labored mightily to make this into an interesting fact. I am doubtful. However, there are some interesting Church PR stories, including the one about how CIA agents distributed Church materials in Europe during the Cold War.

Moutain Meadows in the Supreme Court

De Toqueville once remarked on the strange habit that Americans had of eventually turning every great question of politics and policy into a lawsuit, and presenting the issue to the courts for resolution. As it turns out, the Mountain Meadows Massacre also eventually found its way into a lawsuit and in the fullness of time reached the Supreme Court of the United States.

The Church as a Corporation: Part III

Here are a few more odds and ends about the Church as a corporation that I was able to find out. First, I wanted to correct two mistakes in my earlier posts. I recently found out that after Joseph Smith was murdered, it was not Brigham Young and the Twelve who succeeded to the office of trustee-in-trust. Rather, Bishop Newel K. Whitney was appointed, which means that he was the legal agent in charge of Church property during the City of Joseph period. Second, upon rereading the corporate charter granted to the Church by the State of Deseret, I noticed that it did contain a rather watered down mortmain provision, which stated that the Church could receive donations of real and personal property “for the benefit, improvement, erection of houses for public worship, and instruction, and the well being of said church.” Obviously, “well being of said church” provided a much larger grant of power than that available under the…

Moses as a Key to Theology

We tend to think of theology in discursive terms—as a collection of ideas or propositions. When we talk about the development of theology we are apt to trace the history of abstractions such as faith, hope, love, priesthood. With Joseph Smith, I’ve come to believe it is much more enlightening to attend first to characters and to the plots, language, discussions that collect around them. Again and again these characters inhabit stories that preview and explore situations very like those facing Joseph and the community of faith gathering around him. Following key characters thus becomes a tool for tracing developments in early Mormon history. Viewed within this context. Moses becomes a key to Mormon theology (or at least a prime exemplar of what I’m talking about).

The Church as a Corporation: Part II

What follows is a continuation of my earlier thoughts on church legal histroy (see Part I). Despite the absence of comments, I hope someone is reading this stuff. If not who cares. I have access to the Moveable Type software, therefore I get to post what I want to.

The Church as a Corporation: Part I

I have been doing a bunch of research of late on the history of corporate law. As I was doing so, I was struck by how much of early Mormon history could be illuminated by the evolution of corporate law. What follows in this and subsequent posts are essentially my research notes. We have enough lawyers and law geeks visiting this site, that I hope there will be at least some audience for this stuff. I even think that this stuff could be interesting to non-lawyers, and none of what follows is technical.

The David and Jonathan of the Primary

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.

Intimate Enemies, The Passion, and Joseph Smith

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).

Greying. . . .

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.

The Strangeness of Winner’s History

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.