King James and Queen Valera

On my mission in Guatemala, we didn’t use the King James version of the bible. Instead, we used a popular Protestant translation called the Reyna Valera. This raises all sorts of fun questions.

For example, the Book of Mormon in Spanish doesn’t use the Reyna Valera language for its quotes from Isaiah, Matthew, Malachi, and so on. It uses King James English, translated into Spanish by the church translators.

That creates questions about how Spanish members should approach Biblical texts like Isaiah which are also reproduced in the Book of Mormon. Where the Book of Mormon (translated KJV) differs from the Reyna Valera language, should they view the Book of Mormon language as superior? In places where it exactly duplicates the KJV text, is there something specific about the particular language of the Book of Mormon? Or is it simply adopting a popular Biblical text? (In which case, there may not be any reason to favor one popular text (KJV) over another (Reyna Valera)).

Also, how does a Spanish-speaking member accurately look at things like the subtle changes between KJV Isaiah and BoM Isaiah? A good gospel doctrine teacher can point out little changes in language and content and what they might mean (like the “ships of Tarshish” verse). LDS scholars like John Tvedtnes have written lengthy papers on the Isaiah variants in the Book of Mormon, and what we can learn from the ways that BoM Isaiah differs from KJV Isaiah. (See, e.g., this paper.) That kind of analysis doesn’t make sense in the Spanish-speaking context. There are all sorts of differences between BoM Isaiah and Reyna Valera Isaiah, and I’m sure that most of them come from the differences in underlying translations. With only a Libro de Mormon and a Reyna Valera — the tools available to an average Spanish-speaking member — there is really no way to do a Tvedtnes kind of analysis and see where Joseph Smith’s variations are.

The same kinds of limitations apply to conference talks. When a speaker cites a Bible verse, do our translators simply translate KJV language? But then the Spanish-speaking member looks it up, and it looks like President Hinckley is misquoting Isaiah. Or, do we substitute in Reyna Valera language? What if the two readings differ in some significant way (due to differences in the underlying translations)?

These questions could be addressed by using a Spanish-translated KJV. But that possibility highlights some of the other considerations. For example, there are interesting questions about the missionary use of adopting local customs. I saw more than one member vigorously attack the Testigos — Jay Dubs — because they had their own Bible, their own translation, which was just not the same as the good old Reyna Valera. Some members memorized passages where the Jehovah’s Witness translation was significantly different from the Reyna Valera, for the sole purpose of Bible-bashing.

And finally, it strikes me that translating the KJV into Spanish might cast a spotlight on the KJV’s own problems. It was a widely accepted standard in Joseph Smith’s day. Today, there is extensive scholarship on the numerous problems of the KJV — bad texts used in the translation, wholly fabricated insertions (Johannine Comma, anyone?), and so on. A century and a half ago, Joseph Smith spoke in relatively vague terms about problems in translation. Today, scholars know (or strongly suspect) the locations of many specific problems in the KJV. Any project of translating the KJV would bring up all sorts of questions about the propriety of continuing to use the KJV today — probably not something the church really wants to get involved in.

33 comments for “King James and Queen Valera

  1. Kaimi Wenger
    June 15, 2007 at 8:11 am

    Oddly enough, when I posted this yesterday, it showed up as comments-closed. I’ve opened them.

    And here I was just wondering whether Bible translations was such a dry subject that no one wanted to discuss it.

  2. Proud Daughter of Eve
    June 15, 2007 at 10:17 am

    \”Johannine Comma, anyone?\”

    What is that please? :)

    My husband prefers the New Standard Revised and I must admit it is clearer. (Also funnier; evidently there\’s a part where Jesus\’ response is basically \”Why do I even talk to you?\”) My institute instructor this spring, who\’s working on his PH.D in early Christian history, says that he himself prefers the NSR edition for accuracy and clarity.

    I don\’t know how the church would feel about switching editions. They\’d have to remake all their footnotes and I think a couple of our favorite scriptures sound quite different in the NSR.

    I don\’t know how I would feel about switching editions either. I get along just fine with KJV language and putting it in modern speak seems to rob it of impact.

  3. Kevin Barney
    June 15, 2007 at 10:25 am

    On the Johannine Comma, see here:

    Interesting that footnote 13 at this Wikipedia article cites a nice piece by the late Marc Schindler in Dialogue:

    Marc A. Schindler, “The Johannine Comma: Bad Translation, Bad Theology,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 29/3 (Fall 1996), which you can read at the Univ. of Utah Dialogue archive.

  4. Julie M. Smith
    June 15, 2007 at 11:13 am

    I think it would be a huge mistake to translate the KJV into Spanish if that meant that it would be as difficult to read in Spanish as the KJV is in English. It seems to me that the problem of Spanish-speaking Saints being unable to identify KJV quotations in the BoM could be easily solved with a laminated bookmark listing all of them–similar to the scripture mastery bookmarks that the church produces for seminary. This would solve the problem of conference quotes–or that issue could be solved by footnoting the talks in the Liahona to make KJV quotations obvious.

    As far as the KJV in English: I posted on that here:

  5. Margaret Young
    June 15, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    Why didn’t I know that you got to serve in Guatemala?
    My dad used all sorts of translations of the scriptures in his studies, including very modern ones. And a friend of mine just told me about the “Urban Bible” which uses ebonics. I’m dying to get a copy.

    Of course, my experience in Guatemala includes Cakchiquel as well as Spanish, and Dad worked closely with missionaries translating scriptures into that very metaphorical language. In many ways, you have to let go of the original text to move into the metaphors and idioms of the language you’re translating into (which has risks, of course). “God” is “Tata a’ chila’ c’o chicaj” –Our Father in the skies. A door is “ru chi ri choch” –the mouth of the house. The earth is “ru wach ulef” (the land his face). A speaker of this kind of poetic language will need a translator who GETS IT. Direct translation from ANY English text just won’t work.

  6. Render
    June 15, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    It\’s incorrect to call it the Queen Valera version, but it is a perfectly understandable mistake since we have a version in English commissioned by King James. The \”Reina\” in \”Reina-Valera\” is not the common noun for \”queen\” in this case, but is the name of the principal translator, Casiodoro de Reina.

  7. Kaimi Wenger
    June 15, 2007 at 1:58 pm


    Yeah, I know it’s the translator’s name — I was making a pun of sorts in my title. But I probably should have been more clear.

    And thanks for the correct spelling. Having learned Spanish in Guatemala, I always misspell ey and ie words.

  8. Kaimi Wenger
    June 15, 2007 at 2:02 pm


    Yep – I served in Xela, from 93 to 95. We’ll have to compare stories some time. I just posted one story (not a good one) on Rusty’s thread about baptism abuses, at

    I didn’t serve in any Cakchiquel areas (being on the West side of the country), but I served in quite a few Mam and Mulco/Mam speaking areas. Mostly around San Marcos and Huehuetenango. I still have a book, somewhere, called “como aprender Mam.” Mam is _really_ hard — it’s got all those dang consonants in the back of the throat.

    My mission also has a lot of Quiche areas, but I never served in those.

  9. Render
    June 15, 2007 at 2:09 pm

    Hey, it was a great pun. :-)

    As far as the conflicts between the translations go, I was a missionary in Venezuela when the new translation came out. I think most members understand that the Book of Mormon in Spanish is the best translation that could be made of an English document, and that the obvious differences between parallel passages are just artifacts of the transmission process. Since there’s no way to be absolutely sure which version of a passage is the correct one without having an untainted source document (and the plates are not currently available), the BoM translators have to do the best they have with the English version that Joseph Smith produced, and if that means using a King James phrase that doesn’t pass muster when compared with the manuscript history, what can you do? You represent the English text as best you can.

    I find it interesting that many passages that are awkward in English because of the way the language has changed actually sound more natural and are easier to grok in Spanish, where the translators are free to use modern language to express their ideas. (Of course, the Spanish Book of Mormon is still made to sound Scripturey in most cases, simply out of respect for the material.)

    Most Spanish-speaking members, and most members in general, won’t care about this whole argument much. But I think those that would care would also be able to appreciate the complexities involved in transmitting the scriptural text, and wouldn’t have any problem accepting the artifacts of translation for what they are.

  10. Margaret Young
    June 15, 2007 at 2:37 pm

    Well, Kaimi, if you decide you want to learn Mam, my father and some of his students (who are now senior faculty at BYU) wrote a grammatical explanation of it. I learned some Quiche, which is to Cakchiquel as Portuguese is to Spanish. I took my kids to Xela last summer for their first taste of Burger King in a month (I had them on tortillas and beans until then), and then to Momostenango so they could meet the family I lived with some thirty years ago. Two weeks ago, I saw an Elder Zarate at the MTC. Bruce and I were headed to a meeting, so I couldn’t linger, but I grabbed his arm and said, “Where are you from?” (in Spanish). He said, “Guatemala.” “Who’s your father?” He told me. His father was a member of the family I had lived with. I told the missionary I knew his grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. Then I had to leave. But it was a sweet moment.

    But to the topic at hand, I will say that since I know the English BOM quite well, I had some problems with some of the words translators had chosen for the Spanish BOM when I taught Spanish Institute. Sometimes the continuity of image was lost because one word was selected rather than another. Them’s the risks of translation. It’s never going to be COMPLETELY right. Too many cultural/poetic parts of language to get a perfect translation.

  11. akl
    June 15, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    As a professional translator (Spanish-English) married to someone from Guatemala (San Marcos), I found your post very interesting. I stumbled across it in the middle of the night last night during a spell of insomnia and wanted to respond right away, but it was closed for comments. Your post, far from being dull to language geeks like myself, opens windows onto the fascinating issues that surround almost every translation, from the most mundane to the most exalted subject matters. Just a few points:

    1) The Reina – Valera version of the Bible was translated and revised by two Spanish monks who fled the Inquisition (and, thus, Spain) due to their sympathies with Reform theology. Like the King James version, it was translated from the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic rather than from the Latin vulgate. For centuries it was the dominant Bible in Spanish, as the Catholic Church did not emphasize studying the scriptures in the vernacular. Quite likely the translators consulted Luther’s German translation, as they were men of letters who would have been able to do this. The King James version did not exist yet, even when the Valera revision came out in 1602.

    2) Creating a Spanish bible by translating the King James English would be a “relay” translation, generally considered an inferior solution because of the potential for introducing an additional level of distortion. And every translation distorts at least subtly.

    3) The Spanish Book of Mormon translation has been revised numerous times. In handling Biblical passage, there are basically two alternatives:

    a) Pull the text from an existing Spanish translation
    b) Translate the King James English found in the Book of Mormon

    The fact that choice b) was taken may relate to the fact that when the basic translation groundwork was being laid (late 19th and early 20th century), the King James Version enjoyed even more of a quasi-canonical status than it does now. When given the choice between an “all-LDS” version (Joseph Smith’s modified KJV English combined with inspired LDS translators) or a half-Protestant version, the Church and its translators opted for the choice that would retain complete control over the final product. This is just a surmise on my part, since obviously I wasn’t there.

    4) The extra layer of translation in every non-English version of the Book of Mormon eliminates, of course, many of the possibilities for close textual analysis and comparison that you mentioned. Extending your point further, many or most of the purported Hebraisms or poetical figures that are said to be conserved in the English translation would be lost in the Spanish version, as the primary goal of the translators was not to conserve these, but to accurately convey meaning.

    However, I would say that for most Spanish-speaking LDS, this is a minor concern. Only a small fraction of English-speaking members are interested in carrying out this kind of study; among Spanish-speaking members the fraction is tinier still. They are concerned principally with having the doctrine conveyed clearly and idiomatically. For the most part the Spanish Book of Mormon does this, but as with any translation there is always room for quibbles.

    5) My wife and I have done some translation for the Church. When we run across scripture citations, we take them from the most commonly used versions of the Standard Works, namely the latest available editions of the modern scriptures and, in the case of biblical passages, from the Reina-Valera.

    6) Again, you bring up the possibility of creating a Spanish translation of the KJV. I don’t expect this to happen, first because of the “relay” issue I mentioned above, and secondly because it would send a message to our millions of Spanish-speaking members that “their” scholars (Casiodoro de Reina and Cipriano de Valera) are inferior to the English scholars who created the King James Version. I see the Church moving away from, rather than towards, more Anglo-centricity.

    7) Margaret: I took your dad’s class in language pedagogy back in the 70’s at BYU, and have had intermittent contact with him since then. It was a wonderful class but, more importantly, Bob Blair is one of the most outstanding human beings I have had the privilege to meet. I understand that he was facing some serious health challenges. How is he doing?

  12. Margaret Young
    June 15, 2007 at 7:37 pm

    akl–THANK YOU for saying such sweet (and true) things about my dad. If you want to e-mail me personally at [email protected] with your actual name, I’ll be happy to convey a message to him.
    He is on dialysis three times a week, but still goes to the MTC on the other days to “play investigator”–which he does in Finnish, Russian, and Chinese. I consider that all the time we have with him now is borrowed time–and all the more precious because of that. He is tethered to life by the dialysis machine, but I am so grateful that tether is available.

  13. June 15, 2007 at 7:45 pm

    There is a good deal of religious scholarship which you cannot understand or participate in if you don’t know Hebrew or Greek. I guess this point you raise means there are now some issues for which you must know English to study (i.e. those papers you mentioned by John Tvedtnes).

  14. June 15, 2007 at 9:04 pm

    I’ve noticed these issues in the RV too. The obvious one is the use of “Señor” instead of “Jehová.

    I just did a comparison of 2 Nephi 16 and Isaiah 6 in Kitaab Murmun and al-Kitaab al-Muqaddas. At a cursory look (and my Arabic is elementary at the moment), this translation does not have this issue, the Book of Mormon translation is different from the Bible only where the English version is also (the last verse had differences).

  15. Wilfried
    June 16, 2007 at 12:43 am

    Thank you for the post, Kaimi. Scripture translation always brings up a lots of interesting points and obliges to consider the many nuances of connotations.

    akl, that was a fascinating addition. One could say similar things about the situation with the French or Dutch Bible. My attention was also drawn to your statement: “I see the Church moving away from, rather than towards, more Anglo-centricity.” Could you expand on this, even if it broadens the topic somwehat in this thread? Even so, what Kaimi brought up is essentially a problem of interlingual and intercultural relations within the Church.

  16. June 16, 2007 at 11:42 am

    No one seems to have mentioned a report that I once read that the typesetter at Grandin’s printing company took some liberty and did what he thought were “corrections” to the biblical quotations. IE, replacing what was in the BoM manuscript with the corresponding KJV passage, believing that Joseph wanted the actual KJV passages in there.

    But I don’t remember how that story ended. Did Oliver and Hyrum catch/correct that in the proof-reading, or was the manuscript version restored to the BoM in later editions, or have the typesetter’s “corrections” been left in the BoM up through the current edition?

    I know that the typesetter added punctuation that was later amended, and that scribal errors, copying errors (made when the printer’s copy of the manuscript was created), and further typesetting errors have been corrected over the years, starting with revisions by Joseph himself.

    But the typesetter’s “edits” that changed some text to actual KJV wording, did that really happen? And if so, was it undone, or are they in the current edition?

    On another point, let’s give some credit to Eduardo Balderas and other Spanish Language BoM translators. I believe Balderas was truly inspired in his translating

  17. akl
    June 16, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    To clarify my point about Anglo-centricity: I see this as slow but inevitable. We now have millions of Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking saints in Latin America (and this is not to take anything away from the smaller but significant bodies of Saints in Europe, Africa, and Asia). This means that our long dependence on Anglo-American cultural references in our teaching and the elevation of the King James Version to special status over all other bibles will be faced with problems of increasing irrelevance.

    Well-educated, long-standing Church members in Latin America know all about the pioneer treks and the early missions to the British Isles, etc., and take pride in these elements of our history. However, for the most part they don’t read or care about the King James Bible, they have access to very, very, few scholarly or apologetic works on the Church, and many live in countries where there is significant animosity towards England and the United States. Such members will seek more and more to establish their identify as saints within their own nations and cultures, will celebrate their own histories and pioneers, and will come to interpret our religion within the context of Hispanic (or whatever) culture.

    An interesting and relevant story. I served in the Argentina South Mission in the early 197’0’s. At many mission zone conferences I was the designated simultaneous interpreter for the small band of native missionaries, as the conferences were generally conducted in English. At one conference, a visiting authority from the USA launched into an elaborate baseball story involving such things as pop flies, cutting off the base runner, stealing second, sliding into home, etc, etc. You get the picture. To an Argentine, especially in the 1970’s, you might as well be describing the athletic competitions of the hydrogen-breathing denizens of the planet Klakk. All I could say was, “Brother so-and-so is telling a sports story, and the principle being taught is . . .” Nowadays, I would not only not expect such a story to ever be told at a missionary conference in Argentina, but I’m sure that all such conferences are held entirely in Spanish, with perhaps a simultanteous interpreter into English for the few who don’t understand.

    Years later (about 15 years ago), I was called upon to provide simlultaneous interpretation at the new mission president’s conference held in July at the Provo MTC. I was interpreting into Spanish for a small group new mission presidents called from Latin America when, sure enough, the speaking General Authority launched into the Exact Same Story. If I were a truly skilled interpreter, I would have transposed all the events into analogous maneuvers on a soccer field, somehow wrapping it all up with the same moral. But alas, I had to take the same “out” that I had taken 20 years before.

    Much has changed, even in the last 15-20 years. Many, not a few, mission presidents are being called from Latin America. They are no longer a small band that you can put in a single room at the new presidents’ orientation every year. And though I am occasionally called upon to interpret into Spanish at meetings, I never, ever, expect to have to interpret this baseball story again.

  18. Wilfried
    June 16, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    Thank you, akl, for clarification. When we talk about Anglo-centricity (or rather US-centricity, if not Wasatch-centricity), we probably will need to nuance according to the level. E.g. surface, mid-level or deep structure? On the surface-level there are indeed such things as the US-example-orientations in talks, church magazine articles, lessons (cf. your baseball story), which are rather easy to change with more attentiveness and some intercultural coaching given to authorities and magazine editors. I think we still need improvement there.

    More problematic are adaptations further down the levels – organizational, and even cultural in relation to certain commandments. We know there are centrifugal forces pleading for such adaptations. Elder Oaks responded to such here: He emphasizes the strengtening of a unique, worldwide gospel culture: “This requires us to make some changes from our family culture, our ethnic culture, or our national culture. We must change all elements of our behavior that are in conflict with gospel commandments, covenants, and culture.”

    Of course, there will always be items in a gray zone, triggering discussion on what is Church or what is American, or what is allowed or not according to the local culture, especially when it relates to “principle commandments” (think of the discussion on Sunday behavior ).

    As a European with long experience in the mission field, I recognize the value of worldwide correlation. We are too young and too fragile an international church, to take risks of fragmentation or even schisms. Which does not exclude that adaptations can be assessed and implemented, as long as they come from the top (sometimes after floating from the base to the top).

  19. akl
    June 16, 2007 at 6:41 pm

    Good point, Wilfried. A cultural case in point: can a person who embraces socialism be a good Church member? It’s hard enough here on the Wasatch front to admit moderate Democrats. The notion that laissez-faire capitalism is not just an economic theory but part of the everlasting gospel creates serious difficulties for Church members who embrace other models. And I bring this up as strong believer in economic freedom with Libertarian tendencies.

    I wonder how many of those who heard Elder Oaks’ talk recognized that American and Wasatch-Front Mormons are included in that directive and may have have to slough off some cultural elements of their own? To me it is obvious that the answer is yes, but this may have escaped many listeners.

    I agree that correlation of our religion’s doctrine and practice is crucial and has been very effective throughout the world. For example, our religious services throughout North America, Latin America, and Europe (I can’t speak for Africa or Asia) are notable for their similarity rather than their differences. At the same time, I rejoice in the steady abandonment of the notion that, since the cradle of the Church was the United States, everything American is “best” including cultural elements that are peripheral to the gospel.

    Yes, it’s crucial to avoid schism and fragmentation. But for example, I would see nothing wrong with (and in fact look forward to) a day when our hymnals will be mostly made up of hymns and songs written by faithful saints in their native languages and even using local musical forms. These could be supplemented with some traditional Anglo-American and European hymns that have been translated. The current Spanish hymnal, almost all of whose content was translated from the English books by Brother Eduardo Balderas in an amazing feat of skill and inspiration, serves the community well. But I hope to see the day when non-Anglo communities within the Church will develop their own W.W. Phelpses and Evan Stephenses. Will we as a Church be ready for such when they emerge?

  20. June 17, 2007 at 2:13 pm


    Thanks for some great comments; I hope you stick around.

    A cultural case in point: can a person who embraces socialism be a good Church member?

    Not only can they, but they should be.

    I agree that correlation of our religion’s doctrine and practice is crucial and has been very effective throughout the world….At the same time, I rejoice in the steady abandonment of the notion that, since the cradle of the Church was the United States, everything American is “best” including cultural elements that are peripheral to the gospel.

    I actually tend to believe that we aren’t going to be able to entirely get away from the latter without abandoning at least some of the former. Too much of “correlation”–in the broad cultural sense as well as the specifical bureaucratic one–is strongly informed by a profoundly American and corporate organizational ethos. Obviously that ethos has spread throughout most of the capitalist world, but so has Americanization (and the resistance to such). On the basic (and most important) level of simply living the gospel locally little of this really matters, but insofar as the church wants to get serious about eliminating “cultural elements that are peripheral to the gospel,” then I really do think that correlation itself is going to have be rethought, and perhaps significantly minimized.

  21. Kaimi Wenger
    June 17, 2007 at 2:52 pm


    I agree on the hymnal. We need to draw more on local talent. I do appreciate the great effort of the translators. But the fact is, so many of our hymns just *do not work* as translated. Examples are easy to find – just look at the problems in the translation of Called to Serve, for instance.

    There are a few hymns in the Spanish book that aren’t translations from the English green book. I always thought it would be fun to sing those, in English translation, in an English ward some time. Or perhaps to sing them in Spanish.

  22. akl
    June 18, 2007 at 12:47 am

    Hi Russell and Kaimi

    Thanks for your comments. As a long-time lurker, it’s nice to be able to interact directly.

    I agree that there should be no political test for faithful saints. That may just be my libertarian side showing through.

    I often yearn for pre-correlation days, too. I’m old enough to remember when a Church manual could be written by essentially a non-believer (O.C. Tanner’s “Christ’s Ideals for Living”). But to be completely honest with myself, I don’t think I would really want to go back to that. I really believe that the Church has a burden to project a united voice to the world. There are other outlets for non-correlated materials. Last time I looked, you could still find some pretty funky stuff in Deseret Book.

    But correlation does present a trickly problem: everything has to be written in English and then translated. This no doubt culturally biases everything right from the start. I know that the people in the Church translation department are culturally aware professionals and try to adapt where necessary, but ideally we could have materials originally authored in languages other than English, in the countries where they will be used. I believe we have reached a critical mass in some languages, to the point that such materials could be doctrinally correlated.

    Concerning the Spanish hymnal, I think that there are still many hymns in there that come from the old red Spanish hymnal, which was translated largely from the 1948 English edition, but had content that was even older than that. And yes, I think there are a few originals in there. Too bad we no longer have “Lavémonos los dientes” (let’s brush our teeth).

    As a translator, I still stand in awe of Bro. Balderas’ feat. Just getting the verses to rhyme and scan while keeping the message intact is very difficult, and he translated most of the hymns in the book himself. I remember, as a missionary working in the mission home, spending the better part of a day with my mission president, who was a BYU Spanish professor, and a very well-educated, articulate native missionary, trying to make a Spanish translation of “All Creatures of Our God and King”. We weren’t able to complete a single verse successfully.

    Oddly, some of the favorite hymns in Argentina were some of the most “American”, such as “En el pueblo de Sión . . .” (In the state of Deseret . . .) . Maybe it’s the rollicking rhythm. That and “¿Quién sigue al Señor? (Who’s on the Lord’s Side, Who?) which sounds just like a sailor tune, and probably was at some point.

    My Guatemalan wife and mother-in-law would probably not agree with any of this high-falutin’ cultural liberalism. Like many Latin-American members of the Church, they love the hymns and the correlated lesson manuals just the way they are.

  23. June 18, 2007 at 1:03 am

    My Guatemalan wife and mother-in-law would probably not agree with any of this high-falutin’ cultural liberalism.

    I’m sure you’re correct. While I think it is good and often necessary to seriously attempt to understand all the problems, complications and tensions involved in translation and cultural transmission, and then act to minimize all of the above, the fact is that most of the time folks can and do make a life out of whatever they’re given. I can remember Lani Britsch (is he still at BYU, does anyone know?) once telling a group of us Asian studies students about a conversation he had with a member in Hong Kong, one who happened to be deeply involved–because of his education and church position–in all of these delicate cultural issues. Wouldn’t it just be simpler, Lani asked him, if we just stopped making our church buildings and temples in Asia (this was before the Hong Kong Temple, I believe) look so American? This member was appalled. “What do you want to build, a pagoda? It wouldn’t be a Mormon building!”

    Moral of the story: if the spirit moves you to convert to the church of cultural halls that double as basketball courts, baseball stories told at general conference, correlated manuals and hymns that talk about popcorn popping on apricot trees, then that’s the church you’re probably going to want to stick with.

  24. Wilfried
    June 18, 2007 at 2:34 am

    “Moral of the story: if the spirit moves you to convert to the church of cultural halls that double as basketball courts, baseball stories told at general conference, correlated manuals and hymns that talk about popcorn popping on apricot trees, then that’s the church you’re probably going to want to stick with.”

    I think we need to nuance that a little more… Yes, there are a many genuine Mormon elements, which do not correlate with the local culture and which shouldn’t, because Mormonism, whereever practised, is to feel very much part of a unique worldwide core. That core includes doctrinal correlation, but also our organization, “the handbook”, our meeting pattern, most hymns. It means that any Mormon can feel “at home” whereever he or she enters a chapel in whatever country. The example of the temple is also excellent. We’re talking about a major, genuine Mormon icon. No pagoda, no mosque, no cathedral. Same with chapels. Just a little touch of local culture, yes, but still uniquely Mormon. I think church architects have done excellent work in that respect.

    But baseball stories told at general conference, or similar items that are typical American (or at least limited to certain cultural realms), and therefore often hard to understand elsewhere, while at the same time identifying the church as very “American”, are not of the same realm. They achieve the contrary effect: instead of universalizing Mormon uniqueness, they tend to reduce the church to a yankee phenomenon, unable to escape the narrowness of its base.

  25. Julie M. Smith
    June 18, 2007 at 9:31 am


    I wonder: would enough non-American culturally-specific anecdotes in talks make it OK to have the occasional baseball story? I’m thinking about Pres. Monson’s recent maka-feke (spelling?) example, which was just on the cover of the Friend magazine. I think I would rather listen to talks with a wide variety of culturally-specific anecdotes than none. Not only does “none” usually equal “a boring talk” but just as Jesus’ parables challenged their original audiences to think, being presented with some fishing device I’ve never heard of can do the same for me.

  26. Wilfried
    June 18, 2007 at 10:31 am

    You’re absolutely right, Julie. As always, it’s a question of balance. Two remarks:

    – Like in Jesus’ parables, the central item must be easily understood and, in spite of its local origin, must have immediate universal clarity. The maka-feke example is of that nature, very simple: it’s “a fishing lure made with a round stone and large seashells”. And the application is universal: in all cultures you will find the concept of a lure used to catch animals. Elder Monson only uses a few sentences, no other details, and the message is clear: “we are surrounded by the maka-fekes with which Satan attempts to entice us.” A baseball story “involving such things as pop flies, cutting off the base runner, stealing second, sliding into home” is of a different nature.

    – We should be careful that the examples taken from other cultures do not consistently present that culture as “primitive”. If all we imagine of Tonga consists of “Tongan fishermen who glide over a reef, paddling their outrigger canoes with one hand”, we may fail in intercultural education. All too often our stories about other countries focus on backwardness, poverty, lack of modernism, folklore, with an unintended potential side-effect: confirm our superiority over the “natives”. I wrote more about that here.

  27. Julie M. Smith
    June 18, 2007 at 10:36 am

    Wilfried, those are very good points. I suppose what Pres. Monson did right–that often isn’t done with Americanisms–is that he explained to the audience what a maka-feke was.

  28. June 18, 2007 at 11:12 am

    I think we need to nuance that a little more….Yes, there are a many genuine Mormon elements, which do not correlate with the local culture and which shouldn’t, because Mormonism, whereever practised, is to feel very much part of a unique worldwide core. That core includes doctrinal correlation, but also our organization, “the handbook”, our meeting pattern, most hymns. It means that any Mormon can feel “at home” whereever he or she enters a chapel in whatever country….But baseball stories told at general conference, or similar items that are typical American (or at least limited to certain cultural realms), and therefore often hard to understand elsewhere, while at the same time identifying the church as very “American”, are not of the same realm.

    I don’t disagree with you, Wilfried; my comment was an overly broad one. As you know from many past discussions and comments here, I strongly feel that, in the long run, the church is going to have to loosen the grip of correlation significantly; I think the possibility–even the likelihood–of a Pacific Mormonism, a Brazilian Mormonism, a Dutch Mormonism, emerging with its own cultural norms and rules in time is something to look forward to, and I don’t think such a prospect would in any necessary way be tantamount to schism. Trying to smooth the way towards such a future ought to properly involve the sort of distinctions you’re making: figuring out the difference between those things which are truly part of our “core” and therefore can be easily connected, whatever their local origin, to universal meanings, and those things whose (sometimes insular, sometimes condescending) local cultural baggage is a so great as to prevent any kind of universal communication. I guess my only point is that, in the end, the worth of such distinctions will be assessed by the folks who live with them and practice their faith through them, and not by theorists of intercultural and globalization like myself. As akl observed, if the Guatemalan saints have figured out a way to get something true out of “In Our Lovely Deseret” being sung in cookie-cutter suburban chapels (sorry; I’m less impressed by our correlated architecture than you are), then hey, who am I to lecture them on the colonization of the mind? Maybe at an academic conference I could wax poignant about the whole thing, but not in a bishopric’s meeting.

  29. June 18, 2007 at 11:39 am

    KJV is only valid in English is far as I know. The biggest fun in a foreign language mission is asking your investigator to read a bible verse for you, only to discover that their translation version renders a meaning the exact opposite of what you were looking for. A most common example is in the Pauline epistles where the creator of the world is frequently switched between the Father and the Son.

  30. Wilfried
    June 18, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    Thanks, Julie & Russell. Once I’m on this topic… (Apologies for threadjack, akl started it — gracias !)

    If I may, Russell: always nuancing further. When we think that “a Pacific Mormonism, a Brazilian Mormonism, a Dutch Mormonism” should finally emerge, we may be identifying those cultures out of stereotypes. What would be “typical” Pacific, or Brazilian or Dutch?

    Take Dutch: the Netherlands are already a small country. But just as well divided in quite different zones, from Northern Friesland to Southern Brabant, with their own “characteristics”. Then, spread all over the country, the ideological puzzle: from staunch Calvinists, over traditional and independent Catholics to the most liberal tendencies advocating drugs, abortion, euthanasia. Political: a complex fan of tendencies. And then on a more micro level: one side of a city like Rotterdam is not the other “culturally”, just like parts of South Provo are not the Northern hills.

    Pacific, Brazilian… Much bigger, much more diverse. And should we then also have an “American Mormonism”? Can we imagine such as valid for all Americans? Some Mormons from California or New-York may not completely identify with Mormon culture in parts of Happy Valley… Bottomline: I believe there is just too much diversity to come to “national Mormonisms” once we would try to “loosen the grip of correlation” in favor of these.

    Another element to consider: through conversions among immigrants the church in many countries is already a melting pot. I look at our relatively small Antwerp ward with its 34 nationalities (!)… The membership in each of many church units across the world does not belong to one nationality or culture anymore. But therein lies perhaps also a new and unique emerging strength: a church so interculturally intertwined that mutual comprehension and true brotherhood become part of our essence.

  31. Ben Huff
    June 19, 2007 at 2:04 pm

    a church so interculturally intertwined that mutual comprehension and true brotherhood become part of our essence

    That’s what I want! Whatever the church does, it should contribute to, not detract from, the purpose of making us one.

  32. June 19, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    “I think the possibility–even the likelihood–of a Pacific Mormonism, a Brazilian Mormonism, a Dutch Mormonism, emerging with its own cultural norms and rules in time is something to look forward to” If we’re doing this, can we also have an African-American Mormonism in the southern U.S. where we get to inject more life and spirit, and more improvisation into the music at sacrament meetings? So much musical talent abounds. Is there really any need to approach every hymn as though we’re sawing through a board, verse by verse by verse?

  33. akl
    June 21, 2007 at 8:23 pm

    A light-hearted note.

    I was looking through the missionary materials of my son who recently returned from Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. The little cut-out figures used to explain the plan of salvation showed our “earthly body” as a man decked out in full gaúcho (Brazilian spelling) atire: baggy pants, gaucho boots, sash around the middle, typical hat, etc. The “resurrected” man was the same guy, similarly dressed as a gaúcho, all in shades of white.

    A major dismantling of the deep structure of US cultural dominance? Surely not. But a lot of fun anyway.

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