Race, History, and Teaching in the Church

I had an experience today related to Kaimi’s discussion of race and hymns. I am the new Elders’ Quorum Instructor in our ward, which like Kaimi’s includes a substantial number of recent, African-American converts. I was teaching from the first chapter of the John Taylor manual, and during my preparation, I decided to pull the full text of the sermons that are quoted in that chapter. It turns out the bulk of the chapter is taken from a really wonderful sermon given by John Taylor in 1860. One of my pet peeves is the way in which we tend to take full sermons and chop them up into paragraph sized thoughts in our lesson manuals. In particular, John Taylor was a lucid and organized thinker and you lose something by not reading the full text of his sermon. Thus, I was excited to find that most of chapter one comes from a single sermon and that the sermon is short enough that at least some people would read it and appreciate it. I decided to make a copy of the sermon and distribute as a hand out in my class. The problem comes in the last paragraph, where Elder Taylor is rebuking the Latter-day Saints for their swearing and drinking. He said: There is nothing smart about all of this. A negro, a Hottentot, or an Indian can do that. There is nothing in these practices that bespeaks an intelligent…

Another post about hymns

Greg’s recent post about hymns made me think again about an issue I’ve been reminded of every several months for the past two years. I live in the Bronx, and my ward has somewhat unusual demographics. It is probably 60% African-American, including the Bishop and First Counselor, which I had never seen in a U.S. ward before. It is also very much a mission-field ward, with maybe a third of its members having belonged to the church for more than four or five years. With the ward’s demographic mix and the members’ relative lack of church experience, subjects like Blacks and the priesthood are particularly sensitive. Two years ago, I was sitting in General Conference (priesthood session, as I recall) and we turned to page 59 to sing that old standard, “Come, O Thou King of Kings.” I had probably sung it dozens of times before, never really paying much attention. We sang along up to verse four. Suddenly the text seemed to jump out of the page at me. I was sitting next to a newly-baptized African-American member, and hoped that he would be paying little attention, as we sang: Hail! Prince of life and peace! Thrice welcome to thy throne While all the chosen race Their Lord and Savior own The heathen nations bow the knee And ev’ry tongue sounds praise to thee. The new member said nothing, and I breathed a sigh of relief. Nevertheless, I was…

Response to Nate on the Plurality of Divinity

I don’t see it. You view Paulsen’s position as a “rejection of the idea that God the Father had a father who then had a father and so on ad infinitum,” but nothing in the excerpts you have quoted seems inconsistent with that notion. Perhaps you are resting on this statement: “There is only one … fount of divinity.” Obviously, Paulsen is attempting to respond to the idea that Mormons are polytheistic — a most grievous sin in the eyes of some so-called Christians. But whether God the Father is Himself part of a larger plan does not seem to be addressed at all by this statement. For our purposes, He is the sole “fount of divinity.” If there are other founts of divinity for other people not within our realm is irrelevant to me, which is why, I suppose, we do not have more information about that possibility.

Eliza R. Snow in the New York Post

A couple of weeks ago I was perusing that paragon of journalistic integrity, the New York Post (today’s cover: “JACKO: Now Get Out of This One!), and saw a phrase that I’d previously only heard sung (much too slowly) in church. The lead of George Will’s column was “Of capital punishment, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney says: ‘It makes reason stare.’ Indeed it does.” First of all, what does this phrase from the early Mormon hymn “O My Father” mean? I guess I understand what its meant to convey, but it certainly is a curious turn of phrase. Has any thought *made* you stare before? If some thought is unreasonable, would personified reason just stare at it? Or perhaps reason is just blankly staring into space, totally flummoxed. Second, why have we as Mormons been so slow to introduce the unique lexicon of our hymns into a wider sphere? I would love to see the headline “Bush Hies to London;” or “UN Security Council Puts Shoulder to Wheel.” Lastly, I found it mildly refreshing that a prominent Mormon would so quotably criticize the death penalty. (The context, of course, was that Romney was appointing a commission to look into bringing the death penalty back to Massachusetts.) I don’t think I’ve ever heard such criticism from any other prominent Mormon, nor from much of the rank and file. Perhaps it’s an indication that recent publicity on the topic (Governor Ryan, Scott Turow,…

ANGELS (AND MORMONS) IN AMERICA

Andrew Sullivan has a take down here of recent crooning at the New York Times about HBOs forthcoming production of Tony Kurshner’s Angels in America. Angles is a play that chronicles the AIDS epedemic in the 1980s, and won a Pulitzer Prize in the 1990s. What is interesting to me is that the play has a Mormon character (to be played on HBO by Patrick Wilson) — a closet homosexual — who in one scene appears on stage in a homosexual encounter wearing temple garments. Kurchner clearly doesn’t really know anything about Mormons or at least about temple garments. (Although he may have known how offensive Mormons would find such a staging.) His Mormon character utters some strange gibberish about the meaning of the garment that is suppose to sound very, uh, Mormon. For example he refers to the garment as “a second skin,” an image that to my knowledge no Mormon has ever used in discussing the garment. Thus, Angels‘ Mormon is not a real Mormon, but a sort of stand-in stereotype for repressed religiously conservative sexuality. Mormons are kind of straight straight guy, if you will, and Angels plays off of this image by making its Mormon homosexual. I don’t know if HBO is planning on having the garment scene in their production. (I hope not.) However, it is interesting to see that Mormon stereotypes have come full circle. We started out in the 19th century as the…

Sacred and Profane

In the spirit of getting some content on this site, I offer the following from the archives of A Good Oman: A thought on First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake v. Salt Lake City Corporation, 308 F.3d 1114 (2002), the Salt Lake City Main Street case: In his wonderful book The Sacred and the Profane, Eliade discusses the idea of sacred space. According to Eliade one of the things that religion does is orient the believer in the cosmos. It does this by interrupting the normal flow of space with sacred places — shrines, temples, etc. — that mark points of reference for man’s relationship to the divine and his place in the world. Mormon thinkers such as Hugh Nibley have used this concept to understand the place of the temple in Mormon theology and religious experience. It is the place where human beings ritually ascend into the presence of God, and thus marks the place where the sacred interrupts the plane of profane space. The temple then acts as an axis mundi, providing an orienting point within that profane space. (Think of the way that all of the streets in the towns of Mormondom are measured from either the temple or the tabernacle.) When the LDS Church purchased Main Street in Salt Lake City, it turned it into a plaza and broke down the wall that separated the Salt Lake Temple (arguably the most sacred structure in Mormonism) from…