Articles by

JJohnson

The Friend and a Seer Stone

By February 5, 2017


Screen Shot 2017-02-05 at 1.40.17 AMSince 1971, The Friend has been the LDS Church’s magazine for children. An article in the September 1974 issue of The Friend detailed that in addition to the Urim and Thummin “Joseph [Smith] also used an egg-shaped, brown rock for translating [the Book of Mormon] called a seer stone.”[1] After combining and revamping church magazines in 1971, this was the first mention of a seer stone. Three years later, historian Richard Lloyd Anderson published an article on Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon that likewise included mention of Smith’s seer stone usage.[2] This might surprise many Latter-day Saints today as Joseph Smith’s seer stone usage has not always played a role in the devotional narrative of Smith’s life and many might have believed the seer stone to be a part of antagonistic tall tales.

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New Year’s Day 2017 – Ring in the Historians

By December 31, 2016


Across the world, the 2017 LDS Sunday School course of study is the Doctrine and Covenants and Church History. While church history has consistently been in the now regular four-year canonical rotation; the historical content beyond the manual has been minimal—basically limited to the 1838 canonized Joseph Smith—History and a glorified pamphlet—Our Heritage: A Brief History of fullsizerender-2the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1996) in the last decade. Regrettably, English speaking members who use a hard copy manual or download the pdf will continue to use the same manual. (So don’t.) However, those who use the online lessons from lds.org or from the Gospel Library app will have access to a much broader scope of historical sources.

The new manual introduction—“Helps for the Teacher”—quotes from and links to M. Russell Ballard’s seminal February 2016 talk to Church Education System personnel, “The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century.” He then urged instructors to study the “best books”—including “the best LDS scholarship available.” Ballard cited

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Compatability, Conflict, and Community – Review of Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings

By December 9, 2015


pants quilt

Nikki Hunter’s beautiful “Sunday Morning” quilt (“The Pants Quilt”) adorns the cover of the new Oxford Press Publication Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings edited by Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright. The quilt is accompanied by this note: “On December 16, 2012, Mormon feminists around the world took action to raise the visibility of feminist issues by wearing pants to local LDS Church Services….Although not officially prohibited, pants-wearing by women at Sunday services jarred with deeply held gendered dress customs in many Mormon communities around the globe.” (xi) Women who participated sent their trousers to Hunter, who created a material sign of their community. The front cover encourages us to begin to think about Mormon feminism in terms of female identity, activism, and the place of community on a global scale.

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September 11th and the Politics of Comparison

By September 21, 2015


51meOlDJ63L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Most of us (of a certain age) have a very specific memory of where we were that day in 2001. I was sitting on my couch watching the Today Show as the plane hit the second tower. I set down my laptop and didn’t pick it back up that day.

At the time, it didn’t occur to me at the time that this was not the first time something horrific happened on September 11th. My abandoned laptop held evidence of another harrowing day in September almost a century and a half earlier—I had been reading newspaper articles about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Only later would I learn that 11 September was also the date of the Chilean coup in which elected President Salvador Allende was ousted (with help from the US) that led to the 15-year military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet.

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The hours are counting down for She Shall be an Ensign.

By June 30, 2015


Screen Shot 2015-06-30 at 7.48.21 AMLast month (here) we told you about friend of JI and Keepapitchinin’ blogger, Ardis Parshall, and her Kickstarter campaign–She Shall be an Ensign. We are glad to support her in achieving her goal, but she is still working with a shoestring budget. And if she reaches $40,000 everyone who donates $10 or more gets an additional packet of lesson plans.

If you believe that there is much Mormon History still to be written and a wide range of women’s voices need their rightful place in that history, contribute now. You’ve got 14 hours left!


Let her be an Ensign.

By May 29, 2015


Screen Shot 2015-05-29 at 4.30.46 PM

Two years ago, I wrote a post called, “In the Ghetto: I Like It Here, but When Can I Get Out?” I lamented the separation of Mormon women’s history from the general narrative of the church. Having people read what you’ve written is always lovely, but it is exponentially better when someone continues to think about something you’ve written and then chooses to do something about it. Thank you, Ardis.

Ardis Parshall–the mastermind behind the Mormon history blog Keepapitchinin–has moved to act. Always one to go above and beyond, Ardis has begun a daunting project of writing a broad synthesis of Mormon history written from the perspective of women–She Shall Be an Ensign. And she needs our support.

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Roundtable on Paul Reeve, RELIGION OF A DIFFERENT COLOR: Red, White, and Mormon.

By May 12, 2015



Screen Shot 2015-05-12 at 1.05.09 AM
One day several years ago, I was sitting in my office at the LDS Church History Library reading trial transcripts for the Mountain Meadows Massacre and it suddenly occurred to me that that language being used to describe the Mormons sounded a lot like late nineteenth century language to describe African Americans. The language was racial. This was not a group of early African American Mormon converts that were being described, but a group of Southern Utah settlers, mostly of English descent, whom I had never thought of as anything but white.

For many contemporary Americans the idea that race is a historical construct still seems foreign—race doesn’t change they might say, it just is. (If you fit in that category, perhaps start with this.) In the last twenty years, we have had a proliferation of studies of race built in mostly segregated histories: Indians, African Americans, and whiteness have been central. And while all of these studies have offered insightful arguments about how we construct race and how our perceptions change over time, few have offered intersections beyond oppositional definitions. Reeve’s brilliance is found in these intersections. Rather than starting with and emphasizing Mormon exceptionalism, Reeve broadly contextualizes the evolving concepts of race and the affect on Mormonism.

Reeve’s chapters 2 and 3 illuminate Elder Berry’s American Indian child concentrating on Mormons and Native Americans—“Red, White, and Mormon”—both the real and the perceived. In chapter 2 it is a Mormon and Indian alliance—“Ingratiating themselves with the Indians” and chapter 3 Mormons playing Indian in “White Indians” that center his analysis.

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Sin, Seminary, and Mountain Meadows.

By February 18, 2014


Last week a new Doctrine and Covenants seminary manual popped up on lds.org. My pragmatic self tends to try and manage expectations with new manuals, but I was pleased to see a new chapter on “The Utah War and the Mountain Meadows Massacre” with most of the chapter focusing on the massacre. The prior seminary manual (2001) included nary a mention of the massacre.[1] This manual also includes a quite extensive chapter on plural marriage (extensive in comparison to other chapters).

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In the Ghetto: I Like It Here, but When Can I Get Out?

By March 27, 2013


My ghetto isn’t a slum; I’m quite comfortable here. My ghetto has lovely wallpaper, good hot (chocolate) drinks, and great stories. Really amazing stories. But it is separate.

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Women Praying in General Conference and Grassroots Efforts

By March 19, 2013


If (when) we see women praying in spring General Conference 2013 (hallelujah!), it may or may not be the result of grassroots efforts. Some will argue that the change was in place long before the efforts of “Let Women Pray in General Conference,” yet those involved will not likely feel that their efforts were of no consequence. Nor should they, they are part of a significant LDS historical tradition.

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“We shall now call on some of our sisters”: LDS Women and General Conference Participation

By March 14, 2013


On the second day of October conference 1929, LDS Church President Heber J. Grant introduced three other Presidents without warning—Sisters Louise Robison, Ruth May Fox, and May Anderson. President Grant commented,

“We have listened to a great many testimonies from our brethren during this conference.

We shall now call on some of our sisters…”[1]

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The Mountain Meadows Massacre in Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet

By November 8, 2012


Brigham Young “has never been less than the tyrant of the Mormon church, and if there does not cleave his soul today the deadly crime of wholesale murder in the massacre of Mountain Meadow, there will be forever, probably, cleave to his name the guilt of that awful slaughter, in the conviction of the American people, who would have indulged in no reprehensible joy, if he had been brought to the bar of human justice for that and the involved iniquities that defame his memory and disgrace his name.”[1]

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I Found it in the Archives: Archival Code Breakers

By October 29, 2012


I have to admit, as completely unpalatable as I find Nicolas Cage (despite his influential corner of internet memes), every once in a while I wish that archival research was a little less sitting and reading a little more jumping to action and making remarkable and miraculous connections—preferably in some deep lost underground tunnel holding documents no one has seen for a couple hundred years or more. (Dr. Jones, Jr. is clearly more acceptable than Cage, were it not for that crystal skull and his inability to get tenure, but I don’t really need to get in a row with cannibalistic natives.) Despite this desire for excitement, most archival finds and brief moments of epiphany occur only after a lot of work amidst the mundane.

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Remarkably Clever: The Mormons and Jane Austen

By September 24, 2012


Jane Austen died in 1818 with mild recognition but little success. The latter part of the twentieth century saw a dramatic surge in Austen’s popularity, first with reprints and films and later with a multitude of spin-offs. In the early twenty-first century Miss Austen seems nearly ubiquitous. Jane even has her own font (see the title). Though the literary Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy may be your favorite, the options are plentiful. You might pick the Colin Firth version of Darcy (with or without dripping shirt), you might also choose a dashing yet stern 1940 Sir Lawrence Olivier, or 2005 Matthew MacFayden, or even Colin Firth as Bridget Jones’ Mark Darcy, or Darcy meeting his match in Lizzy Zombie Killer. (A hint: heads rolled.)

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Mormons and the Media: If a Carnivorous Crocodile and a Stripling Warrior Fought…

By August 29, 2012


Professor Jared Farmer and the State University of New York at Stonybrook very generously posted a free e-book last week—Mormons in the Media, 1832-2012. Though the title should be “Mormons in American Media,” the 342-page book and the hundreds of images therein need to be seen. They are beautiful and brilliant—some impressively horrific in their full technicolor glory. Farmer builds upon a foundation established by Gary Bunker and Davis Bitton in their 1983 The Mormon Graphic Image, 1833-1914: Cartoons, Caricatures, and Illustrations and is able to radically enlarge it. The expansive scope of these pages can easily induce a little head spinning—the very best kind.

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