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Categories of Periodization: Modern Mormonism

Guest Post: From the Archives: Missionary Work, Race, and the Priesthood and Temple Ban in Brazil, circa 1977-78 (Part II)

By April 3, 2015


This is second and final entry in a series of posts from guest Shannon Flynn on missionary work, race, and the Priesthood Ban that draws on his experience as a missionary in Brazil from 1977-1979. See Part I here.

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The final document in this series is a scan of a letter that we missionaries received at the end of February 1978. The handwritten note is from the Mission President at the time, Roger B. Bietler.

This letter indicates to me that there was beginning to be a softening of what had been, at various times, a hardened position. By the time this letter was written, the date of the completion of the temple in Sao Paulo would have been known at church headquarters. It is my estimation that the temple dedication was the signal event that provided the final impetus to change church policy/doctrine regarding blacks and the priesthood. There would have been a flood of people entering that temple whose linage had not been thoroughly checked and such a situation could have caused a significant problem. What is known to few, is that a number of men in Brazil before June 1978 had discovered a partial black linage after having been ordained and served in many leadership capacities. I know of one story in particular where Elder Grant Bangerter had to travel to Belo Horizonte to release a stake president because that stake president had discovered, through diligent family history work, that he was partially descended from black people. I don’t know what percentage it was, but it couldn’t have been much. The stake president had informed Elder Bangerter, who in turn had consulted with higher authorities in Salt Lake and then went to Belo Horizonte to reorganize the stake. Nothing was ever said to the stake members and it was handled as delicately as possible. Nothing was done to “remove” his priesthood, he was just asked to not perform anymore ordinances or serve in leadership capacities. I was told Elder Bangerter was personally mortified to have to do that to this man but his personal discomfort was outweighed by his need to maintain loyalty to his ecclesiastical superiors and fidelity to established policy.

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Guest Post: From the Archives: Missionary Work, Race, and the Priesthood and Temple Ban in Brazil, circa 1977-78 (Part I)

By April 2, 2015


Today’s guest post comes from Shannon Flynn, a longtime student of church history who currently lives in Gilbert, Arizona. Shannon holds a B.A. in history from the University of Utah and had published four book reviews in the Journal of Mormon History. Today’s post is the first in a two-part series that draws on his experience and presents documents (with accompanying translations) from his time serving as a missionary in Brazil Sau Paulo South Mission from 1977-79.

While the significance of Brazil and its unique cultural heritage and hierarchy of race often receives at least a passing mention in discussions of the ending of the ban in June 1978, often lacking from historical accounts of this era are the first-person perspectives and (especially) documents of the sort provided by Shannon below. Part II of the series will be posted tomorrow.

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I was called to serve a two year mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Brazil Sao Paulo South Mission from the first week of March 1977 to the first week of March 1979. Because of visa problems, I did not arrive in Brazil until October 13, 1977. I was assigned to the Maua area of Sao Paulo during the month of June 1978. It was there that I heard of the announcement of extending the priesthood to all worthy males. The impact this had on missionary work and the progress of the church cannot be underestimated — it was a sea change. Previous to that time the way the church dealt with blacks and the priesthood had been a vexing problem since the first missionaries landed in Joinville in 1926. In the first few years blacks were almost never proselyted but that eventually changed and methods were developed to handle the ensuing problems. Previous to the time I arrived there was a lesson that was added to the regular discussions that dealt with the problem of determining whether the investigator had black lineage (scans of the documents, together with accompanying translation, can be found here). This lesson was given at the conclusion of the regular discussions. I don’t ever remember using this exact catechism style of discussion but we would try to accomplish the goal of determining the lineage of the persons being taught. Missionaries elsewhere in Brazil used similar lessons during this time — in a 2013 guest post at Keepapitchinin.org, Grant Vaughn provided scans of the lesson he taught in the Brazil Porto Alegre Mission from 1976-78.  Moreover, I would assume that most missions before my time had something of a similar nature.[1] 

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A Love Letter to Mormon Women on the Anniversary of the Relief Society, from a Mormon Historian and Feminist

By March 17, 2015


On this, the anniversary of the founding of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo on March 17, 1842, I come out of a long and silent hibernation from blogging to write this, a love letter, to my Relief Society sisters, for each one of you, whether in the church or out of the church, whether fully active or barely hanging on.

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Mormons, Supplementary Worship, and Ash Wednesday

By February 19, 2015


Mormons have a long history of supplementing their LDS worship with attendance at or participation in the services of other Christian denominations. In the 19th century, some Latter-day Saints in the American South would, in the sometimes lengthy periods between visits from traveling missionaries, attend Sunday services at the local Baptist or Methodist church. In the 21st century, Mormons are counted among mega-preacher Joel Osteen’s many listeners and viewers, tuning into his broadcasts on Sunday mornings while getting ready to attend their own meetings; others, acting as spiritual tourists, occasionally take in a Catholic or Anglican service while traveling.

Perhaps the most notable (and timely) example of Mormons supplementing their worship outside the confines of the Mormon chapel or temple, though, is the increasing number of Latter-day Saints who take part in some aspect of the traditional Christian liturgical calendar. Some attend midnight mass on Christmas Eve, others finding personal meaning and significance in Ash Wednesday. In perhaps the most striking example, a ward in Medford, Oregon collectively observed Palm Sunday last year, complete with palm fronds made by the primary children. Last year, I decided to observe the Lenten fast, giving up dessert/candy/sweets for the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. I did so quietly, taking as my guide the excellent devotional readings by the good folks at By Common Consent as part of their ongoing Mormon Lectionary Project. It ended up being a wholly worthwhile experience, and this year I was eager to participate again. Yesterday at noon, I attended the Ash Wednesday service at the Williamsburg United Methodist Church, accompanied by another Mormon grad student. 

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Return to Elkton

By November 6, 2014


This post comes out of my experiences this fall teaching a senior seminar on “Writing Recent History” (which my students are finding especially challenging), and thinking about what that might mean in the Mormon context. And it’s also prompted by something that Laurel Thatcher Ulrich said about Claudia Bushman at the Exponent II 40th celebration last month that caught my ear and which I’ve been thinking about ever since. Laurel said that one of the motivations for starting the journal was Claudia’s desire to “contain our anger by coming up with a project.”

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Questions about D&C 132 and Plural Marriage

By October 31, 2014


Today’s post, the latest in our series where we answer questions about plural marriage, is about textual questions related to Doctrine and Covenants 132. Again, we are grateful to those who asked questions, wrote answers, and helped edit and format the post. Thanks especially to WVS, who answered the questions today. WVS has been a long-time bloggernacle denizen, blogging at his solo blog–boaporg.wordpress.com and at bycommonconsent.org. His fascinating multi-part analysis of the textual development of D&C 107 was recently published in Dialogue. He later wrote an in-depth series of posts at BCC on D&C 132, which he is currently expanding into a book.

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One Memorable(?) Event from LDS General Conference History

By October 14, 2014


Earlier this year, Tona wrote an excellent post about the fragility of digital archives following up on Max Mueller’s AHA paper that explored both the possibilities and pitfalls of the “I’m A Mormon” campaign as a primary source.  Tona noted that, “What is available to historians relies largely upon on goodwill, technology upgrades, and the market.”

Within this context, it is fascinating to observe, in real-time, the debate over whether or not the General Women’s Meeting is a session of General Conference.  This controversy includes the editing of a video of a conference session as well as conflicting (and possibly changing) interpretations about the status of the Women’s Meeting from LDS Public Affairs, the Deseret News website as well as lds.org.  While the debate about the status of the Women’s Meeting has been largely framed as a feminist issue, it also raises questions for researchers in tracing changes to historical documents and other sources as well as how ideas get lodged in the imaginations of religious believers. As Tona states,

Things come, go, vanish, launch, in a constant state of (often unannounced) change that nonetheless presents itself as final, unchanging and authoritative… it is a historian’s worst nightmare. If you cannot see the “manuscript edits” so to speak, how do you know what changed, when, how and why? And if the old just vanishes from the online environment without a trace, what happens to the possibilities for historical research? Most of what we are all busily creating in this decade has simply been written in the equivalent of vanishing ink.

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Announcement: 2014 McMurrin Lecture on Religion and Culture

By October 9, 2014


David CampbellThe University of Utah’s Tanner Humanities Center is proud to present the Fall 2014 McMurrin Lecture on Religion and Culture with David Campbell, Professor of Political Science at the University of Notre Dame and co-author of the recent book Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics. Campbell’s lecture, titled “Whither the Promised Land? Mormons’ Place in a Changing Religious Landscape,” will be held on Thursday, October 30 at 7:00 PM in the Salt Lake City Main Library auditorium, 210 E 400 S. This event is free and open to the public. More information at www.thc.utah.edu.

In his lecture, Campbell will explore how Mormons fit into a society where once-sharp religious distinctions have blurred and secularism is on the rise. With their high levels of religious devotion and solidarity, Mormons in America are increasingly “peculiar.” Does their peculiarity come at a price? Does that price include a “stained glass ceiling” in presidential politics? In other words, did Mormonism cost Mitt Romney the White House? And, how has Mitt Romney’s campaign affected popular perceptions of Mormonism?


Pioneer Day: Recommended Reading from JI’s archives

By July 24, 2014


Happy Pioneer Day, readers! Thank you for your patience with us lately — we know things have been slow around here (they tend to get that way during the summer), but we have some exciting things planned moving forward and hope you’ll keep checking in, reading, and commenting moving forward.

In recognition of Pioneer Day, I’ve culled from the Juvenile Instructor’s archives links to several previous posts treating Mormon Pioneers in one sense or another. In hopes that they’ll prove interesting to those who missed them the first time around (and to those, like me, interested in revisiting them), here we go:

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Repudiating the Pearl of Great Price?: More on Reactions to the 1978 Revelation

By June 17, 2014


Earlier this year, I posted some thoughts on Latter-day Saints’ reaction to the announcement of the 1978 revelation on the race-based temple and priesthood ban. The post elicited a lot of excellent responses, including several from Latter-day Saints who shared their own memories and recollections of LDS responses in the wake of the revelation. Among the most intriguing comments, though, came from commenter Ben S., who offered an anecdote he once heard about “several hundred LDS [who] signed their names to a full-page ad in a local newspaper to the effect that they knew Kimball was a fallen prophet, this revelation wasn’t possible, on the basis of past statements, scriptural interpretation, etc.”

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Relief Society Handbook: Spotlight on American Gender Norms

By May 29, 2014


Susanna Morrill is Department Chair and Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Lewis and Clark College in Portland where she teaches courses in United States religious history. She received her doctorate in the history of religions from the University of Chicago. Her work in the recent past has focused on how early Mormon women used popular literature in order to argue for the theological importance of their roles in the home, community, and church.

I finally got around to reading carefully the latest handbook of the Relief Society, Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society. It got me thinking about the symbolic connection between women and the home in Mormon and American culture. A little further afield, it got me thinking about feminine divinity in Mormonism and U.S. religious traditions and public discourses.

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“Judah’s Daughters”: A Reflection on Teaching Women in the Old Testament

By April 23, 2014


Please join us in extending a warm welcome to our latest guest blogger, Spencer Wells. Spencer is currently a PhD student in history at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. His is currently beginning work on dissertation project examining pacifists in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. His research in Mormon studies focuses on issues of religious and sexual tolerance. In his spare time Spencer enjoys hiking and making horrendously bad puns. Seriously folks, his puns are legendary. Here he offers his thoughts on his experience teaching a “Women in the Old Testament” Institute course over the past year.

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Once every four years the LDS Sunday School trots out the Old Testament for the Saints’ perusal and edification. At times, the decision raises hackles. Complaints, of course, vary. Isaiah’s opacity dismays some, Hebraic ritual etherizes others. And theological protests invariably sprout up. As a personal acquaintance argued with me years ago, God’s actions throughout the Old Testament place Him at odds with modern liberal values. Complicit in razing cities, murdering children, and oppressing women, this teenaged Jehovah played the part of a brooding, angst-ridden Hayden Christiansen (think Anakin Skywalker) to near perfection.

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Practicing Charity: Everyday Daughters of God

By March 19, 2014


By Laura Allred Hurtado

On Monday, I attended a lecture celebrating the Relief Society Commemoration given by Sharon Eubank, Director of LDS Charities, sponsored by the Church History Department. Her comments were titled “Matriarchy” and she indexed the many ways Mormon women have historically performed acts of charity and whose legacy of service continue to have influence on the many projects LDS charities executes today, albeit on a much grander scale.

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“Undone:” The Contours of a Folk Tale

By March 4, 2014


There’s a new Mormon urban legend making the rounds.

You may have heard it before – even from me.

The story goes like this: an infant has been brought to be blessed and given a name in a Mormon sacrament meeting, a public rite of passage initiating the newborn into the community of the congregation, and by extension, into the Church as a whole. The father for whatever reason is unavailable to perform the ceremony, so an elderly relative, generally a grandfather, steps in. The child is brought before the congregation, the old man lays his hands upon it, and promptly ordains the child to priestly office. The blessing ritual has been bungled.

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Mormons and Basketball in the Philippines

By February 25, 2014


LDS Meeting House, Kabankalan, Negros Occidental.

Just a quick note today to point readers to my post that went up yesterday at Peculiar People. It looks at the basketball-crazed nation of the Philippines and wonders about the place of basketball-crazed Mormons within that wider phenomenon. If you served a mission in the Philippines or are a basketball fan or otherwise want to weigh in, please do, either in the comments here or over there. Here’s a preview:

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“Crows Can Now Eat Crickets”: An attempt to complicate our understanding of LDS reactions to the 1978 Revelation on the race-based Priesthood and Temple Ban

By February 12, 2014


What follows is a sort of follow-up to Joey’s excellent post last week analyzing reactions to the 1978 revelation ending the race-based priesthood and temple ban. I am admittedly far outside of my own field here, and it is entirely possible I’m not aware of some study that has already been written and published. Please feel free to point out any such work in the comments, and to otherwise respond to the post.

In December 2007, perennial presidential candidate and prominent Mormon Mitt Romney was asked on NBC’s “Meet the Press” about the 1978 revelation that signaled a shift in LDS church policy and lifted the ban that had previously denied people of African descent ordination to the priesthood and entrance into LDS temples. Romney’s response was a familiar one to most Mormons:

I can remember when I heard about the change being made. I was driving home from — I think it was law school, but I was driving home — going through the Fresh Pond rotary in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I heard it on the radio and I pulled over and literally wept. Even to this day, it’s emotional.

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Mormon Studies in Unexpected Places: Volume 2 – Beastie Boys; Or, “No Man Knows My Lyrics”

By January 22, 2014


This is the second entry in the recently launched, occasional, not-at-all regular, sporadic  JI series, Mormon Studies in Unexpected Places. The basic idea is fairly straightforward: to identify instances in which Mormon Studies authors and/or their books, articles, etc. make an unexpected appearance in popular culture, political discourse, etc. Read the first entry here.

beastie-boys3

I’m like Fawn Brodie?

A few weeks ago, my cousin excitedly asked me on facebook if I knew that a Beastie Boys song contained a lyric referencing Fawn Brodie. I wasn’t aware, but it seemed plausible enough — the band is known for their clever lyrics, the late Adam “MCA” Yauch was reportedly somewhat eclectic in his own approach to religion, and their 1994 hit single, “Root Down,” referenced the band’s preference for snowboarding the powder of Utah’s slopes. Still, I was surprised to learn of the Fawn Brodie lyric.

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Where is Mormonism in the study of post-World War II Religion and Politics?

By December 18, 2013


This past semester, I wrote a brief historiography of American religion and Evangelicalism in my American Religious History course. For the assignment, I read several books released in the past 5 years regarding this sub-field of American religious history (I addressed one of my favorites here). While writing the paper, my mind kept returning to a sermons of Ezra Taft Benson’s in 1962.

Benson’s sermon, excerpted below, highlights the possibilities of studying church leader’s political views and potential ramifications in shaping their believer’s politics.[1] For a bit of context, Benson gave these remarks after visiting the Soviet Union, and one year from the Bay of Pigs Invasion. The political and economic overtones not have been out of place in Evangelical sermons in the South at the same time (at least in my reading of post-WWII Evangelicalism and politics).

  • We must never forget exactly what communism really is. Communism is far more than an economic system. It is a total philosophy of life — atheistic and completely opposed to all that we hold dear. 
  • We believe in a moral code. Communism denies innate right or wrong. As W. Cleon Skousen has said in his timely book, The Naked Communist, the communist “has convinced himself that nothing is evil which answers the call of expediency.” This is a most damnable doctrine.
  • We believe in religion as a mode of life resulting from our faith in God. Communism contends that all religion must be overthrown because it inhibits the spirit of world revolution. Earl Browder, a long-time leader of the Communist Party in the U. S. A., said, “. . . we Communists do not distinguish between good and bad religions, because we think they are all bad.”
  • I visited the Soviet Union last fall…I saw no evidence that the communist leaders have altered their goal of world conquest—by economic if not by military means…[But]It takes a month’s wages to buy a pair of shoes and two months or more to buy a suit of clothes.  
  • What can you and I do to help meet this grave challenge from a godless, atheistic, cruelly materialistic system–to preserve our God-given free way of life? This is a choice land—all of America—choice above all others. Blessed by the Almighty, our forebears have made and kept it so. It will continue to be a land of freedom and liberty as long as we are able and willing to advance in the light of sound and enduring principles of right… Let us stand eternal watch against the accumulation of too much power in government. …Finally, let us all rededicate our lives and our nation to do the will of God. 

 

Researchers may be able to answer important questions stemming from this sermon and others. To what degree was Benson in line with other conservative religious leaders at the time? Did Mormons have a peculiar form of political conservatism, tied to their canonical statements on the Constitution? Who were the movers and shakers in Mormon anti-Communism outside of Benson, McKay, and Cleon Skousen—how did they work together to shape the Church’s public politics? How important was financial prosperity a key to Christian anti-communism? These questions could easily be extended to other religiously motivated political movements after the Second World War. These questions could also help historians of Mormonism move their projects further into the twentieth century.

The study of Mormonism seems particularly apt for studying Christian anti-Communism, beyond its embodiment in Ezra Taft Benson, David O. McKay, W. Cleon Skousen, and others. Such a study could elucidate particular strains of Mormon conservatism mingled with its theology; it could also show how Mormon yearnings to be both “Christian” and “American” may have led them to ally politically with Evangelicals–bringing Mormonism into broader historiographies and conversations.




[1] This could be said of Billy Graham, Fighting Bob Shuler, or Catholic leaders in this same time period.


The Oral History of a LDS ’Asdzáánsání in Diné Bizaad

By November 18, 2013


Many Farms Lake

Many Farms Lake

’Asdzáánsání (elderly woman)

Diné Bizaad (Navajo language)

Before reading this post, please note that we faced technological issues with using Navajo diacritical marks on the blog so some of the Navajo here does not directly represent the revised transcript of the oral history. The two symbols that would not appear on this blog were the slashed l and nasal marks. I italicize the l (l) to represent the slashed l and italicize vowels that should include a nasal mark (a, o, and e especially). Different literature often does not follow a standard written Navajo form with consistent use of diacritical marks for terms.

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Return of Ma’ii: Brigham Young and his Indian Farms

By November 14, 2013


This installment in the JI’s Mormons and Natives month comes from Corey Smallcanyon. He is a Din4 (Navajo) Indian from the Gallup, New Mexico area, who grew up on and off the Navajo reservation. He works as an Adjunct Professor with Utah Valley University teaching United States History. His emphasis is in U.S. History, the American West, Utah history, LDS history, Native American and Navajo history. In his spare time he volunteers teaching Navajo genealogy to surrounding areas and spending time with his family.

Among the Dine’ (Navajos) Ma’ii (coyote) stands center stage as a trouble maker, wise counselor, cultural hero, and powerful deity. Ma’ii stories help establish a foundation for the ethical teachings for all children. Early traditional memory tells of Ma’ii who tried to steal the farm of Grandfather Na’asho’ii Dich’izhii (Horned Toad). Ma’ii came “wandering” upon Na’asho’ii Dich’izhii tending his farm and asked for some of his corn to eat. After much begging, Na’asho’ii Dich’izhii gave into Ma’ii’s demands, but Ma’ii was not satisfied and began taking more without permission. As Na’asho’ii Dich’izhii tried to take the corn away Ma’ii ate Na’asho’ii Dich’izhii. Upset with his predicament, Na’asho’ii Dich’izhii was eventually able to make his way out of Ma’ii, and triumphed by taking back his farm.[1]

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