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.
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.
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.
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.
By December 29, 2014
In my research of Navajo educational history, I have come across several student case files that include “religion” as a major category in individual profiles. Growing up with Navajo family and friends, I remember references to how they had to choose their “religion” at boarding school during the 1950s.
By November 24, 2014
This installment in the JI’s Mormonism and Natives Month comes from Jeffrey Mahas, a researcher for the Joseph Smith Papers and a graduate student at the University of Utah.
As David G. pointed out in his earlier post, it is often difficult for historians to come to terms with how Natives interpreted and reacted to nineteenth-century Mormon proselytizing efforts. We know that American Indians held a unique place in Mormon theology as the “remnant of Jacob”—descendants of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon whose destiny was to unite with the gentiles converts to the gospel and build the New Jerusalem together. We can even reconstruct how many of the Mormon missionaries who carried this message to Indians interpreted this message but it is far more difficult to know how Native peoples reacted to these teachings. Although Mormon proselytizing to American Indians began almost immediately after the formal organization of the church and continued intermittently throughout Joseph Smith’s life, there were few Native converts and fewer written texts from their perspective. We are often left with the writings of the Mormon missionaries who carried their message and then face the difficult task of trying to reconstruct a possible Native perspective from the impressions of the missionaries.
By November 12, 2014
Although recent scholarship has done much to understand Native conversions to Christianity in early America, asking intriguing questions about indigenous agency and adaptation within colonial contexts, little has been written on Native converts to Mormonism. Part of the hesitance, at least for nineteenth-century historians, stems from the nature of the source material. There are, simply put, few “Native texts”—written accounts drafted by indigenous converts to Mormonism that reflect their viewpoint—prior to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. From the 1850s through the 1880s, thousands of Native peoples accepted Mormon baptism in the inter-mountain American West and the Pacific Islands. Few if any of these converts could read Roman script, meaning their experience with Mormonism was largely oral in nature. They heard about rather than read the Book of Mormon and Mormon beliefs about the Lamanite ancestors of indigenous peoples. The corollary to this point is that few if any Mormon Natives could record in writing their own interpretations of church teachings, meaning historians are left with accounts of Native words that have been filtered through white interpreters and scribes. That said, some indigenous converts such as the Ute Arapeen, although unable to read or write English himself, used ingenious techniques to turn writing to his own purposes as he navigated the world around him that was rapidly being transformed by Mormon settlement.
By November 9, 2014
Some historians have told me how they fear that their sources will “talk back.” As an oral historian, I rely on my sources to “talk back.” On one level, oral history is a conversation between an inquirer and a source. In my perspective as a Navajo scholar, the relationship between a teaching elder and learning listener interweaves storytelling and oral history. Storytelling represents a form of dialogue, which depends on the rapport between speaker and audience. Among the Dine, our elders serve as storytellers, and simultaneously, public intellectuals, historians, and teachers. Dine scholar Jennifer Nez Denetdale asserts, “As manifestations of cultural sovereignty, oral histories have proven crucial in projects to decolonize the Navajo Nation and our communities, for the teachings of our ancestors are reaffirmed in the retelling of stories” . When our elders speak, we are obligated to listen and learn.
By October 13, 2014
I did not start to question Columbus Day until my first history course at Brigham Young University in 2008, when an instructor discussed with the class the controversies concerning Columbus and the Quincentennial in 1992. We read The Four Voyages: Being His Own Log-Book, Letters, and Dispatches with Connecting Narratives published by Penguin Classics in 1992. The class showed me how to search primary sources and understand the current debates about the legacy of Christopher Columbus. As a Latter-day Saint Native American, my complicated opinion of Columbus began to gel. I learned of his human weaknesses and impacts (both direct and non-direct) on indigenous peoples. As a historian, I came to recognize a historical figure’s context and the “pastness of history.” I became increasingly uncomfortable with the appropriations of Columbus’s image, especially in the contests over Columbus Day and Indigenous Day.
By September 25, 2014
Several years ago–perhaps 2009 or 2010–I first heard about a paper slated to be published in a major literary journal that radically reinterpreted the Book of Mormon as an Amerindian apocalypse. Whispers of both its imminent publication and its brilliance continued, and at some point, I was forwarded a prepublication draft of the paper. This isn’t altogether unusual in Mormon Studies–unpublished papers and theses, typescripts of difficult-to-access manuscript sources, and PDFs of out-of-print books passed from person to person have a long, storied, and sometime litigious history in the often insular world of Mormon scholarship. But unlike other instances I’m aware of, the importance of this paper was not in its access to otherwise unavailable primary source material or its controversial content, but rather in its interpretive significance.
By September 15, 2014
I’d like to offer some thoughts I’ve had on Jehu J. Hanciles’ Tanner Lecture at the 2014 meeting of the Mormon History Association. During his lecture, Professor Hanciles, a Professor of Global Christianity at Emory University, shared his research on the growth of Mormonism in Africa.
By August 11, 2014
Just a quick note to turn your attention to two fine documentary articles published in the latest issue of BYU Studies Quarterly:
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:
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.”
By June 16, 2014
At the Mormon History Association’s meetings two weeks ago (was it only two weeks ago?!), I attended several excellent sessions and roundtables. Each of the sessions I attended was worth the price of the conference registration—it was my favorite MHA I’ve attended so far. As usual, meals, hall conversations, and the student reception provided an excellent arena for sharing ideas about the research being presented, but also about the new developments in Mormon history and American religious history.
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:
By February 16, 2014
Missed out on the latest news in the world of Mormon Studies? We’re here for you and back with another weekly roundup of relevant links. Let’s get to it:
Over at Rational Faiths, Connell O’Donovan writes about three newly discovered early black Mormon women. The discovery—incredibly important to recovering the African American presence in early Mormonism in all of its facets—is based on careful and surely time-consuming analysis of personal papers and printed sources.
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.
By February 7, 2014
In late 1853, Brigham Young sent missionaries among the Paiutes in what is now southern Utah. The Southern Indian Mission, as it came to be known, resulted from a combination of factors, including Mormon beliefs in the Israelite origins of indigenous peoples and Young’s Indian policies in the wake of the Walker War of 1853-1854. Many Paiutes, including some prominent chiefs, found the missionaries’ message appealing, with hundreds of baptisms occurring over the next decade. The Paiutes embraced Mormonism for a variety of reasons. During the previous generation, the Paiutes’ Ute relatives had relied on horses and guns to raid non-equestrian Paiute bands, kidnapping women and children and selling them to New Mexican and Mormon buyers. Seeing the Mormons as potential allies against the Utes, Paiute bands accepted the missionaries into their communities and expressed interest in learning new agricultural techniques and wearing Euro-American style clothing. Additionally, many Paiutes who chose to affiliate with the church found the new religion compatible with their traditional religious views. By June 1854, one missionary reported that Paiute proselytes “prefer being called Pahute Mormons to Pahutes.”
By December 31, 2013
Todd M. Compton. A Frontier Life: Jacob Hamblin, Explorer and Indian Missionary. Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2013. 642 pp. Illustrations, photos, maps, bibliography, index. Cloth: $44.95; ISBN: 978-1-60781-234-0
Todd Compton’s first major contribution to Mormon history was his 1997 In Sacred Loneliness, a collective biography of Joseph Smith’s plural wives. In his most recent offering, Compton has returned to the biographer’s craft, with a definitive examination of Jacob Hamblin, a prominent figure in the Mormon colonization of southern Utah and the Southwest. Hamblin was a devout Latter-day Saint, who preached the Gospel to Indians, married plural wives, and played a key role in the expanding Kingdom of God in the West. Even in his lifetime, Hamblin achieved renown not only among the Saints as the “Apostle to the Lamanites,” but also nationally as a guide and an interpreter for John Wesley Powell’s famed expeditions to the Grand Canyon. Previous Hamblin biographies have been either fictionalized or hagiographic, reflecting the “Hamblin legend” that emerged in the nineteenth century. More recent works, reacting against these earlier portrayals, have cast Hamblin in a more unfavorable light. Compton’s biography, the first full-length scholarly treatment of Hamblin’s life, presents a positive reevaluation, while not ignoring the frontiersman’s flaws. Compton expertly analyzes Hamblin’s evolving attitudes toward Indians, showing how the missionary gradually became the “Apostle to the Lamanites.”
By December 13, 2013
For the month of November, we at the Juvenile Instructor hosted indigenous history month. It was a bit of whirlwind with a lot of fantastic posts and content. A few of us thought we would have some thoughts about one or two posts that will change the way that we write about indigenous people in the future.
Amanda Hendrix-Komoto: One of my favorite posts was Farina’s on oral history and the politics of translation. In the post, Farina explores the conversation that was happening between translator, an elderly Navajo woman, and a Church history employee during an interview. Although the translator tries to capture what the woman is saying and to translate it accurately into English, Farina demonstrates that re-reading the Navajo section of the oral interviews provides an interesting glimpse into the mistranslations that occur as the translator is forced to slightly alter the meaning of questions to make them make sense in Navajo. Answers that appear incongruous suddenly make sense when the meaning of the question as it was asked in Navajo is considered.
By November 27, 2013
Todd Compton, award-winning author of the recently-published biography of “Apostle to the Indians” Jacob Hamblin, contributes this installment in the JI’s Mormons and Natives Month.
The problem with Mormon history is that it focuses on Mormons. I make this paradoxical statement to intentionally overstate the case—but there is some truth to it. We Mormons have never existed in a bubble; we have always interacted with non-Mormons. A historian can, of course, focus on the Mormon side of things, and you would expect a writer of “Mormon history” to do so, to a certain extent. However, if we don’t take the non-Mormon side of the story seriously, looking at it thoroughly and even sympathetically, we will not even understand the Mormon side of the story in a careful, holistic way. (Looking at the non-Mormon side of our history sympathetically can be difficult for modern loyal Mormons, given the polarized Mormon/anti-Mormon conflicts throughout nineteenth-century Utah history.)
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