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Theology

A Brief History of Mormon Prayers at the Republican National Convention

By July 26, 2016


Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 12.20.41 PMLast week, Nathan Johnson, an African-American convert to Mormonism who currently serves as second counselor in the Kirtland Ohio Stake Presidency, offered the invocation on the third day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio. Johnson’s prayer attracted a fair amount of attention, both because of Mormons’ widespread distaste for Donald Trump and his campaign and because of the prayer’s content. But Johnson was not the first Latter-day Saint to pray at the Republican National Convention. In fact, four out of the last five have featured invocations by Mormons: Steve Young (2000), Sheri Dew (2004), Ken Hutchins (2012), and Nathan Johnson (2016). Only the 2008 convention lacked a Latter-day Saint prayer.[1] 

I thought it would be an interesting exercise to compare their respective prayers, to note any commonalities between them (beyond use of thee, thou, and thine), and to consider the contexts in which they were given. What follows below is a transcription of each invocation, followed by my preliminary attempt to briefly historicize each.

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Black Mormons and Friends in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina, Part III

By February 25, 2016


This is the third and final post in a series chronicling the experiences of the The Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent support group in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina. Part one and part two can be read here and here.

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Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, August 2011.

Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, August 2011.

Another purpose of the Friends meetings is to provide instruction. Most black members in the Durham Stake tend to be converts to the Church, many of them having converted fairly recently. Every month a theme is chosen and one person appointed to direct the conversation or to provide a lesson. Themes include “outreach,” “fellowship,” “true v. false doctrine,” or “being a black Mormon today.”[1] In September 2011 Brother Isaiah Cummings taught a lesson titled “Blacks in the Bible.” Brother Cummings has apparently written a book on this subject but has been unable to find a publisher. I was not present at this meeting but Christina shared with me a copy of his lesson outline and it is also posted at the group’s Facebook page. In that lesson he taught that “When you begin to look at ‘Biblical History,’ it is important to realize that the world had two (2) beginnings… The World “before” the Flood and the World ‘after’ the Flood. Hence, the Black Race had two sets of Parents: 1) Cain and his wife and 2) Ham and his wife Egyptus.” The lineage Brother Cummings constructs to illustrate the history of Blacks in the Bible is supported by scriptural references to the Bible and the Book of Abraham in the Mormon book of scripture, the Pearl of Great Price.

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Black Mormons and Friends in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina: A History of the African American Night of Celebration and the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent Support Group, Part I

By February 23, 2016


We’re pleased to present the following series of posts from Stan Thayne, PhD candidate in Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and founding editor of the Juvenile Instructor. The posts, which trace the little-known history and significance of the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent support group in Chapel Hill and Durham, North Carolina, is longer than our usual offerings, but is well worth the time. It will be published serially over the next three days. –admin

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Meeting of the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, June 2011.

Meeting of the Friends of Latter-day Saints of African Descent, June 2011.

When Christina Stitt moved into the Chapel Hill 1st Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2005, she and her grand-daughter Dushana doubled the number of African Americans in the congregation. There were only two other black members at the time, as Christina remembers it: Brother and Sister John and Mary Moore. They didn’t get to know each other right off, Christina and the Moores. Perhaps both overly conscious of the blackness that should supposedly connect them in this sea of whiteness, they were both a little stand-offish toward each other at first, as Stitt recalls. But after Christina sang a gospel piece during sacrament services, Sister Mary Moore approached her and expressed her desire for a program in the church celebrating African American culture. “She planted a seed in me,” Christina told me during one of my interviews with her. “But me, when you say something that really hits my heart, I try to get it done. And that’s what I did. I went to the bishop and I asked him, and he thought it was a good idea too. So that’s where it started.” In February 2006 the Durham Stake hosted the first African American Night of Celebration at the LDS stake center on Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in Chapel Hill. It has since become an annual event held every February during black history month.

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Understanding “Interest” in Joseph Smith’s Original Tithing Revelation

By February 2, 2016


We’re pleased to present this guest post from Sam Brunson, Associate Professor of Law at Loyola University Chicago, regular blogger at By Common Consent, and tax and business law geek extraordinaire. 

Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 11.31.42 PMBoth in and out of the church, people are fascinated by tithing. On the one hand, according to Pres. Kimball, “it’s not difficult to be perfect in tithe paying, for if one pays one-tenth of his income annually, he is perfect in that respect.” On the other hand, while one-tenth is precise and easy to calculate, the church never defines what “income” means, leading to internal debates over, among other things whether we should pay on our gross or net income and whether we tithe on barter or gifts we receive.

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Mormon Studies in Unexpected Places: Volume III – The Refiner’s Fire Edition

By January 20, 2016


Bone HunterThis is the third installment in an ongoing but terribly irregular series dedicated to the appearance of Mormon Studies in popular media, including musical lyrics, popular television shows, movies, and so forth. Previous installments can be read here and here.

A friend recently tipped me off to a series of books by Sarah Andrews, in which Wyoming-born geologist Emily “Em” Hansen uses her geological skills to help solve murders in various locales throughout the western United States.[1] The third installment in the series, Bone Hunter, takes place in Salt Lake City and Snowbird, Utah, where the annual meeting of the Society for Vertebrate Paleontology is being held.[2] Here’s Publisher’s Weekly’s summary of the plot:

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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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JI Summer Book Club: Rough Stone Rolling, Part 2: Chapters Three and Four

By May 18, 2015


RSR Image

This is the second installment of the first annual JI Summer Book Club. This year we are reading Richard Bushman’s landmark biography of Mormonism founder, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). JI bloggers will be covering several small chunks of the book (typically 2-3 chapters) in successive weeks through the summer. New posts will appear on Monday mornings.We invite anyone and everyone interested to join along. Please use the comment section on each post to post your own reflections and commentary on the chapters under consideration and ask questions. This week Steve Fleming takes a closer look at Chapters 3 (“Translation: 1827-30”) and 4 (“A New Bible: 1830”).

Previous installments in the series:

•Part I: Prologue, Chapters 1-2

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3 Translation, 4 A New Bible (See part 1 here).

Bushman ends Chapter Two and begins Chapter Three by discussing how to make sense of the possible connections between the Smiths’ “magical” treasure-digging activities and Mormonism’s foundational events: receiving and translating the golden plates. Such similarities include seer stones, special treasure in the ground, and treasure guardians.

Bushman concedes that “Magic and religion melded in Smith family culture,” (51) but he argues that by 1827, the year he married Emma and received the plates, “magic had served its purpose in his life. In a sense, it was a preparatory gospel. Treasure-seeking lore may have made it easier for his father to believe his son’s fabulous story about an angel and gold plates” (54). Thus treasure digging played a “preparatory” role in the beginnings of Mormons, argues Bushman, and the treasure-digging elements in the events related to the golden plates played the purposed of Smith gaining his treasure-digging father’s support.

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Mormonism, Pan-Indian Alliances, and Native Writing

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

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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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Review: Terryl Givens, Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought

By October 22, 2014


Terryl L. Givens. Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought: Cosmology, God, Humanity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2014. xv, 405 ppg. Notes, index. Cloth: $34.95. ISBN 978-1-9979492-8.

wrestlingFew books encompass as audacious a scope as Wrestling the Angel. In this work, the first of projected two volumes, prolific Mormon scholar Terryl Givens presents a rigorous and exhaustive overview of Mormonism’s theological foundations. This is not necessarily a historical work that systematically traces theological developments and places them in cultural context as it is an attempt to faithfully reproduce the intellectual tradition founded by Joseph Smith, refined by Parley and Orson Pratt, and tinkered with by a handful of twentieth century thinkers like B.H. Roberts, James Talmage, John Widtsoe, and, sometimes, more contemporary LDS leaders. The finished product is an overwhelming account that makes a compelling case for Mormonism’s inclusion within the Christian theological canon.

The book is separated into five sections. The first, “Frameworks,” outlines Mormonism’s relationship with theology and posits a new prism through which to understand Joseph Smith’s conception of “restoration”; the second is a very brief overview of Mormonism’s theological narrative, which is meant to ground the remainder of the discussion. The final three chapters are the “meat” of the project by taking, in turn, the three broad topics under consideration: “Cosmology,” “The Divine,” and “The Human.” Each chapter within these sections engages particular topics—embodiment, salvation, theosis, etc.—and places them within Christian theological context.

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Jared Hickman on “The Book of Mormon as Amerindian Apocalypse”

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.

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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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From the Archives: Thomas D. Brown’s “Missionaries’ Song”

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.”[3]

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Arapeen, the Ute Prophet

By November 26, 2013


Filed away in the Brigham Young Papers at the Church History Library, there is a document that records the vision of a nineteenth-century prophet. That visionary, however, was not Brigham Young. Rather, it was Arapeen, a leading Ute chief during the Mormons’ first two decades in the Great Basin. That the Saints believed that Arapeen had received a legitimate revelation is revealed in the language they used to categorize the document. John Lowry, Jr., the Manti resident who interpreted for Arapeen, and George Peacock, who acted as scribe, entitled the document “Vision of Arapine on the night of the 4th of Feb 1855.” Later, after it had been sent to Young’s office in Salt Lake City, an unidentified clerk scrawled “The Lord to Arrowpin” in the margins.[1] Arapeen’s vision provides a fascinating window into the Utes’ hybrid religious culture that was in the process of formation in the years following the Mormons’ arrival in 1847.

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“A son of the Forest” and “an intelligent son of Abraham”: Orson Hyde and Samuel Smith meet William Apess, 1832

By November 21, 2013


In June 1832, Orson Hyde and Samuel H. Smith arrived in Boston, Massachusetts to preach Mormonism to the people of what was then the fourth largest city in the United States. The previous year, a young Methodist woman had traveled from Boston to Kirtland, Ohio, been baptized a Mormon, and then returned to her Massachusetts home. That woman—Vienna Jacques—had prepared several of her friends and family members for the arrival of the itinerant missionaries, and Hyde and Smith gained several converts that summer, a number of whom came from the Bromfield Street Methodist Episcopal Church, to which Jacques had belonged prior to her conversion to Mormonism.[1]

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Painting the Mythical and the Heroic: Joseph Smith Preaches to the American Indians

By November 19, 2013


armitage-preaching-indians_MD1

By Laura Allred Hurtado, with David G. Note: This represents preliminary and ongoing research for the Armitage painting. 

In 1890, British born painter and founder of the Utah Art Association William Armitage created the massive historic painting, Joseph Smith Preaching to the Indians. The artwork, which once hung with prominence in the Salt Lake Temple, now fills the wall leading up to the 2nd floor of the Church History Museum. The scale itself means that it demands the attention of the entire room, standing almost as a sentinel within the space. The painting depicts, as the title suggests, a well-dressed Smith preaching to a crowd of nearly forty American Indians which surround the frame. Smith’s outstretched right arm gestures heavenward while his left hand holds the Book of Mormon, a book that according to historian Ronald W. Walker was “not just a record of the ‘Lamanite’ or Native American people, but a highly unusual manifesto of their destiny.”[1] Smith stands triumphantly and confidently among this crowd of mostly male Indians whose expressions vary from guarded, taken aback, distrusting, perhaps even provoked but in all instances, they are engaged, looking toward Joseph and his distinct message regarding the destiny of North America’s Indigenous peoples.

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Mormons and Natives Month at the JI

By November 5, 2013


For the past several months, the JI has sponsored various theme months, allowing permas and guests to ruminate on such topics as politics, the international church, and material culture. November is Native American Heritage Month, which was first promoted in the Progressive Era by reform-minded Indians to recognize the contributions of Natives to the development of the United States. As in the case of Black History Month and Women’s History Month, we at the JI believe that Natives are an intricate part of Mormon history, rather than a sub-topic only worthy of discussion once a year, but we also see the value in focusing our thoughts at this time in conjunction with Native American Heritage Month. This month’s editors, David G., Amanda, and Farina, have assembled an all-star cast of guest bloggers, who will share fascinating insights from their research, alongside contributions from permas. The editors have also put together some brief thoughts on their areas of expertise for this introductory post.

Mormonism’s Encounters with Native America in the 19th Century (David G.)

From the earliest days of Mormonism, indigenous peoples were central to Joseph Smith’s vision of the future.

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Elder George P. Lee and the New Jerusalem: A Reception History of 3 Nephi 21:22-23

By August 27, 2013


“Do you think President Kimball approves of your action?” This question, asked by an unnamed general authority of the soon-to-be excommunicated Elder George P. Lee of the First Quorum of the 70, captured the lingering tensions over the rapid decline of the “Day of the Lamanite” that had marked Mormon views of Native Americans in the second half of the twentieth century. Lee, the first general authority of Native descent, was himself the product of several of the programs instituted under the direction of Apostle Spencer W. Kimball designed to educate American Indians and aid their acculturation into the dominant society. Even at the time of Lee’s call to the 70 in 1975, the church had begun reallocating resources away from the so-called “Lamanite programs,” but the full implications of these decisions were not apparent until the mid-1980s. Lee responded to the question posed above by laying out a distinct interpretation of 3 Nephi 21:22-23, an interpretation that he argued Kimball had shared and that the General Authorities in the 1980s had abandoned. The 1980s, known as the decade when Church President Ezra Taft Benson challenged the Saints to increase and improve their devotional usage of the Book of Mormon—a challenge that saw marked results, at least as measured by the significant increase of citations to the work in General Conference talks—was also a decade of debate over the meaning of the book’s intended audience and purpose.[1]

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Book of Mormon into Darkness

By June 14, 2013


Please join us in welcoming this guest post from Edward Blum, a recognized scholar of race and religion in U.S. history who has contributed to JI previously. Ed is associate professor of history at San Diego State University. He is the author of Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865-1898 (2005), W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet (2007), and most recently, co-author (with Paul Harvey) of The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race in America (2012). He is the co-editor (with Paul Harvey) of The Columbia Guide to Religion in American History (2012), (with Jason R. Young) The Souls of W. E. B. Du Bois: New Essays and Reflections (2009), and (with W. Scott Poole) Vale of Tears: New Essays on Religion and Reconstruction (2005). Ed also blogs at Religion in American History and Teaching United States Historyand last week attended his very first Mormon History Association conference in Layton, Utah.

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Has darkness ever overwhelmed you? Have you seen cities sink and communities set ablaze? Has a voice saved you? If you know the Book of Mormon, then you are familiar with the tale I tell. After hundreds of pages chronicling the ebbs and flows of civilizations, the narrative reaches a climax. In Palestine, Jesus Christ was crucified and buried. The world felt the reverberations. “Thick darkness” fell upon the land. Nothing could bring light, “neither candles, neither torches; neither could there be fire kindled with their fine and exceeding dry wood, so that there could not be any light at all.” The sounds of howling and weeping pieced the darkness. Sadness reigned.

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New Article: “Early Mormon Patriarchy and the Paradoxes of Democratic Religiosity in Jacksonian America”

By April 17, 2013


Desperate times (the expected dearth of posts at the end of the semester) call for desperate measures (narcissistically posting about our own scholarship).

Parley Pratt, whose theology was as rugged as his looks.

Parley Pratt, whose theology was as rugged as his looks.

In summer 2009, I participated in the Mormon Scholars Summer Seminar, that year led by Terryl Givens and Matt Grow, where I had the opportunity to study the writings of the Pratt brothers. While my seminar paper was on Parley Pratt’s theology of embodiment, which soon evolved into a larger article on early Mormon theologies of embodiment in general, the topic with which I became particularly transfixed was how Joseph Smith’s teachings were adapted and appropriated during the first few years after his death. At first, I was interested in the very parochial nature of the issue—the specifics of theological development, who said what and when, and what ideas were forgotten, emphasized, or even created anew. But I then became even more interested in broader questions: how were Smith’s ideas interpreted in the first place within a specific cultural environment, and how did Smith’s successors utilize that environment when molding their own theology? And further, what does that process tell us about the development of religious traditions in general, and the progression of religion in antebellum America in particular?

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J Stuart on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Thanks, Cassie, WVS, and Professor Mauss!”


Armand Mauss on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Don't forget to check out the influence also of the LDS Genealogical Society, especially the work of its executive secretary James H. Anderson during the…”


wvs on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Interesting stuff, J. All kinds of fun links to the Taylor-Galbraith efficiency movement and quack psyche.”


Cassie on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “The topic of Mormon elite interest in Eugenics is fascinating and requires additional unpacking to fully understand the reverberations of the pseudoscience on the church…”


Amanda on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “I mean...who controls which spirits go to which families? It's like we forgot everything that's been revealed about foreordination...that, just as there will be…”


RL on Eugenics and the Intellectual: “Great points Amanda. We often think Mormonism is unique in having to grapple with race or gender and belief, but we a Christian faith…”

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