For years, our hi-fi stereo languished in the attic. But it?s been dusted off and now resides in a place of honor in our teenager?s room, because vinyl is hip again, and suddenly we?re glad we saved our record collection all these years. Recently an LDS friend passed along some records she thought our teen might enjoy spinning, and tucked into the stack was a genuine piece of 1970s Mormon culture, a double album cast recording of the 1977 musical My Turn on Earth. With lyrics by poet Carol Lynn Pearson and music by Lex de Azevedo, My Turn on Earth turned the Plan of Salvation into a modern-day child?s parable tracing one girl?s journey from her preexistence in heaven, through allegorical earth life and back.
When you live in a place over twenty years, and you come to know people who?ve lived there even longer than you, now and then you stumble over something in what we might call the local archives. Much of both the material and intellectual culture of Mormonism ? indeed, of any group through which a thread of commonality can be drawn ? never makes it into a formal archival collection. This is true even for old things, which have had more time to make their way out of private trunks, attics, and boxes into museums and historical societies and libraries. Just this week I saw someone on Twitter threatening to make a list of things offered for sale on eBay that, by rights, should belong in a public records office. But I daresay it?s even more true for things from recent history. For starters, no one fully knows which items of the endless detritus of the 20th century deserves preserving, and for seconds, a lot of it is still counted among living people?s prized possessions.
One of those possessions was recently lent to me by a friend. The provenance of this object is probably convoluted, but suffice it to say, it?s from the local archives, and there?s more where this came from. It?s uncatalogued. But it?s a gem, nonetheless.
The object in question is a revised 1973 edition of a book that was first published in 1966. Its author, whose name no doubt is familiar to all our readers, has just released a new book, which arrived crisp and thick in my mailbox this very week. But this is her very first book.
It?s the time for year-in-review articles and retrospectives, as we get ready to kick 2016 out the door. I’m not sure how to put my thoughts about this year into coherent words, so maybe I’d rather write about some other proxy year instead. Some months ago, I posted about the Church?s annual Church in Action films by profiling the 1973 version. I recently began teaching Institute in my stake and because of a boundary change I took over mid-semester in the Cornerstones class about Church history and the Restoration. Joey Stuart?s thought-provoking piece earlier this fall on Mormonism’s biggest “change year” challenged me to find a way to present some of the rapid transformations in Church demographics, policies and practices that have taken place in recent decades for the last class in the semester. I thought bringing in one of the Church in Action recaps might highlight both continuity and change in recent Mormonism. It definitely did; we had a lively discussion about the film and what had / hadn’t changed since then.
In the summer of 2002, while knocking on doors in the sweltering August heat of suburban Phoenix, my missionary companion and I were handed a small booklet by a less-than-friendly individual. Entitled The Visitors, the short illustrated tract told the story of two Mormon missionaries who arrive to teach a woman considering converting to Mormonism. Arriving at Fran’ doorstep with the hope of committing her to baptism that evening, the Elders are greeted not only by their anxious investigator, but also her niece, Janice, also a missionary preparing to do humanitarian work as a nurse in Africa.
A few minutes into their lesson, the missionaries are confronted by Fran’s surprisingly knowledgeable niece about various points of Mormon doctrine, doctrine the missionaries had failed to previously reveal to Fran. Horrified to learn that the Mormons believe, among other things, that Jesus and Lucifer are brothers, that God is a man (and not a spirit) with multiple wives in his heavenly abode, and Joseph Smith was fluent in the occult culture of early 19th century America, Fran asks the missionaries to leave and not come back. But Janice not only saved her beloved aunt that evening. She also, as we discover in the strip’s final frames, sparked the seeds of doubt in one of the missionary’s own minds.
I’ve been thinking recently about Grant Underwood’s article in Pacific Historical Review, “Re-visioning Mormon History.” In short, Underwood contends that 1890 is not such a watershed year for Mormon history as historians have led us to believe. Underwood argues, at most times convincingly, that Mormons had not Americanized nor become much less peculiar since the year of the Woodruff Manifesto.
I don’t want to rehash his entire argument and evidence here (those who are interested in a deeper dive should consult Christopher’s excellent rumination on the article here and David’s follow up questions on the article here). However, I find that I generally agree with Jan Shipps on the importance of 1890. She wrote, “Whatever else it did, the Manifesto announced that the old order would have to pass away.” Despite my belief that 1890 is a very important year for Mormons and historians of Mormonism, I think reducing the large-scale changes in Mormonism to 1890 alone is unproductive. If historians are seeking a sort of “trigger year” where Mormonism struck out on a new course, what date would be more appropriate than 1890? Here are a few options:
This morning, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton took the significant (unprecedented?) step of penning an op-ed in the LDS Church-owned Deseret News. Clinton has been polling competitively in Utah (though the most recent polls show Donald Trump with a widening lead), and the Clinton camp clearly thinks they have a real shot in the Beehive State.
The Democratic nominee’s competitiveness in Utah is due almost entirely to Trump’s well-chronicledproblemswithMormonvoters (and the candidacy of Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who also recently wrote a Deseret News op-ed attempting to clarify (read: fix the fallout from) his unbelievably stupid comments suggesting that religious freedom might allow Mormons “to shoot somebody else” because “God has spoken to them,” to say nothing of the recent announcement of Washington D.C.-based Mormon and former CIA agent Evan McMullin’s independent candidacy for President). But in her op-ed today, Clinton (clearly aided by a staffer very much in-the-know about Mormonism) attempted to make the case for why Utah voters (read: Mormons) should vote for her (and not just why they shouldn’t vote for Trump).
Last 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.
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.
Utah Jazz player Ron Boone meets with LDS Church President Spencer Kimball, 1980.
There’s a joke common among sports fans concerning the Utah Jazz and the team’s nickname. It’s so obvious that it hardly needs to be told. Utah Jazz is a contradiction in terms because nothing could be so absurd as jazz music in Salt Lake City. It received a brief mention in the opening scene of Baseketball, a 1998 comedy starring Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the guys behind South Park and The Book of Mormon musical:
Soon it was commonplace for entire teams to change in search of greater profits.
The Minneapolis Lakers moved to Los Angeles, where there are no lakes.
The Oilers moved to Tennessee, where there’s no oil.
The Jazz moved to Salt Lake City, where they don’t allow music.