By May 17, 2018
The LDS Church recently announced that it will be severing its ties with the Boy Scouts of America and is creating a new program for all the children and youth in the Church. With this announcement, there have been discussions (here and here) about what these changes could mean for the youth programs in the Church, particularly for young women. Knowing the history of the LDS youth programs for the past one hundred years can help put all of these recent announcements in perspective.
By May 11, 2018
On Tuesday the Church Newsroom announced a “Plan for Worldwide Initiative for Children and Youth” that will change, among other things, Personal Progress and the Church’s relationship to Scouting. Yesterday I wrote about mentions of the Personal Progress program in General Conference. Today I look at mentions of the Eagle Scout award.
[Edit: Due to a very embarrassing error on my part, I only searched from 1940 to the present. There were two mentions of Eagle Scouts before 1950: In 1924 then-President Heber J Grant quoted approvingly a letter published in the Improvement Era that enthused at some length about Mormon scouting and included the line “There are more boys of advanced rank and a greater percentage of Eagle scouts than in any other section of America” (1924 April, p 155). In 1923 Apostle Richard R Lyman said, in a talk on training young people, “You cannot know what real scouting is until you have at least one Eagle Scout in your troop” (1923 April, p 157).]
By May 10, 2018
On Tuesday the Church Newsroom announced a “Plan for Worldwide Initiative for Children and Youth”. On the associated FAQ page it says that, among others, the “Personal Progress” program “may be affected by this change” beginning in 2020. In a preliminary effort to better understand the context for these potential changes, I looked at what has been said about Personal Progress in General Conference (or, at least, has been published in the Conference Report editions of the Ensign).
By May 7, 2018
Two weeks ago, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments surrounding President Trump’s travel ban. The arguments centered around whether the president had authority to issue such a ban, whether the ban targeted Muslims, and how long the ban would last. Public responses have fallen largely into two camps: that the ban is a continuation of presidential campaign prejudice against Muslims, or that the ban protects national security based on confidential information.
A telling article in the Salt Lake Tribune last week gave some historical context for the Supreme Court situation. During World War II, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 which authorized the removal of Japanese-Americans to internment camps because of a potential threat to national security. Fred Korematsu refused to be removed, was arrested, and argued that the order was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that the executive order was constitutional and that national security took precedence over protection against racial prejudice. This court case was not the only source of presidential authority over national security in relation to race and migration, but it was a symbolically important one.
“Forty years later,” Salt Lake Tribune columnist Robert Gehrke writes, “an attorney named Dale Minami persuaded a court to vacate the conviction [against Korematsu] based on new evidence that the government had lied about the ground for the interment order.” In 1983, Korematsu won an appeal against the original Supreme Court decision, and in 1988 the federal government issued $20,000 in reparations to each surviving interned Japanese-American.
So, what does this court case mean for today’s travel ban? And why are you reading it on a Mormon History blog?
By May 1, 2018
In the past few weeks, a shrine to the NBA?s Utah Jazz has appeared next to Ken Sanders Books in Salt Lake City. The shrine features a confluence of religious figurines (none Mormon as of this writing), flowers, photos, Jazz memorabilia, and candles. J Stuart and Cristina Rosetti thought it would be an ideal opportunity to discuss lived religion and material religion within Mormonism. The authors acknowledge that the shrine isn?t uniquely Mormon, but we feel that there are some aspects of Mormonism that shine through when examined closely.
JS: I have jokingly referred to praying to the ?basketball gods? for favor in NBA games and playoff series. I loved seeing that someone had actually created a shrine, seemingly to the basketball gods, on behalf of the Utah Jazz. After my immediate basketball nerdery ebbed, my religious studies nerdery surfaced and I thought about how peculiar it was for there to be a shrine to anything in a place as Mormon-heavy as Salt Lake City. Of course there are fewer Mormons in Salt Lake County than throughout Utah, but it still struck me as particularly Mormon. Mormonism is both a lived and a material religion that believes in the ?presence? of supernatural beings directing events and people on the earth. Robert Orsi calls these forces ?the gods,? as he explains in History and Presence, ?Presence is real, but not necessarily good, not necessarily bad, and it is rarely either good or bad, as these words are understood in ordinary social discourse.? Presence is simply taken as for granted for many Mormons. Mormonism began with the apparition of heavenly beings and individual Mormons have continued to report their ?presence? to the present day. This shrine is another way for Mormons to acknowledge ?presence? in a way that doesn?t contradict what many of their leaders saying about the uselessness of praying for sports teams. What do you think, Cristina?
By April 27, 2018
This is the latest installment in a very sporadic series of posts on Mormonism and music. And by very sporadic, I mean the first such post in nearly seven years. Previous posts include “Of Mormon Fundamentalism and Outlaw Country Music” and “Conveying Joseph Smith: Brandon Flowers, Arthur Kane, and the Mormon Rock Star Image.”
Win Butler. Screenshot from “Put Your Money on Me” music video.
Arcade Fire is a Canadian indie rock band. Their lead singer, Win Butler, and his younger brother and bandmate, William Butler, were raised by a Latter-day Saint mother in northern California and suburban Houston. Though neither is a practicing Mormon today, the Butlers have had mostly positive things to say about their LDS upbringing. Here’s Win in a 2010 interview:
By March 13, 2018
(detail from John Arrowsmith, Map of the Windward Islands, 1844. Click on image for original)
Last month, Elder Dale Renlund visited the West Indian island of Barbados, which he dedicated for the preaching of the gospel. The timing of his doing so carries with it some special significance. As Elder Renlund noted in his remarks, the West Indies Mission was first dedicated thirty years ago, in 1988. And it was, of course, forty years ago this summer that the temple and priesthood ban denying black women and men certain blessings and opportunities in the church was lifted, which opened up Barbados and the other predominantly black Caribbean islands for full-fledged missionary work.
By January 3, 2018
President Thomas S. Monson, sixteenth President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, passed away last night surrounded by family in his Salt Lake City home from effects related to aging. We share our sympathy and support for his family and all those affected by his death, notably sixteen million or so Latter-day Saints.
There will be time for historical retrospectives at a later date. At this time, I thought it would be helpful to review how an LDS Church President is called and sustained by the Quorum of Twelve Apostles. This section is taken from the Mormon newsroom, I would encourage you to read the rest here. At the bottom of this post, I’ll share some helpful links on the historical development of succession in the LDS Church.
By April 21, 2017
If you haven’t heard already, yesterday a host of 19 scholars submitted an Amici Curiae Brief (amici curiae=friends of the court, or impartial expert advisors) in response to President Donald Trump’s Executive Order 13,780, “Protecting the Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into the United States.” Trump’s Executive Order received a cascade of pushback and resistance, mainly criticizing that the order seems to target Muslims (just search the executive order in google news for a host of coverage). The Amici Curiae Brief picks up on this vein and presents the Mormon past with federal immigration policy as an example of how targeting religious minorities through immigration legislation can go horribly wrong.
The Brief tells the history of early Mormon persecution, and late nineteenth-century legal battles over polygamy to show that the government treated Mormons as “outsiders, not full members of the political community.” The argument and section titles are enough to give a sense of the Brief in its entirety:
By March 27, 2017
Over the past few weeks, a white woman that goes by the name ?A Purposeful Wife? (Ayla) has garnered a lot of attention on Twitter and was featured in an article on Buzzfeed for dual loyalties to Mormonism and the Alt-Right Movement (a political movement whose explicit purpose is to create a white, Christian nation). She spends her days spewing Alt-Right messages to her 20,000 followers and thousands more that respond to her. Her alt-right beliefs inform her “white nationalism.” Although she rejects the label of “Nazi,” she subscribes to Nazi race theory. She has issued a ?white baby challenge,? encouraging people now considered to be white to bear more children than people of color in order to maintain white supremacy. This cannot be called anything other than a call to eugenics–commonplace rhetoric in the Alt-Right. Ayla has a Mormon.org profile, seemingly written before her adoption of Alt-Right politics [it has been taken down as of 11:40 AM MST, but you can see the profile courtesy of the Wayback Machine].
Despite the unsavory, dangerous, and abhorrent rhetoric, it?s important to know Mormonism?s long history of supporting eugenics?even when they were not considered white or Christian. As Ardis at Keepapitchinin has rightly written, this flies in the face of current Mormon teachings. I applaud the LDS Church?s statement condemning all forms of racism past and present, and join in that call. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that the LDS Church condemns its past subscription to eugenics, not only the priesthood and temple restriction or other better-known racist or racial beliefs and practices.
While this post is a very short introduction, I will provide a brief overview of the Mormon embrace of eugenics, explicitly, and implicitly, in terms of race and gender. Mormon eugenics and political history will come in a second installment.[i]