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]

Lee?s principal point of disagreement with his interlocutors centered on the meaning of Christ?s words in 3 Nephi 21:22-23?

But if they [that is, the Gentiles] will repent and hearken unto my words, and harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them, and they shall come in unto the covenant and be numbered among this the remnant of Jacob, unto whom I have given this land for their inheritance; And they shall assist my people, the remnant of Jacob, and also as many of the house of Israel as shall come, that they may build a city, which shall be called the New Jerusalem. And then shall they assist my people that they may be gathered in, who are scattered upon all the face of the land, in unto the New Jerusalem.

Nineteenth-century readers such as Orson Pratt unapologetically interpreted these verses as saying that the “Lamanites”?that is, Native American converts?would take the lead in building the New Jerusalem, while the Gentiles?converts of Euro-American descent?would ?assist? the Lamanites in the endeavor. In an 1875 discourse, Pratt argued that ?the Latter-day Saints in these mountains never can have the privilege of going back to Jackson County and building that city which is to be called the New Jerusalem . . . until quite a large portion of the remnants of Joseph go back with us.? The Saints would first need to ?pray to the Father, in the name of Jesus, to convert these Indian tribes around us.? It would be the remnant of Jacob?the Indians in Pratt?s interpretive framework?who would build the New Jerusalem. ?Now, a great many, without reading these things [3 Nephi 21:23], have flattered themselves that we are the ones who are going to do all this work. It is not so; we have got to be helpers, we have got to be those who co-operate with the remnants of Joseph in accomplishing this great work.?[2]

Pratt?s reading of the passage, however, neglected to take into account the complicating factor that, since the early 1830s, Mormons of European descent had increasingly seen themselves not as Gentiles, but as literal Israelites. As Armand Mauss has shown in All Abraham?s Children, Joseph Smith?s early revelations as well as patriarchal blessings beginning in the 1830s referred to Euro-American Saints as Israelites, most commonly of the tribe of Ephraim. This matched broader Protestant ideas about British Israelism and Anglo-Saxon triumphalism. Even converted Gentiles could expect their blood to actually change upon receiving the Holy Ghost.[3]

There was sufficient ambiguity in these ideas to allow Apostle Bruce R. McConkie in 1985 to declare: ?An occasional whiff of nonsense goes around the Church acclaiming that the Lamanites will build the temple in the New Jerusalem and that Ephraim and others will come to their assistance. This illusion is born of an inordinate love for Father Lehi?s children and of a desire to see them all become now as Samuel the Lamanite once was.? For McConkie, ?The Book of Mormon passages upon which it is thought to rest have reference not to the Lamanites but to the whole house of Israel.? What had meant one thing for Orson Pratt meant something completely different for McConkie. The ?remnant of Jacob? referred not to Lamanites?Indians?but ?Ephraim, meaning the Church as it is now constituted; this is where the keys of temple building are vested, and it will be to this Ephraim that all the other tribes will come in due course to receive their temple blessings.? Clearly, McConkie did not see Mormons of European descent as Gentiles, but as literal Israelites. The Lamanites might assist Ephraim, but they would not take the lead in the New Jerusalem?s construction.[4]

It is possible that McConkie referred to George P. Lee when dismissing as a ?whiff of nonsense? the idea that Lamanites would build the city, with Gentile assistance. Although Lee did not teach this concept openly in his General Conference addresses, there is evidence to suggest that he promoted the notion when teaching in local venues.[5] Whether Lee derived these ideas from his own study of the Book of Mormon or from his mentor, President Spencer W. Kimball, deserves additional research. Kimball frequently cited 3 Nephi 21?s teachings on the New Jerusalem, and on one occasion quoted approvingly an 1873 discourse by Wilford Woodruff that echoed Orson Pratt?s ideas, although there is little evidence that Kimball directly embraced in his public sermons an interpretation of converted Natives building the New Jerusalem with Euro-American Mormons playing a supporting role.[6]

In preparation for his disciplinary council in 1989, Lee drafted two letters that addressed what he saw as an abandonment of an accurate interpretation of 3 Nephi 21. Although he did not name McConkie, Lee asked: ?Who is trying to discredit or downplay the role of Lamanites in these last days and downplay their role in the building of New Jerusalem?? The Navajo 70 provided a detailed examination of the identities of literal Israelites and adopted Israelites, and although he refrained from explicitly placing Euro-American Mormons in the latter category, it was strongly implied. ?As the Lord Jesus clearly states throughout 3rd Nephi the Gentiles or ?adopted Israel? will also ?assist? true Israel in the building of New Jerusalem in preparation for the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.? Adopted Israelites were authorized ?to lay the foundation to gather true Israel and to lay ground work for the building of New Jerusalem and second coming of Christ and making preparations to make a smooth transition in giving leadership of church and gospel back to True Israel so that they can fulfill their priesthood assignment of blessing the whole world with the gospel.? Lee then grew bolder in his accusations:

You have set yourself up as a literal seed of Israel when the Lord Jesus designated you as Gentiles or ?adopted Israel.? You have set yourself up as true seed of Ephraim thereby displacing the true seed of Israel.

You have shoved true Israel out of his own home or house and have given great importance and status to your own role as Ephraim while at the same time diminishing the role of true Israel. This has resulted in great confusion, misinterpretations, and misunderstandings of the scriptures as they relate to Gentiles and Israel.

. . . . It is getting to the point where every Gentile that is baptized is told and taught that he is literal seed of Ephraim unless he is a Jew, Indian, or Black. This type of teaching encourages an attitude of superior race, white supremacy, racist attitude, pride, arrogance, love of power, and no sense of obligation to the poor, needy and afflicted.[7]

The controversy surrounding Lee?s interpretation of 3 Nephi 21:22-23 provides a fascinating window into the changing reception history of the Book of Mormon as a text. In many ways, Lee represented a way of reading the Book of Mormon that had been out of favor for nearly a century by the time he was called as a General Authority. And his ideas, expressed so stridently, did not find a receptive audience. Lee was ultimately excommunicated. Because the church, understandably, prefers to keep records of disciplinary actions private, we are left to wonder how much Lee?s interpretations of 3 Nephi 21 and his open challenge to the General Authorities played a role in cutting him off from the church. In 1994, it was revealed that Lee had pleaded guilty to attempted child abuse, a crime that had apparently occurred prior to his excommunication.[8] This, of course, seriously complicates any discussion of Lee?s ideas and actions, but please keep comments focused on the controversy surrounding Lee?s interpretation of 3 Nephi 21:22-23 and the broader history of those verses? reception among Latter-day Saints.


[1] Armand L. Mauss, All Abraham?s Children: Changing Mormon Conceptions of Race and Lineage (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2003), ch. 4; Ezra Taft Benson, ?The Book of Mormon?Keystone of Our Religion,? Ensign, October 1986; Noel B. Reynolds, ?The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon in the Twentieth Century,? BYU Studies 38, no. 2 (1999): 7-47.

[2] Orson Pratt, “Redemption of Zion,” Journal of Discourses, 17:301.

[3] Mauss, All Abraham?s Children, ch. 2.

[4] Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1985), 519.

[5] Mauss, All Abraham?s Children, 124.

[6] Spencer W. Kimball, ?The Work Among the Lamanites,? Conference Report, October 1950, 63-69; Kimball, ?The Evil of Intolerance,? Conference Report, April 1954, 103-108; Kimball, ?To You . . . Our Kinsmen,? Conference Report, October 1959, 57-62. The Woodruff sermon that Kimball quoted in 1950 was Wilford Woodruff, “The Signs of the Coming of the Son of Man,” January 12, 1873, Journal of Discourses, 15:282.

[7] ?The Lee Letters,? Sunstone, August 1989, 50-55.

[8] Edward L. Kimball, Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2005), 255n6.



Article filed under Biography Categories of Periodization: Modern Mormonism Categories of Periodization: Origins Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period Race Theology


  1. Wow. Fascinating post, David. I’m not familiar with the saga of GPL beyond the broadest narrative, and wasn’t aware of his invocation of the passages from 3 Nephi in his disciplinary council letter. This somehow makes his story even more tragic in my mind.

    Comment by Christopher — August 27, 2013 @ 7:33 am

  2. Wow. George P. Lee’s pitiable situation is certainly made more pitiable with his understanding of 3 Nephi. Sobering post that hopefully sparks further research into his culture and legacy.

    Comment by J Stuart — August 27, 2013 @ 7:49 am

  3. Excellent work David. “Whiffs of nonsense.” I’m going to have to remember that one.

    Comment by SC Taysom — August 27, 2013 @ 8:31 am

  4. Fantastic, David. And so very helpful.

    Comment by Max — August 27, 2013 @ 8:55 am

  5. Interesting stuff, did this lead to a lot of Native Americans leaving the church? (Both the changes in the church, and his excommunication)

    Comment by seth — August 27, 2013 @ 9:18 am

  6. David,

    This is a fascinating portrait of the malleability of scripture and the stakes involved therein. Lee is such a tragic figure in many ways.

    Comment by Joel — August 27, 2013 @ 9:23 am

  7. Thanks, David. The Lee controversy/excommunication was a fairly devastating train wreck to watch happen. What may have seemed like an over-reaction became considerably more nuanced in the wake of subsequent developments. The taint of sex abuse has tended to discourage further investigation. Maybe it’s time for a fresh reconsideration?

    Comment by Gary Bergera — August 27, 2013 @ 10:13 am

  8. Fascinating! I knew only vaguely about Elder Lee’s philosophical and pragmatic concerns about how Native Americans were viewed and treated. I had no idea about the particularity of this doctrinal scrum about who gets to build a New Jerusalem.

    By the way, I hope I’m not being impertinent, but where did you get the quotes by Elder Lee? (I didn’t see corresponding citations in the notes.)

    Comment by Hunter — August 27, 2013 @ 10:39 am

  9. Thanks, all. The Lee Letters (cited, Hunter, in note 7; I’ve added a link to them) contain a lot of interesting tidbits in terms of his interpretation of the Book of Mormon. I chose to focus primarily on his views of the New Jerusalem and “remnant of Jacob”/Gentile identities so as not to make this post too long, but more analysis needs to be done on the letters.

    seth, I’m not sure that we (meanings scholars) have a good handle on the fallout over the changes and Lee’s excommunication among Mormons in Native communities. I think there’s defitinely an MA thesis waiting to be written on Lee both as an individual and as a symbol among Native peoples. This would require training in ethnographic research methods and a willingness to spend hours conducting oral interviews, but I hope someone takes up the challenge.

    Comment by David G. — August 27, 2013 @ 10:50 am

  10. The Wilford Woodruff talk which you mentioned i think needs to be shared a little more, it states:

    “I am looking for the fulfillment of allthings that the Lord has spoken, and they will come to pass as the Lord God lives. Zion is bound to rise and flourish. The Lamanites will blossom as the rose on the mountains. I am willing to say here that, though i believe this, when i see the power of the nation destroying them from the face of the earth, and fulfillment of that prophecy is perhaps harder for me as though there would not be enough left to receive the Gospel; but notwithstanding this dark picture, every word that God has ever said of them will have its fulfillment, and they, by and by, will receive the Gospel. It will be a day of God?s power among them, and a nation will be born in a day. Their chiefs will be filled with the power of God and receive the Gospel, and they will go forth and build the new Jerusalem, and we shall help them. They are branches of the house of Israel, and when the fullness of the Gentiles has come in and the work ceases among them, then it will go in power to the seed of Abraham.” (J.D. Vol. XV, p. 282)

    George P. Lee argued that ?You are slowly causing a?spiritual slaughter? promoting ?white supremacy? (The Provo Daily Herald, 3 Spe 1989). This idea of the Church being racists is not new especially considering that when he became part of the Seventy; the Church was following the ?One-drop rule? in considering if they should allow someone to obtain the priesthood. He also stated that ?Church leaders have set themselves up as interpreters of the gospel, rather than its followers? (Salt Lake Tribune, 2 Sep 1989). In his 23 page letter Lee goes on to say,

    ?You have set yourself up as a literal seed of Israel when the Lord Jesus designated you as Gentiles or ?adopted Israel? You have set yourself up as [the] seed of Ephraim thereby displacing the true seed of Israel[.]”

    “You have shoved true Israel out of his own home or house and have given great importance and status to your own role as Ephraim… Gentiles or “adopted Israel” have set themselves up as true Ephraimites with little or no obligation or sense of responsibility to the Lamanites and other true seed of Israel. This kind of teaching runs counter to the instructions of the Lord Jesus and collides with the will of God. I cannot be a party to this type of policy or doctrine. It is not God’s but man-inspired[.] It is getting to the point where every Gentile that is baptized is told and taught that he is literal seed of Ephraim unless he is a Jew, Indian or Black. This type of teaching encourages an attitude of superior race… I cannot be a party to false teaching, teachings which are man-inspired…. You have come very close to denying that the Book of Mormon is about Lamanites. You have cut out Indian or Lamanite programs and are attempting to cut them out of the Book of Mormon” (Letter to the First Presidency and the Twelve, by George P. Lee, 1989, pp. 13-16.)

    In Doctrine and Covenants 57: 4 ?Where, it is wisdom that the land should be purchased by the saints, and also every tract lying westward, even unto the line running between Jew and Gentile.? By metonymy ?Jew? refers to Lamanites, being called such because they are direct descendants of the house of Israel. But you also have D&C 109:60 which states ?Now these words, O Lord, we have spoken before thee, concerning the revelations and commandments which thou hast given unto us, who are indentified with the Gentiles? [footnote for ?Gentile refers people to 1 Nephi 13:4 and 1 Nephi 15:13]. So you have this early mentality of Joseph Smith as identifying as a ?gentile.? Is this why the Gentile Saints failed in building Zion? Zion is supposed to be built according to 3 Nephi 16:8-15; 3 Nephi 20:13-16, 21-22; 3 Nephi 21:13-24. But most would argue that this is why the Church members are ?adopted? into the House of Israel. I think this use of ?adoption? is something that could be looked into more.

    Your comments from Bruce R. McConkie i think come from his work from editing Joseph Fielding Smith?s work. In 1955, Smith stated,

    ?my attention has been called to statements in the Book of Mormon which some interpret to mean that the Lamanites will take the lead in building the temple and the New Jerusalem in Missouri. But i fail to find any single passage which indicates that this is to be the order of things when these great events are to be fulfilled.”

    “Most of the passages used as evidence, in an attempt to prove the Lamanite will take the lead and we are to follow, seem to come from the instruction given by our Lord when he visited the Nephites after his resurrection. But i fail to find any of the words delivered by our savior any declaration out of which this conclusion can be reached. It all comes about by a misunderstanding and an improper interpretation.?

    He goes on to argue that the Lord was speaking to Jacob [Israel] and not only does that include the Lamanites, but Ephraimites. Joseph Fielding Smith argues that ?much of our misunderstanding? comes from the ?interpretation placed upon? 3 Nephi 20:12-18. Stating that this does not apply ?merely to the Lamanites…? but ?in my judgement, narrows it too greatly. Then again, this prophecy was also given to Micah [Micah 5:4-15; 3 Nephi 21:12-20] and his reference to ?many people,? not merely to the gentiles on this land.? In addition to this, when talking about 3 Nephi 21:20-24, Smith contends that

    ?i think this is the stumbling block. This has been interpreted to mean that the remnant of Jacob are those of the descendant of Lehi, but there is nothing in the passage as i read it which should convey this thought. Remember that all through the Lord has been speaking of the remnant of Jacob or Israel, and of the great promises made to the gentiles who are on this land and in all other lands, if they will only come into the Church and be numbered with the house of Israel.?

    And it just so happens that Smith argues that

    ?i take it we, the members of the Church, most of us of the tribe of Ephraim, are of the remnant of Jacob. We know it to be the fact that the Lord called upon the descendants of Ephraim to commence his work in the earth in these last days. We know further that he has said that he set Ephraim, according to the promises of his birthright, at the head. Ephraim receives the ?richer blessings,? these blessings being those of presidency or direction. The keys are with Ephraim. It is Ephraim who is to be endowed with power to bless and give to the tribes of Jacob, including the Lamanites, their blessings. All the other tribes of Jacob, including the Lamanites, are to be crowned with glory in Zion by the hands of Ephraim…the building of the temple and the City of Zion, or New Jerusalem, will fall to the lot of the descendants of Joseph, but it is Ephraim who will stand at the head and direct the work.? (Sermons and Writings of Joseph Fielding Smith, Vol II, compiled by Bruce R. McConkie; also see Doctrines of Salvation pp. 247-251)

    I think Lee brought up some very poignant questions, what is the role of the ?Lamanite? in the modern Church?

    He also argued that the roles of Lamanites within the Church have been downplayed, is this true? Have Lamanites been written out of Church history with which he is arguing?

    He also argues of the pitfalls of teaching solely that Lamanites are evil in the Book of Mormon, so what do people learn at church about Lamanites?

    Lee states in his 23 page letter:

    “While physical extermination may have been one of Federal government’s policies long ago but your current scriptural and spiritual extermination of Indians and other Lamanites is the greater sin and great shall be your condemnation for this.”

    “You are still harboring hostility and ill feelings towards Indians and other Lamanites even after the Lord’s commandments to gather them and be nursing fathers and mothers to them. In short, you betraying and turning your backs on the very people on whom your own salvation hangs. I cannot be a party to this kind of teaching which runs counter to the Lord’s instructions in the scriptures.”

    This makes me wonder how much ideology was influenced by things like American Indian Movement and Brown Pride.

    Comment by Mr. Smallcanyon — August 27, 2013 @ 5:22 pm

  11. I think that George P. Lee would not have been excommunicated if his interpretation of 3 Nephi 21 were the sole reason for a disciplinary council. I believe there may have been other reasons. Regarding his interpretation, however, he does have a strong basis for his belief. The Book of Mormon makes the distinction very clear on that point between what is the house of Israel and the Gentiles. Perhaps the most clear, however, is the prayer Joseph Smith made during the dedication of the Kirtland Temple. Section 109:60 which states “Now these words, O Lord, we have spoken before thee, concerning the revelations and commandments which thou hast given unto us, who are identified with the Gentiles” clearly makes that distinction with later verses identifying who is the House of Israel. At what point in our history did we assume we were direct descendants of the House of Israel certainly would be a point of contention. Bruce R. McConkie was known to make statements in his Mormon Doctrine that we currently disavow at this time. Even in his lifetime, Brother McConkie disavowed some of his own previous statements he made regarding blacks and the Priesthood. I believe that we should be open to what the scriptures teach us and not to make assumptions based on some conjecture that a church leader gives to us. We do not have an infallibility doctrine in the Church and we should be careful regarding interpretations given by others, no matter how high in authority they may be.

    Comment by Charles D. Coleman — August 27, 2013 @ 5:41 pm

  12. Though fairly short lived, I think Mark Ashurst-McGee’s provocative readings of the Book of Mormon and the early revelations in his dissy provide and interesting comparative counterpoint to this.

    Thanks for the really interesting post, David.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 27, 2013 @ 7:07 pm

  13. Fascinating, David!

    I had never made the connection between McConkie’s “whiff of nonsense” (double entendre intended) and George P. Lee.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Comment by stan — August 27, 2013 @ 8:14 pm

  14. This is quite a big discussion to open up. I recently was editing a chapter of the book manuscript on Mormon Navajos that Jessie Embry and I are working on that focuses on Kimball and Lee. Hope that it can get published ASAP but alas getting published is slow! I go on about the research and thoughts that we have considered and discussed. Rather, I will take this informal discussion to share some thoughts and responses off the top of my mind.

    I grew up knowing about Lee as a Navajo who lived on the reservation during the 1980s and 1990s. A close family friend left the Church to follow Lee for sometime but later came back and now serves as the Stake President of the Chinle Stake. My father also personally knew Lee though not as well as others I know. I would upload a picture here of my dad receiving a statue from Lee (of a Native American and Kimball holding the Book of Mormon) that Kimball gave to people in gratitude for contributing to the “Lamanite Cause” if this system allowed me.

    I was an interviewer for the LDS Native American Oral History Project and there are other interviews from the 1990s in the project that show how Navajos and other LDS Native Americans reacted to Lee’s rupture with the Church. Some stories and personal accounts are also shared in books like the Shumway’s The Blossoming.

    Basically from these experiences of learning and understanding how Lee affected the LDS Native American community (which there are several actually) has changed over time and is a revealing point of discussion that many LDS Natives see as a test of faith and how they understand the gospel and as a challenge to their communities. I certainly believe that this is a fruitful though difficult study to pursue but needed.

    As an employee for the Church History Department once asked me about how Native Americans in a certain community of Arizona (I cannot remember the actual tribe right now but it was not Navajo) quickly knew and discussed the excommunication of Lee, Lee’s relationship with the Church resonated among various Native American groups. He later ran for political office on the reservation (after his excommunication), indicating his impact on non-Mormon Navajos as well.

    One Navajo Mormon told me, “I think Lee was ahead of his time” recently in a discussion about Navajo Mormons, although in another instance in church the same person mentioned how Lee represented a “false prophet.” Lee stirs mixed feelings and complications for many LDS Natives. In several of my interviews, people praised Lee for his service in the church and his example in their lives but they could not continue to talk about his fall out with the church. Rather, they remember him as a general authority, mission president, or church leader, etc. They guard those fond memories.

    My parents were in a special meeting with Lee where he spoke in the chapel room of the temple, and they told me about how he made the audience uncomfortable with his discussion about the evils of white society and the blessed role of Native Americans in the church. Lee also tried to contact my father after his excommunication when he was actively seeking a following. There are many stories and experiences- interpretations- out there and I hope that my upcoming project with Embry will help to start more of these conversations and further investigations/findings. The history is complicated and has much to reveal. However, it is a very sensitive topic to this day as people vividly remember living this recent past and knowing Lee, the man, educator, and leader.

    Comment by Farina King — August 27, 2013 @ 8:32 pm

  15. Seth and David:
    There is a large cache of interviews of LDS Indians (Natives)in the custody of Jessie Embry, who still heads (I think) the oral history program at the Redd Center, BYU. I haven’t looked at these transcripts for a long time, but most of the interviews were done around the time of the Lee troubles, and, as I recall, Lee and his situation were mentioned fairly often, usually spontaneously. These might be worth a look if you are interested.
    My assessment of the Lee tragedy is that he was both created and destroyed by SWK’s campaign to redeem the Lamanites (student placement program, BYU scholarships, etc., etc.). Lee began as the poster child for that campaign and ended as the stepchild no one wanted. Sic transit another well-intended program by the great white father (whether in SLC or Wash. DC) to redeem our brothers of color in our way, not theirs!

    Comment by Armand L. Mauss — August 27, 2013 @ 11:13 pm

  16. I wonder how the DNA information we now have regarding Native Americans (primarily Asian descent) and Lamanites would have affected the discussion if it were available at the time George P Lee was teaching his interpretation of the rise of the Lamanites. As it is, Lee may not have been an actual descendant of Israel, either. Rather, he may have been a cultural Lamanite, just as Mormons are cultural Israelites today (adopted by revelation into a tribe).

    Comment by Rameumptom — August 28, 2013 @ 7:01 am

  17. Mr. Smallcanyon: Thanks for the additional sources. I’m especially intrigued by the Joseph Fielding Smith excerpts–I think you’re definitely correct that McConkie’s thinking was influenced by his father-in-law. And it would be interested to see how Lee was influenced by Native activism in the ’60s and ’70s.

    Thanks, Stan and Charles.

    Stapley: Indeed, Mark’s dissertation is groundbreaking and needs greater circulation. I was remiss not to cite it. He is getting some good articles out, which is great, and I hope that he’ll be able to publish the entire thing at some point.

    Farina: Thanks for stopping by and providing some teasers about your Navajo project. I’m very glad to hear that your interviews included questions on Kimball and Lee. With the other interview collection mentioned by Armand at BYU, I think it would be possible to begin formulating some hypotheses about how Native members reacted to 1) the dismantling of the “Lamanite programs” and 2) Lee’s excommunication. And your point that this remains a living and painful memory for many members is well taken and calls for extreme care here.

    Armand, thanks for your comments and your pathbreaking work in these areas. The above post could not have been written without All Abraham’s Children.

    Rameumpton: Indeed, DNA has created a great deal of ambiguity in an already ambiguous field.

    Comment by David G. — August 28, 2013 @ 9:41 am

  18. Rameumpton and David G.: Some LDS Native Americans still believe that they are the descendants of Lamanites today even after the DNA information. They say about the DNA arguments, “It is theory. And nothing is really proven.” So, it not disproved that they are Lamanites and they guard that faith. So, I think that it would not change too much what happened in the past with that perspective in mind.

    Comment by Farina — August 28, 2013 @ 11:41 am

  19. Dr. Mauss: I understand your assessment of the “Lee tragedy” and thank you for participating in this discussion and sharing but must assert that other LDS Native Americans faced similar challenges when the Church changed directions in its “Lamanite Cause” and they did not see the programs as another failed project of the “great white father.” They remained faithful in the LDS Church, even when Lee offered them another alternative with his excommunication and efforts to start his own religious following using the Book of Mormon. I would acknowledge the people who may have seen paternalism/maternalism, prejudice, discrimination, and even racism within the membership of the Church but recognized the authority of the LDS Presidents and Prophets and followed them instead of Lee or others who would tell them to do otherwise.

    Comment by Farina — August 28, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

  20. Farina, Armand, thanks for the additional information. This is an interesting bit of church history I’ve heard very little about.
    As far as the DNA question, it reminds me of a brazilian mission companion I had, he was very proud of being a lamanite, and I don’t think anything would have changed that for him.

    Comment by seth — August 28, 2013 @ 1:19 pm

  21. The debate over DNA and origin stories reminds me a bit of the attempt to discredit some of the beliefs of Native Americans about how various Indian nations came to be. There are politics involved in claiming to be brought from the land and to be indigenous to it or in inserting that a group came from elsewhere and that their origin story is false. This is highlighted for me by the occasional insistence by a student that the theory that Native Americans came to the Americas via a land bridge means that they are immigrants too.

    Comment by Amanda HK — August 28, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

  22. It would be interesting to know if Lee also believed/used the 19th century interpretation of 2 Néfi 3:24 as refering to a “Lamanite prophet”. Spencer W. Kimball quoted the scripture in a 1947 General Conference talk titled “The Lamanites”.In the present English edition of the BoM, there is a footnote refering to “TG Joseph Smith”.

    Comment by Antônio Trevisan Teixeira — August 28, 2013 @ 2:17 pm

  23. Thanks, Farina, for again adding to the discussion by addressing the diversity of Indian Mormons on the DNA issue. Amanda, that’s a fruitful comparison.

    Great question, Antonio. Certainly worth looking into. I wrote a post a few years ago that dealt with the “Lamanite Prophet”: http://www.juvenileinstructor.org/early-mormon-lamanism-forgotten-apocalyptic-visions-and-the-indian-prophet/

    Comment by David G. — August 28, 2013 @ 2:24 pm

  24. Farina (#19) :

    I appreciate your constructive and faith-promoting comments about the faithfulness of many of the “Lamanite” Saints in your experience, and I meant no slights to any of them or to your assessment. I’m sure you have been closer to all things Lamanite than I have ever been. However, my assessment is based upon the information I reported in the three chapters of my book (All Abraham’s Children) that review the Church’s relationships with the Native peoples during the 19th and 20th centuries. I don’t know if you have read and considered those chapters (including the documentation I provided with them), but if and when you do, I’d be interested in your response.
    There can be no doubt that the “Lamanite” programs from the 1950s onward were a great blessing to many like Brother Lee, but those programs did not succeed in changing the behavior and aspirations of enough Lamanite youth to satisfy most of the apostles. That was, in effect, what Elder Packer said in 1979 when he announced the redirection of the Church focus from the Lamanites in North America to those in Latin America — even while President Kimball was still alive (though not still vigorous). With the arrival of the 21st century, the situation might well have changed, at least among the Lamanite Saints of your acquaintance. If so, I can only rejoice.

    Comment by Armand L. Mauss — August 28, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

  25. Well before Lee?s excommunication, Euro-American and Native American members were becoming uncomfortable with Lee?s demeanor and choice of topics when speaking in front of other congregational members. I know you asked earlier to keep Lee?s problems out of the issue when discussing his interpretation of 3 Nephi, I think the two go hand in hand.

    Farina: In 1994 six candidates were running for the Navajo Nation presidency, ?excommunicated Mormon Church leader George P. Lee must survive a criminal trial over child molestation charges to stay on the ballot.? (High Country News, June 13, 1994), this was a complete failure and Peterson Zah ended up winning. If I remember right my mom voted for Zah, LOL?

    The Blossoming I (2006) and II (2007), by Dale and Margene Shumway are more about Natives on the LDS Indian Student Placement Program (or ?Indian Student Placement Service? for the faithful LDS). Shumway was a caseworker for the Program for quite a while and is more of a faithful interpretation of the Program. Probably one of the more outspoken followers of Lee?s can be found in The Blossoming I, who left the Church, but eventually became disillusioned with Lee and returned to the Church. Their kids never wanted to talk about their experiences with this whole thing.

    A number of LDS Natives left the Church with Lee becoming ?Prophet? of his sect, even though he stated he ?had no intention of recruiting his own following and discouraged disillusioned church members from leaving the faith (?Mormons try to Blunt Ouster: Exit of American Indian Official Raises Questions? Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, 16 Sep 1989). The interesting thing is that after the excommunication the Church sent officials to check the status of Navajo LDS members on the Navajo reservation. For some of the Native LDS members, ?Lee?s abrupt departure is seen by many Navajo Mormons as a validation of his claim that the church leadership under President Ezra Taft Benson is quietly moving to dislodge Indian members from their heritage? (?Mormons try to Blunt Ouster?). The funny thing is that President Benson wasn?t a fan of U.S. Civil Rights which was no secret (a small glimpse of that could be seen in his pamphlet ?Civil Rights: Tool of Communist Deception,? which he wrote while a member of the Quorum of the Twelve in 1969). An interesting thing is that when speaking to the Navajo congregations, Elder H. Burke Peterson (First Quorum of the Seventy) contented that ?those who are being baptized into the church, their blood physically changes to that of the House of Israel? (?Mormons try to Blunt Ouster?).

    Armand L. Mauss: The LDS Native American Oral History Project?s original interviews from the 90?s were part of BYU?s Charles Redd Center for Western Studies? which is now in the ?custody? of BYU?s special collection library. I think the newer oral histories that Farnia took part in are with the Redd Center, I could be wrong about that?

    I think you are right, Natives weren?t turning ?white and delightsome,? which caused some concern, LOL. Mauss and Farina: most people that I have interviewed on behalf of the Redd Center and for other projects all fall under the same line, they all understand the duel nature of the Church?s Indian programs, they are all sadden by losing their Native culture in exchange for a Euro-American education. For those that consider themselves ?Faithful? members, they are grateful for being introduced to the Church, but there is a wide spectrum of Native members that dealt with this in their own way (if I remember right Mauss talks about in his book). Farina: I thought you were too young to have grown up during Lee?s service in the Church and definitely far removed physically to know what was going on with Lee?
    I think that the whole self identifying oneself as ?Lamanite? is more of a generational thing and younger generation Anglo-American LDS Members do not know about George P. Lee or about Larry Echo Hawk, which is a whole other issue and if the current or past generation of Native LDS members relate to Echo Hawk or not (and I believe it was discussed a little here on JI? I am too lazy to look it up).

    Comment by Mr. Smallcanyon — August 28, 2013 @ 6:30 pm

  26. I receive knowledge and information about the time from my parents, family, and friends who were a part of the Kimball Era generation. I also have kept in touch and befriended children (the younger generation) of these people as well that I have interviewed and informed me.

    Comment by Farina — August 29, 2013 @ 11:56 am

  27. I can add a couple few anecdotes. I cannot remember George Lee’s Indian name. He took the name George for his white name from my great grandfather George Bloomfield. George and Lucy Bloomfield were traders in Toadlena, New Mexico, and served many years in “Lamanite” missions. My extended family was very proud to have this connection to Elder Lee. I lived down in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but my father’s family mostly lived in the four corners region, and we spent a lot of time up there. My father helped his mother (George and Lucy’s daughter) work their ranch on the La Plata and he also carried on the family tradition of trading in Inidan arts and crafts. So we also spent a lot of time driving around the res visiting trading posts. I remember as a youth hearing Elder Lee speak in stake conference in the Eubank meetinghouse in Albuquerque. I thought he was very impressive and I remember feeling proud to have a connection to him. When things began to go South with Elder Lee, it definitely made a stir–not just in my family but with Mormons living in and around Navajo country. I also remember a Mormon friend of mine saying that Elder Lee had spoken in his stake and made comments about white treatment of Indians that made him feel uncomfortable and that were not in harmony with the gospel as he understood it (can’t remember the exact words he used – but something to this effect).

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — August 29, 2013 @ 5:21 pm

  28. Thanks David. Very interesting. GPL came to our stake conf. just prior to his public difficulties. It was an interesting experience. He was clearly troubled about church direction at the time.

    Comment by WVS — August 31, 2013 @ 4:31 pm


Recent Comments

Daniel Stone on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “Thanks much for posting this, Joey!”

Mel Johnson on JWHA CFP 2020 (St.: “This JWHA will be outstanding, maybe the best ever. I encourage all Restoration historians and cultural studies people to attend along with their friends. The setting at…”

Gary Bergera on George F. Richards' journals: “I remember reading through the microfilms of the Richards's journals in the mid- to late-1970s. Nothing was redacted. They were amazing.”

Jeff T on George F. Richards' journals: “Thanks, Stapley!”

Hannah Jung on George F. Richards' journals: “That is exciting! I had no idea this was in the works! Any idea when the plan is to release the next twenty years of…”

Ben S on CFP at BYU Studies:: “Some clarifying comments here. https://benspackman.com/2019/10/23/byu-studies-evolution-and-faith-some-clarification/”