JWHA Journal 27 (2007) — Part I

By January 7, 2008

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As mentioned elsewhere, the latest volume of The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal has a number of quality articles examining interesting issues dealing with various expressions of the Latter Day Saint movement.  Although The JWHA Journal has, over the years, consistently published relevant and interesting articles (back issues can be ordered here), John Hamer deserves some recognition for his recent efforts to expand JWHA’s relevance and reach to the larger intellectual LDS community.  Volume 27 (2007) of The JWHA Journal is evidence of the success of his efforts.  Because of the number of articles included in the volume (12), I will conduct the review in two parts.  The review provided here is intended to be neither comprehensive nor thorough.  Though all articles included in the volume will be mentioned here, those that receive the most attention are admittedly those that reflect my personal interest (and what I assume is of particular interest to most JI readers). 

PAPERS

1. Newell G. Bringhurst, “Joseph Smith’s Ambiguous Legacy: Gender, Race, and Ethnicity as Dynamics for Schism within Mormonism after 1844.”

This published version of Bringhurst’s 2006 JWHA Presidential Address draws on a wide range of secondary work, combined with interesting insights from primary source material, to detail how six different Latter Day Saint schisms dealt with the complex issues of gender, race, and ethnicity in creating and negotiating their identities as the true successor of Joseph Smith’s movement following his death in 1844.  The six groups discussed include the Brighamites (Utah Mormons), William McCrary’s (the half black/half Indian “Lamanite prophet” who apparently proclaimed himself Jesus Christ and worked miracles with a golden rod) short-lived communities, Lyman Wight’s Texas Saints, the Cutlerites, the Strangites, and three Churches who trace(d) their post-martyrdom roots to Sidney Rigdon.  Focusing on women, Blacks, and American Indians (and the related topics of slavery, polygamy, and priesthood), Bringhurst argues that “Joseph Smith’s practices and policies involving the status of women as well as African Americans represent an ambiguous legacy.  That is, within the context of change, they appeared equivocal, at times enigmatic, and, most important, susceptible to differing interpretations by various would-be leaders seeking to succeed Smith and/or speak on his behalf” (p. 8).  He then traces the views of each of the above-mentioned groups regarding “the place of women, African Americans, and also Indians,” ultimately concluding that the groups responded in “differing, often contradictory ways, thus bringing focus to Joseph Smith’s ambiguous legacy” (p. 46).  Of particular interest to me was that, aside from the Brighamites in Utah, the other groups discussed were all relatively progressive and liberal in their official treatment of blacks and women.  Unfortunately, the author does not analyze the RLDS until a brief mention in the concluding paragraphs.  It seems that how the group now known as Community of Christ negotiated their identity in regard to these issues is perhaps more relevant than some of the other smaller groups he does discuss.  Nevertheless, Bringhurst’s article is excellent overall, and deserves careful reading by all students of Mormon history, especially those interested in issues of identity, race, and gender. 

49. W. Grant McMurray, “‘Something Lost, Something Gained’: Restoration History and Culture Seen from ‘Both Sides Now.'”

This short autobiographical account by the former Community of Christ President/Prophet details how his views regarding the mission and purpose of the Community of Christ (and the Restoration movement as a whole) have changed since his stepping down from his previous position as the leader of the group formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.  Not only has McMurray stepped down from the presiding quorums of the CofC, but for the past two years has largely remained “at the periphery of the church, not participating in weekly congregational life or other activities” (p. 50).  Taking a postmodern bent, McMurray asserts that “It’s time for us to grow up and recognize that truth is relative to experience and perception, and that our differences should be celebrated rather than demonized.”  Further, he argues that “appreciation for our history does not mean slavishly adhering to the past; it only means embracing it as something that informs and enriches us, personally and collectively” (p. 52).  He then tackles the issues of the Restoration, the Inspired Version, Joseph Smith and polygamythe Book of Mormon, and prophetic revelation. McMurray concludes by calling for Latter Day Saints to “set aside the petty things that divide us” and focus our collective energies instead on valuing diversity and pursuing peace throughout the world. Though I’m not sure that he intended for Utah Mormons to be included in his concluding clarion call, the suggestion seems relevant and important for Utah Mormons and Prarie Saints alike.

57. “Tributes to Valeen Tippetts Avery”

Barbara J. Bernauer, William D. Russell, Alma Blair, and Jan Shipps pay homage to the (co)author of Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith and From Mission to Madness: Last Son of the Mormon Prophet (a biography of David Hyrum Smith), who passed away in 2006.

75. Matthew Bowman, “Raising the Dead: Mormons, Evangelicals, and Miracles in America.”

This paper by Matt Bowman, PhD candidate at Georgetown University and bloggernacle veteran, won the Juanita Brooks Award for best paper written by a graduate student from the Mormon History Association in 2007.  After reading it, I understand why.  This is a fascinating study that looks at how Mormonism has addressed the tension between natural theology inherited from the Enlightenment and the emphasis on inspiration and the miraculous in evangelical religion from its antebellum American roots in the Second Great Awakening to its transformation in the twentieth century.  Along the way, the author compares Mormon attempts at addressing this tension with those of Evangelicals in 19th-century America as manifest in attempts to raise the dead.  Fascinating stuff. I highly recommend Bowman’s fine article. 

98.Gary C. Vitale, “Zenas Hovey Gurley, Jr. and His Fight against Polygamy and Mormon Zion.”

Zenas Hovey Gurley, Jr., an RLDS Apostle with Strangite heritage, was one of the two lobbyists from the Reorganized Church that pressed for the Edmunds Bill of 1882 to be made law.  The Edmunds Act proposed to abolish polygamy and disenfranchise any Mormons who continued to practice it.  Vitale argues that Gurley’s intentions were, in part, an effort to ensure that the United States government was aware of the difference between the RLDS and LDS churches.  This is an interesting piece on a lesser-known aspect of RLDS and LDS relations and the questions and problems “the Mormon Question” posed for the Utah Mormons’ estranged midwestern cousins.

111.  Susan Skoor, “Women’s Ministries in the Community of Christ: A Personal Reflection”

Susan Skoor, currently one of three women serving as a member of the Community of Christ’s Council of Twelve Apostles, offers her personal reflections on her initial call to the apostleship (an experience similar to those shared by LDS apostles regarding their surprise at the initial call and the following spiritual confirmation), as well as a short summary of the involvement of women in the RLDS/CofC ministry from 1984 (when Wallace B. Smith announced the change in policy) to the present time.  An interesting memoir that offers valuable insight into a topic many Latter-day Saints know little of.

Part II will follow in the coming days.


Comments

  1. Very nice review, Chris. I agree that Bringhurst’s article was engaging, and I was also very intrigued by McMurray’s piece. I can’t wait to read Part II, because there are several interesting things left, including Quinn’s review of RSR.

    Comment by Ben — January 7, 2008 @ 4:45 pm

  2. Thanks for the review, Chris. Looks like a loaded issue.

    Comment by David Grua — January 7, 2008 @ 5:07 pm

  3. Outstanding. Thank you for this review.

    Comment by Mark Brown — January 7, 2008 @ 8:59 pm

  4. […] Part II of the review examining the most recent issue of The John Whitmer Historical Association Journal.  Part I is available here. […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » JWHA Journal 27 (2007) — Part II — January 10, 2008 @ 9:51 pm

  5. I think that the reason Newell avoided talking about the RLDS experience with race and gender is that he initially was focused on the period immediately following the martyrdom 1844. However, I’ve suggested to him that this paper could easily be expanded into a book on race and gender compared in various strands of Mormonism.

    When you meet non-LDS Mormons and start to spend time with them, it doesn’t take long for you to realize that we are all related. My great great great great grandfather baptized the great grandfather of a friend of mine, and that friend’s grandfather went on to be one of Strang’s apostles on Beaver Island. That sort of thing is common.

    So pretty quickly you realize that we’re all cousins. Then when you listen to what they have to say, and how they look back and remember the story, you start to see it just a little differently. I believe that having these extra perspectives helps us get a much more complete picture than we otherwise would.

    Comment by John Hamer — January 11, 2008 @ 1:02 am

  6. So pretty quickly you realize that we’re all cousins. Then when you listen to what they have to say, and how they look back and remember the story, you start to see it just a little differently. I believe that having these extra perspectives helps us get a much more complete picture than we otherwise would.

    I agree with this. Too often Mormon historians treat the Restoration groups in isolation, tracing their respective histories without succeeding in writing inclusive narratives that treat the groups together. I think that one way to correct this is to focus on contact between the groups and how each group defined themselves against the others. An important component of such histories of contact would be to examine the politics of memory that have largely defined relations between the groups, as each seeks to establish the “correct” narrative of early Mormon roots and succession legitimacy. David Howlett’s work on the contested Kirtland Temple is a great example of what I’m talking about.

    Comment by David Grua — January 11, 2008 @ 1:59 am

  7. John (#5) and David (#6),

    I feel like that is one area that scholars of the Community of Christ (and other Midwestern Saints) are ahead of Utah Mormon scholars in–that is, looking at the Restoration movement as a whole instead of focusing on one of the postmartyrdom manifestations of JS’s movement.

    Comment by Christopher — January 11, 2008 @ 3:58 pm

  8. I think that part of that is due to our (Utah Mormon) inability (or at least handicap; it is possible, see Jensen, Robin) to see other groups as anything more than splinter or breakoff groups, which defines them in as less legitimate and therefore less worthy of study.

    Comment by David Grua — January 11, 2008 @ 4:03 pm


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