Notes on the 2008 Bushman Seminar (Part 2)

By July 30, 2008

Continued from Part 1.

Spencer Fluhman: (BYU Religion): ?A Subject Than Can Bear Investigation?: Anguish, Faith, and Nauvoo Plural Marriage

Probably the highlight of the conference, Fluhman gave a gripping paper on how to deal with Joseph Smith’s plural marriages to young brides–specifically focusing on Helen Mar Whitney. He felt that this was the most controversial marriage to deal with for two reasons: her young age (14), and her seemingly being “forced” into the marriage. Luckily, besides being the most controversial plural wife, Whitney is also the best documented because she wrote many reminiscences, speeches, and later journal entries exploring her complex feelings regarding the matter. First attacking the age issue, Fluhman explored the average ages for girls getting married during that time period. Noting that 17 or 18 usually marked the lower end of the marriage spectrum, he stated that 14, while uncommon, was not unheard of. Regarding relations between Joseph and Helen, she often focused on the spiritual and eternal side of the issue. She viewed it as a sacrifice she had to make in order to further eternal glories for both her and her father. Paraphrased, one of my favorite quotes of hers that Fluhman shared was, “It was to be a life sacrifice for the glory of everlasting salvation.” Fluhman argued that to them, earthly relations were almost beside the point.

The second issue, her being pressured into marriage (by her father, nonetheless), was more perplexing to Fluhman. While he expected to just have to deal with Joseph Smith, Fluhman explained that he kept running into the wall of Heber C. Kimball. Why would he be so determined to give away his fourteen year old daughter to a thirty-seven year old man? The answer to this question was an attempt to present a complex theological structure that was crucial to Joseph’s Nauvoo thought. Fluhman proposed that “binding links” was the most important concept in Joseph’s later thought: baptisms, endowments, and celestial marriages. Since they didn’t understand the idea of temple work for the dead beyond baptisms, and they yearned to connect families together somehow, Joseph developed a “dynastic” view of sealing: Mormons were to seal their families to other living families in order to create this firm binding link. In plural marriage, they were gathering up kin just as much as they were gathering up wives. This dynastic idea fits with Joseph’s theology because his language took quite a “royal” turn in Nauvoo, always speaking of a “kingdom” theology.” This also relates heavily to the idea of “adoption” that would become big shortly afterwards. Fluhman then noted that when the manifesto was given in 1890 ending plural marriage, and therefore ending this “dynastic” and “horizontal” sealing emphasis, the law of adoption fell away shortly afterwards, and the Genealogical Society was formed within three years.

Fluhman acknowledges that this idea does not cover all of Joseph’s plural marriages, but it does give an important insight on some. Also, he did not touch polyandry at all because John Peterson’s paper was supposed to do that. Since this summary doesn’t come near to doing justice to the paper, I recommend picking it up when it is published.

Stephen Fleming (grad student): ?Have Miracles Ceased?? Joseph Smith and the Power of God (it?s on magic)

Fleming’s main point was that the best way to approach the magic culture of Joseph’s day was to see them as individuals yearning to find the hand of God in their lives. We should focus on their intentions: they were seeking for miracles and Christ’s influence, so it is problematic to define “magic” and “Christianity” as two different things. Fleming recounted the history of “magic” culture in Christian thought, showing that Medieval Christians believed firmly in miracles and placed a high emphasis on magic in their lives. However, as the Protestants came along, specifically Martin Luther, they argued that what was in the Bible was enough so people didn’t need to seek after miracles. This, along with enlightenment thought, led to the downfall of seeking supernatural experiences, and set the groundwork for the skepticism toward the magic culture in American religious thought. I thought this presentation was important for CES teachers (again, the intended audience), because it gave them a good framework in which they could explain “magic” in understandable terms to their students.

Kerry Muhlstein (BYU Religion): ?Seeking Divine Interaction?: Joseph Smith and the Quest for the Supernatural (it?s also on magic)

Basically a companion piece to Fleming, Muhlstein explored specifically Joseph’s involvement with magic. He talked about the problems with the Hurlbutt Affidavids, statements concerning Hyrum’s Dagger, legends of Joseph originally understanding the angel Moroni as the treasure guardian “Captain Kid,” and the 1826 trial to show that these issues are difficult since all of them contain a complex combination of true and false statements. However, he argued, we have enough information concerning Joseph’s magic contemporaries coming from sympathetic sources that we should be able to have an idea of what it was like. Muhlstein argued that there are two things we need to remember when looking at Joseph’s activities: his family was poor, so Joseph was probably constantly thinking about ways of supporting them, and the idea that supernatural experiences were a common part of his culture, so magic was just one way to harness it. Muhlstein’s main focus was that the magic culture was a training ground for Joseph to learn how to harness his special gift from God (seership). The central lesson he had to learn was to use this power principally to build God’s kingdom rather than using it to bring in income for his family. Again, while this information is not really new to many of us, the way he presented it should be very helpful for LDS instructors to share with those seeking information on this “controversial” topic.

Robert J. Woodford (Church Curriculum): ?Joseph Smith?s Revelations: Reception, Recording, and Publication.?

Probably one of the most respected historians when it comes to the development of the Doctrine and Covenants, Woodford gave a brief rundown of the major issues concerning the receiving, recording, and specifically, editing of the early revelations. He explained how the editing process of the revelations can cause problems for those who view the revelatory process as a word-for-word experience. Instead, he proposed that we should teach it with the principle that “the scriptures did not so much come from Joseph Smith as they did through him,” emphasizing that the real revelation is the principle behind it rather than the words and phrases that try to express it. An important point he made was that the traditional narration of how Joseph received revelations, given by Parley P. Pratt, only gives insights on the initial reception and leaves out the next step of editing. Woodford then explained the various kinds of editing that took place, focusing on spelling/grammar, updating, and hiding certain portions. The only problem I had with his presentation was that when he spoke of “hiding” or “updating” revelations, he didn’t address any of the ones I feel most significant (adding Peter, James, and John to D&C 27, taking out Oliver Cowdery’s rod, etc.). While the principle behind Woodford’s presentation was appreciated, I wish he would have tackled more complicated examples. A good opportunity to attack important issues may have been missed here.


I think the main idea I needed to get through my head in order to enjoy these presentations was that people like me were not the target audience for them. After I realized that, I appreciated them a lot more from the point of “these are good ways in which to help those who are struggling with problems as a result of being exposed to controversial issues.” The solutions are not designed for academic of scholarly minds who know a lot about Church history already–they are designed for the average Mormon who, though not well acquainted with many of these issues, is really seeking the truth. They are true to history while still trying to be sympathetic to the doubter in an attempt to build faith (a tough combination). Yes, it was disappointing to me that I was not intellectually engaged like I was hoping to be, but I was satisfied that these presentations could be a good step for their intended cause: to provide LDS instructors and those who are losing faith a better way to deal with these tough issues. I salute those who were involved for this worthy endeavor.

Article filed under Conference/Presentation Reports


  1. My review is probably a little more “rose-colored” than others might give. But, what can I say, I’m a “rose-colored” type of guy 🙂

    Comment by Ben — July 30, 2008 @ 12:07 am

  2. Thanks for the thoughts, Ben.

    Comment by Jared T. — July 30, 2008 @ 12:09 am

  3. I found your conclusion interesting. On the other thread I directed a comment to Steve: “I think I am having a hard time grasping the heuristics at play here. What is it precisely that is so ?hard? about writing for this project? How is it different from simply writing excellent history? And further (and admittedly not knowing what your response will be) are these differences a good thing?” It seems like from what you are saying that the goal was to take good scholarship and distill it down into a simplified narrative, easily transmitted and consumed by the non-expert. Is that fair? Still not too sure what is so hard about it.

    It makes sense then that Fluhman is basically riffing off of Compton and Ehat (though extra kudos for the adoption tie-in, which I believe gets very limited play) and it appears that the magic presentations riff on Ashurst-McGee.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 30, 2008 @ 12:13 am

  4. J: I think your statement is fair at what I understand it was, though I could very easily be reading the whole thing wrong (hopefully someone from the seminar can come on and give some thoughts). It is at least the “seminar-as-interpreted-by-Ben.”

    I don’t know if it helps or not, but I find that whenever I write something that closely and purposefully involving the attempt to build and express faith, especially when it relates to something I find either precious or troubling, it is often harder than writing something where I can be somewhat detached. But maybe I am just weird.

    Comment by Ben — July 30, 2008 @ 12:38 am

  5. I’m curious how Fluhman’s analysis on Joseph’s motives differs from what the FLDS are claiming now. They seem to be the basically same and yet we do not accept the FLDS claims. Why should we accept that these work for Joseph? Isn’t there a way to ‘deal with Joseph Smith?s plural marriages’ without buying into arguments similar to those made by the FLDS?

    Comment by AppleK — July 30, 2008 @ 7:20 am

  6. Fluhman had a really energetic presentation style that also helped energize the audience.

    I shared the sentiment, expressed by some of the audience members, asking when this sort of information would be made available to beginning Mormon students of religion – such as MTC missionaries, or BYU freshmen. It would be nice if this kind of stuff could be adapted for such audiences and made available.

    Was irritated that I had to miss half of Woodford’s presentation. Caught the last bit though.

    Comment by Seth R. — July 30, 2008 @ 9:39 am

  7. Why would Heber C. Kimball give his 14 year old daughter to the Prophet? The same reason why Abraham was willing to give his son to God: because he was asked to. I think “test of faith” is explicitly recorded as the reason Joseph asked Heber to give him his wife Vilate. After Heber went through the spiritual anguish of giving Joseph his wife, giving his daughter was probably less difficult.

    I can’t stand the “Joseph was a pedophile rapist” talking point, but the argument “we can’t prove he had sex with her, our 21st century conception of the Prophet tells us he didn’t, therefore he didn’t” doesn’t seem like an effective defense. I think someone should do an analysis of contemporary Illinois marriage records. I suspect it will show that while 14 was becoming rarer, it was still considered marriageable age to contemporaries. It’s not statuatory rape if there was no statute, and it’s not underage marriage if 14 was marrying age in the 1840s.

    Comment by John Hamer — July 30, 2008 @ 11:20 am

  8. J. Let me try to explain and I’ll use Spencer’s paper as an example. First the task: write a paper on Joseph’s marriage to Helen Kimball that is open, accurate, empathetic and that can be published in the Religious Educator. There were a number of points in the process that we did not think that it was possible. Spencer’s first attempt was full of academic language that we all said would not make a lot of sence to our audience. Spencer kept say, “This is really hard, I’ve never really written for a Mormon audience before.”

    More that just the specialized language, in academia we have what I would call “agnostic space.” We are able to focuss on what the participants themselves believed and don’t have to weigh in on “what is really going on.” But when we write for a church audience, we no longer that that “agnostic space.” We need to try to explain how we make sence of all the information as believers. And we all found that harder than we supposed.

    Let me give you another example of this agnostic space. In conversations with Mark Ashurst-McGee (a very good friend that I often stay with when I’m in town) I had him ask me, “but what did Joseph Smith really see when he looked at the rock while treasure digging.” This is intersting because Mark knows as much or more about this topic academically than anyone. A few weeks later, Mark and I had lunch with my brother and his friend who had read Rough Stone Rolling and wanted to know more about the seer stone. So my brother asked Mark,”So what did Joseph really see when he looked at the rock while treasure digging?” Mark’s response was, “as a scholar I don’t have to answer that question.” [forgive me if I got the details wrong, Mark, but that’s how I remember it].

    That’s what I mean by agnostic space. We don’t have to answer the big questions about the supernatural or what philosophers refer to a “Big T Truth” (as opposed to “little t truth.” But Mormon audiences (or any confession of faith) want to know “what really happened.” We all have private oppinions about things; putting them in writing is hard.

    I had the same attitude that you expressed before I tried to write my article on Methodism for the Religious Educator. I just wanted to explain that Mormonism was heavily influenced by Methodism but that was okay considering all the nice things early Mormons said about John Wesley and the Methodists. But finding the right way to put it was a real challenge and took a very long time. I was suprized. Again, the academic side of this is out in Church History, but yes, I found that easier than writing for a Mormon audience.

    J. you ought to give it a try and see what you think about the process. If you find that process not difficult (I mean a hard topic like polygamy or something), then you would indeed possess a special talent.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 30, 2008 @ 11:21 am

  9. John, Spencer treated all the the issues you hoped for masterfully (he didn’t say “we know they didn’t have sex,” he said, “we don’t know.”) Further proof to me of what a masterpiece Spencer’s paper was.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 30, 2008 @ 11:25 am

  10. Steve: Ok, good. If he’s saying they may have and they may not have, and his conclusion is the preponderance of the evidence suggests not, that’s great.

    I still think someone should do the analysis of contemporary marriage records so that there is good data to silence the harsh labels I cited above.

    Comment by John Hamer — July 30, 2008 @ 11:31 am

  11. John: like Steve said, Fluhman did touch on those issues (he specifically spoke of the Abrahamic sacrafice at some length), I just did a lousy job trying to convey what he said :).

    All important points, though, and thanks for bringing them up.

    Comment by Ben — July 30, 2008 @ 11:36 am

  12. Steve, I really appreciate your response. It is very helpful. I’ll have to think about the merits of this approach for a bit. But my initial reaction is why does a Mormon audience need to know “what really happened”? Isn’t it enough to know what he believed he saw, for example? Now I am very sympathetic with the desire to explain things (as one with a scientific training) and the desire to create cohesive narratives; however, it seems like once we stray from the scholarship we are simply making stuff up. Which is fine as well. We all do this internally. But in a case where we are dealing with peoples’ real faith crises or faith development, I think the best we can do is say: “Here is the evidenced based narratives and if you want more, it is all conjecture, but people have thought x, y, and z or modern Church leaders have said a, b, and c.”

    I haven’t yet read your Religious Educator articles, which I plan on doing. I thought your 2007 paper in Religion and American Culture was one of the two finest Mormon articles of last year, so I am excited to see your work. That being said, perhaps I simply don’t understand the constraints of writing for that audience. I wouldn’t know what to write differently. For example, I just finished an article with Kris on the development of Mormon healing to 1847 and we are currently working on a history of female ritual healing from 1848 on. I understand that this has been a controversial topic in the past (and also politicized and poorly understood), but I wouldn’t know what to say differently to CES than to academics. I’m interested in your challenge and would love to write something for the Religious Educator on the topic, but what would I have to do actually to change the writing?

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 30, 2008 @ 11:46 am

  13. Also Ben, after rereading the notes, I didn’t want to engage specific issues I found with them, because I realized that they were summaries, and it would be only fair to read the full papers. Still, I am curious about your note in Fluhman’s summary that “Since they didn?t understand the idea of temple work for the dead beyond baptisms, and they yearned to connect families together somehow, Joseph developed a ‘dynastic’ view of sealing.” Did he address that fact that JS did indeed preach proxy temple work for the entire temple liturgy?

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 30, 2008 @ 11:52 am

  14. # 7

    I think that was a weakness in Spencer’s paper that his apologetic was framed around trying to be persuasive that Joseph didn’t have sexual relations with Helen. While I think he is likely correct that really doesn’t address the other incidences of plural marriage to young teens.

    >I still think someone should do the analysis of contemporary marriage records so that there is good data to silence the harsh labels I cited

    I actually have done alot of statistical analysis of contemporary marriage records with a collaborator Greg Smith. See for example see his draft chapter at .

    Comment by Keller — July 30, 2008 @ 12:11 pm

  15. Thanks Ben. J’s point #13 “it would be only fair to read the full papers” is very wise. My only complaint is that he should have given that advice before I spouted off…

    Although much lesser known, my g-g-g-great grandparents Stephen and Nancy Winchester were very close friends with the Kimballs. Their daughter (my aunt), Nancy Maria Winchester, was about the same age as Helen Mar when she entered into plural marriage with the prophet. Unfortunately very little is documented about Nancy’s story — Todd Compton actually titles her chapter “Outline of a Shadow” — and our family traditions don’t shed much more light on this question. After Joseph’s death she married Heber C. Kimball and family tradition says this second marriage was never consummated. After 20 years this marriage ended in amicable divorce and Nancy married a third husband.

    Comment by John Hamer — July 30, 2008 @ 12:12 pm

  16. J: fair question. From what I remember, and I hope others will correct me, Fluhman basically implied that only baptisms were done for the deceased. I am aware that some temple ordinances (including all the way to fullness of the priesthoods) were giving on behalf of the deceased, but I imagined they were rare and only in special cases. Do you have more info, mr. mormon liturgy man?

    BTW: thanks for choosing not to engage most of the issues, because I really feel that my short summaries don’t do any justice to what they actually presented.

    Comment by Ben — July 30, 2008 @ 12:19 pm

  17. John: thanks for the note on your ancestors; for some reason, they always seem more real to me when they come from someone related to them.

    Comment by Ben — July 30, 2008 @ 12:20 pm

  18. Thanks, Keller #14. A very good answer to Hitchens.

    Comment by John Hamer — July 30, 2008 @ 12:23 pm

  19. J, like you I’m not sure the “agnostic space” is helpful. It seems to me just an acknowledgement that our knowledge is vague. I’m not sure why we have to fill that space with speculation. (i.e. isn’t the correct answer to what Joseph saw in his seer stone that we haven’t a clue?)

    Having said that I appreciate what Steve is getting at. While I’ve never tried to write like this I think it gets at what goes on in a lot of internet discussions that go beyond the raw history. That is we want to make theological sense of the historic events and beliefs. How do we reconcile them? When do we say someone was wrong? When do we say they were inspired? That’s not easy. When you move from the basic issues of beliefs and events things get tricky. I think it a broader issue though than simply LDS. Whenever you move into a more theoretical space it gets trickier.

    For the record I think this is what Quinn attempted to do with his profoundly influential Mormonism and the Magic World View. But he failed miserably at getting beyond the raw parallels and events. I suspect these authors are finding that as well. While they are “going beyond” in a more apologetic way I think the difficulty is a general one.

    I am glad though that more theoretical and especially theological models are being thought about and applied to LDS history. For instance while I think Compton was deeply divided about polygamy his dynastic model was genius and I’m glad it’s continuing to be thought about and extended.

    Comment by Clark — July 30, 2008 @ 12:47 pm

  20. J. Thanks very much for your comments on my RAC article, which remeinded my that you had emailed me in the past. Sorry to be aloof but I sort of conflated you with Sam Brown.

    Anyway, I used the “what is really going on” simply to point out that Mormons often have different questions than scholars. You make a good point and we did not try to make claims beyond the evidence. However, as believers, when we come across new or challenging information, I think we tend to adjust our personal metanarratives to incorporate the new information. Sharing how we had done that was a large part of what we were trying to accomplish. We want to show that these controversial topics need not “bring our building crashing down” (a metaphore used a few times). For instance, Kerry made it a point to note all the revelatory objects in the Old Testament. His key point was “if we have the Liahona, why not the seer stone.” That sort of thing.

    I’m very interested in your work on women healing and will be emailing you about it. On the issue of what you would write differently, there’s the pragmatic issue of whether your current paper be published by the Religious Educator. And if not (a pretty safe bet, right?) what could you do to present things in a way that they would. While any possibility of that is probably a long way off, what I tried to do (admittedly, I had a much easier topic) is dig up and present all the authoritative sounding statements I could find by important people. That’s the sort of evidence you need in this in this venue. Not just that it happened, but that someone who we all consider important said it was a good thing.

    Why I think this endevor has merit is that we can all give out papers in open venues, but if we feel that there is an important message to be incorporated in the larger consciousness then I think it’s effective to work through “orthodox” chanels.

    Having been through the seminar from start to finish, I doubt there has ever been an event that has moved the ball forward more than this one. The papers may not have been perfect (though I do think some came close) but I agree with Richard’s assessment. “Yesterday’s symposium was more successful than anyone dared hope. The room was stuffed from beginning to end. Claudia, the best judge possible, thought the papers were excellent.” The Bushman’s are about the best we Mormons have to offer. I realize that there is room for improvement and would be glad to see further contributions.

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 30, 2008 @ 12:49 pm

  21. Steve:

    THis is an interesting topic. I have a question. If the goal is for these message to be incorporated into a larger consciousness, then why the religious educator, with it’s very limited readership, and not something like the Ensign? MMM made it into the ensign this year, why not other challenging topics?

    Comment by Matt W. — July 30, 2008 @ 1:04 pm

  22. Steve, no problem; I take Sam conflation as a high compliment. I’ll look forward to your email.

    I’m still a bit unsure about the constraints for this project. I do readily concede that if it approached the level of Correlation, then it would indeed be very, very hard to write history for the venue. I am encouraged by your final comments though.

    Clark, I think the danger in what you are positing is that the Church has reserved a theological primacy. Any sort of theologizing over “hard” topics will challenge existing Church norms more than anything. That said, coherent and accessible narrative creation should be the goal of anyone working in faith building.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 30, 2008 @ 1:20 pm

  23. Matt,

    You’re right, the Ensign would be even better but that’s an even harder venue. I would see the Religious Educator as a stepping stone to the Ensign.

    Let me just add this, having spent the summer with two guys from correlation (Robert and Bob), two guys from Institute (John and John) and four guys from the Religion department (Steve, Kerry, Spencer and Brian) gave me an enlightening crash course in the politics of all of this. Being freely outside the system gives us an idealistic perspective. Not bad but idealistic. I’ve heard it said that moving a bureacracy is like moving a grave yard, you don’t get a lot of help from the people that are there. That fact that we did get some help was very encouraging and why I feel so possitive. Am I the only one who wishes that my seminary teachers had done a better job? It was seminary teachers that were the majority of the attendees. Isn’t that encouraging?

    Comment by Steve Fleming — July 30, 2008 @ 1:52 pm

  24. I think Fluhman’s idea that proxy work beyond baptism or a limited horizontal practice of sealing (and opposed to our current verticle or cross-generational sealing of ancestors and descendants) is a little off. The timing and circumstances of Joseph’s introduction of the ordinances placed natural limits on what was performed in Joseph’s lifetime, but the multi-generational aspect of sealing was taught and understood and it can be argued to have been the central idea, not a later adjustment caused by the Manifesto.

    Gearge A. Smith said: “He [Joseph] stated that the Twelve were then instructed to administer in the ordinances of the gospel for the dead, beginning with baptism and the laying on of hands. This work was at once commenced. It soon became apparent that some had long records of their dead, for whom they wished to administer. This was seen to be but the beginning of an immense work, and that to administer all the ordinances of the gospel to the hosts of the dead was no light task. The Twelve asked Joseph if there could not be some shorter method of administering for so many. Joseph in effect replied, ‘The laws of the Lord are immutable. We must act in perfect compliance with what is revealed to us. We need not expect to do this vast work for the dead in a short time. I expect it will take at least a thousand years.'” (Millennial Star 37 [2 February 1875]: 66)

    Also, in a heretofore unpublished account of his 3 October 1841 sermon, Joseph declared that seeking the names of ancestors (and, of course, performing ordinances for them) was the way we become saviors on Mt. Zion.

    Comment by Curtis Weber — July 30, 2008 @ 2:14 pm

  25. Curtis: Good points, but wasn’t that mostly dealing with baptisms?

    Steve: Thanks for your continued imput. Like I said in my conclusion, I whole-heartedly agree that this seminar was a great step in the goals y’all are seeking.

    Comment by Ben — July 30, 2008 @ 2:18 pm

  26. Ben, I think the most common reference is Wilford Woodruff’s journal account of Joseph Smith’s April 8, 1844 sermon, in which he recorded that Smith declared:

    When the House is done, Baptism font erected and finished & the worthy are washed, anointed, endowed & ordained kings & priests, which must be done in this life, when the place is prepared you must go through all the ordinances of the house of the Lord so that you who have any dead friends must go through all the ordinances for them the same as for yourselves;

    I think it was Bennett that had an article on the development of proxy rituals in BYU Studies a couple years back.

    Comment by J. Stapley — July 30, 2008 @ 2:26 pm

  27. For another take on the seminar, look here.

    Comment by Ben — July 30, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

  28. ?He [Joseph] stated that the Twelve were then instructed to administer in the ordinances of the gospel for the dead, beginning with baptism and the laying on of hands…. Twelve asked Joseph if there could not be some shorter method of administering for so many.”

    The ordinances of the gospel herein referred to means all of the ordinances. They asked about a “shorter method” because performing the each and every ordinance in full takes no small amount of time.

    Comment by Curtis Weber — July 30, 2008 @ 2:27 pm

  29. J and Curtis: I stand corrected 🙂

    Regardless, I think you would both agree that proxy work for endowments and such weren’t emphasized as much.

    Comment by Ben — July 30, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

  30. Bravo to J. for the quote in #26! I should have put that one first.

    Comment by Curtis Weber — July 30, 2008 @ 2:28 pm

  31. Steve:

    I think the involvement of key individuals may be the most important aspect of the seminar. What I don’t understand is how a different “pastoral approach” was thought to be offered that differed from much of what we can already find in BYU Studies, FAIR papers, and FARMS publications. I realize all venues fail in some aspects, but generally I thought the tone to be very similar, so I am still confused about how the seminar perceives the resources already available.

    (My email is LifeOnaPlate AT Gmail DOT com, btw, if you can send me that reference.)

    Comment by BHodges — July 30, 2008 @ 2:38 pm

  32. crud. Can a blog admin change my comment to take the hyperlink away from my e-mail address? Thx!

    ADMIN: done

    Comment by BHodges — July 30, 2008 @ 2:38 pm

  33. I enjoyed the seminar quite a bit and gained many useful insights. I would just like to point out that most presenters didn’t spend time in their papers trying to state “what really happened.” What they did was present how these events were understood and interpreted by the participants of said events. It was generally in the question and answer time following the presentations that they gave their ideas on how they deal with the theological implications of accepting a specific narrative.

    What I feel most individuals who struggle with “the facts” need most is not one specific narrative (ie. “what really happened”), but rather context for the events and an alternative world-view that reframes the disconnect between expectations and our best understanding of reality. As Clark mentioned, at that point we are engaging in theology and specifically rejecting/accepting certain propositions about how God interacts with humanity.

    For example, Joseph Smith prophesying the success of the Kirtland Safety Society is only a problem if one accepts certain propositions about prophesy, and the problem disintegrates if other propositions are adopted (ie. that God doesn’t know the future acts of free agents perfectly, that all prophesy is conditional based on faithfulness, etc.)

    Most presenters, like Steve, were explicit in rejection of the theological framing of the challenges mounted by critics. Steve made the case why the definitions of magic and witchcraft given by Protestants should not be adopted.

    In summary, I feel the intended audience (CES employees) were well served by the presentations offered and I am very hopeful we will see more attempts at history and apologetics from this seminar in the future.

    Comment by Kent — July 30, 2008 @ 2:52 pm

  34. Kent: I could agree with you on almost everything until the last part of your last sentence. As one who enjoys the more analytical and scholarly history, I am looking forward to its return next summer when Givens and Grow take over.

    I do hope, however, that this kind of approach will find some venue in which it can continue.

    Comment by Ben — July 30, 2008 @ 2:56 pm

  35. Ben,

    Then maybe we could both be happy if only one or two papers dealt with polemical narratives? What I do want to see more of is a well attended seminar by CES employees where such things are discussed.

    Comment by Kent — July 30, 2008 @ 3:07 pm

  36. J (#22) that certainly is a danger. (i.e. that someone in attempting to resolve or reconcile an issue develops a new novel theology) But isn’t that part of why it is difficult? You have to be familiar first with the norms of acceptable Church theology and then try to tie the history into acceptable explanations that you feel are true to the evidence.

    Comment by Clark — July 30, 2008 @ 3:09 pm

  37. Clark, I think that also ties into the difficulty of involving CES folks, etc. in that some may take certain views as “official” or teach them as such, when odds are views will continue to adapt over time, especially historical views causing more trouble in the future. What is needed, in my mind, is a clear explanation on what has happened in view of LDS history, how it relates to our conception of a covenant people or dispensation, and how we can expect it to continue to adapt or change in the future. It’s method and worldview more than the “historical facts” [read: interpretations] that seems key to me. More on this soon.

    Comment by BHodges — July 31, 2008 @ 10:51 am

  38. Steve (in #8), I forgive you.

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — August 1, 2008 @ 5:18 pm

  39. Re #24 and # 28: Yes, proxy work for dead ancestors, but are they sealing them the way we do now? in the family tree method? I thought that took some time to figure out. Weren’t they or at least some of the ancestors sealed directly to the living descendants?

    John, #7, if you are still out there, I thought Spencer was saying that JS did not ask for Helen. I thought he said the sealing was Heber’s idea, in order to link their families, and so Heber made the offer. Someone correct me if I am wrong.

    Comment by Mark Ashurst-McGee — August 1, 2008 @ 5:29 pm

  40. Mark (#39), we are left with something of a tough predicament. The biggest mistake has been for people to isolate various temple rituals and assign specific theological significance to them; when in actuality, Joseph Smith viewed them all as part of the same process. As adoptions (which child-to-parent sealings were called) were limited to the temples our demographic data is only the 120 or so executed at Nauvoo then the practice as started back up in St. George.

    You are correct that work for ancestors was complicated as priesthood heirship was viewed to be imperatively important and not to be left up to the chance that our relatives might merit the fullness of the priesthood.

    Further, while Joseph Smith, Wilford Woodruff (circa 1894), and Thomas S. Monson have distinct conceptions of sealing praxis (and consequent theological ramifications), I’m not sure that it is appropriate to declare the primacy of our modern methods over Joseph’s or Brigham’s in a historical perspective (though for us as members of the modern church, yes) by declaring that later leaders “figured it out.” You are correct however, that what we would conceive as the family tree model has its roots in Woodruff’s declaration in 1894. If this was all that was implied by Fluhman, than chock my comments up to the peril of responding to an incomplete characterization.

    Comment by J. Stapley — August 1, 2008 @ 6:31 pm

  41. […] Bushman Seminar Pt 1 and Pt 2 notes by Ben at Juvenile Instructor. Sounds like the focus was more on how religious educators can […]

    Pingback by Best of the Week 4: Academic LDS : Mormon Metaphysics — August 2, 2008 @ 12:44 am

  42. […] the “spiritual eyes” statements sometimes attributed to the Three Witnesses. The Part 2 presentations all sound interesting, but Spencer Fluhman’s consideration of Nauvoo-era plural marriage is […]

    Pingback by Times & Seasons » Posts You Might Have Missed 5 — August 6, 2008 @ 2:50 am

  43. Ben,
    Thanks for posting your notes on the conference. Good luck on you PhD!


    Comment by Mark p — September 15, 2010 @ 4:17 pm


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