CFP: Book of Mormon Studies Association Conference

By January 20, 2019

From our friends at the Book of Mormon Studies Association Conference:

The Third Annual Meeting of
The Book of Mormon Studies Association
October 11-12, 2019
Utah State University

The Book of Mormon Studies Association (BoMSA) is pleased to announce its third annual meeting, to be held October 11–12, 2019, at Utah State University. The event is sponsored by USU’s Department of Religious Studies and with thanks to both Philip Barlow and Patrick Mason, successive occupiers of the Leonard J. Arrington Chair of Mormon History and Culture.

This annual event gathers a variety of scholars invested in serious academic study of the Book of Mormon. It has no particular theme but instead invites papers on any subject related to the Book of Mormon from any viable academic angle. This year’s two keynote speakers will be Paul Gutjahr (Indiana University) and Amy Easton-Flake (Brigham Young University). We will also hold a special book interview session with Community of Christ scholar Dale E. Luffman.

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Book Review: Harvard S. Heath, ed., CONFIDENCE AMID CHANGE: THE PRESIDENTIAL DIARIES OF DAVID O. MCKAY, 1951-1970 (Signature, 2019)

By January 18, 2019

Harvard Heath tells us in the introduction to his edited selections from the David O. McKay diaries that the complete diaries run some 40,000 pages long, about 15,000 pages of which are dated entries. The volume he produced here comprises, he estimates, about ten percent of those dated entries. He also includes a very few selections from the hand of other authors, most prominently Alvin Dyer. The McKay diary, of course, is as much a production of McKay’s longtime secretary Clare Middlemiss as of McKay himself; a fair number of its entries are in her voice, and much of the rest McKay dictated to her for transcription.

We thus owe Middlemiss a great debt, and historians might be further grateful that she left a copy of it to her nephew W. Robert Wright, who in turn donated it to the University of Utah. It’s that copy from which this volume has been assembled.

Heath chose, as he says, to emphasize “history, doctrine and entries showing the president’s administrative style.” (xiv)  This, of course, means that a historian interested in the full range of McKay’s presidency will want to slog through all 40,000 pages; though it would have been of course impossible to include all those entries here, the historian in me worries about what I might be missing. Nonetheless, the excerpts Heath has provided here are extremely valuable in their own right, and he deserves plaudits for making them accessible.

To the diaries themselves, and what they might reveal about the workings of Mormon leadership within the McKay administration. Heath points out in his introduction that McKay was something of a “bridge between centuries, with one eye on the future and another on the past.” (x) This is an apt description of the man who emerges in these pages. McKay seems to me a man blessed with an essentially generous, tolerant and open-hearted personality nonetheless rooted in the essentially parochial and conservative instincts of a late nineteenth century upbringing. He was refined and compassionate, easily touched by the needs of the marginalized (as witnessed by his repeated worries, shared with his counselors, that young Black boys would be embarrassed when their white friends received the priesthood while they themselves did not (452)—a concern that he nonetheless was reluctant to rectify). He wanted the Church to open and operate retirement homes for the indigent elderly. Yet at the same time he was comfortable dealing with presidents; his diaries record meetings with every president who served while McKay was in office. (McKay was most impressed with Dwight Eisenhower and Lyndon Johnson; least with John F. Kennedy, whom he seems to have found callow—though, as on page 400, the gracious McKay consistently sent Kennedy his best wishes.)  

And yet, as noted in the aside above, McKay retained the suspicions and prejudices of his youth throughout his life. I was somewhat surprised by his consistently expressed hostility to Roman Catholicism, for instance. In these pages he names Roman Catholicism one of the two great threats to the LDS church, along with Communism; he accuses Roman Catholics of formulating conspiracies to undermine the strength of the LDS church in Utah; he states that the cross is an “outward” sign of ritualistic religion. On similar grounds he is dismayed when Minerva Teichert adds the hint of a halo to Christ in her artwork. (96, 196, 173) While his counselors Hugh B. Brown and N. Eldon Tanner muse that perhaps men of African descent might be given the Aaronic priesthood, McKay worries that establishing church units in Nigeria would encourage young Nigerian men to come to BYU and hence foster interracial marriage. (404-5) He is certain that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, and scoffs at the “cowardly” United Nations for its refusal to mention God in its charter. (15)

McKay at the same time maintained a courtliness and temperateness that begins to feel archaic even in the pages of the diary, as fewer and fewer of his comrades seem to share these values over time. These things gave him the charisma for which he is noted. They also stiffed his spine when it came to those things he regarded as gauche or inappropriate. He shared many of Ezra Taft Benson’s right wing political sensibilities; the diary clearly reveals that McKay was a conservative Republican with a suspicion of communism notable even for the mid-twentieth century. More, Benson was extraordinarily persistent with McKay, nagging the church president again and again for permission to deliver political speeches, to campaign for president or vice president on a third party ticket, to get more involved with the John Birch Society. Sometimes Benson asked for forgiveness rather than permission, and sometimes McKay turned a blind eye to Benson’s activities. But he could be firm when he wanted to be.  When the conservative segregationist George Wallace asked Benson to join him on a third party ticket for the presidency in 1968, McKay, at that point ninety-four and ailing, ordered Benson flatly “You should turn the offer down.” (742)  When Benson asked for permission to john the Birch council, McKay rejected him. (689)  McKay also went out of his way to make it clear that members of the Church could vote or serve in office as Democrats, ensuring that prominent Mormon Democrats did not feel alienated from the Church. This was critical for McKay, whose imperative toward comity and warmth was the truest expression of his Mormonism.

In his valuable history of Mormon leadership in McKay’s administration, Gregory Prince notes that McKay’s conciliatory personality led him to often be persuaded by whomever was last in his office. That tendency seems most pronounced toward the end of his life, when his ailments noticeably slowed him down. (The best example here is the comedy of errors surrounding Benson’s efforts to get a portrait of McKay on the cover of the magazine of the John Birch Society (640-644); McKay is talked into it by Benson and out of it by Mark E. Petersen, who is angry at Benson for suggesting the idea. Then Benson talks McKay into it again and back out by Petersen, and eventually the Church threatens to sue if the image is used.  Another is Bruce R. McConkie’s ability to persuade McKay to authorize republication of Mormon Doctrine, which a few years earlier McKay had stated should not be republished, on grounds as much related to the book’s stentorian tone, which the broad-minded McKay disliked, as to its doctrinal statements. (663))

McKay’s affability, though, also illustrates his essential vision of the Church as a warm community of people much like McKay himself.  The hominess of this vision contributes to his worry about the ability of Nigerians and other Africans to successfully integrate into it. It is also illustrated in the sentiment he feels toward his closest associates. Frequently throughout the diaries he gathers his closest advisors around him and weeps as he professes gratitude for their kindness and love. (as on 13)  He makes Joseph Fielding Smith a counselor in his First Presidency after a long night of swapping stories and memories of their long service together. (619) Near his death he begs Middlemiss to never leave his side. (748) He gathered talented people to him—Hugh Brown, Stephen Richards, Middlemiss, Mark Garff—and their loyalty evidenced his leadership abilities.

This sentiment also meant that McKay was manifestly uncomfortable with the growth and bureaucratization of the church over which he presided. He frequently urged General Authorities to avoid using administrators and secretaries to do their work, telling them that “personal work” required their own involvement. (29)  He repeatedly urged the Quorum of the Twelve to seek agreement and unity. He reluctantly went along with the creation of a new layer of ecclesiastical bureaucrats—Area Authorities—but worried that they would contribute to greater distance between the leadership and laity of the church.

By the end of his life, somewhat ironically, McKay was incapacitated enough that his diary entries have become largely records of those other leaders—Brown, Garff, Joseph Fielding Smith, Middlemiss—presenting him with ideas which he gave pro forma approval to. The community of leaders he had assembled around himself and trusted deeply were capable, but they were also birthing a new church, one far more expansive, globalized, diverse, and administrative than McKay was comfortable with. Yet it was perhaps his gift to allow such a thing, so against his own sentiments, to emerge.

Communal Studies Conferences and Grants

By January 17, 2019

Matthew J. Grow is Director of the Publications Division in the Church History Department and a general editor of the Joseph Smith Papers. He is currently President of the Communal Studies Association. 

I am excited to let the Juvenile Instructor community know about two upcoming communal studies conferences as well as two opportunities for grants and two sets of awards/paper contests.

The main scholarly organization for the study of communal groups and intentional communities—past and present—in the United States is the Communal Studies Association. CSA conferences are held annually, often at the site of a historic communal group. I have found the CSA to be a very welcoming and interesting group of scholars, and there are generally several presentations on Latter-day Saint history. For some thoughts on the connections between communal studies and Latter-day Saint history, see here.

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Sister Saints: Pain, Feminism, and Anti-Feminism

By January 16, 2019

Anne Braude once wrote, “American women’s history is American religious history.” The quote, to me, it meant that historians must listen to women, tell their stories, and understand the gendered contexts in which they lived. Women’s history is more than recovering voices. It is telling a more complete history.

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Sister Saints: Sources and Women’s Voices

By January 15, 2019

The Juvenile Instructor is conducting a roundtable this month on Colleen McDannell’s Sister Saints: Mormon Women Since the End of Polygamy, recently published by Oxford University Press. Follow along here at the blog as contributors explore different themes within McDannell’s book.

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“Male and Female: A Proclamation.” Three Points From the History and Sociology of Religion

By January 14, 2019

It appears that a person or persons unknown have been circulating a document in at least one ward building in Utah. Entitled “Male and Female: A Proclamation,” the document repudiates recent alterations to the language of the various temple ceremonies, particularly the endowment and the sealing rituals. The document particularly targets those alterations made to language about gender. It’s been widely reported that these alterations move the ceremony toward greater gender egalitarianism.
This document was left in the lobby of an LDS chapel in South Jordan, Utah.

There are a number of points which could be made about 1) the alterations themselves, and 2) this document, but I want to restrict myself to three.

First: perhaps the primary word the document uses to describe gender relations is “submission.”  It argues that “worldly understandings of equality are completely contrary to the gospel of Jesus Christ . . . this pattern of humble submission applies to and reflects the eternal nature, relationship, and order between male and female, and between God, husband, wife and children.” It also uses New Testament language about “heads,” arguing that mean are placed in authority over women.

This is interesting language insofar as it is far more common in recent American evangelical discourse than it is in LDS discourse.[1] As is sometimes said of Mormons, there are perhaps as many versions of evangelical theology as there are evangelicals. Some evangelicals, however, advocate “complementarian” theology, which maintains that men and women are irreducibly different and hence interprets marriage as creation of a wholeness greater than the two parts separately. This is not language unfamiliar to Mormons, though the word “complementarian” is far more common among evangelicals than it is in the LDS church.

Some complementarians, further, emphasize the concept of “headship,” as derived from the pastoral letters of the New Testament (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, and sometimes Ephesians). As they interpret it, “headship” means that women are equal before God, but that men are to hold “headship” over women. Where exactly this “headship” applies is a matter for debate: some evangelicals would say only in the home; others would say it applies everywhere.

Further, some headship complementarians draw on the New Testament language of submission. If a man’s role is “head,” they argue, than a woman’s role is to “submit.” What exactly “submission” means is up for debate. Some evangelicals have argued that it means that women should not seek to alter their husbands and should submit to his will, arguing, as does “Male and Female,” that Christ’s submission to his Father’s will is the necessary model. They argue that the natural differences between men and women make such a relationship the most successful. Others argue that there is no natural hierarchy between men and women, but that God intends for women to voluntarily submit. Other complementarians who define headship more narrowly argue for “mutual submission” between husband and wife.  

That this document draws on this language, which, as I’ve said, is not common in LDS discourse, indicates its authors have some familiarity with contemporary evangelical discourse about gender. As J. Stapley notes, Colleen McDannell’s recent Sister Saints (Oxford, 2018) points out that the LDS church has been pulling away from the sort of detailed and explicit language about patriarchy as complementarian and headship rhetoric embrace.

Second: This document advocates a primitivist vision of Mormonism.  Primitivism is hardly an uncommon rhetoric at work in the broad sweep of Mormon history; nor it is uncommon in Christian history more generally. Primitivists believe that truth was once present on the earth (in many possible forms; some primitivists cite an ideal church, some a perfect scripture, some perfect authority) but has been corrupted and hence requires renewal and revitalization. They tend to view change as destructive. This document makes that argument with reference to the temple endowment ceremonies, arguing that the words of the endowment “were correctly revealed in sacred temple ordinances to the prophet Joseph Smith Jr,” and that the endowment ceremony contained the “words spoken by the mouths of The Father, The Son, Adam and Eve” before these changes. This is an unprovable claim, in part because no written record of the endowment ceremony as Joseph Smith originally instituted it exists (the ceremony was transmitted orally for decades). But it is a theological claim which draws upon the primitivist impulse.

What scholars call the “church-sect” typology is common in the sociology of religion. It argues to radically oversimplify that a “church” is a religious group comfortable in the society in which it finds itself; a “sect,” conversely, is a group at odds with its surrounding world. Sociologist Armand Mauss has famously argued that the LDS church has cycled back and forth along the church-sect spectrum throughout its history.[2] Many Mormon fundamentalist groups which separated from the modern LDS church can thus easily be read as sects discontented with the LDS church’s decisions that have propelled it toward church-dom. Most famously, of course, many such groups abandoned the LDS church in reaction to the end of polygamy.

Less famously, but equally compelling in this case, was fundamentalist Joseph Jensen’s famous Salt Lake Tribune advertisement denouncing Spencer W. Kimball’s decision to end the racially based restrictions on priesthood ordination and temple worship in 1978. As does “Male and Female,” this document invokes primitivist arguments that the LDS church was abandoning its scripture, the intent of its founders, and so on. As does “Male and Female,” Jensen’s argument maintained that contemporary LDS leaders were seeking the approval of “the world,” classic sect language lambasting churches, sociologically speaking.

Third: The material culture of “Male and Female” is fascinating. It apes popular versions of the church’s famous 1990s proclamations “The Family” and “The Living Christ” sold in church outlets like Deseret Book in font, in layout, and in design. This indicates, I think, something I’ve argued elsewhere: the extent to which contemporary Mormon piety is deeply marked by the aesthetics of the white American middle class—so much so that the author(s) of “Male and Female” see such design and layout as a signal of spiritual authority.

In total, “Male and Female” may (and likely, will) have very little impact on the course of the LDS church generally. Indeed, its authors may already be part of a fundamentalist group. Regardless, the document reflects significant trends in American religious history generally and Mormon history in particular.

[1] Some recent examples I found useful include R. Marie Griffith, God’s Daughters: Evangelical Women and the Power of Submission (UNC, 1997) Alan Padgett, As Christ Submits to the Church: A Biblical Understanding of Leadership and Mutual Submission (Baker, 2011); Mark and Grace Driscoll, Real Marriage: The Truth about Sex, Friendship and Life Together (Thomas Nelson, 2012), and Stanley Grenz and Denise Muir Kjesbo, Women in the Church (Intervarsity, 2010).

[2] Armand Mauss, The Angel and the Beehive: the Mormon Struggle with Assimilation (Illinois, 1994).

Review: Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4, The Book of Abraham

By January 13, 2019

“The Book of Abraham typifies Joseph Smith’s experience as revelator and translator–Smith sought divine truth from his own age and from ancient documents, recorded that truth in a scriptural text, and imparted it to his people and the world. Understanding his efforts to decipher the Egyptian language adds nuance and detail to the complex story of the translation of the Book of Abraham.” Introduction to Joseph Smith Papers, Revelations and Translations, Volume 4, xxix.

The Joseph Smith Papers Project’s publication of the Book of Abraham manuscript and related documents is more than the production and contextualization of documents. It provides a new way for looking at the Book of Abraham as a sacred text. Over the past several decades, scholars and apologists have battled over whether Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham (from hieroglyphs to English) or whether they had any connection to the translated text. Robin Jensen and Brian Hauglid, the volume’s editors, chose to frame their contextualization along the lines that early Latter-day Saints understood their prophet’s translation of the materials used in the Book of Abraham as “revelations” and not as a language-to-language translation. This places the Book of Abraham squarely within the family of sacred texts “translated” by Joseph Smith. Using words often associated with the “translation” of the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham is said to have been translated by “the gift and power of God” and not as a completed language project.

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Job Ad: Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies

By January 8, 2019

The Department of Religion in the School of Arts and Humanities at Claremont Graduate University invites applicants for the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies. In addition to having demonstrated excellence and broad expertise within the field of Mormon studies, the successful candidate will also be able to contribute through teaching and mentoring to at least one of the Religion Department’s four doctoral tracks: Critical Comparative Scriptures; History of Christianity and Religions of North America; Philosophy of Religion and Theology; and Women’s Studies in Religion. The candidate must have a PhD in Religious Studies or a related field and be prepared to teach one or both of the Religion Department’s required theory and methods courses.

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“A Window into Joseph Smith’s Translation: An Exploration of the Book of Abraham Manuscripts”

By January 3, 2019

Maxwell Institute Lecture

Robin Jensen and Brian Hauglid

Friday, January 11, 2019, 3:00 pm

Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni & Visitors Center, Brigham Young University

Some of the most puzzling documents left in the wake of Joseph Smith’s prophetic career pertain tot he Book of Abraham–from the ancient papyrus to the nineteenth-century notebooks. For over a century these documents were specially housed away from public view. In 2018 the Joseph Smith Papers Project team published the documents in Revelations and Translations, vol. 4.

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CfP: 2020 Sperry Symposium

By December 31, 2018

THE 2020 SIDNEY B. SPERRY SYMPOSIUM: “How … and What You Worship”

Christology and Praxis in the Revelations of Joseph Smith

Call for Proposals

On 6 May 1833, Joseph Smith received a revelation which clarified Johannine teachings about Christ. It taught truths meant to help early church members “understand and know how to worship and know what [they] worship” (D&C 93:19). This revelatory reworking of the Prologue of John (John 1:1-18) shed light on both the subject of worship as well as the process of how to worship that subject. Although the immediate context of the revelation remains obscure, it uncovered truths about the nature of Christ, who “continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness,” and linked those truths to the process of worship by instructing its audience to keep Christ’s commandments, which would allow them to “receive grace for grace.” In addressing both the who and the how of worship, the revelation deals with concepts that scholars term christology and praxis. Christology has to do with the study of the nature and mission of Christ. In light of Joseph Smith’s revelations, this study necessarily involves attention to the spiritual and intellectual quest (D&C 88:118) to “know” the Savior (John 17:3). That the revelation should insist on the “how” of worship indicates that praxis is inseparable from the knowledge of Christ: as King Benjamin taught, it is a mark of discipleship, the outward manifestation of knowledge (Mosiah 5:15). This relationship is emphasized throughout scripture, and the revelations of Joseph Smith constitute a unique scriptural setting to analyze the relationship between knowledge and practice. With this in mind, the 2020 Sperry Symposium, which will be held at Brigham Young University in October 2020, will focus on both the person of Christ and the practice of worshiping Him as outlined in the revelations of Joseph Smith. For the purpose of this symposium, “the revelations of Joseph Smith” will be understood as modern revelations received by the prophet. Strong proposals will make such revelations the central focus of their arguments, without necessarily excluding the dialogic nature of such revelations with other scriptures or the precisions they bring. More specifically, this symposium and the anticipated volume seek to understand Christ in the revelations to the first prophet of the restoration, and elucidate the practices – understood both as ordinances and daily attitudes – required of those who worship a being who grew “from grace to grace.”

Authors of Sperry papers are encouraged to find the appropriate balance between responsible scholarship and the interests of nonspecialists who are looking for accessible and engaging substance with a believing dimension. See the reverse side for a list of suggested topics. Proposals should take the form of an abstract of no more than 300 words containing all of the following: (1) the main thesis of your paper/presentation, (2) a brief outline of the components supporting your main thesis, (3) a summary of your methodology as well as the primary and secondary sources you will consult as evidence and support, and (4) a brief statement concerning how your study will make a significant contribution to previous scholarship on the work of worship and the person of Jesus Christ in Joseph Smith’s revelations. Following the abstract, please include a short separate statement (25-50 words) outlining your background, qualifications, or preparation so far to address this subject (you should already have completed some research in preparation for writing the proposal).

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