Let Not God Speak with Us: The Tragedy of Mormon Racism

The story of white Mormon racism gives me heartburn.  It makes me sad, tragically so. And tragedies are only possible when there’s something–something big–to lose. As Rabbi Abraham Heschel observed, though “few are guilty…all are responsible.” Deflection and projection will not do.  To paraphrase the haunting language of poet Jeremy Loveday, “the culture of violence [though I would say, “racism”] touches us all. And by dismissing perpetrators as monsters, it allows us not to analyze our own actions.”  It is the simple and sincere question asked of Jesus: “What lack [we] yet?”  Jesus did not coddle the inquirer but directed him to give up the things he valued the most in order to follow him.  The young man walked away glumly; he never had considered the kind of sacrifice that Jesus’ kingdom required. Continue reading

The Long Night of Whiteness

For my book, Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables, click here

Official Declaration #2 is often cast–in its most generous light–as the Church’s efforts to usher in a new era of racial pluralism and globalization.  President Kimball had long dreamed of “when all the world will be converted,” and this was merely the next step.  It speaks to what I call the dispensational interpretation of Official Declaration #2.  Because Peter received a vision to “take the gospel to the Gentiles,” we assume that Official Declaration #2 was merely another incarnation of that. The interpretation has become almost axiomatic.  Continue reading

Book of the Week: More Wives Than One

Yes, we’re going there.

Kathryn Daynes’ survey treatment of Mormon polygamy, More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon Marriage System, 1840-1910 is the best of its kind.   Don’t let the relative brevity deceive you; this book has something for everyone.  Rich anecdotes, a solid argument, and groundbreaking quantitative data pepper the book’s lively prose.  Most importantly, she provides verifiable, hang-your-hat-on-it answers on the actual prevalence of polygamy in the Utah territory.  Perhaps you have even heard a quote or two from early Mormon leaders blasting monogamy and imploring the Saints to embrace polygamy now; “it’s how things work in the hereafter, so get used to it.” Yet Mormon polygamy was an inconsistently-applied system of doctrinal principles, at best.  There were success stories, broken hearts, and awkward divorces (which were ridiculously easy to get in territorial Utah–perhaps it’s no surprise that Mormons also settled Las Vegas).  If you are going to read one book on Mormon polygamy, Daynes’ book will give you everything you need to understand the most distinctive feature of Mormon life in the 19th-century.

The Huffington Post Swings and Nicks or Mormonism’s Political Neutrality, Part 2: 1846-1898

The Huffington Post recently took a stab this morning at how Mormonism would influence his views on war and peace.  I’ve seen it done worse.  Ask a Mormon how Mormonism see war.  If they gush on about Captain Moroni without mentioning the Anti-Nephi-Lehies, just smile.  You’re talking to a Mormon who has embraced American nationalism.  As Patrick Mason has argued, Mormonism offers “no consistent message” on matters of war and peace.  The broader question, of course, is: how patriotic is Mormonism? On July 24th, 2011, the Latter-day Saints celebrated Pioneer Day with a tribute to veterans of the armed services.   That Brigham Young had spoken (in typical Brigham Young fashion–with tremendous hyperbole) of cutting American soldiers’ throats only a block away shows how dramatic the Saints’ embrace of American nationalism has been.

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David Mason’s Mythological Collectivism

David Mason wrote a prominently featured piece in the Washington Post in which he argues that if Romney followed his gut (at least his Mormon gut), he would have wholeheartedly supported the Affordable Care Act for “finally catching up with the Mormon vision.” Mason then takes his readers through a quick and dirty history of Mormon collectivism from Joseph Smith through Brigham Young.  As Mason would have it, Brigham Young read the scriptures with one hand and Marx with the other.

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The Truth: How 19th-century Mormon Collectivists Became Great Capitalists

One of the things we try to do here is show the backstory of Mormonism–the kind of story that journalists don’t really care to tell (it’s inconvenient and, frankly, often undermines what they’re trying to do).  While this response is a little slow to the match, it’s a story that hasn’t been told.

In an article published by Businessweek entitled, “How the Mormons Make Money,” the author essentially argues that Mormonism is basically a multinational corporation.  We only talk like people who believe; at the end of the day, the suits at the Church Office Building ultimately follow the God of the Almighty Buck.   Accentuating their piece is a cover image portraying John the Baptist giving Joseph Smith priesthood authority while  he directs Joseph to get rich.

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First Book of the Week: Massacre at Mountain Meadows

Hi, my name is Russ.  Yes, this blog might be another one of the crowd.  But not if I have anything to say about it.

I just finished working at the Church History Library.  I handled Brigham Young’s diaries, documents, and letters on a daily basis. I do have an axe to grind (why else would people blog?).  I have no sympathy with either those who seek to tear the Church down or those who seek to cover our history up.  Most of all, I want the Saints to feel secure in studying their history.  It’s not scary, gutsy, or “apostate.” This is our story.  It’s there, and we can own it. I love our people in the great times and in the shameful times.  “The spirit of love casteth out all fear.”

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