When Mormon History Fails You

It’s time to ask the tough question: is Mormon history even helpful to the Ordain Women movement?

Like Joanna Brooks has said, this cause isn’t one that burns deeply within my soul.  If President Monson told us tomorrow that women could be ordained to be “Elders” or “High Priestesses,” I would cheer along with everyone else. If it means that women would get their share of anti-porno talks and dating chastisements, I’m all about lovingly retiring the pedestal–and then burning it in the quiet of the night. I can think of “binders full of women” right now who would run my Elders’  Quorum meeting more competently than I ever could. In that sense, I can confidently say that I’m in support of the Ordain Women movement. Continue reading

Podcast #7: The First Vision

It is the foundational event of Mormonism–or at least that is what it became. Beginning in 1832, Joseph Smith began to publicly talk about a visionary experience he had in a grove of trees nearby his home in upstate New York. However, what he told audiences differed from year-to-year in what feels to be substantial detail. Is this evidence of rank fraud? Or, as his supporters say, does it indicate the natural human tendency to emphasize/omit details of a story based on one’s audience or perhaps his own changing understanding of the importance of certain theological principles. Brittany Nielson and I speak with LDS Church Historian Dr. Stephen Harper about his book, Joseph Smith’s First Vision: A Guide to the Historical Accounts Harper currently works on the Joseph Smith Papers Project production team for the LDS Church.


Podcast #6: Mormonism and the Single Saint

In this podcast–recorded live at the Salt Lake City Public Library–Russell Stevenson hosts a panel discussion in which he along with three single Latter-day Saints (Ryan Fleming, Kylee Shields, and Lisa Benson) discuss not only the history of Mormon single identity but also struggles and benefits of being a single Latter-day Saint today. Given the marriage-centered Mormon narrative–both historically and theologically–single Saints invite Mormons to revise that narrative.  We field questions from a live audience and address how single LDS can best relate to their married Mormon family members and acquaintances. Listen in for more!


Podcast #5 -The History of Homosexuality and Mormonism

In this special episode, Russell Stevenson and Brittney Nielson delve into one of the most controversial topics of our times: homosexuality.   During the first half, they discuss the history of homosexuality in the Mormon tradition and homosexuals’ struggles to find a place within it. The second half is an interview with two of Mormonism’s most interesting and, at times, controversial voices on LGBT issues: Ty and Danielle Mansfield.  We discuss the nature of their relationship and how they make it “work” (and, as you will find, “work” really is a poor word for their marital dynamic). They explain what love means to them and how their approach to sexuality fits within the Mormon tradition.


Podcast #4: Mormons and the Environment

In this episode, Russell Stevenson and Kate Harline explore Mormonism’s fascinating interactions with the environment and environmentalist thought.  Unlike many Christian denominations, Mormonism has a mixed and complicated message, as it has endeavored to uphold its principles of stewardship over the material world while still navigating the American and world economy as a minority religious movement.  Stop by for an engaging conversation about stewardship, industrialization, and the need for Mormons to rediscover their environment-centered theology.


Podcast #3 – History of Mormon Dance

In this podcast, Russell Stevenson and Kate Harline discuss an aspect of Mormon cultural art that is easy to overlook: dancing.   Though seemingly recreational, Mormon dance in fact highlights deeper issues in the development of Mormon identity: theologically, sexually, and even racially.  They analyze how Mormon dance has served as a cultural “contact zone” between the Mormon community and outsiders.  They also interview Katherine Winder, a full-time professional Mormon dancer from the Repertory Dance Theater of Salt Lake City.  She tells how she came to be a dancer, how her faith informs her art, and her touching experiences as a dance instructor in a leper colony in India.  Join us for this compelling exploration of the Mormon people have used dance both to celebrate and control their bodies over the past 180 years.


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

Podcast #2: Race and the Priesthood

In this podcast, Kate Kelly Harline takes on the role of interviewer and discusses Russell Stevenson (author of Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables and author of the forthcoming, For the Cause of Righteousness: A Documentary History of Blacks and Mormonism,  1830-2013). We discuss the meaning and ramifications of the LDS Church’s new statement on “Race and the Priesthood.”  Obviously, we present this perspective from the perspective of historical analysis.  Towards the end of my recent interview on RadioWest, one of my co-hosts specifically distanced himself from that perspective, and I respect his right to do so.  However, as the statement was an historical statement, we have little choice but to employ historical methods in assessing it–even if it does not fit neatly into talking points or agendas. We trace the origins, course, and trajectory of the Saints’ relationship with the black community and racial exclusion. Tune in for the conversation at the Mormon History Guy podcast.

2013?! Wow. Ok.

In a recent conversation with Doug Fabrizio, I made the comment that the priesthood ban was a collaborative endeavor, with plenty of culpability to spread around throughout the various strata of the Mormon community.  I said that it has taken this long for the Mormon community to reckon with their racial past.  He responded with a shocked: “2013?! Wow. Ok.”

Over the course of the past year, I’ve said the same thing myself as I have spoken on this topic over the course of the past year.  Continue reading

Review of Elijah Abel: The Life and Times of a Black Priesthood Holder

Published in the summer edition of The Journal of Mormon History, this review offers my analysis of W. Kesler Jackson’s Elijah Abel: The Life and Times of a Black Priesthood Holder.  Parenthetical references deal with material from inside Jackson’s book.  Bracketed references point to sources outside Jackson’s work.

Full Disclosure: For a copy of my book, Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ablesclick here. 
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