My world is crashing down around me. Things I never thought would happen are happening: A federal court has declared that Utah’s anti-polygamy law is unconstitutional and the LDS Church has produced a statement admitting that the priesthood ban was largely the result of nineteenth-century racism. The Salt Lake Tribune lauded the church for its decision to publish the essay as part of a series answering questions about its beliefs. In Religion and Politics, Max Mueller was similarly optimistic about the effects of the essay. He sees the document as the repudiating the church’s racist past and officially addressing the ban’s origins in statements by leaders like Brigham Young. For him, it is a monumental document that represents the beginnings of a sea change in the church’s positions on race. Other commenters have been less optimistic. Gina Colvin argued on her blog that the priesthood ban and ideas that African Americans had been less valiant in the preexistence had been taught as doctrine and as such, deserved to be addressed in General Conference rather than in a letter hidden on the church’s website. In a podcast with Dan Wotherspoon, Margaret Young, and Janan Graham, she further argued that the essay had been written from the perspective of the institutional church and failed to provide readers with the stories and voices of those who had been marginalized by the priesthood ban. Colvin has not been the statement’s only critic. At Young Mormon Feminists, Nick Lindsey suggests that the document creates a fiction that church leaders were always working towards racial equality rather than participating in and furthering racist discourses that relegated African Americans to the margins of Mormon society. KUTV released a fairly tempered article suggesting that the church’s statement was the result of a desire to answer questions that were arising because of information available on the Internet. Although the article did not address claims that the document represented a change in the church’s position on the priesthood ban, its analysis was less jubilant some of the others that have addressed the issue this week.
The release of the church’s new statement on race and the priesthood is, of course, only one of the noteworthy developments this week. In a case brought by the Brown family of TLC’s Sister Wives, a federal court ruled that Utah’s law criminalizing polygamy was unconstitutional. Those people who want to take an additional wife should not be overly jubilant. According to the Religion News Service, Utah’s ban was declared unconstitutional because it addressed more than polygamy and criminalized cohabitation as well. In doing so, the court ruled it overstepped its right to define what marriage meant within the boundaries of the state. Polygamy will probably remain illegal in the state even if the state’s inability to prosecute people for simply living together will make prosecution much harder.
In other news,
- Tom Simpson provides a helpful overview of the major LDS archival collections in Utah. All students writing their prospectuses or beginning research papers should take note
- Abstracts for Florida State’s Graduate Student Conference in Religion are due Dec. 31st
- Religion in American History has published a Q & A with David Morgan, a professor of religion at Duke whose work focuses on religion and the visual arts. Check it out here
- And finally, how loud was George Whitefield?
The last two aren’t Mormon but they are interesting.