Book Review: For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism

By: J Stuart - April 28, 2015

A few weeks ago, I toured Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello with my parents. On the tour, the pleasant guide informed our group that Thomas Jefferson most likely fathered several children with his slave, Sally Hemmings. The tour guide than asked the group rhetorically, “How could the author of the Declaration of Independence also own slaves, much less father children that became his human property?” I admired her response to her own question, “There is no reconciling. He was wrong. We cannot excuse his behavior.”

The tour came in the midst of my reading of Russell W. Stevenson’s For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism. Like the tour guide, Stevenson offers valuable information in the midst of a larger narrative, the history of “blacks” in Mormonism.[i] His narrative offers readers a straightforward account of the priesthood and temple restriction for those of African descent in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He does so with a wealth of documents, including many that I had never before seen. Like the tour guide at Monticello, he does not attempt to excuse those that upheld the ban through action or apathy. Stevenson should be commended writing the best resource for Latter-day Saints to learn more about the experience of Mormon blacks in settings both American and international. Stevenson also does an admirable job demonstrating that lay Latter-day Saints largely upheld the priesthood and temple restriction—it was not merely the decree of church leaders. (more…)

The Garfield Assassination, 4 of 4: Aftermath and Conclusion

By: Edje Jeter - April 28, 2015

In the last post we looked at ways Mormonism appeared in the trial of Charles Guiteau, assassin of President Garfield. Today we’ll look outside and after the trial. (more…)

Aidah, Eliza, and Emma: The Stairs and Domestic Abuse in Nauvoo

By: Amanda - April 27, 2015

One of the women in my family tree is Aidah Clements, a New York convert whose testimony is often cited as one of the sources for the idea that Emma Smith pushed Eliza R. Snow, one of her husband’s wives down the stairs. Aidah’s relationship to the Smith family has always fascinated me. Aidah participated in many important events in Mormon history. She was a part of Zion’s Camp, immigrated with some of the companies to travel to the Salt Lake Valley, and watched as her two daughters married the same man.

I was recently searching for more documents about Aidah Clements when I came across some documents in the Church History Library that provided some interesting information about her marital history. (more…)

Summer Book Club: Richard Lyman Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling

By: J Stuart - April 27, 2015

Ten years ago, Richard Bushman published Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling with Knopf. Bushman’s biography of Mormonism’s founder garnered widespread praise and provoked a number of conversations within the Mormon Studies community. Jan Shipps argued in the Journal of American History that Bushman’s biography represented a new chapter in the study of Mormonism. She wrote that Rough Stone Rolling is “a work of new American history that forces readers to recognize that religion is as much of our past as anything else.”[i] Through doing so, she argued that Mormon history would soon function be used as a lens to understand broader topics in American history and American religion rather than for exclusively Mormon purposes to Mormon audiences.[ii]

Shipps’ review appears to have been, well, prophetic. The past decade has witnessed an explosion of scholarship on Mormonism that historians and religious studies scholars must take seriously. Books by Spencer Fluhman, Patrick Mason, John Turner, Christine Talbot, the Joseph Smith Papers Project Team, Paul Reeve, Jared Farmer, Steve Taysom, Sam Brown, as well as many journal authors, have produced work useable in university classrooms.[iii] (more…)

News from MHA and the Weekly Roundup

By: J Stuart - April 26, 2015

First, some very important new from this week comes from our friends at the Mormon History Association (from their Facebook page):

We regret to announce that Debra and David Marsh have resigned as executive directors of the Mormon History Association. We thank them for their service and wish them well in their future endeavors. MHA office assistance is in place. We are grateful to MHA’s program committee and local arrangements committee, who continue in their efforts to provide an outstanding 50th-Anniversary Conference this June.

Board of Directors, Mormon History Association


Religious Persecution and the Great and Abominable Church

By: Steve Fleming - April 24, 2015

In 1 Nephi 13:5, the angel says to Nephi “Behold the formation of a church which is most abominable above all other churches, which slayeth the saints of God, yea, and tortureth them and bindeth them down, and yoketh them with a yoke of iron, and bringeth them down into captivity.” We used to stress this being the Catholics but have sort of backed off this in the last few decades to the point where I don’t hear much talk about the GAC anymore. And yet it’s quite important in these chapters in the Book of Mormon where Nephi lays out a kind of visionary history of the world from Christ to the coming of the Book of Mormon.

Both the discussion of the apostasy and restoration that the kids are having now in church coupled with my recent discovery of the movie Agora on Netflix (it’s R but a fairly light R, historical violence that isn’t too bad), put me in mind of the topic. (more…)

Teaching Polygamy at BYU

By: Steve Fleming - April 23, 2015

So I recently finished teaching the second half of the Doctrine and Covenants at BYU, which I enjoyed very much. When we got to some of the harder issues that are part of the curriculum, especially polygamy and blacks and the priesthood, I wanted to cover them in a way that was both direct and helpful. I applaud the church’s essays in these topics, assigned them, and wanted to cover these topics in the same spirit of openness. Yet these are tough and as 132 approached, I was trying to thing about how to go about it. To me it seemed like I had three options. 1) Dodge it. Again, I didn’t want to do that. 2) Tell the students information that I felt pretty sure was incorrect. As I mentioned in this previous post,  I like the articles but think there are some mistakes, especially eternity only sealings. 3) Tell them what I believe is correct. Having tried this out on my own kids and feeling it went well, I decided to give my assertion about shared marriages a shot. So I got my powerpoint ready and headed to class. (more…)

#JMH50 Roundtable: Matthew Grow, “Biography in Mormon Studies”  

By: Christopher - April 22, 2015

JMH50Matt Grow’s contribution to the Journal of Mormon History 50th anniversary issue takes as its subject the place of biography in Mormon Studies. As the author (or co-author) of two significant biographies in the field, Grow is well positioned to assess the state of Mormon biographical writing.

In short, Grow believes that “the genre of Mormon biography has answered many of [the] rallying cries” of the New Mormon History’s call for “engage[ment] with larger historical themes” and “greater attention to women, race, ordinary Saints, the twentieth century, and international Mormons” (185), pointing to the spate of biographies produced in the last three decades on Mormon leaders (of both the Latter-day Saint and Latter Day Saint variety), dissenters, women, and racial and ethnic minorities. “There is much to celebrate in in the outpouring of scholarly biographies in the past few decades,” he concludes (196). Nevertheless, work remains to be done, and that work mirrors the shortcomings of Mormon history more generally: “More biographies of women, twentieth century, and international Mormons are particularly needed to advance the field” (196). (more…)

The Garfield Assassination, 3 of 4: Guiteau’s Trial

By: Edje Jeter - April 21, 2015

Previous installments here and here. Guiteau’s trial for the murder of President Garfield began on November 14, 1881, and ran about ten weeks to January 25, 1882. [1] Direct and indirect references to Mormonism were scattered throughout the trial. (more…)

Mormonism and the Catholic Critique of Protestantism in America

By: Guest - April 20, 2015

Today’s post comes from Bradley Kime, who will graduate this spring with a Masters in history rom Utah State University. Bradley has published in the Journal of Mormon History and is an editorial fellow at the Western Historical Quarterly.  He will begin his PhD program in religious studies at the University of Virginia this fall (WAHOOWA!).

For the last few years, Stephen Webb has generously praised LDS Christo-centrism. Back in 2012, before the publication of his Mormon Christianity[1], he offered the First Things crowd a positive take on Mormonism’s eternally embodied Savior titled “Mormonism Obsessed with Christ.” When First Things recently posted the article on their Facebook feed, the 108 comments (and counting), almost entirely from creedal Christians across the Protestant-Catholic spectrum, were overwhelmingly negative. One comment summed up the general consensus: “You know who else was obsessed with Christ? Arius.” In other words, earnestness doesn’t equal orthodoxy, and calling a spade a spade is important. Almost as a chorus, First Things readers reaffirmed that the Mormon Christ was a heresy, notwithstanding Webb’s misguided generosity. (more…)

Review: David Conley Nelson’s Moroni and the Swastika

By: Saskia T - April 16, 2015

MoroniDavid Conley Nelson, Moroni and the Swastika: Mormons in Nazi Germany. University of Oklahoma Press, 2015.

David Conley Nelson’s book centers on a bold premise: that Mormonism in Germany did not only survive WWII relatively unscathed, but actually benefited from it. Nelson, who has a PhD in history from Texas A&M University, asserts that the church, helped by faithful historians, is invested in promoting a picture of German Mormons as suffering for the sake of the gospel. However, a more accurate picture would be that “German Mormons and their prewar American missionaries avoided persecution by skillfully collaborating to a degree that ensured their survival but did not subject them to postwar retribution” (xvi). Throughout the book, Nelson uses the rhetorical devices of ‘memory beacons’ and ‘dimmer switches’ to illustrate the construction of memory sites, and the ways in which realities of collaboration, then, were transformed into memories of appeasement and survival. (more…)

The Garfield Assassination, 2 of 4: DeWitt Talmage

By: Edje Jeter - April 15, 2015

As noted in the last post, T[homas] DeWitt Talmage, the histrionic, hyperbolic, famous, and famously anti-Mormon preacher of Brooklyn, was not the first or only figure to claim that Garfield’s assassin, Charles Guiteau, was Mormon or that Guiteau was part of a Mormon conspiracy. However, Talmage’s national presence gave his allegations more reach (see image). (more…)

The Church in Action, ca. 1973

By: Tona H - April 13, 2015

While doing a close reading of Rick Turley’s essay for our #JMH50 roundtable series, I came across a tidbit that was new for me. He writes,

Beginning around 1970, our department had sponsored newsreel-style movies under the series title The Church in Action. These annual or five-year retrospectives used existing footage to feature newsworthy events like the international travels of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Brigham Young University’s dance teams. Useful though they were in featuring Church events in multiple countries, these films did not begin to capture the depth of Church history around the globe. [1]

As a scholar of religion and media, my ears perked up. (more…)

Mormon Studies Weekly Roundup

By: Saskia T - April 12, 2015

This week, I have for your perusal: (more…)

An Announcement for Those in and Around DC and for EVERYONE going to #MHA50

By: J Stuart - April 11, 2015

For JI readers living in or around Washington DC

Kathleen Flake, Richard Lyman Bushman Chair for Mormon Studies at the University of Virginia, will be speaking at George Mason University on Monday, April 13th. As part of John Turner’s course “Religion in America”, Professor Flake will deliver a guest lecture entitled, “Modern Love & Mormon Marriage.” The lecture will take place at 12 PM at Merten Hall 1202 on George Mason University’s Fairfax campus.

From the flyer: “Except for a relatively brief historical moment in the mid-20th century, Mormonism has awlays been at odds with what most Americans think marriage means and what it ought to look like. This lecture invited you to think about why that is and what we can learn from it.” Light refreshments will be provided.


The Mormon History Association has launched a 50th Anniversary Conference Blog. Please be sure to visit it often for updates and discussion about the upcoming conference (the program schedule is available there as well!). This is a great way to gear up for the conference and begin conversations that can continue in person in Provo. In 54 days. Not that we’re counting or anything.

Max Perry Mueller’s “History Lessons: Race and the LDS Church,” JMH 50th Roundtable

By: Farina King - April 10, 2015

Max Perry Mueller uses a clever title, “History Lessons,” in his essay on “Race and the LDS Church” in the fiftieth anniversary edition of the Journal of Mormon History. “History Lessons” implicate some form of historical appropriations. Institutions use history to formulate lessons, which support certain values and ways of knowing. Mueller traces how the LDS Church alters historical narratives of a “black Mormon past” through three main time periods to argue “the LDS Church has worked to tell a story of historical continuity in its relationship with people of African descent” (143). (more…)

#JMH50 Roundtable: Richard Bushman’s “Reading the Gold Plates”

By: Ben P - April 09, 2015

JMH50Previous #JMH50 posts:

Liz M. on Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Personal Essay
David Howlett on his own article on jobs and publishing in Mormon Studies
J. Stuart on William Russell’s “Shared RLDS/LDS Journey”
Brett D. on Jared Farmer’s “Crossroads of the West”
Ryan T. on Matthew Bowman’s “Toward a Catholic History of Mormonism”
Tona H on Richard Turley’s “Global History of the Church”

If Leonard Arrington was the dean of New Mormon History, Richard Bushman is the patriarch of Mormon studies.[1] Bear with me for a moment while I get into some nerdy insider historiographical speak. The term “Mormon studies” gets thrown around a lot, sometimes to the point that it loses all usefulness. Does it just mean any “study” of “Mormonism”? Does it have to be academic? Does it include apologetics? Is it, *gasp*, “objective”? Does “Mormon” imply the institutional experience of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Answers to these questions vary depending on who you ask. (more…)

The Garfield Assassination, 1 of 4: Joy, Prophecy, and Conspiracy

By: Edje Jeter - April 08, 2015

In his inaugural address as President of the United States, James A Garfield included about 180 words proposing action against Mormonism (1881 Mar 04). [1] Four months later (Jul 02), Charles J Guiteau shot Garfield. Guiteau was apprehended at the scene and Garfield died several weeks later (Sep 19). In the next few posts I will look at some ways Garfield’s shooting and rhetoric about Mormonism intersected. (Image [2]) (more…)

Mormon Women Leaders and Meeting American Presidents

By: Andrea R-M - April 07, 2015

President Barack Obama met with LDS Church leaders on April 2, 2015, for a little under half an hour during a brief scheduled visit to Utah. In attendance were President Henry B. Eyring, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf and Elder L. Tom Perry here. President Thomas S. Monson was unable to attend the gathering due to health reasons, but online feedback also quickly picked up on the noticeable absence of any high-profile female leaders of the Church.  Mormon women have not always been left out of presidential visits; in fact, various meetings between Relief Society leaders and American chief executives in the last 150 years are worth the retelling, and serve as a reminder of the stature and influence that elite Mormon women held in representing the Church to the nation. (more…)

Into (and From) All the World: A New Paradigm for Global LDS History, JMH50th Roundtable

By: Tona H - April 06, 2015

Previous #JMH50 posts:

Liz M. on Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Personal Essay
David Howlett on his own article on jobs and publishing in Mormon Studies
J. Stuart on William Russell’s “Shared RLDS/LDS Journey”
Brett D. on Jared Farmer’s “Crossroads of the West”
Ryan T. on Matthew Bowman’s “Toward a Catholic History of Mormonism”

This post continues our series on the Mormon History Association’s 50th anniversary issue of the Journal of Mormon History, considering the important insider account provided by LDS Church assistant Church historian and recorder, Richard E. Turley, Jr., titled “Collecting, Preserving, and Sharing the Global History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Turley, who is a prolific author and co-author, notably of the Church History Library-sponsored Women of Faith in the Latter Days series and the award-winning OUP book on the Mountain Meadows massacre, has directed the LDS Church’s Historical Department beginning in 1986. He oversaw the Church History department’s consolidation with the Family History department between 2000-2008 and most recently the Church History Department’s transition into its elegant and archivally sound new building in 2009.

In this essay, Turley takes readers behind the scenes at the Historian’s Office to describe its ongoing cultural and paradigm shift decentralizing church historical collection throughout the world. Though he attributes little of this great shift to his own values, decisions or leadership, it is apparent that his personal involvement was critical to this transition and his firsthand perspective is a valuable primary source in itself. (more…)

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