J. Golden Kimball on the Hegelian Constitutive Other

J. Golden Kimball served in the Southern States mission, both as a proselyting elder and later as mission president.  During his first term of service, he was at the mission office in Chattanooga in August, 1884 when latter-day saints were murdered at Cane Creek, TN.  He, of all people, knew what kind of prejudice and bigotry the Mormons faced in that part of the country.  And yet, in a sermon delivered in the Logan tabernacle in 1891, he said this:

Our people at home are more deeply prejudiced against the people of the Southern States than the latter are prejudiced against us. This is brought about through the reports of elders who have filled missions there, and who have related to our friends and brethren at home the mob violence, the whippings and the abuse that we have received and have forgotten the hospitality and generosity that have been exhibited to us. For that reason you are prejudiced against the Southern people. Some of us elders have filled missions in the backwoods and have returned home with narrow, contracted ideas concerning the Southern people….The people there often look upon our elders as deluded and misled. But they will entertain them often times kindly; and when they do take our elders in they do not do it half-hearted. They do not put us in a granary, but they give us the best room they have. They give us the best bed they have and it is a genuine feather bed too……In the Southern States to-day there are eighty-one elders….. But I want to speak for those eighty-one elders. Some of them are among the poorest young men in the church. They are dependent upon the Lord; they can go to the Lord without purse or scrip, and He softens the hearts of the people and they administer to their wants. The people gave me the best they had.  

Comments

  1. Love the title…as well as the article. Beautiful story.

  2. Dave P. says:

    I served in North Carolina and can attest that this is indeed the case. For every person we had trying to run us off the road or bullhorn us as we were tracting, we had two who would invite us inside to fix us some lunch, pray together, or just get us something warm/cool to drink. Had we not been so focused on the attitude of, “Well you’re being nice to us but don’t want to hear our message so we can’t stay,” and just enjoyed their company, we would have had a lot more success in just setting an example as a Christian.

  3. Pulled me in why Hegel you sly dog.

    This reminds me of a missionary homecoming talk that I heard in my parents ward 3 or 4 years ago. The young man spent most of his talk focusing on how evil the Germans were. There was not evident love and respect for the people. It made me sad…a bit mad. It was the complete opposite of the sentiment expresses by Elder Kimball.

  4. Researcher says:

    Very true. I recently posted the account of a mid 1890s missionary conference in West Virginia. A couple of nights before the conference, someone Burned the Church.

    “Burned the Church” was the title in the account of the conference in the Deseret Weekly, but the article ends by stressing the friendliness of the majority of the people in the area:

    The southern people are noted for their hospitality, and they added to their fame on the occasion of the conference. Between the morning and afternoon services picnic in abundance was provided on the grounds. All partook with relish of the sumptuous spread, after which a very pleasant time was had in conversation and general handshaking….

    It was estimated that fully five hundred people were present at the afternoon service on Sunday….

    Great credit is due the Saints and other friends residing on Two Mile, for the manner in which they entertained the brethren and visitors. Indeed they have ever been true friends to the traveling Elders. Special mention is made of Grandma Guthrie, who, though not a member of the Church, has endeared herself to many an Elder by her acts of kindness.

    Yes, there were dangers and crimes against the missionaries and members of the church, but there were also a multitude of kindnesses.

  5. Great stuff; thanks for sharing, Mark. This is a good fresh of breath air after all the us vs. them rhetoric that dominated the period, especially as documented in Pat Mason’s recent Mormon Menace, and it has obvious relevance to us today. Persecution complexes can only thrive when we keep up our end of the bargain.

  6. Profound post. Mark. We all need to remember that the exceptions get held up as the rule far too often – and that, at the most basic level, everything we might say about others can be said legitimately by others about us.

    It behooves us, given that reality, to speak more charitably about others, especially if we ask that they speak more charitably about us.

  7. I drove a long way to surprise a former companion at her homecoming talk, and was shocked to hear her describe the people of our mission in terms similar to what Chris H. reports hearing. Apparently I served in an entirely different mission from my companion.

    This attitude observed today as well as in 1891 comes, I think, from returned missionaries trying to build themselves up in the eyes of the folks at home by describing how tough they had it in the mission field. They probably remember the good times well enough, but if the only stories they ever tell are about hardships, what are the folks at home supposed to think?

    Nice find, Mark. (And thank goodness elders were still willing to go to the Southern States, where they found my family about five years after JGK’s talk.)

  8. “Persecution complexes can only thrive when we keep up our end of the bargain.”

    Well said, Ben.

  9. I had a good year or two to contemplate whether to accept a job transfer to Tennessee before we decided to move here nearly three years ago. (The alternative was to find another job, which helped with the decision.) I don’t know where I picked up the stereotypes about the South and about what kind of experience we would have here, but they were all utterly false, as far as I’m concerned. A lot of true Christian people here who really do ask themselves “What Would Jesus Do.” My wife and I now plan to live out the rest of our lives here, and our kids are on the same page for the most part.

    When I lived in Utah, I met people from elsewhere who fell in love with the state and felt the same was as we do about the South. They looked for the good and found it. I also knew people who, before moving to Utah with misgivings, seem to have arrived with a truckload of negative stereotypes, bogus stats, and low expectations. And from the moment they arrived, they seemed to spend every ounce of effort looking for evidence to prove their pre-existent biases were right. And, of course, they never failed to find it, sometimes fairly and sometimes not.

    You’ll find whatever you’re looking for. I’ve learned to take people’s opinions on almost anything with a grain of salt — my experiences never seem to turn out quite the same. But the attitude behind the opinion — particularly either a jaundiced or a see/hear/speak no evil bearing on the topic — can reveal a pretty accurate self-assessment of the speaker.

  10. Indiana says:

    I like this because it makes me think about the trepidation my husband and I have both expressed about getting into situations with colleagues at work or friends at college where we might be taken to task for the Word of Wisdom. We both tend to do our share of anticipating the worst in such situations, both from others and from our own attempts to keep the conversation brief and non-confrontational. It’s nice to have a reminder to take a step back and remember that, more than likely, past experience has shown that not only is everyone not out to get us, but more people than we give credit to are kind and charitable, even when they disagree with us doctrinally.

  11. Just to add a personal note:

    We lived in the Deep South for three years. The worst religious discrimination I experienced occurred there (in one instance from one person.) The rest of the religious discrimination was no different than what I experienced in the greater Boston area for six years. Some of the best people people I’ve ever met in my life lived in Alabama (in numerous instances including many people). That, also, was no different than the years I spent in Boston.

  12. “people people” apparently means “lots of people”

  13. Ugh. I really needed to hear this. I’d pretty much gotten over the news footage showing Egyptians cheering after 9/11, and then I heard the 60 minutes account of the reporter savagely sexually assaulted by crowds in Tahrir square who were celebrating the change in government. I’ve never heard of anything good coming out of that place, and I concluded that the Egyptian culture was completely bankrupt. I admit I’m still struggling with these feelings, but it’s good for me to realize their news coverage probably has nothing good coming out of the US either.

  14. I’m sure Parley P. Pratt felt the same way.

  15. Mark Brown says:

    MMM,

    That’s the problem, isn’t it? We can always find examples to justify our beliefs and behavior. One of the motivations that was commonly cited by Southerners of that period for their mistreatment of Mormons was what we had done to the Fancher party.

  16. Julie M. Smith says:
  17. I loved living in the South, and still miss it. In particular, while my job there was far from ideal, I wish we could have found some way to stay in Jonesboro, Arkansas. A more pleasant–in terms of nature, weather, people, food, and more–part of the country I have yet to live in. I’m coming to strongly identify with Kansas, but I’ll always be fond of the state where they can at least pronounce the name of the Arkansas river correctly.

  18. Mark:

    I was just being ironic.

    Personally, I have never been stabbed to death by anyone from Arkansas, so I bear no ill will towards them, or any Southerners. And I really enjoy Popeye’s chicken. Not so much okra.

  19. Mark Brown says:

    No worries, MMM. Okra, now there’s something to be prejudiced against.

  20. Great. Now I have to repent of my anti-Southern prejudices. But that’s OK because like J. Golden, I repent so d— quick!

  21. Thomas Parkin says:

    Grant,

    Damn is one of the Bible swears – you don’t have to censor it.
    Damn, hell and bastard are the Bible swears. Great words all. Damn all you bastards to hell. Go straight to hell, you damn bastard.

  22. Thomas Parkin is channeling Brigham Young again.

  23. I’m just too moderate even for biblical swearing.

  24. Give a man a Zietcast, and he will swear for the rest of his life.

  25. Jennifer in GA says:

    Fried Okra is like manna from heaven. YUM!!!

  26. Interesting post, and great comments. Thanks.

  27. Thomas Parkin says:

    Those are the only three swears I like, Ray. :)
    The ones I hear on the bus everyday … I’d like to go back there are wash their mouths out with my pomegranate mango body wash.

  28. Like others I had that dual sense of the south. The nicest people ever but also the worst discrimination. It’s a very odd society in many ways.

    Regarding MMM. I’d have loved to have had a transcript of Kimball’s speech to the mob where he preached about the MMM and apparently turned them aside. (And know how much of the story is a tall tale)

    BTW – best title ever for a post.

  29. Thomas Parkin says:

    Was my comment inappropriate? Sorry if it was. I should have said ‘Go to heck, you dadblammed brickheads.’

  30. I’m a bit concerned that Thomas has pomegranate mango body wash. Am I alone on that?

  31. Doesn’t everyone have pomegranate mango body wash?

  32. Mark Brown says:

    I had Parkin pegged as an Old Spice kind of guy.

  33. and I thought he never showered

  34. And on top of that it doesn’t sound like that bad of a punishment. Now Axe’s “Rare Leathers” body wash would be a real threat.

  35. Like Moroni told Joseph Smith – there are good and bad people among all groups (JSH 1:33). We can be guilty of a sort of positive racism or prejudice where we think that there are only good people in a particular race. There must needs be an opposition…

    I served a mission in Scotland and the kindness far outnumbered the harshness. The quality of goodness outweighed the quality of badness too. They are a much more generous people than they are given credit for.

    Although there are evil people in our world there are far more good people than bad – hands down, without question. This is a good post about the importance of pointing out the positives in people – even or especially among the groups that include those who persecute others. Amen to seeing the good in others!

  36. I served my mission in Arkansas and loved every minute (And Russell I served in Jonesboro! Your assessment is right on). I love the South. I have especially good memories of Catfish houses in the country where they served up all you can eat deepfried catfish and frog’s legs. Those were the days.

  37. We encourage those rumors so y’all won’t move down here. =P

    No, seriously, I’ve decided nice weather makes people friendlier.

    Actually, I’m a Southerner but have traveled all around the western hemisphere for work, and people everywhere have been lovely. I’ve enjoyed all the places I’ve been, and found all the different regional quirks, foods, and accents to be wonderful.

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