Collapsing Historical Distance

There are a lot of details, events, and insights found in John Turner’s excellent Brigham Young Biography that will trouble LDS readers: the practice polygamy, the promulgation of sobering racial beliefs, Young’s violent rhetoric and coarse language, you name it. But the thing that troubled me, as a believing Latter-day Saint, the most was not found in the prose. Rather, it was a picture found on page 395 that depicts John D. Lee shortly before his execution in 1877. Lee’s calm, serene look is enough to make my hair raise, but that’s not the only thing that troubles me about the photograph. No, it’s how “contemporary” the picture looks. Despite obvious wear-and-tear, the photo is generally of high quality. Lee’s wardrobe looks quite modern and not too ancient. And when I look into Lee’s aged, solemn face, I can almost see my own grandfather. This troubles me, because I like past events to seem more, well, past. I like historic photographs of historic figures, if they do indeed exist, to look grainy, out of focus, and pre-modern. Put simply, I feel much more comfortable when my LDS history, especially the unsavory aspects of that history, remain far enough in the past to seem foreign.

I have a confession to make: even with my background in researching and publishing on Mormon history, I hardly ever make historical comments at Church. (By “historical comments,” I mean comments that use history as a lesson for the present.) This is difficult, because we have a tradition of being so transfixed with the past that some have claimed (wrongly, in my opinion) that we have a history in lieu of a theology. Sacrament meeting talks and Sunday school lessons are inundated with references to historical characters from our rich legacy. Mormon bookshelves are filled with hagiographies, faith-promoting stories, and even historical fiction. We Mormons love our history–as long as it is told the right way and for the right purpose, of course.

But it’s that last cause that makes academic historians hesitate.

While on a bus to New York last week for a seminar on the development of American constitutional thought, I read George Van Cleve’s provocative, sophisticated, and deeply sobering A Slaveholder’s Union: Slavery, Politics, and the Constitution in the Early American Republic (University of Chicago Press, 2010). In some ways a stinging indictment of America’s Founders and early politicians, Van Cleve persuasively demonstrates how America’s early government was predicated on the power and extension of slavery–an important message in today’s age when we are seeing a paradoxical resurgence of originalism. But more than offering an impressive array of research and interpretation, Van Cleve also delves into human morality and the human condition, topics which are usually left untouched in cold, dry academic monographs. In engaging the pro-slavery arguments of Southerners and the disinterestedness of the Northerners, the book doesn’t shy away from calling out the inhumanity of the former and the ineptness of the latter. While he cautions against overreaching (he rightly notes that “proper moral judgement about past actions can be made only after one fully appreciates the actual degrees of freedom–the realistic choices–available to historical actors” [12]), Van Cleve is persuasive in his argument for more contemporary relevance.

This is only the most recent of several books I have read arguing for a similar methodological approach. In her award-winning book on Thomas Jefferson’s slave families, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family (W. W. Norton, 2008), for instance, Annette Gordon-Reed argued that historians should feel obligated to make their lessons more imminent to modern-day readers:

Historians often warn against the danger of “essentializing” when making statements about people of the past—positing an elemental human nature that can be discerned and relied upon at all times and in all places. Warnings notwithstanding, there are, in fact, some elements of the human condition that have existed forever, transcending time and place. If there were none, and if historians did not try to connect to those elements (consciously or unconsciously), historical writing would be simply incomprehensible…Therefore, we should not be afraid to call upon what we know in general about mothers, fathers, families, male-female relationships, power relationships, the contours of life in small closely knit communities, as we try to see the Hemingses in the context of their own time and place. (31-32)

Such a methodology is often lacking in LDS historical work. This is due to several reasons, I think. First, burned by the debates over “faithful history” in the 1980s and 1990s, Mormon historians have retreated from the battleground of determining modern relevancy, instead being satisfied with just crafting sophisticated and nuanced reconstructions of past ages without explaining the significance to modern readers. Second, the proliferation of numerous “faith-promoting histories” within LDS culture, and the constant accusations of being an “apologist” from within the academy, has made Mormon scholars anxious to make a distinction between what their writing and devotional books. And finally, by avoiding the stewardship over making points immediately relevant to contemporary Saints, scholars have much more freedom in not worrying what their fellow ward members will think. My job is to speak to other academics, I often tell myself, and I imagine I am not alone in that sentiment.

Several recent, and mostly unrelated, things have made me question how I approach these issues.

The first was about a year ago when I read BYU Professor (and one of my undergraduate mentors) Craig Harline’s moving and relevant book, Conversions: Two Family Stories from the Reformation and Modern America (Yale UP, 2011), which looks at the family dynamics of conversion, belief, and change. (I wrote about the book here.) In this creative and provocative telling, Harline goes out of his way to make the narrative not only readable, but relevant; he notes the impetus behind including a modern story in the book as discussing family problems with a friend and wanting to write a book that would help them deal with the situation. I remember reading the book while on a research trip between Boston and Philadelphia and fearing I will never be able to write a book as important as this one, because Harline’s lessons tended to transcend the narrow parameters of the ivory tower. This was a book I could give to friends and not be afraid that they would find it too dry, boring, or irrelevant.

The second experience was attending the 2012 Annual Conference on Faith and History, held at Gordon College, Massachusetts, last weekend. A gathering of devout religious historians, mostly Evangelicals who teach at small Christian colleges, I was honored to be part of two sessions that were devoted to Mormon history. It was not our (sparsly attended) sessions that stood out to me, though, but the presidential addressed delivered by Tracy McKenzie (see overview here). McKenzie taught history at the University of Washington for two decades, grew tired of being the sole Evangelical voice in his portion of the academy, and recently moved to Wheaton College, an Evangelical university. His address was an indictment of Evangelical historians for ignoring their Christian “neighbors” and only focusing on academic standards. He specifically singled out Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson’s recent (and in my estimation, excellent) The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age (Harvard UP, 2012, reviewed by Blair here) as being too hard on common Evangelicals and too lenient on Evangelical scholars; it is too comforting, McKenzie argued, to be satisfied with the narrative that Evangelical scholars are providing top-quality work and that non-academics are just ignoring it. He further posited that we need to stop dreaming that the common masses will be interested in our works produced at an academic level and for an academic audience, and instead recognize that it is part of the “Christian calling” to also produce work for average Christians. I’m confident the same accusation could also be levelled against the Mormon academy.

A third, and final, example has been reading two essay collections from Jill LeporeThe Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death (Knopf, 2012) and The Story of America: Essays on Origins (Princeton, 2012). Lepore has nothing to do with religious history–indeed, her neglect of religion is one of the most salient critiques of her work–but she has become the face of “public historians” due to her prestigious chair at Harvard University’s history department, her slew of books and articles, and her writing position with the New Yorker. After writing several critically acclaimed books–including winning the Bancroft and being a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize–she has turned her attention to writing for a more general audience through her witty essays and gorgeous writing. (Note: I have consciously forgotten her unfortunate attempt at historical fiction.) I found these two collections of essays phenomenal, a thoughtful and clever romp through many topics from the past that are still salient for today. It’s not just their responsible history, though, but her eye to ethical critiques and modern relevance that made these works so powerful. But this approach comes with a cost, as many academic historians dismiss her with snide remarks and think she now lacks the rigors of scholarly work.

So, what do we do? How are historians supposed to better reach out to the LDS community? I have several ideas, or at least observations, none of them concrete or fully fleshed-out, but at least worth mentioning. And since this post is already too long, I will keep it brief.

First, I think Mormon scholars need to recognize that we can’t expect average Latter-day Saints to buy and read academic works published by academic presses and written for an academic audience. As much as we would like to see that happen, it just won’t. Those who are already devoted to read such literature are usually not the ones who need their horizons broadened. This means that, on top of the academic publication required by our profession, we must also, if we wish to more directly add to the kingdom, reach through other venues. Second, books in general do not promise a far-reaching impact anymore in today’s digital age. Briefer essays, blogs, podcasts, interviews, G+ roundtables, all of these options provide a wider impact than 300 page monographs. Luckily, during the Mormon moment, we’ve seen a broad proliferation of such examples–even if not all are that learned or important. And third, even if it irks many Mormon intellectuals, it is important to recognize that many members won’t touch or believe specific ideas unless they are packaged in a way that deems it safe, either in a faith promoting-tone or carried by an institution-approved media (like Deseret Book). While insanely frustrating, pragmatism is often needed to bring actual change.

Which brings me to one final example: Fiona and Terryl Givens’s recently released The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life (Ensign Peak, 2012, see Julie Smith’s positive review here). Terryl is famous for his academic work, and those who know Fiona know her intellectual acumen is equal her husband’s. What brings me heart is that this volume is a direct attempt of two of Mormonism’s most brilliant minds to speak to average members. It is also perhaps the most intellectually rigorous book published by a Deseret Book imprint in years. Though not an academic book per se, and likely not something that will build Terryl’s academic pedigree, I believe it will make a larger impact on the broader membership because it is specifically addressed to them. And being that it is being heavily pushed by Deseret Book–who has, as is often pointed out, an unhealthy monopoly on determining what average Mormons read–I imagine it will be read more than a majority of Mormon studies books.

Whether such an approach will be echoed by others, though, will be seen in the future. But just to restate my main point: it will not be until Mormon scholars are willing to lower their sights and speak to average saints directly–rather than naively hoping average Mormons will raise their sights to read academic works–will we be able to see direct, real change in the culture. Not all must participate in such a move, of course; real life circumstances and personal prerogatives may force many to continue the academic path they are already on. But it is important to recognize that a continued avoidance of these important issues, collapsing the distance between our scholarship and its relevancy, forfeits our claim on the development of modern Mormon identities.

Comments

  1. I guess I would go one slight hop farther and say that when non-academics venture into the world of Mormon academics, looking for interesting things to read, it is very expensive, and discouraging.

    I don’t remember now which book it was, but there was a review of an academic oriented book, and it sounded interesting enough that I tried to find it. After looking on a number of places, I found that I could order a copy through Powell’s, but at $80, I just couldn’t afford it. I went back to the review post and asked if anyone knew a place to get a used copy. I had no idea that asking about used copies “wasn’t done” in academic circles, and the responses scared me away for a number of years.

    I buy almost all my books used, because that is what I can afford. I don’t live in Utah, so my local libraries don’t carry Mormon books in general, unless they are on the best seller list. If Mormon academics want those of us who are interested and could read their work, but who don’t have the money to read their work, they coyld try emcouraging less expensive volumes of their work to be printed.

  2. “we need to stop dreaming that the common masses will be interested in our works produced at an academic level and for an academic audience, and instead recognize that it is part of the “Christian calling” to also produce work for average Christians. I’m confident the same accusation could also be levelled against the Mormon academy.”

    Excellent. I made this point several years ago at one of the faith and knowledge conferences, in which several people expressed disdain towards ever writing for a “popular” LDS audience. If the specialists don’t condescend from their/our towers, then the non-specialists will fill that vacuum with poorly-researched and perhaps harmful material. Witness the myriad of crummy books on archaeology or whatnot written by dentists, for example.

  3. JennyP1969 says:

    Ben, this is a relevant topic, especially for those of us who have stumbled onto rocky, troublesome facts from our heretofore naive LDS history. I have spent the better part of 4 years trying to find wisdom and understanding to ease my shattered “world view” of this people, culture and doctrine. There’s nowhere to go for discussion, answers or help. The ache has become exquisite. I hope intellectual pride will not keep any historian from the approaches you suggest. Your insights will help many, and may even save one such as I. Our apostles preach repentance for learning of our history, or condescendingly imply we are dabbling in faux history or blatant dishonest sensationalism. This furthers the heart-wrenching distancing from them, making me feel misunderstood and misjudged. I feel unwelcome in my own religious home. And thus I feel lost. Ignore the facts is counsel given locally. But once you know, you can’t un-know, and ignoring has been unsuccessful. So I hope — unto pleading — for such books, articles and blogs. I feel like I’ve fallen into an abyss and need your scholarship and insight to help pull me up.

    I found these historical issues through FAIR. Their answers leave me feeling mostly empty or unsettled. They lack something solid and believable. For example, they discount journals as reliable evidence, unless it supports their faith promoting view and then it’s okay. I’m all for faith promoting, as long as the troublesome facts are not ignored, glossed over, or superficially addressed. We need truth, reason, and helpful contexualization, insight, and evaluation. We need a safe place to fall and help getting back up again.

    My, but there have been so many prayers……perhaps this is God’s holy answer. So I, for one, say go forth, Ben, go forth…..

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    Excellent post, Ben.

  5. Should we have a preparatory course before church history classes which would talk about how historians actually work? Can we work against hagiographic history? It’s clear that the Joseph Smith movie in the JS Building has not been a good missionary tool, particularly because it has so idealized Joseph in ways many audience members know are exaggerated. The obvious example is his love story with Emma, which is sweet but not even half the tale. Good literature can be a help here. The best authors never make their characters either demonic or perfect. The beauty is in the complexity.

  6. Julia: I fully agree that cost is also a barrier in many cases, and another reason why community work should be separated from academic endeavors (which seem to be destined to be expensive, in many cases).

    Ben S.: fully agree.

    Jenny: you’ve touched on much of what I wanted to address, so thanks. God speed in your journey that we all know too well.

    Margaret: I actually think a book/text/lecture/podcast/anything on the dynamic process of historical work would be extremely important and productive. Even more important, as you point out, would be instituting a framework that embraces complexity rather than shuns it.

  7. Stephen Smoot says:

    “I found these historical issues through FAIR. Their answers leave me feeling mostly empty or unsettled. They lack something solid and believable. For example, they discount journals as reliable evidence, unless it supports their faith promoting view and then it’s okay. I’m all for faith promoting, as long as the troublesome facts are not ignored, glossed over, or superficially addressed. We need truth, reason, and helpful contexualization, insight, and evaluation. We need a safe place to fall and help getting back up again. ”

    Jenny,

    Although I don’t speak officially for FAIR, as a FAIR volunteer, I’d be happy to take a look at any specific examples you have in mind and see what I can do to help correct anything that needs correction on the FAIR webpage. I also know many other FAIR volunteers would also be happy to help make any suggested corrections. We at FAIR certainly don’t want people feeling empty or unsettled when they read FAIR material, and we don’t intend on discounting journals as reliable evidence just because they aren’t “faith promoting”. So if you know of some examples, we’d be happy to take a look at them. Feel free to send us an e-mail at FAIR’s Ask the Apologist function and we’ll see what we can do to help.

    As for the post, I enjoyed it. Thanks for the insights and intriguing thoughts.

  8. I agree with Margaret that people need to learn how history is done. I think it would do a load of good if there was a Sunday School lesson on the basics of history.

    One thing that I have noticed is that most stuff on the internet about Mormon history that is written for the average person is pretty obviously biased and that they are never written by trained historians. I’ve been thinking that it would be useful to have a website that has short articles about Mormon topics written by professionals from different fields and points of view to try to remedy that. I made an outline of what the website would look like, but I have no idea how to make websites and I’m not qualified to do anything anyways.

  9. Well, the FAIRwiki IS a wiki. I’m sure if some professionals wanted to sign up to do some editing, no one would complain…

  10. Hypersonic says:

    Half the problem w/ FAIR & etc is that it is too focused on adult academics. The biggest crisis is teenagers like me. Although I willingly read academic stuff, even I find it difficult to read Fair/Farms/Interpeter. And I’m a fairly advanced reader. The next generation of Mormon scholars, authorities, teachers, and class presidents need to figure out how to out reach to this age group effectively. Apps, social media, better books will all help. Also, most Imp., we need historical nuance & fact w/simplicity.

  11. J. Stapley says:

    I’m really conflicted about the issues you raise in your post Ben. On the one hand I completely agree that I want scholars (who I agree with and like) popularizing their academic work…perhaps translating it for relevance as you say. I think I had something like this in mind when Tona and I put together this bit about working research on female healing practice into women’s conference. On the other hand, it pretty much drives me crazy when people take an historical document, that for example mentions women and the priesthood, and then says something like, “Mormon women used to have the priesthood….” And I realize that the answer is more and better scholarship, and more and better popularization. But it doesn’t change the crazy-making right now.

    I also think that there are many topics that, at least right now, can’t be written about with an eye to contemporary politics without poising the well. So I am generally a proponent of separating historical arguments from political arguments (though I hope the latter are informed by the former.

    Also, that photo is creepy.

  12. Kevin Barney says:

    Hypersonic, I’m involved in FAIR, and you raise a legitimate criticism. FAIR isn’t really geared to the youth as you rightly point out. This is not for lack of trying; it had an initiative called FAIR Rising Generation or something like that, but it was hard to get young people interested or involved. I frankly do not know what the answer is there, but I agree that there is a need that is not being adequately met.

  13. I like FAIR and think that it is professionally done, but because it is an apologetic site many people look to one of the many unprofessional anti-Mormon websites in an attempt to look at all sides. My thought is that there could be a website where professionals from Mormon and non-Mormon backgrounds can write short articles about topics. It wouldn’t be a wiki so that people can know who the author is and what their background is. It could promote itself as being a website that has serious and professional treatments of Mormonism from Mormons and anti-Mormons. Does that make sense? It seems to me that there is an empty niche for a website like that, but I admit that it is quite possible that I am seeing a need that isn’t there.

  14. J. Stapley says:

    I think that there is a lot of things going on in the thread here. Ben can correct me if I am mistaken, but I read him as calling for something quite different than getting more information to non-scholars (understanding that that is a part of it). I like your suggestion, though, mapman (though I hope you meant “serious and professional treatments of Mormonism from Mormons and non-Mormons”).

  15. JennyP1969 says:

    Stephen Smoot: Thank you for the offer. I will consider it. But when FAIR always discounts questioning and troubled members as being apostates and disgruntled, and thus esteems their comments as automatically untrue, or too biased to be worthy of consideration (while esteeming only faithful comments as accurate and true), I have a hard time believing FAIR is being fair and objective. Many comments are very disdainful. But, perhaps, as you say, I can go there and address specifics, though I feel it’s pointless, to be honest. If the way you treat the authors of books, articles, and blogs of others is any indication, what hope is there for a regular old member?

    I don’t think FAIR or even the highest leaders realize how very afraid people like me are of watching the house we built upon a rock sliding down the slippery slope of the church’s creation. The fear, the pain, the feeling of being lost — you and they just don’t get it. Do the Brethren even know about these issues in our history? Why won’t they address them directly? Why do they leave us in such turmoil as to this church — not the Savior or the Spirit — but the church and its history which affects the present day? Those who are immoral, or addicted, or new members, the poor, the needy, the widow, the single parent — all these are treated with such love, devotion, and respect. But those who have troubling questions are not. They are shoved aside, and not charitably so. They are very mean to those they deem disloyal. I humbly and sincerely ask as a mother and grandmother in Zion, where is their loyalty to us? How is this negative labeling and spirit of disdain honoring the oath and covenant of the Priesthood, in addition to the teachings of Jesus Christ?

    Kevin Barney: I wish I could attend your Gospel Doctrine class. I’ve enjoyed your posts and comments on BCC, as well as other sites, and your insights have helped me many times these past few years. Thank you for that.

    Ben: again, go forth……… and thank you for addressing these concerns through your post. It gives me that wonderful thing called Hope. I will pay any price to buy such a book, even if I have to give up a few meals and other things to do so. And I’d love to buy juliathepoet one for her birthday! I’ve been where you are sister–I know how that is. Now I’m in a better budget world and would love to share……

  16. Stephen Smoot says:

    Jenny:

    “But when FAIR always discounts questioning and troubled members as being apostates and disgruntled, and thus esteems their comments as automatically untrue, or too biased to be worthy of consideration (while esteeming only faithful comments as accurate and true), I have a hard time believing FAIR is being fair and objective.”

    I am afraid there must have been a massive misunderstanding between you and whoever you interacted with at FAIR, or you may have misunderstood something you read at FAIR, since in my nearly five years of volunteer work with FAIR I have never heard anyone at FAIR “discounts questioning and troubled members as being apostates and disgruntled”. The entire purpose of our existence is to help troubled and questioning members, not discount them.

    I would encourage you to write to FAIR if you have specific questions, or wish to show specific examples of the above. We at FAIR do not want to alienate members who have questions or doubts, and if you have had a negative experience in the past, please let us know, so we can correct it.

    Now, we at FAIR have, at times, confronted critics of the Church who are making directly negative claims against the Church –– not just asking sincere questions or wondering how to handle doubt. That has, at times, led to some, shall we say, heated exchanges. However, everyone I know at FAIR strives to be civil and respectful, even if at times we, and especially I, fail to do so. We are only human, after all.

    “I don’t think FAIR or even the highest leaders realize how very afraid people like me are of watching the house we built upon a rock sliding down the slippery slope of the church’s creation. ”

    I can sympathize, as I have, at times, had similar feelings. But what I discovered to be the best remedy to these fears is to fearlessly confront them through rigorous study and prayer. FAIR has been immensely valuable to me for providing resources where I can confront my fears with confidence.

    Again, I encourage you to write FAIR with specific questions. I also encourage you to show us specific examples of malfeasance on FAIR’s part so that we can correct it. You will not be treated as “apostate and disgruntled” for simply asking sincere, honest questions or offering sincere, honest advice on how we can improve in helping others.

    Many thanks.

  17. Jenny- I would much rather have you as a friend! Would you be interested in co-writing a post for my Mormon Moment Series? I am working on one that addresses apologetics and the relationship between FAIR and members, especially in light on talks this conference. I try VERY hard to use the series to give a snap shot of what Mormon life looks like, from the inside, from those who stay and those who have left. Check it out and see if it is something you would like to be involved with, and then leave a comment or email me. :-)
    Poetrysansonions.com (all the Mormon Moments links are on a tab at the top)

  18. One of the things that troubles me about these issues is my own difficulty in bridging this gap between the language of scholarship and the popular. For me, the difficulty stems from the same source I feel in the classroom. Students often feel frustrated with professors (me included) who seem to lack empathy with their struggles in comprehension. We’ve all passed through that veil and now we just can’t remember what its like on the other side. Thinking as a historian or a physicist or whatever has become nature. I see this barrier between myself and others, say in a Sunday School setting, and I try to imagine a strategy for breaching that wall. I’m sympathetic with the effort and the insights in the post. But in the back of my mind . . . . probably I’m just tired. (grin)

  19. Jenny,

    As a teenager, my encounters with FAIR, FARMS, Nibley and others left me feeling pretty confident in approaching “difficult” questions in church history and doctrine. This over-confidence was beaten out of me after a couple months of exchange with a vituperous anti-Mormon who was himself quite over-confident and wrong on a host of issues. However, I couldn’t honestly negate every criticism thrown my way, and it was only then that I sensed some hollowness in the way I had for years interpreted the scholarship of apologists in the faith.

    Some of the rhetoric was overreaching. Nibley seemed fond of collapsing context in favor of intriguing parallels, and often sparred with caricatures of opponents of the church rather than carefully treating the substance of their criticisms. Others tended to emphasize the “bulls-eyes” of Mormon claims and neglected to discuss or sometimes even intimate the existence of critical, unresolved issues.

    This “disillusionment”, as it were, when I realized that my focus on apologetic scholarship to the ignorance of wider conversations had created a hollowness I couldn’t accept, was probably the best thing that could’ve happened for me. It was awful for a while, when I felt disillusioned and even betrayed, having to piece together a new world view when things fell apart. But with hindsight, I can see that my own approach to apologetics and church history set me up for my own fall. I don’t think most (especially FAIR-quality) apologists mean to be misleading at all, and in fact make very modest claims (occasionally not couched in modest language… but then again, my old approach to such scholarship would inflate the modesty of the claims into near-proofs of doctrine).

    There is plenty of room for faith and there is plenty of room for doubt, and difficult, unanswered questions ought to be personal invitations to learn more and broaden our perspectives. Even if we don’t agree with the direction an apologist or church leader(s) have taken in regard to, for instance, intellectual openness, we can take strides to understand where they’re coming from and so do our part to enable future bridges to be built, with conversations built on respect and mutual understanding. Things will get better with time.

    It is sometimes difficult to be a “seeker” in a conservative faith. You might be mislabeled and misjudged, and feel as if the condescension is coming from the uppermost ranks of the church. I hope you know that there are countless many that have trod similar paths as you, that you do have a home, that this faith is still your home. Elder Oaks once said, “I only teach the general rules. Whether an exception applies to you is your responsibility. You must work that out individually between you and the Lord.” I think that applies to some things you’ll hear from leaders whose goal is to prevent the average church member from straining out gnats and swallowing camels. I hope you can find people to help you ease your shattered “world view” by sharing with, answering, conversing with, and understanding you. At the very least you’ve got some bloggernacle folk (me included, though I’m just one of many in the background) who would always be happy to chat. =). Best of luck in your journey!

  20. Can I say that having it announced from the pulpit that looking at internet information unfavorable to the church kind of grated on me. I know there is lots of biased material on the internet, there is also lots of trash on the internet in general, just search UFO conspiracies on google. But blanket dismissing the entire idea of gaining information and knowledge from the internet as sin is kind of like condemning a casual searcher who tries to figure out which natural phenomenon cause the most cause UFO reports as being the same as someone who develops a cult obsession with UFO coverup stories. Granted, with the absurd amount of information available on the internet it can be difficult for someone who doesn’t know much about a subject to separate truth from falsehood. Welcome to the modern age of information overload. I’m not about to repent of using google in my daily life because there are crazies on the internet. I feel like I should be able to try to search for responsible venues to learn about the church in a balanced way using the internet or print, without it being dismissed as a sin from the pulpit. I’ve learned valuable things from sources including Dialogue Journal, FAIR, FARMS (back when it was…), FMH, and this website. Sure, I run across stuff online that sometimes ends up being ridiculously untrue, but that wasn’t any more untrue than my seminary teacher telling me that the facsimiles from the Book of Abraham could be translated by any egyptologist in the world to be a document written by Abraham himself or an Institute teacher who I had who once spent about half of a lesson instructing us about how the medical community represented a secret combination because the medical science had obviously been perfected within the last 50 years and so obviously any uncured illness represented a con artist game to allow unnecessary pain for longer while soaking as much money out of people as possible while uncured patients died needlessly. Narrowing information sources to correlated material only can reach a point where a seeking for devotion outshines a seeking for truth. We need both devotion and truth.

  21. Stephen Smoot says:

    Elder Cook never said looking up stuff on the internet was a sin. Nor did he make a “blanket dismissal” of using the internet. What he said was:

    “Many who are in a spiritual drought and lack commitment have not necessarily been involved in major sins or transgressions, but they have made unwise choices. Some are casual in their observance of sacred covenants. Others spend most of their time giving first-class devotion to lesser causes. Some allow intense cultural or political views to weaken their allegiance to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some have immersed themselves in Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent shortcomings of early Church leaders. Then they draw incorrect conclusions that can affect testimony. Any who have made these choices can repent and be spiritually renewed.”

    He said “immersing” yourself in “Internet materials that magnify, exaggerate, and, in some cases, invent shortcomings of early Church leaders” is an “unwise choice”.

    Given my own experience on the Internet, I have to agree with Elder Cook.

    His other references to the internet was to warn us not to use the internet to search for pornography and other raunchy materials that are harmful to spirituality.

    “Narrowing information sources to correlated material only can reach a point where a seeking for devotion outshines a seeking for truth. ”

    Such may be true, but Elder Cook never said anything like it in his recent General Conference address.

    As a teacher of mine used to say: “Context counts.” :-)

  22. Ron Madson says:

    I too am haunted by JD Lee’s photograph. My mother died recently and I dream of her often. It was not until a couple of years ago that I finally discovered why her side of the family had such a disdain for JD Lee (my mother always said that his name was not allowed to be spoken her home growing up); a very skeptical view of authority figures, church or otherwise, and why for the most part they were inactive even though every line had its roots in early church history. My ggggrandfather was summoned to MMM by JD Lee. He claims to have only held the horses and later testified against JD Lee at the trial. In any event, not knowing how to give “context” to church history for us non-academics has consequences even generationally. I will order the Givens book and read it. Constantly searching for a more encompassing view of our faith community. If it were not for physical isolation I suspect that my mother’s side probably would have physically as well as spiritually removed themselves from Mormonism. So we need the Givens, the Bushmans and others to speak to us non-academics that will provide a framework to remain a part of this faith.

  23. Lots of great comments here. Let me say, though, that I would prefer this not to turn into a bash on FAIR. Though there may be some philosophical differences in how to interpret and present troubling issues, I know that the good folks involved with that organization share many of the same goals I present in this post.

    And Stapley is right that what I am calling for is more than just giving increased information to non-academics, though that is surely part of it. Rather, we need to better conceptualize how to package and understand these issues within our culture. Scholars spending more time in helping that cause is a huge step in that direction.

  24. Oh, and J, I fully agree on the importance of separating historical issues from political partisanship. (Jill Lepore’s THE STORY OF AMERICA spends its whole introduction on that point.) The answer, I think, is to at least add some nuance and background to the discussion, which is often sorely needed on both sides of any debate. The key goal of the public historian, as I see it, is to make the issue more problematic, not more simple.

  25. This bugs me: ” it will not be until Mormon scholars are willing to lower their sights and speak to average saints directly–rather than naively hoping average Mormons will raise their sights to read academic works–”

    I think it won’t be until Mormon scholars stop thinking of talking to non-scholars as “lowering their sights” that we make progress. I know you aren’t personally snobbish, Ben, and that this is a hastily-written blogpost, but the fact that the shorthand language we use sets up this hierarchy is a huge part of the problem.

  26. Great point, Kristine. Guilty as charged.

  27. Ignacio M. Garcia says:

    I think that one of the challenges of scholarship is that some people expect it to solve most of our “historical or theological” concerns, while others believe scholarship is the one that creates them. People in Sunday School do not learn from scholarship, they learn from people who are a “light” in their lives and who happen to “do scholarship”. If you want to know why some people are more influential than others (in the right way), look at the way people perceive them in regards to their living the gospel. We spend too much time trying to be heard from the peripheries instead of speaking from within the kingdom. It is not easy, in fact, it is extremely hard, but when we choose to be intellectuals in the kingdom we bring this upon ourselves. And it is because some are willing to bear the burden with meekness and faith that they can rightly call themselves Mormon intellectuals. All the rest of us are either apologists or critics. Having concerns about our church’s past sins is no different–in regards to the challenge–than it is to struggle with any other obstacle. Only when we can move past it do we find how it strengthens us. Moving past it does not mean ignoring it, it just means seeing the value of the church is greater than the sum of its faults.

  28. We average Latter-day Saints can hardly wait to be admitted to the Lake Woebegone of scholars, where all are above-average. Until that glorious day, perhaps we among the common masses can amuse ourselves with low entertainments–some braying of trumpets, and banging of brasses, perhaps, while all our betters join in a grand Tantantara! Tzing! Boom!

  29. Ben, very good. I think what Kristine’s comment naturally points to is the notion of scholarship as “translation.” Translation is a much more linear, non-hierarchical process and should be at work whether we are speaking to other scholars or to any other group. We don’t “dumb down” in translation, we render across, repurposing our ideas to better facilitate communication according to our audience. Scholarship delimits itself when it plants itself solely in the walls of the academy, both because it inherently admits that its ideas have no real purchase if they can’t be proliferated on the outside, and because it loses out on the progress of interpretation and re-interpretation and revision and expansion that inevitably occurs as ideas are exposed to various audiences.

  30. Well said, Jacob.

  31. Perhaps we could look at other academics who have successfully written for both the academic and lay person. Bart Ehrman could be one example – while not strictly a historian, he often releases essentially two versions of many of his books.

  32. 14: Yes, I meant non-Mormons, not anti-Mormons.

  33. “Oh, and J, I fully agree on the importance of separating historical issues from political partisanship.”

    This is not quite as easy in church history as in, say, American political history, since it’s not clear exactly what “party” anyone belongs to. J. is right that it’s too simple to say “women used to hold the priesthood,” but it’s also misleading to say that they _didn’t_, at least not to the extent that the latter claim is used to support current church practice. Part of the value of Jill Lepore’s work is to insist that there is no such thing as scholarly neutrality–the historian is, whether s/he likes it or not, engaged in contemporary debates, and ought to be clear and explicit about it.

  34. I wish I had a “Kristine-a-fier” that could take all my inchoate ideas and make them sound smart. I would pay a lot of money for that.

  35. Either let my comment out of moderation or delete. Timing is everything in comedy, dammit, and you’re ruining any chance I ever had!

  36. Mark: I freed it, for “comedy’s sake.”

  37. Ben (35), me too!!

  38. Rondy Ross says:

    This is to Jenny,
    I have pondered your points a great deal. My wife and I have said that we wish there was an advanced Gospel Doctrine for those who have knowledge of the scriptures and wanted to discuss them deeper and to feel comfortable bringing up difficult issues. Also, we wonder why some warnings and controversial issues can’t be discussed in General Conference. I sat back, took a deep breath and realized that the duty of the brethren and sisters on a general level is to teach correct doctrine and build faith. They are teaching to a very diverse audience world wide, most of whom are not well versed in the gospel. To do that and to give people like me something to chew on every conference is a daunting task and they seem to me to do it well.

    But where does that leave us. The only conclusion I have come to is personal study and interaction with others. While I have always been hesitant to discuss deeper issues with ward members for fear of destroying someone’s faith with my questions, I have fallen in love with the Internet, FAIR, the Mormon History Association and other including this blog. I also think Daniel Peterson’s blog, Sic et Non, is superb although he tends to be politically more conservatism than I am. He’s worth it! I love BYU Studies, but tend to shy away from Dialogue and Sunstone because they can be forums for negativity. That being said, ironically, speaking of negativity, I do read some anti-Mormon websites, but that is mostly for the sake of humor. I find little in those place that challenge my faith.

    Jenny, I hope you will keep coming to this blog and others. I think they are a great outlet. you have my understanding (i think) and my sympathy. I wish you well and hope to see future posts from you.

  39. Rodney Ross says:

    I corrected my typo of my name above. Sorry.

  40. Interesting post. As a non-academic getting an initial start into researching and writing Mormon history, I’ve thought some about these very issues, coupled with a sense that often Mormon history comes across in the larger world of history as taking a very small topic and narrowing the focus to such a fine extent as to make it totally incomprehensible to society in general. I’ve appreciated what I’ve seen in the last few years of fitting some aspects of Mormon history in the larger context of the American cultural experience. I believe we need more of that, but we also need a way to make Mormon history more interesting to the reading public at large.

    A couple of examples of folks that have written what I consider to be interesting and informative history but targeted for general public consumption are Candice Millard and Timothy Egan. Is there not room for writing history that includes Mormon topics as part of a larger general history? I’d love to see some examples if you know of any.

    Our target audience ought to be wider than the typical Deseret Book customer.

  41. Well said.

    There needs to be apparent relevance. Not just hostility to accessible writing overcome, but an actual connection to the audience you want.

  42. Just a little contextual subtext here about the relationship of Deseret Book and LDS History. Givens did an interview with John Dehlin’s Mormon Stories podcast recently where mentioned that Deseret Book hasn’t carried his books before with only a couple exceptions.

    I believe it was on part 5 of his interview at 1:03:12.

    Here’s the exchange:

    Dehlin: You had told me yourself, your books are not available at Deseret Book!

    Givens: Well I guess they have one or two they carry. I think by the Hand of Mormon they now carry and I assume they are going to carry Parley P. Pratt. But yeah they’ve refused to carry any of the past books I’ve written. I think it represents a larger loss. It’s not just my personal loss. What it suggests is that there is an unwillingness to expose a Mormon readership to a presentation of the faith that is intellectually substantial and academically rigorous, because Deseret has the function of serving as a kind of imprimatur of the Church on any book that it sells. The stories are legion that I have heard of people saying, “Well, if it doesn’t come from Deseret, I’m suspicious of it. I even had a Deseret employee tell me that, when I asked if they carried a certain book that wasn’t published by you. She said, “Well, if it’s not published by Deseret, I think there’s good reason to be suspicious.” And I think Deseret could perform such a wonderful service in fostering a genuine intellectual culture in the Church by carrying books and fostering the publication of books that challenge us to stretch. It’s just a shame that we’re so intellectually blighted as a culture because of the diet that we’re fed.

    I guess Deseret Book publishing this new book from the Givens raises questions of whether there is a change in stance over there.

  43. Seth: interesting follow-up to that. Terryl said basically the same thing at a conference in New York last Fall. (I.E., Deseret Book refuses to carry anything intellectually stimulating.) Afterward, Sheri Dew caught wind of the comment and actually commissioned Terryl and Fiona to write such a book. The new book is the result.

  44. “advanced Gospel Doctrine” Depending on the teacher, Institute can function that way. (I know *I* treat it that way.)

    I’d also like to thank Prof. Garcia for dropping in. I’m sure he doesn’t remember me, but he taught my His 200 “The Historian’s Craft” class, which gets into historiography and all manner of other introductory-but-non-obvious-things-about-history-one-wishes-non-specialists-understood.

  45. Rodney Ross says:

    Ben,
    Agreed about Institute classes and the publication of the Givens’ book. Like everything the Church does, Deseret Book’s mission is to build faith and I support that. I would not be happy if they started carrying all the publications from Signature Books (which has a different mission!), but it would be great to see some Greg Kofford books at Deseret stores. Kofford does a great job.

  46. JennyP1969 says:

    Thank you to all who have commented so encouragingly regarding my concerns. It’s uplifting and I appreciate that.

    I know the leaders need to be considerate of new members, or even old ones, who don’t know about troublesome things in our history. But surely there is a way to address these concerns for those who are aware, rather than leaving us all alone to wade through the swamp in the “dark night of our soul.” Jesus said straight up that the Jewish church of His day made mistakes and He course corrected. Our church calls them “some perceived mistake,” and only course corrects the individual who has those perceptions.

    I go to the scriptures, to prayer, fasting, meditation, and the temple. I play with my grandchildren. I read good blogs, books and articles. I pray some more. James said that if I lack wisdom, I may ask of God, who will give liberally, without upbraiding me. As yet, He has not given me answers to the troublesome facts and doctrines taught in the early days of the church. But neither has He ever upbraided me for seeking.

    But my beautiful church hasn’t helped me at all, and they condescendingly upbraid. We the members, one and all, were not made for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Rather, the Lord’s church is always made for the people, one and all.

    Julia, thank you for your kind invitation. I’ll check out your website and think about it. But first, I want to go to FAIR and address my concerns there. I’m taking care of my ailing father, so it will be a while. But thank you very much.

  47. Jenny-

    It sounds like you have a lot of stress in your life. I have been thinking about you for the last day, and I feel prompted to give you my contact info. It is okay if you wait to use it, and my questions, for my post would be more about the questions that brought you to find FAIR. I am not trying to get into FAIR as an organization, to critique it. I want to be able to explain where members and non-members go with questions when they come up. You know you life better than I do, and whenever you are ready, I have a poem I wrote for you (and just for you) saved on my laptop.

    You are and will stay in my prayers, and if you just want to email me findingmywaysoftly @gmail will get right to me. I promise you that Heavenly Father knows you, he loves you, and no matter how dark a night seems, you are not alone. You reached out, and Heavenly Father is reaching back. I am sure there are many others who are receiving promptings as well. I will just say that Christ does not leave us alone, and often those he sends in his place are sometimes thousands of miles apart in body, and right next door in service.

  48. Btw, the implied criticism of all the FARMS books at DB as light weight tripe …

    Given how slow they sell, I think that there is a reason that demographic of book does not get more space.

    But it is not fair to ignore books of that type that are being carried.

  49. While I think that there are plenty of bridges that still need to be built, I can’t see places, besides Mormon blogs where the Ivory Tower and the “masses” might even meet, and be able to say, “I really wish I could talk to you even though we both don’t have PhDs.” So, imperfect as some of the communications are, I think it is significant that in less than 50 comments, the following things happened:

    Someone wanted to find ways to share what he/she knows with non-academics.

    People pointed out barriers that were not part of the initial barriers talked about, and those were acknowledged.

    Emotionally charged words were used by someone frustrated and hurting.

    People responded to the content of those words, and the emotions, in ways that both validated the feelings AND suggested ways to address the concerns.

    A desire to share concerns about an organization was honored, and someone from the organization clarified its mission and had suggestions for how to work to make mission and practice come closer together.

    Pointed criticisms were made in a loving manner, so that even though they cut straight to the heart of the matter, no one was mortally injured.

    Expressions of hope, love, faith and compassion were interwoven through out the conversation.

    That is pretty freakin awesome if you ask me!

    I included this post in the “What I am reading” part of my update, because this is the kind of post, and comments that I want to have happen more often.

    You can see my post here, with other things I connected with this week, if you are interested.

    http://www.poetrysansonions.com/2012/10/mormon-moment-series-on-wheat-and-tares.html?m=0

  50. I haven’t read all of the comments, FYI.

    While I’m sympathetic, Ben, to your point that the masses don’t want to bridge the gap themselves, I fundamentally disagree that it is then the scholars job to dumb things down to the point where the masses will then willingly absorb their writing. If nothing else in the church, we ought to be doing a better job of telling our people to read good scholarship. I know that I, as a religious scholar, read many religious scholarship books. I would also do the same if I had decided to become an astrophysicist, because we’re literally commanded to read out of the best books (D&C 88:118). Pragmatically, we should meet somewhere in the middle. I find the idea that academics should solely meet people where they are and never bring them higher an unchristian thought.

    Maybe I’m reading your post here as an overstatement, or maybe you did overstate it, but scholars should not have to be the only ones moving to fix this problem. I’m happy to see that Sheri Dew is doing a bit to help this problem with Deseret Book, but there is more to be done and merely fixing the inventory at Deseret Book isn’t going to do nearly enough. The average Joe members need to do their part too. We can, and should, expect them to find more of “the best books” on their own.

  51. Carl: in no way am I downplaying the responsibility of all saints; far from it. It’s just we hear that point of view all. the. time. Especially in academic circles. It is just so comforting to blame it all on others, but I don’t think that is the correct response. We need more empathy. We need more of a collaborative approach. I don’t think bridges will be built until we are able to meet half-way.

  52. I know that I, as a religious scholar, read many religious scholarship books. I would also do the same if I had decided to become an astrophysicist, because we’re literally commanded to read out of the best books

    Carl, do you read the same astrophysics books that astrophysicists do, communicating with each other on a professional level? If not, why not?

    I protest both the notion and the label “dumbing down.” That is the truly “unchristian thought” in this entire discussion. Nowhere does God make it a condition of salvation that anyone learn all the jargon and wade through the entire body of any field’s professional literature in preparation for understanding any principle that really matters to any but an academic specialist.

  53. it's a series of tubes says:

    And I am reminded, yet again, of why Ardis is t3h awesome.

  54. Loved this discussion. Every word. Comedy and tragedy. And while you are all solving the issues of communication and clarity and the complexity and simplicity of faith…. I’d like to put in my order for a “Kristine-a-fier” app for my iPhone.

  55. JennyP1969 says:

    “Dumb down” is just so incredibly…well… prideful.

    Shouldn’t any writer write to their intended audience? And are “the best books” only the academic tomes? If the average brain doesn’t function as well as the author’s, should the author consider the average reader or just the advanced reader? Maybe you could write to your peers, but leave room to write to the rest of us who are trying to read out of “the better books” till we’re resurrected and can read out of your smart up ones. Just expostulating…….

  56. Lee Family Tree says:

    Funny, when I look at a picture of John D. Lee I really do see my grandfather… and grandmother. Both of them were descendents of Lee.

    I’m not LDS but I study it as a grad student of history. I did investigate the church for a time and when I mentioned to the missionary sisters my relation to Lee, they didn’t seem too open to discussion. In fact, they almost seemed disturbed when I mentioned I had visited the massacre site a few months earlier. As it is Lee is my only real direct link to Mormonism and its history so its what I have to talk about.

    With what little authority I have to speak on the matter, it seems to me that if scholars are still predominately writing to a scholarly audience it’s because it’s the only way they can talk about the gritty, ugly parts of history. Or at least approach general history objectively. I’m not sure simply writing towards a popular Mormon audience will elicit readership unless there is already a culture open to the those kinds of discussions. In my limited experience, it’s not.

    On one hand, I’ve always been incredibly impressed how much average Mormons know about church history, generally (including, of course, family histories), as compared to people of other faiths knowing those histories. But on the other, I get the impression only parts of that history are really open to general discussion.

    Maybe there needs to be some historian-apostles in the leadership kind of like the scientist-apostles 100 years ago. Then people would have a role model to look up to and say, hey, it’s okay to discuss this stuff.

  57. Ben, Thanks for your writing about this, and what it means to be an LDS scholar. This post is part of what led me to write this post about the LDS Canon and LDS Intellectuals.

    http://www.poetrysansonions.com/2012/10/mormon-moment-series-part-eleven-lds.html

    If you are interested, I would love to know what additional thoughts BCC readers have.

  58. I know I’m late to the party, but I’m just catching up on my Google Reader here, and this is an interesting topic.

    I’m surprised that only two other people called out the author for that lowering sights / raising sights nonsense. But no need to beat a dead horse.

    What I really wanted to mention is that I have a background in scientific research of the public health variety. In that context, dissemination of research is considered not only an intellectual exercise, but a moral imperative. To do potentially life-saving research and then not disseminate your findings to other researchers, policy-makers, the media, and ultimately the public would be unthinkable. I think the same imperative applies here. LDS scholars are doing potentially soul-saving research and to not see that it is disseminated to the people who need it to salvage their testimonies in the internet age is–and I don’t use this word lightly–wrong. In this case, more than in the case of public health research, it is going to take a very direct effort to find and publish to those groups of people who need it most. And I second Hypersonic’s assertion that youth are an especially overlooked group in need. And while I deeply appreciate books from scholars like the Givens and the Bushmans, I agree with previous commenters that a range of media and dissemination techniques are required.

    Anyway, that’s my (late) two cents.

  59. Glad you chimed in, Anna, even belatedly. The number of folks who end up blindsided by historical/doctrinal questions that have been known and discussed among scholars for decades ought to give us pause, and I like your comparison of life-saving and soul-saving research.

  60. Lee Family Tree says:

    I second that. Historical research should always be considered a sacred duty, imho. I’m always amazed when people think the past has no bearing on the present.

    Recently, I watched P.T. Anderson’s “The Master” and it reminded me of the sort of messy, experimental phase most religions go through early on, Mormonism included. I think for many people religion is supposed to be clean, pretty and pure in its original state – like a big bang and then there is suddenly this new universal religion, theologically complete and perfect. The truth, as I’m sure most on here know, is usually quite the opposite. It scares people to discover that their religion developed, evolved, and solidified over a period of time, most often with a lot of baggage cast off in the process. In the case of “The Master” it would be hard to even call it a religion at the stage “The Cause” is depicted in the film.

    I don’t know any religion that survives much more than one or two generations without changing and evolving. To me, that’s the beautiful thing about it. And Mormons have a great example with the Doctrine and Covenants, easily as much of a historical narrative of change and development as it is a set of sacred revelations. Does that history get taught along with the doctrine? (Serious question) It seems part of that outreach could start right in Sunday School.
    Something to change people’s attitudes towards religious origins from an early age while still remaining sensitive to the sacred message.

    Two other cents: being a non-Momorn scholar of Mormonism has gotten me so many weird looks from fellow “gentiles” here in hyper-liberal Portland, OR. They seem to conflate studying its history with practicing the religion (which is seen as bad thing, of course, to them). Whereas, it seems within Mormonism, the reality is often the case that studying the history is seen as anathema to practicing the religion. Confirmation bias all around…

  61. Lee Family Tree, thanks for bringing up The Master. It wasn’t really on my radar but your description of its themes made me very curious to see it.

  62. Lee Family Tree says:

    You’re welcome. It’s a well-done film, though quite graphic and disturbing in a few places.

  63. I guess I’m just trying to figure out how ignorance of religious history is somehow much worse than the general ignorance and superficiality that afflicts our population about history in general.

    It’s been my general observation that never in human history have we had a people so badly OVER-estimate their knowledge and comprehension of human history. The understanding of the historical record, in culture, science, military, governance, politics, religion, and so forth is almost uniformly bad in our current population. It’s all dealt with on a very superficial level.

    That isn’t really anything new. What’s new is that the current population seems to be insanely confident that they actually DO have a good grasp of the historical record. That they do know everything important to know about the past.

    It’s from that ridiculous and contemptible arrogance that they encounter their first painful realizations that they actually were quite ignorant of LDS history and their comprehension was laughably superficial.

    So rather than point the blame were it belongs – at themselves, and at the woefully inadequate education system that spent more time telling them what special little sunflowers they are, than it did in teaching them to read, study and think – they instead draw the hysterical conclusion that it must be that the LDS Church is hiding something.

    After all, if I never learned it – that must mean that someone was hiding the ball.

    Because I’m freaking brilliant! And anything that could be discovered certainly WOULD have been discovered, if only corrupt men hadn’t been hiding it from me.

    Arrogance is almost never apparent to the person who is trapped in it.

  64. Seth R. (no. 69) — Very profound!

  65. Lee Family Tree says:

    Seth R., I think all those people you speak of eventually migrate to Portland. Your remarks remind me not just of historical arrogance but outright misuse and abuse of history.

    I’m sure anyone on here could cite numerous examples but two from this election season caught me eye. Early on when Jon Huntsman was still in the running I saw someone try to use his descent from Isaac B. Haight against him, as if the actions and orders of a relative 155 years ago have any bearing on his ability to lead people. I’ll let Utahns settle the question of his effectiveness, but I of all people can appreciate how incredibly non-sensical such a notion is. The second example was much more recent and came from an opinion piece in the college newspaper I also write for. This writer blatantly called Mitt Romney a bigot solely on the grounds that he was a practicing Mormon prior to OD2 in 1978. She also referred to George W. Romney as an athiest, which only goes to prove Seth’s point.

  66. Lee Family Tree says:

    *atheist, not athiest!

  67. Lee Family Tree- I don’t know about the college paper, but growing up here, there generally is a pretty open attitude about history. I learned a lot of things in seminary that directly addressed historical Mormonism. Many things that are cited as things that touched of a faith crisis are things we learned as part of my Seminary class.

    Not everyone is open, but at least in the stake I grew up in, being open and honest was considered part of raising intelligent children and ongoing missionary work with new members.

  68. Lee Family Tree says:

    Do you mean growing up in P-town? Either way, thanks for answering my earlier question. That’s the kind of honesty I wish all (religious) people shared.

    Also, just to clarify generally, when I made the comment about historically arrogant people migrating to Portland I was referring to the general populous, not LDS specifically. In fact, as I was writing it I was only envisioning all the crazy alarmist rhetoric I’ve heard people dish out during my time in this city. The LDS I’ve met here are among the nicest and most level-headed people I’ve met.

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