Whiteness and Jesus

Over the last couple weeks I’ve been reading The Color of Christ: The Son of God and the Saga of Race In America. Without going into too much detail, the book traces the development of Jesus as white in the United States and the contested place of His whiteness. Broadly speaking, when the Puritans came here, they eschewed images, including pictures of Jesus. And in the early days, when Jesus appeared to people, He appeared as light, not as racialized.[fn1]

Little by little, Jesus began to be more embodied in the American imagination; His embodiment emerged roughly (though not entirely) with technology that allow the mass production of pictures and pamphlets. And embodied Jesus began to be depicted as racially white.

Especially after the Civil War and into the first half of the 20th century, His whiteness was often (not always, but often) pressed into the service of white supremacy. Jesus was white because white was better, white was purer, white was worthier.

Again, this outline is very surface-level; the book provides a lot more detail and nuance. But overall, it represents the book’s outline (at least through the Civil Rights movement and the creation of Black Liberation Theology, which is where I currently am in the book). [Read more…]

The Giant Joshua — Chapters Nine and Ten

By Lynne Larson

“That was it, she thought, that which would sustain her . . . the Light was still hers, growing brighter as one gained wisdom . . . The wave of joy broke, and the dazzling spray flooded her with love, faith, divine goodness.”

It is soul-piercing grief that haunts these hundred pages – Chapters Nine and Ten – and unfathomable loss of her beloved Freeborn and her three children that points Clory toward the maturity of spirit required to recognize the “Light” of the above quotation and survive her circumstances. The ultimate victory will be hard-won.

[Read more…]

Uyghurs, the Church, and Religious Freedom

Uyghur girls. Xinjiang. Photo by kpi. CC BY 2.0

About a week ago, Disney released its live-action Mulan for rent on Disney+. As people watched it, they noticed something: in the closing credits, Disney gives “special thanks” to eight government entities in Xinjiang, where parts of the movie were filmed.

This has led to calls to boycott the movie in the U.S.[fn1]

Why? It’s a long(ish) story, told better by others, but the short version: Xinjiang (in western China) is home to about 12 million indigenous Muslims. The largest of these groups are the Uyghurs.[fn2] Since at least 2017, the Chinese government has been aggressively detaining its Uyghur population in concentration camps (which it calls “re-education camps”). Today, an estimated 1 million Uyghurs (which represents more than 8% of the Muslim population in the region) are detained in these concentration camps. Moreover, Buzzfeed has determined that China has recently built 268 new compounds in which to detain its Uyghur population. [Read more…]

Never Forget: A 9/11 Reflection Demanding we Remember Consequences

In September 2001 I had just started my first job out of law school—working right next to the FBI building in downtown DC. I evacuated out of the city, mostly on foot, resting for a while in the apartment of someone I didn’t know—a friend of a friend. It was disorienting, terrifying, and I kept thinking “when will things get back to normal?”

For me, they never did.

[Read more…]

Accusers and the Myth of a Meritocracy

Photo by Brijesh Nirmal on Unsplash

Samuel Alonzo Dodge is a PhD candidate studying American Religious History at Lehigh University. He teaches a variety of history courses at DeSales University and has published with the Journal of Mormon History, Methodist History, and the Religious Studies Center at Brigham Young University. He lives in Allentown Pennsylvania with his wife and three children.

It is a challenging time for many reasons not the least of which is the social distancing that though necessary, keeps us from meeting together in person and can stress our sense of community. This sense of the importance of community is what shaped my thinking as I read the Come, Follow Me lesson earlier this summer, Alma 30-31. Though perhaps not immediately apparent, The account of Korihor and his contention with Alma has important lessons for us regarding our conduct, vulnerability, and responsibilities as members of religious and civic communities.

[Read more…]

Maurine Whipple and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: A complicated relationship (Chapters 7 and 8)

by Andrew Hall

Maurine Whipple and Hyrum Lee, 1927. The two dated while Maurine worked as a teacher in Monroe, Utah. 

I’ll start today’s post with brief review of the themes in Chapters Seven and Eight, and then spend the majority of the post on a discussion of Maurine Whipple’s lifetime relationship with the Church.

Themes of Chapters Seven and Eight

These chapters are long and full of interesting stories, incidents, and conversations. There is little of the descriptions of the natural environment or introspective passages found in the previous chapters.

The chapters feature Willie and Clory’s pregnancies and births. Willie’s baby is stillborn. Clory is shocked that not only does Abijah refuse to call a doctor (to show faith) but Bathsheba, a trained midwife, refuses to help because she thinks it is too early. She is wrong, and only Clory is there to help her with the birth. Clory, in her anger, foolishly gives Bathsheba the right to raise her unborn child. After she successfully gives birth to her daughter, Kissy, she scares the superstitious Bathsheba off by claiming she had placed a hex on the baby. Clory is enraptured with her baby, and feels the increased power it gives her in the family.

[Read more…]

My New JST Article

Kevin L. Barney, “A Commentary on Joseph Smith’s Revision of First Corinthians,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 53, no. 2 (Summer 2020): 57-105 here.

[Read more…]

Conspiracy Theories, Ritual Abuse and the Rise of QAnon in Mormondom

We live at a time when conspiracy theory is spreading. This is my second post on its particularly Mormon manifestations. See the first here

In 1983, Judy Johnson accused her estranged husband, Ray Buckey, of molesting their young son at the preschool where he worked. The McMartin Preschool, in Manhattan Beach, California, was a family business founded by Buckey’s grandmother Virginia McMartin, and operated by her children and grandchildren.

The police found little evidence for Buckey’s guilt, but as a precaution they sent a long form letter out to hundreds of parents whose children attended the school. The letter stated that Buckey was being investigated and asked parents to question their children if employees of the preschool had committed any of a series of detailed acts. The Children’s Institute International, a child abuse therapy clinic, was brought in to consult and by 1984 staffers had interviewed more than 400 children. They received dozens of reports. The McMartins were mutilating animals; they were dressing in robes and digging up corpses in front of children; they were holding satanic rituals in secret rooms and tunnels under the preschool accessed through a variety of methods, including down the toilets. [Read more…]

The Giant Joshua – Chapters Five and Six: Community unity and Native Americans

By Lynne Larson      

“You couldn’t whip the desert without togetherness. The Group Faith — the ability to live outside oneself, to sacrifice oneself for the Common Good. Some day they would be strong enough to afford dissenters — now salvation lay only in complete and disciplined togetherness. Except ye are one, ye are not mine . . . You had to be ruthless to colonize.”

As Chapter Five of The Giant Joshua begins, the relentless rain has eased, but the storm, and with it the swelling of the Virgin River, has struck at the hearts of the people and reminded them that they must stand together to survive, united in their faith and in their willingness to follow strict injunctions. Food supplies have been reduced to a “grim measure.” Sickness has run riot through the camp, and ‘Sheba fears that the burial clothes will mold before she can get a lifeless body ready for the grave.

[Read more…]

Charlie Parker at 100

Today would have been the 100th birthday of jazz great Charlie Parker.

If you’re unfamiliar with Charlie Parker, he was one of the founders of bebop, a musical style that followed (and supplanted) the big bands and swing that had been popular before World War II. Bird, as he was nicknamed, played the alto sax. He his playing was fast[fn1] and it was rhythmically and harmonically complicated; it, more than almost any other musical style (except, perhaps, mid-century classical music) encapsulated the same modernism that developed in art and literature during the first half of the 20th century.

And why commemorate Bird on a Mormon blog? There is absolutely no reason to think that he had any connection to Mormonism, nor Mormonism any particular connection to Bird. In fact, according to Michael Hicks’s Mormonism and Music, church leaders in the early 20th century “defined jazz as ‘departure from the correct'” and condemned improvisation. As late as 1948, BYU faculty “scuttled” a proposed concert by Dizzy Gillespie, a contemporary of Bird and another of the founders of bebop, possibly fearing repercussions by church leaders. [Read more…]

Republicans render unto Trump that which is God’s

Photo by Brad Dodson on Unsplash

Scripture is replete with warnings about placing faith in political leaders above God.

God repeatedly calls the faithful to reject kings and idols, to disperse power away from any singular charismatic personality.  “Ye shall have no king nor ruler, for I [God] will be your king and watch over you.”  (D&C 38:21). 

Why?  Because we know from sad experience that as soon as men “get a little authority, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”  (D&C 121:39).  Kings, with their greater authority, wreak greater unrighteousness.  

[Read more…]

Digital prayer roll

Today the church newsroom announced that members are now able to submit names online to be included on the temple prayer rolls. Next week functionality will be added to the Member Tools app to allow members to submit names from it. I remember coming across examples of nineteenth century Saints submitting names to temple prayer rolls by letter and telegram, and it appears that this was in place from the first temple of the Utah era.

[Read more…]

What have the Joseph Smith Papers taught me?

It seems incredible, but it looks like they’re almost through with the Joseph Smith Papers Project*. The JSPP plans on printing 27 volumes across five series, and 20 are done: 3 of 3 Journals volumes are complete, 10 of 15 Documents volumes have been published, with the next one landing this fall; 2 of 2 Histories volumes are complete; the Administrative Records (C50) volume is complete; and 4 of 5 Revelations and Translations volumes are done, including the Manuscript Revelations book**. Not sure when we will receive the 2 online-only series, Financial Records and Legal Records. It is too early to assess the series as a whole, especially since the next several Documents volumes will contain some of the most interesting content. But it’s not too early for me, as an amateur and dilettante, to give you my observations and impressions, particularly about how reading these volumes has changed my perspective on Joseph Smith. [Read more…]

The Giant Joshua, Chapters Three and Four

By Andrew Hall

These chapters present a microcosm of several themes and conflicts found in the novel, including stirring depictions of the faith that led the pioneer Saints to make such enormous sacrifices in their mission of building a Zion society. Here too, we see some of the less appealing aspects of the colonizing generation—its fear and cruelty towards Native Americans, its child marriages, and the heartbreak that could result from plural marriage.

St. George pioneers and the tragic price of faith
Chapter Three opens with the Saints having just arrived in what would become St. George in 1861. Whipple provides a geographic description by having Apostle Erastus Snow, the real-life leader of the Cotton Mission, observe the valley from the Sugar Loaf, a high steep rock in the red cliffs to the north. At this point, he sees his people still living in their tents and wagons, but he will return often to that spot as the settlement grows, and the Sugar Loaf becomes a landmark for the town.

[Read more…]

Saving Faith and Expertise

This guest post is by Kevin Shafer, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Brigham Young University and an adjunct associate professor of Health & Society at McMaster University (Canada). He holds a PhD in Sociology from The Ohio State University. His scholarship focuses on mental health and father involvement in a cross-national perspective.

In October 2018, President Dallin H. Oaks cautioned that “expertise in one field should not be taken as expertise on truth in other subjects.” In his new book, Saving Faith, Egyptologist John Gee makes assertions about child abuse victimization, LGBTQ+ identity, and the potential for child abuse victims to become perpetrators of abuse in adulthood. These are questions that are central to social science and strong claims are being made by someone without training in psychology, sociology, social work, economics, or related disciplines. Professor Gee’s lack of expertise in these areas is may have led him to make errors that lead to problematic claims that are not born out by research. In contrast to Professor Gee, I am a sociologist that researches gender, mental health (including childhood adversity), and family life. Here, I discuss two claims made in the book and why they are not based in science or current church statements on sexuality.

[Read more…]

Family-Centered, Church-Supported Thoughts About (Not Yet) Attending a New(ish) Ward

That’s our ward building, right there. We call it the “Westlink Building,” because its address is along Westlink Avenue, here on the west side of Wichita, Kansas. It’s more than a half-century old, having been built by the Mormon faithful here long before the church’s building program was centralized, back when local units needed to raise their own money and, perhaps, pour their own concrete and lay their own stones. Today, meetings were held there for the first time in months. Despite having attended church in that building ever since moving into our Wichita home–also on Westlink Avenue, just a third of a mile away, an easy Sunday walk–back in 2006, this week we weren’t there. [Read more…]

Meet Josephine Spencer: Mormon Writer, Editor, Teacher of Youth, and Communist

Faint and far in the night the wail of a child
Borne on heedful winds to a heedless ear;
Then, in the gray of a startled dawn, the wild,
Curdling cry of a million voices near. 
–Josephine Spencer, “Revolution”

You know from the book club that BCC Press will be publishing the unpublished work of Maurine Whipple next month. What you might not know is that we will also be publishing the first volume of the collected works of Josephine Spencer (1861-1928), edited by Ardis Parshall and Michael Austin. Spencer, we estimate, is the most important figure in Mormon literature that most people have never heard of.  

[Read more…]

Birthday, Baptism, Pandemic

My son was supposed to be baptized a few months ago. His grandparents had tickets to come to Chicago. He was ready to invite his best friend from school and some other friends who, while not Mormon, have come to all of my kids’ baptisms to love and support them.

And then a global pandemic hit. My parents had to cancel their flight. The church shut down its meetings and its buildings. We worked to recover.

These days my son goes back and forth on when he wants to be baptized. He’d really like to wait until his grandparents can share the day with him but, because of age and health conditions, his grandparents can’t really travel here until there’s a vaccine and they’re able to get the vaccine. While we’re hoping for early 2021, who knows if it will happen before another birthday rolls around.

Which leads me to a question: what is the church going to do about these pandemic-delayed baptisms? [Read more…]

Complicating sermon texts

One of the most important developments in the last fifteen years in the study of Mormon History and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been an increase in critical approaches to sources, particularly towards sermons of church leaders. [Read more…]

Exponent II Editor Search

Exponent II, the mother of all modern Mormon feminist publications, is looking for a new editor for its magazine.

Founders of Exponent II in 1974

Exponent II began as the project of LDS women in Boston, including Claudia Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Judy Dushku, and others who aimed to make their faithful and feminist voices heard, like their suffragist foremothers who had published the original Woman’s Exponent in Utah. My dad was given a gift subscription by women in the ward of which he was bishop, so I grew up with Exponent II and have loved it all my life. My very first bit of published writing appeared in its pages in 1994 (or so).

The organization has grown into a feminist space for women and gender minorities across the Mormon spectrum, and the organization’s activities include the quarterly magazine, an annual retreat, a blog, and a robust social media community.

To apply for the Editor in Chief position, please send a cover letter and CV by September 15 to board@exponentii.org. The cover letter should include a brief description of your vision and priorities for the magazine. See here for more details about the position and its requirements.

The Giant Joshua – Chapters One and Two

By Lynne Larson

White and crimson, or black and yellow and blue — behind her and ahead and around her — spewed in fantastic violence, in every shade and nuance, the colors of this unreal landscape glittered with such intensity that she closed her eyes and for a moment her breath clung to her throat. She felt hemmed in with untamed, imponderable forces . . . between the two black ridges lay the valley of sagebrush where she was going to spend the rest of her life — the valley that was already named, President Young had told them, the city of St. George. (The Giant Joshua, p. 3-4)

            As Maurine Whipple’s heroine, Clorinda MacIntyre is vividly presented with her new home in the first pages of The Giant Joshua, we as readers are introduced to “Clory” herself, and we meet a dozen other sharply-drawn characters as well. We will come to intimately know them all as we turn the pages of  the novel. There is bearded, rigid Abijah, with his Scottish brogue, the strict family patriarch, whom the teenaged Clory has recently married. At this point, he is still ‘Uncle Abijah’ to her, since the marriage has not yet been consummated, an event she is anticipating with both apprehension and girlish curiosity. There are Bathsheba and Wilhelmina, Abijah’s other wives, the former mean-spirited, imperious, and superstitious, with a prominent wart on her jutting chin, the latter soft, shy, easily subdued, and surely Bathsheba’s foil. With these are Abijah’s sons, including Freeborn, enraptured with pretty Clory, as any teenaged boy might be. The band of pioneers includes cheery Lon Tuckett, a tailor who loves to sing and quote original verse through all his hardships, and his very pregnant German immigrant wife Betsy. Also the Hichinopers, a happy couple so worried about their firstborn baby, they carry it up hill and down on a pillow, lest it ever feel neglected. They and the others make up a caravan of Saints sent by Brigham Young to establish the Cotton Mission in southern Utah’s Dixie.

[Read more…]

BCC Late Summer Book Club: The Giant Joshua

By Andrew Hall and Lynne Larson

Welcome to the BCC Late Summer Book Club!

For the next eight weeks we will be reading Maurine Whipple’s The Giant Joshua, which is widely considered to be Mormonism’s greatest novel. Maurine Whipple is an enigmatic figure—in 1938 at age 35 she was broke, divorced and depressed, a failed grade school teacher who wrote obsessively but who had never published a substantial work. In that year, however, she was awarded a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship for new writers, and the coveted prize allowed her to take pen in hand, let her genius flower, and create her masterpiece. Over the next two years she worked feverishly on The Giant Joshua, the epic story of the 1861 settlers of St. George. 

[Read more…]

A Footnote to the Extermination Order

Missouri Executive Order 44, commonly known as the Mormon Extermination Order, includes this text: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace–their outrages are beyond all description.” The Order was rescinded in 1976, but prior to that time it was common for Mormons to wryly observe that it was legal for Missourians to kill Mormons on the street. Was that really true? Uh, no.

[Read more…]

Review: Blythe’s Terrible Revolution

A number of years ago, I wrote about the church culture of my youth: “I was born in 1976, the same year that President Kimball spoke with some measure of pride in General Conference about the “garden fever” that had infected many of the Saints. The church leaders of this period were raised when the Mormon culture region had primarily an agriculture-based economy (the farm-raised missionary remains legendary). Still, there is clearly more than a fear that the children of Zion be deprived home-canned peaches in President Kimball’s words.” We gardened like champs. We had food storage in case of emergency, but we were more proto-foodies (homemade bread and freezer jam, yes please) than end-time waiters. I remember the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction. We never did bomb drills at school, though, and we soon saw the fruits of glastnost. When employment brought my family to the Kansas City area in the early-1990s, we made jokes about “the gatherers”—fringe believers drawn to the area, and who were generally cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

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Another BCC Press Sunstone Sale–All Ebooks $4.99. Are we nuts?

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In case you missed the memo, BCC Press has developed a new web site and unveiled it at this year’s all-online Sunstone Sumposium. You have already seen Bob Rees’s book that we launched today as part of this grand unveiling. By Common Consent. And you know that we are selling all books by Sunstone Symposium speakers for 25% off.

[Read more…]

BCC Press Is Thrilled to Announce: A New Book by Bob Rees

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By Common Consent is thrilled to announce our newest book–and our fourth book of the year to celebrate and examine the Book of Mormon. We lead off the first half of the year with The Book of Mormon for the Least of These by Fatimeh Salleh and Margaret Olsen Hemming, which has gone on to become our of the top-selling volumes in BCC Press history. We also published Mette Harrison’s book The Women’s Book of Mormon and Michael Austin’s Buried Treasures. We are proud to announce the capstone of our Year of the Book of Mormon with Robert A. Rees’s A New Witness to the World. (Kindle version here).

A New Witness to the World, which has been years in the making, contains thirteen essays by one of Mormonism’s most distinguished scholars. Bob Rees has been active in Mormon Studies for nearly sixty years. He was one of the Founding Parents of Dialogue and the journal’s second editor. During all of this time, Bob has been studying both the Book of Mormon and the religion it created, andd he has done so with the fine eye of a literary critic and the precision of an expert scholar.

[Read more…]

Rep. John Lewis and Religious Freedom

Yesterday and today, the late Representative John Lewis is lying in state at the Capitol. Thousands of people lined up to pay respects to the Congressman yesterday and I’d be surprised if thousands more don’t today.

They may know Rep. Lewis from his days as a Freedom Rider, fighting for racial justice. They may know him from the graphic novels about his civil rights career. They may know him from his 40-ish years representing constituents as an elected official.

I was reminded that Rep. Lewis was a deeply religious man and advocate of religious freedom last week when I got a call from Amy Lee Rosen, a reporter for Law360. She was doing a story about tax bills sponsored by Rep. Lewis.

One of the bills Rep. Lewis sponsored? H.R. 4169: the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act.

I was familiar with the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act; I wrote about it in chapter 4 of my book. [Read more…]

What Does Pioneer Day Mean in 2020?

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Back when I lived in Utah, I found it obnoxious when other out-of-staters would dismiss Pioneer Day out of hand as uncool and irrelevant (as most Utah things are, according to most other Americans). As a student of culture, the idea of belittling a tradition like Pioneer Day for easy “cool points” seemed unproductive and counter to my training to take history and community seriously. However, this doesn’t remove the need for critique and engagement, especially with one’s own cultural inheritance. For anyone who wasn’t on this train before, 2020 has given us a host of opportunities to critically engage with the act of memorializing: who gets remembered and celebrated? Whose stories are left untold? What political consequences do these choices have?

[Read more…]

Me and Donovan Mitchell

The other day, Twitter recommended a bunch of topics for me to follow. And its recommendations confirmed for me the folly of paying attention to social media algorithms. Why?

Well, the first recommendation was Donovan Mitchell. And honestly, I had absolutely no idea who he was. (I’ve since learned that he plays for the Utah Jazz. Who knew?) Why did Twitter think I cared about a Utah Jazz basketball player? Probably because I tweet a lot about jazz. Like, the music.[fn1] And given the disaster that has been Utah’s response to Covid, I do more Utah-adjacent tweeting recently than I have done traditionally.

See, I don’t particularly care about the Utah Jazz.[fn2] I grew up in the suburbs of San Diego and shortly after my family moved there, the Clippers moved to LA. So growing up, to the extent I cared about professional basketball, I was a Lakers fan. In fact, the Lakers, the Clippers, the Knicks,[fn3] and the Bulls all have far more claim on my fandom that the Jazz (though growing up in a city without a basketball team, I didn’t really care much about the NBA.

But for a very short time, the Jazz managed to work their way into my religious life. [Read more…]

A Deep Dive into the “Flyover Books”

On page 72 of the Maxwell Institute’s newest Brief Theological Introductions book, Sharon Harris writes a passage that will forever change the way I read the “itty-bitty books” of Enos, Jerom, and Omni. Speaking of the common charge that Jarom just wasn’t as invested in keeping the record as his ancestors were, Harris counters:

Rather than seeing them as a lag or a slowdown in the narrative of spirituality among Lehi and Sariah’s descendants, perhaps we have more in common with them than we realize. It has now been over a century since a revelation was received that was added to the Doctrine and Covenants. Would we say of our day, however, that revelation has ceased? Of course not. In many ways it feels as though revelation continues to increase within the church. But if people 2,500 years from now were to look back, with one narrow selection of records with which to draw their conclusions, would it look as though revelation was booming in the early twenty-first century? Perhaps not (72-73).

[Read more…]