MHA Sacramento 2008 Open Thread

I won’t be in Sacramento until tomorrow afternoon, but for convenience I thought I would go ahead and open a thread for discussion of all things MHA over the next four days.

I joined MHA in the early 1990s. I was about to teach an institute class on early LDS history, so I thought it was a good time to take the plunge. At that time I mainly just wanted to get the Journal. I kind of had the idea in my head that the conference was just for professional historians, and that wasn’t me.

Then one year the conference was going to be held in Kirtland, and that was within driving distance for me, so I thought I’d give it a shot. And I had an absolute blast. All sorts of great presentations; a personal tour of the newly restored potash factory from Don Enders himself; singing in the MHA choir and getting to sit in the corner choir seats in the Kirtland Temple during the Sunday morning devotional (something I had always wanted to do); it was simply terrific. And I learned that you don’t have to be a hot shot historian (which I am not) to go and have a good time. The people in particular were wonderful; salt of the earth all. And MHA has a really cool vibe where it just doesn’t matter what your personal religious point of view is (SLC Mormon, CoC, Strangite, Methodist, Catholic, Hindu, Atheist, whatever). All are welcome, and all share a passion for Mormon history.

So I was hooked. The next year I went to the conference in Killington, Vermont. And again, I had a tremendous time. I had never been to Vermont before, and it was gorgeous. I particularly appreciated the tour of New England Church history sites; the very sites I had taught my institute students about, but had never personally seen.

I’ve been to every conference since Kirtland, with the exception of last year, when shortly before I was to fly out I got a kidney stone. It was a great disappointment to me. So now I’m very excited to actually be heading west to Sacramento tomorrow.

The most frustrating thing is trying to figure out what to go see during concurrent sessions. I’ve studied the preliminary program and have some ideas, but these make for some tough choices.

So I plan to post on this thread notes and observations from the Conference as it proceeds, and I encourage others to add their own thoughts here as well.


  1. Amen, Kevin. MHA conferences are extraordinarily welcoming. How many other professional conferences invite first-timers to breakfast, or arrange gatherings for students to chat with the most well known scholars? And as great as the big conferences are at key Mormon sites like Kirtland and Vermont, the smaller conferences in less obvious places like Sacramento have the potential for being even better — the hard core members attend every year regardless of location, and it’s easier to find the people you want to meet in the hallways, and to share banquet tables with people you might otherwise be too shy to approach.

    I’m looking forward to meeting a boatload of bloggers this weekend for the first time (second time to meet you, Kevin).

  2. I’m terribly bummed to not be able to attend this year. I hope attendees post extensively on their observations.

  3. Kevin Barney says:

    Yeah, Ardis, I’m more of a consumer of Mormon history than a producer of it, so one of the fun things is rubbing shoulders with all of the people you’ve been reading all these years. Having personal interactions with these folks is a lot of fun.

  4. I’m looking forward to meeting you, Kevin, and seeing you again, Ardis.

  5. Randy B. says:

    So, any thoughts on who the favorites are to win the book and article awards?

  6. Kevin, like you I am more of a (recently new) consumer of Mormon history than a producer. I grew up near Sacramento and my mother is attending (at a DUP booth) so I am a little disappointed that I now that I know about the conferences, I live in Tennessee and can’t make it. Sigh!

    At least I can keep my eye on this blog and experience it vicariously.

  7. Bruce -what is the “DUP Booth” that you r mom will be at?

  8. Mark IV says:

    DUP = Daughters of the Utah Pioneers.

  9. Ronin,

    My mother was DUPed for many years. DUP = Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, a group that both celebrates their descent from pioneers who crossed the plains before the completion of the railroad in 1869, and promotes historical and genealogical research of the pioneer period.

  10. We need a Bloggernacle booth. At the very least, these events ought to have official, on-site bloggersnackers.

  11. Mike Reed says:

    I am thrilled that MHA is here in my home town of Sacramento. This will be an excellent opportunity to network, learn new developments in Mormon scholarship, and buy books of course! Glad to hear that you will be attending, Kevin.

  12. I’d have hosted, if I’d known. I’m still pondering stalking. In a non-scary, legal kinda way.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    I just arrived at my room at the Red Lion Hotel. The flight was fine; on time, not too bumpy (I had no idea Sacramento was so windy). They showed Mad Money on the plane.

    The hotel is a little bit different than what I expected; I entered my room from outside rather than through an interior hallway. But it seems nice so far. After catching up on work e-mail, I’m going to go exploring a little bit, and if they have a fitness room maybe sneak a workout in.

    When I walked in the lobby there was a group of men talking, obviously with the conference. I recognized Newell Brinhurst, and waved. Then when I was at the MHA desk registering, Dan Wotherspoon walked in, so I said “hi” to him, and Curt Bench’s son (the big guy) was there to set up his booth.

    More reports from the scene to follow as things progress…

  14. Kevin Barney says:

    Er, “Bringhurst.”

  15. Must have just passed you, Kevin, because Curt and his wife and I shared a cab from the airport. Everything has gone very smoothly so far — my Salt Lake cab hit *every*single*intersection* at a green light, even.

    Have been in my room long enough to discover that 3/4 of the light bulbs are burned out, so I’ll be stopping at the front desk in a few minutes to ask for either a few new bulbs or a seeing eye dog.

    Our cabbie was an Asian, very good driver, knows the routes, but doesn’t speak much English. I laughed when I realized that in our conversation, Curt and Pat and I still spoke in hieroglyphics, referring to things like “the events of June 1844” instead of using their plain labels.

  16. Mike Reed says:

    Yeah… it is windy alright. Probably the windiest that it’s been in a long while. Certainly not typical weather that we are having here.

  17. Kevin Barney says:

    Mike Reed #16, it was good to see you in the lobby just now. I went out exploring, but there wasn’t really much to see. But they do have a nice fitness center, so I’ll go there in a bit. First, I popped in the Gift Shop and got a snack of Dr Pepper and Jalapeno Smokehouse Almonds.

  18. So far, so good. Bumped into loads of fun folks in the lobby. Even my favorite people. Woohoo!

  19. molly bennion says:

    I didn’t sign up for the dinners so if any of you bloggers would like to join me and a delightful friend for a no-host dinner Friday or Saturday, just leave a note at the desk for me. It would be a delight to meet more of you.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    I just got back from dinnner. 14 of us went to a Mexican restaurant. With that many, we couldn’t have a single conversation, which would not have been my preference, but what are ya gonna do? At my end of the table there was Ardis, Kristine, Jonathan, Craig Foster, and occasionally Nate and his dad Richard. We had a wonderful, wide-rangning conversation. I guess we blew off the opening plenary, a screening of a film about a Mormon ship, but you can’t do everything at one of these things and you just have to learn to let things go.

    Browsing in the bookstore I saw lots of big names, Jan Shipps, Kathleen Flake, Phil Barlow, Terryl Givens, and many others.

  21. I just got back from dinnner. 14 of us went to a Mexican restaurant. With that many, we couldn’t have a single conversation, which would not have been my preference, but what are ya gonna do? At my end of the table there was Kevin, Kristine, Jonathan, Craig Foster, and occasionally Nate and his dad Richard. We had a wonderful, wide-rangning conversation. I guess we blew off the opening plenary, a screening of a film about a Mormon ship, but you can’t do everything at one of these things and you just have to learn to let things go.

    Browsing in the bookstore I saw lots of big names, Jan Shipps, Kathleen Flake, Phil Barlow, Terryl Givens, and many others.

  22. Clever.

  23. Hmm…I sense a theme.

  24. Just got in with Kate.
    what’s everyone doing for breakfast tomorrow?

  25. I’m flying into Sacramento tomorrow night, unrelated to MHA. If there is any sort of unofficial bloggersnacker, I’d love to join in.

  26. I got back from dinner a while ago. 14 of us went to a Mexican restaurant. With that many, we couldn’t have a single conversation, which would not have been my preference, but what are ya gonna do? At my end of the table there was David Howlett, Matt Bowman, Stan Thayne, and Katherine Massoth. We too had a wonderful, wide-ranging conversation. I did get to ride in a car on the way there and back with Craig and Kevin, and it was good to put some faces with names. I guess we blew off the opening plenary, a screening of a film about a Mormon ship, but you can’t do everything at one of these things and you just have to learn to let things go.

  27. Is the awards banquet any good? I discovered what sounds like a great Indian restaurant (Gaylords) and am inclined to go there for dinner, but if the awards banquet were outstanding i would try to stay on site.

  28. smb, the banquets themselves are never outstanding — rubber-chicken hotel food, always. But I learned a long time ago that it’s at the banquets, more than at the sessions, where you mingle and get to know the participants. I think if I couldn’t go to the banquets, I probably wouldn’t go to MHA at all.

    But if it isn’t the cameraderie that draws you, or the being part of MHA crowd, an Indian restaurant would definitely please your palate better.

  29. Mark B. says:

    You guys are a bunch of smart alecs.

    I won’t be there this weekend–my convention quota is filled for the year with the AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Assn) convention in Vancouver.

    So, like the Utah Jazz fan from a few seasons back, I decided to Pass the Sacramento.

  30. Kevin Barney says:

    There are over 400 people in attendance. I just returned from the morning plenary, which was Ken Owens giving an overview of LDS origins in California. (I was inclined to like him since he used to teach at NIU, where my own father was a long-time professor.)

    In 1845 Sam Brannan was a hotshot, charismatic Mormon leader in NYC. BY encouraged him to take a group of Saints to California, which he did on the Brooklyn, including 240 men, women and children, with the men “armed to the teeth.” BY had said “and we will meet you there.” Original intention was for the main body to press on to CA. But three months later Polk went to war with Mexico, which changed everything.

    Brannan did all BY had asked, and after arriving in CA went with a group overland to meet BY in what is now WY. But by now BY had changed his mind and was now headed to SL valley. SB tried mightily to get BY to change his mind back, to no avail. BY knew the Gentiles would soon by in SF, and he wanted an isolated location, whereas SB saw more engagement with the world, with more of an accomodation to the world.

    For now BY told the Saints to stay there (unless they wanted to come to SL, in which event they were welcome), to work and earn money for provisions, livestock, etc. Included a bunch of men returning from the Mormon Battalion. Average wage was $1.50/day plus pasturage; not bad for that time. Gave Sutter a large, dependable work force, over which he bragged quite a bit.

    Everything changed again with discovery of gold in Jan. 1848. MB veterans largely managed the new discovery at Mormon Island, and were now earning about $100/day. SB urged CA LDS to rush to the mines–in what proved to be his final LDS meeting.

    Some CA LDS became reluctant to gather to UT. Concerns over rigidity of BY’s theocratic control, and also major concerns over polygamy, which was announced in 1852. CA Saints far flung, not easily put into normal Church structure.

    Feb. 1853 BY took a hard line on CA; no one who left for there (except on a mission) would do so with his approbration. Began to preach against CA and gold mining. Utah War and MMM brought crisis to a head.

    Many CA LDS in a difficult position; some become RLDS, others remained LDS but outside the official hierarchy, some got involved in the Godbeite movement; some became Baptists.

    Many would argue that they didn’t leave the Church, the Church left them.

  31. Kevin Barney says:

    The first concurrent session I attended was chaired by Jana Riess. The first presentation was by Sarah Scott, who is Episcopalian herself but is involved in extensive research on religious tourism, and she has included Mormon sites like Nauvoo and Palmyra in her research, which is based largely on interviews with participants (she said she changed the names because y’all seem to know one another, which got a good laugh). She talked about the brouchures, the messages sought to be portrayed, the balance between tourism and sacred space (which differs between LDS and Coc), etc.

    The second was by David Howlett, who is CoC. He said that the concept of sacred site contestation is better known in Europe and Asia, but he sees the Kirtland Temple (at which he himself has been a docent) as an American example. They get 40,000 visitors a year from a dozen Mormon denominations (although the big three are LDS, CoC and Restorationists) and from all seven continents (they even get visitors from Antarctica!)

    The clear trend has been away from contestation towards cooperation, but he said that even cooperation can be a kind of passive form of contestation, i.e., a hope that the other will eventually see the light and come to their senses.

    He said that in recent history most of the comment cards they get from LDS have been very appreciative of the CoC’s role in maintaining the temple. A common phrase is

    Thank you for preserving the temple

    But then some people will add:

    Thank you for preserving the temple for us

    And there are always a few that say something like:

    This is our temple! Give it back!

    In the Q&A, Jan Shipps reminisced about when the MHA and JWHA had the conference at Nauvoo, and the infamous presentation “Is There No Help for the Widow’s Son” on temple and masonry was received together at the same time by both groups. She rightly pointed out the role such historical groups have played in achieving increased cooperation at historic sites over time.

    It was freezing in the room; they’re trying to check the air conditioning. Luckily I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt.

    Oh, and walking to my session I ran into Kristine. They had had a kind of mini-snacker in her room last night (I’m on Central time and was too tired to go, although that didn’t seem to stop Wonder Woman Kristine who was on Eastern time and just kept going and going). Anyway, she said she and J. Stapley got into a big fight over some sort of doctrinal/policy issue, and she loved it. So see? At MHA even the fights turn out good.

  32. Mark B. says:

    Probably too much detail for this sort of presentation, Kevin, but did he have any numbers on the Brooklyn passengers who moved to Utah, and when? Our stake president in Brooklyn (where else?) is a descendant of a Brooklyn passenger–he went to SLC and his family remained faithful Latter-day Saints.

    By the way, when you all come to New York, make sure you go down to Old Slip, on the East River near Wall Street, and see the plaque commemorating the sailing of the Brooklyn from that spot. And, if you want the backstory on the plaque, Claudia Bushman can tell you the whole saga–since she was the moving force behind getting the plaque placed there.

  33. Steve Evans says:

    Mark B., Sumer and I had to put on pioneer garb and go out on a schooner when that plaque got placed. Claudia knows how to commemorate, boy!

  34. Mark IV says:

    Was it on pay-per-view? If not, why not?

    I would have paid $45.00 to see that.

  35. Kevin Barney says:

    Mark B., no numbers, but there was a split among both the Brooklyn passengers and the MB boys, in that some went on to Utah but others remained in CA.

    John Carmack just gave the luncheon speech, which was basically a follow-on giving the 20th century history of the Church in CA. It has been sort of a precursor and microcosm to the internationalization of the Church generally. There was a major question whether the Church could survive in an urban environment in which it was a distinct minority; the answer to that question became a resounding yes, with the first stake in such an urban area outside of the intermountatin west, LA, organized in 1923, and then divided again just four years later, with amazing growth following thereafter.

  36. The first session I went to was a set of papers by men who have been working on the MMM book with Rick Turley. I was asked to respond because one of the papers took exception to my interpretation of events in an article I published.

    Crass commercial advertisement: I posted my response at Keepapitchinin.

  37. Kevin Barney says:

    I went to the session on documenting JS’s history.

    First was a presentation by Robin Jensen on JS and the concept of “record” drawn mostly from the BoM; to me there wasn’t much to this.

    Second was a presentation by Alex Smith on a remarkably complete correspondence among JS, Willard Richards and James Arlington Bennett, constituting 22 or 23 letters, all but one of which is extant in some form. Bennett was a lawyer and man of some influence in New York who was approached to be Joseph’s running mate in his bid for the presidency.

    Third was one by Jeff Johnson on a series of letters to the Boston Bee penned by Willard Richards and then W.W. Phelps under the name Viator. (Sort of a precursor to our modern blog practice.) This was especially interesting because it entailed a sort of PR ruse, in which WR pretended to be a non-LDS visitor to Nauvoo who was surprised to find that the people there weren’t savages but actually educated and civil folks. So this was a sort of way of getting accurate and positive information of the Church out there.

    Jim Allen gave the response, and he gave substantive critique but in such a kind and gentle way no one could feel too bad about. Such a gentleman.

    Sam was there and participated in the Q&A with a suggestion for the Viator paper.

    Afterwards I chatted with Jack Welch, who again expressed his appreciation for my recent chiasmus post. He told me something interesting about the watercolor depicting him discussing chiasmus with the monk. The artist did it based on his own imagination. He had the monk dressed in white (they didn’t wear white), in a kind of gothic setting with a suit of armor in the background, and he did not have Jack’s brother and sister who were also present. (But we both agreed that the look he put on Jack’s face was right on.) He was wondering whether those sorts of details even matter.

    On my way running back to my room to type this little report I ran into my old friend Todd Compton and said “hi” briefly.

  38. Mark B. says:


    Thanks for the updates. Has anyone done any serious work on the Mormon “diaspora” to California after the turn of the 20th century? (My grandparents were part of that, moving to LA in 1919 or 1920.)

    Obviously there was a lot of growth–mostly move-ins from Utah, I’d guess, if they went from no stakes to 2 in four years.

    Having seen a long period of relatively slow growth in New York, I have wondered about the contrast with California, where I suspect there were a lot more move-ins from Utah, and the growth was not so dependent on convert baptisms.

    Anyway, I’m looking for someone to do some good work on the issue.

  39. Kevin Barney says:

    Mark B., Carmack’s luncheon speech was pretty much a descriptive recounting of the growth in California over the century; I’m not sure whether there is a more rigorous treatment somewhere.

    I just returned from a session on Adventures in Teaching Mormon History.

    John Thomas teaches in religious education at BYUI. One May Friday last year, he had assigned his students to read Orton’s 2006 revisionist study of the Sweetwater disaster, which was published in BYU Studies. He had done this before, but this time there were several students who were vocally upset about it. Some said they only felt the spirit reading the traditional account; others asked why GBH would recite the traditional account if it weren’t true? This caused him to panic a little bit, and his first impulse was to retreat from the assignment. But then he started to understand it not as a pitfall but as a problem in pedagogy to be analyzed and solved. So the rest of his presentation was on how he tweaked his approach to this assignment in subsequent classes, with lots of student responses on what worked and what didn’t.

    Mark Miller is a non-LDS history prof at SUU in Cedar City, and he talked about his anxieties in teaching Utah history to classes filled with LDS students who in some ways knew more about the subject than he did. Before his first class he spent some sleepless nights over 1. NA origins and early LDS relations with NAs, 2. early conflicts between LDS and others in the east, 3. later conflicts between the LDS and Gentiles in Utah, 4. the Utah War/MMM, and 5. polygamy. His approach was to try hard to be culturally sensitive, which seems to have worked well. (He did tell a story about mispronouncing Moroni as moh-roh-nee, since he had only seen it written and never heard it pronounced. The titters in the class made him realize he needed to get a tutorial from one of his colleagues on how to pronounce some of the unique Mormon vocabulary.

    Steven Harper talked about a documentary editing class he teaches at BYU. They learn some of the standard literature on documentary editing, and then each student has to pick a document that has something to do with Mormonism and dates from 1805 to 1845. They have to write a justification of the significance of that document. They then have to go through the processes of transcription, annotation and writing an introduction. This teaches them both greater respect for an important aspect of the historian’s craft and also greater skepticism for interpertations of various documents. His goal is to bring the students closer to being able to work vigorously with original sources without relying so much on intermediaries. (He says he uses Grant Palmer’s manipulation of the 1832 1V account as an illustration of the problem of relying on intermediaries.)

    The respondent was Kathleen Flake. She gave some incisive critique to each of the papers. I have to admit, I kind of felt sorry for the presenters having that particular respondent, because Kathleen has a mind like a steel trap, and you just knew she would find the weaknesses and problems, and she did. But she was gentle and charitable about it along the way.

    The chair was Laurie Maffly-Kipp of the UNC, and I would have liked to hear what she had to say about the experience of teaching Mormon history at Chapel Hill.

    There’s a little break now before the awards banquet.

  40. Listener says:

    I’m 98% certain that Elder Carmack’s talk was a close paraphrase of the “locality history” written (at least begun) by Andrew Jenson for each unit in the church, supplemented in a very few cases by personal reminiscences. At least, the talk matched the completely institutional/impersonal nature of those histories, emphasizing the dates when new stakes were organized and the names of all wards in the stake and names of new stake presidents, with nothing of individual or human interest. Those histories end at 1970, and I noticed that there were only two factoids beyond that point, a remark about his personal attendance at a conference in 1980-something, and dedication of the San Diego temple. He probably telephoned the historical department and asked for the history of the church in California, then spent 15 or 20 minutes reading it into a tape recorder for a secretary to type, item by item the way it was written in the locality record.

  41. I finally made it through the dealers’ room this afternoon — all the usual suspects from all the best publishers and book dealers, plus a local (California) man with some good looking books on local and religious (not significantly Mormon) history. The displays seem especially varied this year, with lots and lots and lots of titles. Not sure whether it’s real or my imagination, but the coversof the books published in the last year or two seem especially colorful and well-designed; when I see so many dozens of titles together like that, it jumped out at me. The MHA bookbags are blue this year — gotta get me some — and the booth manned by the LDS Archives and library folk has lemon drops and taffy.

    Now don’t you wish you were all here?

  42. Oh, and after asking again today, the staff finally came and put working bulbs in my room this afternoon. I cancelled the order for the seeing-eye dog.

  43. #16 – Of course it’s windy. There are Mormon historians in town.

  44. Kevin Barney says:

    Commenter Jami was in the lobby looking for Kristine to give her something, and I happened to run into her. Someone had given her a ticket to the awards banquet, so after hooking her up with Kristine she joined me for the banquet, and we had a delightful time. There were 19 awards given, and I’m not going to type them all in; Terryl Givens won the best book award for People of Paradox. There was also a woman who won an award who is turning 102 next week. She’s been gathering materials on her father for 60 years since she wrote a paper on him for her BYU sociology class in 1934. Bill Hartley helped her pull the material into a book. She was really quite cute.

    Oh, and blog commenter Bill MacKinnon won what is probably the coolest MHA award, the Thomas Kane Award, which is given every year to someone who isn’t actually within the Mormon tradition. That was certainly a well deserved award this year.

    Oh, also my friend Steve Mayfield won a special citation for his years of taking photos for MHA.

    And Matt Bowman won an award, too.

    But I’m typing all 19 awards here.

  45. This is fascinating, Kevin – and Ardis. Thanks.

  46. Congrats to Bill. Definitely well deserved.

  47. Paul Reeve won two awards, one for an article about evacuating a southern Utah community at the time of the 1867 Blackhawk War, and one for best first book award for his Making Space.

    James Allen won the Leonard J. Arrington award for about a million years and 20 gazillion works, his lifetime contribution to Mormon history.

    I suppose somebody will quickly fill in anything that’s been left out.

    And Bill’s *MY* boy, and I’m proud of him!

  48. I’ve got a post up on the awards at the JI, with info given me by my informant inside the hotel.

  49. Perhaps I don’t get out enough, but that was really fun. I’m seriously excited about studying more Mormon history.

    It was nice to meet Ardis and Kristine and have some faces and voices to go with the posts I enjoy so much.

    Thank you Kevin, for the running commentary and great conversation. I can’t imagine how that whole spontaneous banquet thing would’ve gone without you as a tour guide. In fact, thanks for posting the information about the conference in the first place. I had not heard anything at all about it locally. So double thanks.

    By the way, if you guys are staying past the conference at all and are Jazz (the music) fans, there a huge Jazz Festival every Memorial Day weekend in Old Sacramento. Well worth the drive over.

  50. Kevin Barney says:

    I just came from the MHA business luncheon. My table had Connell O’Donaldson, Kim McCall, Todd Compton, Scott Gordon, Jeff Bradshaw, Liz Delany and Jan Shipps. Ron Romig gave a very interesting power point on the RLDS experience in California. When the SL Mormons abandoned CA, the RLDS swooped in and picked up a lot of those pieces. I especially enjoyed a picture of a belt buckle that RLDS seventies wore with the number “70” on it, and a picture from the 1915 fair in San Francisco, where the RLDS had a booth. There was a big sign with the name of their church, and then a small sign underneath that read “Not ehe Mormons.”

  51. Kevin Barney says:

    This morning’s plenary address was absolutely terrific. It was by Phil Jenkins, born in Wales, educated at Cambridge; he’s a professor at Penn State. It was about the Church in Africa.

    We like to talk about our spectacular growth in Africa the last 20-30 years. But here is a mystery: why hasn’t it been better? So much of African religion meshes so well with Mormonism.

    The expansion of Xianity in Africa from 1900 to 2000 is one of the most important developments in Xianity over the last 500 years. In 1900 there were about 10 million Xians on the continent; as of 2000 the number was 360 MM. By 2025 Africa will be the continent with the largest number of Xians. This increase has occurred across denominational lines (Catholics over the same time period went from 2 MM to 140 MM). In many churches, 15% annual growth was normal.

    Some megatrends:

    – the first stage of primary conversion from animism to Xianity was finished long ago.

    – indigenization. Virtually all Xian churches now led and staffed by Africans. One rarely sees a white face.

    – inculturation. Churches have accepted local African forms of worship: drums, moving, swaying, their own languages.

    – It’s a buyer’s market in religion Lots to choose from; people can shift around. Have to respond to what people want.

    – Pentecostalization. Most churches very charismatic.

    – Presence of Islam. A powerful other force. Has the effect of downplaying denominational differences; you’re either Christian of Muslim.

    – Poverty. Churches that succeed integrate not only success in the next life but success in this world as well.

    He said the Mormon message was just made for Africa. So much that Americans or Europeans find troubling or difficult or distasteful seems natural to an African audience. Healings, prophecy, continuing revelation. There is a kind of generic religious story in African church of a man–or woman–who joins a particular church but feels something is missing, so he prays and is visited by an angel with instructions for what to do. There are churches with that sort of backstory throughout Africa. Many of these churches have temples in imitation of the temple of Solomon. Very concerned about the fate of their ancestors. Unlike American or European Xians, who prefer the NT to the OT, Africans are the opposite, they can relate better to the OT (kings, patriarchs, animal sacrifice, nomadism, polygamy).

    Present LDS about 270,000; CoC adds about 25,000 more. About 0.08% of the population. But very unlikely to ever see 1%. So raises the question, why isn’t more of Africa Mormon?

    First missionaries in 1853, but focused on English speakers, not Afrikaans. 1970 stake, 1982 temple in South Africa.

    Exclusion of blacks from the priesthood: an issue, but not a big one by any means. Most Xian churches acted in approximately the same way, slow to let blacks in the clergy. (Called Veranda Xianity; they were let on to the veranda, but not into the house.)

    In the 1950s and 60s many Africans read about the Church and are fascinated by it. Immediately wanted to join. Many would form their own Mormon churches, would incorporate under the name The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (became a problem when the Church came in, as the name was already taken). Some 15,000 or so joined these indigenous Mormon groups. Lured by a prohetic message.

    1978 was wonderful news for these churches. LDS best success in Nigeria, with about a 15% per annum growth rate. To us that’s an astounding success, but in the African context it’s really just ok, run of the mill.

    Things are different in Africa. In one village there is a healer and prophet–who is also the Lutheran minister. This isn’t Garrison Keillor’s Lutehranism. The Mennonites were very successful. They asked the natives why they wanted to join their church in particular, and were told “the other churches are nice, but you understand cattle.”

    (I’m worried about losing a long comment so I’ll continue this in a new one below.)

  52. Kevin Barney says:

    So we talk about big church growth in Africa, but it could be so much more. Why not 10 MM? Instead of 3 temples, why not 50?

    Attrition rates very high; about 50% within two years.

    Lack of prior colonial presence not a factor. Pre-1978 priesthood ban really not a factor. Society is very young there; no direct memory of it. Basically nothing preceding the Clinton administration or the internet. Average age in Italy is 40; in Uganda it’s 14.

    The Church’s late start had a big impact. Still led by white faces, which is an unusual image in Africa today among churches. Virtually unique. Many Africans have institutional loyalty to those who first converted them from animism to Xianity, whereas LDS don’t do that; they simply teach people who are already Xian. This favors Catholics, Anglicans.

    100 years ago pretty much all the churches tried to make the Africans European. By the 1950s they had given up. Local cultures and worship styles allowed. How far to go with it? Animal sacrifice? Polygamy? Tough to say where to draw the line.

    LDS have made very few concessions to local traditions. In Uganda they tried to compromise by not allowing drumming and dancing on Sunday, but allowing it on Wednesday night. But for Ugandans drumming and dancing isn’t an auxiliary activity, it is the worship service.

    Today is the golden age of Christian hymnody, but most of us have never heard these hymns; they’re composed orally in African languages. There’s one old woman who is particularly prolific. She would give a western PC hymn committee fits. One of her hymns goes something like this:

    If Satan troubles us,
    you, Jesus Christ,
    are the lion on the plain.
    You will tear out his entrails,
    and leave them on the ground
    for the flies to eat.

    There are lots of issues: crucifexes, collection plates, but the biggest is probably the drumming and dancing one. Fear LDS Church would mutate into something radically strange, but at the loss of so much potential.

    Africa is less denominational than the west, largely because of the presence of Islam; you’re either Xian or Muslim.

    The potential is vast, but there have been growing pains and there remain significant challenges.


    Effect of AIDS: favors the more morally strict groups (and Islam).

    One man stood who had served a mission in Africa, and concluded that we white Mormons don’t understand the meaning of the Gospel. That’s a common reaction among Saints who see the tremendous commitment and sacrifice of African Saints.

    When whites visit African churches, the locals sometimes say “No healings or exorcisms today. It scares the white people.”

    He made a joke based on his denominatinal point that we were really the Non-Muslim History Association.

    Kathleen Flake asked about the reception of the temple endowment. He said Africans are big on initiatory rites, things with stages. Familiar to them. The Catholics are borrowing older rituals, such as approaching baptism with various masks representing different stages.

    Role of women a big issue there. They make the converts. LDS ideal of having men do everything doesn’t work so well.

    Someone asked about the effect of our humanitarian program. In the west we have a reputation for outstanding humanitarian service; in Africa, it’s average. We do much good there, but so does everyone else; you simply have to if you want to be in the African market.

    Someone asked about polygamy. That’s one that the churches tried to stamp out officially, although that hasn’t fully taken. Islam has an advantage there. But slowly the culture is changing, where polygamy is becoming less acceptable.

    He said even some Muslim congregations have adapted Pentecostal worship styles.

    My notes can’t do justice to what was a top-notch presentation.

  53. Kevin Barney says:

    I attended the MMM session, as I always do. I knew to get there early, because the room would be packed, and it was.

    First, Ron Walker spoke on remembering. He quoted from an essay of a child of an Oklahoma City victim, that this was “a dark and lonely place where no one should have to go.” This speech was sort of his valedictory on the subject; he’s now retired from BYU, and Rick is going to do the second volume on the aftermath.

    Various group memories have come to surround it; he wanted to focus on faithful LDS group memory. Sanitizing, trivializing are forms of forgetting. We see in Holocaust studies how human nature is almost constitutionally unable to keep alive memories that hurt and disturb. So why remember?

    Unvarnished truth can hurt. But that carries little weight with the victims. Our motives can’t be merely pragmatic; there is a moral dimension to this.

    Remembering a current fashion in the literature on atrocities.

    Need to understand context and general patterns. Group psychology when we classify people as “other,” employ stereotypes. Good people can do terrible things when too much emphasis is placed on authority and obedience, no clear message what is expected, poverty, peer pressure, fear. What lessons?

    1. Need to avoid putting down others, self-righteousness.

    2. Forgiveness, avoiding extreme behavior.

    3. Obedience ceased to be a virtue when unquestioned, untested.

    4. Religious authority requires checks and balances (civic and religious authority in same hands). Created a situatin that was able to override the normal need for consensus in councils. (Every council vote on the matter was against attacking the immigrants; they could only muster adequate support for this extreme action outside of the normal council setting.)

    Religion can do great good, but misguided religion can do great harm.

    A need for the MMM scholar to maintain humility. “The past is a foreign country–they do things differently there.”

    What might we have done were we there?

    Book is structured like a Greek tragedy.

  54. Kevin Barney says:

    Then Rick Turley gave his presentation. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of people worked on the book. In galley form now; should be out in June, maybe July. Addressed question whether BY ordered the massacre.

    Emphasized that for him not a faith issue. He doesn’t believe in infallible church leaders. Also not an issue of employment status. When they first conceived the book, they told senior church leaders that they didn’t know what they would find, but they planned to fully disclose whatever it was and let the chips fall where they may, and those leaders agreed. They treated as an historical question, not a theological or political one. BY didn’t order, but he did help to create the environmental backdrop with his fiery sermons.

    So, did BY order the massacre? No.

    Two principal theories for a major role for BY. First is quite old: that he was enraged by assassination of PPP. This theory was floated before the deed even occurred; a CA newspaper opined that the Mormons would boil over for the death of PPP and might take revenge on passing wagon trains from Arkansas. But has to pass several tests:

    1. Motive. We have a number of sources giving BY’s response to PPP’s death, and it was quite mild, not rage enducing. He thought PPP had been unwise in going there against counsel.

    2. Blood atonement. OK, but idea is for the actual sinner to shed his blood, not a whole wagon train of people who didn’t do it.

    3. No hard evidence for an actual order. They try to build a circumstantial case. The only way an order could have come would have been by George A. Smith, who came from SLC a few weeks earlier. We have orders that he brought with him; they had to do with preserving grain and preparing for war–nothing about attacking wagon trains.

    4. He went over the John D. Lee statements in detail. Late, posthumous, contradict his dying words to a SL Trib reporter, widely believed attorney forged the wording to sell enough books to pay his fees. Prosecutors offered to let Lee walk if he would blame Smith or Young, and he wouldn’t do it.

    So all there is is a sequence, but no evidence. The post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

    Second theory is more recent; based on journal of Dimick Huntington. Has been available for decades, but portrayed as a “new” discovery.

    Recounts a meeting where BY told Indian leaders they could have the cattle along the southern road. Not quite clear what that means.

    They argue these leaders raced south to kill the immigrants. But want to have it both ways; have always claimed indians not really invovled, just whites dressed as indians, but now they want to say indians really did attack.

    Evidence that some of these leaders still in the SL area shortly after; so they not only would have had to race down to MM, they would have then had to race back to SL.

    One of these indian leaders did make it to the south, but not to attack immigrants. In fact, in a different location he negotiated peace between a group of indians and a different party. He wasn’t there to kill anyone.

    These two theories don’t fly. Evidence shows that the real cause was local leaders making a series of terrible, escalating bad decisions.

    Laurel Thatcher Ulrich was the respondent. Not her area of expertise. Said she believed Turley that he would have disclosed if he found evidence, but fact is he wasn’t faced with that scenario. It troubled her that the BY angle was such a big question. She understood why it was a big question, and that is precisely what troubled her. Raised questions about the cover-up, but that’s volume 2. Compared Salem witch trials. A recent book that examines witch trials that same year in Guilford, Connecticut, where there were no executions. People more interested in the Salem ones, but we can learn by seeing what was different in these other trials.

    Key is can we say to an ecclesiastical leader, “No, sorry, I can’t do that”?

  55. Wow, thanks Kevin, for providing such great notes.

  56. Kevin, many thanks for the notes!

  57. Kevin Barney says:

    The last concurrent session I attended I walked into late. There was Debra Marsh doing a socio-economic perspective on the Carthage mob. Her basic point was to demonstrate that the old image of their faces melting off we got from Fate of the Persecutors of Joseph Smith isn’t true. These men lived long lives, were relatively affluent, many elected to public office, and so forth.

    Ryan Wimmer talked about the discrimination against Japanese in Utah during WWII. The 1P both at the beginning and end released good statements imploring the people not to discriminate (in so many words), and conditions were better in Utah than in surrounding states, especially California, but unfortunately there was plenty of discrimination going on in Utah as well.

    Then Janet Burton Seegmiller gave a fascinating portrayal of one of her ancestors, Melissa Burton Coray Kimball, who went with her husband as a laundress on the Mormon Battalion march. There is a peak near here that in the 90s was named in her honor. I really enjoyed this presentation.

    Just now a friend was telling me a story about his grandmother. When she was a girl, her church calling was to help the organist up the stairs to the organ. The organist was usually soused, but if he could get to sitting at the organ he could play. If he couldn’t make it, then she was also the substitute organist. This happened in the Logan area; her name was Rose Woods, and the organist wrote a well known church hymn (he thought maybe “I Stand All Amazed” but wasn’t sure). I thought that was a pretty good story.

    All that’s left is the presidential banquet tonight, at which Paul Anderson will be speaking about transforming Mormon architecture for California, and then that will be it for another year. I’ll be traveling home most of the day tomorrow.

  58. Researcher says:

    Interesting conference. Thanks for the writeup.

    The only question I had was why you kept talking about China. (Xian is a Chinese city of almost 3 million people and it took me to the middle of #53 before I realized you were abbreviating Christian. It started making a little more sense at that point.)

  59. Kevin, these are wonderful notes. I went to many of the same sessions, but since I didn’t take notes, I will just claim yours :).

  60. Kevin Barney says:

    #51 I forgot to mention that Jack Welch was also at my table for lunch today. My point in that post was to name drop a little bit; I was surrounded by cool and interesting people.

  61. Kevin Barney says:

    Sorry Researcher, I should have translated my abbreviation but was too lazy to do so. The X stands for the Greek letter chi, which is the first letter in Christos, so is often used as an abbreviation for Christ, as in Xmas (I have a post about how Xmas is a perfectly acceptable abbreviation for Christmas, and not a genericizing attempt to “take Christ out of Christmas”).

  62. The DN had a pretty good article covering the MMM session.

  63. Kevin Barney says:

    I ran into an old friend before the banquet, and so I invited her family to sit with me there. There was a total of five of them. When we walked in the banquet the tables were filling fast; we found one with only three people sitting at it, and three of us sat down, saving seats for the three still coming, leaving only one seat available at the table.

    So Richard and Claudia Bushman ramble over (my friends used to live in NY and knew the Bushmans) and were going to sit in two of the empty seats, but we had to shush them away because they were saved.

    We laughed about how that’s probably the first time anyone had ever turned the Bushmans away from a table at an MHA event! Normally you can’t even get close to them for all the people hanging around their orbit. My friend said I had made a huge sacrifice for sitting with her family.

    I thought the whole thing was pretty funny.

    Paul’s talk on California Mormon architecture was really spectacular, with lots of pictures. Great stuff.

    And the reception after was really fun, with conversation with dear old–and new–friends.

    An absolutely terrific time!

    Next year the conference will be in Springfield, IL, so plan ahead now.

  64. Actually, every time I say “Xian” I kept thinking “Xenu” for some reason. Wrong religion, though.


    Thanks for the notes.

  65. Thanks for the notes.

  66. molly bennion says:

    Kevin did such a good job abstracting the MMM session and Jenkin’s lecture. Both also had excellent Q & A sessions that were picked up well on the tapes available from MHA for $9 each. Definitely worth purchasing.

  67. John Hamer says:

    Kevin — Great summary of a great conference. I got to talk to a lot of BCC folks and other bloggernacle luminaries. But every time I saw you, you were deep in conversation — which is more than half the fun of attending these conferences. Hope to talk to you next time.

  68. Kevin Barney says:

    John, I’m sorry we didn’t connect; I would have loved to meet you. I’ll be at the Saturday session of Sunstone in August; otherwise I’ll be back at MHA next year in Springfield, Illinois.

  69. I only actually ended up attending a couple sessions. I really wanted to go the the Philip Jenkins one, but couldn’t get myself out of bed that early. So thanks, Kevin, for the thorough notes. I enjoyed the sessions I did attend, and also enjoyed chatting with a few people from the blogs and boards. I got to speak briefly with such luminaries as Christopher Jones and Jonathan Stapley, and talked at greater length with Sam Brown, a couple fellas from the JS Papers project (Alex Smith seems like a great guy, BTW), and Mike Reed.

    One of the sessions I attended, which I felt was fairly worthwhile, was the one about intersections and environmental influences. Here are my notes on that session:

    Christopher C. Jones, “‘We Latter-day Saints Are Methodists’: Methodist Influences on Early Mormonism.” MHA Conference, Sacramento, CA, 5/23/08.

    Smith told a Methodist named Cartwright that the Methodists were the closest of all the sects to being right.

    Mormon proselytism tended to be successful in regions where Methodism was strong. An inordinate number of converts to early Mormonism came from the Methodists. This was perhaps even more true in England than in the United States. Former Methodists also dominated the early LDS hierarchy, with 8 of the original 12 apostles having been affiliated with the Methodists at some point prior to their appointment.

    Methodists were drawn to Mormonism’s blending of the rational and the metaphysical. Early Methodism included a similar tension. Wesley, for example, spoke of healing coming by “medication and prayer”.

    The earliest accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision essentially follow the format of a Methodist conversion narrative. This is probably how both Joseph and those around him understood it. No wonder, then, his surprise when the vision was condemned by a Methodist minister!

    Distinctives of early Methodist conversion narratives:

    1. They occur at times of crisis
    2. They are the result of reflection on a sermon or Scripture
    3. They sometimes come by praying in a different way than usual (in Smith’s case, by praying aloud for the first time)
    4. They include an encounter with the devil (which frequently involves bodily convulsions and the inability to speak)
    5. A fortuitously timed theophany or vision delivers the convert from the devil
    6. The convert makes a decision to join a Methodist society

    Each of these was true also of the First Vision.

    Benjamin E. Park, “‘The Defining Intellectual Influence’: Mormonism and Romanticism.” Mormon History Association conference, Sacramento, CA

    Romantics rebelled against Neoclassicism.

    They rejected full reliance on reason, yearned for revelation and intimate relationship with the divine
    JS was a Romantic, perhaps even more than he was a primitivist.

    Romantics rejected methodical truth acquisition in favor of intuition and experience.

    The yearned for transcendence: deification? Argued for divine-human continuity.

    Romantics tended to be anti-anthropomorphic; JS broke w/ this tradition.

    Smith insisted upon the possibility of religious assurance. Certainty of calling and election was central to his thought. Romanticism also a quest for certainty?

    Joseph Darowski – “Schools of the Prophets: An Early American Tradition” MHA Conference, Sacramento, CA 5/23/2008.

    Harvard and Yale were considered Schools of the Prophets. They appealed to the OT as precedent. Great Awakening revivalists sharply rebuked these universities for failing to even produce Christians, let alone prophets.

    The Great Awakening’s “New Light” ministers opened their own seminaries, which stressed conversion, ancient languages, and theology. Hyrum apparently attended such a school.

    The Mormon SoP followed some earlier Protestant patterns, while breaking with others.

    For JS, the essence of a Zion society was equality before the Lord. For this reason, he wanted to educate the Saints and opened a series of schools. Given the way SoP was used as a generic term for ministerial training schools, the Kirtland SoP is perhaps less distinct than we might think from other early Mormon education efforts like the high school & Nauvoo University.

    The School of the Prophets included Holiness lifestyle requirements, Lectures of Faith, and language study.

    But unlike Prot schools, there were also points of departure. They met in the temple, made covenants, hoped for theophanies.

  70. Chris: Thanks for the nice summary of our session. It was great to meet you later that day.

  71. An excellent conference all-around. It was fun to meet in person some of the BCCers, including Sam, Kevin, and Kristine, and to see Stapely again. Thanks for the write-up on the several sessions, Kevin.

    Chris, it was good to meet you and briefly chat. Thanks for the detailed notes on the session.

  72. Just found this blogsite today, 6/8/08. Interesting comments. If you want some information about 20th century church affairs in California, pick up a copy of CALIFORNIA SAINTS, co-authored by Richard Cowan and myself, William Homer. Much of Elder Carmack’s presentation can also be found there.

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