OD2–How’d it go?

So, as usual (since the manual hasn’t been revised), the GD lesson on revelation talks about the lifting of the priesthood restriction.  I teach Sunday school (youth), so I didn’t hear how it went in our ward.  I did hear this from someone in another ward: “[We learned that] the blacks getting the priesthood couldn’t happen [until 1978] because of Jim Crow because the church could not afford separate temples for blacks and whites and separate chapels, etc.”

What did you learn about the timing of OD2?

Cloistered Nuns

[cross-posted to Patheos]

Cloistered Nuns

When my friend Robinlee and I visited the Old Mission in Santa Barbara, California, we happened on two statues–one of St. Francis of Assisi and the other of St. Clare. Most Christians are familiar with St. Francis’s life and words. We sing his poem, “All Creatures of our God and King”, which celebrates nature as God’s grand cathedral. St. Francis and his chaste friend, Clare, began new orders for monks and nuns on Palm Sunday in the year 1212. A 1973 film called Brother Sun, Sister Moon depicted St. Francis’s bold choices in defying the wealthy Catholic church and beginning a life of poverty. The core of the film is depicted here.

As Robinlee and I were looking at the statues, a docent told us that there was an order of cloistered Poor Saint Clares in a nearby church. “We never see them,” she said, “but they sing during the 7:00 a.m. Mass. They sound like angels. Sometimes, we try to count the voices. We don’t know how many there are.”

We decided then to attend Mass the next morning. [Read more…]

Negotiating Faith Challenges

fiona 2The Temple and Observatory Group will sponsor Terryl and Fiona Givens and Richard Bushman for the Boston gathering at the Sperry Room (Room 116) of the Harvard Divinity School (45 Francis Avenue).

This is an all-day conference which includes lunch.  It begins at 10:00 a.m. and goes until 3:30.

There is a Facebook event page under the Temple and Observatory Group.

There IS such a thing as a free lunch!

The Temple and Observatory Group is heading to the D.C. area. It’s free and includes a FREE LUNCH (pictured).

Belief and Doubt in Mormonism — Washington, DC Area
Discussion by Richard Bushman and Fiona and Terryl Givens
October 19 at 10:00am in EDT
2124 Polo Pointe Drive, Vienna, VA 22181


Please spread the word!

Temple and Observatory Group Conference

The speakers

The speakers

New Yorkers, this is for you!

10:00 A.M. – 3:30 P.M.

Dallas Inaugurates its Genesis Group

The Genesis Group was established on October 19, 1971.  President Monson, then a junior apostle, said this at the inaugural meeting:

“I stand before you tonight in a chapel that is just five blocks from where I was born and where I spent the first thirty years of my life, and I feel it a privilege to participate in this historic occasion. We are meeting in the Third Ward, one of the original pioneer wards. Among those early pioneers were members of the race now constituted as the Genesis Group. It’s been a long trek, but the promised land is here. I testify to you that our Father is pleased with what has transpired. Your theme could be that of an old Sunday School hymn: ‘Do not weary on the way.’ And your counsel, ‘Be not weary in well doing, for you are laying the foundation of a great work. Out of that which is small proceedeth that which is great.”

Forty-two years later, the growth continues. 

The inaugural meeting for Dallas’s Genesis Group will be tonight (Aug. 4) at 7pm at the Arlington Stake Center.  All interested individuals are invited to attend.

Here is the history of the Genesis Group, provided by Darius Gray: 

            The Genesis Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established in 1971 as a response to needs identified by a small group of black members working with three junior members of the Quorum of The Twelve. 

[Read more…]

The Encore “Faith and Doubt” Events

We are overbooked on the July 6th event featuring Terryl and Fiona Givens and Richard Bushman.  BUT, Terryl and Fiona will be giving their presentation before that event.  There will be other events elsewhere.  Details:

1.  Terryl and Fiona will be giving their “Crucible of Doubt” fireside on June 26 to a YSA Institute in Orem. The fireside will be held at the “Costco” chapel in Orem from 7:30 – 9:00 p.m. (There are two chapels next to each other across the street (north) from Costco. The Institute meets in the chapel that is to the north and the east of the other.)

2. The “Belief and Doubt in Mormonism: Negotiating Faith Crises” conferences will be held on September 28 in Manhattan, October 19 in northern Virginia, and November 9 in Boston. (We don’t have a space yet in Boston, but we will.) The “faculty” for each will be Richard, Terryl, and Fiona.

I’ll post on BCC when we have a recoding ready.

“A Discussion of Belief and Doubt in Mormonism for those Negotiating a Faith Crisis”

During the first week of July, Richard Bushman and Terryl and Fiona Givens will be presenting an all-day conference for those in a faith crisis. This conference would not be helpful to ex-Mormons or to Mormons who are not struggling with aspects of their faith.  If you would like to participate, please message me or let me know in comments.  Space is limited. It will be held in Provo, sponsored by the Temple and Observatory Group.

Temple Thoughts

Family gathering for hymn singing

When I tended my father at dialysis a few weeks ago, he tried to tell me something and was stopped by tears.  Finally he managed, “I get to go to the temple on Friday.”  He was going to attend my niece’s endowment.  She will leave for her mission in January.

This would hardly seem tear-worthy, unless you understand that my father has been on dialysis for 5 ½ years, and has been weakened by the gradual failure of all his organs.  He is in a wheelchair, and sleeps much of the time.

Six months ago, my parents’ stake president dropped by their place to give them temple recommend interviews.  Dad is rarely strong enough to get to church, so the president had come to him.  I thought it was a lovely gesture, but didn’t imagine the recommend would ever be used.  Still, it was a good for my dad to report to his stake president where he stood in his faith, like a last testimony to be witnessed and signed.

[Read more…]

Some of my Best Friends are Visionaries

My first love was a Mexican named Primitivo.  We met between our languages, and had to read each other’s minds to communicate well.  It was a great lesson in love.  I didn’t have my vocabulary to represent how terribly, deeply, incredibly smart I was, and so I was revealed in my true identity: as an insecure post-teen in need of friends and assurance, someone who hid behind the guise of smartness but who doubted that anyone could really love her. Primi did.

I was teaching literacy in Mexico in 1978, and returned to Utah after the summer was over.  The last day I spent  with Primi, his forehead was feverish.  His father had died of tuberculosis the year before, so I realized that the fever could be a serious thing.  I didn’t care.  I kissed him goodbye passionately and cried as I boarded the plane.

[Read more…]

The Color of Christ in the Congo

Deep in a forest in the Congo, revolutionaries might be singing this song now:

Bakatukwata, batukuma                                                                   

Bakatwela ne mu maloko                                                                   

Anu bwa Nzambi wa bankambwa a                                                  

Bupika bwetu bwakajika                                                                   

Bantu ba bungi bakabenga                                                                

Bakalonda bilele biabo                                                                     

Kabena bapeta lupandu         

They trapped and beat us,

They even threw us in jail.

Only by the god of our ancestors

Our slavery ended.

Many people rejected the black prophet.

They followed their own wills.

They will not be saved.

Who is this “black prophet” the song refers to?  It’s likely Simon Kimbangu, whose followers believed that the Garden of Eden was in Africa, and that Jesus was black and would return as a black man.  The “prophet” could also refer to Patrice Lumumba, who shot by a firing squad only months after taking office as Prime Minister in the Congo, and after saying in his inaugural speech (June 30, 1960): “We are proud of this struggle, of tears, of fire, and of blood, to the depths of our being, for it was a noble and just struggle, and indispensable to put an end to the humiliating slavery which was imposed upon us by force.” [Read more…]

I Do So Wear Underpants!

In the fourth grade, someone started a rumor that I didn’t wear underpants. It was mocking and teasing and typical of fourth graders, but for me it was devastating–suggesting that I was an alien of sorts, completely out of touch with decorum, or that I was so immodest or poor that I’d go to school without panties.

There finally came a time when everyone but one boy (who happened to be in my ward) had gone to recess. The boy and I remained in the classroom momentarily with our teacher, Mrs. Stratton. He was a shy boy, and not given to shouting accusations like some others. But he was faced with a sort of litmus test of his masculinity or of his adherance to the unspoken fourth grade rules that you tease until someone with more authority (and it must be another fourth grader) calls it off.

“You don’t wear underpants,” he said. I think that might have been the only sentence he had ever spoken to me.

“I do too!” I answered. I was near tears. My whole identity was being challenged, and I had already found myself ostracized from the fourth graders. Someone had explained why I didn’t fit in, using a two page list of my faults, starting with my red hair. But this “no underpants” accusation hit a new low.

“No you don’t.”

“I do!”

The teacher was straightening books and didn’t look up, but certainly she could hear this argument.

“Prove it,” he said.

I hesitated. I could either let the rumors persist or I could do the unthinkable: Lift my dress and show him–a BOY–my panties.

I did it. I lifted my dress quickly and then swept it back down. “See? I do!”

Leaving quickly, he said, “No you don’t.”

[Read more…]

Richard Cracroft: Go Gentle

I knew him first as a presence: an unbearded Santa Claus with thin lips, glasses, and a good pate of gray hair parted on the side. He could tell funny stories until his audience was slap-laugh-crying. I remember him imitating himself making an important presentation after a dentist’s appointment. His mouth was numb, his hearing aids misplaced, and his contacts not quite centered. He hammed it up. “Ah eeh to teh ooh bout Bark Taiin.” (“I’m here to tell you about Mark Twain.”) I wish somebody had recorded it.

[Read more…]

Disappearing Women: A Blogpost for Brandon James Price

It can be hard to get published.  Disbelieve any ad that says, “We’re looking for people to write children’s books.”  Translation: “We’re looking for people who will pay us about a thousand dollars to take our writing course.  Take this little test—which is ironically badly written, but which you can’t fail—and we’ll also give your name to our desperate agents, who will likewise charge a thousand dollars to read your work.”

It can be even harder to sell your published book.

My husband published a book.  It’s a brilliant book about family life in the age of Shakespeare .  It talks about parental blessings—given by both mother and father during the Renaissance.  It talks about the age of marriage when Shakespeare was writing Romeo and Juliet.  (Go ahead and guess.  I’ll answer later.)  It talks about the “rule of thumb” and what it WASN’T.  If you think it was the width of the stick a man could beat his wife with, you’ve been reading too much Lawrence Stone.

[Read more…]

Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra

My husband and I recently saw a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called “Darmok.” In it, the Enterprise is threatened with destruction if they can’t interpret the language of the “enemy” ship’s creatures. Captain Picard is sent to a planet to attempt communication with one of these “enemy” aliens. As it turns out, the aliens’ language is all based on metaphors from their folklore. The captain must not only interpret the words but the stories behind them. There is no grammar involved, simply the stories.

[Read more…]

Pioneer Day with Soul – Part III

We draped a sheet across a metal trellis and called it a covered wagon.  We used the sacrament table for Jane James’s bed.  We let Elijah Able use the podium, and we put the choir in the cushy seats by the piano and organ.

This was our Genesis meeting on Sunday, March 5th, 2000.  We debuted my play I Am Jane to a diverse audience that included LDS apostle David B. Haight, whose ancestor had been in Jane’s 1847 pioneer company, Elder Alexander B. Morrison, who had written about the LDS Church in Africa, and Elder John Groberg, whose mission in Tonga was about to be the subject of a movie.

The audience was full. Newspapers had announced it, and we could not accommodate all who came.  People were hungry to know more about Jane Elizabeth Manning James, portrayed in this debut by Denise Cutliff.

[Read more…]

Pioneer Day with Soul- Part 2: Jane Manning James

Sometimes, we erase our struggles from our journals because we don’t want others to know how hard life was for us.  What if our descendants were to learn that we suffered from depression or that we had doubts about our religion’s fundamental myths?  Could our progeny be challenged rather than inspired? Likewise, we often edit our ancestors’ stories to glorify them.  I have found that many who tell Jane Manning James’s story focus on the first part of her life as a Mormon—her barefoot journey of over 800 miles from Buffalo, New York to Nauvoo, Illinois.  Some histories record her subsequent trip to Salt Lake City.  But that’s where most stop.  In fact, her spiritual strength would be tested for the rest of her life far more than her physical strength was during that 1842-3 journey.

A few years before her death, Jane dictated her life story to Elizabeth J. D. Roundy, concluding it with these words:

[M]y faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints is as strong today—nay it is if possible stronger—than it was the day I was first baptized. I pay my tithes and offerings, keep the Word of Wisdom. I go to bed early and arise early. I try in my feeble way to set a good example to all.

[Read more…]

Pioneer Day–with some SOUL (pt. 1)

I am so white I can’t even tan.  Yet it was more than the idea that “This book will sell” which led me to begin a historical novel on Black pioneers. There was a need in me to approach this subject and all the problems it raised for a Mormon author–problems which had beset me from my youth. I was aware that I had been raised in a racist world, by a very good family, but one which subtly included racism in its traditions. As a Mormon, I had been raised to accept the notion that God did not intend Black men to hold the priesthood-at least not until 1978. Even as a teenager (I was born in 1955), the policy troubled me deeply. So I came to my subject with curiosity, some urgency, and a little sense of guilt that I, with my red-hair and white, untanable skin, should presume to tell the story of Blacks, whose culture I did not know except through literature.  But anyone who knows me knows I leap into projects on the assumption that I’ll figure it out as I go—or get help as needed.

I began my research and my writing in 1998. I was the Relief Society music director at the time, and decided to take some liberty with my calling: Once a month, rather than teach the Relief Society sisters a song, I would tell them a story of a Black pioneer in preparation for June 8, 1998 (the anniversary of the policy change). I did this for five months, concluding my presentations the first Sunday of June with the testimony of a man I had not met: Darius Gray. I had his story on a tape I had purchased from KUER Radio.

[Read more…]

An Exception Having Made, or You Might Be Racist If… (Part 4)

The story of Joseph in Egypt stands as a metaphor for the atonement and instructs us in patience, faith, and brotherhood. 

For my purposes here, the reconciliation of Jacob’s sons with their brother, whom they had sold to Middianites and not seen in many years, is particularly relevant. During the time that Joseph lived in Egypt, he found himself prospering and then betrayed, then prospering again until he was nearly as powerful as the Pharaoh and was put in charge of Egypt’s grain—at a time when the rest of the land was in a drought.  Those suffering included Joseph’s faraway family.  Finally, his brothers–they who had sold him—came to Egypt to beg, as it were, at the mercy seat, unaware that it was Joseph himself sitting resplendently before them.  Years had changed them all, and Joseph was dressed as the Egyptians.  Nor did he speak to them in the language of their childhood, but used an interpreter.  There would not be a simple reconciliation, but a test to see how much his brothers’ hearts had changed.  In asking them to bring the youngest brother, Benjamin, back to Egypt with them, he was proving their loyalty.  After they did as instructed, Joseph tested them yet again, and threatened to imprison Benjamin.  At last, Judah spoke of the brother (Joseph himself) who had been “lost” and of  grief which would overcome their father should he lose yet another. Judah then offered himself in Benjamin’s place, and said he was willing to spend the rest of his years as a slave rather than break his father’s heart (Genesis 44:33-34). [Read more…]

An Exception Being Made in His Case…Or, You Might Be A Racist If…Part 3

After the Church statements of Feb. 29, 2012 (“We don’t know why, how or when” [the restriction came into being], LDS respondents tended to back off the Curse of Cain or the old “Fence-sitter” rationales.  Nonetheless, some clung fiercely to one defense: That God has always restricted the priesthood, as evidenced by the fact that only the Levites were priests after the Exodus, and that the extension of priesthood was according to some divine timetable. Therefore, we don’t now why, how, or when–but we know God did it, because that’s his pattern.

I suspect this will be the most controversial of my posts on the “exceptions” we make for ourselves as we defend our past.  I personally find no room for them in the recent Church statements.  There is a clear distancing from earlier proclamations (already discussed).

We are a dispensational religion, believing that we are now living “in the fullness of times.”  Dispensationalism includes timetables, but using timetables as a justification for something otherwise unjustifiable sounds curiously like Karma—a doctrine you should probably not preach over the pulpit unless you’d like to get better acquainted with your bishop.  The problem isn’t with the timetable concept per se, but with its application to the priesthood restriction, suggesting that God would use the restriction as His schedule manager, assuring that no one of African lineage would receive the greatest gifts of the gospel until 1978. [Read more…]

An Exception Having Been Made…Or, You Might Be A Racist If…PART 2

Part 2

Perhaps the most frequently cited Brigham Young quote which anti-Mormons plug into comments after any article even remotely related to Mormonism is this one:

You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable, and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. . . . Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin.” (Journal of Discourses, Volume 7, Page 291, 1859)

It’s a disgusting, offensive image.  Did he really believe it represented all Blacks? I’m making an educated guess that he had exceptions.  I suspect that he imagined most poor Blacks and slaves in a generalized stereotype as amoral, illiterate, potentially murderous sub-humans marching in mutiny against the bastions of White Privilege. [Read more…]

An Exception Having Been Made…OR, You May Be a Racist If…

Part I

Early LDS Church historians (Andrew Jensen and Kate Carter, for example), writing after the priesthood restriction was in place, dealt with the known fact of Elijah Abel’s priesthood with the simple phrase, “an exception having been made in his case.”  Some suggested that the priesthood was his reward for working on the Kirtland Temple, where he also received initiatory ordinances.  As a carpenter, he worked on the Nauvoo temple as well, but had moved to Cincinnati before the endowment was given. When he relocated in Salt Lake City around 1853, he asked for his endowment, but was denied.  Nonetheless, he worked on the Salt LakeTemple as well, and finished his life by serving his third mission. 

The phrase  “an exception having been made” is particularly relevant as we see Mormons respond to Public Affairs’ quick statements (two of them) repudiating a BYU professor’s views that blacks were denied the priesthood not only because they were cursed as the lineage of Cain/Canaan, but because the priesthood was simply too powerful for pre-1978 Black Mormons, and they’d probably end up becoming sons of Perdition–just like your daughter would probably crash your powerful car if you gave her the keys.  Calling the professor out by name, the Church distanced itself almost immediately from what some call “Bott-gate.” Most Latter-day Saints were relieved that the Church had officially spoken on the issue, though many requested a stronger statement with greater specificity. [Read more…]


November 23, 1980. I am in labor. A midwife attends me at my home. The pain is greater than anything I could have imagined.
“Is it close?” I ask.
The midwife nods. She’s a Mormon hippie, and she’s smiling.
“Hurry,” I moan.
“Oh no,” says the midwife. “There’s nothing to hurry.”
“I think it’s a girl,” she says. “I can’t say for sure, but I can feel her spirit. It’s a sweet, tinkly spirit. Yes, I think you’re having a girl.”
“I can’t do this.” [Read more…]

A Letter to a Lost One from Long Ago

I found this letter while looking for something else. Does it matter when I wrote it? I don’t think so. Does it matter whether I wrote it to one of my children or just in a fit of maternal imagination? I don’t think it does. If you are the parent of a struggling child, this is your letter.

Preamble: If I had a son or a daughter who could not see their own nobility, who was lost in the brambles of deception, believing lies about themselves, and who constantly imagined that others were seeing only their flaws (which every mirror magnified), I would say this:

Dear Child—

There are a few things I know for certain. One of them is that we are meant to be a family. We are meant to provide essential vision for each other during the inevitable times when one of us goes blind. Right now, it’s my turn to guide you through a dark time in your life, and the time will come (sadly but probably inevitably) when you will guide me. I won’t lie about what I see in you, but I will use more than my eyes to transcend the obvious and find the essential, and then to describe it to you and help you remember.

I won’t waste time bemoaning what this disorder has stolen from you and from our family, but will simply remind of a few honest truths.

We are all jerks, you know, and we are all miracles. We are blundering fools, and we are radiant saints, screwing up royally and then discovering that we have managed to find a royal throne anyway. We are given to each other so that we have somebody’s arms to blunder into, and somebody’s gentle nod to acknowledge the treasures we all bring with us. I know for certain that you and I belong together in our sometimes unsteady, often undulating family circle. [Read more…]

God Is No Respecter of Persons–How’s That Workin’ For Ya?

Most of us have now had lesson #30 in Gospel Doctrine: “God is No Respecter of Persons.” The young man I team-teach with taught it three weeks ago, and I watched, mostly in silence. MOSTLY. My students know what I do, so the question came up, directed to me: “Why was there a priesthood restriction?” I was actually shocked when a fifteen-year-old asked, “Was it because of Cain?” I was thinking the kids were learning other things, not the same garbage I learned at their age. It tells me we haven’t cleaned up adequately. [Read more…]

In Memoriam: Elder Marion Duff Hanks

Last Sunday, I woke my son with the words, “Elder Hanks has died.”
He responded, “Duffy? He died?”

I always called him Elder Hanks, and got upset when some of the aides in the center where he spent his last years called him Duff and handled him like a child. I wanted to yell, “Do you have any idea who this man is?” [Read more…]

Sanctified Memory

Last Tuesday, I attended the funeral of a long-time English department colleague, Richard G. Ellsworth, who was also in the Provo ward of my childhood: Oak Hills II. Richard was our enthusiastic chorister, the kind of conductor who invested his body and his hair (it was long enough to react to his arms’ energetic movements–and he always led us with both arms) in every phrase of music.

When I was about ten, he was my Sunday school teacher for the simple reason that his son was the most mischievous child in class. I’m sure the bishop pulled Richard out of whatever other calling he had so that the Ellsworth kid would have his father right there. [Read more…]

All God’s Critters: Some Thoughts on the Priesthood Restriction and Differing Opinions – Part III

Part III

Prejudice, which President Kimball called “thou ugly,” mattered deeply to President Gordon B. Hinckley. He was troubled to hear about anyone being mistreated—and particularly when the excuse for mistreatment was race-based.

Darius Gray was similarly concerned as he received countless calls from men and women all over the United States who were still dealing with the ripples of racist folklore—people whose children were told that they were cursed, or that all blacks had been “neutral” in the pre-existence; white members who pulled their children from Sunday school because they didn’t want them in the same class as a black child; investigators or new converts who were addressed with racial epithets. Darius, in his calling as the president of the Genesis Group (a support group for black Latter-day Saints), told President Hinckley about some of these incidents. He heard later from President Hinckley’s daughter that she had found him pacing in his living room. When she asked what was wrong, he said, “Darius has told me some things, and I am troubled.” [Read more…]

All God’s Critters: Some Thoughts on the Priesthood Restriction and Differing Opinions, Part II


As I state in the poem quoted in Part I of this series, I do believe that what we call “race” is a gift, but certainly not one which must include extra pain for those with extra melanin. Because humans will always find excuses for division, race offers a ready pretext and also a challenge. One of the most profound lessons of the Book of Mormon is that we as a community of Saints, with Christ as our center, can become one; that there need be no “ites” among us; that (as in IV Nephi) we can care so deeply about one another that we will not suffer any to go hungry or unsheltered.

The priesthood restriction was so solidly founded in the idea of a lineage-based curse that I personally cannot separate the policy itself from the philosophies which supported it. For me, it is an impossible paradox to have a God who is no respecter of persons, who told Peter “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (Acts 11:9) but who—in what we call “the fullness of times”—would withhold the richest blessings of His Church from one group. (It is completely different to exclude one group from full gospel blessings than it is to assign one group—such as the Levites—to function as priests to the others.) We claim to have the “same organization as existed in the primitive church.” We claim to be the restored Church of Jesus Christ, as His Church was described in the New Testament. Thus, though missionaries in New Testament times did not initially preach to the Gentiles, that was changed as Christianity spread beyond its first center and the mandate was given: “Go ye into all the world” (Mark 16:15). There is, in fact, a rich history of early Christianity in Africa. [Read more…]

All God’s Critters: Some Thoughts on the Priesthood Restriction and Differing Opinions

Part I

In the current cover story of LDS Living Magazine, Keith Hamilton tells about his journey as a Black Latter-day Saint—which has been remarkable. The article is based on Keith’s new book, Eleventh Hour Laborer. I enjoyed his book (in fact, I did a blurb for his back cover), though I differ strongly with him on one point. Because we disagree on a key issue, and because he has used some of my writing to support his ideas, I want to be open about where I stand.

Keith claims to have received revelation that the priesthood restriction was ordained of God. In his book, Keith says, “I…know unequivocally that the priesthood and temple restrictions formerly faced by blacks in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were the Lord’s doing. How do I know it? By personal revelation…” [Read more…]