Joseph Smith’s Sermons: MHA 2018

One of the sessions at the Mormon History Association this year (Boise, Idaho, June 2018) focused on a new volume from Oxford University Press titled, Foundational Texts of Mormonism: Examining Major Early Sources. (edited by Mark Ashurst-McGee, Robin S. Jensen, and Sharalyn D. Howcroft) One the chapters was written by yours truly, “Joseph Smith’s Sermons and the Early Mormon Documentary Record.” Since I think this volume deserves a continuing readership I’ve decided to post my talk at the panel session—based of course on my chapter in the book. I hope it tempts you to add the book to your Mormon text library. I’ll be reviewing some of the other chapters in the book from time to time. I hope this will intrigue you enough to take a look for yourself.
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In Memoriam Stephen E. Robinson, 1947-2018

Friend of the blog, historian/theologian Janiece Johnson, was kind enough to offer her thoughts on long-time BYU religion professor Stephen E. Robinson.

[Cross-posted at Maxwell Institute blog]

Believing Christ was published in 1992, though I first read it on my mission. Though not on the approved reading list, my grandma sent it to me in Argentina. It was a critical time for me, no matter how early I got up and how hard I worked, I never felt like I had done “all I could do”—Nephi’s words felt more like a weapon than a balm. Though Robinson himself might have tired of his bicycle parable, it was the first significant turn that Latter-day Saints took toward grace. Many have built on it, but Robinson’s work was the foundation. (Listen to Robinson’s comments from the conference on grace sponsored by the Wheatley Institute for the 25th anniversary of Believing Christ here.) For me personally, it was vital. It was the first time I actually began to recognize that no matter how much I worked, I could not earn God’s grace. I had to choose to receive the gift, and only then could it change me.
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Making Your Calling and Election Sure IV. Hard Times. When Pioneer Living is not Enough.

I was in the LDS Church History Library some time back, dwelling amid the dusty productions of yesteryear as is my wont, when I came across a transcription of the diary of James Cantwell.[1] Cantwell was an Irishman. Cantwell became a Mormon in 1842, but financial issues kept him in Britain until 1850 when he took his family to St. Louis. Six years passed before he could get to the Valley.
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When Your Calling and Election is [in Doubt]. III. Fundamentalism (part 2).

There is a contradiction between a Church tightly held together by a strong hierarchical authority, which will nevertheless be filled with practitioners of heartfelt devotion. There are, of course, people whose devotional life is enhanced by the sense that they live under this kind of authority, but for the masses who do not respond this way the choices are either to knuckle under, or leave, or live a semi-clandestine life.
*

So far this peripatetic series has wandered from the Jerusalem Bishopric to Intelligent Design, and now to 20th-century Physics™ and Conservative Christianity (see part 1).

I’m afraid it’s nothing this interesting.


Election has been a Christain puzzle for two thousand years since Paul and then the Johannine community and all these posts hover around it with one or another valence. This post is part 2 of a previous post on Christian fundamentalism mostly conceived in terms of biblical literalism. This time I’m really wandering, with seemingly unconnected dots—to evoke Steven Peck.
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“Confessions of a Mormon Historian” The diaries of Leonard J. Arrington. A Review.

Confessions of a Mormon Historian: The Diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971-1997. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, April 30, 2018. $150.00. 2,600 pages in three volumes.

Gary James Bergera, ed.

Foreword by Susan Arrington Madsen. A (delightful) introductory essay by Rebecca Foster Bartholomew on some of Arrington’s ancestors and his life to ca. 1971.

Each volume contains a chronology by Joseph Geisner and Lavina Fielding Anderson in the front matter. Editor Bergera provides helpful short biographical notes on persons who appear in the diaries along with citations for work LJA mentions and other brief but important bits of context, along with generally unobtrusive expansions of the text when LJA is terse with names, places, etc.

Volume 1: Church Historian, 1971-1975 876 pages (including an appendix listing LDS historians and some associates for the years 1830-1985) + front matter.
Volume 2: Centrifugal Forces, 1975-1980 922 pages.
Volume 3: Exile, 1980-1997 803 pages (includes an index for all volumes) with an Afterword by Thomas G. Alexander and an Arrington bibliography by Jeffery O. Johnson.

Signature Books very kindly gave me a look at their forthcoming publication of Leonard J. Arrington’s (LJA) diaries covering the period of his appointment as LDS Church Historian to two years before his death in 1999. The recent Arrington biography by Gregory A. Prince quoted liberally from LJA’s diaries, housed at the Merrill-Cazier Library at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.[1]
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Visiting Ministering: Alice Smith

Alice C. Smith was an extraordinary woman. I won’t take time to recite her achievements here but I do want to quote from one of her sermons (for the curious, we are not related-though I do possess some of her personal reminiscences courtesy of her family). This address took place October 1, 1969 and it continues to impress me. I’ve read it several times.[1]

I leave you these excerpts without comment except to say that I think the points raised are symbolic. Like loaves of bread. And that I think the sort of thing Alice speaks of happens all the time. Not every time. It will be different for different people. I’m hoping that the new organizational changes in visiting teaching will make for more outreach. Women have always been at the heart of Christianity, leading, teaching, doing. Culture from the deeps of time has hidden much of this from our discourse.
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Joseph Smith Papers: Documents Volume 7 Teaser

The Joseph Smith Papers Project has just released volume 7 of its Documents Series. Recently, Steve Evans and I sat down with three of the editors of the volume and had the chance to ask them about it. Volume 7 covers the Nauvoo foundational era, specifically between September 1839 and January 1841.

Left to right, editor Chris Blythe, lead editor Matthew Godfrey, editor Spencer McBride, associate editorial manager, Riley M. Lorimer

Since these volumes focus on Joseph Smith’s “papers” —the representation of events is naturally focused on Smith. Other personalities who are mentioned in the documents get some time in the extensive explanatory notes and an important Biographical Directory. Maps, geographical and organizational charts, source notes and chronologies are just some of the many materials that assist the reader with context.
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Baptism for the Dead, A Momentary Memoir

The other day, I participated as a proxy for a dead relative in a baptism (actually a confirmation). As I was sitting there, hands were laid on my head and I experienced a bit of proxy deja vu. In my mind’s eye I observed the intense feelings among early Latter-day Saints of mid-August 1840 as Joseph Smith announced that those Saints could be baptized for their dead ancestors. Weeks later, people began to go to the Mississippi and men were baptized for dead grandparents, women for a beloved deceased brother or parent. It was joyous. In the few moments that I sat experiencing my proxy position for three long-dead men in turn, I thought through Smith’s acts here. I don’t know precisely where his logic/inspiration was tipped over to surety. He knew the Pauline text certainly.[1] But what else played into this? A clue about one of those things is represented in his one prewritten sermon, delivered at the October conference the same year. In that sermon he lays out a new and rather extraordinary idea. It may be his most profound instruction ever, since it links to things like sealing, polygamy, temple ritual, priesthood, sacraments, and so forth. I imagined myself sitting there in that conference, listening to his clerk, Robert Thompson, read that sermon (Joseph composed the sermon at Thompson’s elbow and one other man in the room later remarked that he felt God’s presence more powerfully than at any other time in his life as they worked through that composition). Its content was wide-ranging and feels a bit odd to me now as I reread it but it was a turning point.
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When Your Calling and Election is [in Doubt]. III. Fundamentalism (part 1).

So far this intermittent series has wandered from the Jerusalem Bishopric to Intelligent Design, and now to 20th-century Physics™ and Conservative Christianity. Also, it’s Old Testament-ish.

A Kid Gets Lost

In my eighth grade of public school, I had a physical education class, a science class, an English class, some kind of arithmetic class, something called “social studies,” a technical education class (“shop class”), and I don’t recall what else now. In trying to think through that period in my life, I realize there wasn’t much in the way of encouragement to think about hard problems of the day. That applied to social problems and civil rights, scientific issues, or even academic kinds of things. I vaguely remember my English teacher asking us to compose “themes,” the term for short essays in the day. I had no facility with that. I remember trying to puzzle through a paragraph or two on some topic for the class and coming up dead empty. I’m sure she modeled what she wanted us to do, but I was probably more concerned with the social dynamics of the classroom than whatever she said. Being concerned with those dynamics occupied a good portion of my day. Usually by formulating strategies for being invisible, except maybe to Susan Wilcox [not her real last name because I just don’t remember it now] and her very tall, haughty, Greek Orthodox friend, Olive. Olive [also not her real name for the same reason] showed up in a high school science class where she snubbed me as a science fair partner—rightly perceiving me as just wanting to hang on to whatever she was doing so I wouldn’t have to do anything myself.
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Cedar City Utah LDS Temple

A new LDS temple has been completed and dedicated in Cedar City, Utah. Another Utah temple may seem like overkill, but sites are selected by potential use statistics and corresponding travel reduction. It’s a remarkable design reminiscent of early Mormon temples. Here are some photos [all photos courtesy LDS Church]:

Elements of Nauvoo, St. George, and other early temples.

Chapel

Baptistry

Celestial room

A sealing room

Memories. Mysteries Solved. Mysteries Made. Wilford Woodruff’s “Book of Revelations.”

When Charles W. Nibley[1] was eleven he came to Utah and settled with his family in the Cache Valley. From the start, Nibley had a knack for business and became successful in retail, lumber, and land. When he was a teenager, Nibley met Ira Ames, an early 1830s convert to Mormonism and he loved to listen to Ames tell stories about the early days of Mormonism. Late in life, Nibley related a incident where Ames told the story of being out on the streets of Kirtland, Ohio one night when he saw Sidney Rigdon walking by. Rigdon stopped and spoke to Ames and told him he had just come from witnessing a long and glorious vision (D&C 76). He told Ames of the beautiful vision. Nibley carried this experience to his grave as one of the more memorable scenes of his youth. There was a problem though. Ames was not in Ohio in February 1832 when the vision occurred, he wasn’t even a Mormon—and Rigdon was living in Hiram, Ohio when he experienced the shattering vision. Nibley felt humbled and strengthened by a fiction.
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Getting rid of the Ensign, New Era, and Friend!

So, the Church magazines have had their present names since 1971. That’s going on 50 years. “Ensign” is ok, has some scriptural backing I guess. New Era is clearly borrowed from the old Improvement Era, and the Friend inherited its name from its predecessor, The Children’s Friend (which stole the name of some other rag, I think). Liahona came from the old Liahona The Elders’ Journal. So now you’re faced with a problem. What about new magazines? Should there be hard copy mags? How many? One for all adults world-wide? Or ten or fifteen regional mags? BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY, WE HAVE TO GIVE THEM NEW AND BETTER NAMES! Get with it and tell me what to do.

Your Sunday Brunch Special: Religious Freedom and the Supreme Court.

Some of you may know that I’ve been writing a book on the social, political, and textual history of Joseph Smith’s revelation on polygamy, now found as Doctrine and Covenants, section 132. It’s been a fun project and I’ve come to see the revelation (as every good biographer must about his or her subject) as more or less the center of the universe, and maybe the Mormon universe at least. Something that may not make a dent in the book has nevertheless occupied my attention for a while, and that is a certain court case: Minersville School District v. Gobitas.

The background works like this, and forgive me for some tangentialism. It’s a learned behavior I guess.
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Joseph Smith Papers Announcements

Updates from the Joseph Smith Papers team:

JSP Website Reaches Publication Milestones:

The latest content release on the website is now live. This release includes two items of particular significance:
The final installment of Joseph Smith’s journals, from May 1843 to June 1844. This portion of the journals covers the final year of Smith’s life, including the events that led up to his murder. The Journals series is now complete in print and online.
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Mormon Sermons: How do We Preach?

There is a large body of scholarship on the analysis and sorting/classifying of rhetorical texts. Categories of preaching have been mapped in genres like homilies, commentaries, catechistic address, exhortations, charismatic address to name some of the obvious ones.
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Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture: 2017 Symposium

Mormonism Engages the World

This year the Maxwell Institute’s Summer Seminar is being held in the basement of the Joseph F. Smith Building on BYU Campus. The morning session just wrapped, and I thought I’d give a very brief summary of the papers mixed (inexorably) with my own mental stirrings. Warning: these are in no way verbatim reports—they are very brief summaries. Caveat Emptor. Presenters who encounter this should feel free to disabuse the public of my errors.
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Conference Notice: Leonard Arrington Centennial Conference

Click for a larger image

July 12, 13, 2017, Utah State University, Logan, Utah. Leonard J. Arrington centennial conference. See the attached program for more information. Speakers include Marlin K. Jensen, former Church Historian of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Greg Prince, Arrington’s biographer, Gary Bergera, editor of the forthcoming Arrington diaries, Matt Grow, Director of Publications, Church History Department, Matthew Godfrey, Managing Historian for the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich will be addressing attendees at 7:00pm, July 12, 2017 in the L. Tom Perry Pavilion, Huntsman Hall 470, USU Campus.

Conference Sessions will address the Arrington Collection at the USU library and consider Arrington’s influence among students, colleagues, the state of Idaho, LDS history, and the Historical Department of the LDS Church. The conference is free and open to all. Say hi if you decide to come up and breathe some of the clear aggie air.

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Your Sunday Brunch Special. Time.

Sitting in an upstairs room.
It is still winter as I write this, and dawn takes her time. Everyone else is asleep, wandering in dreams where I’m the blind observer.

I’ve been thinking about my parents lately. Both have been gone more than a decade. My memories of them are fragmented and naturally limited by the way most of us store such things. I’ve been wondering about their thoughts, something I’ll never be able to access, but nevertheless still wondering. How did they experience their own memories? Looking into their lives lately, I’ve realized that most of their experience was hidden from me. It differed greatly from the seeming uniformity that I watched as a teen and young adult. Oh sure, I had a glimpse now and then. But it quickly submerged below the surface of present attitudes and behavior.
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Transfers

Mormon mission life has its own unique culture and a part of that culture is the “transfer.” Transfers happen for a variety of reasons, redistribution of man-woman power, training procedures, covering for departing missionaries, social issues between missionaries and/or members, etc. Transfers are sometimes fraught for various reasons but usually they don’t mean anything in particular beyond the mundane. But sometimes, they are unusual.
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James E. Talmage’s College Finals

Talmage was a student at the Provo BYU Acadamy in 1879 (he was 17). Talmage kept his blue book (actually eggshell book) and it ended up in an archive. I thought it was only fair that you all take the same test. Something tells me it will destroy you. Now, no cheating, looking on the internets or encyclopedias or whatever. Get out your paper and prepare for make or break. You can attempt answers in the comments. Possible grades James could earn (they are labeled “Marks of Criticism”):
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Joseph Smith Papers Lecture: Brent Rogers on Kirtland Temple

Notice of Lecture by Brent Rogers, one of the editors of volume 5 of the Documents Series in the Joseph Smith Papers. If you’re in Salt Lake City on Thursday, it should be fun.

In conjunction with the publication of Documents, Volume 5: October 1835–January 1838, Brent M. Rogers, Associate Managing Historian of the Joseph Smith Papers and coeditor of Documents, Volume 5, will be giving a lecture titled “‘We ask thee, O Lord, to accept of this house’: The Temple in Joseph Smith’s Kirtland” on May 18 in Salt Lake City.
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Your Sunday Brunch Special: The 1880 First Presidency and the George Q. Cannon Journal

Last year, Jonathan Stapley and I reviewed the newly released initial segment of George Q. Cannon’s journals from the Church Historian’s Press. Cannon, a fixture in Utah Mormon leadership, politics, and business for the latter half of the nineteenth century, reported his activities in Church and State with interesting fidelity in what was once a closely held journal. Just recently, more of the Cannon journal was released and Cannon has a particularly frank account of deliberations among the apostles over the question of organizing a First Presidency. Brigham Young had been dead since August 1877 and the apostles had stepped up as a twelve man presidency, just as they had done in Nauvoo after Joseph Smith’s death. Remarkably for us perhaps, some of the same puzzles were still present over the question of reorganization of a First Presidency. Did they really need to proceed? Was a Presidency really needed to effectively govern? How would it be selected? Who should be president–what of the health of older apostles? Why did some apostles object to a new presidency? Who were those objectors? Cannon sheds remarkable light on these and other questions in this drama.[1]
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Paris Temple

The Paris, France temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been completed. Public tours will be held between April 22 and May 13, 2017. The temple was announced in 2011, however rumors regarding President Gordon B. Hinckley’s work on a prospective temple circulated for more than a decade. Local parties confirmed that land purchase for the temple was a very slow process, inhibited by French regulation and public concerns.

Construction photo, Aug. 2015.

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Testimony, Memory, and History

At the end of the nineteenth century, a few former residents of old Nauvoo still lived and worshiped in the West. A number of these stalwarts left statements about how their lives intersected with Joseph Smith and other legends of early Mormonism—even more of them regularly told of their early experiences in fast meetings. Some of them repeated the traditional stories used to support Utah as the successor to Nauvoo—from the “Last Charge” to the “Rocky Mountain Prophecy.” The Rocky Mountain Prophecy story’s gradual evolution may have come from Joseph Smith’s plans to defuse the tensions of Hancock County by defusing the Gathering, making Nauvoo the hit and run center place of temple activity but not the permanent singular residence for the growing Mormon population in Britain and America. The stories of Joseph predicting his own death may also be linked to his plans to control Mormon density in Hancock County, Ill., establishing Mormon centers in Texas and California among other possibilities, and perhaps exiting the Illinois hot-spot himself (but see below). Plans swirled around him and actual events singled out a post-martyrdom supporting narrative—there are interesting parallels with the production of the New Testament Gospels.[1]
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Mormon Image in Literature: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About What Your Neighbors Think About You.

Greg Kofford Books has been gradually publishing a series of books out of a (literally) disappearing genre of literature: nineteenth-century novels with Mormon villains. The dime novel industry of mostly Western adventure had a Mormon component, largely constructed from formulae borrowed from the broader cheap imprint world of American literature. The other

Danites are Everywhere

evening I had the pleasure of sitting down with Ardis E. Parshall (researcher extraordinaire and producer of all things Keepapitchinin) and our own Michael Austin while they talked about some of their experiences in finding these now fragile and rapidly deteriorating archival treasures.
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Church History Library Remodel: Finished.

An announcement from our friends at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City. The library has been closed to the public for 4 months while the main floor underwent important architectural-functional changes. The new facility promises to be helpful to scholars and interested Church members alike.
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Preaching in the Provinces: Lorenzo Barnes and Early Mormon Missions

Lorenzo Barnes (1812-1842)—early Mormon convert and perennial missionary—left some record of his preaching efforts in two small journals. Barnes was schooled in early Mormon ideas and mission work, and his methods probably mirrored what many lay-minister Mormons did to spread the word. I’ve been thinking more about Barnes lately and I’ve written a bit about him in something that appears in the most recent issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (though that piece is altogether different from this blog entry). Barnes ends out with a chapter in the sermon book (Every Word Seasoned with Grace: A Textual Study of the Funeral Sermons of Joseph Smith) since Joseph Smith preached a sermon in honor of Barnes in April 1843—Barnes died in mission service (December 1842, Idle, England). Here I’m just going to quote from one of Barnes’s journals about his 1835 preaching travels Barnes was in the Camp of Israel — Zion’s Camp — and subsequently was called as one of the original Seventy whose special duty was mission work. Spelling and punctuation as in the original.
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Northampton Church Archives–Documentary Editing Project

Melting in the pews. Edwards always read his sermons. He made up for it by fun descriptions of Hell.

Melting in the pews. Edwards always read his sermons. He made up for it by fun descriptions of Hell.

This isn’t precisely Mormon but it represents an interesting opportunity to see how an important precursor to Mormonism executed Christianity. New England’s Hidden Histories, a scholarly partner of the Jonathan Edwards Center at Yale has published (online) the earliest church record book from Northampton, Mass. The book contains an elaborate 14-page “covenant and statement of principles” at the establishment of the church. This volume contains articles of faith, along with the covenant, meeting minutes, admissions, dismissions, membership lists, baptisms, deaths, and marriages, and an index for members by name. The record has Jonathan Edwards’s records of church discipline. There is also material from Solomon Stoddard—and from John Hooker, successor to Edwards at the church.
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“You might as well argue with the wind.”

Something about early American preaching that may have things to say about the Mormon pulpit and pew.

The discussion of the balance between the rational and the intuitive (in Mormonism we might say, reason vs. revelation, or the “mantle” vs. the “intellect”) is not a new one. Roughly 300 years ago New England pulpits rang with polemics, preacher against preacher, over things like itinerancy, extemporaneous sermons, lay testimony and emotional conversion experiences. Each might be seen as either the work of the Devil or the work of God. Clerical conferences, used to a few quiet conversations over theological points, were torn asunder by bitter conflicts between extremes. The enlightened vs. the pious.
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Textual Studies of the Doctrine and Covenants: The Plural Marriage Revelation

I’ve got a book in the editing process at Greg Kofford Books [it’s about D&C 132]. With luck, it may appear this December or possibly February 2017. Here’s a bit of the preface (excuse typos, it’s in progress):

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