Sunday, March 11, 2018

LDS doctrine on gathering of scattered Israel has shifted

In Sunday School class, there was some debate, and mild concern, when the teacher explained to students that there is not a specific physical transfer of the lost tribes of Israel to one location in the USA. One student, a former bishop, pointed to The Articles of Faith, number 10, which reads, “We believe in the literal gathering of Israel and in the restoration of the Ten Tribes; that Zion (the New Jerusalem) will be built upon the American continent; that Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory.”
Another elderly student pointed out that the Lord had revealed that the waters of the earth would open up and allow the gathered tribes of Israel to walk on dry land to the American continent for the final gathering.” He’s right; if one reads Doctrine and Covenants, Section 133, Verses 26 and 27, which read, “And they who are in the north countries shall come in remembrance before the Lord; and their prophets shall hear his voice, and shall no longer stay themselves; and they shall smite the rocks, and the ice shall flow down at their presence.
“And an highway shall be cast up in the midst of the great deep.”
Let me backtrack a bit now and explain a piece of Mormon lore that every active Mormon over the age of 30, as well as many others who are younger, has heard. It’s that one day, the Lord, through the prophet, will call on ALL the Saints to put aside their lives and with their families gather in Jackson County, Missouri, to await the Second Coming of Christ. In my lifetime, I have heard countless discussions about the future global migration and speculations about how many of the Saints will have the faith to follow the prophet and head to Jackson County.
In fact, I’d place the restoration of scattered Israel and the ensuing migration as one of the most appealing doctrinal beliefs of Mormonism. It provides a preview of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and specific instructions on how to receive the return of the Lord. It’s a testament to its popularity that several years after the restoration of Israel doctrine shifted in its interpretation, that many of the church’s members still adhere to the migration belief, and are unaware of, or fail to remember, an important LDS General Conference address, in 2006, by LDS Apostle, and future church president, Russell M. Nelson.
The discourse, titled, “The Gathering of Scattered Israel,” subtly shifts the participation in the Gathering as “A Commitment by Covenant.” Nelson explains near the end of the address:
The choice to come unto Christ is not a matter of physical location; it is a matter of individual commitment. People can be “brought to the knowledge of the Lord” without leaving their homelands. True, in the early days of the Church, conversion often meant emigration as well. But now the gathering takes place in each nation. The Lord has decreed the establishment of Zion in each realm where He has given His Saints their birth and nationality. Scripture foretells that the people ‘shall be gathered home to the lands of their inheritance, and shall be established in all their lands of promise.’ ‘Every nation is the gathering place for its own people.’ The place of gathering for Brazilian Saints is in Brazil; the place of gathering for Nigerian Saints is in Nigeria; the place of gathering for Korean Saints is in Korea; and so forth. Zion is “the pure in heart.” Zion is wherever righteous Saints are. Publications, communications, and congregations are now such that nearly all members have access to the doctrines, keys, ordinances, and blessings of the gospel, regardless of their location.
“Spiritual security will always depend upon how one lives, not where one lives. Saints in every land have equal claim upon the blessings of the Lord.
It’s interesting that Nelson uses Scriptures, including the Doctrine and Covenants and The Book of Mormon, as support for his statements. I have no problem with Nelson’s re-interpretation of the Gathering of Scattered Israel. With the international growth of the church over the past three generations or so, the migration of millions of Saints to one portion of the USA is impossible. (I also understand that many of my fellow LDS believers will argue that the doctrine has not changed, that the literal migration will occur during the Millennium, or that the literal restoration was always meant to be a spiritual one.)
That’s bunk, though. Scriptures and doctrinal revelations are meant for our religious comprehension, and often cannot be relied on for scientific or historical verification. And, in a church that claims continuous revelation, the meaning of doctrines can shift. It is a fact that the migration of the scattered tribes was taught as one that would be a a specific physical trek from across the world to the United States.
Here’s a excerpt from the once-popular LDS religious book, “Prophecy and Modern Times,” by W. Cleon Skousen. The publisher was Deseret Book. The book’s forward was written by then-LDS Apostle Ezra Taft Benson, a future LDS Church president and prophet. On page 56, it reads:
Mountains, ice and a continent of water will stand between the Ten Tribes and the land of Zion when they first appear, but they will ‘smite the rocks. and the ice shall flow down at their presence.’ As they come to the great body of water, dry land will be cast up in the midst of it so that a mighty highway will spread before them.”
Footnotes for that section include Doctrine and Covenants, Section 133, Versus 26 and 27, which prophesy of the mighty highway through the seas.  In “Prophecy and Modern Times, the need for a migration to America is considered urgent. Skouson later writes on page 59:
“”… They (special ambassadors) must go into the mountains and deserts, the cities and hamlets, among caves and rocks, hunting out the Saints and warning them to gather to America.”
Mormon history, as well as its doctrine, is extremely interesting to read and write about. Perhaps one day I’ll have time to look for views –from the same time period — that publicly contested Skousen’s (and by extension, Benson’s) viewpoints of the gathering of Israel.
While Nelson, in his speech, clearly reaffirms the Gathering of Israel, the interpretation has shifted in a manner that makes its fulfillment much easier to accomplish.
-- Doug Gibson
-- Originally published at StandardBlogs

Sunday, February 25, 2018

John C. Bennett was the Lucifer of early Mormonism

John Cook Bennett: most Mormons probably know him from LDS Church Almanacs as “assistant president of the LDS Church” for a year or so during the Nauvoo era. Those who know a bit more about church history know him as a proclaimed “Judas,” or “Lucifer,” who slithered into Nauvoo, deceived the Prophet Joseph Smith, seduced several women, married and single, was cast out, then made considerably more than 30 pieces of silver vilely blasting Smith at lectures and in a best-selling book. 

Bennett was so anathema to LDS Church leaders that in response to his death in 1867, an LDS Church publication released a scathing, false obituary which read, in part, “… He dragged out a miserable existence, without a person scarcely to take the least interest in his fate, and died a few months ago without a person to mourn his departure. …”

In reality, Bennett died in Polk City, Iowa, a fairly well off and respected man. He had recently served as surgeon in the Third U.S. Infantry during the Civil War. Yet, the Mormons’ loathing of Bennett was not without cause. Despite Bennett’s many talents and skills, he was often a scoundrel during his life. He was a serial adulterer and grifter at times, selling “diplomas” from a medicine school diploma mill. He may have even been a sociopath, albeit one who could remain fairly prosperous even after alienating many. 

I was surprised to discover a biography of Bennett’s life, “The SaintlyScoundrel: The Life and Times of Dr. John C. Bennett,” by Andrew F. Smith, published in 1997 by University of Illinois Press. It’s an interesting read. Bennett, born in 1804, grew up in southeastern Ohio and became a doctor in the early 1820s, learning medicine from his uncle, a prominent doctor and scientist. After marrying, Bennett practiced in several different areas and also was a lay preacher, favoring the reformist Campbellite doctrines. In fact, he had already met many prominent Mormons long before moving to Nauvoo.

Bennett enjoyed teaching and lecturing in medicine, and he tried setting up colleges and medical schools in several frontier states. This is also where much of his grifting began. At one college, Christian College, Bennett was hounded out by peers for blatantly selling diplomas. In fact, as author Smith surmises, Bennett may have been the first man to ever set up a diploma mill.

In the early 1830s, Bennett gained some prominence by touting the supposed health benefits of tomatoes, a fruit that many Americans didn’t eat at that time. Although Bennett’s and others’ claims about the healing powers of tomatoes were wildly overstated, for scores of years tomato pills, etc., were popular. Bennett also was an early advocate of Chloroform as a sedative for operations, although ether would prove to be a better alternative. During the 1830s, Bennett’s marriage collapsed due to his infidelity and allegations of spousal abuse.

His tenure as a Mormon leader, and its aftermath, is what Bennett is best known for. He ingratiated himself with Joseph Smith and into the highest levels of the Mormon Church, serving as mayor of Nauvoo, leader in the military Nauvoo Legion, town doctor, lobbyist for the city, and assistant president of the LDS Church. Like much of Bennett’s life, though, it was a short rise and fall. By his own admission, Bennett engaged in several affairs with Nauvoo woman. Whether the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith was a participant with Bennett in this behavior is debated. At the time, the Mormon doctrine on polygamy was being taught in secret. Did Bennett try to convince women to marry Smith? Given his past, it’s likely Bennett exploited the issue for his carnal pleasure. Whatever the circumstances, the scandals roiled the Mormon Church. 

Among the women reviled for their charges against Smith and Bennett were Sarah Pratt, Nancy Rigdon and Martha Brotherton. LDS leaders Sidney Rigdon, George Robinson and Orson Pratt publicly opposed Smith amid the charges of adultery, fornication, “spiritual wifery” and abortion.

What’s clear is that after Bennett was kicked out of Nauvoo, he was angry enough to turn his claimed betrayal by Smith and Mormon leaders into a cottage industry where he lectured against the Mormons in major cities, wrote articles for newspapers calling for Smith’s arrest, and penned a best-selling novel, “The History of the Saints.” As a professional anti-Mormon, author Smith recounts that Bennett was often greeted with skepticism even by enemies of the church. Derided was his claim that he had never embraced Mormonism, but had infiltrated Nauvoo to expose the wickedness of “Joe Smith” and the church.

Smith recounts a final episode in Nauvoo — after Bennett had turned anti-Mormon — where Bennett went to Joseph Smith’s store and paid a longstanding debt. It’s an interesting anecdote that invites speculation that Bennett may have asked Smith for another chance. In any cases, neither the Mormon prophet or Bennett left a written record of the encounter.

Not many know that Bennett, a few years later, rejoined an offshoot of Mormonism, entering the hierarchy of James J. Strang’s church in Wisconsin. Not surprisingly, Bennett was eventually kicked out of Strang’s church but later, Strang — who was eventually assassinated — embraced polygamy. It’s possible that Bennett, tomcatting as usual, swayed Strang toward polygamy. With Strang, Bennett also helped set up a secret “Order of the Illuminati” within that church.

In his post-Nauvoo years, Bennett married a second time and as he got older, his life became less controversial and more sedate. He gravitated toward Iowa and gained a measure of fame for his work breeding chickens. He wrote a well-received book, “The Poultry Book,” that was very popular. Bennett was fortunate, as he developed this interest in breeding during a “poultry craze” that swept the U.S. a decade prior to the Civil War. As Smith relates, Bennett gave a copy of the book to U.S. President Zachary Taylor, who thanked him for the gift.

Although a military surgeon for the North during the Civil War, Bennett’s health prevented him from full activity. His health failed rapidly in the middle 1860s and he died in August of 1867, soon after having a stroke, Smith surmises. A large, prominent grave in Polk City marks his final resting spot.

-- Doug Gibson

Originally published at StandardBlogs

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Willard Bean, Mormonism’s ‘Fighting Parson,’ did have an admirable pro boxing career

A lot of Mormon lore has surrounded Willard Bean, a professional boxer  around the turn of the 20th century who, in 1915, was called with his new wife, Rebecca, and his two children by a previous marriage, Paul and Phyllis, to a mission to Palmyra, N.Y. Although the area, which includes the Hill Cumorah, is prominent in Mormon history, it was accurately described in 1915 as very hostile to the Mormons. Bean and his family lived in the Joseph Smith Sr. farm, which had been purchased by the church.
As an article by David F. Boone, in the Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, notes, it was a tough but ultimately successful mission that lasted 24 years. Bean was no stranger to missions. He had served a southern states mission, another area hostile, and at times dangerous, for LDS missionaries of that era. One major success was Bean’s purchase, for the church, of the Hill Cumorah.
Bean was known as the Fighting Parson,” as well as the “Mormon Cyclone,” and much lore has been related about his success as a professional boxer. In a 1985 Ensign article, “Willard Bean: Palmyra’s Fighting Parson,” author Vicki Bean Zimmerman claims that Bean was the U.S. middleweight boxing champion. I cannot verify that information, and it seems very unlikely, as Bean, in his late 40s, was long retired when he and his family accepted the Palmyra mission call.

That Bean may have used his fists occasionally to get respect in Palmyra is plausible. Boone, in his JBMS article, records an incident where Bean, after being drenched with a neighbor’s hose, beat up the man. According to Boone, who cites Bean’s wife as a second-hand source, the two men later became friends. Bean Zimmerman, in the Ensign article, claims that Bean arranged a boxing exhibition in Palmyra and fought seven men in one day, knocking out all seven opponents. Because the author is a granddaughter of Bean, one has to assume that at least elements of it are accurate, as it likely has been passed down through the family. (There is also a biography of Bean, written by another granddaughter, out of print but a copy can be purchased here.)
I’m a huge boxing fan, and I needed to find out if the Willard Bean of LDS boxing lore was accurate. Was he a top fighter, or just one of many middling pugilists who traveled the West 110-plus years ago fighting? The answer is favorable to Bean. He was not a top contender, but he was a better-than-average fighter for his era. The boxing record site,, provides Bean a record of 5 wins, 5 losses, 1 draw, 1 no decision and 1 no contest (here). The time frame covers 1897 to 1902. While a 5-5 “record” may seem mediocre, boxrec only gathers the fights it has recorded. Like silent films, the results of many old fights are “lost.” Bean was born in 1872. Based on the caliber of his opposition, it’s clear that he must have had at least another 20-plus fights, of which he likely won most. Perhaps some day an energetic researcher (myself?) will spend weeks scanning through 19th century Utah newspapers to locate the lost fights.
Two opponents of Bean’s provide evidence that he was a well-regarded above-average boxer. On April 17, 1899, Bean fought a 10-round “no decision” bout with Joe Choynski, who is regarded as one of the elite fighters of that era.  Choynski was a former world light heavyweight champion before he fought Bean and later won the U.S. 170-pound championship. He fought a draw with future heavyweight champ, James J. Jeffries. In short, to fight Choynski, as Bean did, proved he was a good pro boxer.
The April 18, 1899 Salt Lake Tribune provides a long account of the Choynski, Bean fight. The article regards the match as relatively one-sided — in Choynski’s favor — but also compliments Bean. “In part, it reads above the small type: “Utah Man Gets Experience:  Choynski Allows the Local Fighter a Number of Liberties, and Apologizes When He Gives Him an Unexpectedly Hard Knock. Bean was in Good Form, and the Faith of His Admirers Has Been Strengthened — Gives a Giddy Whirl at the Close.”
In the article, Choynski, who clearly dominated the bout, calls Bean a good prospect, but adds that he’ll need to leave Utah to become a world-class boxer. Given Bean’s devotion to Mormonism, that was not to occur, although a year later he fought in San Francisco, Choynski’s home, against Phil Green on March 30, 1900. In the scheduled 20-round bout, Green stopped Bean in round 7.
The second most notable opponent on Bean’s record is Fireman Jim Flynn, a heavyweight contender during the first two decades of the 20th century. Flynn would fight heavyweight champ Jack Johnson for the world title on July 4, 2012, losing by a 9th round knockout. The “Fireman” is best known for scoring a first round KO over future heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey in Murray, on Feb. 13, 1917. The Salt Lake Telegram’s Feb. 14 headline on the bout was a laconic “J. Dempsey forgets to duck,” and noted that the fight lasted about 25 seconds. (A year and day later, Dempsey would get his revenge, destroying Flynn in the first round.)
However, when Bean met Flynn on April 7, 1902, in Salt Lake City, the “Fireman” was a highly regarded prospect who outpointed the “Fighting Parson” over 20 rounds. The April 8, 1902 Salt Lake Tribune provided a long article, with a photo of both fighters. The above-the-type recap makes it clear that Flynn was the better fighter. It reads in part: “Bean puts up a game battle, but is outclassed by heavier opponent. Flynn proves himself a “Comer.” The reporter notes that the fight was even for four rounds but after that, Flynn dominated with “Only Bean’s excellent boxing, clever head and footwork, his ability to stand punishment and wonderful recuperative powers prevented a knockout.“Boxrec tabs the Flynn loss as Bean’s final fight. Again, that may not be true.
Although I can’t prove this, it’s my hunch that the Choynski fight spurred Bean to try to make it to a higher echelon of boxing. He appeared on higher-level cards that were saved for history books, and fought tougher opponents with varying success. He may have retired after losing to Flynn, at the age of 30. Or he may have picked up some more wins against lesser opposition in “lost” fights.
As I mentioned earlier, there’s no evidence that Bean was U.S. middleweight champ, as the Ensign magazine claims. However, he did fight Jack Christy on March 21, 1902 (18 days prior to Flynn) for the Utah middleweight boxing championship, in Provo. However Bean lost that bout via a disqualification in the 12th round for hitting Christy on the break. It must have been a frustrating loss for Bean, as news reports say he was on the verge of knocking out his opponent when the bout ended. From the March 22, 1902 Deseret News: “In all probability the blow that lost the fight was the result of carelessness on the part of Bean, in his anxiety to finish Christie, (sic) who was helpless from the head blows …” Here’s a newspaper reports of one of Bean’s wins. On May 6, 1897, the Tribune reported on Bean’s win in Provo over Salt Lake City boxer Sam Clark. In “Provo Glove Contest,” the Tribune, noting that Bean was a Brigham Young Academy athlete, wrote that “Bean demonstrated his superiority” over Clark, adding that “in the ninth round Bean floored Clark with a stiff punch with his right …” (It’s worth noting that Bean, according to boxrec, was also a frequent boxing referee in the first 15 years of the 20th century. He refereed three fights involving Flynn, by the way. He also refereed a fight with Battling Nelson, a world lightweight champion.)
So that’s a part of the pugilistic history of Mormon boxer Willard Bean. There’s likely much more to be unearthed. He was certainly a colorful character, and the perfect man to restore the LDS Church to respect in Palmyra, with his preaching skills backed up by a good left hook and fair straight right hand.
A final note: The newspaper accounts are located at Utah Digital Newspapers, (here), a valuable tool for historians.
-- Doug Gibson
-- Originally published at StandardBlogs.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Bishop's Wife tears at facade of normalcy

“The Bishop’s Wife,” Soho Crime, 2014, (buy it here) stands alone as a fine addition to crime fiction. It has a strong main plot, an almost-as-compelling chief secondary plot, the requisite twists and turns and an exciting climax. As a Mormon-themed novel, penned by active Mormon wife and mother Mette Ivie Harrison, the novel is unique for two reasons: It has a Mormon, stay-at-home mom as its narrator and protagonist, and it deals frankly and provocatively with discrimination, subtle and frank, that is part of a church with a male hierarchy.
The book is a great mystery read, and only the fact that I had to work the next morning kept me from finishing it with an all-night read. In a Draper LDS ward, Bishop Kurt Wallheim, and the bishop’s wife, Linda, receive an early-morning visit from ward member Jared Helm, and his daughter, Kelly, 5. Jared reports that his wife, Carrie, has abandoned the family. Jared is an immature young man, struggling with his marriage. As the author has noted, the story is inspired by the disappearance of Susan Powell several years ago. However, the developing plot does not mimic the turns of the Powell case. As Carrie Helm seems to virtually disappear, Linda Wallheim, a mother of sons, becomes protective of toddler Kelly, who seems a substitute for the daughter she lost to a stillbirth years earlier. She also becomes sympathetic to Carrie Helm’s parents, who use the media to try to indict Jared and his family as culpable in Carrie’s disappearance.
The main subplot involves the illness and death of ward member, Tobias Torstensen, who has been married 30 years to his second wife, Anna. The experience brings Linda and Anna into a close friendship. As Tobias nears death, questions about his first wife’s death — there is no grave and no one seems to know how she died, even her two sons — arise. Through a series of incriminating discoveries, Linda, Anna and even the police are convinced that mild-mannered Tobias murdered his first wife long ago and never told anyone. However, as is a theme in this novel, the story is more complex, providing new answers as layers of long-held secrets are unveiled.
The deepest relationship in the novel is between Kurt and Linda Wallheim. The author makes their relationship one of mostly mutual value, with the usual frustrations, disagreements and trials supported by the loyalty and love that binds the pair together. Linda, the bishop’s wife, is a liberal Mormon; a former atheist tempered by her husband’s more conventional beliefs. She forgives his occasional patriarchal biases, understanding that she has softened him over the years. Ivie Harrison does a good job of presenting a diverse collection of Wallheim sons, all with distinct personalities on life and spirituality. Linda is closest to the youngest, Samuel, who is a lot like his mother, with the novel having him react to many of the events.
Active Mormons will appreciate how well the usual life of a bishop and his wife are outlined. Kurt is an accountant who barely sees his family between church and tax season, as well as Sunday afternoons and evenings. Linda, as a bishop’s wife, struggles to deal with being the “ward mother” and the listening and action that requires. He deals with the ward’s secrets. While his job necessitates discreetness, he trusts his wife enough to request she visit specific families to offer friendship, kind words and baked goodies. In one scene a troubled ward member, understanding that Linda is a better ear than the bishop for his problem, confides in her.
There is another strong scene early that captures Mormon culture. Linda, helping prepare for a wedding at the ward chapel, consoles the bride’s mom over her disappointment that the wedding is not in the temple. It’s an interesting passage because there’s no scandal attached to the wedding; the pair simply want to get married as soon as possible. Active Mormon parents place a high priority on a temple wedding, and its inclusion adds authenticity. (In the years after I wrote this review I have gained more empathy with this scene.)
The disappearance of Carrie Helm carries the novel, as Linda struggles to maintain a relationship with little Kelly after the arrival of her paternal grandfather, a controlling, truly repellent character with obsolete Mormon beliefs. A strength of her character is despite her impetuous nature — which leads her to make wrong assumptions — she’s able to embrace the truth when it’s revealed. And it’s several twists, and a key discovery, that makes Linda again question her ability to discern what’s righteous and what’s evil.
And the truth doesn’t come easy in “The Bishop’s Wife.” The “normalcy” of an LDS ward is taken apart layer by layer as serious injuries and dysfunctions are revealed. And these layers can’t be peeled back in a nice manner. They are torn off the facade of the ward, with the requisite pain, bleeding and adverse consequences.
If there’s a quibble with “The Bishop’s Wife,” it’s Linda’s specific action that leads to the climax. I’m not sure Ivie Harrison’ character, while impulsive, would willingly put herself into such certain danger. But it’s an exciting scene nevertheless, and wraps up a novel that’s well worth reading, either all night long or during a particularly boring Sacrament meeting.
- Doug Gibson

Sunday, February 4, 2018

After First Manifesto, LDS internal debate over polygamy raged for a generation

In Official Declaration No. 1, found in the LDS scripture “Doctrine and Covenants,” then-Prophet Wilford W. Woodruff says, “…  I now publicly declare that my advice to the Latter-day Saints is to refrain from contracting any marriage forbidden by the law of the land.” (Read) It’s taught today that the 1890 Manifesto ended polygamy within the LDS Church. That, however, is a pleasant fantasy. The debate over polygamy raged within the LDS Church’s hierarchy for another generation, and polygamous marriages were conducted, and sanctioned, within the church. The polygamy debate wasn’t settled until well into the 20th century, when two prominent apostles were harshly disciplined for not ceasing the practice.
The 1890 Manifesto was necessary as a means to end the federal government’s efforts to harm the church. In fact, for a while the church did not have control of its own funds, and it’s third prophet, John Taylor, had spent much of his tenure in hiding. As historian Kenneth L. Cannon notes in his excellent Sunstone of 1983, a majority of the 12 Apostles, including President Woodruff, intended polygamy to continue. What the First Manifesto meant to most LDS Church leaders through much of the 1890s was that the primacy of United States law took precedence over the church’s mandate to have plural marriage. To Woodruff and others, particularly his First Counselor George Q. Cannon, polygamy could continue outside the United States.
An example of post-First Manifesto plural marriage at the highest degree of the church hierarchy involves LDS Apostle Abraham H. Cannon, a son of George Q. Cannon. Abraham Cannon, already a polygamist, married at least one more plural wife in the mid-1890s, and probably two. One of his marriages, to Lillian Hamlin in 1896, was followed shortly by his death. Nevertheless, Lillian managed to conceive, bearing a daughter named Marba, which is Abram spelled backwards. In an interesting footnote, Lillian, a future teacher at the Brigham Young Academy, would marry and become a polygamous wife to Lewis M. Cannon, one of Abraham’s cousins. (This information is gleaned from the introduction to the published diaries of Abraham Cannon, which is fascinating reading. Abraham Cannon was a remarkable man, who in his relatively short life was an energetic apostle, hustling church duties with journalism responsibilities, business dealings, both personal and church, and maintaining relationships with his plural families with the threat of federal arrest and prosecution always around.)
So, as Kenneth Cannon writes, from 1890 to 1898, a significant majority of Apostles and members of the First Presidency had “an active part in post-Manifesto polygamy.” Plural marriages, those allowed, were usually conducted in Mexico or Canada. One reason for the perpetuity of the practice was, as mentioned, that a majority of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles still supported polygamy as a church practice. Cannon cites this as one reason that plural marriage increased during the tenure of LDS Prophet Lorenzo Snow from September 1898 to October 1901, even though Snow, Woodruff’s successor, opposed continuing polygamy. As Cannon writes, “… President Snow privately expressed the same sentiments to Apostle Brigham Young Jr., stating he had never given his consent for plural marriage and adding ‘God has removed this privilege from the people.’”
When Joseph F. Smith assumed responsibilities as LDS leader in 1901, he maintained an approval for some polygamous marriages. That was not a surprise, as Smith had not been a vocal opponent of polygamy. Nevertheless, Joseph F. Smith is the LDS Church leader who essentially enforced a ban on polygamy, and made its practice an offense that would lead to excommunication.  On April 6, 1904, at LDS General Conference, President Smith said the following:
Inasmuch as there are numerous reports in circulation that plural marriages have been entered into, contrary to the official declaration of President Woodruff of September 24, 1890, commonly called the manifesto, which was issued by President Woodruff, and adopted by the Church at its general conference, October 6, 1890, which forbade any marriages violative of the law of the land, I, Joseph F. Smith, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, hereby affirm and declare that no such marriages have been solemnized with the sanction, consent, or knowledge of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“And I hereby announce that all such marriages are prohibited, and if any officer or member of the Church shall assume to solemnize or enter into any such marriage, he will be deemed in transgression against the Church, and will be liable to be dealt with according to the rules and regulations thereof and excommunicated therefrom.”
This Second Manifesto was also published in the church’s official publication of that time, “The Improvement Era.” Even this manifesto did not come close to ending internal debate over the legitimacy of polygamy. It continued through the decade, with its two strongest adherents being apostles John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley. They led a faction that interpreted the Second Manifesto, as the First Manifesto, as only respecting U.S. law.
Nevertheless, polygamy’s days were numbered within the LDS Church. By 1911 both Taylor and Cowley were not only dropped from the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, but Cowley was disfellowshipped, which means he lost his LDS priesthood standing, and Taylor excommunicated, which is the maximum church punishment. (In 1936 Cowley’s priesthood was re-established. He died in 1940. In 1965, long after his death, Taylor was re-baptized posthumously and had his priesthood standing restored.)
So, what led to the eventual crackdown of polygamy in the LDS Church? As Kenneth Cannon notes in his article, attrition played a role. During the first decade of the 20th century, apostles who supported polygamy died, and Smith chose as replacements opponents of polygamy. By the end of the decade, the LDS Church hierarchy was strongly anti-polygamy.
But there was a bigger reason for President Joseph F. Smith to end polygamy. As Kenneth Cannon relates, LDS Apostle Reed Smoot, a monogamist, had been selected as U.S. senator from Utah. Polygamy threatened Smoot’s assumption of the Senate seat, which was considered of vital importance to Smith and other LDS leaders. Smoot was asking Smith and others to unseat Cowley and Taylor, and by mid-1906 they were gone from the Quorum. By 1907, and the death of apostle George Teasdale, there were no polygamy advocates left in the hierarchy.
Smoot’s ascension to the U.S. Senate was of such importance that President Joseph F. Smith, speaking to the U.S. Senate, provided testimony he must have known to be false, claiming that since the Woodruff Manifesto, “… there has never been, to my knowledge, a plural marriage performed with the understanding, instruction, connivance, counsel, or permission of the presiding authorities of the church, in any shape or form; and I know whereof I speak, gentlemen, in relation to that matter.” Such testimony, although skeptically received, helped Smoot survive efforts to deny him his senatorial seat. He would serve in the U.S. Senate until 1933.
In retrospect, it would have been impossible for polygamy, a practice entrenched in the Mormon church for nearly half-a-century, to have been instantly ended in 1890. It required a generation for attrition, changing times and church priorities to finally eradicate the principle.

-Doug Gibson

This post originally was published at StandardBlogs.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

In Lee v. Skousen tiff, LDS Church sided with the man who liked strippers

One of the more entertaining Utah political tiffs was the battle between Salt Lake City Mayor J. Bracken Lee and Salt Lake City Police Chief W. Cleon Skousen. The battle ended in 1960 when Lee managed to convince a majority of city commissioners to fire Skousen.

Skousen was hired in 1956 to re-energize a police force that suffered from low morale. He had been recommended by FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover. The then-mayor, Adiel F. Stewart, not surprisingly, lobbied LDS Church leader David O. McKay for permission to get ex-FBI agent Skousen out of his BYU job. By most accounts, Skousen did improve the moral of the department. However, the moralistic, ultra-conservative Skousen was headed for a collision with the election of Lee as SLC’s mayor in 1959.

The Fall 1974 issue of “The Utah Historical Quarterly,” has an interesting account of the tension that developed between Mayor Lee and Chief Skousen. Both were political conservatives, but Lee, who was not Mormon, enjoyed recreational activities that the straightlaced Skousen regarded as immoral. According to historian Dennis L. Lythgoe, the pair clashed over Skousen regularly sending the city’s vice squad to bust striptease shows “to the private clubs of the city, such as Alta, Ambassador and Elks.” Lee allegedly ordered to Skousen to let up on the raids. Skousen refused. According to Lythgoe, “Angry words followed, with Lee suggesting that the police should stay away from striptease shows and admitting that he enjoyed them himself and had no desire to be arrested while attending one.”

Lee’s defense of striptease shows in refreshingly candid. In a footnote to Lythgoe’s article, he says in an interview “… I think the prettiest thing in the world is a nude woman — a good looking nude woman.” It’s clear that Lee was offended by what he believed was Skousen’s attempt to put a heavy police presence on issues that offended his personal morality. The pair also clashed over Skousen’s attempts to crack down on mild forms of gambling that went on surreptitiously at area private clubs.

When he became police chief, Skousen initiated a program where local taverns would self-police themselves. His reasoning was that if the taverns could self correct any potential violations of the law it would cut down on needed police presence. The taverns formed an association and hired a former police officer to advise them.

Lee disliked the program, and asked Skousen to disband it. He believed that tavern businesses were pressured and intimidated by both SLC police and the association if they spurned membership. At a public hearing charged by Mayor Lee on the program, both sides of the association debate were heard. In an interview with Lythgoe, Lees regards the tavern owners as thieves who had made a bargain with Skousen to steal less. He told Skousen, “I think you could make a deal with the underworld to only steal so much at night and they would be glad to police themselves.”

The rift between Lee and Skousen was moving beyond competing moral visions and into disputes over the role and size of government. Despite both men being traditional, anti-communism conservatives, Lee was realizing that Skousen’s morality tolerated an intrusive form of bigger government that his competing moral views opposed. Lee was not interested in vice cops chasing dancing women in panties or bras. Also, he wanted taverns to be policed by cops.

Not surprisingly, the final straw that led to Skousen’s firing was over the size of the police department’s budget. Lee wanted it trimmed far more than Skousen wanted to trim it. Skousen’s salary, at $10,000 a year, was larger than Lee’s. He also had three highly paid assistant police chiefs. Lee wanted those to go. The money issues, as Lythgoe recounts, couldn’t be worked out, and one day, in a Machiavellian move, during a routine commission meeting, Lee made a surprising motion to fire Skousen. Even more surprisingly, it passed 3-2 among city commissioners.

The mayor suffered short-term public relations/media problems but eventually withstood harsh criticism from Skousen supporters and others. In fact, Lee was re-elected as mayor of Salt Lake City twice after firing Skousen. In an interesting twist, the Deseret News, which had been an enthusiastic supporter of Skousen during his tenure, published a lukewarm, passionless editorial on his firing. What Lythgoe reports is that the Deseret News had prepared a full-page editorial harshly condemning Lee for firing Skousen. However, at the last minute, the LDS Church First Presidency spiked the editorial, and sent Counselor Henry D. Moyle to make sure the editorial did not run. Moyle’s church duties at the time included overseeing the editorial content of the Deseret News.

According to the article, Lee says that when he learned of the upcoming editorial, he called Church President McKay, who told him not to worry. Skousen is quoted as saying that Moyle was sent to spike the editorial because Lee was a Mason and the church worried about offending Masons. In an article footnote, then-Deseret News editorial director William Smart, who was editor and general manager of the News at the time Lythgoe’s article was published, Smart said that he had been opposed to Skousen’s firing but added this: “Well, we’ve never published nor ever will publish a full-page editorial — that’s ridiculous. And I’d really rather not comment on that. That’s an internal matter that I’d rather not get into.”

n the history of Utah journalism, it’s no secret that the Deseret News’ editorials are influenced by the hierarchy of the LDS Church. (In fact, recently, the newspaper, and the rest of the church’s media, has been restored to First Presidency control to a level that equals, if not exceeds, what it was 52 year ago.)

As to what drove the LDS Church leadership to side with the mayor who liked strippers over the ultra-straightlaced Skousen, I suspect Skousen is pretty close to the truth when he claimed “that the president of the church had always been more comfortable with a non-Mormon in office who was friendly than a Mormon who might feel a need to be independent,” writes Lythgoe.

As mentioned, it was an entertaining tiff in Utah history. The winner was Lee, who continued with a successful political career. Skousen resumed a private life, and enjoyed success with his brands of politics and religion for about two more decades until changing moods rendered him obsolete. However, in recent years the popularity of Mormon commentator Glenn Beck, a Skousen fan, has pushed his books, particularly “The 5,000 Year Leap,” back into prominence.

-- Doug Gibson

-- Originally published at StandardBlogs

Monday, January 22, 2018

Can we go back to priesthood manuals from wayback?

I was indulging in one of my passions, which is leafing through the bookcases of elderly Latter-day Saints. A lot of treasures can be found — books by B.H. Roberts, old mission journals, the Improvement Era, “Papa Married a Mormon,” the works of Cleon Skousen, pamphlets from the 1920s offering advice for a new missionary. …

I came across the 1960 Course of Study for the Melchizedek Priesthood Quorum. It’s titled “Apostasy to Restoration,” by T. Edgar Lyon. I borrowed the book, eager to compare today’s vanilla-brand manuals with one a half-century old. I also wondered if it would reflect the arch-conservatism that defined the LDS leadership 50 years ago.

The book, manual, lesson, whatever, is a fascinating history of the centuries between Christ’s birth and the emergence of the LDS Church. Whether one disagrees with its conclusions, the scholarship must be appreciated. Look, I have no objections to trudging through priesthood manuals that have, for the past few years, been collections of quotes and reminiscing about various prophets — it’s useful stuff. 

But, apologies to Cal Grondahl, reading “Apostasy to Restoration” is like unearthing ancient scripture. Did we actually have lessons like this 50 years ago, that discussed “the Absence of Mysticism in the Apostolic Christianity,” or “the Fragments of Papias,” or “Irenaues’ Concept of the Ultimate Potential of Man,” or “Christian Gnosticism,” or “The Diocletian Persecution,” or “Ambrose the Christian Statesman,” or “the Contributions of Monasticism,” or “Pope Leo the Great (440-464 A.D.), or “Reformation Trends in Switzerland” …?

I Web searched T. Edgar Lyon and learned about the author of “Apostasy to Restoration,” which by the way, is for sale at E-bay. Thomas Edgar Lyon was born in 1903 in Salt Lake City. He went on a mission to the Netherlands, later married and enjoyed a long career as a prominent academic and historian.

Lyon’s thesis from the University of Chicago was on early LDS apostle Orson Pratt. He eventually received a doctorate in history from the University of Utah and was president of the Mormon History Association in the 1970s. He died in 1978.

Lyon’s book/manual is fascinating. I envy the Melchizedek Priesthood holders who used it in their classes 50 years ago. I look at the current manuals — sans author(s) name(s) — and while I’m OK with what’s being taught I wish we could have a re-run of “Apostasy to Restoration.” It must have been quite satisfying to learn something new in every lesson.

-- Doug Gibson

Originally published at StandardBlogs