Monday, May 22, 2017

Mormonism and the cross -- book provides an overview


The Mormon Church has an ambivalent history with Christianity’s most iconic symbol, the cross. For about 70 years, the cross was generally tolerated within the church’s cultural fabric. However, the first decades of the 20th century initiated a slow but steady expression of disapproval of the cross; a criticism influenced by LDS leaders’ willingness to publicly declare the Roman Catholic Church as the “church of the devil” described in LDS scripture.

Banishing the Cross:The Emergence of a Mormon Taboo,” (John Whitmer Books, 2012) by Michael G. Reed, is a slim but valuable volume on the history of the Mormons’ relationship with the cross. As Reed notes, the Mormon Church was founded during an era of widespread Protestant hostility to the cross, a hostility that was due to that era’s wariness of Catholicism.

As Reed notes, Mormons were generally no fans of Catholicism, but they were more responsive to the cross as a religious symbol. There are two reasons for this. The first was that Mormonism was founded during a time of spiritual awakening in the early United States. While “organized religion” was criticized, individualistic spirituality flourished. Within these “rebel theologies,” spiritual manifestations were not uncommon. The symbol of the cross often played a role. Another reason the cross was tolerated by early Mormons, according to Reed, was due to founder Joseph Smith’s interest in Freemasonry. In fact, Nauvoo in the early 1840s was a hotbed of Freemasonry interest.
That interest is a key reason that the symbol of the cross traveled with the saints to Utah. Reed presents many photographs, both central to Mormonism and 19th century Utah, in which the cross is prominent.

However, as Reed notes, criticism of the cross started to creep more into the Mormon culture as the 20th century began. Reed cites statements from leading Mormons, including then-apostle Moses Thatcher, that connected the cross to anti-Catholicism. Around 1915, a proposal in the Salt Lake area to put a cross on Ensign Peak received significant opposition, one that initially surprised LDS supporters. The eventual failure to place a memorial cross at Ensign Peak is cast — correctly by Reed — as a dispute between church leaders. The author writes that younger church leaders, such as David O. McKay and Joseph Fielding Smith, had not grown up in the early era of the LDS Church and therefore had not been influenced by the more liberal, anti institutional, even anti-government thought of the 1840s to 1860s LDS leadership. Also, they had not been influenced by Freemasonry.

In my opinion, it’s important to note that in the first 30 years of the 20th century the LDS Church leadership had what might best be referred to as a “second Mormon reformation.” Leaders such as McKay, Fielding Smith, and later J. Reuben Clark, Mark E. Peterson and Bruce R. McConkie, successfully moved the church to more conservative ideology, including a renewal of harsh rhetoric against Catholicism.

That has changed.

-- Doug Gibson

Originally published at StandardBlogs

Sunday, May 14, 2017

‘Grizzly Bear’ Truth versus ‘Teddy Bear’ Truth trips up Mormonism

--
My friend and former co-worker, Cal Grondahl, says there’s “Grizzly Bear” Truth and “Teddy Bear” Truth in Mormon history.
Whether it’s the prophet Joseph Smith, polygamy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, Brigham Young, temple ceremonies, etc., one can either grab a teddy bear or a grizzly bear when wanting answers.
For a long time, teddy bear truth, which is designed to comfort people, was more prevalent than grizzly bear truth. But that has changed in the past several years.
The biggest reason is probably Mitt Romney’s run for the presidency; another is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ efforts to make its appeal more diverse, with pages on its websites on particularly thorny issues that were not addressed for much of the church’s history.
The church also has made inroads with gays and lesbians, although that effort has cooled. Nevertheless, the past few years have proven that teddy bear answers to tough questions won’t cut it anymore.
The remarks several years ago by a Brigham Young University professor that blacks not receiving the LDS priesthood was in reality a “blessing,” or that the Lord was waiting to provide the priesthood, is an example of the teddy bear truth — the lighter, happier version.
The grizzly bear truth is that trouble with violence in Missouri way back in the 1830s, coupled with the prevalent racism of the period, was the genesis of the Mormon policy discriminating against blacks. The old canard that Ham’s race was cursed was piggybacked on by many to justify the ban, and so on.
Baptism for the dead is another doctrine that, while not discriminatory or objectionable, in my opinion, suffers from the teddy bear truth syndrome. It’s easy to say to the world that we baptize the dead, your non-Mormon ancestors, because we want them to have a chance to accept the Gospel. There’s no pressure, they can say no.
The grizzly bear truth, though, is that faithful Mormons believe these dead spirits are eagerly waiting for faithful Mormons to do proxy baptisms for them.
We believe these people will confront us after death if we’re not valiantly helping them while on Earth.
The past several years, the church apologized and backed away from doing post-life ordinances for victims of the Holocaust, whose relatives are understandably disconcerted after being told their loved ones are being helped via baptisms for the dead.
And after they’re baptized, there are more ordinances to be done in proxy. We could even mention so-called “second sealing” in the temples, but that’s a grizzly bear topic for another column.
Another grizzly bear truth is that the practice of baptism for the dead was preceded by the mostly forgotten LDS practice of “adoption,” which involved sealing multiple families and people on Earth into an eternal family headed by a prominent priesthood holder.
There was competition to get people into your family because of this idea: that the larger one’s “adopted family,” the greater one’s glory eternally.
Do you ever wonder why John D. Lee, scapegoated and executed for the Mountain Meadows Massacre, was called an “adopted son” of Brigham Young? Now you know.
The Summer 2011 issue of the Journal of Mormon History devotes more than 115 pages on early Mormon adoption theology in fascinating articles by Samuel M. Brown and Jonathan A. Stapley. It’s at http://​tinyurl.com/​zyksbcj.
A version of this column was previously published at StandardBlogs.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

LDS Church, pols failed to enforce cigarette prohibition in 1920s Utah


One of the more amusing episodes in Utah history is the LDS Church-directed effort to ban cigarette smoking in the state. Passed by a compliant Legislature after a rapid, few-months campaign, the refusal of law enforcement authorities to enforce the law frustrated church leaders. However, once the law was finally enforced — with a high-profile arrest of four prominent Utah businessmen — Utah’s cigarette ban made the state a national laughingstock and the LDS Church, through editorials in its organ The Deseret News, paved the way for lawmakers to repeal the ban. The two-year-comedy is recounted by historian John H.S. Smith in the Fall 1973 issue of the Utah Historical Quarterly. As Smith writes, morality-based progressive movements across the USA, after achieving prohibition, reformers set looked toward tobacco.

“Thundered Billy Sunday in his most exuberant mood: ‘Prohibition is won; now for tobacco,’” writes Smith. In Utah, the move toward a law banning cigarettes online was signaled in late 1920 by articles and editorials against tobacco in church media, such as the D-News and The Improvement Era. As early as 1919, the LDS Church hierarchy assigned Apostle Stephen L. Richards to chair an anti-tobacco campaign. The Improvement Era “editorialized, ‘We believe that the abolition of the entire tobacco business would be beneficial to the higher interests of the human race,” writes Smith. Soon after, the Mutual Improvement Association, announced its slogan for 1920-21 “would be ‘We stand for the non-use and non-sale of tobacco.”

The committee chaired by Richards, then issued a newsletter that called for “‘coercive and persuasive’ measures to be carried out by special stake committees which were to work to interest the church membership in a greater awareness of the cigarette evil and the possibilities of prohibitory legislation.” All subtlety was cast aside after a church subcommittee issued recommendations that LDS stake presidents interview legislators to find out their attitudes on laws that would ban tobacco and/or cigarettes. Further measures, recounted by Smith, included a New Years anti-tobacco message from LDS Church President Heber J. Grant, and an article in the Young Women’s Journal “which outlined how each church organization was to cover some aspect of the antitobacco crusade,” writes Smith. While it’s not unusual for religious organizations to combat what it perceives as vice, the 1920-21 efforts assigned by the LDS leadership were specific designed to achieve a political goal — the abolition of cigarettes in Utah. On Jan. 19, 1921 following an anti-tobacco campaign in the D-News, state Sen. Edward Southwick introduced Senate Bill 12, which banned cigarettes and cigarette paper. The bill was muscled through the Legislature and signed by Utah Gov. Charles Mabey.

Its supporters were the LDS Church and other religious-based organizations. Opponents, as Smith recounts, were non-Mormon business interests and libertarian-minded citizens, including a few Mormons. The ban’s limitation to cigarettes reflected the times, when cigarettes were criticized for their cheapness and “unmanly” reputation compared to pipes. In fact, much of the anti-tobacco campaigns focused on the adverse effects of cigarettes on femininity. The National No-Tobacco Journal, in an editorial reprinted in The Improvement Era, had written, “How would you like to have women and girls, not only smoking the poisonous, stinking stuff, but chewing, slubbering and spitting the stuff around while they are baking the pies and the cookies?” (Smith UHQ footnote) So the bill was passed, and nothing changed.

Law enforcement organizations, clearly not thrilled about hunting down cigarette smokers and manufacturers, argued with each other over who should enforce Senate Bill 12. For 18 months the law was ignored. A frustrated Heber J. Grant, responding to increased suggestions that the law be repealed, “demanded that in the upcoming elections of 1922 the Latter-day Saints should vote for no candidate who will not declare his willingness to retain the anti-cigarette law on the statutes,” writes Smith. The comedy entered its climax stage when a bill to amend the law to focus on juveniles was proposed by state Sen. Henry N. Standish. It was quickly rebuffed in committee. Meanwhile, anti-tobacco advocates had found a public servant willing to arrest tobacco users. The new Salt Lake County sheriff, Benjamin R. Harries, orchestrated highly publicized arrest of four leading Utah businessmen for having an after-dinner smoke at a Utah diner.

The arrested were Ernest Bamberger, prominent Republican, Edgar L. Newhouse, director of the American Smelting and Refining Co., John C. Lynch, manager of the Salt Lake Ice Co., and A.N. McKay, the Salt Lake Tribune’s manager. According to Smith’s article, the four “were marched down Main Street to the county jail building on South Second East Street to be booked.” It must have been quite a sight. The clumsy, ham-handed gesture by Harries, no doubt approved by LDS Church leaders, attracted equal parts of media attention and censure. Smith notes, “Newspapers as far afield as Boston and San Francisco had an opportunity to wax indignant …” The Carrie Nation-ish Sheriff Harries did not stop his crusade. His deputies haunted hotels, restaurants and the state capitol arresting cigarette smokers, the more prominent the better. Outrage over Utah’s anti-tobacco law was soon accompanied by scorn and laughter by national critics. Local newspapers such as The Salt Lake Tribune were quick to point out Utah’s new, embarrassing national notoriety.


With a silly law, and a zealot to enforce it, backers of the ban, Smith notes, had gained a type of public indignation. Church leaders, very eager not to resurrect the kind of national animus against the Mormons that had only recently started to ebb, suddenly changed their tune about the recently defeated Standish amendment. On March 2, 1923, the Deseret News editorialized in favor of the Standish amendment as an alternative to the original SB 12 cigarette ban, which the editorial board lamented, would have succeeded had it been "vigorously enforced." (There is no small irony in those words, given that the law's demise was assured after it was "vigorously enforced.")

From that point, it didn't take long to repeal Utah's cigarette ban. By March 8, the Standish repeal bill had been signed into law by Gov. Mabey. 

As Standish points out, the flaw in the LDS Church's anti-tobacco campaign between 1921 to 1923 was its emphasis on prohibition, which clashed with the values of freedom and personal responsibility. 

He's correct in his assessment that had the church focused its efforts on education and propaganda, it would have likely been lauded for its tobacco eradication campaign of that era, which today is consigned to footnote status in Utah history.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

'The Mormon Jesus' -- a history of Christ within the LDS faith


Several years ago, John Turner, who holds a Ph.D. in American History and Masters of Divinity, wrote “Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet,” a candid, warts-and-all biography of Joseph Smith’s successor, who moved the Latter-day Saints across America and oversaw its growth in the western United States.
His interest in Mormonism has not waned, and this month Turner published “The Mormon Jesus: A Biography,” (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press). It provides an overview of Christ’s role in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Besides that, it also compares how Christ has been perceived since Joseph Smith and what influence that has had on the LDS faith. Most who walk into a Mormon chapel view Christ as a handsome, clean, bearded man, one with compassion but strength. How that scenario evolved is an interesting read.
Turner provides the cultural history of these portrayals of Christ and even mentions the era of Arnold Friberg, whose art still influences how Mormons view Book of Mormon personalities. Apparently, Friberg’s depiction of macho Christ (The Risen Lord) was a bit to much for LDS Church leaders, who sought a less-muscled savior. 
The move for a muscular Christ was an era of Christianity in which Protestant pews were not filled with many males. There were outside influences to Mormonism, despite its Christ who is considered our literal elder brother, distinct from Heavenly Father, and composed of a body of flesh and bone.
While the Mormon Christ has remained white and tall, there have been some inroads toward a more delicate Christ. Minerva Teichert, and her Christ in a Red Robe, is an example. 
Turner begins the book by guiding readers through the church’s annual Hill Cumorah Pageant, and its portrayal of Christ. He rejects claims from some evangelicals that Mormons are not Christians with many examples, the easiest is The Book of Mormon’s central message, which is a belief in Christ. Turner is not a Mormon, a trait which provided necessary objectivity in his Young biography.
The same applies with “The Mormon Jesus.” Turner guides readers through Young’s attempt to instill the Adam-God doctrine to 19th century members, an idea that never really caught on and was eventually downplayed, if never repudiated, by a frustrated prophet.
Also, the racist belief that blacks and native Americans were inferior to whites is discussed. Turner recounts influential church teaching, not scriptural, which advanced these ideas, such as blacks being less valiant in the pre-existence. This racist theory expounded from interpretations of Noah’s son, Ham, in many non-Mormon interpretations.
Turner also includes the much-believed idea of generations past that Native Americans would see their skin color change if they embraced the Gospel. It’s jarring to learn that many Latter-day Saints assumed this to the point of church leaders pointing to Native Americans, claiming their skin had whitened.
This is our history, for better or worse, and it plays a role in how beliefs evolve. But there is much to favor, as well. Turner clearly is impressed by Mormonism’s belief that man can aspire to be like God, that Christ’s perfection is a goal for mankind. The Mormon conception of Jesus is personal, with a deity that stands for us not only as the means to our atonement, but as a source of strength. 
Interestingly, even this perception of Christ has been shaped through decades of competing ideas. Near the end of the book, Turner contrasts the beliefs of the late LDS apostle Bruce R. McConkie, who viewed Christ as a more formal deity, one who provided a path toward exaltation so long as obedience and formal rites were followed.
This is contrasted with the more-recent popularity of Stephen Robinson’s “Believing Christ,” which describes the atonement with a parable of a young child having less than a dollar to buy a sought-after bicycle. Her father gives her the rest of the money because she already gave all that she had. As Turner notes, Robinson’s ideas that mortals, despite their liabilities, can enter exaltation with Christ’s unlimited power is closer in spirit to the idea of salvation by grace.
While McConkie’s grasp of exaltation remains doctrine — and anyone who watches his last conference talk, delivered shortly before his death, wouldn’t doubt his belief in Christ — in recent years the rhetoric of Robinson has gained traction. An example is this month’s LDS general conference, where LDS apostle Dieter F. Uchtdorf told listeners, “If you cannot muster faith right now, begin with hope.
“The Mormon Jesus” is an example of excellent Mormon scholarship that can be found from authors outside the faith. Turner’s devotion to his subject and his passion for LDS people and history are strong. It stands with members Terryl and Fiona Givens’ “The God Who Weeps: How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life” as a worthy look at the LDS faith.
-- Doug Gibson
This review was first published at StandardNET.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

John D. Fitzgerald is Utah's Mark Twain


There was a brainy, scheming little Mormon capitalist who roiled the early 1900s "town" of Adenville, Utah, with his exploits. The books are The Great Brain series, written by the late John D. Fitzgerald, a roving Gentile reporter/adventurer who spent very little time in Utah after his 18th birthday in 1924, but kept tucked into his mind an endless trove of fond memories.
My son has already eagerly read all The Great Brain books. He even had me dust off an old VHS taping of The Great Brain movie, filmed in Utah in the 1970s and never released to video or DVD. We watched it.
Fitzgerald’s memories, along with a strong talent for writing and a healthy dose of literary license, produced three novels for adults and eight “Great Brain” books for kids. You can buy the novels easily. The books also served as introductions to Mormonism for hundreds of thousands of readers. “The Great Brain” series features Tom D. Fitzgerald, the smartest kid in Adenville, who puts his great brain to work trying to separate cash from the other kids, and many of the adults, in town. The books are narrated by Tom’s younger brother, John, who provides colorful commentary.
Fitzgerald completed and published seven “Great Brain” books. After his death in 1988, a near-complete manuscript for another book was discovered, and it was polished and published several years later. The books, still popular today, and read in schools, were wildly popular in the 1970s.
I recall my fifth-grade teacher reading “The Great Brain at the Academy” to us in Long Beach, Calif. The easy-to-read prose, Fitzgerald’s sense of comic timing, and the morality tale found in each chapter no doubt contributed to the success.
Utah historian Audrey M. Godfrey, in a 1989 essay, “The Promise is Fulfilled: Literary Aspects of John D. Fitzgerald’s Novels,” correctly pegs Fitzgerald as a regional writer, a sort of Utah Mark Twain, who stresses authenticity through characterization and very detailed settings. This is particularly evident in Fitzgerald’s creation of Adenville. Witness this descriptive excerpt from “More Adventures of the Great Brain”: ” … I looked at the trees planted by early Mormon pioneers that lined both sides of Main Street. Adenville was a typical small Mormon town but quite up to date. There were electric light poles all along Main Street and we had telephones. There were wooden sidewalks in front of the stores. Straight ahead I could see the railroad tracks that separated the west side of town from the east side. Across the tracks on the east side were two saloons, the Sheepmen’s Hotel, a rooming house …”
The books are crafted as short stories, strung together to both tell a good tale and teach a lesson. “Every chapter has a moral lesson,” says one Utah teacher I interviewed several years ago (she uses the books in her classes).
Tom’s youthful urges to gain are generally tempered by a serious plot twist requiring charity, or an authority figure that moves the children to a more altruistic stance. Tom’s newspaper editor father often serves this purpose. In one example, he tempers his son’s eagerness – and success – in publishing a competing newspaper by pointing out that most of his “news articles” were in fact gossip designed to hurt subjects and appeal to readers’ baser instincts.
Another moral lesson, appropriate to today’s political climate, involves the persecution a Greek immigrant named Basil receives at the hands of jingoistic townspeople. His persecutors, including the father of a friend of Tom, complain immigrants are taking jobs away from native-born Americans. The chapter ends with the bigotry resolved – at least among the kids – as Tom teaches Basil how to assimilate. True to his character, the Great Brain tries to profit from the endeavor.
Godfrey, in an interview, says the moral lessons in Fitzgerald’s tales were likely influenced by the good feelings he experienced toward the Latter-day Saints growing up as a gentile in Utah. A consistent virtuous character in Fitzgerald’s works is Bishop Ephraim Aden, the tolerant, gentle, elderly leader of Fitzgerald’s Adenville.
However, the ecumenism prevalent in Fitzgerald’s works may owe more to his idealized, fond memories of growing up in Utah than to reality. Price, Utah, where he lived, perhaps was a less tense place for Mormons and non-Mormons than Southern Utah, the setting of his novels. The guilt and secrecy, of, for example, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, is not found in Fitzgerald’s novels.
“He had good feelings towards Mormons,” says Godfrey. Bishop Aden, she adds, is representative of the larger role a bishop assumed in a Utah community 100-plus years ago. “In a small town there was a lot more give and take” between Mormon and non-Mormons,” she says.
The accidental series The “Great Brain” series came about almost by accident. One night Fitzgerald and his wife were entertaining friends for dinner. Fitzgerald’s fiction writing career had peaked after the publications of “Papa Married a Mormon,” “Mama’s Boarding House” and “Uncle Will and the Fitzgerald Curse.” The author recounted some long-ago tales about his older brother, Tom. The guests loved the stories so much that Fitzgerald was motivated to write his first “Great Brain book.
The series, published by Dell, offered a second literary career for Fitzgerald and likely provided him and his wife Joan a comfortable retirement. The writer Fitzgerald enjoyed an adventurous life through most of the past century. He left Utah at 18 to try his hand at being a jazz drummer. Early in his career, he was a pulp fiction writer and likely authored more than 100 lowbrow novels and short stories. If any survive that describe “Adenville” or his Utah youth, they have not surfaced.
He worked as a staff writer for the New York World-Tribune and labored on the foreign desk for the United Press wire service. He was also a bank auditor and even tried his hand at politics, working on the staff of Republican Wendell Wilkie’s failed 1940 presidential campaign. He conceived the idea for “Papa Married a Mormon” while working as a steel purchasing agent in California in the 1950s.
His sister Isobelle, although not listed on the title, was active in the novel’s creation. Fitzgerald’s novels, including the “Great Brain” series, were inspired by his mother, who asked him to one day write about “the little people” who founded the West, bankers, laborers, mother, merchants, newspapermen, the clergy, etc.
Besides his better-known works, Fitzgerald wrote two other children’s novels and a book on how to craft a novel. He freelanced extensively, contributing more than 500 articles. “To thousands of youthful readers in the United States, England, and Germany he is a well known author. The Great Brain’s character in Fitzgerald’s series for children is as familiar as Tom Sawyer to these young people,” wrote Godfrey in her 1989 essay.
Despite his literary achievement, much of Fitzgerald’s life remains a mystery. Besides Godfrey’s essay, there is little independent research on Fitzgerald. In fact, his death in 1988 was barely mentioned by Utah media.
Perhaps Fitzgerald encouraged the secrecy. His books are crafted as if they include real places and real people. In “Papa Married a Mormon,” there are even photos of the main characters. Yet, while many of the tales related may have occurred in part and characters existed, the books are clearly fiction. There is no Adenville. Papa Fitzgerald is not a newspaper editor. There was no Jesuit academy in Salt Lake City 100 years ago (the setting of “The Great Brain at the Academy”).
This literary license has led to confusion. Some libraries have placed “Papa Married a Mormon” in the biography section. There was once a Web site devoted to trying to locate the “Southern Utah locations” of “The Great Brain” novels. On a personal note, I spent a long afternoon as a young teen dragging my parents through back roads of Southern Utah searching for the non-existent ruins of Adenville.
A perusal through long-filed away records in Carbon County and Price, Utah, unveil some of the mystery of the writer Fitzgerald’s life. Most of the characters existed. Most are interred in Carbon County.
The “Great Brain” himself, brother Tom Fitzgerald Jr., lived his entire life in Price. He died in 1988, the same year as his writer brother. By the way, the Great Brain was not a Mormon, but a lifelong Catholic. Tragedy dogged the real-life “Great Brain.” In 1925 his young wife Fern died while pregnant and their daughter was stillborn. Fitzgerald’s father, Tom Fitzgerald Sr., was a well-known businessman who served as a Price City councilman. At his funeral, future Utah Gov. J. Bracken Lee was one of the pallbearers.
Fitzgerald’s mother was a Mormon who married a Catholic – that much is true. Her name was Minnie, not Tena, her name in the novels.
There is still much more to unearth in Carbon County and other areas should a biographer one day tackle John D. Fitzgerald’s unique life. It has been two decades since historian Godfrey wrote her essay on John D. Fitzgerald. His “Great Brain” series is still in print, and remains popular to enough readers to keep it circulated. Nevertheless, “Harry Potter,” “Twilight” and other series are read today in far greater numbers than “The Great Brain” was read even during its most-popular era.
“(Most) kids don’t even know about it. They are into more modern subjects, like fantasy, escapism,” says Godfrey.
The Great Brain has proven to be immortal, and perhaps more importantly, he has managed to turn a tidy profit for The Fitzgerald family for half a century.
A postcript: For Mormon-themed cinema, the Great Brain seems ideal for adaptation. Although few know this, it was made into a film in 1978 and starred Jimmy Osmond! On Osmond’s Web site are stills from the film. It's never had a DVD release, or VHS, but I own a personally taped copy from about 1980 (TV). You can now access it at YouTube, various locations. Here's one link.
-- Doug Gibson
doug1963@gmail.com
Note: A version of this post was published in the Standard-Examiner newspaper in 2009. This column is also published at StandardBlogs.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Adam-God debate, or how an apostle bested a prophet


(Can't find the Cal Grondahl cartoon that went with this post, so until I do, enjoy this Cal "Culture of Mormonism" classic.

We Mormons shy away from the old relic called the Adam-God doctrine. In recent years, the late prophet Spencer W. Kimball denounced it from the pulpit, as did the late apostle Bruce R. McConkie in “Mormon Doctrine.” McConkie added that those who said that Brigham Young pushed it had taken Mormonism’s greatest leader out of context.

But the later denials are, to be frank, historical revisionism. Brigham Young did believe Adam was the god of our earth, and that doctrine was pushed with fervor by Young and many church leaders for decades. It was debated by LDS apostles as late as the 1890s. Apostles Heber C. Kimball and George Q. Cannon believed Adam was our God.

Why the Adam-God doctrine never gained enough traction in the LDS Church and was eventually ruefully de-emphasized by Young is mostly due to one man, the LDS apostle, Orson Pratt, who just as fiercely opposed the Adam-God doctrine and backed up his opposition with LDS scriptures. Supporters of the Adam-God doctrine were finally forced into vague defenses along the lines of “God has not revealed the details of this wondrous doctrine.”

The Adam-God debate that flourished for so long among the LDS faithful and hierarchy is detailed in the spring 1982 issue of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. The article, by BYU graduate David John Buerger, is fascinating reading, and makes me wish the LDS Church would offer more information about this historically interesting period of its development. On April 9, 1852, Young said this during a general conference speech: “Now, hear it, O inhabitants of the earth, Jew and Gentile, Saint and Sinner! When our Father Adam came into the garden of Eden, he came into it with a celestial body, and brought Eve, one of his wives, with him. … He is our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do.”

Young added that Jesus Christ was a spiritual son of Adam: “Jesus, our Elder Brother, was begotten in the flesh by the same character that was in the Garden of Eden, and who is our Father in Heaven. …” Young added that this doctrine would matter in the salvation or damnation of listeners.
As Buerger recounts, leading Mormons, including future prophet Wilford Woodruff, clearly understood that Young had decreed Adam as our God.

In later dispatches, published in The Millennial Star, the church strengthened its Adam-God doctrine by listing a geneology for the creators. In a school of the prophets class, Buerger writes that it was taught that Elohim was Adam’s grandfather, followed by Jehova, Adam’s father, and our God, Adam. Christ, as mentioned, was classified a spirit son of God Adam.

Of course, LDS doctrine today teaches that Jesus Christ is Jehova and that Adam was created out of the dust, as was Eve. Adam-God ran into trouble immediately; members could not find it in the scriptures. Nevertheless, Apostle Willard Richards had a succinct reply to doubters. He wrote, “If, as Elder Caffall remarked, there are those who are waiting at the door of the church for this objection to be removed, tell such, the prophet and Apostle Brigham has declared it, and that is the world of the Lord.”

In an 1854 general conference speech, Young went further: “I tell you more, Adam is the father of our spirits. He live upon the earth; he did abide his creation and did honor to his calling and preisthood (sic) and obeyed his master or Lord, and probably many of his wives did (the same) and they lived, and died upon an earth, and (then) were resurrected again to immortality and eternal life …”

However, one apostle, Orson Pratt, did not buy this new doctrine. He pointed to scriptures, including to what is Section 29, verse 42 in the Doctrine and Covenants and also Moses 4:28 and Moses 5:4-9. In defense, Young claimed that Joseph Smith had taught the Adam-God doctrine. Buerger’s research points to anecdotal evidence from third parties that Smith believed Adam was far more than his peers on Earth (a belief shared today by the current LDS Church) but past sermons of Smith’s also clearly show the first LDS prophet regarded Adam as an inferior to Jesus Christ, which puts him at odds with Young’s beliefs.

Other scriptural problems with the Adam-God doctrine include references to Adam’s death (Moses: 6:12 and Doctrine and Covenants 107:53) Also, Buerger cites Alma 11:45 in the Book of Mormon, where Amulek teaches that a resurrected body can die no more. How, Pratt reasonably wondered, can Adam have a resurrected celestial body and later die?

There were other contradictions to the Adam-God doctrine in theological books penned by apostles Parley P. Pratt and future prophet, John Taylor. Eventually, Young began to slowly abandon efforts to push the controversial doctrine, although he defended it often, sometimes with caustic remarks that skeptics were “yet to grovel in darkness.”

There is one recorded deviation by Young from Adam-God; as Buerger recounts, in an 1861 address to a non-Mormon audience, Young refers to Adam and Christ being created by a Supreme Being. However, this may be an example of the prophet speaking more simply to people — gentiles — he felt too naive to understand the doctrine. According to Brueger’s research, Young continued to teach the Adam-God doctrine, but mainly in more exclusive settings, such as teachings to general authorities.

In 1870, Young, quoted in the Deseret News, again said that God had revealed Adam’s celestial status to him. However, the doctrine’s steam slowly ebbed away. Eventually, Charles W. Penrose, editor of The Deseret News, signaled the church’s rejection of claims that Adam is our God. At first, Penrose said that Young’s personal views were not church doctrine; however, within a few years a church article stated that the debate over Young’s views were of no real value. Eventually, that changed to a view — held today — that Young had been misinterpreted.

The misinterpretation claim, as evidenced, does not survive historical scrutiny. It’s a shame that more information is unavailable on the fierce debate between Young, Pratt and others over the Adam-God doctrine, which comprised one of the most interesting eras in LDS Church history. The decades long controversy is an example of the progressive, brainstorming, exciting nature of the 19th century LDS church, where ideas — polygamy, new scriptures, Christ visiting America, celestial godhood, temples, priesthood revival, prophets, etc. roiled the theological world. It’s evidence of a uniquely American religion that still appeals to inquisitive minds.

-- Doug Gibson

Originally published at StandardBlogs.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Diary of LDS apostle includes tales of bribing a Supreme Court justice


The diaries of the late LDS Church Apostle, Abraham H. Cannon, stretching from 1889 to the end of 1895, is interesting church history reading. Signature Book’s “Candid Insights of a Mormon Apostle,” edited by scholar Edward Leo Lyman, provides readers glimpses into the wary, sometimes turbulent LDS history between the Manifesto against polygamy, the church’s desperate efforts to avoid financial destruction due to polygamy, the dedication of the Salt Lake temple, the financial panic of 1893, and efforts toward statehood for Utah.

Cannon, who had several wives, died in 1896 at age 37 from complications of an ear infection. The scion of a prominent Mormon family — his father, George Q. Cannon, was a fellow apostle — his diaries show how his high standing in the LDS Church encompassed not only religious duties, but high-stakes business, chicanery and politics. A thorough diarist, regular meetings of the church’s First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 Apostles are meticulously recorded. Governing the young church’s business empire and dealing with the real threat of imprisonment and government harassment due to polygamy occupied as much time — if not more — than religious duties.

Example: Cannon’s diary entry of Dec. 17, 1892, records that at the apostles’ meeting “… the brethren were told that our success in the Church suits was in a great measure due to the fact that we have a partner of Justice {Stephen J.} Field of the Supreme Court of the United States in our employ, who is to receive a percentage of the money if the suits go in our favor, and the property is returned to us. …” Given the times, this is not as shocking as it sounds today. Justice Field was not the only person of influence tempted by the church. President Benjamin Harrison’s secretary was helping the church. The diaries reveal how federal attorneys were routinely bribed through third parties. Church leaders spent considerable energies covering up the crime of an embezzler because that man — sympathetic to the church — was in a position to be a receiver of assets the church needed. In fact, Cannon records entries where the apostles were counseled to “keep secrets” from their enemies.

But even with the help of a high court justice, Cannon’s entries detail how the church was boxed in politically and in danger of financial ruin due to overall public disgust of polygamy. The Manifesto from President Woodruff against polygamy was originally intended to grandfather in current polygamous relationships, but Cannon’s diaries detail how political powers forced the LDS prophet to make later, tougher statements that forbid already-married polygamists from co-habitating. Apostles, including Cannon, were constantly threatened with imprisonment if they even visited their plural wives.

Cannon details how busy the life of an LDS apostle was. Although most details of his family life were omitted by Signature’s editors, Cannon was constantly taking trains up and down the state, speaking at stake conferences, settling church feuds, selecting new bishops and stake presidents. Cannon must have given hundreds of church-related talks a year. As is today, the LDS priesthood hierarchy was stressed. Leaders, from apostles downward, were urged to change their opinions if a superior took an opposing stance. Cannon also describes, in detail, prayer circles and the rarely-mentioned second anointing, where church leaders and spouses are guaranteed exaltation, or the highest level of the Celestial Kingdom. Cannon himself received a second anointing.

Politics was often discussed and apostles were assigned to research and lobby for or against legislation. Cannon’s disgust for the anti-Mormon Liberal Party is not shy. The First Presidency and Apostles engaged in serious efforts to control local press coverage and counter the Tribune. Pages of the diaries recount local campaigns. Eventually, Cannon became part owner of the LDS-friendly Deseret News. Politics at times would tear the apostles’ unity, particularly when the Democrats and Republicans set up parties in Utah. Apostle Moses Thatcher, a Democrat, would often quarrel with apostle, John Henry Smith, a Republican.

Cannon details special meetings of the quorum where the apostles would speak frankly about their feelings for each other and address cases of gratitude and their struggles against resentment. The reader catches the religious spirit and commitment that bonded these men. These are fascinating, partially because even today, the LDS Church leadership is silent on the spirit and topics of the meetings of its hierarchy. A key difference from today’s LDS leadership is that the church’s highest officials — 120 years ago — were more likely to go out politicking. Today, church politics is more subtle. Preaching was far more conservative: Apostle John Henry Smith is recounted warning members that sexual intercourse for any purpose other than bearing children is the same as adultery, according to the Lord.

Glimpses of a high-level meeting are very interesting for history buffs. In one apostles’ session, Cannon recounts a debate over the Adam-God doctrine. The apostles disagree, but Cannon believes Adam must be more than just a spiritual brother. In another, the apostles discuss the status of the Holy Ghost — is he a son of God, only without a body? There was a discussion of whether there were “daughters of perdition.” The apostles also stressed the LDS doctrine that faithful parents would be assured of the salvation of their wayward children. The bohemian atmosphere of the early LDS church still remained. President Woodruff and the apostles freely discussed visions, conversations with the slain Mormon leader Joseph Smith and even a glimpse of the modern-day Cain was described.

Cannon was often without enough money to keep his many businesses healthy. He was a good businessman but had his hands in too many endeavors, although near the end of his life, his efforts in a railroad were paying off. Much of the 1893 entries involve his desperate attempts to meet payrolls and keep a bank he co-owned afloat during that year’s financial panic. In one instance, Cannon, after becoming a partner in a mine, promised the Lord a fifth of his profits if the mine was successful.
Ogden is mentioned often — Cannon frequently spoke there — as is the Standard-Examiner a few times. Much of the diaries cover mundane, administrative tasks that will interest history buffs. One tidbit of interest: church leaders, including President Woodruff, were fans of horse racing in Salt Lake City.

Cannon lived in Salt Lake City, on the northwest corner of 900 South on 800 West. His diaries may be uncomfortably candid, but they can also inspire LDS readers today who want more than Pablum. We are in Cannon’s debt for leaving records that bring to life an era in the Top of Utah usually recollected in dry history texts. Some excerpts are here.

-- Doug Gibson
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Originally published on StandardBlogs.