Sunday, April 30, 2017

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


Severa 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.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Evolution of LDS prayer circles mirrors church’s move from eccentricity


It’s been two generations since LDS prayer circles were cast out of the world and relegated to temple-ritual status. Its members-only status ironically has robbed the prayer circle of the spontaneity it once enjoyed. About nine score years ago, the original prayer circles, organized by LDS church prophet Joseph Smith, underscored the early 19th century personal-relationship-with-God theological progressiveness that shaped Mormonism. 

As D. Michael Quinn related in the Fall 1978 issue of Brigham Young University Studies, the first prayer circle, part of the 1833 School of the Prophets, imitated the protestant prayer rings. Quinn writes that participants sought visions of angels, and when that wish was granted, some shrank in fear of what their eyes beheld.

Eventually, Smith’s prayer circle began to have ritualized language resembling the prophet’s revelations that concerned future temple ordinances. As Quinn relates, the Nauvoo Prayer Circle eventually encompassed more than 65 church members, male and female. Some of the participants were members who had received the “second endowments” that are still around today but rarely, if ever, discussed at church gatherings. 

According to Quinn, the prayer circle under Smith, called the Quorum of the Anointed, was not a group that made church policy, such as the Council of the 50. Smith’s easy acceptance of women into the prayer circle provides evidence, in my opinion, of his egalitarian ideals for that time period and degree of tolerance of women’s roles in the church. After his death, prayer circles would eventually close to LDS women for a long time.

Prayer circle participation at that time was considered a somewhat elite status, writes Quinn, and that didn’t change after Smith’s death. Only about 10 percent of the heavy influx of endowed Mormons were included in circles after 1845, but still numbers swelled considerably, and more circles had to start. By 1846, it was church policy to not have women in prayer circles with LDS men. As Quinn relates, women were encouraged to meet with other sisters in Relief Society prayer gatherings. Such all-female circles were further restricted in 1896, when church leadership advised against any sisters in prayer circles. As Quinn writes, “Rarely privileged to join their husbands in the separate prayer circle meetings after 1846, Latter-day Saint women also discontinued even occasional Relief Society prayer circles by the early twentieth century.”

Quinn writes that prayer circles, still a practice with elite status, were of two states during the middle of the 19th century. There were ecclesiastical prayer circles, that included inclusion by priesthood rank, and special daily prayer circles, headed by priesthood leaders that could include men of diverse stations. Interestingly, Quinn relates, the First Presidency prayer circle sometimes functioned in a special prayer circle manner, with guests outside the church hierarchy included. Eventually, the special prayer circles, which were spread out over the church, were put under the guidance of the LDS apostles, who continued to assign priesthood subordinates to head other circles and help recruit members. Final membership to a prayer circle was decided by the First Presidency.

This arrangement for special prayer circles lasted for several decades. The “elite status” of being in a prayer circle became even more exclusive as the LDS Church grew in membership. As Quinn writes, “By 1929 the growing membership of the church had highlighted the inequity of having such special prayer circles for the privileged few.” They were soon discontinued.

However, ecclesiastical prayer circles of lower areas of the LDS Church continued well into the middle of the 20th century. These included stake prayer circles, although it was the decision of a particular stake president to have a stake prayer circle, which of course had to be approved and overseen at the highest level of the church. According to Quinn, the largest stake prayer circle was in Alberta, Canada, stake from 1948 to 1950, which had about 80 participants. There were also ward prayer circles in operation as well, notes Quinn.

The purpose of the prayer circle, according to official church doctrine, has always been to teach “the true order of prayer.” Incidents such as an 1846 prayer circle that claimed to witness counsel from the late Prophet Joseph Smith would have been greeted with skepticism 100-plus years later. The decision to restrict prayer circles to a part of the temple endowment ceremony, according to Quinn, was an administrative decision spurred by the difficulty of a worldwide church to deal with future stake and ward prayer circle requests.

Discretion and respect for temple ordinances prevents me from mentioning what occurs in a prayer circle, but in my opinion, it would not look out of place in other Christian gatherings. The history of prayer circles once being a male-only procedure is quite ironic, since it is my experience that many of today’s prayer circles are populated by men only after they have received a stern, nodding beckon from their wives.

(Quinn's article can be downloaded for free here.)

-- Doug Gibson

This column was originally published at StandardBlogs.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Temple adoptions were part of LDS evolution toward genealogy work


Editor's note: Although this Cal Grondahl cartoon is not related to this week's essay, it's a favorite of mine, done by Cal in the recent era of the popularity of The Book of Mormon Musical.

The majority of faithful Latter-day Saints who engage in temple work for the dead probably have never heard of the Law of Adoption. Yet, for roughly a half century, until 116 years ago, it was the forerunner of today’s large-scale church temple ordinances for the deceased, which are considered sacred and necessary in the LDS Church for afterlife progression.

Gordon Irving, then associate historian for the LDS Church, wrote a fascinating piece for the spring 1974 issue of BYU Studies. Titled, “The Law of Adoption: One Phase of the Development of the Mormon Concept of Salvation, 1830-1900,” Irving explains that in 1830, the genesis of the church, “early members appear to have accepted the traditional Christian view of a heaven for the righteous and a hell for the wicked.”

That would change soon. By 1832, Irving writes, the prophet Joseph Smith had published revelation that there were three separate kingdoms of glory within heaven, or salvation; furthermore, the kingdom assigned a person depended on his or her good works. At this time, the Mormon concept of hell evolved into a place called “sons of perdition,” which was restricted to very few.

The concept of eternal salvation would continue to evolve for more than half a century. Irving explains that an aspect of LDS belief that attracted many converts was its claim of authority to act in God’s name. While Smith assured Saints via revelation that “All who have died without a knowledge of this Gospel, who would have received it if they had been permitted to tarry, shall be heirs of the celestial kingdom,” many wondered how a deceased loved one could attain the celestial kingdom without baptism. The solution, according to Smith, was baptism for the dead.

However, Smith’s 1843 revelation dividing the celestial kingdom into three degrees asserted that family ties, extending back to Adam, were essential to achieving exaltation, or the highest degree of the celestial kingdom. The “way to do this,” explained Smith later, was through celestial marriage in a temple. Through celestial marriage, the doctrine goes, earth’s families could be linked to a chain of family that began to Adam and subsequently, become “heirs of exaltation.”

But the exaltation doctrine created concerns that persons would attain the celestial kingdom but not its highest level because they could not link their family chains to a proper priesthood authority extending to Adam.

A solution to that dilemma was that prominent church members could be grafted — through ordination by the prophet — to the patriarchal order — thereby allowing them to “adopt as children” members of the church. This is a key reason early church members, such as John D. Lee, are often referred to as “adopted sons” of Brigham Young, or Heber C. Kimball, or other apostles.

Although Irvine says it’s unclear if adoptions occurred before Smith died, they were common when Brigham Young became prophet. In fact, there were plans to even start settlements with “adopted” families of Young, Kimball, John Taylor, Willard Richards, and other prominent LDS apostles.

According to Irvine’s article, some of the early apostles even pitched themselves and advertised for “children to adopt.” Irvine writes, “Apostle George A. Lee Smith admitted in February, 1847, that he had lextioneered” with all his might to get people to join him.” These “adopted” families would meet for conferences with counsel from Young, Kimball, and social events such as dances.

Within several years, though, adoptions had fallen out of favor. Human nature was a key reason. Like real families, adopted siblings tended to quarrel. Irvine recounts feuds between Lee and other of Young’s adopted children. Other examples include adopted children — grown men — worried they would be subordinate to their “adopted fathers” in the celestial Kingdom. Other adopted “children” believed they could be supported by their “fathers.” Prophet Young, writes Irvine, wryly noted in 1847 “that he hoped the day would come when his adopted children would ‘have to provide temporal blessings for me instead of my boarding from 40 to 50 persons as I do now …’”

In the 1870s, the construction of a temple in St. George, Utah, renewed interest in adoption. New rules were established for the ordinance. One allowed deceased non-member husbands of women members to be adopted. Another allowed members more choice in who they could choose as an adopted father. As a result of the temples being away from Salt Lake City, many members chose deceased apostles to adopt them, because a proxy could be used.

Eventually, the second phase of adoptions failed to satisfy members as well. Many were distressed at the strict rules allowing only one generation beyond baptism to be adopted. Church members who had traced their ancestry much further, writes Irvine, were upset those ancestors would not have the fullness of the Gospel. Others groused that the adoption doctrine was still too complex and difficult to understand.

Adoption ended via — once again — a revelation. In 1894, Church Prophet Wilford Woodruff announced that all children would be “adopted to his (or her) father.” He further said, “We want the Latter-day Saints from this time to trace their genealogies as far as they can, and to be sealed to their fathers and mothers. Have children sealed to their parents, and run the chain as far as you can get it.”
President Woodruff detailed the revelation as additions from the Lord to what Joseph Smith hard originally received. This, Irvine explains, fits with the Mormon concept of continuous revelation, “line upon line, precept upon precept,”

Woodruff’s revelation was very popular, and remains so today. It’s no coincidence that the Mormons’ now iconic interest in genealogy work increased at that time.

There were still kinks to be worked out. Church leaders took pains to assure anxious members that adoption/sealing to a parent was as valid as one to an apostle. Also, the 13,000-plus Saints who had been adopted by Young, Kimball, and the others were a dilemma. As Irvine writes, Church leaders let God sort it out, directing these members to be sealed to their parents while keeping their former “adoptions” in church records.

-- Doug Gibson

This post was originally published at StandardBlogs.

Monday, March 20, 2017

John Q. Cannon and Louie Wells, a Utah Camelot scandal


I’m haunted by a ragged PDF-copied photograph, courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society, of Louisa “Louie” Wells, who 130 years ago was a princess in Mormon Salt Lake City. The poor quality of the reproduced photo does not hide that she was a beautiful young woman. “Louie” Wells was the daughter of Mormon elitist Daniel Hamner Wells, Salt Lake City mayor, and Emmeline Blanche Wells, Mormon feminist and magazine editor.
Besides being favored with beauty, and a steady, esteemed Mormon suitor, journalist Robert W. Sloan, Louie was as accomplished as a Jane Austen heroine. She sang beautifully, she performed in Salt Lake City plays and operas, including “The Mikado,” was an early leader of the LDS ladies Mutual organization, and was an excellent essayist, writing accounts of her travels to the eastern United States and Europe for the LDS journal Women’s Exponent. She was groomed to be a Mormon woman icon, perhaps as well known today as Eliza R. Snow.
Today, in a corner of the Salt Lake City cemetery, a tombstone, well over a century old, bears the name “Louie,” and nothing else. Louie Wells died an agonizing death at 24, far from home, with her mother at her side, helpless to save her. In less than a year, her bright future and presumed happiness was extinguished. The events that led to her death roiled Salt Lake City and nearly destroyed the kinship between two prominent families, the Wells and the Cannons. 
Historian Kenneth Cannon III’s article, “The Tragic Matter of Louie Wells and John Q. Cannon,” is must reading if one wants to learn more after reading this blog. In 1886, in the Salt Lake Tabernacle, John Q. — the eldest living son of Mormon elder George Q. Cannon, and a former Ogden Standard editor, Deseret News reporter, counselor in the LDS Church Presiding Bishopric, and husband of Annie Wells Cannon, Louie’s sister   — shocked a crowd gathered to worship by confessing to adultery. He was immediately excommunicated, promptly divorced from Annie, and then married to Louie.
Although John Q. Cannon did not mention the “other woman,” the hasty marriage to Louie made it easy to guess whom he had slept with. Try to imagine an LDS general authority today confessing to adultery during a stake conference and one understands how shocked Mormons were at the time. On the other hand, the anti-Mormon Salt Lake Tribune was delighted. It had, in 1884, published gossip that John Q. and Louie had secretly married. At the time, John Q. had tracked down the reporter, and beat him up.
After his 1886 confession to adultery, divorce and new marriage, federal marshals — always on the lookout for polygamists — arrested John Q., claiming his quick divorce from Annie was illegal. Louie, already pregnant, went into hiding but was located by authorities. She spent a humiliating time in court denying she was a plural wife.
The case against John Q. eventually lost steam. Long before its resolution, Louie was sent to San Francisco by her family to have the baby. It was not the first time that she had been made pregnant by her brother in law. John Q. confessed to an intimate that he had impregnated Louie in 1885 and that she had miscarried.  This news seems to lend partial credibility to the controversial Tribune article, although no marriage occurred. The source for that article, according to Kenneth Cannon’s piece, was Angus Cannon Jr., the despised, “scoundrel” son of Angus Cannon Sr., polygamist and stake president, who had accompanied John Q. when he confessed in 1886.
Louie Cannon Wells died six weeks after suffering her second miscarriage. Her death at 24 was due to dropsy, and she suffered terribly. Mom Emmeline was unable to help ease her pain, which must have been exacerbated due to stress, hiding and traveling. During their short marriage, Louie and her husband were likely never together. He was not at her side when she died. Shortly after Louie’s death, John Q. and Annie Wells were remarried. Several years later, Louie was sealed to John Q. in a temple ceremony.
At Louie’s funeral, an already bad situation was dangerously increased when stake president Angus Cannon publicly identified Louie as the adulterous partner of John Q. This created a feud between the Cannons and Wells that eventually led to Angus Cannon physically striking Louie’s sister, Mell, and threatening to tell more about the affair. Later, John Q. threatened to kill Angus Cannon. Tensions were finally eased thanks to the Wells family matriarch, Emmeline. Tolerant, and a peacemaker at heart, she reached out to the Cannons, and the situation calmed. However, the rift never died, as Emmeline Wells’ diary entry of May 17, 1898, footnoted by Kenneth Cannon, reads, “Angus is 64 years old today. ... He has seen much sorrow and as he has been unkind and ungenerous to others harsh in his judgment one need not be surprised that it comes back upon him — As ye mete it out to others so shall it be unto you, and therefore he should expect it.”
As with any tragedy, there are “why” questions. Why didn’t John Q. make Louie a plural wife, and avoid church punishment? One answer may be that plural marriage for younger LDS scions was being subtly discouraged at a time when Utah leaders wanted statehood. More likely is that John Q. could not control his lust for a beautiful, younger sister in law living in the home, particularly when his own wife was pregnant. In his article, Kenneth Cannon points out that despite being the favored older son, (John Q. had been called to be an apostle long before the adultery was revealed, only to have that blocked by LDS Church President John Taylor), John Q. was a dysfunctional man. He was prone to drinking, gambling and carousing. It’s possible that inebriation fueled his lust. Also, one two occasions, John Q. embezzled thousands of dollars while held positions of trust. He was bailed out both times by his family’s influence.
Time, and staying alive, returned John Q. to society’s esteem. After his remarriage, he was restored to membership to the LDS Church and was a Deseret News editor. He and Annie had 12 children. John Q. is buried in the Cannon family plot next to his wife Annie. Elsewhere, in the Wells family plot, sits the stone with the sole word, “Louie,” on it.
A previous version of this column was published at StandardBlogs.
An historical novel on the affair is also available.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Apostle's adultery rocked LDS Church 130-plus years ago


More than 130 years ago, the young Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was roiled by a tawdry affair of power-based predator adultery by elderly apostle Albert Carrington, who once named to the church hierarchy used his authority to seduce far younger women, including British converts barely out of their teens. Despite allegations stretching back a decade, Carrington escaped punishment until one of his mistresses confessed the sexual escapades to her new husband. At that point, his fall was swift.

Historian Gary Bergera recounts the Carrington case in the Summer 2011 issue of Journal of Mormon History. (It’s the first of a three-part series on LDS leaders who were disciplined for sexual misconduct). Carrington’s case is interesting not only for his bizarre defense, which echoes U.S. President Bill Clinton’s 100-plus years later, but for the culture of sexual dysfunction of that era, where elderly male church leaders were urged to select young plural brides while on assignments, yet “excessive indulgence in the marital relation” were denounced as sinful from LDS pulpits at the same time.

There’s no doubt that Albert Carrington, once editor of the Deseret News, was a despicable rake, and the outrage of his fellow apostles, who excommunicated him, was sincere. As Bergera relates, in 1882, more than a decade after being called as an apostle, Carrington was finishing his tenure as head of the LDS Church’s European mission when word reached his successor, John Henry Smith, that the 69-year-old Carrington has been seen in compromising positions with his housekeeper, Sarah Kirkman, 20.

Although church leaders were concerned enough to do a formal investigation and request a detailed response from Carrington in 1883, his denials brought a temporary end to the matter. Carrington rather shrewdly confessed to being “unwise” in his familiarity with Kirkman, but strongly denied any sexual misconduct. That was explanation enough for the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, which unanimously retained him as a member.

However, as Bergera relates, it wasn’t too long before the Quorum learned that Carrington had lied to them. In 1885, Kirkman, now married, told her husband, Richard Bridge, of her past sexual relations with Carrington, some of which had occurred in Utah after her marriage. After this reached the Quorum of the 12 Apostles, more investigation revealed that Carrington had committed adultery with other young women.

Confronted by his peers in the Quorum, Carrington admitted to sexual activity but used what might have been called a Clintonian defense a century later. He denied he had committed adultery because he “had not mixed his seed” with the women. Using what was later disgustingly referred to as a “four-inch defense,” Carrington insisted that withdrawing and ejaculating outside the women he had sex with cleared him of adultery. As his fellow apostles listened in horror and skepticism, Carrington described his activities as “a little folly in Israel” and thanked the Lord for clearing him of the sin of adultery.

As Bergera notes, the Quorum quickly excommunicated him. Besides disapproval of the sins, his peers must have been angry with how Carrington’s behavior would hurt the church’s image, already suffering due to its practice of polygamy. Yet in his diary, Carrington, who had two wives, was mystified as to why he was cast out, insisting, Bergera records, that he had “never committed, even in thought,” adultery.

The former apostle’s health declined rapidly and before long he was bedridden. For more than a year, the now-repentant Carrington’s pleas for rebaptism were rejected by the apostles, many of whom were outraged at the blatant adultery, his explanations, and his longtime deception to them. One apostle, Moses Thatcher, Bergera records, was so incensed as to wish that adultery was a life-forfeiting sin. Future LDS President Heber J. Grant noted in his diary that Thatcher “hoped that the day was not far distant when the adulterer would forfeit his life, and then the question of rebaptism would never be raised.” Other apostles, with their new perception of the disgraced Carrington, “recollected” that he had never been a positive force in the quorum.

Time heals anger, as well as feelings of betrayal, and eventually mercy was granted Carrington. By the fall of 1887, the Quorum approved his re-baptism and confirmation. It occurred at the bedridden’s Carrington’s home. More than 30 years later, Grant, as LDS prophet, noted in General Conference that it was Section 64 of the LDS scripture Doctrine and Covenants, that moved him to OK Carrington’s rebaptism. Verse 10 reads, “I, the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.”

Bergera, in his JMH article, writes that many of the LDS apostles “may have wondered why Carrington, as family patriarch, had not simply brought Kirkman to Utah and married her regardless of his wives’ reaction.” Carrington was alone in London while mission president. Interestingly, Carrington and other missionaries had been urged by LDS President Brigham Young to get married. Bergera notes, from the Journal of Jesse Nathaniel Smith, that Young told Carrington and others in 1868: “When you get over there I want each of you to select a good girl and marry her.” However, Bergera adds that Carrington refused to marry another wife unless his first wife, Rhoda Maria, was with him to help select a plural wife.

As Bergera writes, “There are hints that Carrington’s first wife, Rhoda, did not respond favorably to the prospect of additional wives; and as a consequence, Carrington may have felt less constrained regarding extramarital sexual activity.” If that’s so, it was a life-wrecking assumption.

Carrington had been member of the LDS Church since the Nauvoo era. The stress of his excommunication doubtless contributed to his rapid physical and mental deterioration after 1885. (It also helped end his daughter Jane’s long marriage to Brigham Young’s son, apostle Brigham Young Jr.) In fall 1889, as the 76-year-old Carrington was dying, LDS leaders agreed to his family’s request that he receive the LDS priesthood so he could be buried in the faith’s garments. As Bergera relates from the diary of John Nuttall, secretary to the First Presidency, Carrington died minutes before he was to be ordained. “It was afterwards decided (that) Bro. Carrington may be buried in his Temple clothing,” Nuttall recorded on Sept. 19 1889.

In fact, 15 minutes after his death, LDS Church President Wilford Woodruff directed elders to ordain the deceased former apostle an elder. (Albert Carrington below)

Post originally published at StandardBlogs.



Monday, March 6, 2017

Elijah Ables: Black Mormon priesthood holder in the 19th century


Elijah Ables is no stranger to Mormon history, although he’s virtually unknown. Ables was a black man who was ordained to the LDS priesthood in the 1830s, and remained a faithful Mormon for the next half-century. In the Spring 2013 Journal of Mormon History, there’s a very interesting account of his life and times by Russell W. Stevenson, who teaches at Salt Lake Community College. Stevenson later published the book, "Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables." 

In "A Negro Preacher: The Worlds of Elijah Ables," Stevenson writes of the persistent loyalty of Ables to the Mormon Church despite repeated offenses derived from the widespread racism of that era. As Ables and the young church aged, the racism directed at the mixed-blood faithful Latter-day saint priesthood holder increased. Eventually, the elderly Ables was told that his ordination to the priesthood decades earlier by Joseph Smith was a mistake. Nevertheless, the priesthood was never taken from Ables, and he died in good standing, after falling ill while on a church mission.

Ables was baptized into the LDS Church in 1832 by Ezekiel Edwards near Cincinnati, Ohio. He was likely a free man at the time. He later received his washing and anointing ordinances from fellow member Zebedee Coltrin. Reflecting the racism that followed Ables’ unique status, Coltin later repudiated his act. Stevenson quotes him as saying “... while I had my hands upon his head, I never had such unpleasant feelings in my life.”

Still, by the end of 1836, Ables was listed as a member of the LDS Melchizedek Priesthood group, the Seventy. He received a patriarchal blessing from Joseph Smith Sr. The timing of Ables’ involvement with the Mormons is interesting. It was near the time the young church was expelled from Missouri, largely due to concerns from the pro-slavery forces there that the church was anti-slavery. 



In fact, Joseph Smith followed a position that was consistent among many anti-slavery advocates of that era. He favored moving blacks from America to other areas where they were assured freedom. Two areas frequently mentioned as migration points were Liberia (in Africa) and Upper Canada (or the Ontario area). This relates to Ables’ life because he was soon called to be a missionary to Upper Canada. Ables was a natural choice for Smith. Living in the Ontario area at that time were an estimated 10,000 fugitives from slavery, writes Stevenson. He further supposes, likely correctly, that Smith wanted his black missionary to look at the possibility of setting up a black LDS congregation.

Whatever Ables’ ability to be a bridge between races for the Mormon Church, he faced a lifetime battle trying to maintain acceptance in a church with attitudes on race that were slowly hardening against blacks. This may have been due initially to the conflicts in Missouri. In 1839, LDS apostle Parley P. Pratt wrote, cites Stevenson, “that one dozen free negroes or mulattoes never have belonged to our society in any part of the world, from the first organization to this date.”

Obviously, Ables — and others — participation in the early LDS Church prove Pratt’s claims wrong. But the intemperate remarks underscore how difficult typical 19th century racism made it for early Mormon leaders to have the collective Gospel-oriented society they were preaching. Smith’s solution was to move blacks to their own collective societies. This was likely a key reason for Smith calling Ables to another mission, to Cincinnati, where there was a large population of free black workers.

As Stevenson notes in his article, Smith’s appointment of Ables shows he must have had great trust in the elder. The Concinnati branch of the church was unstable, and prone to apostasy. Outside the church there were race riots between free blacks and white settlers.  This area was to be Ables’ home for nearly a decade, long past Joseph Smith’s murder in 1844. During that time, Ables was a stabilizing force there, remaining a church member under Brigham Young but staying on good terms with members of divergent branches, including followers of Sidney Rigdon, James Strang, David Whitmer, William Smith and those who formed the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Eventually, Ables, his wife, and family decided to migrate to Utah. Unfortunately, as mentioned, racial attitudes hardened under Brigham Young’s leadership. As Stevenson notes, Young allegedly opined that the “curse of Cain” remained because Cain had once been a mighty captain in the pre-existence. After he killed Abel, Cain’s followers in the pre-existence still respected him enough to take the curse and come to the earth with black skin. This curse of dark skin, Young allegedly claimed, wuld last until all of Captain Abel’s spirits could come to the earth.

This kind of suppositions by Young led him to say in 1852, as Stevenson notes from Wilford Woodruff’s journal, “If a man has one drop of Cain in him (he) cannot receive the Priesthood.” (He further stated that if a Caucasian) “mingles his seed with the seed of Cane (sic) the ownly (sic) way he could get rid of it or have salvation would be to come forward & have his head cut off & spill his blood upon the ground.” (The penalty for interracial marriage “would also take the life of the children,” Woodruff records Young as saying.

Despite this rhetoric, appropriately regarded as horrendous, there is no evidence that Ables was physically harmed in Utah. He worked as a arpenter and hotel manager in Salt Lake City, and spent a few years in Ogden. His family performed minstrel shows for LDS wards in Utah, writes Stevenson.

His attempts to receive temple endowments for himself, his wife, and his children were rebuffed by Young. In 1853, Young framed his racism with an expectation that the “curse of Cain’ would be removed one day by the order of God, and, as Stevenson quotes him, ”all the races will redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.“

After Young’s death, Ables, now a widower, again petitioned the new church president, John Taylor, for temple endowment privileges. Again he was denied. As Stevenson writes, ”Taylor and the Twelve decided that Joseph Smith had erred in ordaining Ables to the priesthood. ... nevertheless, (he was) allowed to remain.“

It was a final insult to Ables’ reasonable request after a lifetime of service to his church, but the longtime member took it in stoically, remaining an active member of his Seventies quorum, notes Stevenson. Soon after leaving for another mission to Cincinnati, Ables took ill, returned to Salt Lake City, and died on Christmas Day 1884. He was likely born between 1808 and 1810.

As late as 1908, Stevenson writes, Mormon president Joseph F. Smith was claiming that church founder Joseph Smith had declared the late Ables' priesthood "null and void." Yet in the same contradictions that Ables dealt with all his life, Joseph F. Smith also declared that Ables had been a "staunch member of the church." In 2002, a gravestone for Ables was placed in the Salt Lake City Cemetery. His church accomplishments, including his priesthood status, are summarized.

-- Doug Gibson

This post was originally published in StandardBlogs.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce and the LDS Spirit World


A couple of times a year, usually on a Sunday after church, I re-read C.S. Lewis’ marvelous post-mortal novella/fable “The Great Divorce.” It relates a journey of diminutive spirits (referred to as ghosts) to the outskirts of Heaven, where they are greeted by much larger, more powerful exalted spirits, eager to help them take a painful journey beyond the mountains to Heaven. The journey, and its accompanying pain, is a metaphor for repentance and shedding of sins.
Most of the “ghosts,” despite the mild persuasion of loved ones, friends and acquaintances who greet them, refuse the trip to Heaven. They prefer Hell because it allows them to retain their earthly passions and sins, obsessions, earthly pride, angers resentments, self-pity, manipulation, and narcissism. That is the foundation of what Lewis is teaching in his novella; that one must surrender the earth for Heaven.
As Lewis writes, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ’Thy will be done,” and those to who God says in the end, ’Thy will be done.’“
”The Great Divorce“ can be called Dante-like. It’s a journey with many experiences, with a narrator and a teacher. Understand, I make no claim that C.S. Lewis saw any similarities between ”The Great Divorce“ and the Mormon concept of the post-mortal spirit world. In fact, Lewis — on more than one occasion — reminds readers that his story is a fantasy, and says, ”The last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the details of the after-world.“
Personally, I think Lewis had his tongue in his cheek with that remark, because of course ”The Great Divorce“ ”arouse(s) factual curiosity about the details of the after-world.“ And the concept of spirits retaining their weaknesses and more exalted spirits zealously attempting to teach them ”the right“ is a central tenant of Mormonism. But let me backtrack: From my earliest years in the LDS Church, I was taught that after we die, we either go to paradise or ”spirit prison.“ (For many childhood years, I envisioned ”spirit prison“ as a clean jail with bars, where orderly ”wicked“ spirits waited for good spirits to teach them the Gospel ...)
Instead, Mormon theology puts the spirits world as being on the earth. In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma taught that — like Lewis’ ghosts — what’s learned and appreciated on earth is carried to the spirit world. In the LDS post-mortal spirit world, there is no confirmation of any ”correct Gospel.“ Spirits congregate where they are most comfortable. The ”righteous“ spirits — like Lewis’ spirits — attend to spirits who need to learn the truth. I imagine much of the ”missionary work“ is without success. (As a lifelong Mormon, it’s impossible not to imagine these spirit ”missionaries“ as wearing dark suits and ties, or sisters in dresses, and carrying flip charts and Scriptures as they knock on doors in ”Spirit Prison.“)
In ”The Great Divorce,“ Lewis talks about many ghosts who are so obsessed with their earthly lives that they return to homes, places of work, etc., and ”haunt“ them. (Now, what I’m saying next is ”Doug doctrine“ and not LDS belief, but one reason I flinch at watching LDS football on Sunday is that I have this feeling a host of spirits — all obsessed with the Dallas Cowboys, etc., are also watching the game. If I turn the tube off and put on a CD of church music, they’ll take off! I also wonder about those kitschy reality ghost-hunting shows on TV. Are the malicious spirits having fun with us humans?)
(Yeah, I’m still being tongue in cheek now but what comes next is serious.) Lewis’s relating that the souls of purgatory/hell were handicapped by their earthly attachments parallels the LDS belief that missionary spirits are attempting to teach other spirits to shed those same attachments. A chief distinction, of course, is that Lewis considers his ”Hell and Heaven“ as the end result, while LDS theology sees the ”Spirit World“ as a far earlier part of our eternal existence. It is interesting, though, that ”The Great Divorce“ envisions active efforts to convert unbelievers after death; a concept that Mormonism can relate to. ”The Great Divide“ also places a person’s humility and true charity as more favorable than excessive religion and excessive charity, reminding the reader that these can become earthly obsessions which consume our other responsibilities.
As former Standard-Examiner cartoonist Cal Grondahl says, religion exists in one part to comfort us about our approaching death. C.S. Lewis, as a Christian, believed in life after death. To the righteous, his novella comforts, as the Mormon Spirit World comforts devout Mormons. I have no idea if Lewis regarded Mormons as Christians, but his novella — in which spirits find themselves more comfortable in dim, dreary, contentious surroundings and resist missionary efforts that offer a more exalted state — connects with LDS doctrine.
Also, it’s very interesting that in Lewis’ ”Hell,“ there are ghosts who have strayed so far away from the ”bus station“ that offers ghosts the opportunity to visit ”Heaven.“ As a result, they can’t go to Heaven’s outskirts anymore. This is similar to LDS doctrine, in which spirits in ”spirit prison“ are separated by those who are still teachable and those who are not. I recommend ”The Great Divorce“ to anyone, of course, but also to LDS readers who will find the unintentional similarities very interesting.
-- Doug Gibson
This column was previously published at StandardBlogs.