An Insider’s Outside View of Mormon History

In the spirit of describing personal religious turning points, I am presenting this observational essay. At the same time it touches on a few posts with themes about intellectuals and faith.

The Discovery Years

While reading about the LDS history articles in the Ensign, I was reminded of my own studies. When I was young, interest in the subject started because my own personal faith had grown. My house was filled with history books both secular and religious. As a reader, I would try and find anything I could on whatever subject interested me the most.

My first full biography on Joseph Smith was by John Henry Evans, a rather unsophisticated treatment. What intrigued me about the book was less how definitive it was and more how complicated and exciting Joseph Smith seemed. Noticing more to the man and the Prophet than the author presented didn’t bother me — it fascinated me. Perhaps it had to do with my understanding of history as storytelling rather than a collection of facts that had to be accounted for to make things true.

My second encounter with Mormon history was brief, and I had already gotten a beginner’s start by reading a few chapters in Joseph Smith’s 6 Volume history. At this point my focus of LDS Church history set with Joseph Smith as the center of study. Having read one biography of Joseph Smith, I decided to find another one; and like so many other people picked up Fawn Brodie’s treatment. I read a few chapters at the start and a couple in the middle before reading the rest. Unlike so many people who apparently read her book and become disenchanted, I was unimpressed. As a teenager I could tell where history stopped and her own unfounded biases filled in the gaps. Where Evan’s book was sketchy, this one had been overproduced. Other than a few original for the time newspaper reports, “No Man Knows My History” mostly used the Joseph Smith HIstory volumes and Journal of Discourses. Much of what she writes was discussed in B.H. Roberts History of the LDS Church with a difference of opinion. Reading Hugh Nibley’s criticism about the book was not a discovery, but a realization I wasn’t the only one seeing the problems.

Before graduating High School and leaving my home for college, I read all the historical Ensign articles I could. They contained the most detail on specific topics I had access to at the time. The articles were impressive for someone who didn’t have other treatments to rely on for more information. I lament that such writings in the magazine stopped during the 90s, although one or two good articles came out later. Still, it got me reading more than the outdated books written by a small group of believers. Continue reading

The Growth of the Church Today and in the Future

In a few weeks lesson #9 in Gospel Doctrine focuses on the organization of the Church. While I was studying this lesson for an upcoming Interpreter Scripture Roundtable, I did a quick napkin calculation of the Church’s growth. At a current modest 2.5% growth rate, the LDS Church could have over 33 million members in 30 years, more than doubling the number today, and adding almost 1 million members per year at that point. Reflecting back, it took 117 years to reach just 1 million members total in 1947. The Church has added nearly 10 million just since I was born in 1981, an increase of almost 300%, or a 3 fold increase. For members in their 60s, they’ve seen over 10 fold growth since their birth, and those in their 80s, over 20 fold growth. See the charts I made below: Continue reading

Explain it to me better: A Response to CNN on Mormonism

For a reason that is hard to understand, there have been Mormons that are impressed with how a short CNN web segment explains the Mormon religion. They might not agree with everything on the video, but the respect for it runs strong. Perhaps Mormons are grateful for any perceived neutral or positive presentation of the religion. Perhaps they are happy for any secular mention considering the lack of outraged response to the blasphemous and disgusting “Book of Mormon” musical. A growing and influential religion deserves better than what has come out of obscurity, although a lack of respect and understanding about religion in general is part of today’s society.

The short report by CNN religion editor Dan Gilgoff is bad enough to deserve a critical review. This isn’t even “Mormonism for Dummies,” but just dumb. It doesn’t touch on more than the most basic of basics; some of that only half of the information necessary for understanding. There isn’t much detail to go into to pull from, but that is part of the problem. Superficially it might not have been wrong, yet so far as contexts and relevance it leaves out a lot of important information. This hampers its worth for those who want to know more. Continue reading

The Myth of New Mormon Feminism

Recently there has been a lot of talk about a new or resurgent Mormon Feminism developing. With so many words and discussions about it, one would think it was a reality rather an expectation. The truth is that a “war” between Mormons and Feminists happened, and Feminists lost. There was a time when Feminists were very active with staging protests, holding marches, signing petitions, writing letters, mobilizing grassroots forces, and making bold calls to action. In the end those Feminists either left the LDS Church or were ex-communicated. Despite minor changes, the goals they had didn’t materialize.

The last time there was any “action” of note taken was after Sister Beck’s now famous talk about the importance of defined female roles. Feminists sent roses to LDS Church headquarters to protest her message and newspapers filed a report. The response from the intended target? A courteous thank you. Concerns behind the gift were promptly ignored. Other recent activities have gone unnoticed or are personal to individuals with no direct social impact. Continue reading

A One Cent Coin From Nauvoo

[Cross posted from Sixteen Small Stones]

A couple of weeks ago we were helping my parents move a lot of their stuff into storage.   In the last decade, they have moved at least ten times, and, as I’m sure you know if you have moved frequently, there are some boxes that just get shuffled from one home to the next without ever getting unpacked or sorted.  As we were sorting stuff and stacking boxes, I ran across a box of apparently random stuff.  In it there was a small metallic container. I picked it out and opened it up to see what it held. Inside there were two old plastic bags, one containing some kind of white stuff and the other a yellow substance, and tucked in with them was an old coin.

My father said that he believed that the white and yellow stuffs were frankincense and myrrh that some friends had brought them back from the Middle East.   The coin I vaguely remembered from a family vacation we had taken many years before.  It was a road trip from Utah to New York and Washington D. C. and back, stopping along the way to visit sites from U. S. and LDS Church history.

Continue reading