Revisiting the Journal of Discourses

In LDS Perspectives Podcast’s first doubleheader, they present an episode covering the discrepancies between the shorthand versions of speeches of early LDS Church leaders in Utah and their published versions. First, Russell Stevenson interviews Gerrit Dirkmaat about the research he and LaJean Carruth did comparing the shorthand notes of George Watt to some of the speeches in the Journal of Discourses.

Dirkmaat-Gerrit-1

The authors examined hundreds of sermons and sometimes they varied by hundreds of words. Dirkmaat points out that when one is talking about doctrine, words matter. While the essence of these speeches are similar in the shorthand and published versions, the words used vary greatly.

The Journal of Discourses have historical and religious value, but Dirkmaat urges members to be careful quoting specific passages and to realize that in most cases, there is know way to know the specific words used.

LaJean Purcell Carruth has an unusual skill: she can read the shorthand of George Watt, the transcriber of the speeches contained in the Journal of Discourses, his private printing venture. Over the past thirty years, she has learned his distinctive style — the unique upturns and curves he made in his notations. As she transcribed his notes, she noticed that they varied — sometimes greatly — from the printed versions of the same speeches. She wrote a poem about what she noticed:

There was a man named George Watt,

Who could improve Brigham Young, so he thought.

So he took out words here,

And he added words there,

And his accuracy was not what it ought.

LaJean Purcell Carruth©

LaJean expounds on what she has learned about the speaking styles of early religious leaders. They spoke extemporaneously and without notes and were more prone to engage in speculative theology than current leaders.

She emphasizes that Brigham Young was a powerful speaker. He cared about the people, and they knew that he cared about them. When George Watt changed Brigham Young’s words, he changed what Brigham Young said about himself. She feels the real Brigham Young has been lost to us as we view him through his discourses printed in the Journal of Discourses.

In her research, she discovered that the “one drop” phrase attributed to Brigham Young by Wilford Woodruff did not exist in the original shorthand transcription of George Watt and other statements relating to the priesthood and temple ban varied as well.

LaJean shares with Laura Harris Hales what she has learned about Brigham Young from the words left out of the Journal of Discourses and other important speeches.

Be sure and check out the resources mentioned in this podcast at LDS Perspectives Podcast.

Book Review: Garden of Enid, Part Two by Scott Hales

Book Review: Garden of Enid, Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, part two, by Scott Hales.

About six or seven years ago, the LDS Church did a survey of non-members, asking them their thoughts on the Mormon Church.  The responses included that we were very family oriented, honest, hard-working, and …. weird. Yes, weird.

In a Happy Valley world full of Molly Mormons and Bobby BYUs, traditional families, and a LDS chapel on every street corner,  Scott Hales brings us into a universe of stark contrasts.While many Mormons seek to be less weird in the eyes of the world, Hales creates a character that embraces weird. Her own kind of weird.  Enid is a teenager who has never met her father, lives with a severely depressed and sickly mother, and struggles with the messiness of her new-found religion. Continue reading

Learning from Muslims

Several years ago a group of professors at BYU-Idaho designed an interdisciplinary course called “Global Hotspot: Pakistan at the Crossroad of Conflict.”

Students are asked to learn and analyze issues relating to Pakistan’s history, geography, culture, languages, and religions. But the real purpose of this course is to use Pakistan as a giant case study to help students develop skills and abilities that they can use in understanding people and countries that are quite different.

Those skills include–

  • Recognizing and overcoming stereotypes in their own thinking;
  • Understanding how factors such as history, geography, and religion influence countries and individuals;
  • Identifying and appreciating strengths and weaknesses in other cultures and nations, and
  • Understanding how the nations of the world are connected.

Professor Eaton notes that we all sometimes engage in sloppy analytical thinking by casually accepting stereotypes or the assumptions of others, and we should challenge these notions.

He also thinks that respecting others while holding firm to unique beliefs is a somewhat lost art but a necessary balancing act for members of the Church to engage in. We can respect other believers of God without sacrificing our beliefs.

Join Laura Harris Hales of LDS Perspectives Podcast as she interviews Robert Eaton about understanding Pakistan and our own place in the world.

To access material mentioned in this episode, visit LDS Perspectives Podcast.

Nauvoo Untold Stories – 2017 Highlights


The first weekend in February is when Nauvoo hosts two events.

One is the Saturday recreation of the 1846 exodus, when the Mormons fleeing Illinois traveled down Parley Street to the Mississippi. The annual celebration starts in the Family Living Center (with food), then all march out to the landing in the cold. Nice words are said, then folks return to their parked cars and head home. It’s definitely something worth doing at least once.

In recent years, the Nauvoo Untold Stories Symposium is held Friday and Saturday, with evening presentations on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It’s a great mix of folk history and cherishing the lore of the main religious and ethnic groups that have passed through Nauvoo. This year featured exploration of DNA, the Smith burial grounds, German cookies, Joseph Smith’s plans to escape Carthage, and other good stuff. Continue reading

Trump again says he wants the repeal of the Johnson amendment, which restricts politicking at church

During his campaign, Donald Trump said several times that he is against the Johnson Amendment.  This amendment, approved in 1954, takes away the tax exempt status of churches involved in politics and lobbying.

To be more precise, this story describes the Johnson amendment more fully:

Proposed by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) and passed by Congress in 1954, the law prohibits tax-exempt organizations—including churches and other nonprofits—from lobbying elected officials, campaigning on behalf of a political party, and supporting or opposing candidates for office. Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code bestows tax-exempt status upon nonprofit groups as long as they don’t “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for office.” (The “in opposition to” clause was added in 1986.)

The Johnson Amendment is now applied most scrupulously to churches and faith-based organizations, which are barred from translating their community organizing into political activism of any kind. A Southern Baptist congregation opposed to abortion, for example, is prohibited from explicitly supporting a pro-life Republican running for Congress solely because of the church’s nonprofit status.

Through the Johnson Amendment, the Internal Revenue Service exercises the power to stifle a religious organization’s right to free speech. In effect, an evangelical pastor, Orthodox rabbi, Muslim imam, or Catholic priest who wishes to urge support for a religious freedom bill or oppose Obamacare’s contraception mandate can be muzzled under federal law.

The suppressive nature of the Johnson Amendment can be traced to its origins in the 1950s—a period that the Left usually condemns as “conformist” and hostile to free speech — and Lyndon Baines Johnson, a man criticized for his low political morals. Running for re-election in 1954, then-Sen. Johnson faced a difficult challenge from his Democratic primary opponent, Dudley Dougherty, who received backing from two conservative nonprofit groups in Texas. The nonprofits churned out campaign materials calling for the election of Dougherty — much to the chagrin of Johnson. Shortly thereafter, the Texas senator urged Congress to take up a proposed change to the U.S. tax code that would prohibit outside groups—like those supporting his primary opponent—from political organizing. Aimed at punishing Sen. Johnson’s enemies, the Johnson Amendment now applies to a wide range of nonprofit organizations, including churches.

At the National Prayer Breakfast today, Trump reaffirmed he wants to “totally destroy” the Johnson amendment.  What that really means, I guess, is that he wants Congress to pass a law overturning the Johnson amendment, and he will sign it.

I think there are advantages and disadvantages to the Johnson amendment for churches.

Continue reading