Jan Shipps – Mormonism in 21st Century conference

We’re live blogging!  Jan Shipps, historian of all things Mormon is the first speaker. Her talk is “The Surprising History of Mormonism’s Golden Question”.

What do you know about the Mormons? Would you like to know more? (audience chuckles).

These two brief questions have been used tens of thousands of times in 20th century. Standard tactic to start a conversation to help others join the LDS church between the end of WWII and 2000.

Standard questions uniformity of missionary program. The members and ex-members anxious to share their view of Mormonism. Ex Mormons want to share the faith they’ve lost. My husband was once met by missionaries. They asked the golden question. I suspect he said, “much too much.” He told them they would probably baptize him after he’s dead, so don’t worry about it.

It is now a question not only of Mormons asking the questions, but of the world needing to know more.

Some have asked her, how can you know so much and not believe? Not only have LDS sought to find converts, but to be legitimized. Ex Mormons sought to warn others about the cult, such as in the movie God Makers. It reminded her of the accusations made by Romans against the Christians. The film probably influenced the Church to emphasize its Christianity in the end of the 20th century.  It did not seem Christian in 19th century, being more Hebraic than Christian at that time.

Mission for Public Affairs is to tell the world about Mormons and protect it from attacks. Few churches after WWII had PR groups. Public Affairs became prominent, showing “those amazing Mormons” who lived healthy lives and “take care of their own.”  Boy Scout virtues and Family Values thru “happiness is FHE”. Claimed Mormons always knew where their children were, but that was not always the case.

In large increase of missionary work, growth and truth was sometimes conflated. PA staff worked hard to tell the Mormon story, worked harder when it moved into the front page. Negative stories about the Church and its members were handled.  Sonia Johnson in 1980s denounced Church for lobbying against ERA.  She gave a scathing speech entitled, “Patriarchal Panic”.  They needed an explanation for excommunicating her, which was impossible as they do not discuss those affairs.

Mark Hoffmann’s Salamander Letter also led to questions about the beginning of the Church. One of the buyers realized it was fraudulent, but was murdered by Hoffmann w/explosives. Arrested and plea bargain kept Church leaders from being placed on witness stand under oath. This Church action was noted by Peggy Fletcher Stack, who reminds her often that the Church works hard to keep the leaders from being placed under oath.

When people have questions that the Church PA won’t answer, they call Jan Shipps. They sought to convince the media they were as open as possible. In New Yorker article charged Church’s hiding the info showed they were hiding things. The Church was hiding its history!

PA sought to have good media experiences, such as dedications at Palmyra and Nauvoo. There were some great moments. 150th anniversary of Church, annual meeting of history association in 1980 in Sacred Grove at Palmyra.  There I stood with BICs and Converts, listening to talks. It was a major Mormon moment, but not for the world outside. We stood in amazement, but not like the LDS who felt “this is where it happened.”

Recreations of pioneer histories. Meaningful for participants. Mormon moments for converts and believers to know more about their own past.  As 20th century ended, this changed.

Olympics began new PA movement, as corruption hit the Utah games. First presidency and Twelve began to debate the issue. No consensus came about, but they said they would support the Olympics if they were put in SLC.  I interviewed Pres Hinckley, and discussed the Church’s relationship with the city and other religions in SLC. I did not plan to discuss the games. I heard Mormons talking excited about it.  I asked if bringing the games to the center of Mormonism would be a plus or not. He said there was controversy. I asked him which side he was on. He smiled and said it didn’t matter. They were coming and they were supporting them.  This was the last time the Church asked, “would you like to know more” to the world, without a negative response.

I can’t imagine the money spent by PA to tell about Mormonism as the games approached. I was on the list for the press, and got a lot of nice things from PA, including a nice leather brief case with information inside. Olympics were a huge success for the LDS.  Pres Hinckley said, don’t try to make converts, just treat them as guests and help them have a good time.  Very smart, especially since the Baptists were walking around the temple saying “Mormonism is a cult!”. People would say, the Baptists were acting like a cult.

When people ask me about the Mormon Moment in the 21st century, I ask which one? There have been 4.  First the Olympics. Soon there was a moment that was not so positive.  That was Mitt Romney’s 2008 campaign. Romney is a born in the covenant. He spoke Mormon. When he told evangelicals he was born again, they thought it was crazy. It forced him to talk about his own faith. If you analyzed the speech, it was one for the members.

Then a negative Mormon Moment with some positive overtures. Proposition 8. The Church looked bad the way they handled it. It turned many against the Church when many realized it was handled by SLC. Very negative reaction among American intellectuals. At the same time, there was the Book of Mormon musical on Broadway.  I went when you could get a ticket for $200, now $450. People next to her thought the statue Moroni was Gabriel and called it clever. Good show, but not worth $450. Worst language I’ve heard in my life, but ti comes from the Africans. The missionaries don’t use bad language. So we have a mixed bag between Prop 8 and musical. PA begins “I am a Mormon” campaign.  An effort to show we are not cookie cutter people.

Fourth Mormon Moment we are now living through. People now want/need to know more about Mormons. Lawrence Wright, who wrote the New Yorker piece, is absolutely wrong. The Church and Community of Christ have entirely opened up their sources to do Mormon history. New books on Brigham Young (Turner) and Bio on Book of Mormon (Goodchar?) were given full access. Now Joseph Smith Papers Projects opens up Mormon history for the world to see. Something we should all celebrate.


Owner of Utah Jazz has financed JSPP attributes to openness. Will Bagley’s book on MMM, blaming Brigham Young, convinced Church leaders to listen to Richard Turley and others needed to tell the story from all records.

Under currents of pop culture (Stephanie Meyers) lead to more moments? Leads people to be more interested in LDS issues.

Opening records – what does it do for regular Mormons? Allows more people to do Mormon history, LDS or not. After my first book, many came to appreciate it, because it treated Mormonism with respect as a true religious movement. This caused willingness to allow me see records.

Next Mormon Moment? It depends on the outcome of the election. It won’t be a Mormon moment, but will be a stream of info on Mormonism. If it turns against Romney, it could be a brou-haha against religion. There may not be anymore Mormon Moments, but just events that have allowed LDS to enter mainstream culture.

There are no hidden, hushed up doctrines are now available on the Internet.

Is the Mormon Moment that’s different than other religion’s moments? Much parallel with the Catholics in the 19th century. Same stories of persecution for both Catholics and Mormons. Parallels are really with early Christianity and Islam.



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About rameumptom

Gerald (Rameumptom) Smith is a student of the gospel. Joining the Church of Jesus Christ when he was 16, he served a mission in Santa Cruz Bolivia (1978=1980). He is married to Ramona, has 3 stepchildren and 7 grandchildren. Retired Air Force (Aim High!). He has been on the Internet since 1986 when only colleges and military were online. Gerald has defended the gospel since the 1980s, and was on the first Latter-Day Saint email lists, including the late Bill Hamblin's Morm-Ant. Gerald has worked with FairMormon, More Good Foundation, LDS.Net and other pro-LDS online groups. He has blogged on the scriptures for over a decade at his site: Joel's Monastery (joelsmonastery.blogspot.com). He has the following degrees: AAS Computer Management, BS Resource Mgmt, MA Teaching/History. Gerald was the leader for the Tuskegee Alabama group, prior to it becoming a branch. He opened the door for missionary work to African Americans in Montgomery Alabama in the 1980s. He's served in two bishoprics, stake clerk, high council, HP group leader and several other callings over the years. While on his mission, he served as a counselor in a branch Relief Society presidency.

5 thoughts on “Jan Shipps – Mormonism in 21st Century conference

  1. Shenpa, I thought it was funny, too. She didn’t think his “history” book was worth the money.

    BTW, see me. I’m in the back row blogging on my net book, next to my beautiful wife.

  2. The conference is ended, and I must add it was a great one! I really enjoyed meeting shenpa warrior, Kristine Haglund, Jana Riess and some others. It was also great to see Jan Shipps and Kathleen Flake again, whom I have not seen since the last IUPUI Mormonism conference several years ago.
    Lots to think about regarding what was discussed. Here in Indy, we have our temple groundbreaking tomorrow, and so our Mormon Moment will be lasting for a few years. We need to be able to share our beliefs and our lives without being secretive or holier than thou.
    I encourage those that attended to review what I wrote, comment, and correct anything I put down wrong.

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