Beyond the Veil

Pat Chiu, who has been a regular commenter here at M*, passed away this past Wednesday, September 2.

We wrote her obituary in June, when she first learned cancer had been the cause of her recent weight loss and discomfort. She insisted we document the fact that she “never managed a decent loaf of wheat bread.” We listed her profession as “artist,” but she was foremost a mother, with ten children privileged to reach mortality within the umbrella of her covenant with God.

From early June the cancer would often prevent her from eating. But it wasn’t until August 10th that she finally was unable to keep any food down. Like the child of pilgrims and pioneers that she was, she astounded us by continuing day after day thereafter, for the large part clamping her mouth shut whenever we would suggest pain medication.

All her living children traveled to visit her in her final weeks. Immediately after her passing, the daughters in the area gathered to dress her as appropriate for one who had served for decades in the temples of the Lord. We held a wake for family, under a stained glass she had created of the moments before the martyrdom.

If you have beloved parents who remain near, please take a moment and refresh or renew your connection with these who gave you life and who have done so much to form the way you interact with the world.

Pat’s final resting place is at approximately 5th East and 12th North, west of the Veterans Monument and near the Angel Garden. Condolences may be expressed at www.bergmortuary.com. As the obituary states, “In lieu of flowers, please take yourself out to dinner in memory of Pat or donate to your favorite charity.”

How Mormons Building Bridges (et al.) Became a Bridge Distancing Many from their Spiritual Home

Part I. Stirring Up the Saints

Jacob Z. Hess

Note:  At a time when many are turning to their faith for consolation that brighter days are ahead, others unable to do so. This two-part essay series (see Part II here) examines one force I believe has had a corrosive impact on many people’s faith – and yet, has received only sporadic scrutiny. By considering more forthrightly both the history and nature of this force in some depth, I hope people can find ways to extricate themselves from its influence.

If Latter-day Saints were confused to see students protesting at BYU earlier this year, they should be.

After all, these were active members of the Church of Jesus Christ protesting. How does a committed Latter-day Saint arrive at a place of being willing to shout loud demands in Provo or in front of the Church office building? 

If you were following the story, you likely heard one answer from the 8 or 9 articles about the rallies in the Salt Lake Tribune (if you missed their live stream of the protests). 

Here’s another answer.  

Two kinds of listening. When I started writing about the possibility of a more productive conversation between religious conservatives and the gay community several years ago, I was intrigued to discover a Latter-day Saint-specific Facebook community called “Mormons Building Bridges” that seemed to have similar hopes. “Wonderful,” I thought – “a group in my own faith community working to build bridges on this hardest of disagreements … these are definitely my people!”

So, you can imagine my surprise at the tepid response in the MBB community to a series of essays exploring ways to deepen understanding across these disagreements – met largely with a mixture of annoyance, indifference and sometimes outright contempt. 

By comparison, when someone posted something that began, “You’ll never believe what my Bishop just told me…” or “This guy said the stupidest thing in Sunday School today…” the outpouring was overwhelming – with pages upon pages of indignation and eager elaboration.

Continue reading

Smoot v. Heywood: Exploring Utah Slavery

Tuesday a person stood outside the BYU Creamery protesting Abraham Smoot, early financial backer of the Brigham Young Academy (now BYU) and president of the BYA board of trustees.

My sister and some of her sons encountered this micro-protest while buying groceries. One son asked, “Isn’t it inappropriate to protest on private property without permission?” Another wanted to get into a debate with the protester. But my sister felt it better to not let her pre-teen sons question or debate someone who felt so passionately about their concern.

Some historians point out that Abraham O. Smoot apparently was considered the owner of three persons who came to Utah as slaves. Two of these persons were emancipated when the US Congress abolished slavery in 1863. The third, Tom, died a few weeks before Congress made ownership of slaves illegal in US territories. Thus, the protester wanted to argue that Abraham Smoot was a slave owner and presumably that Smoot’s name should be removed from the 1962-era administration building on BYU campus.

But what does it mean that Smoot was considered owner of these enslaved individuals?

Let me relate the tale of another enslaved individual, a Paiute boy named Omer Badigee. When the Utah legislature passed the Act In Relation to Servitude in 1852, local Indian tribes saw an opportunity. More aggressive Indians could attack less prepared Indians and sell captured women and children to the white folks, threatening that if the white folks did not purchase the newly-captured women and children, these captured individuals would be killed.

This is how Omer Badigee became an enslaved person as a young boy. The white emigrant who saved Omer’s life can be lauded for that action, but his subsequent treatment of Omer left much to be desired.

Enter Joseph Leland Heywood, at the time U.S. Marshall for Utah Territory as well as devoted member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When Heywood discovered young Omer clothed in rags and infested with lice and fleas, Heywood relieved the un-named savior of Omer’s care.

Heywood returned to Salt Lake City with Omer. Once home, Heywood charged his young ward, Mary Bell, to clean Omer up and get him properly clothed. Mary shaved off the hair that might harbor critters, washed Omer down with kerosene and soap, burned the rags, and clothed the young boy in proper clothing. When she was done, Omer was so transformed that Mary broke down crying and gathered the young boy in her arms. Ever after, the Heywood family considered Mary to be Omer’s effective mother, though she was only 13 when Omer came into the family.

Omer would die of consumption as a young adult, but before his death he was ordained to the Melchizedek priesthood. Family history records show that he was sealed to Joseph Leland Heywood and Mary Bell. I think it could have been the relationship between Mary Bell and Omer that prompted Heywood’s other wives to demand he wed Mary.

But getting back to Smoot, what does it means that Tom’s ownership was attributed to Smoot?

According to an article about the Smoot controversy written by Peggy Fletcher Stack for the Salt Lake Tribune in 2019, Tom had come to Utah in 1847 as the slave of Haden Wells Church, who was part of Abraham Smoot’s company. Later, Church would be a member of the congregation of which Abraham Smoot was bishop.

According to Michael Quinn, 1 there were times when slave owners would donate their slaves to Church leaders as part of their assessed tithes. When slaves were given to Brigham Young, he would always free these individuals.

We have reviewed the history of Omer Badigee, an enslaved person whose “ownership” was taken over by Joseph Leland Heywood, who proceeded to treat Omer not merely as a free individual, but as a covenant son.

The records are relatively sparse for Tom, who at some point was transferred from being the slave of Haden Church to being in the care of Church’s bishop, Abraham Smoot.

Some have presumed that this makes Smoot a straight-up slave owner. They have not considered the milieu in which this transfer took place. Specifically, nowhere has it been admitted that Haden Church may have transferred Tom to his bishop as tithing, though this is a practice we know to have occurred with Brigham Young.

What we do know is that Tom was baptized, an ordinance that at the time would only be administered if the person who “owned” an enslaved person concurred with performance of the ordinance. 2 Because of the lack of documentation, it is not clear when Church transferred his ownership of Tom to his bishop, though the record of Tom’s baptism identifies Tom as “Brother Churches black man”. Thus the transfer appears to have occurred after baptism, though it is possible the transfer happened around the time of the baptism.

I assert it is possible that Abraham Smoot, who had served missions in states where slave ownership was legal, was likely bishop to multiple families who had brought slaves to Utah. Further, I assert it is possible that Abraham Smoot didn’t purchase these individuals from his congregants, but that these enslaved individuals were tithed to Bishop Smoot.

Why would Smoot retain these individuals as slaves if they had been tithed? Heywood and Young emancipated enslaved persons given to them.

It may matter that Utah Territory, by the time of Tom’s death, had been occupied for an extended time by a plurality of the US Armed Forces, many members of which Initially were from Southern States. It may just be possible that, in this circumstance, it was safer for a Black individual to be considered property of a master who would defend the Black individual rather than to risk whatever treatment Southern-sympathizing Army soldiers might inflict on a free Black individual.

At any rate, I suggest that the data are insufficient to characterize Abraham Smoot as a traditional slave owner. I submit that Smoot was likely a Bishop in receipt of tithed enslaved persons who, for reasons currently unknown, did not make a show of emancipating these individuals before Congress freed them by legal fiat. At best, I submit Smoot had reasons for characterizing these individuals as under his banner, reasons that are lost to us but with which we might be sympathetic if we fully understood the historical milieu.

Now, I would be completely fine with renaming the 1962-era X-shaped administration building after some other individual, perhaps a prominent individual (ahem, Snow, Cannon, or Wells) who lacked a Y chromosome. There are many able female administrators associated in some sense with Brigham Young Academy that do not yet have a namesake building at the institution that arose from BYA.

But let us not presume that consequences arising from the US Congress establishing Utah Territory as a slave territory (as part of the Compromise of 1850) transforms Utah individuals into slave owners on par with those who built their institutions on the backs of enslaved individuals or who violently rebelled against the Union to perpetuate a supposed right to enslave individuals.

Notes:

  1. Keynote presentation by Michael Quinn at the DC Sunstone Symposium in 1995, where I was in attendance.
  2. For better or worse, this practice of refusing to baptize individuals culturally or legally considered dependents of a head of household who objects continues in some forms even today.

The meaning of the gay dating fiasco at BYU

BYU students and others protesting at church headquarters on March 6, 2020.

In February, news media reported that BYU had dropped its blanket prohibition on homosexual behavior and would no longer discipline students for same-sex dating, hand-holding or kissing. USA Today ran the headline “BYU removes ‘homosexual behavior’ ban from honor code, reflecting Mormon church stance”, suggesting that the church’s doctrine had itself softened.

Two weeks later, the change in BYU policy would be reversed, and it would become clear that the church never had any intention of allowing gay dating at its schools. But the narrative had already taken on a life of its own. It culminated, on March 6, in an unprecedented protest at church headquarters by a group of dissenting BYU students and supporters.

The skirmish over gay dating crystallized tensions that had been building up at BYU and other church institutions for years. A faction of dissenting progressives, hostile to church teachings on sex and marriage and heterodox on core doctrine, has quietly formed within the North American church over the last few decades. Unable to acquire formal, ecclesiastical authority in the church, this faction has operated by gaining influence in non-ecclesiastical church institutions and shaping conversations about the church in online spaces and news media.

It is worth examining the events of the gay dating fiasco at BYU, which make for an illustration of these tactics and give insight into inevitable future conflicts.

Continue reading

Joy amidst the storm

When my youngest daughter shared that she would likely get married this summer, we were thrilled.

Then things started shutting down all over the place. This included temples.

Even once temples started opening for marriages of previously-endowed couples, the temple near us remained closed.

Then there was the question of how to hold a celebration. Some involved felt current restrictions were unwarranted. Others were very concerned.

How could we accommodate all?

In the end I feel we struck a good balance between caution and the desire to celebrate with those we love.

Along the way, we have been surrounded by miracles.

One particular miracle was that my daughter’s choice for sealer was able to perform her marriage. Brother Evans has known me since I was a pre-teen. He has been our bishop, our home teacher, and voiced my daughters’ patriarchal blessings. But with COVID restrictions, he was only able to perform the ceremony in the Philadelphia temple because he had received personalized written permission from President Nelson to officiate in Philadelphia, a need created because the good people of Washington DC thronged to Philadelphia when the DC temple was closed for extensive renovations.

As we entered the temple for the sealing, it was as if everything was being done solely for this one couple. In fact, that day Annie and Tim were the only couple sealed in Philadelphia, so in fact all the people who greeted us and helped us and cleaned up were there solely for that one couple.

The days threatened rain. But for those key events that would have been ruined by rain, we experienced clear skies.

And with the risk some feared of exposure to the virus, there would have been concern about being unmasked in proximity to others. But we were blessed with a stiff wind that minimized the risk of anyone acquiring an infectious load of the virus.

In this time of so much doom and gloom, may our joy prove a bright spot. And may our miracles help someone seeking answers find ways to have their own joyful day in a manner that blesses all.