Friday, July 27, 2007

"Members of the Mormon church are not all united on every principle. Every man is entitled to his own opinion and his own views and his own conceptions of right and wrong so long as they do not come in conflict with the standard principles of the Church. If a man assumes to deny God and to become an infidel we withdraw fellowship from him. But so long as a man believes in God and has a little faith in the Church organization, we nurture and aid that person to continue faithfully as a member of the Church though he may not believe all that is revealed."- Joseph F. Smith.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Shakers: Hands to Work, Hearts to God (1984)


Early Ken Burns film chronicles the history of the United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, other wise known as the Shakers, an off-shoot of the Quakers. The Shakers were founded by a former English factor worker named Ann Lee, who I have been lead to believe declared herself the second coming of Christ, thought that issue is never directly dealt with in the documentary. Now extinct, and at the time of the making of this documentary numbering only a dozen, the Shakers were certainly a unique group. Adherents were celibate and lived communally. Like their Quaker cousins they valued simplicity, they also became noted for the quality of there carpentry and produce. They were social progressives, decrying racial prejudice and again like the Quakers, letting women hold high positions of authority in there ecclesiastical body's. What I did not know about Shakers was that they where inventors, creating both the close pin and the circular saw, not to mention the modern broom. I also hold there most famous him, Simple Gifts, to be one of the greatest of American musical compositions. So suffice it so, they interesting enough to spend an hour with.

The Shaker community notably intersects with Mormon history in the story of Leman Copley. Copley was a former Shaker who had converted to Mormonism, but continued to hold to some of the distinctive beliefs of his former religious body. After being corrected by Joseph Smith and other leading brethren, Copley was dispatched with Sidney Ridgon and Parly P. Pratt to deliver a revelation to a local Shaker settlement 'correcting' them on there beliefs. I must admit I kind of marvel at the comic bravado of this action, but I'm sure it was sincere. Smith was also a critic of the Millarites, another movement that can be grouped with the Mormons and Shakers as radical Christian thinkers of the early 19th Century. The revelation delivered to the Shakers by Copley and the others comprises section 49 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Saved! (2004), Left Behind (2000)

(Unknown state, possibly Maryland, possibly California; contemporary)
(Jerusalem, London, Chicago, New York City; ’the near future’)

A miss match of ’religious’ films I’d been putting off seeing provided my entertainment for the night. They also provide a good jumping off point for a not as yet fully developed meditation on Christian beliefs, particularly those of Evangelicals.

Saved! director/writer Brian Dannelly clearly had a not-so-great Christian school experience, and while this may have been bad for him, its good for us as we get to see this unconventional film offering which was inspired there-by. The basic plot of Saved! Concerns Mary (Jena Malone) a young born-again women and the events surrounding her senior year at a Christian High School. Mary has been a Christian since she was about three years old, shortly after the death of her father. Raised by her committed, but not entirely free from earthly desires mother (played by the always welcome Mary-Louise Parker) Mary seems to have the perfect Christian life. She has her best friend the perky yet domineering Hilary Faye (Mandy Moore) and ‘the perfect Christian boyfriend’ Dean (The 4400’s Chad Faust).Towards the end of summer Dean confides to Mary that he thinks he might be gay. Concerned to correct what to her understanding is an obvious defect, and acting on a perceived vision of Jesus (actually the result of being saved from drowning by a bearded pool worker after sustaining a bump on the head), Mary has sex with Dean. And of course, she gets pregnant.

The rest of the feature is a tribute to Christian hypocrisy, as the well-meaning and sincere Mary confronts the disillusioning hypocrisies of her fellow Christians, which while apparently also sincere and well-meaning (at least to a degree), are also mean. Obviously this central observation does not hold universal and is a trifle simplistic (there are some mean atheists out there as well), but Dannelly is trying to make a point with some humor and I’d say he largely succeeds. If fault can be found in the ideological focus of Dannelly’s dramatics, where all the character’s problems can be traced back to some aspect of Christian life and belief (though admittedly less so with the Cassandra character), room for praise can be found in a generally sympathetic treatment of all involved. Even the arch-hypocrite Hillary Fay, finds a kind of redemption in the end, in which we come to understand her unrealistic strivings for perfection in her self and others, come from misunderstood belief, and having once been a fat and (presumably ostracized) child. Speaking of Mandy Moore I do have to say that I find it rather neat that the actress/singer stared in both this critical spoof of Evangelical youth, and one of the favorite films of that same demographic, the syrupy but oddly effecting A Walk to Remember (Ask me and I’ll tell you how that movie is a sort of sex fantasy for libido repressed Christian teen).

There are sub-plots aplenty in Saved! The most interesting of which is probably the romance between Hillary Fay’s partly paralyzed brother Roland (Macauly Culkin) and the schools one Jew, and constant target of attempted conversions, Cassandra (Eva Amurri). Present throughout all storylines remains the damage done by Christianity in peoples lives. This critique, present through the whole film, is eventually preached directly at the audience during a confront between the very pregnant Mary (and an assortment of allies, including both her gay, and her straight boyfriends) and the schools principle (who incidentally is cheating on his wife with Mary’s mother). Here we learn that standards imposed by others are often difficult if not entirely unattainable for those on whom they are afflicted, and that we should all let everyone be who they are and not impose own interpretation of a collection of ancient texts upon them. One can still be a Christian we are informed, but it should only be in watered-down, vague, God loves everybody, get along kind of way (also a kind of forced interpretation of text).

This interpretation of the proper mode of Christianity holds considerably less water (pardon the pun) in the world of Left Behind. Don’t believe me, well just ask that poor pastor in the film, who was left behind because while he believed in the Christ’s truth, he didn’t know Christ’s truth, or was it the other way around? Anyway suffice it to say it really is a narrow road to salvation in the minds of author’s Jenkins and LaHaye, whose series of intrigue laden novels based on a particular evangelical interpretation of the Book of Revelation, have sold millions, and represent the beliefs of still millions more. In one scene a TV screen displays a number of estimated ’missing’ and its less then 200 million. Now while it is made plainly clear to us that the American children are lifted up to meet Jesus in the sky, along with what seemingly few adults who have managed to get themselves saved, the number given seems far from adequate to represent the worlds youth, I suppose many a Muslim child was just unlucky. Let’s hope that either they or I have got our numbers wrong on this one, or else this is a particularly disgusting belief.

Left Behind was made in a month for around 17 million dollars. Now it shows this a little in its look, but not overpoweringly so. The script is cliché ridden, from the media informant shoot before he can get important information to our hero reporter (notably born-again actor Kirk Cameron), to Brad Johnson and Chelsea Noble rehashing the Dean Martin/ Jean Seberg plot from Airport while on an international flight,… also Kirk‘s mentor is killed by a car bomb. However there is some genuine excitement to be had (not much but some), mostly in the form of the palpable tension in the days immediately following the rapture, and Gordon Currie’s Nicolae Carpathia showing he could prove to be a fun villain. In fact Currie’s performance really is the most fun to watch in the film, if a trifle hammy in conception.

The thing that really gets me about the movie though is the near total Biblical illiteracy of those left behind. Should such an event as the rapture here portrayed occur, and say I was left behind (my Mormonism and doubting proclivities having presumably bard me from the Evangelical Heaven), it would take me all of sixty-seconds to figure out what had happened and issue a pretty desperate prayer to Jesus. But then according to this movie I should have known better, and so should have the Jews, homosexuals and skeptics of Dannelly’s Saved!

I’m not completely immune to an understanding and even appreciation of certain aspects of an Evangelical world-view and theology, but I’m also quite libertarian in (and maybe only in) my approach to the exercise of free will. I believe God gave us free will, he also gave us a complicated world, and the deity of the New Testament (I’m gonna leave the Old Testament out of this) doesn’t strike my as a kind of sadist who really delights in torture. I include both the social torture that we can inflict on each other, as demonstrated by Dannelly, and also the apocalypticism on which all to many of the religiously minded seem to get off.Listen I’m a Mormon, and I try to be a believing one, but certain characterizations of God, common in all sorts of religions, strike me as unbecoming a supreme being. From all that I’ve been able to observe and try to understand, I’m pretty sure that homosexuality, at least in most cases, is not a choice of the individual so identifying. In fact it’s a ticket to a harder life then they might otherwise have, so in this I give sympathy. Should such matters need to be sorted out in the eternity’s, I’m sure they will be, but for us now in mortality, its incumbent upon we who identify as Christians (as well as all people) to be decent to our fellow human beings. Please go and preach, and exhort unto repentance if you feel so inclined, it may well be that I’ve become to lax in this, but don’t try and force others to behave to a certain code. Who was it who said that morality by force ceases to be morality at all? Well I believe him.

As for the ’end times’ or more broadly the role God plays on the inflection with which we are bereft in this life, I tend to favor the reading of Rabbi Harold Kushner: ‘God dose not send these things upon us, only helps us through them.’ I could be wrong about all these things, and very likely my religious outlook will continue to grow and develop over time. But the constant that I try to hold onto in faith is that of simple decency. A mankind who learns an oft overlooked lesson from the story of the Virgin Mary and doesn’t try to stigmatize the pregnant teen, and a God who doesn’t need a big light show of destruction to satisfy ego and welcome in a pre-ordained triumph through human suffering, but rather one who will tend us through all our storms, even if agency means some of use go through hell to make it to the other side. These are my convictions, admittedly expressed through the light haze of writing at 12:30 in the morning, but there they are non-the-less. In both Saved! And Left Behind we see examples of the best and worse of Christian thought and behavior, and lets hope that both can serve as modern texts containing something worth learning from. But don’t my word for it, you can study them yourself.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A Diffuse Mormon Scattering: The Restored Church of Christ

Speaking of unusual strings of Mormon thought, I recently became acquainted, via the wide weird world of MySpace, with a kind of decentralized restorationist school of Christianity, that accepts the Book of Mormon and the early work of Joseph Smith, but little else in conventional mainstream Mormonism. There are certain ways in which it also reminds me of any number of relatively small scale, semi-exclusivests protestant movements such as the Apostolics. Here is a website for one of these bodies, the Restored Church of Christ, located in Oregon.

Reform Mormonism

I have long been fascinated (and attracted) to the universalist strain in Mormon though, one which receives remarkably little attention in mainstream LDS circles. Well it now so happens that a movement has sprung up, at least partly within the LDS Church, that takes that to an extend seldom seen, even within the Community of Christ. Check out their website.
“I do not despise criticism, and I shall be most careful not to think badly of critics or treat them will disrespect. On the contrary, I shall love it. I shall study new systems of thought, their continual evolution, and their trends; criticism for me is light, is truth, and there is only one truth [ i.e., the supreme truth of Christ cannot ultimately be in conflict with other truths].

"But I shall always try to introduce into these discussions, in which too often ill-considered enthusiasms and deceptive appearances have a part to play, a great moderation, harmony, balance, and serenity of judgment, allied to a prudent and cautious broad-mindedness.” --- Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII)

New York: Cradel of the Restoration

A recent article on the Saints in the Rochester area in The Church News, combined with my new Jehovah’s Witness internet friend in that area, has inspired me to write a little about upstate New York as a cradle of the restoration. Now in a cursorily sense when most Americans think about a real religious area in their country, they probably think about the south, but upstate New York can be said to have an even more interesting and varied religious history. At a time when it was part of the American frontier, settled largely by the more ruggedly inclined of the New England population, upstate New York was the center place for the Second Great Awaking. A wave of religious revival hit the area in a cross denominational way. Methodists and Baptists were probably the leading contenders in the contest for souls in the area, but other faiths competed as well, and new ones were born.

In fact upstate New York isn’t just a ‘cradle of the restoration’ it was a cradle of restorations. The various Campbellite restorationists churches, originally self-described ‘Reformed Baptist’s’ that blossomed and divided into the current Church of Christ, Christian Church, and Disciples of Christ denominations got much of there start here. As did the Millerite movement, which eventually produced the Seventh-Day Adventists, who in turn had an influence on the early Jehovah’s Witness, which started out in nearby Pennsylvania. All of these faiths maintained a presence in the area, except for the Mormons who do to persecutions and a natural gathering instinct left the area in the early 1830’s (A small Mormon presence was found in the New York City area starting in earnest around the late 1830’s, but it was mostly a hub for some publishing and coordinating immigration to the west. ).

The Utah War, the Civil War, and later anti-Mormon political sentiment found little Church activity in the whole of New York state from the late 1850’s until the 1880’s, and even then it would remain quite limited in the area for decades to come. In the early 20th Century Church President Joseph F. Smith, the nephew of the late Church founder Joseph Smith Jr., instituted a policy of buying up old Church historical sites. In 1907 the Church purchased the old Joseph Smith Sr. farm sted and some surrounding property, and in 1915 sent former Boxer Willard Bean (1868-1949) and his much younger wife Rebecca (1891-1976) to go and maintain the area and serve as a nucleus for the Church there.

In 1928 the Church purchased the historic Hill Cumorah (where the golden plates from which the Book of Mormon was translated were said to have been buried) and held a pageant there. It was the forerunner of the annual, volunteer produced Hill Cumorah Pageant: Americas Witness for Christ, which started in earnest in 1937 and today attracts thousands of visitors a year. A monument to the angel Moroni was constructed on the site in the 1930’s, and numerous commemorations have been held there over the years. The Church also purchased other historic cites in the area, including the Grandin Building in Palmyra (where the first copy’s of the Book of Mormon were printed) and the site of the Peter Whitmer farmhouse (later reconstructed) in Fayette where the Church was originally organized.

The first Stake (kind of like a Catholic disoces only generally smaller) was organized in the state in 1934, today (2002) there are 14 stakes in the state of New York, including two centered in Rochester, and roughly 65,000 members state wide. During the Hinckley years (1995-present) the Church started to construct Temples at historic sites from Church history such as the pioneer encampment at Winter Quarters (near Omaha) and the reconstructed Nauvoo Temple in Illinois. The first of this series of Temples was built in Palmyra New York, near Joseph Smiths boyhood home. It’s dedication ceremony was given a rare closed circuit broadcast to select meeting houses across the U.S. and Canada. A Temple in Manhattan was dedicated in 2004.

The Work and the Glory III: A House Divided (2006)

(Ohio, Georgia, Missouri; 1836-1837 or 38)

The last of the Work and the Glory films for which Utah businessman Larry H. Miller has guaranteed financing. While the series of books goes on for a good number more volumes, ending the (at least initial) run of the film series at this point works well, as a sort of trilogy is completed in the form of the arc of Steed family disunion and reconciliation. While the film series starts out focusing on the dueling brothers Nathan and Joshua, it gradually shifts its emphasis to the feud between Joshua and his father Benjamin, the latter by the way final joins the Church in this picture. I mentioned in my last review how Ben had been the surrogate for non-Mormon viewers, now he takes on a new role, that of the long time investigator turned convert, and from my experience, those are some of the most committed Mormons you’ll find, because the change did not come easy for the them, they don’t embrace things lightly.

Joshua’s storyline receives the most time in this picture, because he most undergo an even bigger change then his father. Prominently involved in the persecutions that drove the Mormons out of Jackson county, Joshua had a sort of a breakdown at the end of the last film, after letting his friends severely whip his brother Nathan. In his despair Joshua set his own house on fire and then proceeded into the yard to have a good cry. Well two years later Joshua has again rebuilt his financial holdings from scratch (this is the second or third time), and again found himself a love interest, this time a southern bell, who is again fated to be attracted to the Mormons. This would be totally ridicules if it didn’t result in some sort or resolution of Joshua’s troubles with his family, and with the Mormons more generally, which it fortunately does. Joshua is simply not willing to lose a third time in love, and his character has certainly grown from the abusive gambler and indiscriminate Mormon hater he once was.

The kind of character change that Joshua goes through was necessary for his redemption, and vital if he was to remain at all sympathetic. You see one way in which I would fault the film (which I did like, and which works as mythology) is in its depiction of Mormon/genital conflicts as so thoroughly one sided. It seems the Mormons can do no wrong, unless of course they are turning on themselves, which the Ohio settlers do as a result of the folding of the ill advised Kirtland Safety Society Bank, and the aftermath of recrimination which that generates. In Missouri its all Mormon against genital, with the Latter-day Saints segregated to two counties chartered just for them, a constitutionally questionable arrangement that is bound to end badly when rising politician Lillburn W. Boggs sets his sites on the movement, and others its land (as governor Boggs would later issue his famous 'extermination order' against the Mormons, the only such order ever issued against a predominantly white group of American citizens, and one not officially rescinded until the 1970’s).

Tempered by his experiences during the states first ‘Mormon War’, Joshua is initially reluctant to get involved with the rising tide against the LDS settlers. He wants nothing to do with them, and since they are congregating solely in counties to the north of him, it seems a tenable arrangement. Yet economic and political interests in the state opposed to the Mormons, feel that Joshua would be a helpful figure to add to there cause, given the creditably he has on the issue with other west Missouri locals. Unable to get him to turn attention away from his business and new wife and daughter through persuasion, they stage an attempted assassination of the man, and list his name in a forged document they circulate, alleged to be a ’Mormon hit list’, people whose families the Mormons have “sworn on the name of Joe Smith” to get revenge on for what happened in Independence. That this is a blatant forgery, completely unrepresentative of the intentions of the Latter-day Saints, and dark and conspiratorial on the order of ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, is but one way in which the filmmakers draw parallels to anti-Semitism. The most obvious scene in which they do this comes at the beginning of the film in Ohio, Joseph and others are gathered at his famed Hebrew class, for which he was able to draw away a respected Jewish scholar on the subject from nearby Oberlin college. Sitting in Joseph’s residence late at night, discussing the Torah, something flaming is thrown through the window to disrupt the meeting. The startled middle aged Jew asks “Do they do this because I am here?” After a pause Joseph replies, “No they do it because I am here”. The Jew responds with a look of confusion, as to how this polite young man could possibly engender a hate greater or equal to that which he has no doubt experienced his entire life.

While certain parallels to anti-Semitism certainly do apply in light of the persecutions inflicted upon 19th Century Mormons, the divide between them and there neighbors was certainly more complicated and less one sided. There were differing economic interests, the Mormons tended to buy together, and politically they voted together. They were also largely Yankees and had abolitionist tendencies. The non- Mormons had some cause to feel threatened, the Saints tending to swarm an area, buy up almost everything and attempt exert unified political control. Yet the Mormons tended to acerbate the problems by being self righteous about it, and not always economically fair to there neighbors, a problem even Joseph recognized. While the smoky clouds of history and partisanship make it nigh impossible to know who really started what in Ohio, and especially in Missouri, it should be remembered that both sides contributed to the fall out, something I didn’t feel received adequate stressing in the course of this film. While some ’old time’ Missouri settlers did unforgivably massacre Mormon settlements, lets not forget that the Mormon vigilante group the Danites did exist, and did seek some violent revenge of its own, though curiously they are absent from this picture.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The Work and the Glory: American Zion (2005)

(New York, Ohio, Missouri; 1830-1834)

Second of the flimzations of Gerld R. Lunds popular series of historical fiction novels about the much put upon Steed family. This is a stronger movie then the first one, which I found rather maudlin. The continuing trials of a 19th Century American family divided by religion has residence, not just because a similar dynamic is repeated in LDS circles world wide, but because the drama of brother-against-brother touches upon a vain that is particularly poignant in light of the historical setting. The Mormon/gentile divide, which often ran straight and vehemently down a family line, can be considered a kind of precursor to the American Civil War, in much the same way that the Spanish Civil War of the 1930's prefigured on a smaller scale the events of World War Two.

The primary drama would seem to be just that, the twin stories of brothers Nathan Steed (Alexander Carroll), a Mormon, and Joshua Steed (Eric Johnson), decidedly not. This was also a primary story dynamic in the first film, and while I think it bears better in the sequel, largely in part to greater nuance in the portal of both characters, it is not the most interesting story element. No the most interesting story element has to do with the two men's father Benjamin Steed (Sam Hennings). Benjamin is not a Mormon, yet he is consistently and unwillingly dragged along within the movements orbit, and perhaps more particularly the orbit of Joseph Smith (Jonathan Scarfe), whose storyline receives fuller treatment in this film. When Benjamin's family starts showing interest in Smith and his budding movement, he is at first adamantly against there having any involvement with it. Yet, as can often happen in matter of religion, things get beyond the control of the head of the household, and in short time only Ben and his estranged son Joshua are left without the Church fold. When his family desires to follow Smith and the majority of the Saints to Ohio, Ben holds out as best he can, but in time finds himself again being lead, reluctantly to the center of the LDS movement so as to be with his family.

Benjamen is the proxy for most of the movies non-Mormon viewers. Most likely any non Mormon who would view these films has something of an interest in the Church (or religion or American history more broadly), but he probably knows someone whose in it, probably even like and respect that person, but in all probability has a hard time understanding his (her) bizarre religious tastes. Now this movie can't fully explain those tastes, relatively little relating to matters of doctrine are discussed in it (or the others for that matter). However a gradual thawing is brought across nicely, Benjamin doesn't believe in the Church (though his character is ultimately fated to join it in a later installment) but he's coming to understand it, by virtue of his proximity to its members, their actions, and story's (Brigham Young's mentioning of his prolonged struggle with the Church prior to joining, seems to hit a cored with the man). Perhaps Mormonism can not really be explained to the satisfaction of a non-believer, but that hard to define something that draws people to it can come across when appropriately handled, as I believe it is in this film, far more so then in its somewhat heavy handed predecessor.

Nits: The chronology seemed a little off at places, and there was a fair bit of event compressing, but at least it resulted in a tightness absent from the first chapter. Also on Scarfe's portal of Smith, I'll say right up that no portal is likely to satisfy me, I think the man was an enigma, and the Smith here felt a little to clean. I'd be happy to claim this serene Smith as my own, and I'm sure he had his moments of supreme calm like shown in the movie, but he was a decidedly more complicated figure then portrayed. Never-the-less an idolized version of Joseph Smith does have its place in terms of capturing, not so much how he was, but how he seemed to his followers and how they felt about him. His brief outburst of frustration in light of threat's from the Missouri mob, is the most predominate of two-or-three moments in the film, where the fuller Smith is hinted at.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Recently the United States Senate had a first. For the first time in the 230 + year history of that body a Hindu Priest was invited to give the opening invocation. What should have been a pleasant little demonstration of American religious diversity however quickly became one of religious bigotry. As the Hindu started his prayer he was interrupted, possibly by members of the Senate, however they were off camera and never identified. The interrupters felt obliged to shout for Jesus forgiveness for the blasphemy of having a ''pagan" priest pray in the chamber of that 'Christian' body. Listen, if its really that much of a problem for you to pray along with a Hindu, then leave the room, or just stand there and repeat in your minds "I'm not praying with this guy, I'm not praying with this guy." But don't be an jerk, at least until you're actually in season, when that's a large part of your job. View the incident by clicking here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Story of the Conventionesta's

In the early 1930’s a leader in the LDS Church in Mexico, Margarito Bautista, wrote a book in which he proffered a revolutionary interpretation of Mormon scripture. Bautista said the Latino peoples, particularly the Mexicans, were the new chosen people, on account of ancestry derived from the ancient Lamenites. Christ’s Church had been restored by Joseph Smith and popularized by the Angelo Mormons, but in time was meant to have its leadership passed on to Hispanics members, who would spread the gospel as well as create a massive political empire based out of Mexico.

Bautista’s book circulated among the Mexican membership and gained in popularity. Bautista hoped to use the work as leverage with the Salt Lake based Church, and get it to appoint more Mexican members to positions of authority, starting with the local mission president who had always been an outside appointment from Church headquarters. Bautista even wanted the Church to publish and distribute his book among the general membership and perhaps even use it in proselytizing.

Well obviously the Church did not take well to Bautista’s recommendations and they where rejected. Bautista held a convention of Mexican members that ratified epistles to the Church leadership requesting there recognition of the legitimacy of Bautista’s book, and acquiesce to his demands. This request was also rejected, as where those submitted by a second and third convention. It was after the third convention that roughly a third of the Churchs roughly 1,800 Mexican Latino members broke off and formed there own Church.

Ironically shortly after the new Churches establishment Bautista was thrown out of the body over doctrinal issues. It seems Bautista was fascinated with the eccentricities of 19th century Mormonism and wanted to reinstate polygamy and practice communal (United Order) economics. Bautista was succeed in the leadership by his nephew Abel Paez, who established an organization based more closely along the lines of the then contemporary mainline Church. They sent out missionaries, published a magazine, and even built meeting houses.

It was not until the early 40’s when a Arwell Pierce, a white man who had lived most of his life in Mexican Mormon colonies (settlements established by 19th century Mormons so as to practice polygamy unherased by American authorities, but continued even after the abandonment of that practice (Mitt Romney’s ancestry came from one of these)). Pierce opened up a dialogue with the conventionestas and played good cop encouraging the disaffected former Latter-day Saints that their demands for local leadership would be met in time through the strengthening of their Stakes. His councilor Harold Brown then played bad cop, by stressing the preeminence of the Prophet in matters of leadership, and the importance of loyalty to Salt Lake. A reconciliation between the parties was formalized, and in 1946 LDS Church president George Albert Smith traveled to Mexico to preside over a ceremony readmitting 1,200 fmr. Convenatinsts into the mainline LDS Church.

This basic story is outlined on pages 137-139 of Robert Gottlieb & Peter Wiley’s 1984 book America’s Saints: The Rise of Mormon Power. It’s also one, your simply not going to hear often.

Q & A # 2

Q: How do Mormons justify the “changes” in their religion?

A: First off Smith wasn’t perfect, and made no ascertains that he was. Things change in religions, even major practices are abandoned and doctrine modified. Look at the history of Catholicism. Look at the once socially progressive Baptist Churches, now bastions of conservatism. Look at the Episcopal ordination of Gay clergy. Look at Churches breaking apart, and others coming together. The open salvation of many Quakers, becoming more like the limited salvation of many evangelicals. The mainline Churches inching, in some cases towards Universalism (the anti-polygamy Community of Christ Church included).

The fact is changes happen. In an LDS context that is built into the system, the point of modern revelatory guidance, is that new circumstances can require new instruction. This not different from changes found in the Bible. Christ brought forth massive changes in ritual practice for the Jews that chose to follow him, yet he did not denounce these rituals within the context in which they were originally introduced and intended to be practiced. In the old Testament you have organizational changes like when Moses introduces the Judges, and even doctrinal changes when he introduces the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses (what law where the Israelites living before this?). In the New Testament take the opening up of the Gospel to the gentiles, and the revocation of previous restrictions against the consumption of ‘unclean’ meat. Changes, ironically, are not inconsistent in a religious context. The real question is whether one believes them to be divinely sanctioned or not, and that boils down to faith.

What the Lutherans Don't Tell You

(This is all meant in good fun, to prove a point about some Anti-Mormon tactics.)

Martian Luther was an anti-Semite (all citations from the Wiki entry on Martian Luther, unless otherwise cited):

"In an early work, That Jesus Christ was born a Jew, Luther advocated kindness toward the Jews, but only with the aim of converting them to Christianity: what was called Judenmission.[69] When his efforts at conversion failed, he became increasingly bitter toward them.[70] His main works on the Jews were his 60,000-word treatise Von die Juden und Ihren Lügen (On the Jews and Their Lies), and Vom Schem Hamphoras und das Geschlecht Christi (On the Holy Name and the Lineage of Christ) — reprinted five times within his lifetime — both written in 1543, three years before his death.[71] He argued that the Jews were no longer the chosen people, but were "the devil's people." They were "base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and their boast of lineage, circumcision, and law must be accounted as filth."[72] The synagogue was a "defiled bride, yes, an incorrigible whore and an evil slut ..."[73] and Jews were full of the "devil's feces ... which they wallow in like swine."[74] He advocated setting synagogues on fire, destroying Jewish prayerbooks, forbidding rabbis from preaching, seizing Jews' property and money, smashing up their homes, and ensuring that these "poisonous envenomed worms" be forced into labor or expelled "for all time."[75] He also seemed to sanction their murder,[76] writing "We are at fault in not slaying them."[77]

Luther taught that Polygamy was acceptable:

"In 1539, Luther became involved in controversy surrounding the bigamy of Philip I, Landgrave of Hesse, who wanted to marry one of his wife's ladies-in-waiting. Luther ruled that polygamy was acceptable, noting that the patriarchs of the Old Testament had had more than one wife, and so Philip entered into the second marriage in secret. Philip's sister made news of the marriage public a few weeks later, scandalizing Germany.[2]"

Luther was eager to punish ‘Witchcraft’ by the severest of means:

"Luther shared some of the superstitions about witchcraft that were common in his time.[96] He believed that it was inimical to Christianity. In his Small Catechism, he taught that it was a sin against the second commandment,[97] and that, with the help of the devil, witches were able to steal milk simply by thinking of a cow.[98] He is reported to have said in a "table talk" that he would burn them himself:

"'On 25 August 1538 there was much discussion about witches and sorceresses who steal chicken eggs out of nests, or steal milk and butter. Doctor Martin said: "One should show no mercy to these [women]; I would burn them myself, for we read in the Law that the priests were the ones to begin the stoning of criminals."[99]"

Luther fomented civil unrest against existing authorities, then turned his back on his followers:

"Despite his victory in Wittenberg, Luther was unable to stifle radicalism further afield. Preachers such as Zwickau prophet Nicholas Storch and Thomas Müntzer — whose rallying cry was "let not your sword grow cold from blood" — helped instigate the Peasants' War in 1524, during which many atrocities were committed, often in Luther's name. This war was being pursued by the peasantry in order to establish a classless society with shared goods. In 1525, Müntzer eventually succeeded in establishing a short-lived communist theocracy.

There had been revolts by the peasantry on a smaller scale since the 14th century; many of them now believed that Luther's attack on the Church and the hierarchy meant that the reformers would support an attack on the upper classes in general, because of the close ties between the secular princes and the princes of the Church. Revolts broke out in Swabia, Franconia, and Thuringia in 1524, gaining support from disaffected nobles too, many of whom were in debt. Gaining momentum and a new leader in Thomas Müntzer, the revolts turned into war.

"Luther sympathized with the peasants' grievances, as he showed in his response to the Twelve Articles in May 1525, but he reminded them to obey the temporal authorities and became enraged at the widespread burning of convents, monasteries, bishops’ palaces, and libraries. In Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants (1525), he condemned the violence as the devil's work, called for the nobility to put down the rebels like mad dogs, and explained the Gospel's view on the sharing of wealth:

"Whosoever can, should smite, strangle, and stab, secretly or publicly, and should remember that there is nothing more poisonous, pernicious, and devilish than a rebellious man... the Gospel does not make goods common, except in the case of those who do of their own free will what the apostles and disciples did in Acts IV. They did not demand, as do our insane peasants in their raging, that the goods of others - of a Pilate and a Herod - should be common, but only their own goods. Our peasants, however, would have other men's goods common, and keep their own goods for themselves. Fine Christians these! I think there is not a devil left in hell; they have all gone into the peasants. " [57]

"In "Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants" Luther opposed the peasant movement for three reasons. First, instead of conducting themselves appropriately by lawfully submitting to the secular government, the peasants chose to resort to violence, therefore failing to heed Christ's counsel to "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's." Second, due to the peasant's violent actions of rebelling, robbing, and plundering, Luther explained that they were "outside the law of God and Empire," therefore meriting "death in body and soul, if only as highwaymen and murderers." Lastly, Luther presented how the peasants "cloak this terrible and horrible sin with the Gospel" and call themselves "Christian brethren," sins which Luther considered utter blasphemy.

"Without Luther's backing for the uprising, many rebels laid down their weapons; others felt betrayed. Their defeat by the Swabian League at the Battle of Frankenhausen on May 25, 1525, followed by Munzer’s execution, brought the revolutionary stage of the Reformation to a close. Thereafter, radicalism found a refuge in the anabaptist movement, while Luther's Reformation flourished under the wing of the secular powers."

Finally Luther questions the legitimacy of canonical books of scripture, just because they disagreed with his preferred theology:

"Luther was also frustrated by the works-emphasis of the book of James, calling it “the Epistle of Straw, and questioning its canonicity." (

Martian Luther, dangerous cult leader. Lutheranism, unchristian hearsay.

(This post brought to you by the Association for Unsympathetic Logic in Inter-Religious Discourse).

P.S. In all fairness, a Lutheran actually told me most of this stuff.

Q & A # 1

Q: Some claim that Joseph Smith never practiced polygamy, and that the practice was retroactively attributed to him by later Church leaders is that so? Also, how did polygamy go from a mainstream Mormon practice, to one disallowed within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints?

A: The general consensus is that Joseph did teach polygamy. Even the former RLDS Church (now known as the Community of Christ), which for the majority of its history held doggedly to the line that Joseph was not a polygamist, has come around to an acknowledgment (at least in its scholarly community) that this was not the case. Polygamy was practice by a small inner circle of Church leaders to whom Joseph introduced the practice. There were leaks however, as even during Josephs time people both within and without the Church began to suspect that it was going on. This gradually became an open secret in regards the Mormons, until it was formally and publicly announced by the Church in 1852, once the bulk of the Mormons were safely re-located in the Great Basin region. To shore up the understanding that the practice was allowed, even encouraged by Church Doctrine, President Young had Orson Pratt, and early opponent of polygamy among the Church leadership, give the speech in which it was announced. It seems reasonably clear to me that most if not all the Church leaders of the Young/Taylor era (say about 1850 to 1880’s) believed the practice of plural marriage was somehow tied up to there eternal salvation. However beginning about 1889, and continuing into the early 1900’s, a change occurred among the bulk of Church leadership, away from that interpretation. Some did ‘fall by the wayside’ and continue to practice polygamy, secretly within the Church for a period, and later without and in breakaway bodies. The most famous of these is arguably the late Church President John Taylor’s son, Apostle John W. Taylor.

Feel free to ask more questions.