Manchester, New York Is the Place

Worlds Without End is very pleased to present this guest contribution from acclaimed historian H. Michael Marquardt. Mike has authored many books and articles on Mormon history, including The Joseph Smith Revelations: Text and Commentary and Lost Apostles: Forgotten Members of Mormonism’s Original Quorum of the Twelve. This post summarizes the evidence for Mike’s important finding that the LDS Church was organized in the town of Manchester rather than in the traditional Fayette location.

Tuesday, April 6, 1830 is an important in Latter Day Saint history: the day the Church of Christ was founded. Historians cannot rely on one copy of a revelatory document to determine and establish that event’s location. We must instead look at the totality of evidence concerning where baptisms occurred and revelations were received on April 6 to determine the location of the Church’s founding.

The earliest evidence about a historical event is usually the best for accessing what really happened. In 1834, four years after the Church of Christ’s founding, the name of the church and the story about where it was organized were modified. The draft manuscript history and final 1842 publication put the April 6, 1830 meeting at the house of Peter Whitmer Sr., who lived at Fayette, New York. Even though the history has the meeting at the Whitmer home, the individuals listed below were not at that place on April 6. There was no travel from one county to another for two separate events. The baptisms by immersion were performed in one location with no travel to a separate place to hold a separate church meeting.

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BYU Book Seeks to Overturn Manchester Location of the Founding of the Church

Worlds Without End is very pleased to present this guest contribution from acclaimed historian H. Michael Marquardt. Mike has authored many books and articles on Mormon history, including The Joseph Smith Revelations: Text and Commentary and Lost Apostles: Forgotten Members of Mormonism’s Original Quorum of the Twelve. He joins us today to review Michael Hubbard McKay’s book Sacred Space: Exploring the Birthplace of Mormonism.

Michael Hubbard MacKay, Sacred Space: Exploring the Birthplace of Mormonism. Provo, Utah: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, in cooperation with Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 2016. xiv, 129 pp. Photographs, endnotes, index. Cloth, copyright page: $14.99; sells for: $17.99. ISBN 978-0-8425-2979-2

Reviewed by H. Michael Marquardt

Sacred Space was written with the purpose of overturning the recognized historical location of events, such as baptisms, of the Church of Christ on April 6, 1830 at Manchester, New York.

The little book is a propaganda piece based upon emotion rather than history. The author is more interested in his sacred space than in what the historical record brings to the story of the Restoration. The earliest documents and recollections point to the establishing of the Church of Christ at one location. The church publication The Evening and the Morning Star clearly states, with Oliver Cowdery and John Whitmer assisting in the printing office, that the Church of Christ was organized at Manchester. There was no series of meetings at two different locations on that day. Fayette, New York has a place in Restoration history but not on April 6.

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What We Should Learn from Jeremy Runnells: Some Thoughts on His Departure From the Church

Runnels_MSA disciplinary council for Jeremy Runnells, author of the CES Letter and founder of the non-profit CES Letter Foundation, was held yesterday on charges of apostasy. Leading up to this disciplinary council, which was moved three times, there was some controversy regarding his stake leadership’s unwillingness to accommodate an interpreter due to Jeremy’s hearing impairment (he is legally deaf). When I first came across this news, I will admit that I responded with skepticism, as I have seen Jeremy speak at public events, including a press conference that was hosted by John Dehlin, without any interpretive assistance. I was wrong to make that charge, as it was later confirmed that Jeremy’s hearing had, in fact, further declined since that event; and that an interpreter was also sought for his press conference, and while none could be secured in time, accommodations were made to assist Jeremy. I made an apology to Jeremy both publicly and privately for assuming the worst, although I am still critical of a meme Jeremy generated in connection with his request for accommodation being denied. I feel his meme was opportunistic, particularly given the prominent placement of his CES Letter Foundation logo, and I have expressed as much directly to him. Continue reading “What We Should Learn from Jeremy Runnells: Some Thoughts on His Departure From the Church” »

Write Your Own Story: Thoughts for Transitioning or Former Mormons

12921148_10209477262907740_1331955520_nThere have been interesting reflections on LDS blogs recently on history, being lied to, heritage, the CES Letter, and the general angst of former or transitioning Mormons. As a has-been Mormon in the unique position of working in Mormon studies, I watch all this with fascination and a little bit of sadness. Fascination because watching Mormonism come to terms with its history is a remarkable process, and sadness because the people who are so anxious to get away from Mormonism only have a Mormon-imposed structure to navigate the world. Jacob Baker reflected on some of this from the perspective of a believing Mormon. I thought I’d echo his thoughts and expand on them from my perspective as a former Mormon.

I wish my fellow ex-Mormons (or former Mormons, or disaffected, or whatever) would realize that they are only mirroring the Mormonism they grew up with and lived with for so many years. The same black-and-white mentality unfolds, only as if we’ve suddenly been transported to bizarro world. Apologists go from heroes to villains, history goes from faith-promoting to faith-destructing, the Book of Mormon goes from proving the church is true to proving it’s false, Church leaders, both historic and modern, go from being the greatest men on earth to some of the most evil, the temple goes from beautiful to sinister, Joseph Smith goes from prophet to pedophile, the church goes from selfless charity to money-hoarding corporation, Mormons go from being the most enlightened people on earth to the most sheltered. On and on and on it goes. Instead of breaking out of the narrative the church wrote for us, we just flip the switch and black becomes white and up becomes down, but the story is identical.

Stop reflecting Mormonism in a mirror and write your own story. Continue reading “Write Your Own Story: Thoughts for Transitioning or Former Mormons” »

Eliza R. Snow wasn’t the only LDS leader sexually assaulted in Missouri

Last week historian Andrea Radke-Moss made headlines with the revelation that Missouri ruffians raped Eliza R. Snow during the 1838 Mormon War. Snow was a beloved “founding mother” of Mormonism and went on to become one of the longest-serving Relief Society presidents.

Evidence of the rape comes from an autobiography of Alice Merrill Horne, granddaughter of one of Snow’s closest friends. Horne’s words suggest how social norms of female sexual purity may increase the trauma of an already traumatic experience:

There was a saint—a Prophetess, a Poet, an intellectual, seized by brutal mobbers—used by those eight demons and left not dead, but worse. The horror, the anguish, despair, hopelessness of the innocent victim was dwelt upon. What future was there for such a one? For her, no home life could open! All aspirations of a saintly virgin—that maiden of purity—had met martyrdom!*

Horne went on to praise Joseph Smith for showing compassion to Snow by accepting her as one of his plural wives. One might instead wonder whether Snow settled for becoming a fourteenth wife because she believed herself damaged and he offered her redemption. Feelings of guilt and worthlessness may victimize women long after an assault occurs.

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Dreading the Sabbath: Or, why you should stop worrying and enjoy life

picnicI had to laugh yesterday after reading Robert Kirby’s weekly satirical (and sometimes downright cranky) column in the Salt Lake Tribune titled, “Judgement Day shouldn’t Come Every Sunday,” where he lamented the recent crackdown on electronic device usage during church services. The reason I found it amusing was because my own ward’s service was also dedicated to the topic of increasing our reverence during the sacrament meeting, and the talks given were a near-verbatim retelling of Kirby’s experience in his ward. White shirts and ties were admonished for men and electronic devices were discouraged for all (even restless children). In other words, his article hit close to home. While I enjoy the time-honored tradition of satire and its ability to remind us to stop taking ourselves so seriously, there is usually a serious concern that underlies satire’s whimsical griping.

As a faith community, Mormons have increasingly come to view the Sabbath as a bunch of stuff they shouldn’t do, both inside and outside of church—and most of it boils down to avoiding any self-indulgent fun. Spending the day in quiet solitude, prayerful reflection, and napping certainly has its merits. Likewise, spending time in the service of others is admirable, though it typically amounts to little more than attending additional meetings for our callings. Home and visiting teaching are respectful Sabbath day activities, as well as keeping television watching and video game playing to a minimum (no easy task for my kids). Shopping is clearly not the best way to spend the day, nor is scrolling through Facebook news feeds for hours on end (guilty as charged). Continue reading “Dreading the Sabbath: Or, why you should stop worrying and enjoy life” »

Passing Through the Fires of Doubt and Emerging into the “Living Church”

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“There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?” – Supreme Leader Snoke

Admittedly, I had been dragging my feet on writing this post until I read Peggy Fletcher Stack’s recent article, “In this new era of doubt, will a stronger Mormon faith emerge?” (Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 13, 2016), in which she pondered whether recent efforts by the LDS Church to address doubt has “slowed or halted the faith-crisis trajectory,” and whether it is possible for the church to emerge from this age of Internet-enhanced “faith-crisis” as a stronger faith. These are compelling questions. I believe that the LDS Church can emerge as a stronger faith with a caveat that it will need to be done with an increasingly ecumenical awareness. For many of us who have emerged from the fires of doubt, our sense of and appreciation for Mormonism is with the recognition of where Mormonism fits within a larger history and community of religious expression, rather than an affirmation of exclusivist assumptions. In other words, while I vigorously applaud the recent efforts of the church (particularly through Deseret Book Company and the Neal A. Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University), I see what has been produced as one step in what will ultimately become, for many, a larger journey towards personal and communal sanctification as part of a “living church” in the universal sense.

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“They Call Me the Working Man”: Hints of a Mormon Theology of Work

Our fearless leader Christopher Smith recently shared an insightful bit from his forthcoming dissertation on his Facebook wall. The paragraph in part describes the use of Edenic imagery by Mormon settlers of the Salt Lake Valley and the need to restore the creation to its pre-fallen condition through labor and development. Over the last couple years, I’ve taken a growing interest in constructing a Mormon theology of work/labor.* The views expressed by early Mormon Utahns regarding the duty of Mormons to “beautify” and “cultivate” the creation are important for understanding Mormonism’s sacralizing of the mundane. Last February, I was privileged to participate in the fifth biennial Faith & Knowledge Conference at the University of Virginia and presented a paper titled “‘Labour…Is Their Religion”: Toward a Mormon Theology of Work.” Those who are familiar with my posts over the last couple years might recognize material from previous posts, some of which has been expanded and is currently under review at a couple different publications. My prevailing interest in both economics/business and Mormon Studies has pushed me into what I hope to be a fruitful and somewhat unique endeavor. So without further ado, I give you some of my first inklings of a Mormon theology of work:

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Book Review: Postponing Heaven

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Hatem, Jad. Postponing Heaven: The Three Nephites, the Bodhisattva, and the Mahdi. Translated by Jonathon Penny. Provo UT: Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, Brigham Young University, 2015.

BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute recently re-published a work by Lebanese philosopher Jad Hatem: Postponing Heaven: Three Nephites, the Bodhisattva, and the Mahdi. The book was originally published in French in 2007 but gained the attention of Jim Faulconer at a conference in Romania. This new edition has been translated by Jonathon Penny and published by BYU.

As Faulconer explains:

By analyzing the story of the Three Nephites, and especially by comparing it to similar beliefs in Buddhism and Islam, Jad Hatem shows us one way of thinking about the Book of Mormon: it has profound ethical and soteriological teaching about the necessity of self-sacrifice.1

The book is short (a mere 100 pages), concise, and well-written. And, while Hatem’s specific theses can be difficult to pin down, it is clear he has a command of the subject matter and is able to draw comparisons with non-Christian traditions in a way that will enrich any theological or ethical examination of the Book of Mormon text.

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Apostates and Witches

Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. (Ex. 22:18)

I recently read Peter Charles Hoffer’s The Salem Witchcraft Trials: A Legal History (Univ. Press of Kansas, 1997). How could a bunch of dedicated Christians become convinced that their neighbors, some of whom were acknowledged to be fine citizens and exemplary Christians, were actually in active league with the devil to inflict harm on others? How could trials conducted by leading men of the colony solemnly conclude that dozens of men and women were in fact witches, then haul them a mile or two out of town and hang them? Right here in America? These remain troubling yet fascinating questions for most Americans, with new books on the topic coming out every year. Mormons in particular can learn something from Salem.

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