Thursday, May 31, 2007

Delivery Status Notification (Failure)

New Hampshire establishes civil unions for same-sex couples

New Hampshire establishes civil unions for same-sex couples

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - New Hampshire Governor John Lynch signed a law today establishing civil unions for same-sex couples, allowing them to apply for the same rights as married people as early as January.

Oregon did the same thing this legislative session, along with passing a law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.

However opponents are gathering signatures to try to get those bills overturned by voters.

Lynch, a Democrat, called the measure a matter of conscience.

Massachusetts is the only state that allows gay marriage.

Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, Maine, California and Washington already allow either civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Hawaii extends certain spousal rights to same-sex couples and cohabiting heterosexual pairs.

Latest BYU Studies, v 46 - 1

Volume 46, no. 1, © 2007

Through his personal interest in World War I, George S. Tate finds deeper meaning of D&C Section 138. Remembering the circumstances of 1918—the war, pandemic flu, and Joseph F. Smith's loss of a son—makes the assurance of divine love and ultimate redemption found in D&C 138 more poignant.

Poet Dixie Partridge is both a contributor and a subject of study in this issue. In an interview, Casualene Meyer probes Partridge's process of writing and personal faith. Three poems and an essay by Partridge demonstrate her skill.

Research on the "Mormon outmigration"—the migration of young Latter-day Saints from the western United States to other areas of the country—has been collected by G. Wesley Johnson and Marian Ashby Johnson. In this issue they analyze their research and give three case studies on this little-studied time period.

Douglas Robinson's recent publication Who Translates? analyzes the task of translation and uses Joseph Smith as a case study. Daryl R. Hague reviews the book, summarizes translation theory, and gives an alternative view.<

In 1863 West Virginia in the midst of the US Civil War, LDS convert Agnes O'Neal wrote a letter to Brigham Young pleading to be remembered on the rolls of the Church. She relates the story of her conversion and laments that she had not yet been able to come to Zion. Fred Woods gives context and analysis to this letter.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Journal Entries: Heber C. Kimball, Oliver B. Huntington

Apparently Signature Books has began to provide some digitized 19th century Mormon journal entries.

Below is an excerpt from The Life of Heber C. Kimball.  More can be read here:
Also available is the History of the Life of Oliver B. Huntington:

...During the ceremonies of the dedication, an angel appeared and sat near President Joseph Smith, Sen., and Frederick G. Williams, so that they had a fair view of his person. He was a very tall personage, black eyes, white hair, and stoop shouldered; his garment was whole, extending to near his ankles; on his feet he had sandals. He was sent as a messenger to accept of the dedication. The Priesthood was organized according to the proper order. During the whole of the dedication each quorum was placed in its respective station. Everything was conducted in the best of order, and profound silence maintained.

We had been commanded to prepare ourselves for a solemn assembly. At length the time arrived for this assembly to meet; previous to which the Prophet Joseph exhorted the elders to solemnize their minds, by casting away every evil from them, in thought, word and deed, and to let their hearts become sanctified, because they need not expect a blessing from God without being duly prepared for it, for the Holy Ghost would not dwell in unholy temples. This meeting took place soon after the house of the Lord had been dedicated.

When the Prophet Joseph had finished the endowments of the First Presidency, the Twelve and the Presiding Bishops, the First Presidency proceeded to lay hands upon each one of them to seal and confirm the anointing; and at the close of each blessing the whole of the quorums responded to it with a loud shout of Hosanna! Hosanna! etc.

While these things were being attended to the beloved disciple John was seen in our midst by the Prophet Joseph, Oliver Cowdery and others. After this all the quorums arose in order, together with the three Presidencies; and the Twelve then presented themselves separately and individually before the First Presidency, with hands uplifted towards heaven, and asked of God whatever they felt to desire; and after each individual petition the whole of the quorums answered aloud Amen! Hosanna! Hosanna! Hosanna! To God and the Lamb, forever and ever, amen and amen!

PBS's "The Mormons" website

Here are a few useful links for those who may wish to pursue PBS's "The Mormons" further.

Most recently added are transcripts of the documentary:
Some excellent interviews that have a lot of information not contained in the documentary, including interviews with general authorities, scholars and dissidents.
You can watch selected the program here with the ability to select a particular "act":
Online discussion (3,100 queries/comments so far) with feedback from PBS on some of the items posed:
Other areas of the website include a FAQ, teacher's guide, history, genealogy info are more.

Delivery Status Notification (Delay)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Creation Museum Opens Monday

Creation Museum Opens Monday
Sunday, May 27, 2007 - 09:29 PM Updated: 01:58 AM
By The Associated Press

 Adam and Eve fall from grace and Noah survives an epic flood at a new museum that tells the Bible's version of history on a theme-park scale.

But the scene near the front lobby might stop a puzzled paleontologist in his tracks: a pair of ancient children frolic just a few feet away from a group of friendly dinosaurs.

That exhibit, among others, has earned the Creation Museum notoriety among skeptics and anticipation from believers who are expected to pack its halls when it opens on Memorial Day.

"We wanted to show people there's no mystery with dinosaurs, we can explain them," said Ken Ham, founder of the nonprofit ministry

Answers in Genesis that built the $27 million facility near Cincinnati.

Scientists say there's a gulf of millions of years between man and the giant lizards, but according to the Creation Museum, they lived in harmony just a few thousand years ago. It's part of the literal interpretation of the Bible adopted by Ham and other creationists.

"People are just fascinated by dinosaurs, but they've sort of become synonymous with millions of years and evolution," he said.

Evolution is derided at the 60,000-square-foot facility, packed with high-tech exhibits designed by an acclaimed theme-park artist, animatronic dinos and a huge wooden ark. In this Old Testament version of history, dinosaurs appeared on the same day God created other land animals.

The museum also contains fossils, hung in large glass cases in a room visitors spill into after taking a tour of Old Testament history. Ham said most fossils were created by the massive flood detailed in the book of Genesis.

"The Bible doesn't talk about fossils, but it gives you a basis for understanding why there are fossils around the world," he said.

Ham said the stories of the Bible are supported by science, a notion that has drawn the ire of science educators around the country.

"They make such a point of trying to make it appear scientific," said Lawrence Krauss, a physics professor, author and critic of the museum. "Instead of shying away from those things that clearly disprove what they're trying to say, they use those things for deception."

Krauss, a professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, said the exhibits rival those of a "very fancy natural history museum," making them enticing to young visitors.

MHA on PBS's "The Mormons"

I attended the Mormon History Conference this weekend in Salt Lake and a session where Helen Whitney's documentary "The Mormons" was reviewed. It was very interesting.

Helen Whitney said the church must confront it's troublesome past.  The church has been uncomfortable with this confrontation and has punished dissenters.  But it appears the church is becoming more open towards it's past.

Mario DePilis, a long time scholar of Mormonism called it one of the best documentaries of any religion ever done, but noted three omissions:  The Role of women, the temple, and the power of community.  He thought the dichotomy between Elder Oaks and Margret Toscano was "stunning."

He said the church celebrates it's history while at the same time is afraid of it's history.  The church should be like post-Nazi Germany and confront it's past and deal with it (he noted that he was not saying the church was like the Nazis, only that we should confront troublesome aspects of our past just like Germans have had to).  However, he wondered if it is possible for this confrontation to occur while keeping faith alive.

Richard Bennett, of BYU's history department said "The Mormons" was a necessary wake up call to the church, who wants to share it's history.  He said that we must share our entire history, and noted that the Church News will begin to publish difficult questions and answers on occasion.

He felt it was not balanced on the issue of Mormon intellectuals, saying it made intellectual confrontation appear inevitable.  He and others are intellectuals and have never felt threatened by the church.

The Church curriculum is lacking for the intellectually minded and pointed out that the church cannot hope to close the mind of it's intellectual members.

Bennett also noted that education was not mentioned, and he didn't like the idea of blind obedience.  He said that we are not in Mountain Meadows today, and it is unfair to remember the church for Mountain Meadows.

Helen Whitney then responded and took questions from the audience.  She had breakfast with general authority Marlin K. Jensen (who is over the church history department, and who was featured extensively in the film), who she really likes.  She suggested that we should be proud of our "juicy" quirkiness, and not suppress it, including that man may become as God (she was probably referring to president Hinckley's statement downplaying that idea on 60 minutes).

Regarding charges that she spent too much time on those excommunicated, she said that excommunication numbers were somewhat small, but not insignificant.  It was noted that the church keeps excommunication records private and we really don't know the numbers who are excommunicated or leave the church.  She had talked to over 1000 Mormons of all sorts.  She found that many of them had underlying fears and practiced self-censorship when at church, or when talking about the church with others.  She saw a lot of this and felt that while the act focused on only one dissident, she was not able to cover the whole field, and the time spent on the act was proportionate to amount of fear (of speaking out, or of asking difficult questions), doubt and self-censorship that appear to be part of the Mormon experience.

Someone pointed out that the room where church courts supposedly took place did not look like any church court they had ever seen, or participated in (I believe that Bennett [above] said this, and that he may have been a Stake President at some point in time).  She replied that this was a metaphorical representation as to how the many that she had interviewed who had been excommunicated felt during their trial, and was not supposed to be an actual representation.

Someone asked what she would cover if she had more time.  She replied that she would have had more stories about faith; coming into the church, leaving the church, wrestling with issues within the church.  She talked about how details surrounding the translation of the Book of Abraham caused a couple to leave. The woman felt she could never get her compass back and found that she wept all the time, dearly missing the church, but not able to return to it.

Regarding the art used, she asked Trevor Southey to create an image of the complexity of Joseph Smith.  He worked on it for months with no success, but finally was able to do it by portraying three images of Joseph Smith

She insisted that people not be identified as Mormons or non-Mormons.  She has been heavily criticized for this decision, but she stood by it.  She didn't want people prejudging what people had to say, or biasing their interpretation depending on who was saying what.  She wanted everyone to listened to all sides equally.

She had a hard time getting Harold Bloom to participate, but she was friends with him and was finally able to talk him into participating.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

MHA: Helen Whitney on PBS's "The Mormons"

Deseret Morning News, Saturday, May 26, 2007

'Mormons' maker defends film

And she stands by refusal to label LDS and non-LDS

By Carrie A. Moore
Deseret Morning News

Responding to pointed questions about her recent PBS documentary, "The
Mormons," filmmaker Helen Whitney said Friday the criticism she gets
most is over her insistence not to label the people she interviewed on
camera as either Mormon or not.

It was a conscious choice, she said, "and I stand by it.... I wanted
each of you to listen with your heart and not give anyone more or less
credence because they were Mormon or not," she told hundreds of people
attending the annual meetings of the Mormon History Association in the
Salt Lake Hilton.

Whitney said she has talked to many non-Mormon friends who watched the
documentary and told her, "I wasted so much time because I didn't know
whom to trust" — which she said was "precisely the point."

Countering that built-in skepticism by failing to provide labels
required audiences to listen carefully before making a judgment about
credibility, she said, adding that she has had the same criticism from
members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The four-hour, two-part documentary aired nationally on PBS's
"American Experience" and "Frontline" last month, generating
record-breaking television ratings for KUED in Utah and substantial
viewer interest across the nation because of Mitt Romney's bid for the
GOP presidential nomination.

When asked what she would have included in her film if she'd had
another hour, Whitney didn't hesitate: "An entire act of faith stories
— of people who came to the faith, had questions about it, stepped
back from it and, in some cases, are returning to it," she said.

She interviewed more than 1,000 people for the project, many of whom
had poignant stories to share about their intersection with a religion
that is widely misunderstood, and which some feel misunderstands them.

Talking with a woman who had left the faith with her scholar-husband,
Whitney asked her how she felt, and "she couldn't stop weeping for 10
minutes," because she realized "I had lost my compass" in life. "I
didn't believe and I couldn't go back," the woman told her, adding
that "every single day of (my) life, (I) ache for it."

The standing-room-only audience viewed a segment of the documentary
titled "Exiles and Dissenters," featuring University of Utah classics
professor Margaret Toscano talking about the details of her
excommunication from the faith more than a decade ago for writings
advocating that women should hold the church's priesthood.

Brief remarks by President Boyd K. Packer and Elder Dallin H. Oaks of
the church's Council of the Twelve were also featured in the segment,
who said that the church has the right to sanction members who
publicly advocate positions in opposition to church teaching.

Afterward, two academics with differing views responded about the segment.

Mario DePillis, emeritus professor of history at the University of
Massachusetts at Amherst, lauded it as "one of the best documentaries
ever done on any religion." But he said Whitney's underlying theme for
that segment — that Mormons don't confront their history — "is a
half-truth" because Mormon historians "conscientiously try to confront
the messy aspects of it."

He questioned Whitney's use of imagery during the segment when Toscano
was speaking about her excommunication. It showed a dark, empty room
with old wooden chairs lined up opposing a single chair. The image
"reminded me of the Darrow Monkey Trial," he said.

Several in the audience questioned Whitney about other visual images
they found disconcerting. She said she used them as "visual metaphors"
for what people she interviewed felt, rather than as actual depictions
of a physical reality.

Richard Bennett, a professor of church history at Brigham Young
University, said the film "missed the opportunity to be balanced and
accurate" regarding intellectual debate and criticism within the
church. He said being a Mormon intellectual is not synonymous with
being a dissident and panned the idea that Latter-day Saints follow
their leaders blindly.

Also, Mormons should not be judged by what happened during the
Mountain Meadows Massacre 150 years ago "any more than Catholics
should be judged by the Inquisition" or "Muslims by terrorist
extremists," he said.

Whitney responded that in her interviews with people across the
spectrum from deep faith to disbelief, she encountered many LDS
intellectuals who have "considerable fear of touching on third-rail
issues" that they shy away from because "it's not worth what might

"I heard a lot of that, and I don't think that's a spiritually healthy
environment. I've had conversations with many who love this church but
have fear," she said.

MHA: LDS in survey call for unvarnished history

Deseret Morning News, Sunday, May 27, 2007

LDS in survey call for unvarnished history

Eager to learn outside of church services, poll finds

By Carrie A. Moore
Deseret Morning News

Active Latter-day Saints want their church to provide a "frank and
honest" presentation of church history, unvarnished by attempts to
sugar-coat the past in order to make it more palatable.

That's one finding to come from a new e-mail survey done by the family
and church history department of The Church of Jesus Christ of
Latter-day Saints. The survey targeted members who use the church's
resources to do family history and sought to determine how they engage
with the faith's past.

Church history representative Rebecca Olpin told participants at the
annual Mormon History Association meetings on Saturday that Latter-day
Saints surveyed "want to be leveled with" when the church presents
information about its past.

"They want not just accounts of famous people, but of real people,
people like them in history that grappled with challenges and trials
and consequences. They want the real thing, with real-life
consequences that happened to others to help them in their own lives."

When questioned about what officials with the church's correlation
department — which edits all church materials — think about those
findings, Olpin said the request for honesty "is part of what members
are asking for. We have a responsibility to share that in a way that
correlation will agree with, so we understand that we have limits.

"We also understand there is much we can share and better ways to do
it within the context of what occurred."

Steve Olsen, associate managing director of family and church history,
addressed questions by several who were concerned that the
department's new "purpose statement" — which is in part "to help God's
children make and keep sacred covenants" — may exclude them from
access to documents.

He said the new focus on active church members doesn't mean
researchers will be excluded, but that helping non-scholar Latter-day
Saints understand their history will be the department's primary

He pointed to the exhaustive research LDS historians have done on the
Mountain Meadows Massacre as evidence that the church isn't trying to
hide its past, saying research materials gathered by the authors will
be made available to scholars.

But he cautioned that like other archives, "there are some
restrictions on privacy and intellectual property" as well as on
"sacred, private and institutional materials. That's something we just
won't budge on, and those things will never be made public," he said.

Olpin said the survey also showed that respondents:

• Want to get their information about history from the church but
"don't want to hear it in Sunday School. They want Sunday activities
to be devotional and inspirational."

• Are eager to learn church history via the Internet, documentary-type
films, restored LDS historical sites and books. She said nearly half
of those surveyed had visited at least one LDS historical site. Nine
in 10 said they watch church-produced films as a regular family

• Get much of their information about the church's past from
historical fiction. When asked to respond to the statement, "I learned
much of what I know about church history from 'The Work and the
Glory,"' (a fictional series of books and films about an early
Latter-day Saint family and their trials) Olpin said almost half of
the respondents answered "yes."

"We feel very much the weight of helping our members enjoy and love
our rich history," Olpin said. "We have a scriptural and institutional
mandate to serve our members." As a result, officials will add a new
"customer service" focus to the church history department.

"We need to provide the context for our members to enrich and
strengthen their faith and enhance their doctrinal understanding."


MHA: Scholars discuss 3 LDS authors' massacre account

Mountain Meadows
Scholars discuss 3 LDS authors' massacre account
By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune
Salt Lake Tribune

The much-anticipated book by three senior LDS historians about the
Mountain Meadows Massacre is a detailed, thorough exploration of the
horrific crime told in a compelling narrative, but it still omits
crucial contextual elements of the story and certainly won't end all
That was the conclusion of three historians who have read a
version of Massacre at Mountain Meadows by Ronald Walker, Richard
Turley and Glen Leonard, due out later this year by Oxford University
Press. The critics presented their views before a packed audience
Friday at a session of the Mormon History Association's annual meeting
in Salt Lake City.
The heinous events of Sept. 11, 1857 - during which a group of
Mormons slaughtered 120 Arkansas emigrants crossing through southern
Utah, including men, women and children older than 7 - have been the
subject of books, documentaries and, next month, a major motion
picture, "September Dawn." But Walker's, Turley's and Leonard's
forthcoming volume is the first written with express approval and
cooperation of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The LDS historians have spent the past six years poring over the
church's vast historical holdings as well as documents, journals,
trial records and court records available in archives from coast to
"This manuscript rests on a body of evidence that is as factually
complete as historical research is ever likely to make possible," said
Jan Shipps, professor emeritus of American religion and history at
Indiana University/Purdue University at Bloomington, Ind. "Every point
that is made is supported not by a single, but by multiple
For years after the massacre, Mormon participants denied
involvement, blaming it on American Indians. Eventually, parts of the
story emerged in the courtroom and one man, John D. Lee, was executed
for his role in it.
But the questions remained: Was the massacre the work of southern
Utah Mormons run amok, as many Mormons believe, or was it orchestrated
by Brigham Young at church headquarters, as authors such as Will
Bagley argue? Walker and the others were willing to follow the trail
wherever it led, they said, even if it meant laying the blame on
Young. But that's not what they concluded.
"They marshal evidence that directly indicts John D. Lee . . .
with the complicity of his immediate ecclesiastical superior Isaac
Haight," Shipps said. "With the Lee-Haight duo providing a foundation
for local villainy, these authors moved forward to construct an
elaborate argument that the massacre was essentially a local affair."
Walker et al worked so hard at being objective, Shipps said, that
they neglected the religious aspects of the story. They have failed to
paint a backdrop to these events in the decade between 1847, when
beleaguered Mormon pioneers arrived in Utah after being driven from
their homes in the mid-West, and the 1857 massacre.
"It was a point in time in which Mormonism was most religiously
intense - white hot," she said.
Sarah Barringer Gordon, a law professor at the University of
Pennsylvania, said the volume signals "a new openness" on the part of
LDS historians, "a willingness to share dark times with the world."
How courageous it is, she said, "to admit that even Saints in the
19th century were human in the ugly ways we are all human."
But why was there virtually no mention of polygamy, she wondered.
"Polygamy was vital to the religious revival of mid-1850s Utah
U.S. President James Buchanan may have sent troops to Utah to
unseat Young as territorial leader, but eliminating polygamy was the
political subtext.
"The cover-up of the massacre protected polygamists who, of
course, had multiple wives," she said. "Opponents of the Saints
connected the open denials of polygamy before 1852 with the denials
after 1857 of responsibility for the massacre. What else, they said,
could you expect of a bunch of lawless and polygamous fanatics?"
The book is a "page-turner," said Gene Sessions, a history
professor at Weber State University. "Even the footnotes are fun to
No matter how thorough, objective or well-written the Mormon book
is, however, it will never be credible with some readers because its
authors are all employed by the church, Sessions said. "Revisionist
historians and those suspicious of the church are not going away."
The authors said they would take all the suggestions into account
as they make their final revisions.
"This is not even the penultimate version," Walker said. "I am
confident we can raise it to the level of something we can be proud
of, something significant."
Glen Leonard

Housing Missionaries

Does anyone have information about the rumor that within a year all missionaries will be living with
members. Apparently will be up to the Stake to call families in the ward or branch to put up the missionaries.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

MHA: Two American Prophets on the Status of African-Americans

Here is a report from my notes of a session from the 2007 Mormon History Association Conference

Presenter: Newell Bringhurst
Paper:  "Two American Prophets on the Status of African-Americans: The Contrasting Views of Brigham Young and Ellen G. White"

Ellen G. White (Seventh Day Adventist)  & Brigham Young, are on the extreme ends of of attitudes towards race among American born prophets.  Charles Tazz Russell (Jehovah Witnesses) and Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Science) fall somewhere in between.

Brigham Young,  was strongly against blacks having the priesthood.  Factors leading to this include:
  1. The  adoption of Book of Abraham as scripture with it's statement - "cursed as pertaining the priesthood" regarding Cain's descendants,
  2.  Temple teachings (although I'm not sure which temple teachings those may be.  Perhaps they have been removed from the temple ceremony). 
  3. The teaching that  Mormons are the decedents of Ephraim.  Priesthood came by linage and blood.
  4. Increased Mormon anxieties of linage degradation, a common theme among western settlers.  This included sexual anxieties regarding black & white races mixing.  A law in Utah Territory provided a $500 to $1000 fine & up to 3 year imprisonment for white & black intermixing.  Brigham Young taught the only form of repentance for such was beheading & spilling of blood.
Pratt, in Winter Quarters, quotes the Book of Abraham as teaching about blacks for the 1st time.  It was used against a man who slept with a black woman, with Pratt saying he had been polluted with the blood of Cain. Brigham Young said he would have had  killed an inter-racial couple except for their living close to gentiles who presumably could protect them, or object.

At least 3 African Americans met with violence from white Utahans during Brigham Young's administration.  Blacks could not hold office or vote.

Ellen G. White. took over after William Miller's prophesy failed in 1844.  She never held an official position, but her 53 books were considered inspired, but never canonized and she further expanded the doctrines of Miller.  She adapted a millenarian attitude, fostered in part because of the slavery issue in the U.S.  She considered the civil war as a punishment by God for slavery and thought that would bring an end the U.S.

She was an abolitionist.  In part due to her outreach to blacks, the 1880s saw the church's membership double.  She had contradictory attitudes towards blacks.  She hoped missionary work in the south would grow their membership.  But she felt many blacks were ignorant and sinful, who were descendants of Ham.  This thinking was similar to Joseph Smith's  & Brigham Young's, but she did not associate Cain with blacks.

The 1890 saw a 2nd missionary campaign and  55 public schools were opened for blacks.  Her movement initially resisted Jim Crow laws, but later she reluctantly segregated their congregations. 

In 1908, the LDS church adopted a resolution NOT to do missionary work among blacks, while in 1909, the Adventists adopted a resolution TO push missionary work among blacks.

It is possible that Ellen G. White may have had black ancestors, which could have influenced her attitude.  Today, 1/3rd of Adventists are black while the LDS church had virtually no black membership until after the 1978 revelation.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Plural Marriage a Requirement for Exaltation

Sherry's makes a point regarding polygamy as a requirement to enter the celestial kingdom - that it has never been a doctrine of the church:

You erroneously portrayed plural marriage as an LDS requirement to enter heaven. That is how many fundamentalist polygamists think (you gave a lot of coverage to them!). But that has never been the doctrine of the LDS Church. Celestial marriage is a practice whereby two worthy individuals enter a marriage covenant and have it sealed by one having priesthood authority – period. That policy includes monogamous and plural marriages but the latter does not overshadow the former.

However, the following statements by 19th century apostles and prophets (and a revelation) seem to suggest the plural marriage was a requirement for exaltation  (see for a larger list).

Was Mormon Plural Marriage a requirement for Exaltation in the Celestial

Some people have supposed that the doctrine of plural marriage was a
sort of superfluity, or non-essential, to the salvation or exaltation of
mankind. In other words, some of the Saints have said, and believe, that
a man with one wife, sealed to him by the authority of the Priesthood
for time and eternity, will receive an exaltation as great and glorious,
if he is faithful, as he possibly could with more than one. I want here
to enter my solemn protest against this idea, for I know it is false.
There is no blessing promised except upon conditions, and no blessing
can be obtained by mankind except by faithful compliance with the
conditions, or law, upon which the same is promised. The marriage of one
woman to a man for time and eternity by the sealing power, according to
the will of God, is a fulfillment of the celestial law of marriage in
part--and is good so far as it goes--and so far as a man abides these
conditions of the law, he will receive his reward therefor, and this
reward, or blessing, he could not obtain on any other grounds or
conditions. But this is only the beginning of the law, not the whole of
it. Therefore, whoever has imagined that he could obtain the fullness of
the blessings pertaining to this celestial law, by complying with only a
portion of its conditions, has deceived himself. He cannot do it. When
that principle was revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith ... [common
background on Joseph Smith, skipped here] ... he did not falter,
although it was not until an angel of God, with a drawn sword, stood
before him; and commanded that he should enter into the practice of that
principle, or he should be utterly destroyed, or rejected, that he moved
forward to reveal and establish that doctrine.

Journal of Discourses, Vol.20, p.28 - p.29, Joseph F. Smith, July 7, 1878

The benefits derived from the righteous observance of this order of
marriage do not accrue solely to the husband, but are shared equally by
the wives; not only is this true upon the grounds of obedience to a
divine law, but upon physiological and scientific principles. In the
latter view, the wives are even more benefitted, (sp) if possible, than
the husband physically. But, indeed, the benefits naturally accruing to
both sexes, and particularly to their offspring, in time, say nothing of
eternity, are immensely greater in the righteous practice of patriarchal
marriage than in monogamy, even admitting the eternity of the monogamic
marriage covenant.

... As before stated no man can obtain the benefits of one law by the
observance of another, however faithful he may be in that which he does,
nor can he secure to himself the fullness of any blessing without he
fulfills the law upon which it is predicated, but he will receive the
benefit of the law he obeys. ... I understand the law of celestial
marriage to mean that every man in this Church, who has the ability to
obey and practice it in righteousness and will not, shall be damned, I
say I understand it to mean this and nothing less, and I testify in the
name of Jesus that it does mean that. ...

Journal of Discourses, Vol.20, p.31, Joseph F. Smith, July 7, 1878

The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter
into polygamy. Others attain unto a glory and may even be permitted to
come into the presence of the Father and the Son; but they cannot reign
as kings in glory, because they had blessings offered unto them, and
they refused to accept them.

Journal of Discourses, Vol.11, p.268 - p.269, Brigham Young, August 19, 1866

President John Taylor went to the Lord in the True Order of Prayer and
asked the Lord concerning His mind and His will concerning continuing
practice of plural marriage in the LDS Church? The voice of the Lord
came to President Taylor saying - "My son John: You have asked me
concerning the New and Everlasting Covennant (sp?) and how far it is
binding upon my people. Thus saith the Lord All commandments that I give
must be obeyed by those calling themselves by my name unless they are
revolked (sp?) by me or by my authority and how can I revoke an
everlasting covenant. For I the Lord am everlasting and my everlastinf
(sp?) covenants cannot be abrogated nor done away with; they stand
forever. Have I not given my word in great plainness on this subject?
Yet have not great numbers of my people been negligent in the observance
of my law and the keeping of my commandments, and yet I have borne with
them these many years and this because of their weakness because of the
perilous times. And furthermore it is more pleasing to me that men
should use their free agency in regard to these matters. Nevertheless I
the Lord do not change and my word and my covenants and my law do not.
And as I have heretofore said by my servant Joseph all those who would
enter into my glory must and shall obey my law. And have I not commanded
men that if they were Abraham's seed and would enter into my glory they
must do the works of Abraham. I have not revoked this law nor will I for
it is everlasting and those who will enter into my glory must obey the
conditions thereof, even so Amen."

John Taylor Papers, Church Historian's Office, Sept. 27th, 1886,
Centerville, Utah - Unpublished Revelations Vol. 1, Collier,1979...

Now if any of you will DENY THE PLURALITY OF WIVES and continue to do
so, I promise that you will be DAMNED; and I will go still further, and
say that this revelation, or any other revelation that the Lord had
given, and deny it in your feelings, and I promise that YOU WILL BE DAMNED.

Brigham Young, Deseret News Nov. 14, 1855
Patriarchal marriage involves conditions, responsibilities and
obligations which do not exist in monogamy, and there are blessings
attached to the faithful observance of that law, if viewed only upon
natural principles, which must so far exceed those of monogamy, as the
conditions responsibilities and power of increase are greater. This is
my view and testimony in relation to this matter. I believe it is a
doctrine that should be taught and understood.

Journal of Discourses, Vol.20, p.30, Joseph F. Smith, July 7, 1878

But one thing I will name, and that is in regard to plural marriage. A
great many men say--"Oh, well, I can get along, I can live, and I
believe I shall only have one wife." Well, that is your privilege,
nobody compels you to take more than one; but with the commandment of
the Lord before us like a blaze of light, can we disregard it and serve
him acceptably? If we can, then why not retain those laws and
commandments in heaven, and not send them down here to earth? These
commandments are sent for our good, for our salvation and exaltation.
Here is a woman who, in speaking of celestial marriage, says, "It will
do very well for others, but it will not do in my house;" "it may do
very well for somebody else, because her feelings are not quite so fine
as mine, she has been differently raised from what I have." I do not
know that the Lord will pay any particular respect as to how we are
raised, and how fine and delicate our feelings may be, or how coarse and
uncultivated they may be. I believe that if we submit to the law of
heaven, that law has power to refine us and to fit us for immortality
and eternal life. That is my opinion. Now hear this good sister, she
says--"It will not do for me, I am not going to submit to it." Another
sister says--"I am willing to submit to the law of Christ." Let these
two sisters come together and talk over the law of marriage, and see
whether their spirits will run together. They will no more run together
than water and oil will unite. ... I am thankful for this privilege of
saying a few words. I hope I have done no harm, and that I have not said
anything that is contrary to the will of God, or to the feelings of the
pure in heart, for they are just as sacred to me as the law of God, and
I do not want to unnecessarily offend the ungodly; but I am not so
particular to spare or shield them. I want to tell the truth, and bear a
faithful testimony. I have been in this Church about forty-three
years--almost from the beginning, for I was baptized into the Church on
the 31st of October, 1831, and ordained the same day and sent to preach
the Gospel, and more or less, most of the time since, I have been
engaged in that work.

Journal of Discourses, Vol.16, p.236, Orson Hyde, October 5, 1873

God has given us a revelation in regard to celestial marriage. I did not
make it. He has told us certain things pertaining to this matter, and
they would like us to tone that principle down and change it and make it
applicable to the views of the day. This we cannot do; nor can we
interfere with any of the commands of God to meet the persuasions or
behests of men. I cannot do it, and will not do it.

I find some men try to twist round the principle in any way and every
way they can. They want to sneak out of it in some way. Now God don't
want any kind of sycophancy like that. He expects that we will be true
to Him, and to the principles He has developed, and to feel as Job
did--"Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him." Though other folks
would slay us, yet we will trust in the living God and be true to our
covenants and to our God. These are my feelings in relation to that
matter. We have also been told that "it is not mete that men who will
not abide my law shall preside over my Priesthood," and yet some people
would like very much to do it. Well, they cannot do it; because if we
are here, as I said before, to do the will of our Father who sent us,
and He has told us what to do, we will do it, in the name of Israel's
God--and all who sanction it say Amen--[the vast congregation responded
with a loud "Amen."]--and those that don't may say what they please.
[Laughter.] If God has introduced something for our glory and
exaltation, we are not going to have that kicked over by any improper
influence, either inside or outside of the Church of the living God. We
will stand by the principles of eternal truth; living we will proclaim
them, and dying we will be true to them, and after death will live again
in their enjoyment in the eternal worlds. That is my feeling; so I don't
feel very trembly in the knees, and I do not think you do, generally. I
see sometimes a disposition to try to ignore some of the laws which God
has introduced, and this is one of them. People want to slip round a
corner, or creep out in some way. There is something very creepy about
it. There was a man in former times we are told, came to Jesus by night.
His name was Nicodemus. He was one of those persons who did not like the
daylight. I have known some people who would want to be baptized in the
evening, or get into some corner that they might not be seen. Well,
there is not much to such folks. Jesus was very unpopular, quite as
unpopular as we are, in His day. Nicodemus was a prominent man among the
Jews, and he thought it might injure his reputation if he was seen
visiting that Nazarene, to get instruction from Him, so he crawled in at
night. Jesus talked quite plainly to him, as you can read for
yourselves; but we find some folks of a similar kind now creeping
around. They have not the manhood to stand true to their colors and to
their God. Some folks think that we polygamists are very much indebted
to our brethren who are monogamists to help to steady the ark, (God save
the mark!)--(Laughter.)--to help to save us, and that we need such men
in the Legislature, etc., and to fill our various offices. Well, I won't
tell you all I think about some of these things, but I do think we are
all of us dependent upon God our Heavenly Father, and if He don't take
care of us we shall not be taken care of; if His arm is not extended in
our behalf we shall have a poor showing; but if God is with us, we ask
no odds of the world, for He governs the destinies of the human family.
He puts down one man and exalts another. He dethrones one king or
president as the case may be, and sets up another, and He rules as He
pleases among the nations of the earth and all the children of men,
although they don't know it. We live in Him, we move in Him, we have our
being from Him. We are not dependent very much upon the monogamists
about any of these things. You need not plume yourselves very much in
these matters; and I will tell you, if you want to get along smoothly,
you had better find among your various neighbors, when you have some
matter of difficulty to settle, some of these polygamists and ask a
little counsel at their hands. They will be able to advise you about
many things, especially if they are men of God, humble men, living their
religion and keeping the commandments of God.

Journal of Discourses, Vol.25, p.309, John Taylor, October 6 and 7, 1884

Some of you may enquire--"Had not a surviving brother the right to
reject that law of God?" He had, if he was willing to place himself
under its penalty. I will quote you the penalty, and then you can see
whether he could get away from polygamy or not. One penalty was that he
should be brought before the Elders and that the widow whom he refused
to marry, according to the law of God, should pluck his shoe from off
his foot, and should then spit in his face, and from that time forth the
house of that man should be denounced as the house of him that hath his
shoe loosed, a reproach among all Israel. Instead of being a man of God,
and a man to be favored by the people of God; instead of being a man
such as the Christian world would now extol to the heavens because he
rejected polygamy, he was a man to be scorned by all Israel. That was
the penalty. Was that the only penalty? I think not. Read along a little
further, and it says--"Cursed be he that continues not in all things
written in this book of the law." Oh, what a dreadful penalty that was,
compared with being reproached by the whole people! Oh, what a fearful
curse upon a man that refused to become a polygamist, and would not
attend to the law of God! A curse pronounced by the Almighty upon him,
also the anathemas of all the people as well as from God! The word of
the Lord was that all the people should say amen to this curse. Now, if
I had lived in those days, I should not have considered it very
desirable to bring myself under the curse of heaven, and then have the
curse of all the twelve tribes of Israel upon my head. I should not have
liked it at all. I would rather have gone into polygamy according to the
command, even if it had subjected me to a term of five years in a

God has told us Latter-day Saints that we shall be condemned
if we do not enter into that principle; and yet I have heard now and
then (I am very glad to say that only a few such instances have come
under my notice,) a brother or a sister say, "I am a Latter-day Saints,
but I do not believe in polygamy." Oh, what an absurd expression! what
an absurd idea! A person might as well say, "I am a follower of the Lord
Jesus Christ, but I do not believe in him." One is just as consistent as
the other. Or a person might as well say, "I believe in Mormonism, and
in the revelations given through Joseph Smith, but I am not a
polygamist, and do not believe in polygamy." What an absurdity! If one
portion of the doctrines of the Church is true, the whole of them are
true. If the doctrine of polygamy, as revealed to the Latter-day Saints
is not true, I would not give a fig for all your other revelations that
came through Joseph Smith the Prophet; I would renounce the whole of
them, because it is utterly impossible, according to the revelations
that are contained in these books, to believe a part of them to be
divine--from God--and part of them to be from the devil; that is
foolishness in the extreme; it is an absurdity that exists because of
the ignorance of some people. I have been astonished at it. I did hope
there was more intelligence among the Latter-day Saints, and a greater
understanding of principle than to suppose that any one can be a member
of this Church in good standing and yet reject polygamy. The Lord has
said, that those who reject this principle reject their salvation, they
shall be damned, saith the Lord; those to whom I reveal this law and
they do not receive it, shall be damned. Now here comes in our
consciences. We have either to renounce Mormonism, Joseph Smith, Book of
Mormon, Book of Covenants, and the whole system of things as taught by
the Latter-day Saints, and say that God has not raised up a Church, has
not raised up a prophet, has not begun to restore all things as he
promised, we are obliged to do this, or else to say, with all our
hearts, "Yes, we are polygamists, and believe in the principle, and we
are willing to practice it, because God has spoken from the heavens."

Old Father Abraham will come up with his several wives, namely Sarah,
Hagar and Keturah and some others mentioned in Genesis; and besides
these all the holy prophets will be here on the earth. I do not think
there will be any legislation against polygamy.

By and by they will build a polygamous city, and it will have twelve
gates, and in order to place as much honor upon these gates as possible,
they will name them after the twelve polygamist children that were born
to the four polygamous wives of Jacob; and these good old polygamists
will be assembled together in this beautiful city, the most beautiful
that ever had place on the earth.

By and by some Christian will come along, and he will look at these
gates and admire their beauty, for each gate is to be constructed of one
immense splendid pearl. The gates are closed fast and very high, and
while admiring their beauty he observes the inscriptions upon them.
Being a Christian he of course expects to enter, but looking at the
gates, he finds the name of Reuben inscribed on one of them. Says
he--"Reuben was a polygamous child; I will go on to the next, and see if
there is the name of a monogamous child anywhere." He accordingly visits
all the twelve gates, three on each side of the city, and finds
inscribed on each gate the name of a polygamous child, and this because
it is the greatest honor that could be conferred on their father Jacob,
who is in their midst, for he is to sit down with all the honest and
upright in heart who come from all nations to partake of the blessings
of that kingdom.

"But," says this Christian, "I really do not like this; I see this is a
polygamous city. I wonder if there is not some other place for me! I do
not like the company of polygamists. They were hated very badly back
yonder. Congress hated them, the President hated them, the cabinet hated
them, the Priests hated them, and everybody hated them, and I engendered
the same hatred, and I have not got rid of it yet. I wonder if there is
not some other place for me?' Oh yes, there is another place for you.
Without the gates of the city there are dogs, sorcerers, whoremongers,
adulterers and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie. Now take your choice,

Journal of Discourses, Vol.17, p.229, Orson Pratt, October 7, 1874

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Thomas E. Sherry response to PBS's "The Mormons"

To: PBS – Frontline & American Experience
Re: "The Mormons"
Fr: Thomas E. Sherry, Ed.D

Dear PBS,

I was disturbed and disappointed in the imbalanced portrayal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which you aired on April 30 and May 1, 2007. I wish to state some of my disgust with your method and message. My comments, of course, represent my own views and I am not speaking in any way as an official representative of the LDS Church. Nevertheless, I do have some qualifications: I am an adult convert to the LDS Church; my masters and doctoral degrees included a minor in religious studies; I have been an LDS Religious Educator for 34 years, the last 28 of those at Eastern Washington University, Pennsylvania State University, Brigham Young University, and Oregon State University. I teach World Religions, Bible and Christian History, LDS History and Doctrine. I serve as adjunct faculty of the OSU History Department, and on the Boards of the Holocaust Memorial Committee and Religious Advisors Association at OSU (the latter is a coordinating body of the 28 religious groups which function on the campus of Oregon State University). My experience and education have contributed to the sense that producers had just accomplished one of the most seriously skewed programs I've ever seen. When I view "anti-mormon" films and literature, at least they are overt in their mission and purpose; yours, however, was a program from which viewers expect fairness and balance but which delivered just the opposite – a sort of "wolf in sheep's' clothing" experience. You described a church that I do not recognize, which did not portray my beliefs, and almost wholly missed the mark for accurate journalism.

My family has been staunch and consistent supporters of PBS both in time, devotion, and money – this program causes me to re-evaluate the respect we have held for you and our future financial support. If on a subject of which I know much, you present such an imbalanced representation, what does that mean for so many other programs for which I know little? That is a disturbing thought.
Before going further, I wish to recognize the admirable portrayal of certain topics: The international welfare and humanitarian aid efforts of the Church; the conversion story of the former drug addict; and, your sensitive treatment of the challenges of homosexual lifestyle and Church doctrine & practice regarding such. Thank you for those elements.

PBS Purpose and Vision

For days after the program I sincerely wondered just how the mission and purpose of your presentation had developed. Had it begun ostensibly with the intent to broadly "explore" Mormonism or was it driven by a darker mission? Regardless of the original intent, the show felt like the producers at some point progressively digressed from a balanced exploration to an intent to "expose the under-belly of Mormonism." In an interesting comment from one of my university students, he said that he (a new convert) had invited his non-LDS roommates to watch the show with him. During the show he felt terrible and wondered what "damage" he'd done by so inviting them. But afterward, they turned to him and said; "I thought we were going to learn something about your Church in this program but this was just a rehash of all the crap we hear constantly – we didn't learn anything new." By the way, the most uniform observation I heard from students was that from the first minutes of the program, they knew this would be a bad experience – it felt dark, ugly, and ominous.

Did the producers and interviewers just become enamored with all the controversy and forget their journalistic responsibility? It's a baffle to me. But the program evidenced a production that seemed intent on: 1) "Knocking Mormonism down a notch or two;" 2) Tipping the "great American religion" off its pedestal" (if it ever were on one); and, 3) portraying Mormon history and doctrine as cultic, deceitful and secretive, absurd, and outlandishly weird.
What follows is some comment on areas in which I feel you did a disservice and left viewers with skewed and erroneous impressions:


Krister Stendall, former Dean of Religion at Harvard University and Episcopal bishop of Stockholm, Sweden, has stated 3 rules which guide his participation on interfaith discussion and exploration of other religions. The first two are: 1) "If you're going to ask the question as to what others believe, ask them – not their critics, not their enemies because what one tradition says of another is usually a breach of the 9th commandment – "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour." It is important that we do not picture the other person's faith in a manner they do not recognize as true; 2) "If you're going to compare, don't compare your bests with their worsts. Most think of their own tradition as it is at its best and they use caricatures of the others." In the case of your program, it was not so much one religious view opposing another, it was the slick and sophisticated portrayal of the "intellectual and dissident" view verses the "un-intellectual and blindly obedient" Mormon mainstream and leadership – an unfortunate and mistaken dichotomy.

Regarding Stendall's rules, PBS somehow decided to give a time ratio of approximately 10-1 to non-LDS commentators and those who are bitter former members with an axe to grind (several of whom I know personally). Do those persons have a legitimate story to tell and a right to tell it – of course. But those persons were given the overwhelming amount of time and when time was given to the few LDS commentators – particularly in part 1 -- it was in short and awkward clips with little context and sometimes so weird and irrelevant that you wondered why PBS even included the clip.

For example, with an almost dismissive manner you trivialized the Book of Mormon by numerous references to a strange and magical translation story, DNA accusations of unreliability, and Antebellum American context for book which you portrayed as very human and very flawed. No matter that the book is among the most widely sold books in the world, that millions of converts trace their conversions to the text, and that intelligent people actually believe it. No, the best you could come up with on a positive note was a non-LDS "poet" commenting on how he really enjoyed the Book of Mormon as a quaint self expose of Joseph Smith and hot button issues in his culture. Additionally, Terryl Givens (a respected author) was given the bulk of his time on the first night to an exploration of Mormon "dance" as theology – what's up with that? Weird, yes; representative, no. So was that the modus operandi of PBS – to emphasize "weird?" Did Givens misrepresent us? No, but the relevance of that portion to LDS history and theology was so insignificant and strained, and the presentation so mystical that it effectively conveyed strangeness – a seemingly central intent of the producers. And that relatively irrelevant portion was given more time than any other issue from LDS commentators in program 1 – a shameful misappropriation of time.

Mystical strangeness was the hallmark of nearly every piece of art, shadowy background, and eerie music selections which dominated the show and exercised such an oppressive feeling. Did you want to portray Joseph Smith and LDS belief as demented and strange—perhaps even evil? Even the voice intonation and script of the main commentator added to the "secret, strange, and oppressive" aura of the show which focused on the sensational and eschewed the compelling and easy to understand story of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its international growth.

As such, the expose was masterfully crafted if what PBS wanted to emphasize was "strange, secret, and oppressive." Watching the show was akin to reading one of the tabloids on the news stand – titillating but unreliable and misrepresentative. Is that what the producers sought to accomplish? If not, one would ask where the art loved by Latter-day Saints was; where was the light, cheery and faith filled art, music, and landscape which so represents us and is produced 100-1 over that which was chosen by the producers? Where were the pictures of Joseph Smith that looked normal? And where were the devoted, faith filled "normal" every-day Latter-day Saints in the show – particularly in Part 1? By the millions, they are the real story of the Latter-day Saints. Where were the intellectuals, scientists, and eminent public servants who believe? Apparently including such would have worked against the purposes of PBS. Doesn't it seem rather contrary to logic to assume that anyone who believes in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its doctrine is ignorant, oppressed, or mentally incapable to discern "the real story" astutely "uncovered" by PBS? That's the message your program conveyed. Yes, you did give attention to Mitt Romney and Harry Reid, but the context made no effort to cast them as reasonably intelligent disciples – rather, it was to explore whether a Mormon could be elected to any significant office given the strangeness of this religion.

Balance in the Issues

In Part 1 (Monday evening), you took roughly the first 100 years of LDS Church history. HALF of that program was reduced to 2 events – plural marriage and the Mountain Meadows massacre. The rest was devoted largely to your view of how strange, mysterious, and weird Joseph Smith apparently was. Was that the best you could do for 100 years of history, accomplishment, and contribution?

1) Mountain Meadows – no question about it, this is the darkest piece of LDS history with despicable acts by members and local leaders – thank you for including Elder Dallin H. Oaks comment on it. Among historians in and out of the LDS Church, there is significant challenge and varied interpretation in print on this subject and you covered NONE of the debate except a brief statement by one LDS historian who said he was satisfied that blame did not lay in the office of Brigham Young. But he had maybe 3 seconds, compared to 20 minutes by critic historians. The truth is, the most debatable aspect of this story is the knowledge and responsibility of Brigham Young. You gave that debate almost no time, not even mentioning it as a legitimate point of disagreement among qualified historians.
After allowing critics to lambaste Church responsibility for the event you feature a preposterous summary statement as proof that the murderous edict came from Brigham Young – "Young was governor of the territory and nothing happened without his knowledge." What a silly statement. The Utah territory was a big chunk of land (encompassing current Nevada, Utah, and parts of Wyoming and Colorado), and pre-dated telegraph services at the time (Mountain Meadows was a 3-day hard ride from SLC). Just how did Brigham Young magically control and know "everything" going on in the territory? And how about the indisputable historical record that a rider was sent to Young to get advice on the pending crisis but could not have arrived, conferred, and returned before the massacre had occurred?

On a related matter, consider the restrained position of Brigham Young regarding not harming any individual from the invading forces of the United States Army who were heading into the valley? He did direct harassment and the capture of supply wagons; he did prepare members to once again leave their homes in the valley and to burn them if necessary to give the army no benefit from arriving in SLC. But it is well known that with all the skirmishes and threat, no direction was ever given to contest by firearms the invasion. Doesn't that seem a little contrary to Brigham Young then turning around and ordering the deaths of men, women, and children in an immigrating pioneer train? So where was the balance in the PBS report on this issue? You strongly accused Young and others of "running out of town" federal officials sent to govern Utah. But where was the coverage of those same officials acting illegally and mistreating the saints? Again, that was a balance you seemed uninterested in covering.

2) Plural Marriage – here again, where were the first-hand journal records of this policy and practice being a blessing to people, a trial of faith that in the end strengthened their testimony of Joseph Smith's inspiration in the matter and of the Lord's hand in this? No where to be found. But by far the greatest disservice done in the PBS report and other writings on this subject was to cast it as a sex-crazed policy of a lunatic gone mad with power – as though this practice was invented by Joseph Smith. Did you check into this interpretation – or was it just the sensational and pejorative that you were interested in?

Point One: Plural marriage was a common Bible practice. COMMON – not exceptional and weird to Bible peoples. All Bible believers, both Jewish and Christian must wrestle with that. And Jesus himself held up as the quintessential prophets and people of faith those who practiced plural marriage (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, etc.). The Savior even went so far as to liken himself to the great Moses and heaven to Abrahams' bosom. Sounds like Jesus didn't have a problem with the practice. But did you mention that? Of course not – it didn't seem to fit in your production purposes. After all, that would make plural marriage in modern times a restoration of lauded biblical precedent instead of a weird invention of Joseph Smith – not a message you apparently wanted to risk conveying. Latter-day Saints do not apologize for following the Lord's direction on this matter. We have nothing to hide. I may personally never wish to participate in the practice but it is not a source of embarrassment.

Point Two: Did you look into the history of this with Joseph Smith? Do you know that while studying the Bible he came across the plural marriages of these early venerated prophets and was in such shock that he went to the Lord in prayer to ask how in the world such a practice could be acceptable? And to his dismay and disgust, he was answered by the Lord – but not with an answer he could have ever imagined. In our publicly accessible scriptures (Doctrine and Covenants 132) the Lord answers by saying that He would tell Joseph Smith the answer, but once He did, Joseph would be asked to live the same law. This is among the best known and accessible of historical records on the subject but was never mentioned by you. And what a surprise – none of the critics mentioned it either!

Point Three: You erroneously portrayed plural marriage as an LDS requirement to enter heaven. That is how many fundamentalist polygamists think (you gave a lot of coverage to them!). But that has never been the doctrine of the LDS Church. Celestial marriage is a practice whereby two worthy individuals enter a marriage covenant and have it sealed by one having priesthood authority – period. That policy includes monogamous and plural marriages but the latter does not overshadow the former. You altogether failed to make this distinction in your show even though you devoted 40 minutes to the subject. And where were the respected LDS voices on the beauty of this belief? No where to be found in your skewed representation.

3) Missionary Service – In night two, you devoted a fair amount of time to a subject which deserves it – the amazing missionary program of the Church. But what was the dominant message you conveyed? It was that LDS missionaries are mindless automatons doing what they cannot choose not to do – no choice, no choice, no choice – "you go, you go, you just go," was the repeated message. And then to make things worse, 3 of the 4 voices you gave time to were missionaries who apparently went under real or imagined duress and subsequently abandoned the LDS Church. What a disservice – skewed and bigoted, flawed and incomplete. You portrayed such service, the LDS culture which encourages it, and the Church program which sponsors it as oppressive, mechanical, and regimented to the point of intellectual and emotional pain. It was Jesus that "commanded" (yes, commanded – not lightly "suggested") that disciples go into all the world and preach repentance, faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, baptism, and enduring in obedience to the gospel – "Mormons" didn't make that up.

Over the years, I have worked with hundreds of young men and women and older couples who were preparing and did serve missions. In my experience less than 1% have any such feelings which you portrayed as "normal." They deeply desired to serve, they saved and sacrificed to serve, and they count the time as the best years of their lives. Where was that message in your presentation? You did give the positive some time but there again, it was minor compared to the negative interpretation. I can again, only surmise that the overwhelmingly positive experience of hundreds of thousands of individuals was of little interest to you – you had a purpose and that overwhelming set of evidence did not fit within your purposes so you largely left it out.

To your credit however, you did give liberal time to the story of one woman convert and how the gospel had blessed her. Also, you allowed Marlin K. Jensen to tell his mission experience. Thank you for doing that.

4) The LDS Church is secretively rich and power hungry – I think you would have done well to return to the public record on this and how President Gordon B. Hinckley has repeatedly summarized in public interviews the wealth of the Church. Most of that wealth is in income consuming, not income producing ventures – the bulk of which are chapels and other worship and welfare structures and land.

To the amazing credit and faithfulness of members, many do fully observe the Law of Tithing and pay 10% of their income to the Church – we don't look at that as a suppressive burden. But again, that's a biblical precedence of which we again follow in our day whereas you portrayed it as a mysterious coupe accomplished by secretive power hungry church leaders. "They have devious plans and bilk their members so they can exercise power over them to get personal gain and insure that no one questions their practices" – was the ridiculous mystique purveyed by critics. It's just plain wrong on its face, wrong in fact, and wrong in interpretation but none of that deterred the producers.

For many years I have been part of and witness to the extraordinary auditing practices of the Church to insure that all sacred funds are handled legally and appropriately – I can assure you that it is done in minute detail. In addition, the Church hires non-LDS auditing services to assess its handling of these funds and to make an annual public statement. While the individual expenditures are not public record, those expenditures are publicly audited (a requirement by the Federal government for "non-profit" organizations).

I am grateful for the law of tithing, that as members we can share the blessings granted us and elevate our brothers and sisters around the world both in and out of LDS membership. Tithing monies allows the work to go forward throughout the world and those few leaders (very few by comparison), who do receive a living stipend receive very little. They are poorer than if they held normal jobs in the world and anyone who portrays the leaders as accessing income from tithing funds to live luxuriously is mistaken. Those who publicly portray this message are ill-informed or downright dishonest.

You did equally poorly on the portrayal of temples and their purposes, on Church disciplinary councils, and governance. I am very familiar with these issues and you did not portray an honest and balanced perspective. Again and again your cast and backdrops were intended to convey strangeness, weirdness, thoughtless obedience, and extreme authoritarianism on the part of LDS leaders and the membership. You portrayed little respect, a great deal of antagonism, and a general avoidance of the grandness of the Church and its doctrines. One wonders just how the LDS Church could be growing at all given your abysmal assessment. Was that irony lost on you? Or do you simply explain it by adjudging LDS members and converts to be from the poor and downtrodden, the uneducated and desperate and hence largely unknowledgeable and indiscriminate?

I could go on with other subjects but I hope I have adequately made the point. I'm sorry that you chose to do the show you did. I think you have done a serious disservice to the viewing public and to the reputation of PBS. I believe that viewers were left with erroneous ideas and impressions and the responsibility for that lies directly on your shoulders.

Thomas E. Sherry,
May 8, 2007

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sharpton visits Salt Lake

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Rev. Al Sharpton toured Mormon facilities
Monday and dined privately with Russell M. Ballard after drawing
criticism two weeks ago for remarks about Republican presidential
candidate Mitt Romney.

"He's simply here to learn more about us," church spokesman Mike
Otterson said. "We want him to know what the church does, what its
work is."

Sharpton was debating with an atheist author when he said: "As for the
one Mormon running for office, those who really believe in God will
defeat him anyways, so don't worry about that; that's a temporary

Sharpton, a Pentecostal minister who urged the firing of Don Imus
after the radio host's racially insensitive remarks, said his words
were taken out of context. But he immediately called elders of the
12.5 million-member church to apologize.

Monday, on a live broadcast of his radio show from a church-owned
broadcast center in Salt Lake City, Sharpton said he respects Mormons
as Christians and believers. He called any perceived friction between
himself and the church a "fabricated controversy."

"Whatever differences I have with their denomination or religion had
nothing to do with my respect of their faith," Sharpton said.

Officially, the church will not comment on Romney's campaign and
maintains a position of political neutrality. Church leaders consider
the flap over Sharpton's comments closed but appreciated his apology
immediately afterward, Otterson said.

On the air, Sharpton said he and Elder M. Russell Ballard, of the
church's governing board of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, met
over dinner Sunday night and "talked very little, if at all" about the
comments. Instead, Sharpton said, they discussed shared concerns and
places where their faiths can work together.

"This is not politics," Sharpton said. "This is about what you
fundamentally, firmly believe. I did not want to leave it as 'we got
past an issue.'"

The dinner was followed by a tour Monday morning of church facilities,
including a humanitarian aid center from which the church distributes
clothes, food and medical supplies around the world.

Monday, May 21, 2007

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life interviews Elder Nelson

In Focus: Mormonism in Modern America

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Two Leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Discuss
the Tenets of Their Faith and its Role in Today's Political Life

In a rare interview, Russell M. Nelson, a member of the church's
Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, recently talked with the Pew Forum on
Religion & Public Life about the church's role in American society.
Lance B. Wickman, the church's general counsel, joined him in the
telephone interview from the denomination's headquarters. According to
church doctrine, Nelson and other members of the Quorum of the Twelve
Apostles are prophets, seers and revelators. The church considers the
quorum second in ecclesiastical authority to the church's First
Presidency, which includes the president and two apostles

Birth Control Measures Prompt Riots in China

NY Times, May 21, 2007
Birth Control Measures Prompt Riots in China

BEIJING, May 21 — An intensive campaign to enforce strict
population-control measures prompted violent clashes between the police
and local residents in southwestern China in recent days, witnesses
said, describing the latest incident of rural unrest that has alarmed
senior officials in Beijing.

Villagers and visitors to several counties of Guangxi autonomous region
in southwestern China said rioters smashed and burned government
offices, overturned official vehicles, and clashed with the riot police
in a series of confrontations over the past four days.

They gave varying accounts of injuries and deaths, with some asserting
that as many as five people were killed, including three officials
responsible for population-control work. A local government official in
one of the counties affected confirmed the rioting in an interview by
telephone but denied reports of deaths or serious injuries.

The violence appeared to stem from a two-month-long crackdown in Guangxi
to punish people who violated the country's birth control policy. The
policy limits the number of children families can have legally.

Corruption, land grabs, pollution, unpaid wages and a widening wealth
gap have fueled tens of thousands of incidents of unrest in recent
years, many of them occurring in rural areas that have been left behind
in China's long economic boom.

The central government, expressing concern that unrest could undermine
one-party rule, has alleviated the tax burden on peasants and sought to
curtail confiscations of farmland for development. But China's
hinterland remains volatile compared with the relative prosperity and
stability of its largest cities.

To limit the growth of its population of 1.3 billion, many parts of
China rely more on financial penalties and incentives than on coercive
measures, including forced abortions and sterilizations, that were
common in the 1980s, when the so-called one-child policy was first
strictly enforced.

But local officials who fail to meet annual population control targets
can still come under heavy bureaucratic pressure to reduce births in
their area of responsibility or face demotion or removal from office.

According to villagers and witness accounts posted on the Internet,
officials in several parts of Guangxi mobilized their largest effort in
years to roll back population growth by instituting mandatory health
checks for women and forcing pregnant women who did not have approval to
give birth to abort fetuses.

Several people said officials also slapped fines starting at 500 yuan
and ranging as high as 70,000 yuan, or $65 to $9,000, on families that
had violated birth control measures anytime since 1980. The new tax,
called a "social child-raising fee," was collected even though the vast
majority of violators had already paid fines in the past, the people said.

According to an account published on a Web forum called Longtan,
officials in Bobai County of Guangxi boasted that they had collected 7.8
million yuan in social child-raising fees from February through the end
of April.

Many families objected strongly to the fees and refused to pay.

Witnesses said in such cases villagers were detained, their homes
searched, and valuables, including electronic items and motorcycles,
confiscated by the government.

"Worst of all, the gangsters used hammers and iron rods to destroy
people's homes, while threatening that the next time it would be with
bulldozers," said one local peasant, who identified himself as Nong
Sheng and who faxed a petition letter complaining of the abuses to a
reporter in Beijing.

Nong said the crackdown was widespread in several counties in Guangxi.
He said local courts had declined to hear any cases related to the
matter, citing an edict from local officials.

Other villagers reached by phone described an escalating series of
confrontations that began Thursday and continued through the weekend.

Several described in detail an assault on the government offices of
Shapi Township, Bobai County, by thousands of peasants.

They said villagers broke through a wall surrounding the government
building, ransacked the offices, smashed computers and destroyed
documents and then set fire to the building itself. There were
inconsistent reports of death and injuries during that clash and a
subsequent crackdown by riot police.

Falwell's legacy,0,2820615.story?coll=bal-oped-headlines

Falwell's poisonous values
Originally published May 21, 2007

ATLANTA // By the time of his death last week, the Rev. Jerry Falwell
had become a caricature, a victim of his egomania and verbal excesses.
The organization he founded in 1979, the Moral Majority, had long since
disbanded, and his name had become associated with right-wing dogma. He
will be remembered as much for his ridiculous pronouncements - such as
blaming gays and feminists, among others, for the 9/11 attacks - as for
anything else.

Nevertheless, his influence on American politics has, sadly, been
profound. He and his fellow theocrats have created a climate of
intolerance for diversity, distrust of science, and disrespect for the
wall of separation between church and state.

Mr. Falwell was among a handful of ambitious activists who saw the
potential in marrying the Republican Party to ultraconservative
Christianity, an alliance that magnified the influence of the South in
national politics and boosted the fortunes of a born-again governor
named George W. Bush.

Ascendant Christian conservatives forced traditional Republicans - those
who believed in a more circumspect government that stayed out of adults'
bedrooms as well as their pockets - to swallow their principles. The
Grand Old Party is now hostage to a group of flat-earthers who deny
evolution, mock gays, denounce stem cell research, suspect
contraceptives and believe all Muslims are going to hell. Indeed, some
of them want a conflagration in the Middle East because they believe it
will hasten the Second Coming of Christ.

And that's not all. When President Bush ascended to the White House, he
allowed loyalty to him and to Christian fundamentalism to dominate the
hiring process. Competence no longer matters. Neither do top-notch
educational credentials and expertise.

Graduates of fundamentalist Christian institutions, especially Mr.
Falwell's Liberty University and the Rev. Pat Robertson's Regent
University, have been given free rein. Regent law school graduate Monica
Goodling - who recently resigned from the Justice Department because of
her central role in the burgeoning scandal there - was given broad
control over hiring attorneys, despite her limited experience.

In his book Imperial Life in the Emerald City, Washington Post reporter
Rajiv Chandrasekaran wrote that similar loyalty tests were used in the
hiring process for those charged with rebuilding Iraq. Two applicants
told him they were asked their views on Roe v. Wade. Given those
priorities, the reconstruction process was doomed from the start.

Democrats, too, have been intimidated by the religious right and
brainwashed by the idea that "values voters" can turn an election. The
values endorsed by theocrats, however, are dangerous to democracy.
Thomas Jefferson, whose letter to the Danbury Baptists spoke of the
separation of church and state, understood the grave risks of allowing
the religious views of any group to dominate civil institutions.

The war on science fostered by fundamentalist Christians is also
dangerous to a nation struggling to maintain its economic hegemony. Our
major universities do not produce enough scientists or engineers to keep
us competitive.

President Bush should have launched a major initiative to boost
scientific education, as the nation did in the 1950s and 1960s. If the
nation is to free itself from its addiction to Middle Eastern oil, we
need a program of federally funded research into alternative fuels that
has the urgency and priority of the Manhattan Project. Instead, Mr. Bush
has ignored, until quite recently, evidence of man-made climate change
and refused to fund broadened stem cell research.

Perhaps it's no great surprise, then, that three Republican presidential
candidates would raise their hands during a debate and say they do not
believe in evolution. (I wondered if they would also swear off using
antibiotics, since evolutionary theory lies at the foundation of modern
biology.) Mr. Falwell is dead, but the damage of his fundamentalist
revolution is already done.

Cynthia Tucker is editorial page editor for The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution. Her column appears Mondays in The Sun. Her e-mail

New Documentary To Explore Joseph Smith, Mitt Romney & The Mormon Quest For The White House

A Mormon President? New Documentary To Explore Joseph Smith, Mitt Romney & The Mormon Quest For The White House

LOS ANGELES, CA — A Mormon President, the first documentary film to explore the Mormon Prophet, Joseph Smith's campaign for the US Presidency and its implications for the candidacy of another Mormon, Mitt Romney, has begun production and is slated for a fall 2007 release.

Produced and directed by filmmaker Adam Christing, the film will be released in the heat of a presidential campaign that includes Romney and is part of a movie-making trend of examining the history of the Mormon religion, which includes the forthcoming September Dawn, the story of the Mountain Meadows Massacre of 1857, and PBS's The Mormons.

Christing, who grew up in the Reorganized Latter Day Saint Church and is a member of the Mormon History Association, says he is not producing a "hit" piece or a "puff" piece about the Mormon Prophet. "This film may be upsetting to "anti-Mormons" because it shows what a generous man and visionary leader Joseph Smith was," he noted. "It may shock some Mormons because it documents the untold story of Smith's secret marriages to more than 30 women and his campaign for President which led directly to his murder in 1844."

Christing who studied theology at Biola University in Los Angeles says his movies tend to focus on the intersection of faith and power. His most recent film Change Your Life! is a mockumentary about the wacky world of multi-level marketing, and is now in post production.

Romney's candidacy has heightened interest in issues related to Mormons and politics and created what Christing calls a "focus moment." "Focus moments are when events and ideas connect to create interest in a particular topic that may have been previously neglected," commented Christing. "We experienced similar moments about Catholicism and Judaism when Kennedy and Lieberman ran for office. Because of Romney we are now in a focus moment about Mormonism. People are becoming very interested in the history of the Mormon church and its connection to the political culture of our nation."

Christing promises to deliver a film that will be both educational and entertaining:

"This is a serious piece, but it will be very engaging," he noted. "I've been fascinated by Joseph Smith's story ever since I was a kid. Here's a man who started a religion, built a city bigger than Chicago in its day, became a Master Mason, and ran for President. He packed more adventure into 3 years than most people experience in a lifetime."

For more information about A Mormon President or to schedule an interview with Adam Christing, please contact Lisa Marie Franco at 310-478-8700 or email:

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Women's Rights in Old Testament Times

Now online,

Women's Rights
Old Testament Times

James R. Baker

Signature Books; Salt Lake City
© 1992 by Signature Books.
Table of Contents:


People's lives generally reflect the social norms of their times, some of which find expression in codified law. Deciphering stories of ancient Hebrew women requires cultural sophistication, especially an understanding of their usually murky backdrop. Although women are partly concealed by the patriarchal emphasis of the Bible, they exerted considerable influence in their communities and were often adept at working the law to their advantage.

The study of ancient Israel has long been the province of religious scholars, one of whom observed, "Biblical Law is too important to be left to lawyers."1 But after looking to the puzzling social and historical context of Hebrew women, I discovered a void and have decided to take on the task myself.

One incidental point of interest to me as a lawyer is the consistency between the Bible and what I can discover of contemporaneous, external legal codes. This affirms for me that the Hebrew Bible was written by scribes who lived at or near the times they were describing, whatever the historicity of any particular story. Historians and theologians continue this debate.

There are several limitations to understanding ancient law, not the least of which is linguistic. No one has spoken Akkadian or Sumerian or written in cuneiform or hieroglyphics for centuries. Scholarly debate continues over the accuracy of various translations. For example, who is a muskenum versus an awelum in the Code of Hammurabi? The context makes it clear that these are class distinctions, but their comparative status cannot be determined. Laws and punishments were administered differently for a nobleman than for a commoner, for a temple priestess than for a matron.

I rely heavily on the opinions of Middle Eastern scholars who have made the study of ancient legal texts their lifelong vocation. Not surprisingly, there are significant debates over most major legal theories and principles. What exactly was a concubine? How was the first born chosen? My guiding principle has been to prefer conclusions which most reasonably explain the narratives without textual manipulation.

There are other interpretive difficulties, including chronological contradictions, little surviving information about legal customs in some countries, the borrowing of legal theory from one country by another and from one century to the next,2 the rendering of judgment in the absence of law or in spite of the law due to political realities, 3 and the scarcity of nomadic as opposed to urban law. In addition, so little is recorded about some women that next to nothing can be deduced at all. I also omit consideration of Deborah, Esther, and others because their stories do not involve legal issues.

Unless otherwise noted, all scriptural quotations are from the King James Version of the Bible. I have elected to use this translation due to its popularity rather than its interpretive superiority. In quoting translations of legal documents, I used French brackets to add material, allowing translators and editors their standard brackets and parentheses for lacunae and clarifications. Outside of quotations from other authors' commentaries, I use parentheses.

I should also add that I am not a student of feminist theory, although the potential significance of my work to women's studies is hopefully apparent. Finally, readers should note what I see as one overall theme of the Bible: the inevitable downfall of the arrogant by those less privileged and more deserving. Implicit here is an acknowledgment that all was not rosy for women of ancient times. But they were protected in some rights and asserted themselves in other areas, sometimes heroically.

Publication of this book is the culmination of a fifteen-year dream. During that time many people assisted me. In particular, I appreciate Doug Parker, my mentor in law school, who aided me in other classes when I persisted in writing papers on ancient legal principles instead of current issues. I am grateful to David Thomas and the library staff of the J. Reuben Clark Law School, as well as to Doug Gould and the staff of the Harold B. Lee library, for research privileges granted me. Assistance provided by Anna and Dick Jacobsen, Joy Rigby, and Margaret Sanders is also appreciated. Lavina Fielding Anderson was very helpful in reviewing, critiquing, and editing the text; and I owe a debt of gratitude to her. Most of all, I cannot begin to express my gratitude for my wife who sacrificed financially and remained cheerful through some very trying times. Lastly, I would like to express appreciation for a Supreme Creator, in whom I have a firm conviction and without whose support I would not have attempted such an undertaking.

The above notwithstanding, I alone am responsible for any errors in this work.