Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Edward Leo Lyman to speak on the publication of a Mormon Apostle's diarie

    ...  CANDID INSIGHTS OF A MORMON APOSTLE: THE DIARIES OF ABRAHAM H. CANNON, 1889-1895, edited by Edward Leo Lyman, published by Signature Books in association with the Smith-Pettit Foundation. In a limited edition of 500 numbered copies this handsome book is the twelfth volume in the prestigious Significant Mormon Diaries Series. The editor will be at our store on Wednesday, December 1, 2010 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. to talk about and sign his book. He will speak at 6:00 p.m. and answer questions from the audience, signing books before and after that time.
            Many men have made their mark in the leadership of the LDS Church, but few have done as much at such an early age as Abraham H. Cannon, son of apostle and First Presidency member, George Q. Cannon. Called to be a member of the First Council of the Seventy in 1882 at age 23, he went on to serve as an apostle seven years later until his death in 1896 at only age 37. He was founder or director of over twenty companies and enterprises in Utah's formative period. He was instrumental in operating the Church's Juvenile Instructor and Contributor magazines as well as writing for both publications. Cannon also proudly served time in prison for polygamy.
            Cannon kept a detailed and candid diary in which he recorded, as historian D. Michael Quinn notes, "details of everything from the plots of plays performed at the Salt Lake Theatre to confidential meetings of the LDS leadership, from board meetings of major businesses to the complaints and unhappiness of his plural wives . . . to Abram's decision to marry a new plural wife in July 1896." B. Carmon Hardy states that "Cannon's personal record really opens to our view the inner sanctum of Church leadership in late-nineteenth-century Mormon life." Lyman writes that Candid Insights of a Mormon Apostle "contains the deliberations and decisions of the First Presidency and apostles prior to the Manifesto ending polygamy, which are found nowhere else."
            Edward Leo Lyman is an award-winning historian who has written scores of books and articles on Mormon and western history. This year he won the Utah Historical Society's Best Book Award for his biography, Amasa Mason Lyman, Mormon Apostle and Apostate, A Study in Dedication.
            We hope you will be able to attend this event which is sure to be fascinating and informative....

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Mike Lee, Cleon Skousen and Radical Constitutionalism

Excerpts of Radical Constitutionalism by JEFFREY ROSEN, New York Times

Of the newly elected Tea Party senators, Mike Lee, a 39-year-old Republican from Utah, has the most impeccable establishment legal credentials: the son of [former BYU president] Rex Lee .... But on the campaign trail, especially during his heated primary battle with the three-term Republican incumbent Bob Bennett, Lee offered glimpses of a truly radical vision of the U.S. Constitution, one that sees the document as divinely inspired and views much of what the federal government currently does as unconstitutional.

Lee proposed to dismantle, on constitutional grounds, the federal Departments of Education, and Housing and Urban Development. He insisted that "the Constitution doesn't give Congress the power to redistribute our wealth" and vowed to phase out Social Security. He proposed repealing the 16th Amendment, which authorizes the progressive federal income tax, and called the 17th Amendment, which allows senators to be elected by popular vote rather than by state legislatures, a "mistake." He pledged to end "the unauthorized federal occupation" of Utah land, insisting that Congress lacks the constitutional power to designate federally protected wilderness unless the relevant state legislature approves. He embraced "nullification," the idea that states have the right — and indeed the duty — to disregard federal laws, like the new health-care-reform bill, that they say are unconstitutional. Lee, who is a Mormon and a social conservative, also has equated the founding fathers' invocations of a deist God with the moral values of the Mormon Church. "As your U.S. senator," he promised during the campaign, "I will not vote for a single bill that I can't justify based on the text and the original understanding of the Constitution, no matter what the court says you can do."

Many of the positions Lee outlined on the campaign trail appear to be inspired by the constitutional guru of the Tea Party movement, W. Cleon Skousen, whose 1981 book, "The 5,000-Year Leap," argued that the founding fathers rejected collectivist "European" philosophies and instead derived their divinely inspired principles of limited government from fifth-century Anglo-Saxon chieftains, who in turn modeled themselves on the Biblical tribes of ancient Israel. Skousen, a Mormon who died in 2006 at 92, was for years dismissed by many mainstream conservatives, including William F. Buckley Jr., as a conspiracy-mongering extremist; he was also eventually criticized by the Mormon Church. A vocal supporter of the John Birch Society, Skousen argued that a dynastic cabal, including international bankers like the Rockefellers and J. P. Morgan, conspired to manipulate both Communism and Fascism to promote a one-world government.

Skousen's vision of the Constitution was no less extreme. Starting more than 60 years ago with his first book, "Prophecy and Modern Times," he wrote several volumes about the providential view of the U.S. Constitution set out in Mormon scripture, which sees the Constitution as divinely inspired and on the verge of destruction and the Mormon Church as its salvation. Skousen saw limited government as not only an ethnic idea, rooted in the Anglo-Saxons, but also as a Christian one, embodied in the idea of unalienable rights and duties that derive from God, and he insisted that the founders' "religious precepts turned out to be the heart and soul of the entire American political philosophy."

In 2009, after years of obscurity, Skousen's ideas were unexpectedly rediscovered by Glenn Beck, who was given a copy of "The 5,000-Year Leap" by a friend. As a result of Beck's endorsement, the book became a best seller and a Tea Party favorite. Beck's endorsement also revitalized the National Center for Constitutional Studies, which Skousen founded under another name in 1971 and which offered seminars on his books. During the 1990s, the center typically offered no more than a dozen seminars a year; this past year, it offered more than 200 to Tea Party groups across the country....

But during the Progressive Era, according to Skousen, America abandoned its founding principles because of the pressure exerted by "certain wealthy influential groups" that persuaded the country to embrace a "strong centralized government" with extensive regulatory power. This resulted in a large-scale, government-mandated, entirely unconstitutional redistribution of wealth. In Skousen's history, as in Tea Party politics, socialists and bankers are not opposing forces; the machinations of the wealthy and the machinations of the income-levelers are one and the same and must be resisted by defenders of liberty. Norton handed out cards enumerating the 28 "principles of liberty" that Skousen ascribed to the founders, and he urged us to memorize them.

Although Tea Party groups like Dick Armey's FreedomWorks have emphasized the movement's libertarianism and played down its social conservatism, several of Skousen's 28 principles stress the role of religious virtue. The fourth principle, "Without religion the government of a free people cannot be maintained," criticizes the Supreme Court for having misinterpreted Thomas Jefferson's metaphor of a "wall" separating church and state." Skousen argued that the First Amendment's prohibition on a federal establishment of religion wasn't intended to separate church and state but to prevent the federal government from disestablishing religion in the seven states that had officially established denominations during the founding era.

Some reputable legal scholars, like Akhil Reed Amar of Yale Law School, have made similar historical arguments. But in Skousen's view, the implications of this history are radical: Skousen would encourage the states today to require "universally accepted" religious teachings in public schools, as long as they don't favor one denomination over another. ...

Indeed, the 101 questions overlap with many of Lee's most-controversial views. In the questions, Skousen concludes that most federal regulatory agencies are unconstitutional, including the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Communications Commission, because they blur "the founders' division of labor between the states and the federal government." Skousen says the obscure "enclave clause" of the Constitution doesn't authorize the president "to lock up large blocks of land within a state as a 'wilderness reserve,' " or to set up national forests or national parks within the confines of a state — an eccentric view the Supreme Court has rejected. Skousen also calls for the repeal of the 16th and 17th Amendments, which he views as an affront to states' rights, and calls for the elimination of Social Security, welfare and the national debt as examples of wealth redistribution, which he considers unconstitutional because, in his words, the founders authorized the government only "to protect equal rights, not provide equal things." ...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Community of Christ joins the National Council of Churches

Excerpts of Community of Christ Sets Conditions for Membership and Joins NCC By: FireTag at Wheat and Tares
During the first 10 days of November, the Community of Christ made two historic transitions that profoundly alter its relationship with both Mormonism and Protestantism. First, the church issued new guidance entitled "Baptism, Confirmation, and Church Membership".
Then, a few days later. the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA  — accepted the application of the Community of Christ to become its 37th denominational member. The NCC is probably the premier echumenical institution of the Christian left in the United States.
Guidance was issued by the CofChrist's Prophet:
"...On several occasions the Spirit impressed on me that the church should not unnecessarily 'hinder' those who had experienced the power of baptism through the grace and authority of Jesus Christ from responding to the Spirit guiding them to membership.
The NCC report, published here, makes clear that the NCC is letting the CofChrist join because they believe the CofChrist is sufficiently far from its historical Restoration roots.
Specifically, the report states that the founder of the Community of Christ was Joseph Smith III, not — you know — that other Joseph Smith.

Another area of concern to the NCC was the Book of Mormon. Here, their opinion may be disturbingly factual:
"But it is not, in any sense, equivalent to the Bible in the life of their communion. Subscription to its teaching is not required for membership or ordination. While the Book of Mormon is sometimes used for worship, there are parts of the COC that seldom refer to it."
Read the entire article here

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Porter and Meldrum, "Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States" (reviewed by Tim Ballard)


Title: Prophecies and Promises: The Book of Mormon and the United States
Author: Bruce Porter and Rod Meldrum
Publisher: Digital Legend
Genre: Nonfiction
Year Published: 2009
Number of Pages: 239
Binding: N/A
ISBN13: 978-1-934537-34-3

Reviewed by Tim Ballard for the Association for Mormon Letters

Last month I found myself traversing the impressive landscape of the Guatemalan countryside in a big black Suburban. I wish I could say I was there as a tourist. However, I had been sent by the United States government to investigate a heinous crime involving the kidnapping and trafficking of children. With my mind and soul weighed down by the situation, I peered out the window of the highly armored SUV. As the security driver zipped over yet another forest green mountaintop and passed through a small village, I spotted something that raised my spirits. Walking side by side were two Mormon missionaries with copies of the Book of Mormon in their hands. I immediately began reflecting on that powerful book and the ancient people and places whose story is told therein. As we began our journey that morning from the capital, we passed the ancient ruins of Kaminaljuyu—a popularly proposed site for Nephi's ancient temple. We had also driven near the beautiful banks of Lake Atitlan—the proposed site of the ancient Waters of Mormon. The reality of the ancient cascaded into my mind as I watched those Mormon elders with their copies of the Book of Mormon. My darkness turned to light as I took in the fact that I was in Book of Mormon lands.

As fate would have it, within weeks of my return from Mesoamerica, I was asked to review the book *Prophecies and Promises*—a work which would challenge my recent experience in Guatemala. In the book, the authors boldly assert that the Book of Mormon narrative did not occur in ancient Mesoamerica (as many assume), but within the borders of what is now the United States of America. They call their position the Heartland Theory. As I opened the book I realized I would make a perfect test-case for the authors' proposal; I had a personal and vested interest in a Mesoamerican theory. If they could convince me I was wrong, then I would conclude they had produced a powerful work indeed. I read the book. The result: an enlightened perspective and an expanded horizon.

The authors build their case upon a foundation of sound methodology. Instead of focusing solely on what limited geographic indicators exist in the Book of Mormon (like many theorists have done), they utilize a broader, more useful, set of sources. They go so far as to rank these sources by importance and credibility, beginning with prophetic evidence found in the scriptures and followed up by prophetic statements made by the Prophet Joseph Smith. They add depth to their case by showing how physical, geographic and scientific (DNA) evidence also supports the Heartland Theory.

The book was not written as a critique of other, more prominent theories. Nor does it feel like a defensive response to critics of the authors' theory. It simply provides evidence for its central argument. Some of the most compelling (even shocking) pieces of evidence include statements from the Prophet Joseph, in which he is reported to have said that "the last great struggle with the Lamanites and Nephites" occurred in what is now the United States. He also referred to lands of the United States as "the plains of the Nephites." Other recorded utterances from the Prophet imply a similar message. The authors explain how the Limited Geography Theory (which argues that the Book of Mormon narrative had to occur within relatively limited space), makes these statements by the Prophet especially relevant. Also compelling is the rich and detailed DNA analysis, which powerfully connects the blood of Native Americans in the Great Lakes Region to Europeans and Israelites.

If I have one critique for the book it would be the authors' failure to consider other equally logical interpretations of certain scriptural passages they cite. For example, the authors assert that the Book of Mormon's use of the demonstrative "this"—as in the Prophet Lehi's description of the Promised Land as "*this* land"—represents conclusive evidence of the Heartland Theory. Through several chapters, the authors convincingly detail how the United States of America is the latter-day land of promise prophesied over by the Prophet Lehi and others. The reason Lehi called this future Promised Land of the Restoration "this land," was to point out that he was standing precisely upon it. He was distinguishing *this* land from *other* lands (e.g. Mesoamerica) in the New World. If Lehi meant for the Promised Land to include places beyond where he was standing, he would have said *the* land or *that* land—not *this* land. Therefore, if the United States of America truly is the modern-day Promised Land (which it has proven to be) then Lehi and his people must have been residing within what was to become her borders. To interpret the phrase "this land" any other way, according to the authors, would be "to force an interpretation"(p.213).

I was surprised at the level of emphasis placed on such a myopic interpretation, as there is an alternative interpretation that is very obvious and natural. It seems just as likely (or more likely) that Lehi and other prophets referred to "this land" without a defined sense of modern-day geographical boundaries. All they knew was that they had discovered a New World unknown to the Old World. Therefore, if they stood in what is now Guatemala and described the future promised nation-state as pertaining to "this land," it is completely reasonable to assume they meant that this future nation-state of promise would emerge somewhere (anywhere) upon *this* newly discovered  New World. "This land" may have simply implied a land that was not *that* land of their fathers from whence they had come. In this light, the United States of America would be included as part of "this land," even in a Mesoamerican setting. In addition, the prophecies of Christopher Columbus in the Book of Mormon imply that he would also come to the Promised Land. He landed in the Caribbean. Other latter-day explorers found what would be the United States long before Columbus saw it.

The authors' interpretation requires us to believe that Book of Mormon prophets foresaw future, national borders.  However, the scriptures give no indication of such knowledge. The only borders and boundaries we know for sure that Lehi understood were those between the Old World and the New World. Therefore, it is very natural—not at all "forced"—to assume that his use of the word *this* was to make this single distinction. I harp upon this point only because this is a central theme throughout the book. The authors place the "this land" argument in the beginning as scriptural (even preeminent) evidence, and then refer to it throughout the rest of the book as scripturally conclusive. Yet it is not scripturally conclusive. I wish they had at least mentioned the other obvious alternative interpretation.

Similarly, the authors insist that when the Angel Moroni told Joseph that Book of Mormon inhabitants resided upon "this continent," and when Joseph stated that Christ appeared on "this continent," that it was proof positive that all these things had occurred in what is now the United States (p.212). However, while maintaining their conclusion, the authors also admit that the word "continent," even in Joseph's day, included North America *and* Central America(p.100)—it included Mesoamerica! In fact, one of the authors' references quotes Joseph in the Wentworth letter stating that "the remnant [of Book of Mormon civilizations] are the Indians that now inhabit *this country*…[and that] "Christ made his appearance upon *this continent* (pp. 99-100)." The authors offer this as proof of their theory. However, it could also be proof of an opposing theory. The reference to "the remnant [of] this country" allows for migration of Book of Mormon peoples from Mesoamerica to what is now the United States. And the reference to Christ's appearance on "this continent" could just as easily imply that his visit occurred in Mesoamerica. If Joseph was trying to convey that all these ancient events took place within the borders of the United States, why did he not use "this country" for both references, instead of "this country" for one (where the remnants ended up) and "this continent" for the other (where Christ appeared)? Once again, no attempt was made to reconcile this doubt. Strangely, it was portrayed *only* as proof of the authors' position.

Another frustration included the authors' failure to address the one geographic necessity of a Book of Mormon setting—the only geographic fixture which all readers of the Book of Mormon immediately recognize. I speak of the "narrow neck of land." Writing about Book of Mormon geography without ever mentioning this most prominent landmark is like writing about the American Revolution without ever mentioning the name Washington. Not a single reference to it is made in this study.

These critiques do not discredit the Heartland Theory. They only serve to point out how the author's arguments are somewhat lacking. They also point out the exciting notion that perhaps there is more to be discovered—that there is more to the debate to be added. And I, for one, look forward to seeing it, studying it, and reaching new conclusions and new horizons. And this brings me to the ultimate conclusion of my review. Thanks to the research provided in this book, I was tossed (for the first time) into a wonderful intellectual contest. Indeed, the book lit a fire in me to seek truth. I have already purchased and read other books on the subject. I have read articles, and I have talked with experts in the field. At this stage of my personal exploration, I admit that I no longer *know* where the Book of Mormon narrative took place. But, ironically, for all I do *not* know, I have experienced higher levels of understanding. For I have seen Book of Mormon characters more clearly than ever before. I have pictured them within various proposed settings. I have gained insights into their lives and stories. For all this, I can thank *Prophecies and Promises*. Admittedly, my new insights have been focused not on the less important question of *where* the ancients were, but on *how* they were, *who* they were, *what* they were and *why* they were. And I can't help but think this achieved the authors' ultimate goal; for they did not dedicate their book to Heartland theorists, but to "all students of the Book of Mormon whose lives have been forever altered by the truths contained within its pages (p. xv)."

Monday, November 22, 2010


Mormon-Church-History has just finished chronicling the year 1842, one of the most interesting years in the history of the church.  Posts for the year can be read here or here.

Beginning today, Mormon-Church-History will begin traversing through 1843, a remarkable year and the last full year of Joseph Smith's life.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Wilford Woodruff's 1860 reflections

Excerpts of Wilford Woodruff's 1860 reflections

This is the last day of 1860 which Ends this important & momentious year, which has been looked forward to by thousands for many years as a period which would date the Commencement of great & mighty Changes in the Earth, Changes which would greatly Effet the interest & welfare of all Nations under Heaven. Now what are the facts in the Case as far as they have Come to the knowledge of the Historian. ...

Joseph Smith the Prophet of God told the people of the United States Government what awaited them & there final Destiny as a Nation because of there wickedness & abominations & because they would shed the Blood of Prophets & Saints.

He said in 1832, 28 years ago that South Carolinia would rise up in rebelion and that war would Commence at that place & that the Southern States would arise up in rebelion against the Northern States & the Northern States against the Southern States & that war would be poured out upon all Nations which would End in the death & misery of many Souls & because of these things or as the prophet has said the people of the United States have put to death the prophet Joseph the Patriarchs Apostle & many Saints and driven the Church of Christ from place to place for about thirty years and Finally have driven them into the wilderness even into these vallies of the Mountain and the Lord told us "to plead at the feet of the Judges Governors & Presidets of the United States & if they Heed us not and do not redress us of our wrongs (then the Lord says) I will arise out of my hiding place & in my fury I will vex the Nation and I will Cut off those wicked & unjust Stewards and appoint them there portions with Hipocritts & unbelievers.

1860 has laid the foundation for the fulfillment of these things. ... South Carolinia Ceceded from the Union on the 20 Dec 1860 and others are preparing to follow their example. This has caused a great Convultion throughout the United States. ... The Lord is withdrawing his spirit from the Nation and they are begining to be filled with madness towards Each other and the Southern States are arming & preparing for A Deadly Conflict against the Northern States. And whom the Lord wants to destroy he first makes mad and the people are being inspired with madness to such a degree that they are ready to devour each other.

The foundation has been laid during the year 1860 To break up & annihilate the American Government and the scenes which will follow in quick succession will be terrible & horrible in their detail. This Nation is guilty of sheding the Blood of the Lords anointed, of his Prophets & Saints and the Lord Almighty has decreed their destruction. The Lord has Commenced a Controversy with the American Government and Nation in 1860 and he will never cease untill they are destroyed from under heaven, and the Kingdom of God Esstablished upon their ruins. Let the Gentiles upon this land prepare to meet their God.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Anti-SSM group may have Mormon / Meridian Magazine ties

Despite sharing a name, numerous connections and an anti-gay marriage agenda, Iowa Family Policy Center President Chuck Hurley says the new incarnation of his organization — The Family Leader — has no affiliation whatsoever to a national group with the same name and apparent ties to the Mormon church.

IFPC's The Family Leader will be an umbrella group led by former gubernatorial candidate Bob Vander Plaats, fresh from his successful campaign to oust three Iowa Supreme Court justices for their 2009 gay marriage ruling. The new group will incorporate the Iowa Family Policy Center, the IFPC PAC and the formerly federally funded program Marriage Matters. 

According to 990 tax forms, the national Family Leader Network was founded in 2006 and is based in Fairfax, Va. However, there is no such entity listed with the Virginia Secretary of the Commonwealth. The 990 was filed by a board member of The Family Leader Network based in Utah, but the Utah Secretary of State has no record of the organization either.

The national Family Leader Network recently joined with the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) to file an Amicus brief in support of California's Prop 8, a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage that was overturned by a federal judge.  NOM was instrumental in Vander Plaats' campaign to oust three Supreme Court justices, spending $635,627 in Iowa, including more than $435,000 on TV advertising. The group also spent nearly $30,000 to co-sponsor the statewide "Judge Bus" tour that capped off the anti-retention campaign.

Hurley told the Iowa Independent the two groups having the same name and similar political views was just coincidence.

The national Family Leader Network's president, Maurine Proctor, is also founder and editor in chief for Meridian Magazine, a Church of the Latter Day Saints publication.

Frank Schubert, president of Sacramento based Schubert Flint Public Affairs, was the chief strategist of the Prop 8 initiative. He was also paid a small amount – $500 — by Vander Plaats' Iowa for Freedom organization for media consulting on the anti-retention campaign.

Another Meridian Magazine columnist and independent Mormon pollster, Gary Lawrence has ties to both Prop 8 in California, serving as a grassroots organizer, and to the Iowa judicial retention vote.

Much like the IFPC's The Family leader, the national Family Leader's mission is "to develop public policy that supports traditional marriage and family" as well as fight "the homosexual agenda in the classroom."  Request for comment from the national Family Leader Network by The Iowa Independent wasn't returned.


Excerpted from IFPC denies new group has ties to national organization with same name, By Andy Kopsa, Iowa Independent

New Sociological Study on American Religion: what is says about Mormonism

From LDSpublic affairs
A new and important study of religion in America has, among other things, a good deal to say about [the church]. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, yields valuable insight to the nature and social effects of American religion. [T]he study's authors affirm that in many respects, religion in America exerts a healthy influence upon American society — one that typically promotes generosity, trust, neighborliness, and civic engagement. The study data reveals that [Mormons] play a conspicuous part in American religious life.

Among the study's findings related to Latter-day Saints are the following:

  • Mormons are among the most devout religious groups in the country.
  • Mormons are among those most likely to keep their childhood faith as adults.
  • Mormons are unusually giving.
  • Mormons are relatively friendly to other religious groups.
  • Mormons are among the most likely to believe that one true religion exists, but also that those outside their faith can attain salvation or reach "heaven."

Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religious Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010).


The above was excerpted from Major New Study of Religion Has Much to Say About Mormons, lds.org public affairs

Gay rights groups critique new Handbook

Excerpts of HRC & Affirmation: Gay & Lesbian Mormons to LDS Church: You Have Further to Go by Micah Bisson.

The church has rid its new policy handbook of a call for professional counseling for those who experience same-sex attraction. This is a small, but positive step forward, as the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association have both concluded that same-sex attraction is normal and that "reparative" therapy – like the kind formerly advocated by the Mormon Church – is unhealthy and harmful.

"It is good to see the Mormon Church has finally recognized what science has told us for years – people cannot change their sexual orientation and attempts to do so are harmful," said HRC President Joe Solmonese. "But the church has a lot further to go. Too many kids are struggling with their identities and self-worth. Church leaders must let them know they are loved and worthy just the way they are."

New church policy... still groups homosexual behavior with: attempted murder, forcible rape and spouse abuse. The handbook also says homosexual behavior is permanently noted in one's church records, however heterosexuals found to commit "sexual sin" outside of marriage receive no permanent annotations.

Bennett, "School of the Prophet" (reviewed by Jeffrey Needle)



Title: School of the Prophet
Author: Richard E. Bennett

Publisher: Deseret Book
Genre: Non-fiction
Year Published: 2010
Number of Pages: 163

Binding: Hardcover
ISBN10: n/a
ISBN13: 978-1-59038-996-6
Price: $21.99

Reviewed by Jeffrey Needle for the Association for Mormon Letters

The other day I was reading my favorite part of my daily newspaper, the comics.  There's nothing quite like sitting back after reading all the news and the inconsequential editorials and cracking a smile at the sometimes offbeat humor of the men and women who give us so much entertainment.  In a recent "Dennis the Menace" cartoon, Dennis and his dad are watching, I think, a new driver.  My memory fades as to the details.  But Dennis can't quite understand – he asks, "But where are the training wheels?"  In Dennis' mind, you need to have training wheels in order to propel anything!


What about religion?  Does the founder of a religion need to have "training wheels" before setting out and upsetting the religious landscape?  Or can one just dive in without preparation? Is there a need to hone one's skills before trying to improve the skills of others?


I suppose that, when you're a church built on revelation, anything is possible.  Why not just raise your head above the waters and shout, "I'm here, people!  Pay attention to me!"  I suppose this is how God might have dealt with the restoration of the gospel.  It doesn't take book learning, only openness of heart.


However, to be sure, God chose another path for Joseph Smith.  According to Bennett, God set aside the decade of 1820 to 1830 to prepare and equip Joseph Smith, to give him his training wheels.  In this brief treatise, the author sets out to document this training time.


This ten year period was marked by some of the foundational events in Mormon history – the First Vision, the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon, the restoration of priesthood authority, etc.  Quite a busy time!  But all of it was necessary in order for Joseph and his co-workers to accomplish the mammoth task to creating and defining what would become a major world religious movement.


While longtime historians will find little here that is new, Bennett offers this period of the Mormon story as a miraculous and wonderful act on the part of God to prepare His servant to bring the message of the gospel to the masses.  He would use a flawed human instrument (as we all are), carefully sharpening Joseph's skills and knowledge, until he was ready to emerge fully as the Prophet of the Restoration.


Without this preparatory period, one wonders how successful Joseph would have been in the coming years.  Bennett lays out this formative time in Joseph's life in ways that everyone can appreciate and understand.  And for many Latter-day Saints, his narrative will tie together these events in a cogent and consistent manner.


"School of the Prophet" is a fine effort by a fine writer.  Consider adding this book to your library.  It will be treasured for years to come.



Jeffrey Needle
Association for Mormon Letters


Davis, "In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues that Divide Us" (reviewed by Blair Dee Hodges)




Title: In Defense of Civility: How Religion Can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues that Divide Us 

Author: James Calvin Davis

Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press

Genre: Religion/Politics

Year: 2010

Pages: 198

ISBN13: 9780664235444

Binding: Paperback

Price: $19.95


Reviewed by Blair Dee Hodges


The subtitle of James Calvin Davis's new book "In Defense of Civility" describes an audacious pipe dream. If the book aims to tell readers "How Religion can Unite America on Seven Moral Issues That Divide Us" I would be satisfied with a book that resolves a single divisive issue! Nevertheless, given the recently heated political climate, I thought it might be well to think about a less-discussed virtue of civic engagement: civility. 


As it turns out, Davis is not offering simple resolutions for divisive issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and environmentalism. To the contrary, he bluntly states that "civility cannot guarantee consensus on any issue" (160). Instead, Davis seeks first to describe and justify an ethic of civil public dialog and second, to embody the ethic by describing seven particularly sticky moral/political issues. Above all Davis underscores not merely the legitimacy, but also the potential benefits of recognizing religious perspectives in the public sphere. My review of his book comes too late to assist in the recent political hullabaloo; things tend to get especially rancorous during election season. However, the book provides crucial food for thought for those reflecting on the tone of political dialog generally, those who aren't waiting for another election year to care about the political process, and those who think religion deserves either a stronger or weaker presence in political discussions.


The book is divided into three parts. Part one, "Public Religion and the American Moral Tradition," lays the historical groundwork by discussing the roots of religion's role in American politics. With all due respect to the Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, Davis challenges the claim that America is a "Christian nation" by pointing out that "many of the most prominent men responsible for the new government professed beliefs that hardly resembled traditional Christianity" (25). After describing what Jon Meacham has elsewhere called the "American Gospel,"[1] Davis warns against misapplying "the designs of eighteenth-century patriots (however we understand them) to our very different twenty-first-century political culture" (31).


Davis also cautions against invoking the "wall of separation" argument in attempts to exclude religion from political discussion. Historically speaking, the wall has been somewhat "porous" (37), Davis explains, citing many examples which "involve regular Americans contributing" to crucial debates on issues like slavery "from explicitly religious perspectives and in intentionally religious language" (47).


In the final chapter of part one Davis admits that arguing to include religion in public debate "is a harder sell in the highly diverse society we live in today." Thus, some seek to exile religion on the grounds that it is a "conversation stopper" (54). Religious perspectives are seen as too divisive or too stupid to make any positive impact. Many issues being debated, Davis argues, are morally grounded, and religious discussion can rightfully be brought to bear on them as much as any other world-view. In a particularly relevant section of the book, Davis outlines the type of religious argument which is guaranteed to be a "conversation stopper."


Party A Claim: Bald assertion- Abortion is wrong because the Bible says so.

Party B Response: "So what? The Bible holds no authority over me."


End of discussion. 


Davis concludes: "The mistake that secular liberals [and, I would argue, some religiously inclined folk] often make, however, is assuming that this is the only form a religious argument can take...If they are not open to reason, they cannot contribute meaningfully to conversation among a religiously and philosophically diverse public" (60).


Davis again provides examples of religious thinkers who were capable of making "reasonable" and "accessible" arguments in the public sphere. Faith and reason need not exclude each other. Davis hopes to foster an attitude of mutual respect by distinguishing between being persuaded versus understanding an argument, and between understanding and accepting an argument. "If mutual respect simply requires that we work to make ourselves understood by others--and struggle to understand their points of view--then a religious argument can convey respect just as successfully as a nonreligious one" (61). Davis doesn't stop at simply arguing for the propriety of religious arguments, but lists seven positive advantages in "a political environment that is open to religious reasoning" (63). Such advantages include an increased ability to critique moral conventions, and a more open discussion of morals generally, which  is usually snuck in the back door of political conversation anyway through unstated assumptions.


In sum: part one dissects myths on the right (America is a Christian nation, etc.) and left (Separation of church and state, etc.) and then shows what religion can offer in style and argument.[2]


In part two Davis attempts to exemplify the way religion can increase the quality of political discussion. He begins by "Rethinking the Big Four." These chapters embody the tone of interchange described in part one while discussing abortion, embryonic stem-cell research, euthanasia, and gay marriage (interestingly, Mormonism doesn't come up in his same-sex marriage discussion).


In part three Davis takes readers "Beyond the Big Four," with discussions on war, environmentalism, and the economy. Perhaps the most fascinating should-have-been-obvious-why-didn't-I-already-think-of-that point of the book is the strange classification system Americans seem to embrace regarding "moral" issues. He cites a 2004 National Election Poll in which voters were asked to name the "most important issue facing the country." Davis explains:


The poll pitted "moral values" against war, terrorism, the environment, and the economy. Doing so implied that those other issues had nothing to do with "moral values"; they were topics of political or social importance, but they were not matters of ethics....But war *is* a profoundly moral issue, just as how we treat the natural world and how we deal with one another in our economic relationships are matters of great moral significance" (117-118). This section works well together with Davis's earlier admonition to resist the myth that moral arguments exist only one side of any given debate, whether regarding abortion, gay marriage, stem cell research, or capitalism (7).


Davis's stirring concluding chapter is written "In Defense of Civility" (155), which he defines as "the exercise of patience, integrity, humility, and mutual respect in civil conversation, even (or especially) with those with whom we disagree" (159). Noting the tendency of radio and TV political coverage to favor "sexier news" over compromise and reasoned discussion, Davis still believes there are many who desire "a public dialogue that is patient, substantive, and subtle" (157). He carefully notes that he isn't calling for "simple passivity, nicety, or acquiescence," or that all conflict must be avoided. Pretending differences don't exist is as fruitless as shouting about differences. More importantly, civility is not a magic ingredient: "civility cannot guarantee consensus on any issue" (160). But Davis, citing Os Guinness, believes it promises progress: "What we are looking for [in civility] is not so much truths that can unite us as terms on which we can negotiate and by which we can live with the differences that divide us" (161). Davis again invokes history for examples of civility as a "consistent aspiration" of American leaders, albeit with imperfect execution (161). Davis encourages readers to encourage civility in the politicians to whom we write or interact with, the TV and radio programs we pay attention to, and the discussions we have with others in person, online, or anywhere else. 


Rather than sounding like a whiny diatribe or a preachy soapbox sermon, Davis's book is a reasoned description and example of the sort of civil discussion which can serve to enrich public discourse. There are a few blind spots (I would have liked a discussion of an organized religion's right to promote political platforms, for example, or a description of tax exempt implications). Davis himself seems to lean slightly left of center on some issues and right of center on others. I hope this does not distract readers from the central purpose of the book, which isn't to resolve policy issues, but to exemplify a civil and religiously inclusive discussion on them.





[1] An accessible overview is Jon Meacham's "American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation" (Random House: 2006).


[2] Davis recognizes that each argument is not necessarily confined to the right or the left; this right/left construction favors more recent trends.




HarperOne, "The C.S. Lewis Bible" (reviewed by Jeffrey Needle)



Title: The C.S. Lewis Bible
Author: Various editors

Publisher: HarperOne
Genre: Scripture
Year Published: 2010
Number of Pages: 1529

Binding: Hardcover
ISBN10: n/a
ISBN13: 978-0-06-198208-8
Price: $34.99

Reviewed by Jeffrey Needle for the Association for Mormon Letters

Was C.S. Lewis a Mormon?  Hardly.  Was he friendly toward Mormons?  I have no idea.  In any event, Mormons have had no trouble adopting Lewis as one of their own.  Full length book studies have been published, including two titles by Cedar Fort, Inc. ("C. S. Lewis: Latter-day Truths in Narnia" by Marianna Richardson and Christine Thackeray and "The Restored Gospel According to C.S. Lewis" by Nathan Jensen).  Deseret Book regularly carries Lewis titles.  And our good reviewer Blair Dee Hodges runs a webpage titled "Life on Gold Plates," in which can be found some thoughts about C.S. Lewis and Mormonism.  http://www.lifeongoldplates.com/2009/04/c-s-lewis-crypto-mormon-part-i-latter.html


Why the attraction?  Why have so many Latter-day Saints latched on to a theologian whose personal views hardly reflect mainstream LDS views?  Well, in fact, some Latter-day Saints have found parallels between Lewis' writings and the beliefs of the Mormon Church.  And the enthusiasm for everything C.S. Lewis isn't going away very soon.  We can expect more scholarly works concerning this remarkable man.


Now, from HarperOne, we have "The C.S. Lewis Bible."  The idea is quite simple: take a modern rendering of the biblical text (in this instance, the New Revised Standard Version) and interweave relevant thoughts from the Lewis writings.  And make no mistake.  Selecting which of Lewis' thoughts to include had to be a gargantuan task.  He wrote so much, and wrote so deeply and sincerely, it must have been difficult to choose a limited number of his thoughts to include in this Bible.


But the editors did a fine job.  They have enhanced the text with insights from Lewis that offer the reader a deeply spiritual view of the Bible, a book that is, surprisingly, sometimes not read with spiritual eyes.  So much effort is spent on parsing the text, on finding proof-texts that support this view or another, that readers can sometimes lose sight of the deeply devotional nature of reading the scriptures.


Lewis understood the importance of the inner life, the centrality of one's personal relationship with God as the seeker looks to find God in the pages of Holy Writ.  Lewis appreciated and celebrated how the Word of God *becomes* the Word of God to each of us in a special way.  He is never doctrinaire.  Instead, he wants us to drink deeply of the Word and come to a relationship with deity through that Word.


The choice of the New Revised Standard Version is a good one.  It appeals to so many students and scholars who appreciate this rendering of the text.  Some have complained about the gender-neutral aspects of the translation.  Others mourn the loss of "thee" and "thou" without understanding that such ways of addressing God are an invention of some our predecessors.  Honest Bible scholars find much to admire in this translation.  One aspect of this Bible that is a bit disappointing is the absence of the Apocrypha.  Its inclusion would have made it a more complete resource.


What can't be denied is that, in the Mormon quest for ownership of Lewis (yes, I'm exaggerating a bit, but you get the point), it is easy to pick and choose from his writings to buttress Latter-day Saint doctrine.  What gets lost in all of this is the man's total lifework, his transcendence of doctrinal disputes and his subsequent immersion in the goodness of God and in the ever-present mystery of God's role in our lives.


Students of C.S. Lewis will do well to obtain this Bible.  It will serve in two capacities – it will give you a good contemporary rendering of the biblical text, and it will present a wonderfully encompassing view of Lewis and his work.


HarperOne is to be commended for bringing this volume to fruition.  With Christmas coming, "The C.S. Lewis Bible" would make a wonderful gift for family and friends who want, and need, this engrossing and wonderfully realized integration of scripture and Lewis.


Oh, before you ask, NO, you may NOT have my copy! <grin>



Jeffrey Needle
Association for Mormon Letters


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

One Hundred Years Hence

"ONE HUNDRED YEARS HENCE. 1945" authored by John Taylor, Parley P. Pratt or W. W. Phelps -- as reprinted in the Millennial Star (originally in the Nauvoo Neighbor), published shortly after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith in 1844.  

From the Nauvoo Neighbor.
God, through his servants the prophets, has given all men a clue to the future. In view of this, we were cogitating upon our bed the other night, what would be the state of the world a hundred years hence. In quick succession the events and periods which have filled up nearly six thousand years passed before our mind's eyes, together with the accompanying, " Thus saith the Lord, I will destroy the earth with a flood, after one hundred and twenty years. There shall be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine in Egypt. Israel shall be held captive in Babylon till the land enjoys her Sabbath's seventy years;" and then came Daniel's numbers; and the exact time when the Saviour should be was born, his crucifixion, and second coming.
While thus looking over the "has beens," we fell into a deep sleep, and the angel of our presence came to the bedside and gently said, "Arise" Now, it mattereth not whether we were in the body or out of it; asleep or awake ; on earth or in heaven ; or upon the water or in the air; the sum of the matter is like this:—Our guide, for such we shall call the angel or being that conveyed us, soon brought us in sight of a beautiful city.
As we were nearing the place, a "pillar of fire," seemingly over the most splendid building, lit the city and country for a great distance around, and as we came by, The Temple Of The Lord In Zion, in letters of a pure language, and sparkling like diamonds, disclosed where we were. Our guide went round the city in order to give ns s chance to "count the towers;" and, as it was nearly sunrise, he conducted us into one, that we might have a fair chance to view the glory of Zion by daylight. We seemed to be swallowed up in sublimity. The "pillar of fire" as the sun rose majestically mellowing into a "white cloud," as a shade for the city from heat. The dwellings, so brilliant by night, had the appearance of "precious stones," and the streets glittered like gold, and we marvelled. "Marvel not," said our guide, " this is the fulfilment of the words of Isaiah:—' For brass I will bring gold, and for iron I will bring silver, and for wood brass, and for stones iron: I will also make thine officers peace, and thine exactors righteousness.' "
Now the eyes of our understanding began to be quickened, and we learned that we were one hundred years ahead of "common life," and we glorified. The "veil" that hides our view from the glory of the upper deep had been taken away, and all things appeared to us as to the Lord. The great earthquake mentioned by John, and other prophets before him, had levelled the mountains over the whole earth:—the "sea" had rolled back as it was in the beginning, the crooked was mode straight, and the rough places plain. The earth yielded her "increase," and the knowledge of God exalted man to the society of resurrected beings.
The melody and prayers of the morning in Zion, showed that the "Lord was there," and truly Lo ; for, after breakfast the chariot of Jesus Christ was made ready for a pleasure ride; and the chariots of his "hundred and forty-four thousand" glittered in the retinue of " earth's greatest and best," so gloriously, that the show exhibited the splendour of gods, whose Father's name they bore on the front of their crowns)
Our curiosity excited us to inquire, what day they celebrated? To which the guide replied, "This is the Feast-day of the Lord to Joseph And Hyrum Smith, for being martyred for the truth, held yearly on the 7th day of the fourth month, throughout all the tribes of Israel!"
Flesh and blood cannot comprehend the greatness of the scene; the worthy of the earth, with Adam at their head; the martyrs of the different dispensations, with Abel at their head; and honourable men from other worlds composed an assemblage of majesty, dignity, and divinity so much above the little pageantry of man in his self-made greatness, that we almost forgot that mortals ever enjoyed anything more than misery, in all the pomp and circumstance of maris power over man ! This was a feast-day for truth! This was the reward of integrity —This was the triumph of " kings and priests" unto God, and was a holiday of eternity! Who could be happier than he that was among the holy throng ? No one; and away we rode out of Zion among her stakes.
At the first city out, we found the Bame spirit—All Were One. While there, the following news, by post, came from the east. It was read from one of the papers just published that morning.
"In digging for the foundation of our new Temple in the 124th city of Joseph, near where it is supposed the city of New York once stood, a large square stone was taken from the ruins of some building, which, by a seam in it, indicated more than mere stone. The seam being opened, disclosed a lead box about six by eight inches square. This box was soon found to contain several daily papers of its time, together with some coin of the old government of the United States. It will be recollected that all the inhabitants of this city, which were spared from calamity, were 'slung out when the earth was turned upside down,' some forty or fifty years ago for their wickedness."
The account of "fires" in one of these papers was truly lamentable, destroying, as the paper said, more than twenty-Five millions worth of property in about three months. Each contained a large number of murders, suicides, riots, robberies, and hints of war expected, with columns of divisions among the sectarian churches about "slavery, Onderdonking, and the right way." The Archer of Paradise remarked, as these horrors of "old tiroes" were being read, that "all that was transacted in the last days of Babylon, before Satan was bound."
Joseph Smith said, "Lord, we will put those papers and coin in the repository of relics and curiosities of Satan's kingdom of the old world which was agreed to by all, after exhibiting the coin. The Silver coin contained the words "United States of America," and "half dollar," round the image of an eagle on one side, and a woman sitting upon the word "Liberty," and holding up a night cap, between thirteen stars over " 1845," on the other.
The only idea that could be gathered from all this was, that the government had fallen from the splendour of an eagle to the pleasure of women, and was holding up the night cap, as a token that the only liberty enjoyed then, was star-light liberty, because their deeds were evil.
Another coin had the appearance of gold, with "fire dollars" upon it, but upon close examination it was found to be nothing but fine brass.
While this was going on, the Lord said, "beware of the leven of old.—Let us enjoy our day."
In a moment this band of brethren were off, and what could equal the view? No veil, no voice; the heavens were in their glory, and the angels were ascending and descending. The earth was in its beauty; the wolves and sheep; the calves and lions; the behemoth and the buffalo; the child and the serpent, enjoyed life without fear, and all men were one.
As we were passing to another city, amid all this perfection of the reign of Jesus before his ancients gloriously, we discovered the fragment of a hewn stone, of a lightish blue colour, with an abbreviated word " Mo," and the figures "1838" upon it. To which the "Lion of the Lord" exclaimed, "The wicked are turned into hell, and forgotten, but the righteous reign with God in glory," and it seemed as if the echo came from a redeemed world—"glory."
At about two, after five hours' ride among the cities and stakes of Zion, we returned to the capital, to partake of the feast, of the martyrs.
The preparation was perfect. A table through the grove of Zion, for more than three hundred thousand saints, where Jesus Christ sat at the head of the fathers and mothers, sons and daughters of Israel, was a sight which the world, even Babylon in its best days, never witnessed. Says Jesus, as every eye turned upon him,
"Our Father, and thine,
Bless me and mine. Amen."
After the feast (the sentiments, words of wisdom, and other touching matters were to be published in Zo-ma-rah, or Pure News, and are omitted) we stepped into the News Room, and the first article in the Pure News, which attracted our attention, was, the Minutes of the General Conference, held in Zion, on the 14th day of the first month, A. D., 1945, when it was motioned by Joseph Smith, and seconded by John the Revelator, " That/forty-eight new cities be laid out and built, this year, in accordance with the prophets which have said, 'who can number Israel? who can count the dust of Jacob? Let him fill the earth with cities. 'Carried unanimously."
Twelve of these cities to be laid out beyond eighteen degrees north, for the tribes of Reuben, Judah and Levi. Twelve on the east, at the same distance, for the tribes of Joseph, Benjamin, and Dan. Twelve on the south, at the same distance, for the tribes of Simeon, Issacher, and Zebulon; and twelve on the west, at the same distance, for the tribes of Gad, Asher, and Napthali.
The paper contained a notice for the half yearly conference, as follows:
"The general half yearly conference will be held at Jerusalem, on the 14th day of the seventh month, alternately with the yearly conference in Zion.
" It is proposed that the high way cast up between the two cities of our God, be decorated with fruit and shade trees between the cities and Villages, (which are only eighty furlongs apart), for the accommodation of wayfaring men of Israel. Gabriel has brought from paradise some seeds of fruit and grain which were originally in the Garden of Eden, and will greatly add to the comfort and convenience of man."
While we were engaged in reading, a strain of music from some of the "sweet singers of Israel,” came so mellowly over our sensations for a moment, that we hardly knew whether the angels or saints of the millenium, were chanting a vesper to their Saviour. We were so delighted with the performance as we saw the "musical chariot" pass, filled with young men and maidens, all in white robes, that we only remember the following verses •—
"Death and Satan being banish'd;
And the ' veil' for ever vanish'd;
All the earth's again replenished,
And in beauty appears:
So we'll sing hallelujah’s;
While we worship our Saviour,
And fill the world with cities
Through the “great thousand years.'"
Our eye next caught a map showing the earth as it was and is. We were delighted with the earth as it is. Four rivers headed a little south of Zion, for Zion, is situated in "the side of the north." The first river is called "Passon," and runs west. The second is called "Giau," and runs south. The third is called "Haudakal," and runs north; and the fourth is called "The Fraters," and runs east. These four rivers divide the earth into four quarters, as it were in the days of Adam, and with their tributaries give an uninterrupted water communication over the face of the world, for in the beginning the earth was not called "finished" till it was "very good," for every thing.
By the paper we were reading, we learned that rain was expected in the beginning of the seventh month, according to the law of the Lord, for the promise is, "it shall rain moderately in the first and seventh month, that the ploughman may overtake the reaper."
Contemplating the greatness of the earth in its glory, with Jesus Christ for her king, president, and lawgiver, with such wise counsellors as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Peter, and Joseph, we were imperceptibly led to exclaim, "Great is the wisdom, great is the glory, and great is the power of man with his Maker"—when on a sudden our guide came in and said, "you must drink wine with the Lord in his kingdom and then return." This we did, and many things which we saw are not lawful to utter, and can only be known as we learned them, by the assistance of a guardian angel.
When we were ready to return, our guide observed, "perhaps you would like to look through the urim and thummim of God, upon the abominations of the world in the day of its sin." "Yes," was our reply, and he handed us the "holy instrument." One look, and the soul sickened. Eye hath not seen, ear hath not heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man what folly, corruptions, and abominations are wrought among men to gratify the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the cunning of the devil. But they shall come. We returned, and awoke, perfectly enamoured with the beauty and glory of Zion to be, as well us the splendour and harmony of the "feast of the martyrs;" determining in our mind, at some future day to give a sketch of the Temple wherein Jesus sat and reigned with the righteous, when there was "not a Canaanite in the land," nor anything to hurt or destroy in all the holy mountain—when the earth should be full of the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea. In short, the heavenly reality of one hundred years hence.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Just released: The Diaries of Apostle Abraham H. Cannon, 1889-1895

Excerpts of Important Mormon Diary Published, Signature Books

Justice Stephen J. Field of the U.S. Supreme CourtThis week Signature Books, a Salt Lake City-based publisher, is releasing the apostle's writings under the title, Candid Insights of a Mormon Apostle: The Diaries of Abraham H. Cannon, 1889-1895. The compiler and editor is historian Edward Leo Lyman. This volume is the twelfth volume in the press's Significant Mormon Diaries Series.

Abraham Cannon was the fourth son of George Q. Cannon, a member of the Mormon First Presidency, who at the time was an influential regional power-broker. Because of his father's prominence, Abraham was introduced at an early age to the inside dealings of Utah Territory's realpolitik. As a bonus to modern historians, Abraham learned, as an editor at the Deseret News, to express himself clearly, with an eye for historically important details. 

Cannon's diaries have often been cited by historians and were even published once before. In 2004, LDS Church employee Dennis B. Horne released a self-published version that introduced the reading public to the significance of Cannon's writings. At the same time, Horne left out material he found "too sacred to publish," "transgressions of Church members," "controversial items," and entries having to do with "business and politics … financial matters."

"One should not argue with Horne's choice to leave out significant materials in his abridgment, which he felt were too sacred or personal, involving transgressions of individual Church members," Lyman responded when asked. "However," Lyman continued, "items that have to do with business and politics, and editorial comments on such subjects, are the real strength of the new volume and my own personal interest."

"In addition," says Lyman, "my volume contains the deliberations and decisions of the First Presidency and apostles prior to the Manifesto ending polygamy, which are found nowhere else."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

FBI files shed light on Ezra Taft Benson, Ike and the Birch Society

FBI files shed light on Ezra Taft Benson, Ike and the Birch Society

By Lee Davidson

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published Nov 13, 2010 10:18PM
Updated Nov 13, 2010 11:29PM

His letter to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover was packed with political dynamite, so Ezra Taft Benson marked it "personal-confidential."

Benson — the only man to serve in a presidential Cabinet and later lead a worldwide church, the Mormons — was attempting to convince Hoover that the John Birch Society was a clear-thinking anti-communist group. So he wrote how it had convinced him that a friend of theirs had been a tool of the worldwide communist conspiracy.

That friend was none other than former President Dwight D. Eisenhower, for whom Benson had served as secretary of Agriculture from beginning to end of his eight-year presidency.

"In my study of the [communist] conspiracy, which I am sure is weak compared with your own, the consequences of Mr. Eisenhower's actions in dealing with the communists have been tragic," Benson wrote.

He argued to Hoover, whom he viewed as a friend and fellow fighter of communism, that Eisenhower helped communism's spread more than he hurt it, perhaps because it had been the expedient thing to do for an ambitious politician.

"What difference does it make if your house is burned down by an ignorant man, a person who wants to get warm fast, or an arsonist?" he wrote about the former president. "There is little difference."

He said because freedom was threatened by soft stands against communism, he pondered making public such feelings "even at the risk of destroying the influence of men who are widely respected and loved" — including Eisenhower.

That and other letters in Benson's thick FBI file, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, suggest that Benson was an early tea partyer — one who would become an inspiration 50 years later for that modern movement.

Like the current tea partyers, Benson worried about threats to freedom and the Constitution. He feared that too many powerful officeholders — up to and including the U.S. president — were not standing up for the Constitution, and instead aided its enemies, out of ambition, expediency or other, more sinister motives.

The New Yorker magazine, in its Oct. 18 issue, included Benson as one of the tea party's ideological founding fathers — which it called its "confounding fathers" —noting how Benson's public writing and speeches are quoted and admired by commentator Glenn Beck, an icon of the movement.

(It also noted how Beck, who is LDS, actively promotes the works of the late Utah author/activist Cleon Skousen, who denounced communist corruption in the U.S. government while defending the John Birch Society.)

The FBI files on Benson show a behind-the-scenes battle in which he sought to persuade the bureau not to condemn the John Birch Society, formed in 1958 by Robert Welch and named for a missionary-turned-soldier killed by Chinese communists after World War II.

Interestingly, files also show that Hoover's FBI twice spied on Benson — possibly for Eisenhower — to determine whether he might resign from the Cabinet during times of widespread criticism. Files also show that Hoover lied in later years to avoid Benson, seeking to distance himself from Benson's support of the Birch Society.

Looking back » Benson's son, Reed, and Reed's wife, May Hinckley Benson, said in a recent Salt Lake Tribune interview in their Provo home that they are not surprised about the views contained in the FBI files.

They watched up close as Ezra Benson formed a hatred of communism because it destroyed personal and religious liberty. He sometimes expressed frustration to them that Eisenhower and America were not doing more against it.

"When he felt he was right, he was amazing" in how hard he would fight, May Benson told the newspaper.

They said his hatred of communism was rooted in his experience as a new apostle sent by the LDS Church to oversee its relief efforts in Europe after World War II. Benson later wrote that he watched half of the continent quickly fall to communism and lose the right to worship freely.

Reed Benson said that when his father was chosen as Agriculture secretary, he knew one of the first cells of communists found in the government had been in that agency. So, FBI files show, Benson took what was then an unusual step (although routine now) and asked Hoover to conduct a background check on him to ensure his loyalty.

The only problems found were a few parking and speeding tickets. Files show that Benson wanted the same scrutiny for his top aides; the FBI did background checks on them, too.

Early controversy » Just after taking office in 1953, the Utahn became the first member of the new Cabinet to create controversy by attacking government farm subsidies — worrying aloud that they were too socialistic, which upset many farmers and their members of Congress.

Major media at the time — including the Saturday Evening Post and The Nation — conjectured that Benson was "expendable" or might be "promoted to an ambassadorship."

The news media were not the only ones looking into whether Benson might go. Hoover's FBI was also doing a little spying into that. For example, a Nov. 20, 1953, FBI memo says that an undersecretary of state (whose name was censored from released files) informed the FBI that "the president is a little 'teed off' with Secretary of Agriculture Benson" because he "has not been successful in quieting the farmers, cattlemen, dairymen and Capitol Hill."

The FBI memo said "the matter has now been passed to the White House and … the president is unhappy about the whole thing." It added that the State Department source said, "It looks like Benson will be the 'fall guy.'"

Why would Hoover and the FBI care whether Benson departed? Others have charged through the years, and FBI files have shown, that Hoover sometimes investigated politicians of the era to use the resulting information to strengthen his own hand with presidents.

While Benson weathered calls for his resignation in 1953, another similar storm came in 1957-58 over his attacks on dairy supports. Again, the FBI did some spying into whether he would resign, talking to aides and even Benson himself in passing. Whether Benson would go voluntarily would be of interest to the White House, but censors blacked out exactly where reports of the spying were sent. Benson ended up staying during all of Eisenhower's administration.

Friends and allies » Amid the spying by Hoover, the FBI director managed to leave the impression with Benson that they were friends and fellow fighters of communism.

Files show they exchanged copies of books and speeches. Hoover sent messages of encouragement when Benson was sick and when his stepmother died. He wrote a note of thanks for Benson's service when he left the Cabinet. He also once invited Benson to have his son, Reed, apply to become an FBI agent.

In turn, Benson invited Hoover to speak at an LDS Church general conference (which Hoover declined), to attend a concert by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir with Benson's wife, to allow the LDS Church's Deseret Book Co. to print a compilation of Hoover's speeches (which did not happen), and even to attend a song recital by one of Benson's daughters.

"I realize that only in the next life will we fully appreciate all you have done to preserve freedom in this country," Benson wrote Hoover in 1965. "I am most grateful for your exposure of the communist conspiracy and for the wonderful organization you have established in the FBI."

Frustrations » But Benson was not so happy with others in the Eisenhower administration.

Reed Benson said his father tried to persuade the State Department, for example, to rethink its support of Fidel Castro in Cuba after Agriculture attach├ęs warned Benson that supporting him could lead that country to communism.

He was also upset at Eisenhower's orders for Benson to take Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to an agricultural experiment center near Washington in 1959. Benson said in a 1967 speech, "I opposed his coming then, and I still feel it was a mistake to welcome this atheistic murderer as a state visitor."

With such frustrations, Benson became involved with the John Birch Society once he had left office. After Reed Benson lost a run for Congress in 1962, he said the society approached him, and they found they shared beliefs.

"The John Birch Society believed in less government, more individual responsibility and a better world," Reed Benson told The Tribune.

When the society offered Reed a job as its Utah coordinator, FBI logs show that his father made a phone call wanting to know what the bureau felt about the group. It was the beginning of Benson's defense of the society.

An agent wrote, "I informed him off the record … that to my knowledge the FBI has not investigated the John Birch Society."

The agent added in summary of the conversation, "Benson has reached the conclusion the society is doing a lot of good in combating communism and feels that it is patriotic in its motives."

Benson also told the agent that he hoped to soon meet with Hoover in Washington "to confer with him about the menace of communism and the role of the Birch Society."

Because of that, officials at FBI headquarters wrote a briefing paper to prepare Hoover in case Benson called.

Calling the society "probably the most publicized right-wing extremist group in the country," they recommended keeping Benson away from Hoover — including lying, if necessary, to say that Hoover was unavailable to talk to Benson.

Godless communism » On May 17, 1965, Ezra Taft Benson wrote to Hoover with a plea. "Word has come to me, not yet fully confirmed, that some of our liberal 'soft-on-communist' groups are planning to put pressure on you to come out with a statement against the John Birch Society." He urged Hoover not to do so.

"It is my conviction that this organization is the most effective non-church group in America against creeping socialism and godless communism," Benson wrote.

Hoover, however, in response to a question at a news conference soon thereafter, said he had little respect for the society or its founder, Robert Welch.

After Hoover's disavowal of Welch, Benson decided to meet with Hoover to explain his support of the society and how Welch's writings had convinced him that Eisenhower aided communism.

Files show that Hoover's aides twice told Benson that he was unavailable for such a meeting — as memos had advised them to do. So Benson wrote Hoover the sensitive "personal-confidential" letter of May 28, 1965, outlining his conclusions about Eisenhower.

Benson also soon sent a book by Welch titled The Politician, noting it was what led him to his conclusions about Eisenhower.

In the book, Welch argues that Eisenhower was either ignorant, a politician blinded by opportunism or was "consciously aiding the communist conspiracy" — and said it really didn't matter because "they all come to the same end … namely tragedy."

Benson wrote Hoover that he inscribed the following words on the flyleaf of the book after he first read it:

"Have just finished this shocking volume. ... While I do not agree with all or the extent of some of the author's conclusions, one must agree that the documented record makes the thesis of the book most convincing.

"How can a man [Eisenhower] who seems to be so strong for Christian principles and base American concepts be so effectively used as a tool to serve the communist conspiracy?

"I believe the answer is found in the fact that these godless communist conspirators and their fellow travelers are masters of deceit — who deceived the very elect. How our people need to be alerted and informed."

Benson added that he hoped the $1 book would be made available widely.

"This story must be told even at the risk of destroying the influence of men who are widely respected and loved by the American people. The stakes are high. Freedom and survival are the issues," he had written in his copy of the book.

Benson also wrote of Eisenhower: "I presume I will never know in this life why he did some of the things he did which gave help to the [communist] conspiracy. It is not my divine prerogative to know the motives of men. It is easier, however, to judge the consequences of man's actions."

Noncommittal » Hoover sent back only a short note: "It was indeed thoughtful of you to furnish me your views regarding the John Birch Society and its head." He concluded simply, "I have taken note of your impressions."

Such impressions would lead Hoover to take the advice of aides and largely cut contact with his friend.

That included declining an offer to have the LDS Church-owned Deseret Book Co. publish a compilation of Hoover's speeches. Aides warned that because of Benson's letters, "If we were to go along with this project, it could in some way be used to the advantage of the John Birch Society."

Still, Benson kept up cordial correspondence with Hoover over the following years — and sent him John Birch Society materials on several occasions. In 1971, he again requested a meeting with Hoover while Benson was in Washington for a few days for a church conference.

FBI headquarters staff also frowned upon that request.

"It is not believed that the director should take time from his busy schedule to meet with Mr. Benson, as it is very possible that he would bring his son Reed Benson with him for that meeting," who, the memo said, was then the national director of public relations for the John Birch Society.

When Reed Benson called to check on the availability of Hoover to meet with him and his father, FBI memos say, "The director indicated at the time he was booked solidly" — as memos from staff had suggested he should say.

Hoover died only a few months after that last requested meeting. Benson would live another 22 years — enough time to ascend to the presidency of his church and to see the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. He spoke little of that fall, however, focusing on more spiritual matters of his church, including urging LDS members to constantly read the Book of Mormon. Benson died at age 94 in 1994.