David Ostler is the author of “Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question.” This book is designed for LDS Leaders to better understand a faith crisis, and how to help members in their wards and stakes to better empathize and maintain members who struggle with issues of faith. David has interviewed several hundred people to better understand their perspective and shares that knowledge with all of us.
David: When I started studying faith crisis, disaffiliation, my own background is in evidence-based medicine. So, you know, it’s like, what does the data say? It’s the first question we ask. So I spent time trying to understand what we knew about the problem, what people had written, what studies had been done, what data had been collected. Like most problems, we all have impressions about a particular area, but when we go in and study it systematically, sometimes we find those impressions are not entirely accurate. For my own life, that’s been the case often. But certainly with this topic, I found it to be the case. So I wanted to, as I learned about this for myself, and then ultimately, as I wrote the book, to make sure that I had the best information that can be brought on it, and where it wasn’t available to see what I could do to create more information there. So with regards to Leading Saints, and Kurt Francom, we were able to, using the leaders that subscribe to his newsletter, to be able to survey them and understand what local leaders thought about faith crisis, issues of faith, how they were responding and the like. So that’s been kind of a fun thing for me to get to know Kurt and that community a little better.
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As we conclude our discussion of black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning James, we will talk about this question: what role does race play in LDS Theology? Many black church members have been told they will be white in the resurrection. Is our theology an example of white supremacy? Dr. Quincy Newell will answer these questions.
Quincy: [Jane] was well respected in the community, in part because of her relationship to Joseph Smith. She was one of the last people alive, who had known him in person, and so she was sought out for her memories of the Prophet. And Joseph F. Smith spoke at her funeral. She was she was celebrated and lauded as an upstanding member of the community, well-respected and to be missed. But, at the same time, one account of the funeral said that Joseph F. Smith talked about how she would receive all of her wishes in heaven, and that she would have a white and glorified body. And that’s not an exact quote, but he did say she would be white.
And, there’s a really interesting aspect to imagining that scene. If you think about Joseph F. Smith standing in front of a congregation that includes a lot of black faces, and talking about how Jane, this respected black woman in the community is going to be white in heaven, that’s all kinds of problematic.
GT: And I know a lot of people are going to have a hard time with that. Because they’re like, “Well, that’s not racist.”
Quincy: No, but that’s racist.
GT: Oh, I know it is. I know I’m going to get comments on that. But anyway, even as late as 1978, I remember President Kimball, who we all laud for this wonderful [revelation], talked about Indians who would become a white and delightsome people. And I know he said that with the best of intentions. And it’s hard, I think, especially for really Orthodox people to say that’s a racist statement. But it’s a racist statement. And so it’s hard because I know a lot of black people, Indians, whatever nationality, have had to deal with this. I hate to call it white supremacy.
Quincy: It’s white supremacy.
GT: But that’s what it is.
Quincy: Yeah, it is.
GT: And so what can we say to people to get them to understand that that really is racist theology?
Quincy: Not being an LDS theologian, that is a challenging question for me to answer. So I think there are Mormon theologians who are far more able to address this question than I. But I guess I would start with the idea that the Bible says we are all made in God’s image. I was raised as a Protestant. And so, I think of God as beyond gender, beyond race, not having either one of those characteristics. I know for Mormons, that’s different. But I think that you have to start with the question of, why is the default image of God, an old white guy? Right?
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Dr. Quincy Newell discusses early black Mormon pioneer Jane Manning’s marriage to Isaac James. The two travelled to Utah in one of the earliest wagon companies to settle in Salt Lake City.
GT: Did they go with the first pioneer companies?
Quincy: I don’t think they’re in the first wave. They’re in the second wave, now I’m remembering. Patty Sessions delivers Jane’s child essentially, on the trail in Iowa, at a place called Keg Creek. So Jane is traveling pregnant, which can’t have been fun. At some point, they get hooked up with the George Parker Dykes company. They continue to stay with and work for Dykes and his family when they’re in Winter Quarters. Dykes goes off with the Mormon Battalion, and he writes letters home to his wives, who he refers to as Mrs. Dykes, to sort of cover up the fact that there are multiple Mrs. Dykes’s. He makes several remarks about, make sure you treat Isaac and Jane well, take care of them and so on.
GT: Polygamy is such a can of worms. So, she gets into the Salt Lake Valley.
Quincy: She’s in one of the first companies to enter the Salt Lake Valley. So they arrive in the summer of 1847. She has had another child, so she has given birth to a child on the way to Winter Quarters, and she’s pregnant with another child by the time they get to Salt Lake. They set up on some of the property that belongs to Brigham Young and continue working for him for some time, and then they get a piece of land down in the First Ward, I believe, and set up a farming operation. Jane starts doing laundry pretty soon as well.
We will discuss her other marriages, and her prominent role in Pioneer Utah.
Quincy: So in 1870, Jane and Isaac get divorced.
Quincy: 1870. That’s the necessary background. So in the 1880s, and 1890s, when Jane is starting to request endowments and sealings, she requests endowments. She requests sealing as a child to Joseph Smith. And she requests sealing in marriage. And occasionally, she will request sealing and marriage to Walker Lewis, which is a really interesting move on her part. And I think it’s maybe because Walker Lewis has the priesthood.
GT: That’s a fact I think most people don’t know.
Quincy: Right. So if you request sealing to a black man who doesn’t have the priesthood, well, then there’s a sort of procedural problem there, right?
GT: Yeah. Isaac, her husband didn’t have priesthood.
Quincy: Exactly. And so, she may be thinking, “Well, okay, I will request sealing to somebody who does have the priesthood, but who is also black, so they can’t object to it being an interracial marriage. And they can’t object that he doesn’t have the priesthood. So I should be good to go.”
Quincy: Yeah, they say no to that, too.
Quincy: But so that’s, as far as I know, that’s the only evidence that we have Jane and Walker Lewis knew each other. I am not totally persuaded that that’s evidence that they knew each other. She may only have known of him but known that he had the priesthood.
GT: So this was just kind of a strategic move on her part.
Quincy: It may have been, It’s hard to say. There’s a lot about Jane that’s hard to say.