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How Lester Bush Debunked the Missouri Thesis

We’re continuing our conversation with Dr. Newell Bringhurst.  We will continue where we left off and explain in more detail the Missouri Thesis.

Newell:  The Missouri Thesis is the argument that the origins of black priesthood denial go back to the Mormon problems in Missouri.  Missouri is a slave state and the Latter-day Saints go into Jackson County in the early 1830s, 1831-1832.  Most of them are from the north, they are northerners.  They are basically Yankees, people from the northern states so immediately there is a system of tension of tension between the Mormons/Latter-day Saints with the people that are there, have come there from the south and settled Missouri.  A lot of people have brought their slaves and so on.  There aren’t a huge number of slaves in Missouri.  During the Civil War it was a border state, but there was enough slavery that it was a legal institution in Missouri.

The argument of the Missouri Thesis is the Mormons coming in tended to be anti-slavery because they were coming from the northern part of the country.  Those that were there that had migrated from the south were pro-slavery.  So the Mormons could see that this was a difficult situation.  To try to strengthen their position in Missouri, they saw Independence, [Missouri] as a center place for Zion.  That was where they were going to gather in the last days in the early revelations [in the Doctrine & Covenants.]  They saw Zion and Independence where that was going to be the final gathering place before the coming of the Millennium and the end times.  It was very important for the Mormons from that point of view.

So the argument is that Joseph Smith felt it necessary to accommodate the pro-slavery position and the anti-black position.  In order to accommodate that they were willing to—especially as it became more difficult during the course of the 1830s, they decided that they would deny blacks the priesthood.

Lester Bush’s groundbreaking article discounted the Missouri Thesis and connected the priesthood and temple ban to Brigham Young rather than Joseph Smith.

Then Lester Bush comes along.  He’s doing a lot more intense research than Taggart did.  Taggart’s research is not thorough. In the meantime Lester Bush has been working assiduously on his study of blacks in the church, and he has been asked to write a review of Taggart’s.  It turns out that it is a review essay published in Dialogue in 1970.  His review essay is longer and more thorough than Taggart’s original book.  That’s the upstart.  I’m sure you’re familiar with it.  You’ve probably read both side by side.  There’s no comparison with regards to the thoroughness and the rigor of the sources utilized and the way that it was written.

Then of course Bush comes along three years, four years later with his definitive Dialogue article, Mormonism’s Negro Policy[1] that is the classic—the first real legitimately scholarly examination of the issue, the path-breaking article that we all, those of us that came after him, owe him a lot for:  myself, Armand Mauss, and all those who came after me.

Bush’s article was cited by President Kimball as being highly influential as Kimball studied the roots of the ban.  We also discuss some prominent slaveholding LDS Church leaders.  Check out our conversation…..

[1] The article is titled Mormonism’s Negro Doctrine:  An Historical Overview, and found at https://www.dialoguejournal.com/2012/mormonisms-negro-doctrine-an-historical-overview/

Bush's Dialogue article refuting Missouri Thesis

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Different Succession Claims: Other Mormon Groups

Yesterday was President Monson’s funeral.  When an LDS President dies, the First Presidency is dissolved.  Have you ever wondered why that is the case?  Historian John Hamer and apostle Lachlan MacKay of the Community of Christ will talk about why that happens in the LDS Church.  It’s a really interesting conversation as we discussion several succession claims.

John:  One of the last acts that Joseph Smith does before going to Carthage is he had given another one of these special blessings to Joseph III and several of these where Joseph had been prophesied at one point or another that he would be in his father’s role in being prophet, but he was what?  He was eleven?

Lachlan:  Eleven or eleven and a half.

John:  He’s eleven, so ok.  He wasn’t going to be the successor at that point.  What I argue, I think anyway, I think that the person who had the best claim at the point, in terms of both civil, and canon, which is to say church rules and law is Sidney Rigdon, who even though he’s been a little on the outs, he is still actively campaigning as the vice-presidential candidate in Joseph Smith’s U.S. presidential election.  So Joseph Smith then Sidney Rigdon; Sidney Rigdon is the only guy left in the First Presidency.

Even though in the LDS tradition, there is this idea that the First Presidency dissolves, and then the senior most apostle always succeeds, the only reason that is the idea is because they didn’t want to have Sidney Rigdon be in charge.  It doesn’t say that in the Doctrine & Covenants or anything like that.  There’s no canonical, there’s no canon law that says anything of the kind.  The First Presidency had been a completely distinct [quorum] in the early church tradition from the Twelve.

Lachlan:  There’s nothing that says it dissolves.

John: There’s nothing that says it dissolves and also not like the First Presidency is just like three more of the Twelve or something like that.  It’s a completely distinct [quorum.]  Anyway, so what I say is Sidney Rigdon is the last surviving member of the First Presidency and then according to the actual incorporation like we’re talking about the Church’s possession, William Marks had signed it over to Joseph Smith on behalf of the Church.  The Church is incorporated in the state of Illinois, and part of incorporation and the documents in Carthage, it says held by Joseph Smith as Trustee in Trust for the Church and my successors in the First Presidency.

Because of that, when Brigham Young does take over, he doesn’t create a new First Presidency; the Twelve just take over headquarters.  It’s one of the reasons why he is not able to get title to these temples is because James Strang knows about that because he has a lot of these guys in his group.  They know about this incorporation ruling.  This is really complicated details, but anyway, part of the idea of it is he charges that since he is the successor to the First Presidency, he has organized a new First Presidency.  This doesn’t in Brigham Young’s church until 1847, so he’s operating that way with the First Presidency, and so he says, “You don’t have a First Presidency. I have title to the Nauvoo Temple.  You’re trying to sell my temple.”

GT:  James Strang created a First Presidency and said that should be the successor?

John:  Yeah, he did that at that point.  But before that, I’ve got to dial it back.  The person who was the surviving member of the First Presidency then is Sidney Rigdon.  Sidney Rigdon gets outmaneuvered in this showdown between Brigham Young and Sidney Rigdon.  He gets kicked out of Nauvoo, or flees for his life and he goes back and reorganizes and creates a new headquarters of the church in Pittsburgh.  But at that point, he suffers one of these things that all kinds of schismatic Mormon Latter Day Saint heritage churches do which is, then they start asking themselves:  where did we go wrong?

We will also talk about some of the other leaders who wanted to take over leadership of the LDS Church in the early days.  There’s a lot more people than you may recognize.  I also encourage you to check out the video.  John was kind enough to share some slides about the Succession crisis, and I have included them in the video.  Don’t forget to check out our conversations with Greg Prince and Jim Vun Cannon on the Succession Crisis.  Check out our conversation…..

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Looking back at 2017: Top 20 Moments

Happy New Year. I’m your host of Gospel Tangents, Rick Bennett.  We’re counting down the Top 20 Moments that were most surprising moments in 2017 here on Gospel Tangents.  I’ve learned a lot over this year.

1. Let’s start with some scoops!  Paul Reeve told me he participated in writing the Gospel Topics Essay on Race and the Priesthood at LDS.org.  Unfortunately, I had some camera problems, but the audio worked just fine.  This is still my most downloaded moment of 2017!

GT:  Very good.  Now I want to ask you another question.  I’m hoping you’ll answer.  I’ve heard rumors, and that’s all they are is rumors that you played a role in compiling that essay [Race and the Priesthood].  Do you have any response to that?

Paul laughs:  I did help with the essay. Yeah, Yeah.

GT:  So was it, can you describe your role?

Paul:  Well the Church History Department invited me to write an extended essay. It ended up being about 55 pages long with footnotes and everything like I would produce as an academic essay.  Once they were satisfied with that it was sent up the line, several layers of approval process and then the Church History Department actually boiled down that longer essay to what got posted online so I had no say over what got posted online, what eventually appeared as Race and the Priesthood, but it was a condensed version of the longer piece that I produced for them.

2.  What other scholars participated? I asked a similar question to Dr. Brian Hales regarding the polygamy essays

Brian:  Yeah, I gave them a very long essay, and then maybe a couple of years later they sent me the Gospel Topics essay that was similar to what we have today.  I went through it all.  I think we had one other meeting in the interim, maybe two.  I just went through and made recommendations on it, and every recommendation I recommended in the text they accepted.  There were some outside comments that I made some recommendations they did not, but they were very generous to allow me to do that.  They do quote from the trilogy a number of times and an article I wrote was also referenced.

GT:  So that took a few years for that whole process to go through?

Brian:  Yeah, you know originally they were thinking of doing long answer, medium answer, short answer.  That was the first thing that was asked of me on the topic of polyandry.  Then I just sent them some general stuff, and I don’t know how many iterations it went through there.  Again I was excited to contribute to that.  I only looked at the Nauvoo material.  I know they had Kathryn Daines help out, and Kathleen Flake I think also are the other two that did the input on plural marriage.  I hope they don’t mind me saying that but they wanted outsiders to critique it.

3.  That wasn’t all. Ugo Perego was involved in the Book of Mormon essay

Ugo:  Yeah I helped writing that… it wasn’t only me.  I actually took the lead on the project of writing that.  I wrote a much more extensive paper which has been published as well in the Interpreter, the online Mormon journal.  It’s about 40 pages long and then from that the Church condensed it down to what is the in Gospel Topics today.

4.  Since we’re on the Book of Mormon, we had some interesting conversations. David Rosenvall had an interesting theory on how Asian DNA ended up in America.

David:  our hypothesis is that you have at least everyone that came over with Jared and his brother who dispersed for thousands of years, and if you assume that there are some that didn’t come across the ocean who were also related to them, who may have been a big part of how Asia became, there’s a good chance that the people of North America and the people of Asia are going to have the same DNA.  The difference is they used boats to get them across and maybe the Bering Sea but at least the boats according to the Book of Mormon.  So I always say DNA is the best evidence that the Book of Mormon is true because in there is the Book of Ether that talks about a group that was in Asia and a group that’s in North America that are related.

5.  Perego didn’t necessarily agree with Rosenvall, but he noted another group of people who had disappeared from America.

Ugo:  Do you know the Vikings were in Greenland from 1000-1400 A.D., 400 years?  We have written documentation that they were here, the Icelandic woman actually kept their record of their voyages.[1]  We have villages, remains of Viking villages in Greenland that around 1400, they just left.  They just left.  We also have DNA from Native Americans in Iceland, which pre-dates Christopher Columbus, that’s been there.  So we know probably these Vikings took some women to Iceland, and that’s why we have their DNA there.  But where is the Viking DNA in America?

GT:  That’s a great question.  I have no idea.

Ugo: Well I’m sure it’s there, but there is not enough time for the post-Columbus DNA, to differentiate it from the pre-Columbus DNA.  So whenever we find European, Middle Eastern, or African DNA in the Americas, even among tribes, native tribes, by default, scientists always say, we think this is post-Columbian admixture.

6.  He also did an interesting study with regards to the Mountain Meadows Massacre that I had never heard before.

Ugo:  the U.S. government made an investigation on what happened that some of that truth came out, and it was about two years at this time.  The records said that only 17 of these 18 children were identified and returned to relatives in Arkansas.

So who was the 18th child?  What happened to this child?  Who was it?  As years went by there had been rumors that one of these children was the oldest daughter of Bishop Klingonsmith who was involved with the massacre.  He’s there.

GT:  So the daughter was essentially adopted by Bishop Klingonsmith.

Ugo:  That’s what the claim was.  The 18th child was the one that was not returned.  So it’s making something bad into something worse because now you have a child that doesn’t belong to you… So the conclusion from the paper was that probably Priscilla was the biological daughter of the Klingonsmith family, and not the surviving child.

7.  Of Course Perego worked with Brian Hales on the paternity tests with Joseph Smith. Brian had some interesting things to say with regards to polygamy.  Who was more believable:  Joseph Smith or Fanny Alger?

Brian:  the people that Joseph Smith told about Fanny Alger as a plural wife, they didn’t believe him.  But most of the people that learned it from Fanny did believe which is interesting.

8.  Anne Wilde had some interesting things to say about Jesus regarding polygamy.

When Jesus Was Married came out in [19]69, it was in February of ’69.  That was Ogden’s first book, and he knew that Joseph F. Smith was president of the Quorum of Twelve at that time.  He knew his belief that Jesus was married, so as soon as the books came out of the bindery, we took the first copy up to Joseph Fielding Smith and got right in.  The secretary was there at that time, you know you could walk right in practically and see a general authority.  The office door was open.  Here was the receptionist.  Could we give him this book?  She motioned us in.  We gave it to him and then we said, “What do you think?”

He said, “Oh, absolutely he was married.  His account of his marriage is right in the New Testament.  It could be no other way.  The account of his marriage is in the New Testament, referring to the Marriage at Cana…”  GT:  Who did he marry?

Anne:  Probably Mary.

GT:  Mary Magdalene?

Anne:  He had at least three wives.

GT:  Three wives?

Anne:  Uh huh.  Mary, Martha, and Mary Magdalene that we know of; there’s a quote that kings’ daughters were among his honorable wives.

9.  But how did polygamy originate in the LDS Church? Mark Staker has an interesting theory!

GT:  So wait a minute.  You’re telling me that Black Pete may have been responsible for introducing polygamy into the Kirtland community?

Mark:  I believe so… I believe that Black Pete introduced that idea to him.  Now is there really a step by step process to the doctrine as how that happened?  No.  It’s a circumstantial case.

10.  Dr Staker had another interesting note regarding the first black Mormon!

GT:  So is this something that you think Black Pete may have introduced the Mormons in Kirtland was speaking in tongues?

Mark: I believe he did.

GT:  Oh wow.

Mark:  I believe it’s a circumstantial case.  There’s nobody that says that but as you look at the evidence as to where it comes from and these early attempts to practice it

11.  In talking about early black Mormon, Margaret Young surprised me with this concerning Jane Manning James!

Margaret:  Jane had been raped by a minister in Wilton, Connecticut, so in the first book [I wrote, One More River to Cross], I kind of identify him.  There’s pretty good evidence of who it probably was, so she had a son, Sylvester when she first came to Nauvoo and Sylvester was there with them on the trek.

12.  Moving to more modern times, Darron Smith had some interesting things to say about black athletes at BYU.

Darron:  The federal government keeps graduation data from over a six year period.  If you started this fall, 2017 in the fall, that will follow you for six years, that cohort of thousands of students all across the country will follow that cohort for six years.  You can see within that six year period at each institution the percentages of students that actually complete within that six year period and those that don’t… The lowest [black graduation rate] in the state?  I was surprised to see that, very surprised to see that.  The data, all of that data, plus the GSR scores, the story is becoming clearer.

13.  Since we’re into modern history, let’s talk about the Mark Hofmann bombings. Who did Curt Bench call when he heard about the first bombing?

Curt:  That day I talked to Mark on the phone, the day of the bombings.

GT:  Oh really.

Curt:  Several times, probably six or seven times.  I called first to warn him about the bombings, well bombing at that point because there was already a lot on the news.

14.  Shannon Flynn told how Hofmann beat the lie detector test

Shannon:  he hypnotized himself the night before the polygraph, and then again in the morning, and just told himself over and over again, “I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it,” and then describes the test being administered.  When they got to the questions:  did you cause the death of Kathleen Sheets?  Did you cause the death of Steve Christensen?

… He was able to not produce any significant physical response to that, and said that he was aware of the questions but could just let his subconscious come forward, that he had convinced, hadn’t done it.

15.  Of course, that wasn’t the only crime issue in Mormonism. Anne Wilde had a surprising encounter with a murderer!

Anne:  Ogden[2] was introduced to him one time under a fictitious name and so we went out to a meeting and thought this was this guy’s name, Stilson, and lo and behold shortly after that we saw a picture, “Wanted: Ervil LeBaron” but was a picture of this guy that we had met.  He even stayed in my home under that other name.  Then when I found out who he was, I was a little concerned, but fortunately I didn’t know who he was at the time he stayed in my home.

16.  Anne remains unaffiliated with any polygamist groups. We also discussed another Mormon group, the Remnant Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and spoke with a member of the First Presidency.  I was surprised to hear when Jim Vun Cannon joined that church!

Jim:  I started attending the Remnant Church in 2012 I believe is when I started.

GT:  Oh really, just that recently?

Jim:  Yes, that recently, yes.

GT:  Wow, and you’re in the First Presidency now!

Jim:  Yes, it was an experience where the Lord told me to go and join this church, and I was just told to go and worship with these folks and ministered with these folks and I really wasn’t told much more than that.  At the time I did not even have a testimony of President Larsen and his calling to be the prophet of the church, but that came very shortly afterwards.  I felt like it was one of those stepping out of the boat moments.  You know the water was a little squishy underneath your feet and trying to look forward, but yes, yes.

17.  In talking with Jim, I learned they would like to build a temple. But Dr. Richard Bennett told me something about our own temple worship that really surprised me!

Richard:  Spiritualism, the practice of communing with the dead, adulterated today by Ouija boards and things like this and telekinesis and paranormal, but Spiritualism is well-known in American history as flowering after the Civil War with so many dead and lost and the great desire of many families to know what happened to their sons or their fathers or their brothers…

Was that a factor in the beginning of endowments for the dead for the church in 1877?  I claim that it may have been one of the factors to begin to address how we really think about them.  There is redemption for the dead but it’s not that way.  So was it a factor?  I argue that it probably was one of the factors.

18.  Speaking of surprises, Dr. Greg Prince surprised me with this nugget on the Word of Wisdom!

Greg:  You will hear people still who say the Word of Wisdom proves Joseph was a prophet because it was a hundred years ahead of its time.  It wasn’t even a day ahead of its time.  It reflected what everybody already knew.  This was the air that they breathed.

The Temperance Movement kicked in in 1826 because there was an epidemic of drunkenness in the United States.  The consumption of distilled liquor over a 30 year period had tripled on a per capita basis.

19.  David Conley Nelson surprised me when I discovered church leaders weren’t happy with a play about a Mormon who fought against Nazis

David:  Elder Monson, he’s in the Quorum of Twelve at the time.  Elder Monson arrives and he takes in the play and he just doesn’t seem to be as happy according to other witnesses as the rest of them.  Word comes down two days later through Dallin Oaks, there will be no more productions of “Huebener Against the Reich.”

20.  What surprises are in store for 2018? How about an interview with an apostle, and what constituted the first temple recommend!  This is Lachlan MacKay, an apostle for the Community of Christ.

Lach:  My sense is that in Nauvoo, the thing that is going to be true that you did see that you start to have to have, I believe, a receipt that said you a tithe payer in order to gain access to the baptismal font, and they didn’t welcome non-members into the temple in Nauvoo while they were performing ordinances, but it was still a public building.  That receipt, I think, is what many generations later would become the idea of a temple recommend.

Thank you so much for listening.  I know 2017 was a year of surprises and I’m sure 2018 will be as well.  I’ve already lined up interviews with John Hamer, Matt Harris, Michael Quinn, Simon Southerton, Russell Stevenson, Newell Bringhurst, and Sandra Tanner.  I’m sure we will have many others, so please tune in and subscribe to our page so you don’t miss any of them.  Make sure that you Like our Facebook page at facebook.com/gospeltangents.  You can subscribe on YouTube at youtube.com/gospeltangents, Tweet us @gospeltangents.  Make sure you subscribe on iTunes to be sure you don’t miss anything.  Share as much as you can with your friends and family!

[1] Her name is Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir.  Basic information is found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gudrid_Thorbjarnard%C3%B3ttir

[2] Anne was the second wife of polygamist Ogden Kraut.