Both Joseph Smith and James Strang died in a hail of bullets. In our next conversation with historian Bill Shepard, we will learn more about the martyrdom of James Strang.
GT: So he’s on Beaver Island. He creates a lot of political enemies and I guess religious as well.
Bill: Not only that, there’s Alexander Wood Wentworth and Thomas Bedford, two obviously ex- Mormons. One of them, with the strict laws that the Strangites tried to enforce, there was a case of adultery. The grieved man testified. So, this seducer is whipped. Of course, he hated Strang for that. There was a merchant, an ex-Mormon by name of McCullough on Beaver Island, and we think that McCullough was in league with the United States government with the steamship Michigan. It is going to steam into the port. Strang is going to be a his home and they’re going to say, “They want you on the dock,” and he’s going to walk down to the dock and Wentworth and Bedford are going to jump out behind him and shoot him down. Particularly, one ball goes clear up near his skull and he is mortally wounded at this time. Bedford and Wentworth are going to run down to the ship, and the ship’s going to take them out of there. They’re going to take them to Mackinaw and put them in jail, I think for just a couple minutes. They’re going to come out and celebrate. These two fellows are never, never brought to justice for what they did. They were greeted as heroes among the non-Mormons. It looks like there is some kind of an evil cabal or something with some elements of the government because of the role of the steamship coming in the United States.
Bill: It was a navy ship, right? U.S. Navy?
Bill: Yeah. So, whatever the course, a man I know a lot about and have written about is through Wingfield Watson, a settler that lives six miles inside the island with his wife, with his homestead. He had a son and a daughter about one, and then an infant. So these people that ransack the island, basically, as the books seem to indicate, drunken Irishmen, these people that are on the fringes of law. They come to this Wingfield Watson’s house and they say, “You have an hour to get your stuff and get out. Take what you can carry.” So this is repeated all over the island. But these people six miles inside, it’s really a hard trip. Once a lot of people take their goods down to the pier or the dock just so they could take them with them, and, of course, they’re confiscated. So the Mormons are stuck on these ships, penniless. It’s really heartfelt. Here’s the Watson family. They have a young boy, but they have a year old and they have an infant, walking six miles and carrying the kids. It is really a tragedy to the Strangites, and many Strangites are going to say, “Enough.”
Followers of James Strang were persecuted unmercifully. Check out our conversation…
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The Modern LDS Church has not officially practiced polygamy for 130 years. However, Lindsay Hansen Park says polygamy continues to shape the modern Mormons. Why does she say that?
Lindsay: This is very common in the historical community. They’re like, “Yeah, yeah, fundamentalism is interesting, but it’s not Mormonism.” No, no, no. It absolutely is. It’s irresponsible and frankly, unsophisticated, I think, to look at LDS Mormonism as a static religion that’s not impacted by these groups, because it is. Now, of course, it’s so hard to track. Like I said, there’s always like two guys at an altar in a living room all the time. But these people are influencing our policies. They’re influencing how we view ourselves. They’re influencing how we market ourselves and brand ourselves. A lot of the marketing and branding of the LDS Church has been an attempt to distance ourselves from this. Scholars are so entrenched in that narrative, they’re still so loyal to the institution of Mormonism. It’s only non-Mormon scholars who are able to [admit,] “Of course, this is all the same thing.” But we have so much generational propaganda and campaigns to distance ourselves that scholars fall into this trap all the time. We’re uncomfortable with it.
I was also surprised to hear her critique of ex-Mormons.
Lindsay: Here’s the thing. This is back to my critique with ex-Mormons. I always say, guys. Ex-Mormons watch conference more religiously than faithful Mormons do. They’ll watch it, and they’ll give you a play by play. They’ll be like, “Can you believe that Elder Holland said this?” And then they’ll all rant about it. I’m like, “Guys, you’re still sustaining the brethren. You just don’t agree with them. That’s the difference. You’re still upholding their authority. They still matter to you.”
That’s okay. We need to stop being ashamed of that. Of course, they impact our lives. Of course, things that they say are going to affect you and your family. Why are we so afraid to admit that? That’s the hierarchy’s narrative that you’re with us or against us. They created that because that’s what they do to consolidate their power so they can maintain leadership. It makes sense. But ex-Mormons give the Mormon Church power every time that they validate the authority of the brethren, even if they don’t believe in the divinity of them.
GT: You’ll see these memes [like] Heard on Sunday where they usually put a meme of some general authority, which is highly out of context, but just for shock value. So you’re saying they’re still sustaining the brethren?
Lindsay: Of course they are because here’s what I’ve learned. This is the gift that Mormon fundamentalists have given me. This is why they’re so dangerous. This is why all the policies in the LDS Church reflect being afraid of them, instead of the John Dehlin types, right? The [leaders] actually don’t care that much about liberal Mormons. [For example when] they get excommunicated Kate Kelly, the movement dies down, right? I mean, that’s not what happens. But it’s an easier thing than fundamentalism, because fundamentalism is a harder thing to root out.
Lindsay has made a huge effort to get orthodox scholars to attend Sunstone.
GT: I know, especially with your work here at Sunstone, that you’ve actually gone out of your way to try to [invite orthodox scholars.] Because I know Sunstone has been marginalized for a long time. I know you’ve really tried to bring in BYU professors and Church employees.
Lindsay: Oh, I played that game for a long time because people were [saying,] “Oh, Lindsay, Sunstone is just too anti-Mormon, so you need to bring them in.” I [agreed,] “Oh, you’re right. We’ll solve that. We’ll just invite more faithful Mormon voices.” They all told me no. I was like, wait a minute…
GT: So, when people complain that Sunstone is too one-sided, come.
Lindsay: No, here’s the thing. You can complain all day that Sunstone’s too fringe, and I say, “Yes, exactly. But at least we’re honest.” Because here’s the thing. Every Mormon knows how to perform Mormonism. We all know how to go to Sunday and put on the costume, the outfit, the white shirt and tie and say the right things. We perform Mormonism, and then we go home. We think whatever we think, and we do whatever we do. Listen, in my job, I hear everyone’s secrets. So all y’all are into some weird stuff and you all have your secrets. And that’s okay. That’s called being human. But the difference is [with] Sunstone we stop running away from that. People are [saying,] “Oh, you’re fringe.” I [said,] “Yes, and so are you.” But we’re not ashamed of it here. That’s how I got around from that, the toxic faith politics that I’ve seen destroy families. It has destroyed my own my own family.
GT: Faith politics.
Lindsay: Faith politics, where we have to pretend and perform our loyalty to the institution. Because in Mormonism, proximity to power is how we gain our own power, because there can only be one guy. There’s only one prophet. So your power and your credibility and your worth is in proximity to that one guy. So we all organize around that in different ways. It’s damaging. It’s cankering to the soul, because what we are saying is we are giving someone else the authority over our worth, our worthiness, our Heaven, our God, our connection, our interaction with the divine. I’m not going to do it anymore. I did that for years. I believed that was the way to go. I can’t with integrity do that anymore. I love Mormonism. I have such affection to it. Honestly, for better for worse, I actually don’t like this about myself, I am loyal to it through and through, obviously, as my work is a testament to. I’m loyal to it. But I am loyal to it collectively. I will never give my own personal authority to any dude, again. It’s too complicated. It’s too messy. There’s too much paperwork, too many stories. There’s no value in that.
That’s just some of the jewels in this episode. This episode is available to subscribers of our free newsletter. Subscribe to GospelTangents.com/newsletter and I will send you a secret link to the conclusion of our conversation….
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While serving as prophet of the FLDS Church, Warren Jeffs was arrested and is currently serving time in a Texas prison for a conviction of being an accomplice to rape of underage women who were married polygamously. Lindsay Hansen Park has some strong words and pins some of the blame for the LDS Church turning its back on the FLDS community, making it possible for Warren Jeffs to attain power in the FLDS community. Is that a fair charge?
Lindsay: Here’s my indictment of the LDS people in the LDS Church. We are responsible for men like Warren Jeffs, I think we are complicit, at the very least and at the very worst, responsible for men like that. Because what we did is we allowed something to be so marginalized and to turn the other way because we didn’t want to see how it reflected on us. We can’t make the church look bad. We’ve got to protect the integrity of the church. So we’re going to ignore what’s happening down there. We’re going to make it illegal. So Warren Jeffs can say, you know what? You’re being molested by your father or your brother. You can’t report it to police, because if you do, your whole family’s going to go to jail. We can’t trust any outsiders because even the LDS are out to get us.
GT: I’m going to push back a little bit on that. I mean, if Warren Jeffs is a bad guy, okay, he’s a bad guy. Don’t we believe in being punished for our own sins? How do you try to justify that the LDS Church is responsible for that? Because, yeah, I mean, tying this back to the policy, part of the justification was, well, the polygamists, basically say, “Well go join the LDS Church. Go on a mission. Get married in the temple and then come back to us and we’ll teach you the higher law.” So, I mean, I don’t like this policy. I don’t like it. But I can understand. If that’s what the polygamists are saying, “Oh, go join the LDS Church and then come back to us.” I can understand why the church would be would have a problem with that.
Lindsay: Of course.
GT: So how do we then say, “Well, okay, now the LDS Church is responsible for Warren Jeffs corruption?”
Lindsay: The FLDS is different. They’re not taking converts. Warren Jeffs has cut it off. You have to understand. First of all, Rulon Jeffs, who shaped Warren Jeffs, was completely shaped by LDS culture, theology and doctrine. He planned his whole church and organizational structure as a reaction to LDS treatment of him personally and systemically. So there’s a whole history here.
GT: So he had his own trauma. You’re saying that Warren grew up LDS? Is that what you’re saying?
Lindsay: No, Rulon, his father did.
GT: Rulon grew up and so that trauma that Rulon then transferred to Warren…
Lindsay: That’s too simplistic, but that’s part of it, too. Here’s what it is. Warren Jeffs has committed horrific acts. Horrific. I’ve had to get therapy for some of the work that I’ve had to do. I did not anticipate being involved with some of the most heinous interpretations of Mormonism. I mean, this guy has twisted, what I think is–my personal opinion is…
GT: If these are heinous interpretations, how can you then say that this is legitimate theology? How can you say…
Lindsay: Who gets to decide what’s legitimate theology and what’s not? If Mormonism is open to interpretation, we have no process or canonized [system.] LDS people can’t even decide if the Proclamation [on the Family], even their own apostles [can’t decide] if it’s just a suggestion, if it’s a revelation, if it’s a policy. There is no process for this. So that’s part of it. But here’s the thing, I get it. Warren Jeffs has done bad things. He makes us uncomfortable. But our response to the FLDS people, empowered men like him. Warren Jeffs couldn’t even get a conviction in Utah.
Lindsay: That’s how [bad it is.] With all the evidence that they had, they had a tape of him raping a 12-year-old girl in his car. They had that evidence. They couldn’t even bust them in Utah, because we don’t want to look at that.
GT: We don’t want the bad news media.
Lindsay: We have such collective shame about polygamy. We will do whatever we can to turn a blind eye. I cannot tell you. I get I get super fired up about this because there are so many victims of really heinous things in fundamentalism. They can’t get police to take them seriously, because the topic alone, once they know they’re polygamists makes people so uncomfortable, so uncomfortable. So, it just allows men like Warren Jeffs to be like, that’s right. They’re not they’re going to stay away from us. We’re so isolated. I can do whatever I want, and he did. Even still, it’s so interesting. As the town has been changing, I’ve been witness to this. I’ve been up close and personal, seeing this town reclaim themselves, try to get healthy. The LDS Church has been helping now, for the first time. They’re giving aid. There’s a food desert in Colorado City. There’s poverty. It’s like a developing country there. Now the Church has stepped up. Do you think they want people to know about it? Absolutely not. They want it quiet. They wanted it quiet for a long time. I’m just like, “Why? Why do we need to be quiet about it?” Now they’ve [LDS Church] bought property in the town. There’s a huge land grab. I’m resentful about it. Because I’m like, “Oh, all of a sudden now that it’s sort of, it’s like, cool to go down there. Now we can like show that we have a presence.”
Lindsay: That’s kind of petty and reductive. There’s a mission president down there. That area was part of his mission and he got really invested and he’s done a lot of good work. So I don’t want to denigrate what he has done. But I’m talking about collective attitudes. My attitude where I thought I was better than them, where Mormons still think that they’re better. “Oh, we’re not polygamists. We don’t do that. That’s something that they do.” That attitude empowered Warren Jeffs. I think we are complicit in that. We allowed a man like that to do those things to those people. And because of the stories that we inherited from our grandfathers and their grandfathers about who was right, whose priesthood was right, which practice is right. It’s allowed him to just go crazy with sickness.
Do you agree with Lindsay? Check out our conversation….