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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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The Strange Kirtland Temple Ownership Problems

Following the Kirtland Banking Crisis in 1838, Joseph Smith left town in the dead of the night.  The town of Kirtland was basically bankrupt.  Because of this, ownership of the temple was claimed by several people.  John Hamer and Lachlan MacKay will talk about Kirtland Temple ownership problems.  It’s a little bit like a soap-opera.   We’ll also hear an episode where people stormed the temple with guns and knives to try to take ownership of the temple.

Lachlan:  This is the one where Joseph Smith Sr. is at the pulpit on the west end.  The dissenters are concerned and hoping to take possession of the temple, and they stormed to the front with guns and knives drawn.  I think this is Oliver Huntington, one of the Huntington boys said, “Them that had chicken-hearts dove out the windows for safety.”

The police are called in to restore order.  They rush in and they knocked over a stove-pipe.  So I just imagine soot filling the room.  The best part is, after that chaos, they eject the belligerents and resume the services of the day.  {Everyone chuckles}

GT:  Really!  Wow.

Lachlan:  So I think that’s probably what you were referring to.

GT:  Yeah, it must have been quite a service!  {all chuckle}  We don’t talk about that in the LDS tradition very often.  I remember reading that somewhere and just going, “Wow!”

Lachlan:  I think one of them is even—they are walking from the front to the back, in some cases over the back of the pews, so stepping from pew-box to pew-box because the aisles are full of people, so they have to walk on the top of the pew-boxes to get up there.

We also talk about some other Mormon groups:  Strangites & Hedrickites and their involvement in Kirtland Temple ownership.  I also update our previous conversation with Dr. Richard Bennett about Brigham Young trying to sell the Kirtland Temple!  Was the Kirtland Temple turned into a sheep shed?  How did the Kirtland Banking Crisis affect ownership?  What else can we learn about the Kirtland Temple over the years?  Check out our conversation…..

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Comparing LDS and RLDS Temple Worship

In our next conversation, we’ll talk about differences in temple worship between the LDS Church and the RLDS Church.  (Note:  The Community of Christ has been historically known as the RLDS Church.)  Community of Christ Apostle, Lachlan MacKay and John Hamer (a Seventy) discuss the differences in temple worship between the two churches, and how the temple has evolved.

Lachlan:  Sure.  So Kirtland in the 1830s, it’s a house for public worship with a strong emphasis on empowerment, both spiritually and intellectually.  Two-thirds of Kirtland Temple was classroom space.  You would worship in the temple on Sundays, and you would go to school six days a week.  Kirtland High School met on the third floor.  Students ranged in age from six through adults, so it was the center of their community life.

My sense is that in Nauvoo the same was going to be true, but you did start to have to have, I believe, a receipt saying you were a tithe payer in order to gain access to the baptismal font, and they didn’t welcome non-members in 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.

John:  This idea for the LDS tradition of having what constitutes temple work and everything like that, almost all of this is extremely different than what existed in Kirtland.  There’s no font, like you say, in the Kirtland Temple.  That’s something that begins in Nauvoo.  The same thing, the Endowment ceremony, and things like that is taking place after Joseph Smith had been exposed to Freemasonry and things like that so that also isn’t taking place, the whole liturgy and things like that in Kirtland.

I have a chart.  I’ll give it to you so you can splice it in if you want for the videos, but essentially where you take the spaces that exist, you’ve taken Kirtland, like what Lach is telling you about, the spaces of worship, the space for learning, the space for order, the church offices and things like that, you can see where they have that same major portion of the space is devoted to that in Nauvoo, but then there’s also the space for the baptism of the dead in the basement and there’s a space for endowments in the attic.

Then you go to Salt Lake, all of that is preserved so there’s a big solemn assembly hall and things like that in the Salt Lake Temple.  There are the offices for the apostles and things like that, but then when you get to the little temples that are in the LDS tradition, which might be what most Mormons in the Utah tradition are exposed to, they don’t have any of those things that are from the Kirtland period.  All they have is the basement and attic part of the Nauvoo Temple and that’s their whole experience.  So they go and that’s their temple experience.  They go to Kirtland and say, “What did these Reorganites do to the temple?  It’s not even—it’s so alien.”  That’s what Kirtland is!  But anyway, we’re each honoring different parts of the heritage.

We’ll also talk about baptism for the dead as well as vision of Elijah in 1836 in the Kirtland Temple.  It’s going to be a very interesting conversation.  I hope you check it out (as well as part 1 of our conversation)!