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Role of Women in 4 American Religions

March is Women’s History Month.  Two of Four religions founded in America were founded by Women.  In this episode, Dr. Newell Bringhurst will discuss how women have shaped these religions.


Newell:  One of is a comparative study comparing what I call the big four American original religions:  the Mormons, the Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Scientists in terms of their attitudes towards race, ethnicity, and their attitudes towards the place of women.  I actually have one article that was published in the John Whitmer Journal a number of years ago where I draw comparisons between Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, and Brigham Young and how they dealt with the issues of slavery.  I’d like to pursue that by looking at the personalities.

I call those religions four American originals because they were all founded by Americans and they were unique to America.  They dealt with the issues in very different ways.  The Seventh-day Adventists was founded by Ellen G. White, they had a very enlightened anti-slavery, somewhat pro-black attitude.  Whereas the Mormons of course kind of moved in the opposite direction, especially under Brigham Young.  Then you’ve got the Jehovah’s Witnesses who were much more accepting of blacks although they came after the Civil War.  They weren’t founded until after the Civil War by Charles T. Russell.

Then you’ve got Mary Baker Eddy.  She was quite anti-slavery even though she lived in the south.  She’s kind of an interesting figure.  It also gets into the issues of gender because you’ve got two of the religions that are actually founded by women:  the Seventh-day Adventists by Ellen G. White, and of course Mary Baker Eddy and so you have the issue of the role of women and gender.

Whereas Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they were much more Patriarchal.  Women are not given ministerial positions in either denomination.  So, I’d like to pursue that by looking at the leaders.  As I say I’ve done some preliminary research.  I actually spent some time many years ago, a little bit of time in the Christian Science archives in Boston, Massachusetts.  That’s where the headquarters of the mother church is.

I’ll also ask Newell what projects he’s working on.

Newell:  As you’re well aware, I’m finishing up the Gospel Topics essay anthology with Matt Harris.  We’ve got all the essays in there.  We’re just trying to finally smooth out the introduction.  That’s the only thing we’ve got left.

Beyond that, as I said I’m working with Greg Kofford on the two reprints or reissues of Saints, Slaves, and Blacks[1] and the Fawn Brodie biography.  I’m also interested in a couple of local history projects.  I’ve done a little bit with local history down in Visalia where we live.  I’ve worked with a local historic preservation group in doing a history of our local Fox Theater…One other project I’ve done with local history, I did a history of the Ku Klux Klan in Tulare County.  You wouldn’t think that there would be Ku Klux Klan in California but we live in a very conservative area and the Ku Klux Klan wielded some influence in our area during the 1920s and 1930s and I did some major research there so that kind of got my feet wet for local history.

Check out our conversation…..

Joseph Smith (Mormons), Charles Russell (Jehovah’s Witnesses), Ellen White (Seventh-day Adventists), Mary Baker Eddy (Christian Scientists)






















[1] It comes out April 10, 2018.  See for more info.

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More about Polygamy: Bennett, Bushman, & Compton

We’re continuing our discussions with Dr. Newell Bringhurst.  In our next conversation, we’ll continue to talk about polygamy.  We’ll talk about Todd Compton’s book, In Sacred Loneliness, a biography of Joseph Smith’s plural wives.

Newell:  Todd Compton’s is mainly a biographical, collective biography of the wives themselves.  It doesn’t get into as much of Joseph Smith interacting or justifying polygamy and all of that.  So I think Todd Compton’s is the best as far as giving us a feeling of who the wives were and how they reacted to Joseph Smith and polygamy and their subsequent activities after Joseph Smith’s martyrdom.

We’ll also talk about what Bringhurst thinks of Richard Bushman’s book, Rough Stone Rolling and its treatment of Joseph’s polygamy.

Newell: One of the weaknesses, glaring weaknesses I saw in Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling was he kind of slighted Joseph Smith’s involvement with polygamy.  I found that one of the most disappointing parts of his Rough Stone Rolling.  He kind of slights—he doesn’t even really acknowledge some of the wives that Joseph married and the relationship and the work that was done by Todd Compton.

We’ll also talk about some early rumors about polygamy in Nauvoo, and we’ll get Newell’s opinion on that.  Don’t forget to check our previous conversation with Newell on polygamy!  Check out our conversation…..

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Bringhurst’s Approach to Controversy

We’re continuing our discussions with Dr. Newell Bringhurst.  We’ve talked about the controversial topics of blacks and the priesthood, as well as Fawn Brodie, and we’re going to continue to talk about controversial topics with Dr. Bringhurst.  What is Bringhurst’s Approach to Controversy?  We’ll ask him in this episode?

GT:  Apparently you enjoy controversy.  You’ve talked about blacks and the priesthood and then you talk about polygamy.  What are your latest polygamy books that you’ve put together?

Newell:  I’ve been involved with Craig Foster, a co-author, co-editor.  The two of us together did a series of volumes.  They are anthologies, collections of essays by various contributors as kind of a trilogy.  Volume 1 is the Persistence of Polygamy:  Joseph Smith and the Origins or Mormon Polygamy.  That was initially published in 2009 and we focus on the controversial aspects of Joseph Smith and his involvement and practice of polygamy.[1]

How does Newell deal with controversial topics?  Mentions his books have many perspectives from many different authors.  For example,

Newell:  Don Bradley did an essay on Fanny Alger, arguing that Joseph’s marriage to Fanny was actually a marriage and not an affair, not a “nasty, filthy affair” as Oliver Cowdery said.  I tend to take issue with him.  I allowed him to make his case and he gave a good argument for his position.  I felt like it should be out there for people to consider.  I’ve always considered myself to be fair-minded when I look at controversial issues.  I want to make sure that people are aware of all sides of an issue.

What does he like most about the study of Mormon history?

Newell:  I think that’s one of the healthy things about the field of Mormon studies.  You can disagree and not be disagreeable and still remain friends and enjoy camaraderie with people you disagree with.  I think that’s one of the great things about the whole field of Mormon studies.

Check out our conversation…..

Dr Newell Bringhurst talk about how he deals with controversy

[1] Volume 2 was published in 2013: The Persistence of Polygamy: From Joseph Smith’s Martyrdom to the First Manifesto, 1844-1890.  See .  Volume 3 was published in 2015:  The Persistence of Polygamy, Vol. 3: Fundamentalist Mormon Polygamy from 1890 to the Present.  See