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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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All Transcripts are available! #BlackHistoryMonth Sale

I was just reviewing some feedback, and learned some of you are not aware of my transcripts.  There are a few ways to get them.  (I am also doing a #BlackHistoryMonth Sale!)

  1. If you click the yellow “Subscribe” button above, I will send you a PDF transcript as soon as each interview is completed (1-2 per month.)  This is just $10/month.
  2. If you want a print or Kindle copy, all are available at my Amazon Store at http://amzn.to/2ELbdi4

Making these transcripts is easily the most time-consuming part of this process.  I’d like to purchase software to save me the time, but it is very expensive.  If you could help me out either through a paid subscription, or my Amazon store, I could probably improve my production schedule and get these done sooner if you could help me afford the transcription software.

I should also point out that my Paul Reeve and Darron Smith interviews are on sale this month in honor of Black History Month.  Margaret Young’s is such a short interview that I can’t put it in print, but here are links.  These prices are good for February 2018 before they go back up.

Thanks for your support!  Please share with your friends!  I hope you find this the best Mormon History Podcast!  (Here is a list of all current and future interviews scheduled!)

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Start of RLDS Church & Mormon Schisms Tour

We’re about ready to finish our conversation with John Hamer and Lachlan MacKay of the Community of Christ and do a Mormon Schisms Tour!  In this next conversation, we’ll talk about how confusing it must have been to live following the death of Joseph Smith.

John:  You might have a branch where at a certain point, you’ve heard Joseph Smith has been killed.  You are very sad.  Brighamite missionaries come through.  They say the Twelve are now in charge and things like that.  Everyone says, “Hey, now we got it.  We’ve read about that in the newspaper and this kind of thing.”  Then, a couple of months later, somebody from Voree comes with the Voree Herald and they explain how the Twelve are in apostasy, and this and that, and why all of the prophetic gifts that prove that Strang is the successor, and they are like, “Oh, we’re Strangites now.”

There isn’t anything in particular that necessarily happens for the branch.  So like I say for the Hedrickites, they are one of five, maybe, of these branches that are in a cluster around Bloomington, Illinois.  I think probably at some point or another, they will have been affiliated with Strang, but at a certain point, maybe when he “affiliated,” whatever it even means.  Strangite missionaries will come through there, and that’s one of the reasons why maybe they didn’t gather and go west.

We’ll talk about the founding of the RLDS Church.

John:  This is the origin of the Reorganization.  So the branches start to pray about it.  They fall back on individual personal revelations for the individual congregations, the pastors.  They start meeting together.  As they are thinking about it, William Smith has a church in the meantime and William Smith has been promoting the idea of lineal succession.  There has been, (I think I mentioned a while ago), there’s the sense that Joseph Smith’s posterity, somebody, one of his sons is going to be the successor or will emerge as the successor.  They start to regather these branches and the form a conference organization, which is a loose structure.  There’s no corporate entity here still.

So they pass resolutions together in conferences where they say they are going to wait for one of Joseph Smith’s sons, probably Joseph Smith III to emerge to receive the prophetic calling and to accept that mantle.  So when that happens in 1860, he comes to a conference of the New Organization, what becomes the Reorganization and what becomes Community of Christ, then that becomes something that all these little branches start to get really excited about.  Fairly quickly, then that Reorganization draws from all the different tradition churches, including people who had gone west who are dissatisfied with what was going on under Brigham Young in Utah.

It turns out that some other Mormon schismatic groups are contemporaries of Joseph Smith III.  John talks briefly about several of these churches, “There’s more –ites; that’s hardly an exhaustive group so I don’t mean to be leaving anybody out.  They are very interesting.”  He’ll briefly discuss founding of the Hedrickites, Williamites, Josephites, Cutlerites, Whitmerites, and their relationship to the RLDS Church.  Lachlan MacKay will also tell when and why the Kirtland Temple changed from a bluish-gray color to the current white color it is today.  It’s going to be a fun conversation. I hope you check out our Mormon Schisms Tour!