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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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LDS Church in Africa #BlackHistoryMonth

It’s Black History Month at Gospel Tangents.  This is our final conversation with Russell Stevenson and we’ll talk the LDS Church in Africa.  Did you know that Nigerians in the 1960s and even in the 1950s I learned have asked for LDS missionaries to come teach the gospel to them.  It’s pretty surprising that they did this without any LDS presence in Nigeria.  Russell Stevenson will talk more about this in our next conversation.

Russell:  Throughout the 1950s, a number of church leaders are getting letters from various Nigerians across the river in Igboland, elsewhere begging for missionaries, asking for some kind of missionary presence.  The initial response by David O. McKay and others was some level of skepticism.  Maybe they are just looking for an opportunity to make money.  They are just looking for white people to give them business, maybe looking for a new source of patronage now that the British influence was beginning to recede.  By 1960 it was officially turned over to Nigerians.

In 1960 David O. McKay and the First Presidency, they send Glen Fisher, who has once been a mission president in South Africa to see what’s happening on the ground.  Are these potential converts legitimate?  Do they in fact want to join the LDS Church, or are they just looking for some kind of business opportunity?  Glen Fisher returned with a report that was gushing by saying these people are the real deal.  They crave Mormonism.  They crave the LDS Church.

So they go there and they come away with the same conclusion that Glen Fisher had come away with, that these people are the real deal.  They are legitimate.  They in fact crave Mormonism.  In fact Lamar Williams went further.  He said, “Ultimately we cannot keep the priesthood from these people.”  Essentially it’s only a matter of time.

GT:  What year is this?

Russell:  This is in 1961.

GT chuckles:  ’61.  That’s pretty prophetic!

Russell:  Yes.  I should note too, this isn’t the very first time you have Nigerians communicating this kind of thing to missionaries.  We have evidence all the way back to 1950 of a Nigerian reverend approaching missionaries in New York City asking for a missionary presence.  This is all throughout the post-war period.  I’m only talking about the period in which the activity is most sustained.

Find out more about what happened with the LDS Church in Africa!  I hope enjoyed our previous conversations with Russell on Elijah Ables, his mission, the temple/priesthood ban, and his attempts to get his endowment.  Check out all of these episodes for #BlackHistoryMonth!…..

 

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Rival Mission Presidents in Germany

The Mormon Church is very well known for having a very well-organized institution. It wasn’t always the case though. It turns out that J. Reuben Clark and David O. McKay called a mission president to Berlin, while President Grant who was in Europe at the time called a different man to be mission president. Both mission presidents arrived in Berlin. What happens next? Dr. David Nelson tells a very interesting story about rival mission presidents in the Berlin, Germany mission.

David:  Heber J. Grant was in Germany.  What he was doing is he was celebrating 100 years of Mormonism in Europe, so he is on a 3 month tour of Germany, the prophet, seer, and revelator, Heber J. Grant.  He comes to Bern, Switzerland where the mission home is for what was known as then, the Swiss-German mission, later on became the West German mission.  He stays with Swiss-German mission, Philemon Kelly, who was a kindly man, a doctor from Idaho, a physician, medical doctor.  Sometime during stay, Pres Grant goes to Pres. Kelly and says, “How you like to be the mission president in Berlin?”

That’s a plum assignment.  Philemon Kelly [said], “I’ll take it.”  He packed up and he’s gone.

At same time while President Grant is gone from Salt Lake City, David O. McKay and J. Reuben Clark are calling Albert C. Rees to be the mission president in Berlin, the same city.  The newspapers in Salt Lake City give goodbye editorials to Alfred C. Rees because he’s one of them.  He’s part of the newspaper industry there.  There’s no doubt he is going to Berlin, but when he gets to Berlin he finds Philemon Kelly and his wife already installed in the mission home in the Tiergarten and Kelly won’t give it up.

In my book I write for a month or a month and a half, these two guys are competing.  No way Rees could turn around and take the consolation prize in Frankfurt, so he goes and rents a home, which the mission has to pay for, down the street and we have rival mission presidents in Berlin for this period of time.

Who won?  You’ll have to listen to find out!  Dr. Nelson also discusses some LDS interactions with Adolph Hitler.

David:  You had a situation that happened there where some 900 German adolescent girls, not Mormons, but 900 adolescent girls came home from rally pregnant, unmarried girls ages 14-17.  There was an investigation.  In 400 cases they could not determine who father was because girl had multiple sexual partners.  This caused a stir and quite a bit of controversy in a police state.  You don’t raise a lot of heck in Nazi Germany.  You don’t go around screaming to people to supervise these kids better because you don’t scream at anybody in that type of a situation.

Elizabeth Welker writes letter to Gertrud Schultz-Klink and expresses some worries about that.  A couple of Klink’s assistants get in touch with her and agree to let her tour some youth camps, so she can see for herself the level of discipline enforced, and level of supervision at youth camps.  One of these trips, Shultz-Klink is in the limousine with Adolph Hitler because Adolph Hitler is going out to see the camps himself.  Shultz-Klink gets picked up, and she is in the same car with Hitler.  They go out there and they inspect this camp.  There were a couple of other times under Schultz-Klink’s underlings came out at took her to other took to other youth meetings.  In the end Elizabeth Welker is just absolutely bamboozled, and believes German adolescent girls are the best teenage girls in world, and they are being led better than anybody else, certainly a lot better than our permissive situation in the United States.

Welker writes an article on the moral status of German girls in the Improvement Era!  Check out our conversation…..