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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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Trouble in Cincinnati: Ables’ Time in Ohio #BlackHistoryMonth

Following Elijah Ables’ Canadian mission, he returned for a short time to Nauvoo where he helped Joseph Smith escape from a mob from Missouri.  Then he went to Ohio and encountered more Trouble in Cincinnati!  Russell Stevenson continues our focus on #BlackHistoryMonth, and discusses some of the race riots and other difficulties Elijah Ables encountered in Ohio.

Russell:  In about 1842, or it might have even been the fall of 1841, there had been a massive race riot break out in Cincinnati between local white workers and the African-American community.  It was quite violent.  Many prominent abolitionists found themselves under fire.  Their homes, their offices, their businesses were all targeted for mob attack, and it’s reasonable to suppose that Rees E. Price would have found under attack as well.

So the fact that Elijah could navigate these white spaces, it tells you he had the skill to be in both worlds.  And yet, in spite of this ability, in spite of this comfortability with white spaces, we know that in 1843, I speculate due to some of these heightened tensions that had developed due to this race riot, that locally, three apostles:  Heber C. Kimball, Lorenzo Snow, and Orson Pratt, they banned Elijah from preaching to people not of African ancestry.

GT:  Ok, so approximately what year was that?

Russell:  Not approximately, it was 1843.

GT:  1843, so he had some restrictions placed on him.

Russell:  Yes.  I can’t emphasize enough, though, it was not a priesthood restriction.  They had the opportunity.  If they wanted to take the priesthood from Elijah at that time, they could have.  That was the perfect opportunity to do so.  They did not.  In the minutes that tell us about this episode, he is explicitly identified as a Seventy and there is no comment made about him losing priesthood, and two years later, there is a newspaper article again referring to Elijah’s workings in that branch where he is also referred to as a Seventy.

Russell also talks about speculation Elijah may have helped with the Underground Railroad to free blacks from slavery!

Russell:  Now did that lead to some sort of collaboration in helping with the Underground Railroad?  That’s a very interesting speculation.  It also goes beyond the evidence.  Trust me, I would love to know that Elijah played an active role in assisting with the Underground Railroad.  We just don’t know that.

Don’t forget to learn more about Elijah’s Canadian mission, and his work on the Kirtland Temple.  Check out our conversation…..