Mormon News, August 29–September 2

In the News

stoneIn 2004, twenty-four-year-old David Sneddon, returned missionary and Brigham Young University student, disappeared while hiking in China. Although his family held out hope that he was alive and still living overseas, most believed that he was dead- the victim of an accident in the mountains near Lijiang, in Yunnan. Reports from Yahoo Japan and the Sun in London, however, allege that Sneddon is alive, married, a father, still living in China and teaching English. Sneddon’s parents hope to receive confirmation of the story and have been working with politicians in the United States to gain all the facts related their son’s whereabouts.

A group of between ten and twenty Mormon women in Manhattan have bonded over their common Mormon backgrounds and diverse shifts within the faith. Calling their gatherings “Feminist Home Evening,” the group was founded two years ago after high-profile excommunications in the church left them troubled. NPR reports that despite their commonalities, the women range anywhere along the spectrum of belief and participation. Christy Clegg, for example, has stopped attending her LDS ward “but I very much identify with my Mormonism.” Heather McGee Teadoro has returned to the fold after many years away. The bigger picture they all share, however, is the idea that Mormonism is more than just belief. “It’s family, it’s culture, at times it can even seem likes its own language.”

In Books

The new book, Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones, by Michael Hubbard Mackay and Nicholas J. Frederick, examines the Mormon prophet’s early use of such relics in searching for buried treasure and in producing the Book of Mormon. Coming on the heels of published photographs of Smith’s chocolate-colored stone and official acknowledgments that it was part of the translation process,  these two BYU professors take a close look at the Book of Mormon text to understand Smith’s thinking regarding such items and why he came to use them. Although heralded as a groundbreaking study, the book is not without its critics. Non-Mormon scholar Ron Huggins recently wrote in the Mormon Historians Facebook page that “the two authors make a remarkable statement [on page 57]: ‘If he [Joseph] had simply received a divine text without a material anchor [the seer stone], he would have simply been another visionary product of the Second Great Awakening.'” For Huggins, “That strikes me as a very strange assertion. Are they saying that if Joseph sat there dictating without a stone, the Book of Mormon would represent simply a typical product of its nineteenth century environment, but since the dictation was accompanied by the stone in a hat, its something altogether different.” Surely, the debate will continue.

In Memoriam

The Mormon history community lost one if its most prominent figures on July 27 with the death of retired BYU professor Marvin S. Hill. Co-author of the award-winning book, The Carthage Conspiracy, with then BYU president Dallin H. Oaks, Hill was recognized as one of the leading historians on the life of Joseph Smith. His research greatly aided his sister Donna Hill in her highly acclaimed biography, Joseph Smith, the First Mormon, published by Doubleday in 1977 and later issued in paperback by Signature Books. His book, Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism, was published by Signature in 1989 and won the Best Book Award from the Mormon History Association the following year. He served as president of the association from 1992–93.

News update by Devery Anderson, substituting for John Hatch