Mormon News, February 16–20

In the News

The historical community in Walla Walla, Washington, commemorated a Mormon schismatic group known as the Kingdom of Heaven that was active from 1867 to 1881. The Kingdom was founded by William W. Davies, a disillusioned follower of Brigham Young who joined the Morrisite branch of Mormonism before forming his own group. Davies informed his group that, after a series of revelations, he was the archangel Michael, and his son was the reincarnated Jesus Christ. The boy was known locally as the Walla Walla Jesus. Davies lost most of his followers when, after claiming to have the power to raise the dead, his wife and two members of the community died of diphtheria. The Kingdom of Heaven community is now recognized with the dedication of a plaque at the site where Davies founded and lived with his group.

Long-time Mormon publication Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought announced a new editor to succeed Kristine Haglund, who has steered the journal for the past several years. Boyd Petersen, a professor at Utah Valley University and author of Hugh Nibley: A Consecrated Life will take the helm next year, just as Dialogue celebrates its fiftieth year in print. Morris Thurston, a member of the Dialogue board of directors, told Peggy Fletcher Stack that, “While there were many outstanding applicants for the position of editor, we are absolutely thrilled that the process has produced a scholar of Boyd Petersen’s caliber.”

In Books

Two important history books, one released last week and one debuting this week, have already garnered rave reviews for changing the way we think about the Mormon past. Religion of a Different Color, by University of Utah professor Paul Reeve, examines how nineteenth-century Americans racialized Mormons as not white and caricatured them as other ethnicities. In cartoons, Mormons were portrayed as African, Asian, American Indian, and Irish (who were also not viewed as white by nativists). In response, writes Reeve, Mormons took steps to pursue whiteness, including instituting a priesthood ban and embracing broader American racist ideals. Jonathan Stapley at By Common Consent writes that Reeve “offers some expertly new (and sound) readings…. As far as I am concerned this is now the go-to source on the history of the temple/priesthood restriction.” Julie Smith concurred: “It’s phenomenal. It’s a total game-changer in terms of thinking about Mormonism, race, and outsider perceptions of Mormonism. The history is fascinating, the analysis is trenchant, the message about race is provocative.”

David Conley Nelson’s book, Moroni and the Swastika, examines Mormonism under the Third Reich in Nazi Germany. Nelson explains that German Latter-day Saints were proud to be German, and were just as nationalistic as American Latter-day Saints. Mormon leaders spotted the danger the Hitler regime could pose to their faith, and they sought ways to accommodate the Nazis. As Nelson explains in an interview with Jana Riess, “In the 1930s the mission presidents formulated this program to keep the church safe, but then found opportunities that were Devery Booktoo good to pass up, especially in genealogy…. Suddenly all these ordinary Germans had to prove their ancestors were not Jews, so the Church’s genealogy program experienced newfound freedom.” Andrew Hamilton, Association for Mormon Letters, writes “Make no mistake, this is a fantastic book. Nelson has produced a fine piece of scholarship. “Moroni and the Swastika” is a book that I believe should be read by anyone who is interested in LDS history.”

 At Signature Books

Signature Books’ editor Devery S. Anderson recently received the cover art and final title for his forthcoming book examining the Emmett Till case. Emmett Till: The Murder That Shocked the World and Propelled the Civil Rights Movement is due out in August by the University Press of Mississippi, just in time for the sixtieth anniversary of Till’s murder. Devery’s book is already seen by experts on the case as the most complete and thorough account of the Till saga and the advance praise has been universally positive. Many congratulations to Devery—mark your calendars for August!

News update by John Hatch, acquisitions editor