Mormon News, February 8–12

In the News

After his sons were arrested following a standoff with officials, Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy was taken into federal custody this News Updateweek. Bundy was arrested in Portland, Oregon, after he declared his intent on Facebook to aid armed occupiers at a wildlife preserve. Bundy, who owes one million dollars in taxes for using federal lands, made headlines in 2014 after he led an armed militia that threatened to fire on officials. He also infused his anti-government rhetoric with LDS theology and the teachings of conservative Mormons such as Ezra Taft Benson and Cleon Skousen.

After Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, dozens of splinter groups formed, and, as a result, today a variety of groups identify themselves as Mormon. But the LDS Church’s Intellectual Reserve, Inc., claims it owns the trademark to the word “Mormon.” Its latest of many legal challenges is against the Mormon Mental Health Association, a group “for mental health providers, clinicians, educators and advocates who are interested in or are working with the Mormon population.” The Intellectual Frontier Foundation, a group dedicated to online civil liberties, represents the MMHA and disputes the church’s claim.

This week the LDS Church came out in opposition to a medical marijuana bill under consideration in the Utah State Legislature. Although Utah would be the twenty-fourth state to allow some form of marijuana for medicinal purposes, the church has largely stayed out of other states’ political disputes. Mormons who live in regions where marijuana is legal are not disciplined if they use the drug for health reasons. But in Utah, the church expressed concern over the “unintended consequences that may accompany the legalization of medical marijuana.”

In recent years the LDS Church History Library has hired four scholars to focus on Mormon women’s history. Since 2011, Lisa Tait, Jenny Reeder, Brittany Chapman Nash, and Kate Holbrook have worked to promote women, frequently voiceless and invisible, in the Mormon past. Tait connected the work to recent questions about the role of women in the church: “Doing women’s history in the church is a way, at least indirectly, of speaking to those concerns and showing that the church is aware of and concerned about and invested in women’s stories.”

In Books

ThinkProgress, a liberal news website, published an article that drew parallels between modern Islamophobia and nineteenth-century efforts to declare Mormons “nonwhite.” Author Jack Jenkins, the site’s senior religion reporter, drew primarily from W. Paul Reeve’s Religion of a Different Color and interviewed the author for the story. The two also discussed the 1838 Mormon War in Missouri as a conflict over immigration and tensions between outsiders and nativists. Forty years later in 1879, the federal government moved to ban Mormon immigrants who had converted overseas. In a recent speech at a mosque, US President Barack Obama also invoked the Mormons when discussing Islamophobia.

In Memoriam

Milton Backman, an LDS historian known for his work on Kirtland in Mormon history, passed away this week at the age of eighty-eight. In addition to his book on Kirtland, Backman also wrote on the First Vision, the Doctrine & Covenants, and early first-person accounts of the rise of Mormonism. Boyd Petersen, the editor of Dialogue, posted a moving tribute to Dr. Backman.

News update by John Hatch