Mormon News, May 12–16

In the News

The LDS church just released a new essay on its website titled “Peace and Violence among Nineteenth-Century Latter-day Saints.” Part of a series on challenging topics for faithful church members, the essay candidly Drawing recreation of the Mountain Meadows Massacre taken from The Rocky Mountain Saints by TBH Stenhouseacknowledges the violence that was a part of the Mormon past, while also staking out a defensive position, asserting that Mormons were more frequently victims of persecution than perpetrators of violence. The wide-ranging essay attempts to distill broad topics into a single digestible narrative by addressing nineteenth-century mobs and frontier violence, Danites in the 1838 Missouri War, the relationship between Mormons and Native Americans, and the infamous September 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre. The massacre is placed in the context of the Mormon Reformation, the Utah War, and the Wild West. The essay’s footnotes draw on respected historical scholarship, including one reference to a Signature Books title, and recommends the work of Juanita Brooks, once viewed critically by church leaders but cited here as a “classic study” of the massacre.

This week the British newspaper The Guardian, featured a story with Neil LaBute, onetime Mormon playwright and filmmaker who was disfellowshipped after his play, Bash: Latterday Plays, was first produced in 1999, four years after it was published in Sunstone. LaBute pointed out that church officials did not seem to have a problem with the play until it generated what they perceived to be negative publicity for the church. He noted the irony that he had written plays with more violence and sex that were overlooked by church officials because they were not about Mormons. LaBute said he could have come back to church, but realized it was better “not to be a Mormon than to be a ‘bad’ Mormon.” Bash is currently being performed at the Trafalgar Studios theater in London.

The online news website, The Daily Beast, featured an article by Emily Shire on the challenges faced by LGBT students at BYU.  The article revealed that the student club, USGA, Understanding Same-Gender Attraction, has been edged off campus. In her interviews, Shire found mixed feelings among gay BYU students who acknowledged recent strides (until recently being openly gay was grounds for expulsion from the university) but feel despondent over the remaining hurdles. Suicidal and self-harm are prevalent among BYU gays, and the pressure they feel, even from gay peers watching to ensure that they do not step out of line, can be overwhelming.

Diary Excerpt

My appreciation to Gary Bergera for providing this thoughtful entry from Leonard J. Arrington’s diaries:

… realities are not as dangerous as conceits, and one’s soul surely grows from hard facts bravely met. Personal preoccupations and didactic motives may be worthy, but they should not be allowed to repress our intellectual musings or our independent efforts to report our findings honestly and with due consideration to imperfect humanity. Only by our industry, imagination, and self-criticism will our community move toward greater knowledge and understanding and a more thoughtful uncertainty concerning our human heritage. Just as we must oppose in the strongest way shoddy scholarship, prejudicial writing, and fearful timidity in dealing with essential facts, we must be resolute in defending our right and obligation to preserve our credibility and our reputation for integrity.

Acknowledging that we sometimes poke ashes with embers, the Lord will surely prefer us to err on the side of honest disclosure. “God,” according to Moffatt’s translation of the prophet Isaiah, “does not need our lies”–our prettied-up pictures of events and personalities of the past. Writers of great fiction as well as writers of passages in Holy Writ make crystal clear that God is in the position of having to depend upon human instruments somewhat less than perfect in working out His purposes.

The renowned Roman Catholic theologian, Hans Kung, has observed: “The neglect of truthfulness leads to hypocrisy, but the exaggeration of truthfulness leads to destructive fanaticism.” Whether as historians or as educators, we must guard against both. May our works of scholarship be marked by thorough research and superior writing, giving our readers new experiences, expanded horizons, and more profound understandings of our common past. —Leonard J. Arrington, diary, May 4, 1988.

News update by John Hatch, acquisitions editor