Reviews – The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power
Associated Press, Matthew Brown
A gathering of the Mormon Church’s hierarchy in the early 1930s could have been mistaken for a family reunion, with 72 percent of them related through blood or marriage.
The family ties were the result of a religion stressing kinship and practicing polygamy in the late 19th century, when the vast majority of Mormons lived in the West. But despite the faith’s abolition of polygamy more than 100 years ago and Mormonism’s global expansion today, its top administration still resembles an extended family.
A study of family connections among the 101 members of the Mormon Church’s hierarchy shows a blood or marriage relation among 72.3 percent, while all members of the church’s governing First Presidency and Council of Twelve Apostles have a familial link going back five generations.
“Family has been frequently stated as having a significant role when someone has been chosen to a position in the hierarchy,” says historian D. Michael Quinn, whose study appears in his most recent book, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power. In listing familial connections of current Mormon leaders, Quinn shows Mormon Church President Gordon B. Hinckley is a first cousin to an apostle and to a member of the church’s Quorum of Seventy, a cousin once removed to another Seventy member and to the wife of another apostle, a nephew of a former apostle, and a distant cousin to one of his counselors in the First Presidency and to two more past church authorities.
Hinckley’s grandfather also settled a remote pioneer way station of Cove Fort in central Utah under the direction of former Mormon Church President Brigham Young. And while the intricate kinship and marriage connections smack of nepotism to some, Quinn sees the family ties as a logical extension of Mormon theology and as a tool leaders could use to foster stability and loyalty at the top.
Since its founding in 1830, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has made establishing links with relatives with relatives, past and present, a top priority. Mormons believe it is their responsibility to save their dead ancestors, as well as themselves. To accomplish the task, the church has established the world’s largest repository of genealogical records and built 50 temples around the world, where they perform baptisms, marriages, and other ordinances that they believe are necessary for themselves and their ancestors to return to God.
But Quinn, a former Mormon, said that despite the theological underpinnings, kinship is not the primary criterion when a church president, revered by members as a prophet, makes the final call. “In terms of how leadership defines itself, personal worthiness and God’s will are the overriding factors,” he said.
Church spokesman Don LeFevre agreed, although he ruled out family connections altogether. “Whether or not one is related to a general authority is not a factor.” Still, some Mormon leaders over the years have hesitated appointing next of kin, some fearing accusations of nepotism. But that didn’t always stop the practice that sometimes generated grumblings among the rank and file as well as high-level officials.
“I question very much whether He [God] approves of it,” wrote former church authority J. Golden Kimball about church President Joseph F. Smith naming another Smith as an apostle in 1903. “It is nepotism of the strongest kind since the days of President Brigham Young.”
Yet, Kimball also expressed disappointment that his own relatives were not named apostles, arguing that the family deserves to be represented in the church’s highest councils.
But Quinn doesn’t use the term nepotism to describe the kinship found among Mormon Church authorities. Instead, he says, the family ties make the system more closely resemble a dynasty. However, the practice of polygamy, which resulted in Mormon authorities marrying into the families of their colleagues, adds a dimension not found in other dynastic orders.
Nearly 75 percent of today’s hierarchy have polygamous ancestry. Since the days of polygamy, Mormon Church membership has grown from about 200,000 living primarily in the West to 9.7 million today, with more than half of those outside the U.S.
In some respects, the makeup of church leadership reflects that growth, with 16 members of the current hierarchy born outside the United States with no ancestral ties to past or present leadership. Going back just two generations of ancestry, 32.7 percent of the hierarchy are related by blood or marriage, compared to 72 percent some 60 years earlier. Quinn, who began studying the topic in the early 1970s, says that’s what he expected to find in his research. But when he took the genealogy back give generations, the connections multiplied. He also found a pattern that recalls Mormonism’s first century—family ties are more extensive in the higher ranks. Some observers see Quinn’s findings as evidence of a major shift.
“The fact that more than 25 percent don’t have these connections is an indication that the church is becoming a worldwide faith,” says Jan Shipps, professor emeritus of history and religious at Indian University-Purdue University. “For those of us who have studied Mormonism, that’s a lot of people not connected.”
While the family links among the current hierarchy may surprise some who would expect church leadership to better reflect the membership, Quinn believes that if the trend continues another generation, it won’t hurt church growth. “Mormonism appeals for a variety of reasons to millions of people throughout the world,” he says.
Benchmark Book News
To say this book has been greatly anticipated would be an understatement. The first volume of this two-volume set, The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, engendered a lot of interest and discussion, and the entire first printing quickly sold out as a result. Unexpected delays in bringing out this second volume have only heightened the interest and expectations for it. Although the late addition of much new and up-to-date material has significantly increased the size, and hence the price of the book, we anticipate brisk sales.
Extensions of Power brings Quinn’s pathbreaking study of the Mormon hierarchy virtually up to the present. He examines in great detail the dynamics of the leadership of the Church: the attempts to achieve harmony, various tensions and conflicts between leaders, family relationships among the general authorities, the Church’s involvement with political and social issues, and the theocratic nature of Church government. He also discusses institutional finances and the bureaucracy that has grown tremendously in the 20th Century. As is his usual practice, Quinn provides extensive endnotes and appendices (indeed, they take up over half of the book) in order to amplify and clarify points and supply information too voluminous for the main body of the text.
Because of the very nature of the subject matter and the author’s treatment of it, there are ideas and conclusions that are controversial and subject to interpretation. However, we feel that the book is a significant work and worthy of careful consideration by readers who are willing to look at different sides of religious history and questions.
Library Journal, David S. Azzolina
Quinn’s first volume of The Mormon Hierarchy (The Origins of Power) was a landmark in Mormon studies. This latest volume demonstrates the ways and methods by which the leadership maintains and applies its authority. Some believers may not be pleased with the portrait Quinn paints, but his documentation is so thorough and indisputable that few will be able to challenge his arguments. Some chapters are case studies in the rise to leadership of particular individuals, most notably Ezra Taft Benson (13th president/prophet of the church and Eisenhower’s secretary of agriculture), and their employment of power. Other chapters look at the means by which power is exercised in governance. The biographical and chronological appendixes are worth the price of the book. Quinn, now an independent scholar, is unquestionably Mormonism’s leading historian. A magisterial study; recommended for all libraries with collections in American history.
D. Michael Quinn takes a behind-the-scenes look at the hierarchy of the Mormon Church in his powerful new book, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power. Quinn offers a glimpse of the power struggles that often characterize the elite group that leads the Church. In his investigations, he finds evidence of financial mismanagement and political corruption at the highest level of the Mormon hierarchy. Yet, Quinn also indicates that he is encouraged by the times that these leaders have pulled together when they have been convinced that God has spoken to them. Quinn’s detective work makes for exciting reading.
Western Historical Quarterly, Valeen Tippetts Avery
Extraordinary devotion to a research project begun thirty years ago has documented the workings of the Mormon church administration from its New York state beginnings in 1830 to the present. Quinn’s first volume, Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power surveys the period to the arrival of the Mormons in Utah in 1847.
This second volume, a magisterial compilation of information, is a history of Mormon church leadership from 1848 to November 1996. One should start at the back; first scan the 150-page chronology (Appendix 5), which outlines church positions taken in regard to social, ecclesiastical, political, and economic concerns of the western Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Then go to the beginning and peruse the narrative chapters, each of which grounds itself in the 1830-1847 period, without necessarily duplicating the first volume, and carries its topic forward to the present.
Organized into sections, the book places its material in the larger context of social issues with specific emphasis on Mormon involvement. Conflict between the governing quorums as units of power, and between personalities of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, The Council of Seventy and the expanding bureaucracy reveal the impossibilities inherent in the deceptive appearance of monolithic unanimity. Joined to an extraordinary degree by kinship and marriage, the Mormon hierarchy closed its ranks to democratic process without stilling internal disputes. Separate chapters look at policies regarding church finances, attitudes toward violence, the rule of the male priesthood, and involvement in politics. It documents the increasingly powerful role relatively few Mormons play in determining national policy. The research is so extensive that the text is less than half the book; no history speaks for itself without the aid of historians wiling to organize material in such manner as to give the past a voice.
The strength of this volume lies in its ability to let events and policies juxtapose themselves with the traditional desire of the Mormon church to shape its history into an affirmative testimony of its divinity. When the bureaucrats speak and act, as Quinn has them so effectively documented, the secular side of Mormonism becomes available to Saint and gentile alike. Quinn’s writing style is clear, graceful, and lucid; it relies heavily on colorful and descriptive quotations from its subjects to come to the heat of its matters.
This book is the culmination of a distinguished scholar’s work to the mid-point of his life. Part biography, part documentary, part social history, part statistics, and part interpretation, scholars seeking the extent of Mormon influence in American life cannot afford to ignore it. Michael Quinn has given us an understanding of Mormonism available in no other place.
Latter Day Saint History, Gerald John Kloss
The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power is a large, comprehensive volume which continues the detailed research of D. Michael Quinn as published in The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power.
The author, D. Michael Quinn, fulfills his role as an in-depth historian researcher as he presents information on “The General Authorities” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Dr. Quinn has spent over twenty-five years of his life involved in research of the historical archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His detailed presentation in this text on the top-level leadership in the Church is supported by voluminous notes and appendices.
In this text Dr. Quinn analyzes the continuing evolution of the Mormon hierarchical structure from its earliest beginnings to today’s complex, powerful system that is unique among religious organizations in the twentieth century.
Dr. Quinn has undertaken this monumentous task to reflect how the guidance of primarily born Utah men lead and guide a worldwide group of 9.5 million people. Analysis is shared regarding the spiritual as well as the human qualities of these leaders and how they impact their role as leaders. The author views the group of leaders in a positive manner and wishes to relate how remarkable, although at times with problems, it is.
Throughout his years of research, which have been published in this text, Dr. Quinn had access to documents of the LDS Church archives, now non-accessible to researchers.
This study also reflects the evidence of historical process and institutional change over time and is not set to substantiate any current practices or policies of the church. The facts will speak for themselves.
Throughout his years of research Dr. Quinn has been personally impacted by his findings. His purpose was and continues to be to share his findings and his enthusiasm related to that process of research to inquirers both inside and outside of the church. He continues to maintain love and hope for the church organization which he finds himself an outside believer.
Dr. Quinn recommends that the reader begin his/her analysis of this text with the “Selected Chronology” appendix in order to examine how issues of leadership relate to the development of Mormonism, to examine the consistencies and inconsistencies of the Mormon experience, and to understand how leaders in the Church’s hierarchy have extended their power beyond the confines of Utah and even of the United States to impact the lives of almost ten million members who look to the hierarchy with awe and respect for leadership guidelines.
This text does not analyze the research through cultural or interdisciplinary analyses. The research is simply and completely descriptive.
The evidence for any position taken by the reader is certainly abundant. There are 419 out of 928 pages related to specific data referred to in the research. After reading and investigating the sources—the reader must reach his/her own conclusions and compare them to that of Dr. Quinn’s.
A study of this type is certainly well-warranted as there are close to ten million souls whose movement and faith is of special interest when they faithfully follow directions and advice from a small group, “The Brethren,” whose focus of control even encompasses the secular world.
This volume must be studied with volume one in order to get a complete picture of the institutional Mormon hierarchy, its history, its members, and its relationships with outside power structures and governments from 1830 to 1997.
It is important to study the lives of the LDS hierarchy primarily because of the tremendous influence and power they yield over the lives of so many people who regard their identity as a person as a Latter-day Saint, who recognize the power of the almost ten million number, and who continue to look to said hierarchy for direction as well as ongoing inspiration.
The reader must approach analysis of this text with a great deal of faith if a member of the Mormon Church, as the abundant evidence related to institutional and personal leadership may challenge one’s theology and beliefs.
The text itself is divided into ten chapters which include:
1. “The Twin Charges of The Apostleship” which analyzes special charismatic witnesses and the requirement for unanimity.
2. “Tensions among the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve” which gives details as to the workings and relationships of: The Church Presidents and his Counselors, The First Presidency Counselors, The First Presidency and quorum of twelve, and the quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
3. “Ezra Taft Benson: A Study of Inter Quorum Conflict” which presents details of the political conflicts within the LDS Church from the 1950s to the 1980s all involving Brother Benson.
4. “Presiding Patriarch, Presiding Bishop, The Seventy, and an Expanding Bureaucracy.” This Chapter gives details as to the development and determination of these various church offices as related to the growing church and the consequent impact on the expanding role and influences of the hierarchy and the expanding bureaucracy of a large religious organization.
5. “Family Relationships” which studies issues of kinship, marriage, and the tie to the Utah birth of a majority of today’s general authorities.
6. “Church Finances” with a growing church and consequent impact on monetary concerns this chapter deals with the Hierarchy’s influence on: Tithing, paid ministry and voluntary service, public disclosure, church businesses, deficit spending and modern financing, and the role of the Hierarchy from corporate management to sideline control.
7. “Post-1844 Theocracy” and a culture of violence this chapter covers details of the influence of Brigham Young on doctrine and leadership of the Church, the evolving understanding of the Kingdom of God, the move to Utah and a culture of violence within society involving Latter-day Saints.
8. “Priesthood Rule and Shadow Governments” which studies the increasing control of the role of Priesthood who ruled by various decrees and regulations, The School of the Prophets, a Revitalized Council of Fifty, Politics after statehood, and Church Security without Theocracy.
9. “Partisan Politics” which analyzes the increasing involvement of Mormons within the political realms and studies: early attempts at manipulation, political leveraging in Utah, adjustments to partisan politics, public office and politics after statehood, attempts to control partisan politics, the case of B.H. Roberts and Moses Thatcher, Court Intervention, Conflicting loyalties and the adoration of the LDS President.
10. “A National Force 1970 – 1990s” which deals with the impact of the LDS Hierarchy on present-day issues and includes the Equal Rights Amendment and its Mormon Supporters, Early Anti-ERA Activities, the IWY State Conferences, the LDS Church’s National Anti-ERA Campaign, Tensions and Responses, Extent and Limits of Official LDS Involvement, Implications of the ERA campaign and a new crusade in the 1990s.
This volume continues to study the Mormon hierarchy as in volume one. Four areas are studied, analyzed and detailed as the growth and impact of the Mormon hierarchy has developed over the past 167 years, these include: the beginnings, the doctrine and beliefs, the leadership itself and the people.
Five appendices in the book are included which outline the following:
—General officers of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1845-1966
—Biographical sketches of general officers of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: Appointed 1849-1932
—Appointments to the Theocratic Council of Fifty through 1884
—Family relationships among 101 current general authorities and their wives, 1996
—Selected chronology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 1848-1996
The concept of “theocratic leadership” throughout this text continues to impress me as it is essential in the role of true leadership of nine+ million lives throughout the world.
This volume will challenge the reader, if LDS, to analyze the entire issue of control and direction of his/her spiritual life by the General authorities of The Church.
Certainly research-based in its content, this text is the floor not the ceiling related to doctrinal issues surrounding control/leadership by the brethren.
This volume when studied with volume one will provide ample evidence to examine in detail the ongoing evolution of leadership within the Latter-day Saint faith community.
Religious Studies Review, Richard D. Ouelette
…Unlike Givens, D. Michael Quinn focuses on LDS social, political, and economic dynamics in The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power. Quinn examines the top LDS leadership echelon—the First Presidency, the Twelve Apostles, the Presiding Patriarch, the Presiding Bishopric, and the Seventy. Origins of Power (1994), the first of the two Mormon Hierarchy volumes, covered the Joseph Smith years and the succession crisis following his death; Extensions of Power covers the Brigham Young period up to the present. More topical than chronological, it includes chapters on apostolic ordination, LDS finances, theocratic authority, partisan politics, and the hierarchy’s family ties. Quinn also includes case studies on the hierarchy’s internal conflicts (over the conservative political activism of Apostle Ezra Taft Benson) and their efforts to wield power in the larger society (the anti-ERA campaign). Like all of Quinn’s work, Extensions of Power is exhaustively researched; almost 500 pages are devoted to footnotes and appendices.
Jon Butler (1991) has chided scholars for not being more attentive to the uses of authority, power, and coercion in American religion. If Butler is correct, Quinn certainly is innocent of the charge, for Extensions of Power portrays the nineteenth-century hierarchy as a militant, authoritarian, polygamous, theocratic elite, fundamentally at odds with American norms and values. Among other things, he argues that LDS leaders at times encouraged the killing of apostates, criminals, and grievous sinners; that the hierarchy controlled the politics of Utah Territory behind a series of republican facades; and that all LDS authorities were interrelated through kinship and/or marriage. If Givens stresses the relative normality of the Saints and the role of non-LDS authors in creating their heretical image, Quinn stresses the deviance of the Saints and the substance behind the image. The stark contrast between these authors is due, in part, to Quinn’s focus on the hierarchy, which was always more radical than the rank-and-file. Indeed, Quinn notes that most Saints shunned violence. Many expressed displeasure with leadership nepotism. And up to three-fourths of LDS voters declined to vote in predetermined territorial elections.
Quinn admits that a disproportionate number of his revelations reflect badly on LDS leaders. He wishes, he says, to counterbalance their benign image among Mormons. I understand Quinn’s reasoning, but nonetheless I think this approach weakens the explanatory power of his book. The Mormon Hierarchy will leave many readers wondering why Mormons have sustained the LDS authorities as God’s representatives on earth. Quinn forgets that the most fundamental basis of their power, aside, perhaps, from their divine appointment, has been membership support. To explain that support, Quinn should have discussed the more positive contributions of the hierarchy and perhaps the spiritual attractiveness of Mormonism as well. Quinn is certainly aware of this side of the story: “LDS encounters with the divine have been as transcendent as those in other religions, while Mormon culture’s missteps are on a far smaller scale than those in other religious cultures” (ix). Unfortunately, this is not the impression one gains from the main body of the text.
Ideally, Quinn should also have provided a comparative or theoretical framework. He used elite theory in his Yale dissertation on the hierarchy (1976) but had only enough room in the more comprehensive Mormon Hierarchy to present the historical data. Was this omission absolutely necessary? One can imagine a book with shorter footnotes, fewer appendices, and more contextual analysis in the main text, or several smaller books combining primary research and context. Nevertheless, if the choice between data and analysis were truly unavoidable, as Quinn claims it was, I think he made the right decision. Quinn has research data like no other, and many of the sources he examined in the LDS archives are no longer accessible.
Despite its limitations, therefore, The Mormon Hierarchy is essential reading for students of Mormonism. No other work comes close to providing as much information about the LDS leadership. Only two of the book’s topics—finances and politics—have been explored in any comparable depth by other scholars, and Quinn has added significantly to this material. The remaining material is more or less the product of Quinn’s prodigious twenty-five years of research. As a testament to one man’s scholarly obsession, The Mormon Hierarchy is a monumental achievement.
Journal of Mormon History, Mario S. De Pillis
D. Michael Quinn began this study more than twenty years ago in the outstanding prosopographical study of Mormonism’s hierarchy that became his dissertation for Yale University. He was then the brightest young light in Mormondom, the best of the first wave of Ivy League Mormons. He publishes these books as the best and most prolific scholar in Mormonism’s historical literature and the most prominent Mormon historian after Leonard J. Arrington, to whom he dedicates the second volume (along with mentors Davis Bitton and Howard R. Lamar, and his former wife, Jan Darley Quinn).
Out of Quinn’s many encyclopedic and exhaustive works, it is certainly this pair [The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power; The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power] that will stand as his magnum opus among Mormon readers and researchers.1 They constitute an indispensable reference work on the history, organization, and techniques of the government of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the personalities of its leaders. As such, they proceed, not agilely, but with a kind of juggernaut inevitability along their path which is, as Quinn defines it, “to examine the evidence of Mormonism’s social realities” (Origins, x). Whole bibliographies appear in his endnotes (pp. 266-462 in Origins; pp. 409-630 in Extensions), the dozen appendices are tightly packed compendia on specialized subjects. Quinn’s penchant for over-documentation does not serve to clarify his purpose. What does he mean by “social realities”? I think he means doctrines and actions that have negated the spiritual dimensions of Mormonism.
Origins of Power is organized chronologically. It begins with an analysis of the evolution of authority (chap. 1), continues with a description of the emergence of the first five presiding priesthood quorums during Joseph Smith’s lifetime (First Presidency, Presiding Patriarch, Quorum of the Twelve, the Seventy, and the Presiding Bishopric), and a chapter on “theocratic beginnings” in which he explores the controversial topics of Mormonism’s attempt to bring theocratic unity out of American pluralism. Included in that attempt is the beginnings of militarism as manifested in the rise of the Danites of Far West, Missouri. Chapter 5 describes the flourishing of that theocracy in Nauvoo and its international outreach with the emergence of “kingdom” theology (Joseph Smith was literally crowned king by the Quorum of the Twelve and also launched a campaign for the U. S. presidency), blood atonement. Freemasonry, and the transformation of the Danites into policemen. Vividly Quinn describes Smith’s achievement: “[He] gave Mormonism a prophetic message, a dieocratic world view, an authoritarian social structure, an embattled community, and the will to change the world” (Origins, 262). With Smith’s murder, the church faced a succession crisis, discussed in chapters 5 and 6, that is one of the most fascinating periods of Mormon history. The book’s final chapter deals with the evolution of apostolic succession to the present, including the surprisingly gradual emergence of succession by seniority.
The seven appendices, together with the extensive footnotes, take up well over half the text. The appendices include: (1) the church’s General Authorities from 1830 to 1847; (2) the development of external defenses and, separately, internal defenses, not excluding armed response, between 1833 and 1847; (3) a “partial” list of Danites in Missouri in 1838, including some biographical and family information; (4) a chronology of the meetings and initiations of Joseph Smith’s inner circle in Nauvoo, called the Anointed Quorum or Holy Order, between 1842 and 1845 (with sources); (5) a heavily documented list of another of Joseph Smith’s inner circles, the Council of Fifty, during 1844-45, a group largely ignored by Brigham Young; (6) an invaluable file of biographical material on the general officers identified in die first appendix, including, where known, dates and places of vital events, parents, marriages, relatives also in the hierarchy, education, occupations, social affiliations, political/civic activities, former religion, and notable experiences as a Mormon; and (7) a “selected chronology” of 1830-47 events that provide a broader focus of “the diversity, the continuities, and the discontinuities of the Mormon experience for both its leadership and its rank-and-file” (Origins, x). Here, for instance, Quinn supplies much information about Mormon women that would not otherwise fit into the text’s focus on the male hierarchy. For instance, on 8 October 1845, Lucy Mack Smith “is the first woman to speak at general conference. Church authorities do not invite another woman to address conference for 143 years” (Origins, 653). The index covers all of the appendices and the substantive notes.
Extensions of Power, in contrast, is organized thematically. Although each chapter deals with its topic chronologically, some focus primarily on one period while others survey from Brigham to 1995, requiring attentiveness from the reader. Quinn begins by analyzing the “twin charges” given to newly ordained apostles: first, the requirement that they be witnesses of Christ (and the shift in the early twentieth century from the expectation that they could testify to a vision of Christ to the less rigorous contemporary requirement that they have a testimony by the Spirit); and second, that the quorum present not only a public face of unanimity but also manage its internal affairs so that decisions eventually are made unanimously. Chapter 2 is an intriguing inside history of the tensions inevitable in any governing body—between the president and his counselors, between the counselors themselves, between the presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, and within the quorum. Against this backdrop, a separate chapter deals with Ezra Taft Benson, long at odds with the Twelve for his conservative political views.
The history of the presiding quorums that ended in 1844 in the first volume picks up in chapter 4 to document the demise of the Presiding Patriarch’s office, the changing duties of the Presiding Bishop, the great expansion and redefinition of the Seventy, and the tremendous growth in both hierarchy and bureaucracy after World War II. A crucial window on both the selection process and the governance procedures is chapter 5 on family relationships among church leaders. Quinn’s analysis of General Authorities appointed between Joseph Smith (died 1844) and Heber J. Grant (died 1945) shows that the total of men who were kin to at least one other General Authority within three generations was, for the first seven presidents, below fifty percent for only two generations (Brigham Young’s and Wilford Woodruff’s appointees) and as high as sixty-six percent (Heber J. Grant) (Extensions, 176). For a non-Mormon reader, this chapter is illuminating—even astonishing.
The final five chapters go from controversy to controversy: the church and its money; the “culture of violence” that continued from the Joseph Smith period and flourished until 1890, producing not only the Mountain Meadows massacre but also, as Quinn amply documents, numerous murders; church “shadow governments,” including the bizarre role of the Council of Fifty; the church’s efforts to control politics in its heartland from Brigham Young until the present; and its venture onto a national stage during the Equal Rights Amendment campaign in which it played a possibly decisive role. Quinn presciently ends this chapter with the first signs of the anti-gay rights campaign in which the church has, under Gordon B. Hinckley’s administration, emerged as a full-blown and well-financed lobbyist.
This volume’s five appendices parallel those of the first volume: (1) General Authorities between 1845 and 1996, (2) biographical sketches for those appointed between 1849 and 1932, (3) appointments to the Council of Fifty to 1884, (4) a 1996 “snapshot” of family relationships among the 101 General Authorities and their wives then serving, and another equally interesting “selected chronology” covering 1848-1996. A charming entry is J. Reuben Clark’s 1960 criticism of a quartet at a funeral for “leaving out verse concerning Mother in Heaven during their singing of ‘O My Father'” (Extensions, 847). In this volume, alas, the index covers only the text.
It is an unavoidable irony that the publication of this gigantic work found Quinn still a devoted believer but excommunicated in September 1993 for his historical publications. His introduction to Origins explains that “history can (and should) examine what others say about metaphysical experiences, but history cannot demonstrate, prove, or disprove otherworldly interaction with human experience.” He continues: “For most Mormons this book should be informative without being disturbing” while “nonbelievers will discover the fundamental religiosity in the Mormon hierarchy’s world view” (Origins, x-xi). He is probably too optimistic on both counts, for this two-volume reference work on the Mormon hierarchy is also a critique of the Mormon church. It chronicles in relentless detail the moral, economic, and political derelictions of church leaders, or what Quinn calls “the stark evidence of their human qualities” (Extensions, vii). Oddly, as he confessed elsewhere, it is a task he had begun at the age of eighteen.
Yet the work is not sensationalized or driven by the bitterness that many will assume inevitable from an ex-member who is further marginalized as a gay man in an uncompromisingly heterosexual religious tradition. Quinn is not disgruntled or hateful. He has repeatedly, passionately, and publicly borne public a “testimony” of his full and unequivocal belief in the truth of Joseph Smith’s doctrines, the authenticity of Smith’s visions, and the validity of the Book of Mormon. But his view of his “dynamic religion whose leaders may be more human than previously understood” (Origins, xi) will almost certainly disquiet many.
This monumental compendium of research raises a deeper historiographical question. From my perspective, which is as an interested and, I hope, sympathetic observer of Mormon history since the 1960s from my own (lapsed) Catholic tradition, I must say that much of the Mormon history being done has meaning only in relation to itself, that is, to the church.
Even the best works can barely escape the force of centripetal interpretation. This perspective has a fascination of its own, of course, since the surface manifestations (the scholarly works themselves) are signs of a deeper morality play in which liberals and conservatives are engaged in maneuvers, the consequences of which are not the acceptance or rejection of scholarly historical presentations but status in the church and even, at least from the conservative perspective, the status of one’s soul.
Even more subtle are the cases in which the author has engaged in conscious self-censoring; the omissions are known to the author but not usually to the audience; yet rare indeed are books on sensitive Mormon topics that have escaped the twin sins of omission and irrelevance. Such history is not scholarship that serves truth and humanity, but scholarship that caters to the emotional needs and scholarly expectations of the internal audience: defining terms, framing questions, and seeking meanings that have only in-group implications. Whether excommunicated or apostate, scholars like Quinn are just as in-group as temple recommend-holding BYU faculty—of which Quinn was one until January 1988.
I certainly am not implying that the work of leading LDS historians is insignificant, unimportant, or lacking in meaning, but simply that it is primarily other Latter-day Saints who find it significant, important, and meaningful. This intense inward scrutiny and the resultant intense inward debate are, in themselves, historically important. But the work that will interpret this debate in a context accessible to an increasingly friendly and increasingly broader audience still waits to be done.
MARIO S. DE PILLIS is professor emeritus of social and religious history at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a former president of the Mormon History Association.
1. Some non-Mormon readers of the Quinn corpus would rather give the magnum opus palm to Early Mormonism and the Magic World View (Salt Lake City: Signature Books in association with Smith Research Associates, 1998) because it comes nearest to escaping the centripetal forces of Mormon in-group writing. It begins in early modern Europe and uses the historical principle that the greatest prophets, saints, and heroes must be understood in the context of their local beliefs and practices, which they inevitably take on.