Not Your Typical Conference Weekend

When LDS people think of Conference Weekend, it is usually 8 hours (10 if you go to the Priesthood session) over the first weekend in April and October.  Well, I spent 9 hours this weekend in Mormon-themed conferences, and I’ve got Stake Conference tomorrow (2 more hours.)  So, I’m definitely conferenced out.

On Friday, I attended the BYU Church History Symposium, and on Saturday, I attended the Association for Mormon Letters Conference at Utah Valley University.  Elder Marlin K Jensen was the keynote speaker at BYU, and Terryl Givens was keynote speaker at UVU.  Both speakers were very interesting.

I’m starting to feel like a mormon history geek. Since these conferences are done by mormon scholars, they read their papers (which will be published in peer-reviewed journals later.)  I must say that I hate it when speakers read their talks.  I know that there is a reason for this, since they do not want to mis-state what they are talking about, but the presentation can be really dry.

BYU Church History Conference

Richard Turley spoke first.  He gave a history of assistant church historians.  The most interesting tidbit I got from this was that A Milton Musser was called to a mission to India in the 1800’s.  This sounds really interesting, and I hope to do a future post on this when I learn more.  I also learned that Joseph Fielding Smith has church historian from 1921-1970.  He was released when he became prophet.  Another assistant historian was BH Roberts, who is semi-famous among mormon intellectuals.

At this point, there were several speakers to choose from.  The second speaker I heard was Jim Allen, who spoke about William Clayton, one of Joseph’s Smith’s clerks.  Clayton was born in England, baptized by Heber C Kimball, and an enthusiastic supporter of Smith.  He emigrated to Nauvoo and recorded several revelations.  Sections 129 and 30 in our D&C are near verbatim from Clayton’s journals.  He was an enthusiastic supporter of polygamy.

He was called to serve a mission in England, and served just 6 months.  He was accused of public drunkenness (which Allen said probably was true), but the real scandal was that he openly preached polygamy in England in 1852.  It was such a scandal, that it was decided he should return home.

He recorded the Endowment ceremony, and was a ghost writer for Heber C Kimball’s journal.  He was involved recording the infamous Kinderhook Plates hoax, and is known for writing the hymn, Come, Come Ye Saints.

Chris Jones spoke on Oliver Cowdery’s letters to WW Phelps.  These were originally recorded in the church newspapers, Messenger and the Advocate in 1834.  There were 8 letters, and they’ve been reprinted several times by the LDS, RLDS, and Strangite churches.  Jones said that Oliver’s letters seemed to be more of a biography of Joseph Smith, than a history of the church.

Ron Esplin spoke on preserving the history of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.  Esplin is heavily involved in the Joseph Smith Papers Project, and talked about working with church archives over the decades.  He referred to Davis Bitton.  Davis was called as asst church historian in 1972, and referred to the next 10 years as “10 years of Camelot”, due to the church’s open history, more access to resources, and more support than has been experienced in the following decades.

Esplin went on to say that many people have characterized the subsequent decades as less open about church history.  He went on to say that he believed that there is more openness in the church today, and that he has never seen a better time to study church history than today.  He felt like today was very similar to the 70’s “Camelot period.”

He told some other interesting stories about Larry Miller’s involvement in the JS Papers Project, and also talked about some of the animosity between Brigham Young and US President Zachary Taylor, which led to the Utah War in the 1850’s.  He shared some interesting sniping between mormons and US government.  Brigham Young was alleged to have taken the law books of a judge and burned them.  The mormons responded that no records were burned, but they were stored in an outhouse.

Finally, the Keynote speaker was Elder Marlin K Jensen, church historian, and member of the Seventy.  Jensen talked about the opening of the new Church History Library on June 20, and encouraged members to have a lifelong commitment to church history.  He gave some interesting background on D&C 4.  He also said that the church did a study which showed that members active in church history, were more active in church service.  Conversely less active members knew little about church history.  He said that correlation doesn’t mean causation, meaning they weren’t sure if being an active members caused people to study church history more, or if studying church history caused members to become active.  I’d be curious to hear what others think, as the bloggernacle seems to think that studying church history causes members to become inactive.

Association for Mormon Letters

This was interesting, because the talks dealt with mormons in the media.  Gideon Burton asked some interesting questions:

  1. What would Joseph Smith text message?
  2. Is wikiness, happiness?
  3. Is an iPhone, a seerstone?

Jacob Bender compared the movie, Singles Ward to How Rare a Possession.  Singles Ward, while popular in Utah, won’t be understood by people outside of the “Mormon Corridor.”  Bender said that How Rare a Possession caused people to read the Book of Mormon on his mission in Puerto Rico.  I found it interesting to compare a church production, with a “hollywood” production.

Megan Sanborn Jones reviewed anti-mormon dramas over the last 100 or so years.  In the 19th century, a popular play on Broadway was “My 100 Wives”, and basically implied that Mormons were neither good Americans, or good Christians.  Some of the plays even compared Mormons to Muslims beliefs of 70 virgins in heaven.

Bruce Jorgensen talked about Proving Subcontraries.  It was a logic exercise in talking about paradoxes.

Finally, keynote speaker Terryl Givens spoke about Paradoxes in Mormonism.  He said that paradox is a sign of richness in the universe.  Some paradoxes include an all-powerful, yet dying God.  He said that neither intellectuals try to walk the tight rope between blind faith vs posturing apostates.  He said it is too easy for people to fall off on either side, and that it is more stimulating to be at peace with this paradoxical tightrope.

Did anyone else attend either of these conferences?  What do you think of Esplin, Jensen, and Givens remarks?

4 comments on “Not Your Typical Conference Weekend

  1. These are useful summaries. If anyone would like to hear my complete speech, a recording is available on my blog, here: http://gideonburton.typepad.com/gideon_burtons_blog/2009/03/creativity-and-new-media-mormonism.html

  2. Gideon,

    Thanks for stopping by. I’ll definitely listen in. I was late to your presentation and didn’t hear the whole thing.

  3. Very interesting, MH. Thanks for sharing this…

  4. Someone over at Juvenile Instructor wrote a more detailed account of the BYU conference. I think I sat next to him during one of the meetings–I remember a guy with a Palm Pilot typing.

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