Sadly, all good things must come to an end. MHA 2011 finished with a bang. Once again it was hard to pick which session to attend. Steve Olsen, Shawn Bennion, and Brandon Plewe combined for a session titled “New Perspectives on Mormon History”. Steve spoke on how we often argue history. To bolster an argument is to support assumptions–to weaken an argument is to take apart these assumptions. Shawn Bennion talked about how Mormonism is an ethnic group. I’ve never really understood that point of view, but found his presentation compelling. Brandon Plewe announced that he is working on a new LDS atlas of history. It was interesting to see all the maps he was making for the soon to be published book. He also announced that there will be a website wiki about Mormon locations, but said it wasn’t available for public consumption yet. It was a very interesting presentation.
I think MHA saved the best presentations for last, as it had some real heavyweights on the subject of polygamy. Don Bradley gave a presentation titled “Angel with a Drawn Sword: Kirtland Roots of Nauvoo Polygamy.” Some speakers can be very dry, but Bradley is probably the most entertaining speaker at MHA. He always brings a lot of wit to his wonderful presentations. I think I will probably attend any of his presentations because he always brings humor as well as cutting-edge research to his presentations. Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner was one of Joseph Smith’s wives, and Bradley discussed her account that Joseph told her that an angel with a drawn sword had commanded him to participate in polygamy. Lightner gave 3 accounts of this experience. It was really fascinating.
The presentation by Brian Hales was titled “Two Mormon Enigmas: Emma Hales Smith and Polygamy, An Update.” Since I had just blogged about 2 other Mormon Enigmas, I knew I couldn’t miss this presentation. Hales has documented many of the wives of Joseph Smith along a timeline. (More info is found at his website.) Hales made the case that Joseph Smith had been commanded quite early to participate in polygamy, but delayed. Because of this delay, many women had married other men. He makes the case that if Joseph had not delayed, “polyandry” would not have occurred. I found Hales presentation really interesting, and definitely will check out his website more.
Larry Foster gave a presentation titled, “The Albatross: The Complex and Changing Challenges that Polygamy Posed to Mormon Institutional Development during the Nineteenth Century.” He outlined how difficult polygamy was to maintain for all the churches that practiced polygamy. One thing I found interesting was the fact that John C. Bennett has been much maligned. Foster argues that while Bennett did exaggerate many of the reports of polygamy, he was not completely unreliable. We need to accept the arguments of Bennett that are valid in spite of the character flaws that he had.
Finally, Todd Compton gave a comment on the papers. Compton noted that all of the papers were very long, and the presenters did not have time to adequately address them in the 20 minutes they were allotted. Compton said he was glad to see a conservative/moderate like Brian Hales address these issues, though Compton disputed Hales conclusions.
While the presentations were all outstanding, The Q&A session was the best part. Larry Foster started off by insisting that “polyandry” is the wrong term to use, and he wishes that we would use another term. He said that Fawn Brodie had popularized the term, but felt it conveyed the wrong meaning. He said that if we used the term “adultery” to describe polygamy, Mormons would take great offense. He said that polyandry conveys a matriarchal leadership, yet polyandry was patriarchal. Therefore polyandry is the wrong term to use. I will probably write up the Q&A on Larry’s comments because I thought it was a very good point. As I recall, Larry preferred to use the term “proxy husband” rather than polyandry.
This morning, I attended the devotional at the St George Tabernacle. Current president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Michael Benson spoke on the sacrifice that the early saints made in establishing colleges in the pioneer days. I was surprised to learn that Benson is a historian; it was a good presentation. Former Dixie State College president Douglas Alder is also a historian, and he discussed how we can study “The New Mormon History: By Study and By Faith.” He said it is critical to continue to use faith as we use our intellect to study history. It was also a great talk. I really enjoyed the organ solo by Geoffrey Myers (Come, Come Ye Saints–it is one of my all-time favorite hymns).
Following the devotional, it was fun to mingle with everyone, especially Darius Gray and Margaret Young. I was also quite surprised to run into my Elders quorum president from my college days–it was good to see him again. I can’t wait to go next year, but since it is in Calgary, I am not sure I will be able to go. The John Whitmer Association meetings are in Nauvoo this year in September, and I may try to go to those meetings. Newell Bringhurst told me that he will be speaking at FAIR and Sunstone in August–I may try to attend one of both of those as well. These meetings are a real treat!