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Interesting Presentations at Weber State

Due to a scheduling conflict, Sunstone was forced to find a new venue for this year’s conference. Rather than stay at the Sheraton in Salt Lake City as they have for the past few years, the conference moved to Weber State University in Ogden. I was only able to attend the Saturday conference, but wanted to give a recap of some of the presentations I attended.

Brian Hales gave a very interesting presentation on Joseph Smith’s polygamy. I was late and didn’t hear the beginning of the presentation, but he discussed the issue of Joseph being sealed to other men’s wives. Most refer to this as polyandry, though Larry Foster has disputed that terminology in the past, preferring the term “proxy husband” or something similar. At any rate, Hales contends that there is no evidence that Joseph had sexual relations with any of these women. He notes that many other experts disagree with this position, and wasn’t surprised that many in the audience disagreed with that position.  He also discussed the reliability of John C. Bennett’s words about polygamy.  Bennett was Nauvoo Mayor, and Assistant President of the Church before he was excommunicated for unauthorized polygamy.  Bennett later wrote an expose of Mormonism and some believe he was one of the instigators of the mob that killed Joseph.

Hales did a great job presenting his information.  He stated that Bennett was very unreliable (as most experts agree.)  He also noted that many of the allegations that Joseph had sexual relations with these “polyandrous” wives occurred at least a decade after the marriages, so there is nothing contemporary from Joseph’s lifetime.  While Hales makes a good point, on this second issue I am not persuaded.  I asked him 2 questions.  First, I asked him about a really odd story about surrogate parenthood in the days of Brigham Young. Click here for full details. In brief, a convert couple could not conceive children due to a medical condition of the husband. Brigham Young proposed a temporary civil divorce. The wife (Mary Richardson) was civilly married to a man by the name of Frederick Cox. He fathered two children in a sort of levirate marriage (mentioned in the New Testament). Then they divorced, Mary re-married (and was sealed) to her original husband. It’s definitely an odd story.

My point is that this seems to be a sort of polyandry. Kathryn Daines mentions that it was “family legend” that the Richardsons obtained a divorce. Brian Hales indicated he felt it was solid evidence and not adultery. It sure seems like if the Richardson divorce was arranged with an understanding of re-marriage, that it was a form of sexual polyandry, with a wink and a nod to civil law. If Brigham Young sanctioned it, it seems to me that Brigham must have felt that such an unusual arrangement must have been ok with Joseph Smith.

Secondly, I asked about an unusual issue with Emma Smith. Quoting from my previous post,

Some of the footnotes are very interesting on this subject. Footnote 26 on page 305 quotes an 1844 expose of Mormonism. I don’t know if this can be corroborated, but I found it interesting.

‘Emma’s threat to “be revenged and indulge herself” may have been merely a warning to the prophet to give up his spiritual wives. But Joseph H. Jackson, a non-Mormon opportunist who gained the confidence of the prophet in Nauvoo, recorded in an 1844 expose of Mormonism: “Emma wanted [William] Law for a spiritual husband,” and because Joseph “had so many spiritual wives, she thought it but fair that she would at least have one man spiritually sealed up to her and that she wanted Law, because he was such a “sweet little man.”

Although there is nothing to suggest that Law and Emma were more to each other than friends, Law later confirmed that Joseph “offered to furnish his wife Emma with a substitute for him, by way of compensation for his neglect of her, on condition that she would forever stop her opposition to polygamy and permit him to enjoy his young wives in peace and keep some of them in his house and to be well treated, etc.” (Salt Lake Tribune, 3 July 1887.)

D&C 132:51 seems to refer to this incident. It says,

Verily, I say unto you: A commandment I give unto mine handmaid, Emma Smith, your wife, whom I have given unto you, that she stay herself and partake not of that which I commanded you to offer unto her;

If Emma had accepted in time, perhaps she would have been a polyandrous wife.  Of course that is just speculation, and the rest of verse 51 says it is an Abrahamic test. But it still seems like another odd incident.  Though I don’t agree with all of Hales’ conclusions, he was well prepared, and I was impressed with his presentation.

LDS members Newell Bringhurst and Craig Foster, along with RLDS members Bill Russell and Mark Sherer held a panel discussion on the Presidential candidacies of Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney.  (Mark was the moderator and did not present.)  Russell had high praise for Huntsman, saying the he was the best republican field.  Russell noted that Huntsman seems well-versed in other cultures and religions, and said that Huntsman would be able to describe other religions “in laymans, as well as Lemuel’s terms.”  Russell also indicated that if a Mormon wants to run for office and have religion be a non-issue, then they should be a democrat.  He noted that Morris Udall lost narrowly to Jimmy Carter for the democratic nominee in 1976, and noted that Harry Reid, the Senate Minority Leader does not have questions about his religion.  It was a great discussion.

Following lunch, I attended two controversial sessions.  Fred Collier gave a very academic presentation on the relationship between Yahweh and Satan.  He showed that Dead Sea Scroll discoveries seemed to corroborate the JST translation.  He specifically seemed to reference Deuteronomy quite a bit, with a bit of Genesis and ancient Jewish writings.  In LDS theology, Yahweh is considered the son of Elohim.

While Collier’s presentation was interesting, he fell apart during the Q&A session.  I asked him about the Documentary Hypothesis.  In brief, the hypothesis states that Elohim and Yahweh are interchangeable terms for God.  Collier hand-waved the question away, saying the hypothesis was completely debunked as far as he was concerned.  I was a bit flabbergasted with his response, as I completely disagree with this characterization.  Collier seemed completely unprepared to answer the question.

The next question was ever worse for Collier.  During the presentation, Collier said that ancient Hebrew scriptures said that Abel was the first born of Adam and Eve, and Cain was not his brother.  Rather Cain was the son of Lilith and the Serpent.  It was an interesting position–I’ve heard that Lilith was Adam’s first wife, but cast out when she refused to submit to Adam and was cast out of the Garden for saying the name of God.  Apparently she hooked up with the serpent after the expulsion and conceived Cain–that part was new to me.

At any rate, an audience member asked who the offspring of Cain were.  At first, Collier seemed to give a humorous response by saying “international bankers.”  When pressed to clarify, Collier shocked the audience by saying that “international bankers are Jews.”  The questioner was appalled, called Collier an expletive, and a few audience members stormed out of the room.  I was appalled at the anti-Semitic remarks, and was saddened that Collier holds such views.  The views overshadowed what was an otherwise interesting presentation.  It saddens me that anyone would hold such views, and I call on Fred Collier to apologize for the offensive remarks.  A few other people asked more about the curse of Cain doctrine.  Thankfully, we were out of time; I’m afraid of what other racist remarks may have come out of his mouth.

The last presentation was controversial as well.  Janice Allred, Joanna Brooks, and Margaret Toscano gave excellent presentations discussing the recent BYU Studies article titled, A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings About Mother in Heaven. Janice and Margaret were both excommunicated in the 1990s for discussing Mother in Heaven in Sunstone.  Both had praise for the BYU Studies article, though they had some criticisms as well.  Margaret noted that the article referenced over 600 references in the past 167 years in General Conference or official church publications.   The BYU authors seemed to indicate that it is acceptable to discuss Mother in Heaven, and indicated an “abundance” of information on the subject.

However, Toscano noted that in the most recent 2 day General conference, there were 900 references to Father in Heaven.  She said that the BYU authors should be discussing the dearth of information on Mother in Heaven, rather than framing it as “abundant” information.  She also noted that official church pronouncements refer to the equality of husband and wife, but do not refer to “God the Mother” and “God the Father.”  I thought these were a valid points.

Joanna Brooks gave a very interesting presentation discussing some anecdotal references in her ward.  For example, On Mothers Day, the primary chorister in San Diego ward she attends non-chalantly showed a painting of a Mother in Heaven in the clouds teaching children.  During Sacrament meeting talks, there were surprising references to Mother in Heaven as well.  She tweeted about these incidents and received a variety of responses, indicating that some other wards seemed to reference Mother in Heaven as well.

The session was marred by Holly Welker, the moderator.  Holly has no manners, and seems to enjoy mocking religion.  She gave some thoughts that indicated that she does not believe in God, yet announced at the beginning of the session that they would hold a prayer circle to pray to Mother in Heaven at the end of the session.  She allowed people to leave if they were uncomfortable with the process.  Many people left because they were uncomfortable.

It seems to me that Holly enjoys shocking people, and she has poor manners even with other panelists.  For example, an audience member asked why Mother in Heaven was not present in the First Vision.  Janice Allred started to explain her belief about this incident, but Holly cut her off, saying that Holly didn’t believe in the First Vision (ignoring that Janice did), and cut off Janice’s answer because Holly was “uncomfortable.”  Yet Holly didn’t mind mocking believers with her prayer circle.  She marred an otherwise great session, and I have no respect for her.

Due to some controversial presentations in the 1990s, Sunstone has a cold relationship with the church, and the church still refuses to allow some employees to participate.  There has been a thaw in relations, though it’s still cold.  I would really like Sunstone to gain favor in the church.  However, with people like Holly Welker and Fred Collier, I can understand why the church has a cold war with Sunstone.  It makes me sad that these people can spoil such a wonderful opportunity to discuss theology and Mormonism.  Comments?

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18 comments on “Interesting Presentations at Weber State

  1. Thanks for the overview. I wanted to attend, so I appreciate the summary.

    Small sidenote: The male presenters were referred to here only by last name (after you initially mention first and last name), but the female presenters are mostly mentioned by first name. Any reason for that?

  2. No particular reason–I probably should have been consistent. I did refer to Toscano (Margaret) and Mark (Sherer), so yes, I was not consistent. Do you want me to fix it?

  3. Thanx for sharing, Not being in America its hard for those of us with this particular interest to keep up to date on everything that is happening.

  4. I forgot to mention an experience that I had on my mission in relation to mothers day and mother in heaven. We were at a stake conference and i got the shock of my life when the women giving opening prayer said something like dear Heavenly Mother and Father. Then went on with the prayer. The women who said the closing prayer just prayed strait to Heavenly Mother and left out the intro to Heavenly Father. My hindu investigators were very perplexed at the references to Heavenly Mother.

  5. Sunstone sounds fun. You don’t get to hear expletives, racist remarks and suggestions to pray to Mother in Heaven at church. Were there many people in attendance?

  6. @Mormon Heretic
    Not overly concerned about it–just wondering. Thanks again for the summary. What are Welker and Collier’s relationships to the church? Former members? Current?

  7. Apparently she hooked up with the serpent after the expulsion and conceived Cain–that part was new to me.

    She mated with an archangel, Samael. Though it is news to me that their relation led to the birth of Cain.

    I think he was confusing that story with the one that Eve partaking of the fruit by the serpent was actually a hidden way to write that she had sex with Satan — and that is how Cain was conceived.

  8. During Sacrament meeting talks, there were surprising references to Mother in Heaven as well.

    I’ve heard her mentioned in sacrament talks and concluding prayers during 2nd/3rd hour lessons at least 10-15 times during the last year.

    I’ve found that there can be surprising leeway with personal belief as long as you aren’t in everyone’s face about it.

  9. astral-lds, that’s a very odd experience, whether hindu or not. ldsa, the conference wasn’t as well attended as in salt lake city, but I would estimate that for each session I attended, there were 20-50 at each session. there were usually 5-6 sessions running concurrently, and sometimes it was really tough to pick a session.

    justin, I am sure that fred collier would take great exception to being accused of mistaking stories about cain. on the one hand, his presentation was meticulously researched. he stated before the presentation began that he was reading just 1/4 of his paper, and he read nonstop for about 50 minutes.

  10. melba, i’m not sure of their status. I know welker is a returned missionary. she’s basically atheist now, and a radical feminist. I don’t know if she is a current member, but I think so.

    i think collier considers himself a faithful member, but that is speculation on my part.

  11. Fred is an independent fundamentalist and has been for quite some time.

  12. MH,

    Thanks for inviting me to attend the Sunstone sessions on Saturday. That was my first Sunstone experience and hope not my last. (also I owe you some gas money).

    I echo MH’s sentiments on Holly. She made me feel unwelcome in the session for being male. It wasn’t obvious what her platform was. I found it unusual that as the moderator, she felt her topic didn’t deserve a podium. She thought the notion of a Heavenly Mother should be killed and resurrected. She seemed to have more of a pure feminist platform than an LDS reform platform.

    On Fred Collier, I did some research and it seems most of what he stated in his talk has scriptural backing, and the rest had ancient Hebrew mythical backing, so as MH stated, it was well researched and backed. Since he only gave 1/4 of his original talk (due to time) it makes me wonder about the other 3/4. Would it have had as much scriptural and mythical backing as what he presented.

    Regarding Samael, Fred seemed to equate him with Satan. I’m not sure if he considered Samael as being Satan, or as a contemporary.

    In any regard, Sunstone was awesome. If you haven’t gone, I highly recommend it.

  13. Bishop Rick, I’m glad you could make it. We’ll have to do it again some time.

  14. Bill Russell’s comment on democrats/religion is true. A democrat politician that says/does something contrary to their church’s doctrine/creed is hardly ever questioned about it. It’s almost as if they’re not expected to be a “true believer”, or they’re espousing beliefs with a wink and a nod.

  15. My understanding is that Sunstone is an open forum for discussing matters related to Mormon culture, doctrine, history, etc. There is no shortage of outlets for such discussions that are sanctioned by the LDS church. I fail to understand why you would want to limit Sunstone to being an organization that has the approbation of the LDS church leadership. That seems to defeat the very purpose of having an open forum for the exchange of ideas. My two cents.

  16. Robert,

    When John Dehlin was trying to help Sunstone a few years ago, he made it clear that the membership was dying. In the early 1990’s there were some controversial topics given, and the church sent out a letter warning about attending symposia, and many church employees were warned that their job was in jeopardy if they attended. This hurt Sunstone membership numbers dramatically.

    The biggest symposiums are always in Utah, because there are so many Mormons here. It doesn’t make sense to antagonize your biggest source of members, especially if you are struggling to maintain membership. The church doesn’t warn about atteding MHA or John Whitmer Historical Society. Often the president of either of those organizations is from the RLDS church. I think that’s great. Obviously the RLDS and LDS churches don’t agree on everything, but the cooperation is mutually beneficial.

    I think it’s a big mistake to be openly antagonistic toward your largest set of possible members. That’s what I’m saying. I’d like the cold war to thaw, so that Sunstone can grow as a viable organization.

  17. […] At his Sunstone presentation in 2009, I asked Brian Hales about this incident.  Once again Hales argued this is not polyandry.  Seemingly he does not believe that D&C 132 supports polyandrous marriages.  Concerning the Richardson polyandrous marriage, Hales sticks by his stance that “Brigham Young proposed a temporary civil divorce. The wife (Mary Richardson) was civilly married to a man by the name of Frederick Cox. He fathered two children in a sort of levirate marriage (mentioned in the New Testament). Then they divorced, Mary re-married (and was sealed) to her original husband. It’s definitely an odd story.”  Essentially it’s not polyandry, but rather consecutive marriages interrupted by divorces.  With regards to Mary Richardson or Sylvia Lyons, I am nearly certain that there is zero paperwork evidence showing a legal divorce.  Now Hales argues that in Joseph (and Brigham’s) eyes spiritual divorces were more binding than legal divorces.  Yet during the pioneer period, Utah was advertised as the easiest place to get a legal divorce, and many non-LDS sought divorces in Utah because it was so easy.  If it was so easy to get a divorce, it shouldn’t be that hard to find divorce papers for the Richardsons or the Lyons (although to be fair, the Lyons lived in Nauvoo, not Utah at the time of the polyandrous sealing.) […]

  18. […] At his Sunstone presentation in 2009, I asked Brian Hales about this incident.  Once again Hales argued this is not polyandry.  Seemingly he does not believe that D&C 132 supports polyandrous marriages.  Concerning the Richardson polyandrous marriage, Hales sticks by his stance that “Brigham Young proposed a temporary civil divorce. The wife (Mary Richardson) was civilly married to a man by the name of Frederick Cox. He fathered two children in a sort of levirate marriage (mentioned in the New Testament). Then they divorced, Mary re-married (and was sealed) to her original husband. It’s definitely an odd story.”  Essentially it’s not polyandry, but rather consecutive marriages interrupted by divorces.  With regards to Mary Richardson or Sylvia Lyons, I am nearly certain that there is zero paperwork evidence showing a legal divorce.  Now Hales argues that in Joseph (and Brigham’s) eyes spiritual divorces were more binding than legal divorces.  Yet during the pioneer period, Utah was advertised as the easiest place to get a legal divorce, and many non-LDS sought divorces in Utah because it was so easy.  If it was so easy to get a divorce, it shouldn’t be that hard to find divorce papers for the Richardsons or the Lyons (although to be fair, the Lyons lived in Nauvoo, not Utah at the time of the polyandrous sealing.) […]

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