I attended a meeting recently of a committee considering a community history of one of the towns near Salt Lake City. One member of the committee, a Latter-day Saint woman, asked at one point, “Would you include church history?” Without knowing that this woman had previously taken a stand against the inclusion of Mormon history – “the non-Mormons won’t want to read that” – I replied that of course we would need to include that aspect of the town’s history. I cited the example of a man significant to the entire Church who had lived in that community, and said that no local history could be adequate if that, and other pieces of important local religious history were omitted.
“But of course,” I said, “there are ways, and there are other ways, of telling the stories.” I mentioned the experience I had gained writing for the Salt Lake Tribune, whose audience (at least as represented by its online commenters) was not especially welcoming of Mormon history. I can – and do – tell stories of Mormons there, but I don’t preach, and I don’t speak of spiritual matters as if everyone shared the same view, and I tell stories of other religious groups at least as often as I tell a Mormon one. We could and should do the same thing in the community history: We should tell about the LDS church leader without writing as though every reader accepted him as a prophet, seer, and revelator; we should tell stories about other Latter-day Saint experiences in the community; and we should tell stories about other religious people and organizations and what they had contributed to the town.
In a way, we do the same thing here on Keepa, but in reverse: It’s no secret either that I’m a believer or that I have a great affection for who we are and who we have been as a people. I’m naturally drawn to writing about Latter-day Saints who have lived their faith, and the programs and incidents of our past that have evolved into the programs and way of living that are familiar to us today. But I don’t necessarily shy away from everything that isn’t flattering in our past. With the topic of race, for instance, I have published quite a number of relevant posts, from the notoriously awful recent serial fiction, to the widespread early- and mid-century production of minstrel shows by Mormon groups, to examples of racial insensitivity in our official magazines of the past, to lessons showing how we once taught about race, to a current “extra” Sunday School lesson on the topic. Amy’s “Eminent Women” series has recently addressed the matter of slaveholders among early Mormons in Utah (and judging by comments, including some emailed privately, that was a welcome topic, especially among some descendants of families involved). Keepa has a pair of guest posts on deck for next week that address the issue of race in the context of the current American presidential campaign, and specifically the claims of recent pundits that the Book of Mormon is a racist condemnation of African-Americans.
Readers have seemed to embrace such posts, possibly because Keepa is a “safe” venue for bringing up those matters. You know I’m a believer, and know of my affection for us as a people – that’s been on display for more than 2,300 posts so far. You know I’m not going to present anything controversial merely for the sake of sensation, and you know I’m not going to use it as an attack on our shared faith, and you know that I’ll try, at least, to look at an event for what it meant to our ancestors in their day without applying current standards to unduly condemn our ancestors. (For those reasons, some no doubt also assume that I’m soft-pedaling the issue and that I couldn’t possibly address it fairly. Too bad, so sad. There are plenty of other internet venues for writers whose idea of fairness doesn’t include my definition of being fair to the people of our own past while simultaneously noting their shortcomings.)
Anyway, that’s a long-winded introduction to this: While I have addressed race from time to time, there are other controversial or painful or questionable or unfamiliar parts of our past that I haven’t addressed – not because I refuse to, but only because it hasn’t occurred to me or I haven’t happened to run across a relevant story that I wanted to tell. So I’m asking you now: Are there other topics you would like me to address in the same way I’ve addressed race, through stories and past lessons and any other way that occurs? I really want to know, and I’ll start immediately to look for material for such posts.
I’m asking this in the format of an open-ended poll so that lurkers, or even frequent commenters who prefer, can make suggestions with absolutely anonymity. I’ll welcome any discussion in comments, of course, but this time it’s more important to have the feedback than a discussion among known participants.
Polygamy? Violence? Scandal? Politics? General topics of interest, and requests for specific incidents, are welcome. (This poll is not restricted, by the way; you can come back and leave a second response if something occurs to you later.)