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Tell It All

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 03, 2012

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.)



15 Comments »

  1. Apologies for the on-again off-again appearance of this post over the past few minutes. I think I’ve finally got the poll to show up correctly, and managed to turn the comments on. TGIF.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 3, 2012 @ 7:35 am

  2. I was expecting a post on Fanny Stenhouse. Have you ever done anything on her?

    Comment by Last Lemming — February 3, 2012 @ 8:00 am

  3. Nope. You want I should? (My grammar’s going all to pot today. It’s Friday.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 3, 2012 @ 8:03 am

  4. well, politics, of course, in historical perspective. I like to see the conflicts and developments particularly in interaction with the larger US and world context. Internal territorial politics don’t interest me so much except for the nearly 50-year wrangling over Utah statehood. Then, the Reed Smoot hearings, WWI, the debates over the League of Nations-including those internal to the presiding quorums of the church (I have read James B. Allen), Prohibition and its repeal, the Great Depression, Civil Rights, the Cold War, and (shudder) the rise of the political far right in Mormondom.

    But I do want to keep you and your readers temperate. We can always refer to more moderate sites.

    Comment by Grant — February 3, 2012 @ 8:28 am

  5. Disclaimer: I haven’t searched the archives. I’ve heard whisperings of blood atonement and Porter Rockwell (as separate topics), and I know extremely little about either.

    Comment by HokieKate — February 3, 2012 @ 9:01 am

  6. The “other” suggestions apparently don’t show up publicly, but they do register behind the scenes so your requests are being recorded. Ideas of particular stories I could tell are already coming to me as a result. Keep it coming!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 3, 2012 @ 9:12 am

  7. I think one of the great overarching themes of this site (and a major reason why I love it) is that it shows the progression and evolution of the Church. None of this “same Church as it was in Jesus day” on this blog. It’s not even the same Church as in David O. McKay’s day. But I digress….

    I’d love to see posts exploring the how and why of changes: political orientation is one that’s already been mentioned. So is polygamy. But there’s a host of other issues that would be fertile ground for exploration:
    * the transision from Isolationism to ecumenicalism
    * Using bishops to resolve civil matters
    * The evolving position on birth control
    What happens when apostles disagree (O.Pratt v. B. Young; or J.F. Smith v. B.H. Roberts, or even J.E. Faust and D.H., Oaks)
    * The myriad changes of mission rules etc.

    I realize much of this has been covered on other blogs in the bloggernacle, but those discussions are missing the historical context the commenters and host of this blog can provide.

    Comment by The Other Clark — February 3, 2012 @ 9:58 am

  8. What do you mean by violence? What HK said in comment 5? The Danites? Frontier vigilantism?

    I personally find violence tedious and polygamy over-sensationalized. (Or perhaps the other way around.) : )

    Comment by Researcher — February 3, 2012 @ 10:11 am

  9. Researcher, I thought perhaps I could explore the experiences of individual women — and men, and extended families, and ward members — affected by historical polygamy. I have, for instance, some tender writings of one woman concerning her sister wives, and also a short memoir of a naive young woman that could make interesting posts. As for violence, I wondered if readers had any particular event they wanted to hear more about, not just Mountain Meadows but perhaps any smaller or less well-known episodes they’ve heard something about but don’t really understand.

    In any case, I don’t plan on offering theoretical explanations or doctrinal essays or general apologetics. I’d refer readers to FAIR or other such sites for that. My expectation is to carry on in the established style of Keepa, telling stories about individual lives or individual events, with snapshots of the past through short documents or images that reflect the way matters (like those TOClark suggests)stood at a given moment in time.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 3, 2012 @ 10:24 am

  10. I’d love to see

    some tender writings of one woman concerning her sister wives, and also a short memoir of a naive young woman

    Comment by HokieKate — February 3, 2012 @ 10:46 am

  11. My first vote was for violence. The 19th century was not always “Little House on the Prairie,” and I am interested in how the dynamics of violence and Mormon-nonmormon interactions. How much violence was directed by Mormons towards apostates and non-mormons, how much violence was tolerated within the Mormon community, and how that changed over time.

    Also, as a second choice, I forget often that Brigham Young and other Church leaders defended the right of the Church to dictate in temporal, economic, and political as well as spiritual affairs, and the tensions that this caused. For example, I get the impression that the Godbeites, in many ways, would not have been viewed as apostates in today’s church. I’m sure there are other examples, that is just the one that springs to mind.

    Comment by kevinf — February 3, 2012 @ 11:07 am

  12. After reading all of the John D. Fitzgerald books, I’ve always wondered where Adenville was and how close to history his story is.

    Comment by Carol — February 3, 2012 @ 11:56 am

  13. The influence of George McCready Price and Henry Morris on the writings of Joseph Fielding Smith.

    Comment by Hemi — February 3, 2012 @ 1:05 pm

  14. I vote for “violence” and would be potentially willing at some point in the distant future to share some of my own work that touches on this.

    I like the idea, too, of taking up such broad categories through stories about individuals or other similarly “local” focus. Though I would always argue that such things should eventually be read withing larger contexts, I think that there is a legitimate need for the “small narrative.” Especially those stories that often haven’t been told (like the stories of those who actively resisted violence).

    Comment by Mina — February 3, 2012 @ 2:31 pm

  15. Hi Ardis,

    Another topic that might be interesting is William Warfield’s experiences with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir when he was the baritone soloist in the Choir’s recording of Handel’s Messiah. Did they put him up in the Hotel Utah? Did they give him a tour of Temple Square? What were his impressions of the Mormons?

    To hear him in another venue, go to Youtube and do a search for; “Warfield Ole Man River”. allegedly when he auditioned for the role he sang, “Ole Man River” and left Sam Goldwyn in tears. He immediately got the part.

    Comment by Velikiye Kniaz — February 7, 2012 @ 6:55 pm

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