This post was intended for Keepa’s regular readers – practicing Mormons – for whom there was no need to list the egregious social and historical errors of Charles Whitebread’s 1995 speech to the California Judges Association. Non-Mormon readers might find this tutorial helpful:
1. “Help from some people in Salt Lake City, associated with the Mormon Church ….”
Salt Lake City is the world headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons, or LDS). About half its residents are LDS; far fewer are practicing LDS. That “people in Salt Lake City” may have assisted the author is no assurance of credibility.
2. “… and the Mormon National Tabernacle in Washington.”
There is no such site. There is no building anywhere in the world called “Mormon National Tabernacle.” There is no “national” tabernacle anywhere. The tabernacle most familiar to non-Mormons because of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir is located in Salt Lake City. That tabernacle houses no offices beyond those of the Choir, sponsors no scholars, has no research or administrative facilities, is the headquarters of no expert or spokesman or official or adviser, except for the Choir.
The Mormons have chapels for local congregations in Washington; there is even a temple there. But no one at any Mormon building in or anywhere near Washington speaks for the church as a whole or could possibly have assisted Whitebread in the capacity implied by his statement here.
3. “In 1910, the Mormon Church in synod in Salt Lake City decreed polygamy to be a religious mistake and it was banned as a matter of the Mormon religion.”
Polygamy, or plural marriage, was ended in 1890 (although as with any social practice, it took a few years to completely wean people away from plural marriage). The Manifesto – the statement ending polygamy – was sustained in October 1890 by the membership of the church meeting in general conference – not “synod.”
Polygamy has never been “decreed a religious mistake.” Even as it was ended, Mormons taught and believed in plural marriage as a divine mandate from God, a good and wise and holy practice. Because the laws of the United States inflicted draconian punishments on church members and the church organization, the church was in danger of destruction had plural marriage continued. Mormons today honor their polygamous ancestors and declare that there was no “mistake” about it.
Nothing particular of any nature occurred in connection with polygamy in 1910.
4. “A crackdown on people who wanted to live in what they called ‘the traditional way.’”
“The traditional way” is not a phrase I or my readers have ever heard in connection with any past Mormon practice.
Two apostles (the second tier of church leadership) were dropped from their positions in 1906 because they continued to teach and approve of plural marriage, contrary to the 1890 Manifesto. In the 1920s and ‘30s, renegade Mormons who preached or contracted plural marriage began to be excommunicated for their breach of church discipline. I know of nothing else that could be considered a “crackdown” in the generation around 1910.
5. “Just after 1910, a fairly large number of Mormons left the state of Utah … and moved into northwest Mexico.”
No such migration occurred. Mormons had founded colonies in Mexico beginning in the 1870s, just as they had founded dozens upon dozens upon dozens of other communities throughout the West during the 19th century. The Mexican colonies did serve as a refuge from U.S. prosecution of polygamy from the date of their founding, but there is no historical event in the 20th century that corresponds to Whitebread’s statement here. In fact, the Mexican Revolution “just after 1910” forced Mormon migrants out of Mexico, not into it.
6. “They wrote a lot about what they wanted to accomplish in Mexico. They wanted to set up communities where they were basically going to convert the Indians, the Mexicans, and what they referred to as “the heathen” in the neighborhood to Mormonism.”
The LDS church is known for its evangelism, sending tens of thousands of missionaries annually throughout the world. That is an ongoing practice since the 1830s. 19th century missions to Mexico and to various Indian tribes are a definite fact of Mormon history. Nothing special in regard to missionary work in Mexico occurred during the period Whitebread speaks of.
The term “heathen” is not used by Mormons – it is alien to us. Anyone who is not a Mormon is simply not a Mormon, regardless of their “heathen” or “civilized” status according to other religious traditions. The attribution of phrases such as “heathen” (or “the traditional way”) reflects Whitebread’s utter unfamiliarity with Mormonism.
7. “By 1914, they had very little luck with the heathen, but our research shows now beyond question that the heathen had a little luck with them.”
Again, nothing significant with regard to Mexican missions or Mormons living in Mexico occurred anywhere around 1914 – unless you count the Mexican Revolution when Anglo Mormons were forced to return north of the border, along with most other Anglos in Mexico. Most of those refugees stayed very near the border; many of them returned to their Mexican towns when it was safe to do so.
8. “There are still substantial Mormon communities in northwest Mexico.”
Yes. And so –?
9. “Most of the Mormons were not happy there, the religion had not done well there, they didn’t feel comfortable there.”
False in all its parts. The Mormons in the northern Mexican colonies were as attached to their homes – their birth places in most cases – as anyone else in the world, and remained (or returned after the Revolution) because it was home. The Juarez Academy, as a representation of the success of those Mormon colonies, has been a shining jewel in the Mormon educational system, providing church leaders throughout the 20th century. It remains highly respected to this day.
10. “They wanted to go back to Utah where there [sic] friends were and after 1914 did.”
If there was migration from the Mexican colonies to Utah at any time, it was the movement of a few individuals. There is nothing magical about the year 1914 to spark such migration, and no noticeable migration occurred during that period.
11. “The Indians had given them marijuana.”
Whitebread provides no support for this statement – simply asserts it. The bulk of the “Mormon Marijuana Myth” post outlines my evidence for an absence of awareness of marijuana among Mormons of this generation.
12. “Now once you get somebody back in Utah with the marijuana it all becomes very easy, doesn’t it?”
Perhaps for someone with a pro-pot perspective, who assumes that marijuana is as attractive to all people as it is to them. There is no evidence for the presence, use, or even awareness of marijuana among Mormons at this time. None. The main post mentions the sources I checked for such mention; if someone has other suggestions for sources, I’ll gladly check those and report back as well.
13. “You know that the Mormon Church has always been opposed to the use of euphoriants of any kind.”
Research for this post provided me with my first encounter of the word “euphoriant.” It is simply not a concept that (now or ever) has played any role in Mormon thought.
Mormons do have a code of health (the Word of Wisdom) that expressly proscribes alcohol, tobacco, tea and coffee. By extension, any substance that harms the body, or that tends to unnatural stimulation or depression, or creates a craving or dependence, or alters the mind so as to make an individual irresponsible (unless supervised by a legitimate physician for legitimate medical needs), is considered to be under the ban of the Word of Wisdom, whether or not expressly named there. This ban would cover the recreational use of marijuana, but it has never been taught as singling out marijuana from the host of other illicit drugs.
14. “In August of 1915 the Church, meeting again in synod in Salt Lake City …”
General conferences – not synods – of the Church meet in April and October of each year, including 1915. No general or even significant meeting occurred in August of 1915. The full record of discourses and instructions given at general conferences is published and available for review. Neither of the conferences in 1915 – or in any year throughout that generation and for many years afterwards — includes any mention of marijuana.
15. “Decreed the use of marijuana contrary to the Mormon religion.”
Didn’t happen, in 1915 or in any other year. See Point 13 above.
16. “This is how things were in Utah in those days – in October of 1915, the state legislature met and enacted every religious prohibition as a criminal law.”
Didn’t happen. If Mormon tenets were automatically enshrined in Utah law as Whitebread implies, polygamy would still be a legal practice and likely practiced by mainstream Mormons; it is not. Alcohol and tobacco would be outlawed in Utah; they are not, and never have been, with the exception of the period of alcohol Prohibition as required by the U.S. Constitution. As demonstrated in the post, marijuana was not on the Mormon radar at this time, and whatever the legislature did in regard to marijuana had nothing to do with religious concerns.
One irrefutable evidence against Whitebread’s claim here is that the Mormons of this generation were on record as calling for laws to make tobacco sale and use illegal. Had the state legislature been inclined to “enact religious prohibitions as criminal laws,” tobacco would have been banned in Utah. It was not.
Whitebread may have been a law professor, although I have a hard time understanding how a man with such a weak grasp of facts could prepare and present the kind of logical argument required by law. He certainly was no historian, and the weakness of his understanding of Mormon history is staggering. I have seldom seen greater ignorance of demonstrable fact in any forum.
Should you have further questions about Mormon history in connection with Whitebread’s fantastical account, or in connection with the history of marijuana laws, please leave a comment. I’ll get back to you.