Mormon Matters #3 is Up: ” The Mountain Meadows Massacre “

With the church’s recent press release, the soon-to-be released “September Dawn” movie, and the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, this was a great discussion featuring J. Nelson-Seawright, John Hamer and the ever wonderful Ann Porter.

Check it out if you get a minute. It’s heavy stuff…but fascinating, and definitely worth the listen.


  1. I started listening, John, and I find the attitude towards the Stapley letter upsetting.

    First of all, Hugh B Brown may have supported the civil rights movement, however, he also argued vociferously against inter-racial marriages. Brown explained his opposition in terms of his breeding programs on his farm, which implies that he considers people of African descent inferior and that human beings ought to be bred like animals.

    Notice that race is not a biological category but the result of human efforts to breed creatures. It is the opposition to intermarriage that defines the racist.

    In light of his attitudes to intermarriage, we are deluding ourselves if we invoke Hugh B Brown as the man whose virtue balances the racism of Mark Petersen or Elder Stapley. (There are Mormons who heroically opposed racism, for example Congressman Udall and Helmuth Huebener. Unfortunately, we cannot make any such claim about LDS general authorities.)

    Second, as a German I have enjoyed the dubious pleasure of meeting Nazis and Bolshevics. Some of them were good people and good family men. Nonetheless, that does not ameliorate the evil with which they were complicit.

    I am not saying that Mormonism’s problems are as bad as National Socialism’s of Bolshevism’s. The point is rather to illustrate how absurd it is to compensate for evil with references to some other good, particularly not to people’s good intentions.

    Hannah Arendt was quite right when she reported about the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem in terms of the banality of evil. Evil doers are often good family men, nurturing the members of their group while they commit unspeakable acts in the name of some imagined good.

    Our obiligation ought to be to the victims of our community, not to the misguided and self-righteous powerful. Moral evasion is selfish. Think about the identity of the victims rather than our own.

    Lets drop the excuses. Lets take responsibility and examine the abusive aspects of Mormon culture and ideology unflinchingly.

    I am concerned that your project is in danger of cultivating an attitude that excuses, relativizes, and minimizes abuse by celebrating imaginary heroes and overemphasizing the virtues of the abusers. That is too high a prize to pay just to be comfortable with one’s heritage.

  2. To amplify Hellmut’s point, I give you this quote:

    “Do you spend time with your family? Good. Because a man that doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man. ”

    Sounds like something you might hear from a General Authority, right? Not that far off from “no other success can comepnsate for failure in the home” or “family first” or “families: isn’t it about time?”

    The quote comes from one Don Corleone…

    John, while I have enjoyed these podcasts, the problem I see with them is that the participants are hamstrung by the rules of the game you have established. You are trying to have an “open and honest” discussion of “difficult” topics but have banned any criticism of the church from the discussion, allowing only viewpoints that are favorable toward the church and bending over backward to put a positive spin on things for the church. This is counterproductive, in my view. The reason “faithful history” ignires or whitewashes the topics you are discussing is because it is nigh impossible to discuss them honestly without being critical of the church. As long as Oaks’ mantra that it’s wrong to criticize the leaders of the church even if the criticism is true is the principle guiding the Mormon Matters discussions, I think you are missing an opportunity to shed as much light on the subjects as you otherwise might be able to provide.

  3. “The quote comes from one Don Corleone…”


    “As long as Oaks’ mantra that it’s wrong to criticize the leaders of the church even if the criticism is true is the principle guiding the Mormon Matters discussions[..]”

    Really, you think so? I personally think its counterproductive to conspiracy-theorize, attribute malicious motives, and otherwise wallow in frustration and anger. The Mormon Matters panelists were identified originally as coming from various angles of faith sharing in common that they “see good in the church”. I think they have yet to have anyone on who would agree with the Oaks statement. I would bet that 80% of the church membership would see the podcast as critical.

  4. Of course, the podcast was critical. It also goes to desperate lengths to find some unspecified virtue in the perpetrator. By contrast, there was not one word for the victims of Mormon racism.

    These attempts to bolster the reputation of racist leaders will only preserve the residue of racism in our heritage. They will also obstruct the emergence of a healthy Mormon identity.

    It is this mindset that is partially to blame for the loitering and festering racism in polite Mormon society.

    And it continues today.

    Just look at the campaign against intellectuals, feminists, and homosexuals. It is happening all over. People who have no idea what they are talking about are embracing the discrimination of their neighbors to follow the prophet.

    And if the prophet changes his mind tomorrow, everyone will take a deep breath and exclaim “Wow, I am so relieved that I don’t need to be homophobic any more! Praise the Lord! And our leaders are such jolly good people.”

    That part of the podcast reminds me of George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

  5. Clay, did you listen to the first episode? The panelists did, in fact, agree with Oaks’ statement, including John Dehlin.

    Clay said: “I personally think its counterproductive to conspiracy-theorize, attribute malicious motives, and otherwise wallow in frustration and anger.”

    Do you think there might be room for legitimate, reasoned, anlytical, thinking criticism? Or do you characterize all criticism as conspiracy theories, malicious-motive attributions, and stemming only from frustration and anger?

    The notion that there is good in the church does not mean that there is good in everything the church and its leaders say and do.

    The fact that 80% of the church membership would find these podcasts critical of the church is an uncomplimentary statement about the particular population upon which you are commenting.

  6. Equality —

    As I recall, the question was not whether the panel agreed with Oak’s statement — the question was whether the panel was surprised by Oak’s statement.

    J. said that he wasn’t surprised by it at all — he said that it was consistent with the general position of the LDS hierarchy on dissent. I agree with J. Julianne — the conservative on the panel that episode — said she did not have a problem with the statement, but that was a lone sentiment.

    My opinion is that Oak’s statement is not surprising and it is consistent with the hierarchy’s general position. In the end, I believe that position is damaging to Mormon culture and it is symptomatic of a general failure of leadership which is why the LDS church as an institution is in a state of incurable decline.

    If you’re concerned that Mormon Matters is overly apologetic, I suggest you listen to the whole of episode 3. I think we make points about the Mountain Meadows massacre that are extremely honest, open and unapologetically unapologetic.

  7. “Do you think there might be room for legitimate, reasoned, anlytical, thinking criticism?”

    Sure I do. I am in no way an apologist for the church. I think there’s plenty of evidence of that attached to my name here and other forums. Perhaps for you I am lacking reason and critical thinking if I don’t echo your position?

    “Or do you characterize all criticism as conspiracy theories, malicious-motive attributions, and stemming only from frustration and anger?”

    No, not all, but comparisons to the mafia (and fictional at that) and Orwellian nightmare society definitely trip the sensors. This thread is close to invoking Godwin’s Law.

    The thing that is unique about John Dehlin’s podcasts is that the purpose is to understand, not to figure out who to convict or exonerate.

  8. Clay,

    You apparently missed the point of my reference to Don Corleone. it was not to suggest a moral equivalence between LDS leaders and the admittedly fictional Godfather. It was, rather, to amplify Hellmut’s point about Delbert Stapley: just because someone is a “nice guy” or a “good family man,” etc. does not mean he cannot also be morally degenerate, bigoted, and even evil. Mobsters love their children. Ted Bundy was very charming. And no, I am not saying Stapley was the moral equivalent of Ted Bundy.


    I appreciate your point on the Oaks comment. I will listen to the Mountain Meadows podcast and see if my opinion changes. I guess my biggest problem with part one was that you didn’t seem to talk as much as I would have liked, there were two rabid TBMs and a famous NOM talking like a TBM, so the “balance” part seemed to weigh heavily in favor of a “faith-promoting” point of view. I will amend my criticism of Mormon Matters to limit it specifically to episode one and will give the others another chance.

    Clay, I think the Orwellian nature of the modern church is almost axiomatic.

  9. Equality, I want you to speak up for me next time I write something controversial online — most people don’t seem to realize that I’m a TBM. I can tell you, though, that my doctor gave me a clean bill of health at my last physical; so you’ve been given misinformation about my alleged rabies.

    I think John Hamer reflected my opinion about the Oaks quote exactly. It’s not at all surprising, and it’s really just consistent with the policy on dissent that the church has developed since about the 1980s. That policy makes me nervous. I love the church community, yet as someone who writes about it in an independent voice, the existing policy puts me at risk. And I could have said that on the podcast, I suppose, but what’s the point? How many times need one repeat oneself?

  10. J. N-S,

    I was really just giving my impression after listening to the first podcast. It came across to me as almost a lovefest for the church, which is not what I was expecting. Not that I thought it would be all Mike Norton or Samuel the Utahnitish or anything, but I just thought it was a little too apologetic for my tastes. I admit that my tastes have changed over the course of the last two years, as I once considered BCC to be on the fringes of Outer Darkness. So, I guess I, like all your listeners, brought my own biases to the podcast and heard it from my perspective. I guess the more timid and pious souls among the Latter-day Saints might have thought it was an “anti” podcast, you know, what with having a gay guy on the panel and all.

  11. Yeah, Equality, I think you’re right — the intellectual Mormon spectrum is really broad, and people’s positions look pretty different depending on where one stands. I’ll be interested to hear what you have to say about the subsequent episodes.

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