Seeking Input on a New Screencast: “The ‘Other’ Mormon Heroes”

John Dehlin Mormon 24 Comments

I’m working on a new screencast similar to the others I’ve released to date (“Why they leave” and “Blacks and the LDS Priesthood“). This one is entitled: “The Other Mormon Heroes: What a Difference a Few Decades Can Make” — and it runs about 45 minutes (takes a few minutes to load).

It is in VERY rough form, but I’d love any feedback any of you are willing to offer. I’m specifically interested in things like:

  • Where do I get the history wrong?
  • How do I make it more interesting/effective?
  • How can I improve the tone?

Also, this one should work w/ Firefox and Mac.

Thanks in advance

Comments 24

  1. Fantastic John…makes me want to go on a protest march!! lol

    Its so true…..

    “There is something that overrides authority, and that is truth…and that is what church leaders can be uncomfortable with” – my dad 🙂

    Hope you are well…I will spread the word on this one. Keep up the good work John!

  2. Overall, outstanding. I truly enjoyed it; seemed to strike a good balance, with excellent historical perspective (though I can’t comment on the reliability of the facts).

    One suggestion: carefully consider your historical examples in the begining. Your case will be much stronger if they are universally considered historical heros. Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King certainly fit that description, in my mind. Nader, on the other hand, might be too polarizing for many of your viewers, and, as such, might distract from your main point. (You might feel the need to make the case for Nader being a hero, but I’m not sure this is the right venue).

    Again, great job, thanks!

  3. Another quick comment to perhaps improve the tone a bit: maybe finish by repeating the strengths of the traditional Mormon heroes and describing what you think is RIGHT about the current Mormon church/tradition, then follow with your probing questions about what might need to change / non traditional heroes.

  4. John — I really enjoyed it ! I would really like to see a comparison of the other books traditionally considered “Anti-Mormon” and how historically accurate they really are…Books/Papers such as
    the Nauvoo Expositor – (1844)
    Mormonism Unveiled – ED Howe (1834)
    Alexander Campbell – Millennial Harbinger (1831), Delusions (1832)
    The Story of the Mormons – William Linn (1901)
    Insiders View – Grant Palmer (2002)
    others including Henry Caswall, John C. Bennett, Pomeroy Tucker, Thomas Gregg, and George Arbaugh

    etc cetera —
    in RSR Dr. Bushman uses many(if not all) of the same source material. I was shocked to find just how accurate they really were.. once you remove the vitriol inserted by the “so-called” apostate authors — the historical picture of Mormonism is fascinating…

  5. Hey John I thought it was great. Excellent points overall and the history sounds accurate based on my limited understanding.
    One thing that would be nice would be to examine the strictly spiritual elements of these hero’s lives. I mean, I highly doubt that those that stayed faithful till the end (Juanita, Arrington, etc) did so simply because they accepted the church from an intellectual standpoint. With all the discussion, debate, history, philosophy, inquiry, criticism, and defiance, it is nice to see that these people were able maintain faith.
    Maybe what I mean is it would be great to hear your personal connection to both sides (non-conformist and traditional hero). I’m sure that is one element that kept these great people in the church. It would appear that your desire is to be held in the ranks of such (untraditional) heroes. If so, I personally would be interested in understanding the spiritual element to your continued participation in the church.
    Or is it simply an interesting cause in which you can be the non-conformist that you need to be?

  6. One other thing- you mention that the traditional LDS heroes (mostly saying “we think of” as opposed to the later “i think of” when referring to the untraditional leaders) have done significant things in their own right. I would like to see perhaps a list similar to that at the end (the listing of your personal non-traditional heroes), of the traditional heroes of our church and specifically why to you they are significant. It would perhaps bridge the potential gap that could form between the highly conservative mormon (my entire family…) and the more liberal mormon (myself).
    Just a thought.
    Again, overall it was fantastic

  7. John – Dude I think this maybe one of your best podcasts to date!! I believe no matter how painful it is “we should do what is right and let the consequence follow-i.e no member should be delusional of the facts about the church. If you want to attract your conservative audience to listen to the podcast all the way to the end. You should start with the lighter parts first and put polygamy and blacks and the priesthood to the second half.

  8. I haven’t read a source on Joseph admitting to Emma (or anyone, for that matter) that he was a sinner when it came to his relationship with Fanny Alger. Do you recall a source on that?

  9. My only lament is that most of Lowell Bennion’s works are out of print and hard to come by. Maybe Sunstone and signature books could partner up and revive the works of these men.

  10. Excellent, John

    I like the combination of visuals and your narration. I liked your choice of examples throughout.

    Bridging the perception gap between yesterday’s outspoken seekers of truth and today’s heroes is extremely beneficial in my estimation in that it helps us come closer to reality, to seeing things as they are. In listening to all of your podcasts I’ve been fascinated by examples of Church leaders making policy and even poor decisions based on their personal preferences and biases. Instead of eroding my testimony, however, it has strengthened by belief in the great trust God has in us and the flexibility he allows in mortals establishing his kingdom as best they can. Your sympathy for the challenges faced by the leaders of the Church is one of my big take-aways from Mormon Stories. Thank you.

    Since you’re soliciting feedback I’d ask, “Who is your target audience?” I believe anyone would find value in this rough draft but if you’ve had a particular type of person in mind as you’ve created the project you might double-check to make sure they get it.

    A high compliment to Ashley Sanders to be included with the likes of Emma! I really enjoyed your interview with her and her own initial podcast.

  11. Excellent work. Congratulations.

    I noticed that the ensign article on MM still blames the indians as the only ones who killed women and children, ????, could whites have killed children too I wonder????

    But with F Brodie I think we need to be more careful because many of her references came from the enemies of Smith and from plain hearsay; her research methods would be questioned if she where not anti-Joseph!

    And I also wonder how that Joseph Fielding Smith/Petersen on blacks deserving thing now works with rich black general authorities in Ghana & so called ‘white trash’ today. Who’s children are blessed more???

  12. Issues of today: Women and some priesthood, Priesthood of Eve? which is part of Temple doctrine but not everyday mormon life.

    (Remember priest & priestesses, Gods & Goddesses)

  13. Non-traditional mormon heroes of today:

    John Dehlin.

    (no brainer, that question!; I mean I’m listening here in Sydney Australia with an ocean in between us, and learn a lot about these things online because lds.org doesn’t publish this sort of stuff!)

  14. John,

    Nice work! To build on Corey’s comment about reasons the traditional LDS heroes are your heroes too–if you come up with nontraditional reasons, it will be thought-provoking for all viewers, regardless of their veneration level for the people you talk about. Examples: Joseph Smith ordained Elijah Abel, a black man to the priesthood, advocated the abolition of slavery in his presidential platform of 1844, established an autonomous women’s organization, provided an alternative belief structure for Christians uncomfortable with the doctrine of original sin, etc. Brigham Young established cooperative economic enterprises which were designed to combat materialism, encouraged women to study advanced subjects like medicine, and had a generally common-sensical approach to religion, divorcing much of the visionary strand of Mormonism from the mainstream.

    You could do similar things for many of the traditional heroes you list.

  15. John, I think you replied in another post to my comment (#9) here. I think the understanding you formed – that Joseph probably confessed his sin (adultery) to Emma – is a bit hasty.

    From “Fanny Alger Smith Custer: Mormonism’s First Plural Wife?” p. 200-201:

    In summer 1837, David Patten asked Oliver “if he Joseph Smith jr had confessed to his wife that he was guilty of adultery with a certain girl, when Oliver Cowdery cocked up his eye very knowingly, and hesitated to answer the question, saying he did not know as he was bound to answer the question yet conveyed the idea that it was true.” Patten also testified that he asked Cowdery directly if “a certain story was true respecting J. Smith’s committing adultery with a certain girl, when he turned on his heel and insinuated as though he was guilty; he then went on and gave a history of some circumstances respecting the adultery scrape stating that no doubt it was true. Also said that Joseph told him, he had confessed to Emma.” . . .

    . . . The inevitable confrontation [between Joseph and Oliver] took place on 7 November 1837, in Far West. Apostle Thomas Marsh in an affidavit-letter to Joseph Smith dated 15 February, wrote: “I heard Oliver Cowdery say to Joseph Smith, Jr., while at George Harris’ house, in Far West, that he (Joseph) never confessed to him, (Oliver) that he was guilt of the crime alledged to him [adultery]. And O. Cowdery gave me to understand that Joseph Smith Jr. never acknowledged to him, that he [Joseph] ever confessed to any one, that he [Joseph] was guilty of the above crime.” Harris, testifying at Cowdery’s excommunication trial, reported that Cowdery “seemed to insinuate that Joseph Smith jr was guilty of adultery” in their conversation. But when asked directly if Joseph had ever “acknowledged to him [Cowdery] that he was guilty of such a thing,” Cowdery answered “No.”

    Cowdery’s statement to Patten in the first paragraph quoted above shows he likely believed it to be true, but that Oliver did not know it was true. In light of the testimony of the November 1837 meeting and the 1838 excommunication trial, it seems unlikely that Joseph confessed to either Emma or Oliver that he was guilty of adultery. Perhaps some feel it was an extra-marital affair, but it appears that Joseph did not. In fact, Compton’s article argues – and it is one of his main points – that both friendly and antagonistic sources can be reasonably taken to indicate that there was indeed a ceremony between Alger and Smith, making the adultery question moot to those who accepted plural marriage.

    I would kindly suggest changing the script at that point to be more accurate and less interpretive.

    As a side note, I have enjoyed Compton’s work. He’s the only historian who discusses so openly and thoroughly in his writings the reliability of the sources he’s using. I’ve experienced this before in conversation with historians, but Compton publishes what I think is even-handed analysis in his text and footnotes.

    That said, I only found one major mistake in the aforementioned article. Compton incorrectly states: “Though Ann Eliza was antagonistic when she wrote this account, and it is comparatively late, she was neverthelessan eyewitness to the latter part of the Smith/Alger story” (“Fanny Alger Smith Custer: Mormonism’s First Plural Wife?” p.192). However, Ann Eliza Webb was born 13 September 1844, almost two months after Joseph’s death and almost 10 years after the Kirtland events involving Alger; her knowledge of the situation most likely came through her father or mother. Also, in footnote 56, Compton cites an 1876 letter from Ann Eliza in which she claims “Fanny Algers had lived in Joseph’s family several years and when she left there she came and lived with me a few weeks” (Ibid.). Either Ann Eliza is using “me” loosely to mean her family or she is exaggerating (to say it nicely) to bolster herself as an insider-informant (as she clearly does in other matters in Wife No. 19).

  16. Just a few suggestions that might clarify rather than oppose what you say.
    – Brodie was on her way out when she started her bio. I don’t think she was trying to remain a faithful member and then was simply overwhelmed by what she found in her studies.
    – Isn’t there a reference to polygamy in 1831? I’m trying to recall, but can’t remember where I read this. RSR perhaps?
    – Love the tribute to Lowell. He is a personal hero if mine as well, but “outspken critic” may not be appropriate without qualification because he would not speak publicly about the priesthood ban. The quote you used was intentionally subtle rather than explicit. As mentioned in his bio, and the interview with his biographer on your podcast, Bennion refused to approach the media with his criticisms. He took his concern up with the brethren personally, humbly rather than take the McMurrin aproach. I think Bennion believed in self-censorship (at least publicly)in order to effectively push for change. He didn’t want to make a name for himself over the issue, but he fought effectively for change behind closed doors with those that were in a position to make changes.
    I’d be anxious to hear your thoughts. I can look up sources if you’d like.

  17. from another great modern LDS hero:

    “the writer or teacher who has an exaggerated loyalty to the theory that everything must be told is laying a foundation for his own judgment. . . . [S]ome things are to be taught selectively and some things are to be given only to those who are worthy.”

    This is an important and valid doctrinal concept practiced in many great religious traditions including the Jews. But obviously not well understood nor respected by present company.

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  19. #21: John, can you please refer to the Brethren as Elder Oaks and Elder Packer? Calling them just Oaks and Packer, I think, goes against the spirit of sustaining them in their priesthood roles and is offensive to many faithful members.

    #18 and #19:

    The problem with the plural marriage theory to explain away any potential moral ambiguities regarding the Joseph Smith/Fanny Alger union is that the sealing keys that provide the basis for celestial marriage (both plural and monogamous) were not restored until 1836. I am not aware of any contemporaneous accounts from 1831 that corroborate the story of the angel and the sword appearing to Joseph Smith that early. The 1831 event is mentioned in the heading to section 132 of the Doctrine & Covenants but I think is of dubious historical provenance. I have not seen a satisfactory answer to how Joseph Smith could have been properly “married” to Fanny Alger prior to the restoration of the sealing keys by Elijah in 1836. And who performed the ceremony? By what authority?

    “Perhaps some feel it was an extra-marital affair, but it appears that Joseph did not.”

    Hmm, well, you could adjust that sentence thus:

    “Perhaps some feel it was an extra-marital affair, but it appears that President Clinton did not.” I’m not sure the subjective belief of the cheating spouse is the best measure to determine whether something constitutes an extra-marital affair, is it?

  20. I’m fairly certain ron is quoting Elder Packer from the famous(infamous?) Mantle-Greater-Than-Intellect talk.

    Personally I think that is a misuse of the quote. Specifically the “[S]ome things are to be taught selectively and some things are to be given only to those who are worthy.” part. Part of the problem with this idea is that a lot of these “things” are concealed from everyone (if not for New Mormon Historians), not just the unworthy. Or is the implication in that statement that no one is worthy to know about polyandry, seer stones, treasure digging, early women/priesthood teachings, and post-manifesto polygamy; except for only a relative few general authorities who stand as cherubim with flaming swords over that information?

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