3 days of Mormon Studies: a 'Transfigurist' author's adventures


The author made the rounds last month for three Mormon Studies-related functions.

A Prince in Provo


Historian Greg Prince spoke about Mormon history, research and writing when releasing his new book, “Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History.” Prince also has lent his beautiful home to young Washington, D.C. interns. (Benchmark Books)

Wondering if the LDS church has a secret vault in its office building?

Answer: yes.

What’s more, it’s on the first floor, east side.

How can you meet LDS general authorities?

On Sunday afternoons, go to airports in Dallas, Atlanta or Chicago. The high-ranking leaders use those airports when leaving an area of the United States during their ministration.

That was just a couple of the nuggets historian Greg Prince said during (and after) his presentation at Writ & Vision in Provo, when he announced his latest book, "Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History."

Here's more: He also said out at the event last month how his Jewish friend, a former Bill Clinton press secretary, re-found his faith later in life and that a friend endured a faith crisis only because he went to college.

On Arrington, he said that Arrington was wrong and Jerald Tanner, right on the Mark Hoffman forgeries of documents thought to be essential to Mormon truth claims (Arrington never found the documents to be fraudulent).

Arrington, Prince said, saw everything in the vault and nothing “bothered” him; and the church’s history department has changed significantly since Arrington due to the Internet.

“It’s changed everything,” Prince remarked.

Also, Prince said that his former secretary helped him with Prince’s book “David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism.” She remarked that McKay was her hero and that “power corrupts.”

Three men and one woman walk into a bar...


Promotional images of June Mormon Stories podcast stars Dan Wotherspoon, Gina Colvin and Thomas McConkie. The three talked about living Mormonism in an emotional event. (Mormon Stories)

John Dehlin is the founder of Mormon Stories. His podcasts have occasionally taken live status and residence at Club at 50 West in downtown Salt Lake City. Most recently was a particularly emotional podcast filled with authenticity. His stars: Dan Wotherspoon, Gina Colvin and Thomas McConkie.

How often does Dehlin have questions turned on him? That's exactly what McConkie did, asking Dehlin about his identity regarding Mormonism. (It was a strong vein of the larger theme of living the faith.) Dehlin responded: "In my heart, I still feel very Mormon." Shortly before that, he said that Utah Mormons were correlated to think that there was just one Mormonism -- the LDS church.

McConkie asked the question after Wotherspoon said that people are Mormon if they say they are, and that Colvin attested to this year's Sunstone theme, that there are many Mormonisms.

Then Dehlin asked the audience to tweet a quote from Colvin, a feminist: "The church is weighed down by the dead weight of semen."

Dehlin was excommunicated last year; Colvin "took a sabbatical" but returned (and even made a prophecy during the show); Wotherspoon settled in after 12 years of coming back from church angry every third Sunday; and McConkie, the great-nephew of famous Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie, converted to Buddhism as a youth before coming back.

Dehlin also asked about staying in a church that's "so flawed." Colvin said that she would need to be convinced that the church is "awful." Said Wotherspoon: "I will take goodness over correctness any time," when he noted that he would go for the people over intellectual concerns any time. (He also added this: "God doesn't care if you're Mormon.") McConkie called the church his "birthright."

Dehlin reported that Mama Dragons founder Wendy Williams Montgomery said that she goes to church to be a friendly face for the LGBTQ members who are going.

Wotherspoon, in one of his many self-admitted rants, said that he doesn't know if progressives "should" take over the church. Dehlin told the author that his frustration with being paralyzed in advancing in life due to faith crisis was OK because he was in the very time of self-discovery that would be necessary for the future.

And Colvin's prophecy?

The day will come when women will not ask for priesthood but will claim priesthood they already have, she said.

An all-star game of academics


Mormon historian Richard Bushman answers a question from CNN's John King in Oct. 2011. Bushman was a go-to media interview during Mitt Romney's campaign for president and was honored in June at a Brigham Young University colloquium. (CNN)

Sports leagues annually have all-star games in which their finest performers are put in display, among and against each other.

For Mormon Studies, that's basically what you had in June at Brigham Young University.

It was a BYU Maxwell Institute colloquium honoring Richard Bushman. Bushman authored "Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling" a decade ago, but was recognized (a second time) for pioneering Mormon Studies to a new frontier.

Bushman may have been the LeBron James of the group, but there were plenty of Stephen Currys and Kevin Durants as well. University of Virginia Mormon Studies Chair Kathleen Flake, Matthew Bowman ("The Mormon People"), Utah State University Mormon Studies Chair Philip Barlow, Jana Riess ("Flunking Sainthood"), and Claudia Bushman ("Exponent II" co-founder) presented, as did dozens of others.

They all seemed to quite enjoy each others' company in between sessions as well. The author was astounded to find that most were practicing Mormons, and that, along with the event being hosted by BYU, may have fed into a conference that turned out to be fairly apologetic.

Nonetheless, it was interesting.

  • Mormon apostle Jeffrey R. Holland was spotted, as he watched his son David, a Harvard history professor, speak;
  • David Hall is regarded as one of the greatest contemporary historians. The Harvard professor spoke about his own faith journey that saw him solidify a strong faith in Jesus Christ after spending weeks in a hospital with his son;
  • Bushman said that Harvard "is all about talking";
  • Bushman was also asked how he can believe in Joseph Smith. He said that he is "the man he wants to be" when he lives "the Mormon way";
  • He also added that the strain of believing in modern times" is positive because it means that good scholarship will result.
  • The author asked Bushman what it meant to be the go-to figure for the media in answering questions about Mormonism during Mitt Romney's second candidacy. Bushman said that it felt good, especially since he had not done as well in his responses in the past. (This would presumably, primarily mean questions asked when "Rough Stone Rolling" came out in 2005 and/or during Romney's first campaign in 2007 and 2008.)