Political Turmoil and Church Change

About every 50 years in US history there’s a major conflagration of political turmoil. This manifests with both positive change along with sometimes negative changes or retrenchment. The last major turbulence in the US (and in many ways the west in general) was in the late 60’s through early 70’s. We’re now in a similar period which almost certainly has yet to reach its peak. It’s hard not to notice that when looking at Church history that major changes in the Church are loosely tied to these periods.

For instance the period of political turmoil in the early 20th century included the first world war, massive strikes and violence associated with labor demands, along with the beginning of the shift to what we’d call cosmopolitan modernism. At the same time there was racial retrenchment, particularly under the Wilson administration in the United State who reversed a lot of integration in the federal workplace. People were jailed for sedition for being socialists or communists. However it was this period of turmoil that women’s suffrage really made a lot of progress including the ratification of the 19th amendment. The ACLU was formed during this period due to the view that civil liberties were not being respected. I’ll not bore people with all the changes during this period, but it was a key moment in history that often gets neglected in people’s historic knowledge.

The same time these changes were taking place in American history the Church was rapidly changing under Heber J. Grant. He became President in 1918 in this period of turbulence nationally. While many changes to the Church had begun earlier, such as with the first manifesto on polygamy, it is really with Heber J. Grant that we see the rapid change of the Church into the modern era. It’s under Heber J. Grant that the Church becomes recognizable as the Church as we have it today. A lot of credit (and by some blame) for correlation is laid on David O McKay’s feet. Yet it’s Heber J. Grant that gets the ball rolling with far more centralization of budgets and programs. Under Grant the first stakes outside of the mountain west get organized paving the way for an international Church. The first temples outside of Utah since the trek west are dedicated. It’s under Grant that attending Church meetings such as Sacrament becomes emphasized and a key part of Church life. It’s really under Grant that the Church fundamentally shifts away from the polygamous period and culture. Anti-polygamy measures became strongly enforced with conflict with groups that broke off from the Church. Grant himself was the last President to be a polygamist, although by the time he was President only one of his wives was alive. He bridges that gap between the old polygamist culture of Brigham Young and the new cosmopolitan monogamist capitalist culture. Grant himself was a banker and very much aware of the capitalist finance and manufacturing culture that was rapidly replacing agrarian culture.

Politically it is in this period that you see the shift in the Church towards what we might call conservatism. Grant, while a Democrat, adamantly opposed Roosevelt whom he saw as implementing socialist policy. He wasn’t alone in that view with J. Reuben Clark and David O McKay also opposing Roosevelt’s reforms. This opposition to government based socialism is somewhat at odds with communitarianism and agrarianism of the prior century. The end of prohibition was a defeat for Grant, at least as he saw it. In particular Utah was the deciding vote overturning prohibition. That in turn I think led to big shifts in how the Word of Wisdom was used in the Church as a practical matter. It was during this period that some saw caffeine as the reason for coffee and tea’s inclusion in the Word of Wisdom. That was largely due to an article by University of Utah geologist Frederick Pack who argued Coca Cola was against the Word of Wisdom because of its caffeine. That view persisted until very recently. It was only last year that regular Coca Cola was sold at BYU. While Grant didn’t oppose Coca Cola, it quickly became a common if far from universal view. More significantly the Church pressured to make Word of Wisdom prohibitions a key aspect of being a fully committed member.

During the next period of turmoil in the early 70’s we have the drive to rid the Church of the priesthood ban. While the revelation itself only occurred in 1978, it’s the earlier protests of the 1968-1974 era that really make it a necessary change. While society viewed the Church negatively over the issue part of the issue was the conservatism towards change. Had the Church issued Official Declaration 2 a decade earlier in 1968 I think it would have been seen as far more progressive towards racial issues. My point though is that it was this period of rapid change starting in the late 60’s that led to this substantial change in the Church.

There were limits on what the Church could do during the turmoil of 1968-1974 primarily due to the health of the Presidents. David O McKay was enfeebled and ill the last years of his administration that ended in 1970. It was during that era the many problems like overbuilding by Henry Moyles led to the near bankruptcy of the Church. The next Presidents – Joseph Fielding Smith and Harold B Lee each had short administrations and were quite ill. Under these figures their assistants who did most of the work, limiting the ability for significant change until Spencer Kimball became President. Still it is during this era that the last major centralizations take place of lessons and magazines for the Church. N. Eldon Tanner became a counselor in the First Presidency in this era. Historians often see this call primarily to repair the finances of the Church and make the Church more responsible fiscally. It seems that with this key transition that the Church truly become corporate not just legally but in terms of many day to day business functions.

Much of what constitutes the Church for the next 50+ years happens as Pres. Tanner is directed to organize the Church in a reliable and sustainable fashion. While one may argue that’s not tied to the turbulence of the era, nonetheless it is well in keeping with the corporatism that comes to characterize so much of American life after the late 60’s. If we see a shift to most restaurants following a corporate structure with the rise McDonald’s, Burger King and even higher end franchises it’s not surprising that this model gets replicated in so many fields in American life. Not just restaurants become corporatized but so too do charities, activist groups and, as we see with the Church, even religion. It’s out of that period of change that this trajectory becomes set.

Once Spencer Kimball is made President, despite his own very ill health, the Church is able to make even more changes. It is the extremely important revelation on priesthood that truly opens the Church to the world for the first time. However this is also a period of some retrenchment. Issues of feminism that arose during the late 60’s are rejected by the Church for even more emphasis on tradition role for the sexes. The Church opposes the ERA amendment that was the culmination of feminist activities during the larger American era of turmoil. While the constitutional amendment doesn’t expire until later in the early 80’s, the change in Church society through the earlier opposition shows the retrenchment. The Church isn’t alone in this. Evangelicalism and other broader Protestant changes also develop an unique characteristic due to opposition and retrenchment to this and other social changes on sex and sexuality. Many of these positions appear to go back to Heber J. Grant and David O McKay. However it’s their definition and significance in opposition to the social changes of the late 60’s that really give them the form they have for the next 50 years.

We’re now in an other period of social change. How much of this is inevitable and how much is due to the accident of who is in key positions of power is unclear. I tend to think that there are larger social forces at work. Figures like Trump may escalate these tensions but do not cause them. While it’s too early to know what Pres. Nelson’s legacy will be, it is interesting that he’s much more like Heber J. Grant than David O McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee or even Spencer W. Kimball. Despite his advanced age he appears in compelling health. Unusually so given his age. Perhaps because of his relationship with Spencer Kimball he has also sought to prepare his successor Dalin H. Oaks. Presumably that’s to ensure not only a smooth transition but common view of what changes they wish to make over the next few years.

Already we’ve seen some minor changes. The shift to the 2 hour block may seem significant. Even relative to the shift to the single 3 hour block it is ultimately a pretty minor change though. Unifying priesthood quorums as a practical matter is important, but again pretty minor when looking over the last 120 years. Especially compared to what happened under Kimball and Grant. The major changes that society and some members are agitating for is much deeper involvement in leadership by women along with a desire for inclusion of homosexuals and transgendered individuals. It’s not clear what will happen here. It’s important to note looking back at these transitory points that sometimes there’s significant retrenchment and other times rapid change. What a vocal minority agitates for change over doesn’t really correlate well to how the Church responds.

Of course faithful members argue that it’s revelation that’s so key at these transitionary points in Church history. What we might believe politically about issues ultimately doesn’t matter. Despite that, as we saw with elements around the Word of Wisdom, social change isn’t necessarily driven by clear revelation on the matter. It’s inevitable that during periods of rapid social transition that the Church must react. That might be through defining itself in opposition to change or by embracing the social changes. What we can say is that ten years from now the Church may very well look quite different.

25 comments for “Political Turmoil and Church Change

  1. Whoops. You caught me while still editing. (Accidentally posted to live rather than just saving the draft)

  2. Heber C. Kimball was President of the Church? If so, there been some radical changes I was unaware of. ?

  3. Purely coincidental, you save me looking up the Heber J. Grant era. What’s here sounds about right (by memory) and just became my go-to summary. Thanks for that.

    With respect to the modern era and President Nelson, I think it is very difficult to have perspective while in process. I play the game too, but I’d really like a 10-year look-back. A 2-hour block and consolidated priesthood quorum generate momentary excitement, but there are longer lists of similar-size changes in prior administrations and my scorecard on predicting what would be remembered and talked about 10 years later is not promising.

  4. OK. Sorry about that. I didn’t realize the post was live and posted. My apologies for the obvious errors. I’ll just publish it as it is since people are already commenting and it’s up on Twitter apparently. I’ll be making a few minor corrections over the next hour as I have time.

    Christian, my sense as I mentioned prior to conference is that there is going to be a major shift in the Church. It may not be quite as significant as what happened under Heber J. Grant but I suspect at minimum it will look very different in 10 years. Quite a lot can be done without major revelations. Arguably most of Heber J. Grant’s changes were enabled by changes by Wilford Woodruff and Lorenzo Snow. But it’s under Grant we really see the rapid change of the Church to a fundamentally new America. Likewise while I think changes that could have happened in the early 70’s were delayed due to the health of all involved, in effect the changes weren’t that unexpected. I think it safe to say that whatever happens, women will be far more prominent in the Church in 10 years. There’s actually a lot that can be done there given past history in the Relief Society. I think all the people who tend to be critical of Pres. Oaks also overlook just how key he has been in formulating change in the Church on these issues the past few decades. He may well not go as far as some agitating for change demand. But he’s really a pretty key figure when you look at many issues of change since the early 90’s.

  5. You have a few of your facts wrong. N. Eldon Tanner became a counselor in the First Presidency in October 1963, joining his uncle Hugh B. Brown, who had been a counselor since summer 1961. Though both men were born in Utah, they lived most of their adult lives in Canada until they were called into full-time church service. (And that’s another angle: just what did those Canadians do to the church?)

    Also, Pres. Harold B. Lee was not ill during any of his presidency, except for the last day of his life. He entered the hospital at 3:00 p.m. on December 26, 1973, for a routine check-up, and died of a pulmonary embolism about six hours later. It’s true that his time as president was short, but he was a young man–nearly a quarter century younger than Joseph Fielding Smith, whom he succeeded as president in 1972.

  6. Thanks for clarifying that Mark. I had thought Lee was ill the end of his life in his brief administration. (The shortest of any President) I knew he died of both lung and cardiac failure which usually take a while. He apparently had been experiencing bad fatigue for some time which was why he’d gone to the hospital which was where he died. But I was definitely wrong about illness. Apparently given his youth and lack of illness his death was unexpected. My apologies I should have checked that. It is interesting that it is Lee whom most see as raising a revelation as the requirement to overturn the priesthood ban. This is in the midsts of the turmoil in 1969.

    In any case he had a very brief tenure.

    With regards to Tanner he was called to replace Moyle though and I think it’s generally thought that it was to clean up the mess of the Church finances. Moyle usually was seen as the cause with a “build it and they will come” attitude towards church buildings, perhaps enabled by McKay’s health condition. Tanner was one of the major figures in the Alberta Social Credit party in the mid-20th century – a party largely based upon both Christian values especially in southern Alberta and a particular view of Provincial and Federal monetary policy. (Not necessarily well grounded economically) He also was director of the Toronto Dominion Bank of Canada and then president of Trans-Canada Pipelines. That entailed construction of a 2,000 mile pipeline across Canada that was widely praised. He had abundant corporate experience and success. It’s probably not surprising he became so significant in running the Church despite being a junior Apostle.

    While I got the date wrong of when he was called to the Presidency, I think the general era of when he was corporatizing the Church is accurate. Certainly the causes are older – including Tanner’s fact finding trip to Nigeria where locals wanted to start Churches. That’s a key facet, I suspect, in the later work in the 70’s to reverse the priesthood ban. Arguably it’s also when major pressure on the Church starts, particularly from the NAACP. Tanner is intrinsically involved with all that around 63. However strong opposition really gets going a few years later as civil rights successfully becomes normative out of that late 60’s turmoil. (One could see Nixon’s election as partial backlash but by the time of the 70’s it’s pretty well decided socially)

    While the corporatizing of the Church starts in the mid-60s as Tanner tries to get the Church running efficiently I think it’s really in the late 60’s that we start to see the corporatizing of the Church in everything from building plans to what counts as proper behavior. Unlike some I don’t see that as a negative – yet it’s also something you see across many parts of the US and Canada at that time. So while things definitely aren’t only happening from 1968-1974, it’s that era that really changes both American culture and Church culture in key ways.

    It’s probably worth putting George Romney’s presidential campaign in 1968 into the discussion as well. We’ll see if his son who is widely expected to win his Utah Senate campaign plays a part in the tumultuous years ahead of us.

  7. I agree with the assessment that Moyle was a “build it and they will come” guy, which led to overspending and the end of Church finance reports in general conference. Tanner was a corporatist that came in to reverse that trend. But when these changes were occurring (late 1950s-early 1960s), Pres. McKay was in fairly robust health.

  8. A different way to view this is that the church itself doesn’t react but rather scts and the world then reacts. Many of the changes in policy and procedures can be seen as a reaction. But when one looks at the precursors leading up to change one sees a pattern of action prevention long before the world has changed. We see this in the Proclamation. At the time many of the things stated in it were kind of basic knowledge items. Fast forward now twenty+ years and we see the world reacting to this. Same with the union or disbanding with the BSA. About 20 years ago, before the BSA troubles, the Lord started initiating programs, test programs throughout the world in his church. It helped to modify our thoughts and prayers us to leave the BSA. The decision to leave the BSA was made by the Lord many decades ago. The Lord acts, the world reacts.

  9. A worthwhile tangent to the discussion is mentioning Strauss and Howe’s book “The Fourth Turning,” which argues that for the past 400 years, America is on a four-phase, approx. 80-year cycle. Each cycle has many similar characteristics, and the conditions of each cycle creates the generational differences. “Summer” is marked by social upheaval (Great Awakening, Gay Nineties, 1960s) which not coincidentally match key dates in Church history (First Vision, OD1 & 2). “Winter” is marked by political upheaval (American Revolution, Civil War, World War II). The book, published in the early 1990s, predicts massive political upheaval in the 2010s and ’20s.

  10. First, please remove every use of the word argue/arguably. You’re already arguing it, which is why you’re saying it. And if someone wants to dispute it they can argue the point without you alluding to that fact by telling us its already arguable. It’s used like 10+ times on this page already. The flow of the article really breaks down every time it finds its way into a sentence.

    No one will ever really think about the following in the future:
    3 hours of church
    High Priests
    Home Teaching
    Priesthood session of conference in the Fall

    Combined with that you have
    Relief Society and Elders Quorum on equal footing
    Relief Society and Priesthood Conference sessions on equal footing

    That’s pretty significant in and of itself.

    Next, consider that Young Mens and Womens Presidencies, along with Relief Society and Elders Quorum just became much less important to their members. You only see them 2x a month, not every week. On the other hand, primary teachers your kids see all the time — so make sure the absolute BEST ones are in the primary (should have already been the case).

  11. Other Clark, the “build it and they will come” and infamous baseball baptisms were I thought late 50’s and early 60’s. Tanner gets called as an Apostle largely after his amazing success in government and then banking/oil in Canada in the fall of 62. He gets made a counselor by McKay a year later with Moyle. (Haven’t checked the details here) My argument though was that Tanner’s actions largely reflect larger trends in this transitionary period in the west. So while it’s certainly true Moyles actions provided the incentive for change, Tanner’s actions go beyond repairing that to a full bodied corporatist rethink of the Church that comes out of this era of turmoil.

    I’m here largely following Bergera’s paper on McKay’s counselors. Page 190 makes the health claim of the counselors taking more of the duties. McKay then has a stroke (1963) and that pretty well limits him until his death. Again though the main focus is the significant changes as related to these pivot points. My argument is mostly that from this period in 1963 until Pres. Kimball the First Presidency is somewhat limited in a fashion not true of Heber Grant’s administration.

    Robert, I think I’m making two points. One is that roots that enable change precede the change. But that’s also true of broader society. So while there were major changes and turbulence in 1968-1974 you can also point to the earlier civil rights movement, earlier technological changes such as birth control, and the rise of cheap accessible recreational drugs that then come together in that turbulence period. However it’s these periods where you see the rapid social transition even if practice and policy then adapt to this over the next years. i.e. policy doesn’t happen all during the turbulence.

    MME, I wasn’t really ready to post but since I’d accidentally done so I correct the major errors but not all of them. I then was too swamped last night to finish all the editing. My apologies. However it’s a blog post not a paper.

    To your argument, I don’t think it’s clear Relief Society and Elders Quorum will be on equal footing (or what that will mean). I’m not making any predictions on how the changes will take place – if only because I suspect Nelson is preparing things for change but that major revelations are needed for many changes. I’m very skeptical, for instance, that Relief Society will get independent funding the way they had before Grant. I think those aspects of correlation are here to stay. I do think though that it’s clear Nelson is pushing towards a pre-Grant view of teaching where the emphasis is home not Sunday Church service. It’s quite unclear to me if that will be successful.

  12. Clark,
    The point I was making is that the Lord has already seen all of the troubles that lie before us and with that knowledge he constructs the path forward through revelation to prophets on changes and when they should occur. I doubt that church policy and procedure react to social turbulence but rather the Lord has already acted long before these were even issues to prepare the church for when the timing to change happens. In that regards it’s the world that is reacting to the changes in the church.

  13. Enjoyed the post Clark. It’s fascinating to think through what we’ll look back on in 10-20 years as significant today. I was recently speaking with one historian of Mormonism who speculates that the change to a 2 hour bloc is far more significant that what we’re giving it credit for here. It’s not the logistical change in meeting time, but the accompanying change in emphasis to teaching the gospel at home, the endorsement of study groups, and the like. This has the potential to signal the end of the correlation era (which is not to say that the church is indicating that it will step back from a heavy-handed approach to church structure and culture).

    What’s clear is that we need the church to change in the face of tumult—which is the promise of our model of revelation and open canon. We’ve married that openness with a conservative culture and gigantic bureaucracy, which means rapid change is rare. These two ought to be in fruitful tension, and I hope they will be now, as I agree that we are in another period of serious tumult.

  14. I’m not sure our culture is small c conservative so much as it is highly skeptical of bottom up change. But I think most people get excited about the very notion of change. Indeed excitement that General Conference might bring a change has been something I’ve seen since I was young with only a couple of instances of even moderate change. However I think my ultimate argument is that change can happen pretty fast during these periods. The assumption that “corporatism” makes that difficult is to me dubious. Not the least because there are plenty of examples of companies that changed rather quickly during a period of rapid social change. Microsoft with the rise of the internet and Apple with the rise of digital media are too obvious examples. Of course one might say those are the exceptions. Still I think our culture is actually quite open to significant change.

    My qualms end up being more about whether a change of putting more responsibility on individuals will work. I think everyone says that’s what they want whereas I strongly suspect no one really wants to do that.

  15. Nice article even w/ the errors. I believe however the recent changes are the foundation for major changes to come. With deletion of hpg, & use of ministering visits the men’s & women’s organizations are fully parallel & ground work is laid for female ordination to the priesthood. The reduction in block time will actually protestantize the church but also allow consolidation of church resources during this deflationary time. Based on my data the church is decreasing in size and I assume tithes are down. So the church may be in a hunkerdown period both doctrinally & financially. Departure from scouting might be part of that; though it’s hard to tell since the audit report tells members essentially nothing. I even think that removal of the statistical report from the conference is significant as it it will hide the reversal in church growth. In the future they may not include it in the conference report at all.

    I think, but could be wrong, that in SWKimball administration there were several conferences where he preached strongly against homosexuality. I think those affected my own views for many years, I think it may have informed the Family A Proclamation, and based on the last conference the church is still promoting it. This, I believe, will have a major impact on the church in the years to come and the types of people that join and/or are retained in the church.

    Thanks for the article, and for listening

  16. Clark, thanks for this post. While I have some awareness of the contours of church history in the 20th century, my knowledge of Heber J Grant has been limited to his adding complete abstinence of alcohol to the WoW.

    “Based on my data the church is decreasing in size” Matt Martinich over at LDS Church Growth stated just before conference “Never in the history of the Church has there been as many active members as at present.”

    “one sees a pattern of action prevention long before the world has changed. We see this in the Proclamation. At the time many of the things stated in it were kind of basic knowledge items.” My understanding is that the in the years before The Family was published, the church filed an amicus brief in Hawaii fighting gay marriage, but it’s brief was rejected for lack of standing. The Family remedied that situation by making clear the Church’s position on gay marriage was connected to its doctrine.

  17. Robert, I’m not expecting female ordination although who knows. I am expecting much more involvement by women in various practices. As I’ve mentioned before looking at what actually requires priesthood office versus what has by tradition been filled by priesthood office is quite different. Preparing and passing the sacrament while assigned to teachers and deacons actually doesn’t require the Aaronic Priesthood. Ditto for teachers and priests ushering. Likewise there’s no innate reason why everyone in the Sunday School presidency is a priesthood holder (nor that everyone in the Primary presidency is a woman). My sense – perhaps wrong – is that these will all be adjusted along perhaps with a rethinking of the roles of the General Relief Society Presidency and other such leadership positions. Clearly though Nelson feels that a lot of the organizational development since Grant needs rethought. It really seems like he’s trying to move a lot of the Church back to that pre-correlation era where there was much more personal responsibility and autonomy.

    Regarding tithing, given the growth of the Church in the third world and relative slow growth in the 1st world (and primarily in the United States) it seems a good guess that per capita tithing is significantly down. However the shift to investments (accelerated during that Tanner era) means that’s not quite as big a deal as one might think. Also much like income taxes in the United States, you’ll have a small cadre of rich tithe payers paying most of the tithing. I’ve long thought that in the modern (meaning post-Tanner) world tithing is much more about what it does for the individual. It’s really not about maintaining the Church as it was during the era of Snow and Grant.

    Kimball did preach strongly on sexuality. He was one of the figures of that era that was very strident in rhetoric but in many ways very lenient in practice – quick to forgive. One famous story that seems hard to believe these days is calling someone who’d recently been disfellowshipped due to adultery as a Stake President. When I was young there was a joke that the ones who preached most loudly were in practice most willing to forgive and forget while those who had milder rhetoric often were strictest in terms of social norms. No idea if that’s actually true of course, but that was the joke in the 80’s. (At least on my mission)

    That said I don’t think the Proclamation on the Family is really tied to Kimball’s ethical preaching. Rather I think it comes out naturally from the theology of pre-existence and how most assume our spirits were like us in some way on the basis of Ether 3. There is a pretty strong tradition of gendered spirits. Since spirits don’t have DNA then the issues of biological sexuality don’t apply. Some historians note that the notion of spirit even in Nauvoo is much less developed and that some of this comes more out of early Utah theology of eternal progression even if some elements are now rejected. My own view is that while there’s no clear revelation on it in the pre-Utah period the genesis of it seems there towards an athropomorphic view of spirits.

    Even given all that I do think the emphasis on those doctrines in the proclamation is itself a product of that turmoil in the late 60’s where sexuality and its norms was put under so much skepticism. The reaction to those movements was to maintain and emphasize these traditional norms. So they arguably became much, much more important than they were before. Kimball’s sermons and writings along with many other GAs reflect that.

  18. Ryan, Grant was a big proponent of prohibition. It’s worth noting that while we tend to view prohibition through the lens of organized crime – particular in movies – people at the time frequently saw it through the lens of alcohol causing violence particularly domestic violence. I suspect Grant’s making the Word of Wisdom tied to that absolute abstinence comes out of the debate passing prohibition. States are ratifying prohibition in the era in question. It’s not repealed until much later in 1933. Once repealed (and long after the crisis period I’m focusing on) though I think it gets a lot more emphasis – especially due to the role of Utah in its repeal as I noted. The emphasis on the Word of Wisdom overall is more gradual though. Woodruff starts preaching that people who can’t follow it should resign from leadership roles. Joseph F. Smith starts saying flagrant violators should be refused recommends but is lenient to mild use especially among older members. Smith also ties it to being called to leadership positions. Smith, just before Grant becomes President, ties it to recommends in 1915 although there’s still a fair bit of flexibility. See the paper “The Word of Wisdom from Principal to Requirement” for more.

    My claim isn’t to deny that ultimately this is a gradual practice rather than an abrupt change. Rather it’s to note the turmoil of this one particular period (1918-1920) and how out of it things are emphasized in a different fashion. During this period the earlier moves towards prohibition of alcohol get injected to other items such as tobacco. Under Grant the prohibition on alcohol wasn’t just policy directed to Stake Presidents but which they could make exceptions for. It becomes an absolute requirement. You also see significantly increased emphasis in Church magazines.

    So the Church was already moving down a prohibition path for alcohol. What’s unique about this time is how it becomes an absolute prohibition as we have it today and that other items get expanded into this prohibition. Some, like John Widstoe, try expanding it to refined foods. That was still getting preached by some when I was young even if it was definitely a minority view. Ditto colas as I mentioned in the OP. It’s this rethinking of the absolute place of the Word of Wisdom in Mormon identity that’s the big shift I think is significant.

  19. Clark, Are you aware if Pres. Woodruff, Snow, or Smith interpreted the WoW to require abstinence from alcohol, or was that original to Pres. Grant?

  20. As far as I know Smith saw it as abstinence rather than the 19th century sense of temperance. i.e. used in moderation. The bigger issue was more over ones agency in the matter and consequences. Snow thought it should be a free choice even if people should abstain. Again following that Dialog article, it seems like Smith’s views and Grant’s were fairly similar. The main change with Smith was dropping the abstaining from meat during the summer element. (I should add that as I understand it at the time fish wasn’t considered a meat) It’s under Smith in 1906 that sacrament in the temple stops using wine.

    I honestly would have to check for Woodruff’s view. They aren’t mentioned in that article. I’d assume he took a more temperance view rather than abstinence but I may be wrong.

  21. One of the best summaries of the last century of church history I have ever read, and all small errors easily corrected without marring the major train of thought. Thank you for this article. I will cherish it.

    I have one very small nit pick that does not change the tenor of the article. If my old girlfriend’s great-grandmother is to be believed, Heber J. Grant took more plural wives after the Manifesto. He was arrested and pleaded no contest. Supposedly there is a court record. (I vaguely remember reading something about this in Van Waggoner’s book? I can’t recall for sure). A few of these post-Manifesto apostle’s wives were young enough to still be alive when I was a lad and I met one of them. Or perhaps it was all their big family lie told to excuse extra-marital activities that resulted in a small number of children.

    If you look on the wall of the FLDS church office, they have pictures of all of their prophets starting with Joseph Smith. Joseph F. Smith is the last picture I recognize, after that it is men not in our line up. Heber J. Grant is known as the great hypocrite by them because he was the first who stopped tolerating secret polygamy even though he practiced it. But none of this changes the grand sweep of our history described above.

    One of my pet theories springs from a question, why was correlation necessary? How did so much of the church activity escape from under priesthood direction? The answer is polygamy. While the church leaders were hiding in the cellar or out in the woods or were in prison, the church continued to move forward into the 20th century with local leadership who were not practicing polygamy. This empowered all the other auxiliaries. Mechanization on the farm and the other inventions gave people more time and ambition which was partially filled with more church programs, and not under that much central control. The Great Depression and WWII were distractions that delayed correlation. What do you think of my pet theory?


  22. I don’t recall reading of Grant having post-manifesto marriages. I know he was aware of it happening. Quinn doesn’t mention it in his paper on post-manifesto polygamy and I think he would had Grant been involved. You might be conflating his arrest in 1899 for cohabitation. But that was with a wife he’d openly married. Grant did attempt to marry Fannie Woolley in a post-manifesto marriage but Smith wouldn’t let him and she married George Parkinson in 1902. Grant also wrote that he didn’t consider post-manifesto marriages invalid until Joseph F. Smith made the final end.

    I don’t have a copy of Van Wagoner handy to check what he says.

    As a tangent Quinn has a nice bit on Grant relative to the OP from his PBS interview.

    Then in the 1920s, … Reed Smoot is joined in the business activities with Heber J. Grant, who has maintained these business contacts, has built them, and to the degree that he has the United States seeing the Mormon Church and its business power as a good thing, no longer as a bad thing, and he helps to move the LDS Church into sugar industry, into communications, into hotels, into insurance, into this diversified sector of influence, first regionally and then nationally, so that it not only has built up friends in the financial centers of the United States; it has built up actual influence, so that the LDS Church becomes perceived as American. As American as all the big-business emphasis of the 1920s perceived the community of businessmen, the LDS Church was very much a part of that, and Heber J. Grant is central to that. He does financially and in the business realm what Reed Smoot does in the political realm in making Americans see the Mormons as not only American, but as influential and as people we want as friends. …

    This is a big transition. The Church really makes use of this period of turmoil to move from outsiders to American.

    I don’t think it really makes sense to say correlation happens because leaders were in hiding in the 1890’s. Rather I think you have Grant and Smoot making more ties. Then with the big American transition they take advantage of this to move the Church into this new world. That transition around 1920 is huge in America. To give an idea, in 1917 something like 15% have electricity. By 1925 more than half do. You have coming in all the new technologies like radios, clotheswashers, better prepared foods that shift society. You have much more systematization of business. Ford is the exemplar there but that expansion of the industrial revolution really happens then. You have workers demanding more rights. There’s huge corporate expansion until the stock market crash and depression. But it’s really this era that America starts to look like an America we’d recognize.

    In that sense, the Church is transitioning into this new America as well.

  23. @ Mike:

    I don’t think correlation came from plural marriage so much as it came from inertia. Plural marriage was pretty well settled as an issue in the early years of the 20th century, but programs and organizations continued to mature and do their own thing (with a lot of duplicated efforts) up until the 1940s-60s, when Harold B. Lee took the lead in correlation efforts as a member of the Twelve.

  24. Correlation is a somewhat vague term and I think people mean different things by it. Some people mean a certain kind of corporatism while others mean centralization whereas others mean by it primarily unification of teaching and manuals.

    The first correlation department starts in 1908. So that’s pretty early and predates the Grant era I’ve been talking about. It’s not until 1944 that the Publication Committee starts approving all lesson materials from all auxiliaries. That’s more what Eric is talking about. The move from centralization and harmonization of not just lessons but activities happens under McKay in the 60’s led by Harold B. Lee. That has a variety of functions further unifying manuals. This also introduces formalized home teaching, Family Home Evening, and then meetings where people would ensure programs and activities didn’t conflict. That seems like an obvious thing to have done but it wasn’t done. In 1967 we start getting formalized reporting of various statistics and tithing becomes formalized in reporting and centralization in 1970. That’s the type of corporatism I’m talking about. In 1970 you end up getting rid of quasi-independent magazines and the introduction of the current journals of the Church like The Ensign. Then you get in 1972 the forming of The Priesthood Correlation Department which brings us pretty much to the Church structure done along corporate models. (Again not a bad thing in my opinion – and in this era you have that happening to many charities, activist organizations and so forth)

    From my perspective while getting manuals to be approved and somewhat consistent in doctrine and teaching is important, I don’t really see it as that significant a change. To me that’s first off common sense and the real change is the focus on Church meetings that happens under Grant. The rest is inevitable given that change. The next big change is complete control, organization and so forth along a corporate model. That’s the change in the early 70’s I mention with Tanner even if it’s not fully implemented due to the problems of a long serving healthy First Presidency. Again the details of that take a while to work out – say standard building plans. And elements of it certainly go back earlier to the early 60’s with Harold B. Lee’s work on manuals and formalized activities that don’t conflict.

    “Other Clark” (corry had missed your comment) I was actually more thinking Peter Turchin’s work on 50 year cycles. It’s still a somewhat controversial thesis although it’s been discussed in Nature and various other journals. The thesis is that you can find this relative cycle (it’s not exactly 50 years) going through many societies. The theory as to its formation is that it’s driven by labor oversupply which then leads to oversupply of elites that become the main driver in conflict – especially violence. Here’s a recent blog post he did on the underlying causes – he has several books on the subject too. The main way to see the cycles is to look at graphs of violence since that tends to be the most symptomatic feature.

    I’m more or less accepting these cycles and looking then at how they are transformative in societies.

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