March is Women’s History Month. Two of Four religions founded in America were founded by Women. In this episode, Dr. Newell Bringhurst will discuss how women have shaped these religions.
Newell: One of is a comparative study comparing what I call the big four American original religions: the Mormons, the Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Christian Scientists in terms of their attitudes towards race, ethnicity, and their attitudes towards the place of women. I actually have one article that was published in the John Whitmer Journal a number of years ago where I draw comparisons between Joseph Smith, Mary Baker Eddy, and Brigham Young and how they dealt with the issues of slavery. I’d like to pursue that by looking at the personalities.
I call those religions four American originals because they were all founded by Americans and they were unique to America. They dealt with the issues in very different ways. The Seventh-day Adventists was founded by Ellen G. White, they had a very enlightened anti-slavery, somewhat pro-black attitude. Whereas the Mormons of course kind of moved in the opposite direction, especially under Brigham Young. Then you’ve got the Jehovah’s Witnesses who were much more accepting of blacks although they came after the Civil War. They weren’t founded until after the Civil War by Charles T. Russell.
Then you’ve got Mary Baker Eddy. She was quite anti-slavery even though she lived in the south. She’s kind of an interesting figure. It also gets into the issues of gender because you’ve got two of the religions that are actually founded by women: the Seventh-day Adventists by Ellen G. White, and of course Mary Baker Eddy and so you have the issue of the role of women and gender.
Whereas Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they were much more Patriarchal. Women are not given ministerial positions in either denomination. So, I’d like to pursue that by looking at the leaders. As I say I’ve done some preliminary research. I actually spent some time many years ago, a little bit of time in the Christian Science archives in Boston, Massachusetts. That’s where the headquarters of the mother church is.
I’ll also ask Newell what projects he’s working on.
Newell: As you’re well aware, I’m finishing up the Gospel Topics essay anthology with Matt Harris. We’ve got all the essays in there. We’re just trying to finally smooth out the introduction. That’s the only thing we’ve got left.
Beyond that, as I said I’m working with Greg Kofford on the two reprints or reissues of Saints, Slaves, and Blacks and the Fawn Brodie biography. I’m also interested in a couple of local history projects. I’ve done a little bit with local history down in Visalia where we live. I’ve worked with a local historic preservation group in doing a history of our local Fox Theater…One other project I’ve done with local history, I did a history of the Ku Klux Klan in Tulare County. You wouldn’t think that there would be Ku Klux Klan in California but we live in a very conservative area and the Ku Klux Klan wielded some influence in our area during the 1920s and 1930s and I did some major research there so that kind of got my feet wet for local history.
We continue to talk about polygamy, and I got Newell’s perspective on Todd Compton’s book, In Sacred Loneliness, a biography of Joseph Smith’s plural wives.
Newell: Todd Compton’s is mainly a biographical, collective biography of the wives themselves. It doesn’t get into as much of Joseph Smith interacting or justifying polygamy and all of that. So I think Todd Compton’s is the best as far as giving us a feeling of who the wives were and how they reacted to Joseph Smith and polygamy and their subsequent activities after Joseph Smith’s martyrdom.
We’ll also talk about what Bringhurst thinks of Richard Bushman’s book, Rough Stone Rolling and its treatment of Joseph’s polygamy.
Newell: One of the weaknesses, glaring weaknesses I saw in Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling was he kind of slighted Joseph Smith’s involvement with polygamy. I found that one of the most disappointing parts of his Rough Stone Rolling. He kind of slights—he doesn’t even really acknowledge some of the wives that Joseph married and the relationship and the work that was done by Todd Compton.
We’ll also talk about some early rumors about polygamy in Nauvoo, and we’ll get Newell’s opinion on that. Don’t forget to check our previous conversation with Newell on polygamy! What are your thoughts on the role of women in these four American religions? Do you agree with Newell’s perspective on polygamy?