As we wind down 2021, I wanted to remember those we’ve lost. Armand Mauss died Aug 1, 2020, but had a chapter published posthumously in Newell Bringhurst & Matt Harris’s book, The Gospel Topics Series. Matt & Newell share their thoughts about this amazing scholar.
GT: We’d like to talk a little bit about Armand Mauss, who just recently passed away. Can you guys share a little bit about what Armand said, to kind of close up the book?
Newell: Yeah, I thought that that essay is really one of the critical essays. If I was going to recommend the way you read the book, I would recommend reading the introduction that Matt and I wrote, and then going to read what Armand Mauss had to say in his concluding essay, because what that does, is it really does two critical things. It kind of summarizes the gist of what’s in most of the essays, so that if you read that second, you’d be able to go back and read each of the subsequent essays themselves. He does really a good job of summarizing the gist of what each of the authors mean, and how they approached it. I think that’s one of the great contributions of his essay. But, I thought one of the most profound things that Armand had to say in his essay, and I’m trying to look through my notes, because I thought it was so profound that it stood out at me. He talks about, there’s a section of his commentary, where he talks about the evolution of Church doctrines and categories of Church doctrine. He breaks it down. I think he’s written this in other contexts.
Newell: But he says that when you’re dealing with the issue of Church doctrines, and how they change, they tend to fall in four categories: ‘canonical,’ which is the highest level, things that really are very strong and basic to essential Mormonism. ‘Official’ is a second category. The third category being ‘authoritative.’ Then, the lowest category is what he calls ‘folklore.’ It’s interesting, because he does say that the evolution, like the black priesthood and temple restriction kind of went through all four of these categories.
Newell: I don’t know if he says it starts out as folklore, and then it evolves into authoritative and official when Brigham Young issued, said, “Blacks can no longer hold the priesthood.” Then it almost reaches a canonical category, when the Church issues its official statements, first, in 1949, which really gives us the imprimatur of the First Presidency. It’s really enforced. People who question it, or try to change it, are really dealt with harshly, really from that point on. Before it doesn’t have that canonical category. So, he discusses that in this concluding essay. Then he also deals with what he calls issues of doctrinal innovation. For instance, he looks at the essay that was written on the mother in heaven. Initially, that was a taboo to even talk about a mother in heaven. That was one of the things that got people like Margaret Toscano and others, when they did the purge in the early 90s, all those women are talking about female feminist issues, including mother in heaven. There was an explicit ban at that that’s not even brought up as an issue. But the fact that the Church has issued a mother in heaven essay, has removed that taboo, and perhaps maybe it would have been the folklore or an official category. But yet, it’s still kind of tricky, because the Church is very uncomfortable about the idea of talking excessively in detail about mother in heaven.
Matt Harris shares his thoughts about Armand.
Matt: I’d say one thing about Armand, the person, though. I think that there isn’t probably anybody in the Church, in my opinion, who represents an honesty and truthfulness, but yet, from a believing Latter-day Saint as Armand. He really has walked that balance his entire life. He’s not afraid of the truth. He’s not afraid to let the chips fall where they may, but as a believing, practicing Mormon. I always loved his scholarship, because I knew that he wasn’t an apologist. I knew that he wasn’t going to whitewash race or anything else he wrote about. He was always going to do it in a very sensitive way. That, I think, is really what should be expected of each of us who writes on Mormon Studies. I really think he’s a model of a believer, but also a scholar. That’s one of the reasons why Newell and I wanted him to participate in this volume is because he really did have that balance. He’s going to be missed.
Are you familiar with Dr. Mauss? Check out our conversation….
On April 21, 2021, we lost an amazing historian, Michael Quinn. This interview was recorded Nov 3, 2017 and I wanted to share some of the highlights of the interview.
GT: I know in the 1980s you wrote a chapter, I believe it was in Maxine Hanks’ book. Is that right?
Michael: Yes, it was actually 1992 that it came out. It was called “Mormon Women Have Had the Priesthood Since 1843.” And that caused a certain amount of controversy.
GT: Yeah. Could you, could you tell us a little bit more about that?
Michael: Maxine was excommunicated. I was excommunicated, and she was specifically told that she was excommunicated because of her book and I was told–I was given a list of three items showing my apostasy, a list provided by the stake president and the first item on the list was that essay.
GT: Okay. So you’re one of the, I guess infamous September Six, right?
Michael: That’s correct.
GT: So, the one thing that I think would strike most people is a little bit odd, I know I listened to your Radio West interview earlier this week and you mentioned that you’re still a believing Mormon. So, some people might think, well, if you’re excommunicated, why would you still believe in a church that would excommunicate you?
Michael: Well, I’m a seventh generation Mormon. Nothing can take that away from me, but even, you know, there are many–well my children are eighth generation Mormons and they talk about Mormons in the third person. They couldn’t care less about the church. So, the fact that I’m an ancestral Mormon doesn’t determine my faith. My faith is very basic. But it’s basic in a way that I think many current members of the church might not understand. In many ways, I’m a 19th-century Mormon believer. I believe in Joseph Smith meeting with angels and translating the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God, which at that time was a seer stone. And I believe that the leaders of the church from Joseph Smith to the current president of the church have the calling of divine prophets, seers, and revelators who have the right to receive God’s revelations.
Michael: But they don’t always do so. And sometimes they are too passive in my view, and don’t seek those revelations in a direct way. But in my view, they have the right and the obligation to receive those revelations. I don’t agree with all the policies of the church and some of them I strongly disagree with and to that extent, although I did not seek excommunication, excommunication freed me from having to defend policies I thoroughly disagree with and that continues until today. So I maintain my faith in a private way. I am in some ways, like a Latter-day Saint, medieval mystic. I have had this feeling even since childhood that it’s just you and me, Lord against the world and a God. And my relationship with him was always preeminent. But the reason I always loved going to sacrament meeting on it and as I grew up Sunday school was that the communion was served each at each of those opening services.
Michael: And that was always very important to me. And that’s one of the things that I miss deeply, as well as the temple. I used to be a temple worker in a variety of ways. I was a temple worker when I was a missionary. I was a temple worker while I was at BYU, a scheduled worker, and so the loss of taking the sacrament every Sunday at least once, and participating weekly as I used to in the temple ceremonies, that has been a deep loss. It’s one that I miss all the time. But because I’m kind of this mystic, I’m okay and I don’t worry about my relationship with God, but I’m no longer a member of the Church of record, but I’m still—no one can prevent me from believing what I believe.
GT: So, you still call yourself a Mormon I guess?
Michael: I do, but not a Latter-day Saint in the sense that I’m not a part of the LDS church. So, if people are attuned enough with the preferred language to ask if I’m LDS, I’ll say I’m not a member, but I am a Mormon believer.
One of my favorite quotes from Quinn was this:
GT: Could the church be accused of serving God and Mammon though, with some of these businesses?
Michael: The accusation is there, but typically it comes from people who don’t recognize that the church makes no distinction between God and Mammon. The church is a money-making operation, but it plows the money into the building of the Kingdom of God on earth, which is a Mormon phrase that most members, even disaffected ones, will recognize. A member of the church, whether former member or current member in good faith, may feel uncomfortable with this huge portfolio that involves billions of dollars a day in transactions over the computer with only one of its investment houses.
Michael: It may be [that] members of the church and devout members and certainly ex-members of the church are uncomfortable, or may be uncomfortable with the commercial real estate that produces and the commercial investments in mines and oil, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which would be fossil fuels. For people who are concerned about that. And the Church has heavily invested in fossil fuels. Nonetheless, it’s a part of building the Kingdom of God.
What are your thoughts of Michael Quinn?
Curt Bench was one of the most beloved members of the Mormon history community. I wanted to share some highlights from my 2017 interview with Curt as we discussed the Mark Hofmann bombings. Curt passed away on August 17, 2021.
Curt: Well that night I had talked to the police and someone suggested that I have the—we live in the county and someone suggested that we have county sheriffs go out to my house and look for bombs, so I sent my family to my mother-in-law’s place so that our house would be vacant, and so I was there with two sheriff’s deputies and we were going through my house room by room, in the garage, in the yard. There was actually kind of a lighter moment when I’m leading the way pushing doors open.
Curt: Gingerly. There was something in black plastic by my front door that I didn’t remember what it was. We’re all looking at it like, what’s that? And I’m thinking, I don’t know. It was big and wrapped in black plastic so I called my wife and she reminded me a neighbor had brought it over for me to look at. It was some old thing they wanted. So anyway, I’m pushing doors open and we’re walking through and shining lights and these guys are ready for action and I remember saying, ‘Hey I don’t get paid to do this. You do this!” So I made one of them get in front of me, going room to room.
GT: You didn’t have a flak jacket on.
Curt: Yeah exactly. So yeah that was genuine, I guess you could say that was genuine fear of at least the possibility of what could happen, particularly I was worried about my family.
GT: Especially in light of Kathy Sheets.
Curt: Yeah exactly.
GT: She was an unintended victim.
Curt: Exactly. Although we didn’t know why she died at the time.
Did you interact with Curt? What are your memories?
 See our interview with Margaret at https://gospeltangents.com/category/margaret-toscano/
 Margaret discusses the purge at https://gospeltangents.com/2020/02/excommunicated-believer/
 For a brief discussion, see https://mormonheretic.org/2011/05/09/book-review-latter-day-dissent/