Disarmament and Mistaken Missions (Doctrine and Covenants 27-28)

Monday, March 15, 2021

 






Channing: [00:00:00] Hi, I'm Channing and I’m Elise. And this is The Faithful Feminist podcast. 

Elise: [00:00:11] But this is not just any come follow me podcast. We do things a little differently here. We offer approachable feminist interpretations of the come follow me manual for those who want to study and understand the scriptures and a framework of equality, social justice, and sisterhood.

We are here to show you all the really good ways faith and feminism work together to illuminate and deepen the gospel experience. 

Channing: [00:00:35] We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs. So join us today for a conversation about Doctrine and Covenants sections 27 through 28 for the dates, March 15th through the 21st.

We’re so glad you're here.

Elise: [00:00:55] Welcome back! In today's episode, we're going to spend time talking about the armor of God, a little bit about personal revelation and then spend the majority of our episode talking about the Lamanite mission that shows up at the very end of section 28. If we start in section 27, verses 15 through 18, this is where we get the very, well-known very much loved metaphor of the armor of God.

These verses say, “wherefore, lift up your hearts and rejoice and gird up your loins and take upon you my whole armor that you may be able to withstand the evil day, having done all that you may be able to stand, stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, having on the breastplate of righteousness and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace, which I have sent my angels to commit unto you.

Taking the shield of faith, where with you shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked and take the helmet of salvation and my, and the sword of my spirit, which I shall pour out unto you and my word, which I reveal unto you and be agreed as touching all things whatsoever. You ask of me and be faithful until I come and you shall be caught up that where I am you shall also be amen.”

We know these verses we, we get taught them in primary. There are like poster felt cut-outs and like paper dolls with the armor of God. And so I'm sure if you've spent any time in Mormonism, this metaphor will feel familiar to you. But I think that sometimes these metaphors can become so commonplace or so expected or accepted that we end up glossing over the story as if yeah. Yeah. We already know everything we need to know about the armor of God. Like this is primary stuff, but I think in this episode, we want to try and look at it a different way to turn it on its head and try like poking at it, to see what gives way.And we think by doing this, perhaps it can give way to something new and unexpected and perhaps more enriching, especially from a feminist lens.

Channing: [00:03:05] One of the questions that we wanted to ask about the armor of God is what purpose does it serve? And, you know, we, the primary answers are always sufficient, right?

It serves us in the way that it protects us from the fiery darts of the adversary and the verses also kind of allude to each piece of the armor kind of offers it. Own like spiritual gifts and spiritual protection. So the armor of God protects us from the adversary and gives us super powers, spiritual superpowers.

That's the purpose of the armor of God. Directly from the text and that's kind of the surface level, just like Ellie said, primary answer of what the armor of God is. That's what we would hear in Sunday school. Right? Here's the armor of God, the shield of faith in the breastplate of righteousness. And that's what it all stands for.

But underneath that is a metaphor I think quite a few metaphors and a, quite a few implications that we wanted to explore today. And the first one is the question that Elise and I have been talking about as we've been preparing for this episode is why the need for armor. It's very militaristic. It has a lot of connections to war.

And some of the questions we are asking is what are we fighting against? Um, who is our enemy? Why the need to constantly protect ourselves. So we just want to talk about this metaphor and symbolism of war a little bit. 

Elise: [00:04:39] Yeah and armor really is used, it is used for battle. It is used for war it's for both the defense and the offense and from a feminist lens, war is anti-life, uh, there's a clear definition of the enemy as the other. Wars done in the name of God, or like manifest destiny, really, um, privilege and give life and divine “right” or authority to one group at the expense or at the, um, loss and death of another group. War is steeped in violence, in competition. It's about domination, control, and winning at all costs. And really this image of the ideal soldier is an important piece of what it means, at least in Western culture to be masculine.

Right? This idea of a warrior is some is kind of held up as a masculine ideal. Especially if we look at some of the movies, even like superhero movies or definitely war movies, we see these characters that are. Often hyper masculinized in this role of warrior or soldier. And there's an article that I read titled “Militarized Masculinities in International Relations” by Maya Eichler and they write, “militarized masculinity is the traits that are stereotypically associated with masculinity, which can be acquired and proven through military service or action and combat in particular.” And so what the author is saying is that there's this, um, building and therefore reinforcement of masculinity as it is tied to participating in military action, service, and in particular, in combat that these are all things that reinforce what it means in our eyes to quote, be a real man. 

Channing: [00:06:24] Yeah. And I find that quote so interesting, especially paired with some of the supplemental materials in this week's manual. Um, if you look at the manual, if you're on your phone, if you scroll all the way down to the bottom, there's this like artistic rendering of what the armor of God would look like.

And at first glance, I didn't even pay attention to it. Cause I was like, Oh yeah, blah, blah, blah. The same old, same old. And then the more I looked at it, the more I was like, wow, that armor has like, built-in six packs and like gigantic pectoral muscles and like big, old shoulders. And I realized, you know, after staring at it for the 50th time, oh, that is man's armor. Like, I didn't even question at first glance, but I looked at it and I was like, yep. That is exactly what I think of when I think of like, a masculine manly soldier like that six pack is impressive. I'm not, not even gonna lie. Also included in the manual is a video of a small excerpt of a talk given by Robert D Hales in the April, 2013 conference.

And, um, in this video, Robert D Hills talks about an experience he had as a young boy where his father was teaching him about the armor of God and its purpose. And what really struck me about all of the supplements and all of the language surrounding the armor of God is that it was very overtly masculine.

Like I said before this armor, this like artistic rendering of the armor is very masculine. The talk that was referenced by Robert D Hales came from the priesthood section and it talked only about the priesthood. And so I found myself as I was reading about the armor of God and looking at the armor, I was thinking, where do I fit all of this?

And. Even bigger than that, not just where do I fit, but where is there room for all women in this? Where is the armor with breastplates for actual breasts? Where's the armor to shield a pregnant womb. And that made me wonder if women are as Holy as important. And as necessary as the church says we are, where is our protection?

And I think that some would argue that our armor and protection is implicit, but it's wrapped up in the images and stories. And the high places created, curated, and protected by men. We comfort ourselves with thoughts of, oh, if only we women were smart enough, more determined, wise enough to know where to look for our place for our armor.

But Elise and I talk to women every day who weep and wail because the church relies on implications to the point of eraser. We are part of a church that has not made a place for women, and then acts surprised, offended even, when women say that they cannot find a place here. The armor of God is useless if one cannot wear it and truth and righteousness and faith and salvation and peace are empty promises, empty as the metal we suppose they're made from, if they cannot be worn by all. This is true inclusivity and inclusivity is love. And to use Paul's own words here, which I particularly love because Paul is the one who originally gives us the imagery of the armor of God.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13 quote, “though I speak with the tongue of men and angels and have not charity I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling symbol. And though I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge And though I have all faith so that I could move mountains and have not charity. I am nothing. And though I be still all my goods to feed the poor and though I give my body to be burned and have not charity it profits me nothing.”

And what Paul says here is that without charity, without the pure love of Christ, all else is meaningless and fades away. Charity never faileth he says, and it's clear that he means charity alone in verse 13, he says, and now abideth, faith, hope and charity, these three, but the greatest of these is charity.

Charity the pure love of Christ. It's the inclusive, the explicit, the relentless, the disarming love of our Lord and savior that is greater, greater than a shield of faith. Paul says, and that love that's what leads us to create spaces of safety, of belonging, of peace for everyone. And so those were some of the thoughts that I had when I was looking through the manual, trying to find myself, trying to find a piece of armor that I could wear that was made just for me.

Where's my place in all of this? And I really resonated with what a lot of our listeners have been saying. You know, throughout the year we've been reading doctrine and covenants, I'm scared, I'm scared I won't be able to find myself here. And, you know, for all the reassurances that we've been able to offer, this was a moment for me, particularly where I was like, yep.

I can see what everyone's talking about. Cause I can't find myself here at all. 

Elise: [00:11:49] Yeah. One of the phrases that I really love that you said was disarming love. And I think if we think about Jesus and the God and the gospel of Jesus, that's exactly the phrase that I think is at the, at the heart of all of this.

How can we love God, which means loving the neighbor, our friend, and our stranger, in such a way that actually brings us to disarm, that actually brings us to take off armor, ours and others, so that we can be together and understand differences and work out, work things out in a non-violent perhaps peaceable way. That's the disarming love.

And I think that Channing you had, you had talked about the story in the Book of Mormon and Alma with the Anti Nephi Lehis. And I just wanted to read a few verses for those of you who maybe don't recall the story off the top of your head. This is when the Anti Nephi Lehi's choose to suffer death rather than defend themselves.

Basically they have come to know the pure love, this charitable love of God, and they have just, their hearts are changed. Their hearts are softened. They are open. They are contrite, they're humble. And they're willing to enter into a vulnerable, loving relationship with God and covenant to never ever, ever pick up their swords and go to battle again, because, and this is me now adding my own competent commentary, I think that they know that harming even who they consider to be their quote “enemy” harms God and harms themselves. And I think that they're trying to approach this situation with a love for others, as opposed to a suspicion or a violence or a yeah, like a defensive mentality.

And just to read a few verses this is from Alma chapter 24, verse 18 “And this they did, it being in their view, a testimony to God and also to men that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man's blood. And this, they did vouching and covenanting with God that rather than shed the blood of their brother and they would give up their own lives. And rather than take away from a brother, they would give unto him. And rather than spend their days in idleness, they would labor abundantly with their hands.” And then just a few verses later in verse 27, it says, “Thus, we see that the Lord worketh in many ways to the salvation of their people,”

I just find this so striking. And I know that we have to walk like a we're walking like a privileged balance of saying, and we even talked about this when we recorded this episode in the Book of Mormon series last year, but it is difficult to say, just take off your armor when you live in a violent world that denies your humanity and wants to like take your life away, right.

Just love them and take off your armor, regardless of what happens to you like that. Me saying those things I recognize comes from a place of privilege where I feel generally safe in the world. But what I don't want us to miss is the way that the love of God changes us. It disarms us. And I think we see that really clearly here.

And I also think that in verse 27, when the Lord creates many ways to salvation, I find that hopeful. And I understand that, you know, some people might really be drawn to the armor of God metaphor, but I know that for me, there are other ways to salvation and the way that I want to strive for looks a lot like this disarming love, this taking off of armor in order to share and to give with others, to find commonality and similarity and, and celebrate differences without letting the differences get so large, that it turns into an us against them type of war.

Channing: [00:15:40] So as we move to section 28, we find a discussion here that talks about receiving personal revelation that is contrary to the prophet's revelation. And this comes from verses 2 through 6 “Those say no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church accepting my servant, Joseph Smith and thou shalt be obedient unto the things which I shall given to him. And if thou art led at any time by the comforter to speak or teach, or at all times, by the way of commandment unto the church, thou mayest do it, but that will shall not right by way of commandment, but by wisdom and thou shalt not command him, who is at the head of the church.”

Elise: [00:16:25] Yeah. These verses are quite tricky to me because on one hand, God is saying, Whoa, Whoa, Whoa. Don't think that just because you receive some personal revelation that you now get to like speak on behalf of the entire church. And I think that's something that as Mormons we are familiar with, and on the other hand, I do think there's a slight caveat and even a bit of like approval that says, but you do have all the power and like access to your own personal revelation.

This comes in verse 4 “If thou art led at any time by the comfort or to speak and teach, or at all times, by the way of commandment unto the church, thou may us do it.” And so there's just this distinction that I wanted to talk about a little bit about. The prophet, being able to receive revelation on like a worldwide level for the worldwide church and us still being, not just able, but also encouraged, I think, to pursue our own personal revelation, but we can see here a little bit of a tension space, right?

If the prophet can receive revelation for all. But we're at the bottom only able to receive revelation for ourselves. There is a bit of hierarchy that gets set up here. And so one of the questions I wanted to ask, and we've asked this in a previous episode about personal revelation, but how do hierarchy and patriarchy interfere with women's personal revelation?

Like with my own personal revelation, for me, I think that hierarchy and patriarchy sets up a series of rules that say, only this group of people in this certain way have access to God. And we've talked about this, how the hierarchy often looks like God, men, women, and then everyone else. And so one of the ways I think hierarchy and patriarchy interferes with our, with women's personal revelation is that it tries to disconnect us from a true, authentic relationship with God. It tries to make us distrust and dissociate from what we feel deep in our center, deep in our core about God, about God's love. And it tries to make us say, no, no, no, you're not playing by the rules.

The rules look like giving authority or defaulting to the prophet, to the stake president, to the bishop, to these men in leadership positions with power. And if there's a conflict between what you as a woman feel to be true and what the prophet or the male leader like male priesthood holder says you're supposed to default and just trust uh, outwardly as opposed to trusting inwardly. 

Channing: [00:19:07] Well, and what I think is especially ironic about that is that men are called to leadership positions in the church based on personal revelation of their superiors. Sure. They might have the keys of the priesthood or whatever, that sounds so bad, or whatever that allows them to that that gives authority and weight to their personal revelation in a way that is not afforded to women. Essentially what it comes down to is whose revelation is valued more. If women are not allowed to participate in the hierarchical structures of the church, it doesn't even come down to well only the prophet can receive revelation for the church.

If prophets can be expected only male then it's just only men can receive revelation for the church. And so it's not even just an issue of, well, if my church leader says something different than I have to defer to men, to them, it's all women in the church have to defer to men across the board because we don't hold the power in the institution.

So how do hierarchy and patriarchy interfere with women's personal revelation in the church? Every day, every time you walk into that church building, every time we read the scriptures, this is thing that we brush up against all the time in the church, the constant, just like you said, he lease disassociation from what we know within ourselves, in order to part, we trade that right to participate in the institution of the church.

And I think that that is one of the most unfortunate consequences of women not holding the priesthood. 

Elise: [00:20:53] Yeah. Well, and that's the real tragedy too, right? On the outside. It seems that I need to sacrifice what I know to be true about my relationship with God in order to align myself with what the structure tells me is true.

Right? And so it's a tragedy because I start sacrificing parts of myself and parts of my God, or for the promise that this is what it means to be obedient. And this is the way to you know, be seen as like an upstanding member in the church, or this is the promise that you will make it into the eternal kingdom or something like that.

But you, you lose bits of yourself or these empty promises because the system is not set up to serve you. Whereas I think there's a real reclamation of power and the dissolving of structures like that when we start trusting ourselves, when we start leaning on and searching for and yearning for a true, authentic relationship with God through our own access to personal revelation.

I think I also continue to come back to the question, what do we do when our own personal revelation feels, or is contrary to the words of the prophet or what our Bishop says or anything like that. And I think at the end of the day, God cares more about how we have spent our time entering into relationship with them that looks like trust, vulnerability, humility, and growing in our own understanding of ourselves and others than God cares about if we followed the exact outlined covenant path that the prophet has revealed for the entire church. I think at the end of the day, we will be accountable for our own actions.

And if we're using the church or the prophet as a way to sidestep our responsibility of personal development or revelation or making ourselves better and yearning for a divine relationship with God, then we're selling ourselves short and we're dismissing all of the richness and the beauty and the divinity that can come from building our own individual relationship with God, as opposed to defaulting or leaning on a structure that isn't built for us.

Channing: [00:22:55] And finally, as we move down to finish out section 28, the final half of section 28 is dedicated entirely to Oliver Cowdrey’s calling to go on a mission to the Lamanites. And this all begins in section 28, verse 8, and that says, “And now behold, I say unto you Oliver Cowdrey that you shall go onto the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them. And in as much as they receive the teachings, thou shalt cause my church to be established among them and thou shall have revelations, but write them not by way of commandment. And now behold, I say unto you that it is not revealed and no man knoweth where the city Zion shall be built, but it shall be given here after, beyond I, and to you that it shall be on the borders by the Lamanites” 

Elise: [00:23:46] All right here we go. So we're going to talk a lot about this Lamanite mission or the mission to the Lamanites that Oliver Cowdrey and a few of his buddies were called on and just as like a bit of a preface. There is a ton to unpack here. And we're not even into Utah where other violent encounters between the Mormons and the Native Americans take place.

And so there is a long historical background between Mormons and Native Americans. And we're going to try our best to set up the historical backdrop, talk a little bit about how Mormons understood or interacted or thought about or treated Native Americans during the 19th century, and then talk about colonialism and also white supremacy and imperialism and how they all kind of show up in this interaction with the Lamanite mission that Oliver Cowdrey is on.

Channing: [00:24:40] Yeah, it's a very multilayered conversation because there really is so much to unpack, and we honestly could spend like two hours talking about this because there's a lot here. So we're hopeful that we can cover the most important pieces to give the best understanding that we can. 

Elise: [00:25:00] Right. So a bit of like historical backdrop in the 1830s, the president at the time was Andrew Jackson. And he was president from 1829-1837. And one of the things that he was most known for was his treatment of Native Americans as just like slaughter and death and trying to clear out or move or displaced Native American people so that he could open up more land for white people to come in and take over this land and make it their own, uh, personal property, which would therefore allow them to like make money and grow crops and, you know, kind of have a good start to life.

And so this is one of the biggest things that Andrew Jackson is known for his treatment of Native Americans at this time. And on May 28th, 1830, the Indian Removal Act was signed into law by president Andrew Jackson, which authorized the president to grant lands West of the Mississippi in exchange for Native American lands in existing state borders, and a few tribes went or relocated peacefully, but many of them resisted the relocation policy, obviously.

From the Equal Justice Initiative they write “President Jackson's message to Congress stated a double goal of the Indian Removal Act. First freeing more land in Southern States like Alabama and Mississippi, while also separating Native American people from quote, immediate contact with settlements of whites and hopes that they would one day quote, cast off their savage habits and become an interesting civilized and Christian community.”

They continue to say “Although the act referred specifically to those tribes and nations of Indians as may choose to exchange the lands where they now reside, and president Jackson described their removal as quote, a happy consummation of the government's benevolent policy of Indian removal, the legislation led to the brutal forced migration of thousands of Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Cherokee people to present day Oklahoma, the journey came to be known as the Trail of Tears.”

And so all of this is going on in the United States, in the 1830s. So I don't think it's too big of a stretch to say that the general sentiment and treatment toward Native American people was absorbed, especially in the Mormon community. Like we are not separate or we were not separate from these understandings of Native Americans, right?

Channing: [00:27:31] You're absolutely correct, Elise. Thank you for setting the backdrop because I think it's going to be necessary as we continue to move forward. So the reason why we set up the backdrop for the attitude toward end treatment of Native Americans in the United States at this time is because, and this comes from the come follow me manual: “Early church members considered the American Indians to be descendants of the Book of Mormon people.” And the come follow me manual also really wanted us to know that currently the official position of the church today, like the manual that was printed in 2021 is that the Lamanites are quote “among the ancestors of the American Indians.”

And that comes from the manual. And they've quoted the introduction to the Book of Mormon. The reason why this is problematic is because thanks to the developments in genetics and DNA, we know that Native American people have DNA that matches people from Western Asia. And so the story of the Book of Mormon, where people migrate from the middle East to what we now understand to be the promise land, which would be America.

Um, but that doesn't necessarily pan out. And the genetic evidence and the church has acknowledged this in their gospel topics, essay titled “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies” And this is a quote from there they say “as much as critics and defenders of the Book of Mormon would like to use DNA studies to support their views the evidence is simply inconclusive. Nothing is known about the DNA of Book of Mormon peoples. As elder Dallin, H Oaks of the quorum of the 12 apostles observed it is our position that secular evidence can neither prove nor disprove the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.”

And so what I find interesting here, looking at what the manual says for this week and at this gospel topics essay is that they kind of contradict each other. And that definitely makes me a little uncomfortable because at one point they're saying, well, science, you can't prove, but you also can't disprove that the Lamanites are the Native Americans. And so they're kind of relying on the like inclusivity of science to kind of say, oh, it could be. I wanted to talk about that and highlight that to show that this isn't just a problem in the past, like this is still a position that obviously is officially held by the church today.

And it's so unfortunate and it is a huge, huge issue because there is a long, long history of discrimination and appropriation from Native American peoples by the Mormons. And it's, we can just see how this attitude has shaped, not just our understanding of Indigenous peoples, but our treatment of, and it is noteworthy, not because of its goodness, but because of the horrors that it’s caused.

Elise: [00:30:32] The things to remember about the story of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon is that the book of Mormon warns the Lamanites to accept the gospel and change or else they'll lose their land and be destroyed.

And so that's the undercurrent or that's the underlying narrative about the Lamanites at this time and therefore about Native Americans. And there's a really fantastic three part Mormon Stories episode. (#1010-#1012) that's titled “An Interview with Native American Mormons about Lamanite Identity” and we recommend that everyone, like as part of your come follow me study, watch this series or listen to it because it's a, it's a panel of Native Americans who were raised in Mormonism, or who are Mormon, or who have left the church and they talk and share about their own cultural, historical identity and the ways that it clashes with the Mormon story of the Lamanites.

And in, during this panel discussion, one of the things that really stood out to me was from a woman named Sarah Newcomb and she is Tsimshian of the First Nation from Metlakatla, Alaska, who is an editor, writer, and a blogger. And one of the things she said in this discussion was “How can I write off Native American and Indigenous deaths as something that was supposed to happen? That God allowed or commanded to happen in a way, because they weren't righteous. They lost their lands because they weren't righteous. Their lands were given away.”

And so I think what Sarah Newcomb does really nicely is that she starts to make really apparent the problematic story and narrative that is being linked between the Lamanites and the Native Americans. And to go one step further, I wanted to try and learn more about how the early Mormons thought about native Americans and there's actually a hymn in the 1835, I found this on the Joseph Smith. Yeah, the Joseph Smith papers collection of like of sacred hymns from 1835. And there's a hymn that talks about Native Americans, but uses an outdated and offensive phrase for Native Americans. So some of the verses say, “Oh, stop and tell me, who are you, why you roam and how you get your living? Have you no, God, no home?” This is the first verse. And clearly it's like, I don't know, God or Mormons talking to Indigenous peoples. It continues “With stature straight and portly and decked in native pride with feathers paints and broaches, he will, he willingly replied.” A few verses later “before your nation knew us some thousand years ago, our fathers fell in darkness and wandered to and fro and long they lived by hunting, instead of work and arts, and so our race has dwindled to idle, Indian hearts. Yet hope within us lingers, and if the spirit spoke, he'll come for your redemption and break your Gentile, yoke. And all your captive brothers from every climb shall come and quit their savage customs to live with God at home. Then joy will fill your bosoms and blessings crown our days to live in pure religion and sing our maker's praise.”

So just a few things to unpack here, the first verse, “who are you, why are you roaming?” How do you, how do you get, like, how are you living here? Do you have no God, no home, right? This assumption that Native and Indigenous peoples like don't have any type of religion and are, um, uncivilized is not true, but we see that coming out in this, in this hymn. Then we see the reinforcement of the Lamanite story in the next few verses that talk about “some thousand years ago, our fathers fell in darkness and wandered to and fro,” right?

so this, uh, the line linking of the Lamanites’ story of how they like descended it into wickedness and, you know, we're cut off from God. The next verse talks about how the Lamanites “lived by hunting instead of work and art. And so our race has dwindled to idle, Indian hearts.” So we have this, we have this clear, um, supremacy that's starting to come out of like work and art and like labor being the thing that should be valued. And then the stereotype of kind of like laziness or, um, uh, devaluing of hunter-gatherer practices and have an overvaluing of something that's more “civilized” like work and art. A few verses later, talk about how God, and by my assumption, like the Mormon missionary should come and save the Indigenous and Native American people to help them quit their quote “savage customs,” and bring them into our religion were finally right like finally, they will be able to be with God again.

And so this hymn I think does a really good job of painting the overarching narrative that's living within the Mormon culture at this time. And so when Oliver Cowdrey and his peeps, and like his friends get called to serve this Laminate mission, it comes rife with all of these stereotypes and tropes and misunderstandings of lineage that get weaponized against Native American people.

Channing: [00:36:03] Okay nothat we've set the backdrop, we haven't even gotten into the mission yet. So now we're going to talk about that. There is an essay written by Richard Dilworth Rust on the church website, they link to it in the Come Follow Me manual. Um, it's titled “A Mission to the Lamanites” and this essay does a good job of outlining the story of what this experience was like for Oliver Cowdery.

It has its own issues, which we'll discuss. Um, but I will be using that to set up um, what the story was. Richard Dilworth Rust writes “In a revelation given before the Book of Mormon was completely translated the Lord said that the plates were preserved, quote ‘that the Lamanites might come to the knowledge of their fathers and that they might know the promises of the Lord, that they might believe the gospel and rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ.’

As the principal scribe of the Book of Mormon, Oliver Cowdery knew that the book was written primarily to the Lamanites, who were quote ‘a remnant of the house of Israel.” Richard Dilworth West writes “it was appropriate then that in September 1830, 6 months after the Book of Mormon was published, Oliver Cowdrey was the first person instructed by a revelation to go into the Lamanites and preach my gospel unto them.”

And my first thought after reading that first paragraph was like, well, that escalated quickly. Wasn't really appropriate, like this entire mission was based on an assumption, an assumption that was labeled revelation. Right. And so that's where this becomes super problematic.

The article continues saying “Because of the Indian Removal Act passed in May, 1830,” which Elise set up for us earlier, “The new territory for relocating American Indians was in present day Kansas and Oklahoma. Thus these missionaries to the Lamanites planned to go West from Independence, Missouri into Indian territory.”

So before they make it to their final destination, they make a couple of stops. And the first place and the first people that they talked to, they called the Seneca tribe. But if we were to use the name that these people call themselves, they're the Onondaga tribe. And they're from upstate New York and Oliver Cowdrey and company shared the Book of Mormon with them.

And it doesn't really mention if they were successful or not. And I would assume based on the lack of information that it was not successful. Um, from there they move on to Kirtland, Ohio, and the author of this article makes it very clear that this was actually the like climax or the peak of their entire experience because here they shared the Book of Mormon with the people of Kirtland and they were received very well.

Um and like lots of people were converted to the gospel and it kind of set the stage for, you know, future events, um, with the saints in Kirtland, Ohio. After finding some success in Kirtland, they faced some hardship relating to weather and money before they finally make it to their destination. When they get there the article says “They first preached to the Shawnees and then to the Delawares.” And again, if we were to use the names that these people call themselves, that is the Shawano and the Lenape tribes. “Speaking through an interpreter, Oliver Cowdrey shared an essential message of the Book of Mormon. Part of his message as recorded by Parley P Pratt was that the Lord commanded Mormon and Moroni their last wisemen and prophets to hide the book in the earth, that it might be preserved in safety and be found and made known in the latter day to the pale faces who should possess the land and that they might again make it known to the American Indians in order to restore them to the knowledge of the will of the great spirit and to his favor.”

I want us to notice or make note of the racist language and the attitude of white supremacy that is really showing up here. If we look at the dynamics between all of the people in this story, it is the white man who is the teacher, the restorer, it's the, he's the one with power. And essentially what he's doing is he's teaching the Native Americans, or he thinks he's teaching the Native Americans about their own history, because he thinks that these people, they were, he thinks they were ignorant. He thinks they were unlearned. And truthfully, because they were refugees in their own land, they were without any kind of institutional power. And so I just want us to remember that as we continue through the article, right.

Elise: [00:40:44] Yes this demonstrates this attitude of clearly, your people don't have any type of tradition, religion, deep lineage with your own stories and your own like personal values. So let me come in and bring you the Book of Mormon that “actually” tells the story of what I think to be your people better than your people know your own story.

And that's this type of, um, supremacy and this colonialism that shows up to try and control and dominate and place a narrative on top of what is already, already has been existing because we think our narrative is better, more right than the narrative that they have come from and shaped for themselves.

Channing: [00:41:30] Yeah that's absolutely right. The article continues by saying that the Delaware Indians,” those are the Lenape people, “they were receptive and the chief requested that the missionaries return in the spring, when you shall read to us and teach us more concerning the book of our fathers and the will of the great spirit.

However, because of an order by a federal agent, the missionaries were expelled from Indian territory. Seeking unsuccessfully to get authorization from William Clark, the superintendent of Indian affairs in the area, the missionaries were no longer able to proselytize in the Indian territory.”

Finally, the essay concludes by saying, “Although the Lamanite mission thus ended, it helped chart the course the fledgling church would follow during the coming decade. The missionaries had established the church in the Kirtland area and they prepared the way for Joseph Smith to go to Ohio in early 1831 and then call for the saints in the East to move there as well.”

And for me, I have so many issues with this article and so many issues with this story but my biggest one, the biggest crux for me is that the story that includes the Onondaga people, the Shawano people and the Lenape people, these people aren't even centralized as a main character in their own story. The supposed major success of this mission is not actually the mission to the Lamanites.

The success is found in Kirtland with other white people. And additionally, these missionaries, they don't keep their promise to their primary purpose. If the entire purpose of this mission was to teach the gospel unto the descendants of the Lamanites and if them going truly was the will of God, then wouldn't God have found a way for these people to be liberated?

Elise: [00:43:19] Oh my, I actually want to read some more of Sarah Newcomb’s work. She runs a blog titled Lamanite Truth, and this comes from one of her essays titled “Native Americans are Not Tools for Colonization.” And she writes, “In fact, it is religious persecution to label Native American religious identity ‘those who did not believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ,’ as if their cultural beliefs were somehow less valid.

Native Americans are many distinct groups with many spiritual beliefs and Mormonism is not somehow superior. It is simply different. Is it not possible to celebrate Mormonism without pushing down and standing upon Native Americans? Perhaps the church might call the Book of Mormon Lamanite history, but stop labeling Native Americans as Laminate.

Sadly, this is not the year Native American will no longer be labeled as Lamanites by official representatives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” Earlier this year, they “recorded a conversation with missionaries who once again told me, among other things, that Native Americans are the descendants of Lamanites.” Later in the article, she actually talks about the mission to the Lamanites in 1830.

And she writes “The first tribe on that mission was the Seneca nation. I wonder if they are the people the church is talking about that embrace the Lamanite heritage? Or perhaps it was the Huron nation that they taught a month later on that mission? Were they the ones who embrace Lamanite heritage as their own true heritage? By the third month of the mission, the Delaware nation was being proselytized to. Again, I wonder if any of these tribes would appreciate being used to further the church's Lamanites narrative.

Still waiting for the ‘honest dealing with our fellow man.’ Do leaders understand the privilege they claim and uphold when ignoring these issues? The church does not need to stand upon the back of Native American ancestors and living Indigenous people for the Book of Mormon to have spiritual value. It is unnecessary. I hope they will at some point correct it from ‘some that speculate’ and replace it with ‘stop speculating.’”

I think her words are powerful here. And I think that she gets at the heart of how it will be told, told as the Laminate mission and the, the lineage connection between Lamanites and Native Americans. I think Sarah Newcomb says, you've got to get this right and get off our backs. We are our own people with diverse groups and various spiritual identities and traditions and rituals. And you can still value and understand the Book of Mormon to be about Lamanite history, but don't conflate that with Native American tradition and history. See us as our own people, let us tell our own story and don't try and come in and save us. If anything, you're the ones that are oppressing us in the first place. So who do we need saving from? It's you, which is us, like me, we're the ones. 

Channing: [00:46:14] I’m really grateful for those words of Sarah Newcomb. And what I've learned this week is that I'm feeling really called out by this week's episode and by this week's content, because I could give my best attempt to tell this story, but all I have are resources from white people, from white men, to tell a story of our own oppression of other people. I’m reminded here of my responsibility to center those marginalized voices of our Indigenous sisters. And seeing here, how much work I still need to do. I can tell this story, I can say the names as best as I can, but I don't know the nuances.

I don't know what happened from their perspective. I can only give my best guess from a place of privilege and this story, and this experience deserves so much more and so much better than what I, as a white woman can give it.

Elise: [00:47:15] Yes, absolutely. And to be honest, like this episode is a reminder to us that the work is always ongoing. And if we continue to only center and listen to and read from white, straight, cis men's perspective or even white women's perspective, like we are missing out, undervaluing, and glossing over Native American and Indigenous women's perspectives. And if we say that we want to create a sisterhood, that means we have to bring all of the sisters along with us.

That means that we have to commit and recommit and try again and again and again, to make sure that we are listening, standing in solidarity with, trying to find passages and read from, and listen to podcasts with Native American people telling their own story. And so I think this is a reminder and a recommit for us, but we also hope that it's a bit of encouragement for you to, to look for primary sources, voices, and authors, so that we don't get stuck in the narrative of telling someone else's story, but letting them tell their own story.

Friends, thank you so much for being here on another episode of The Faithful Feminists. We were so pleased to be able to take another look at the armor of God, work our way through personal revelation and try our best to give a nuanced complex understanding of the Lamanite mission by looking at history, trying to center marginalized voices and make sure that we don't just gloss over this bit that shows up in this week's come follow me manual.

Channing: [00:48:58] We love you all so much. And we're excited to share this episode with you and can't wait to continue the conversation with you this week. We'll talk to you soon. Bye .


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