Sunday, June 8, 2014

Bruce Kinney on Political Mormonism

In 1912, the editorial committee of the Council of Women for Missions issued a twelve-volume Interdenominational Home Mission Study Course, which covered topics such as the American flag and the cities, the Spanish and the Indian "neighbors", immigration, and also Mormonism.

For Mormonism, the editorial committee turned to the former superintendent of the Baptist Mission to Utah, Bruce Kinney, D.D. Kinney produced a 200-page booklet for them:
Bruce Kinney, Mormonism: The Islam of America, New York - Chicago - Toronto - London - Edinburgh (Fleming H. Revell), 1912.
The somewhat astonishing title effectively made two claims, according to the Editorial Council, namely that the preference for polygamy and the conception of Heaven made the Mormons more like Islam than Christianity (p.5); furthermore, that this issue was just not of passing curiosity, but "a national problem" (p.5), that affects all sectors of political life:
The Mormon problem is not primarily a religious one, nor should it be so considered. The hierarchy which embodies this system has extended its influence into so many lines of our national concerns, that Mormonism has ceased to be of merely theological or religious significance. It must be studied in its relationship to government and commerce; to social conditions; to its influence on state policies and even on the utterances of the press, before it can be rightly understood as a factor in our present-day nationality. (p.6)
Note that Marvin S. Hill in Quest for Refuge: The Mormon Flight from American Pluralism, Signature Books (Salt Lake City), 1989, p.xvi, Fn 13, accidentally attributes the passage to Kinney, not the Editorial Council. Hill is trying to quote p.6-9, but that page range straddles two authorships. Pages 6-7 are by the Editorial Council, page 8 is blank, and only 9 is by Kinney. I remain indebted to Hill's work for drawing my attention to this booklet in the first place.

The quote from Kinney that Hill was aiming for with his straddling page range was:
They [i.e. the Mormon Hierarchy] are promising their followers nothing less than that they will in time control things politically in the United States. (p.9)
I am a little puzzled why he omitted the no less hard hitting previous two lines:
More than that [i.e. the failure to missionize the Mormons to Baptism, RCK], there is no other body of people from whom we have so much to fear in proportion to their numbers. No one else is trying to set up an imperium in imperio or to control either the state or national government. (p.9)
The booklet seems to have been a great success as a re-issue was required in short time, apparently. In order to stabilize the page numbers of the enlarged edition as much as possible, those in charge came up with the idea of replacing the foreword of the Editorial Council, which contains the passage that Hill had quoted, by a blank page plus a two page "Preface to Enlarged Edition" (p.7f), written by Kinney, where he noted that the entire 70,000 issue first print had sold (p.7). Kinney used the opportunity to update the booklet with a an additional 20 page section entitled "Recent Developments", which the publishers inserted between the end of the last chapter and the appendices. This pushes the page number of the appendices in the enlarged edition up by 20, e.g. the Bibliography (Appendix A) starts on p.203 rather than p.183, as it had in the initial edition. The biggest problem is that the enlarged edition has the same copyright date of 1912; either that page was not re-set or the enlargement did occur within the same calendar year. Thus the bibliographical information is insufficient to distinguish the editions; a look at the table of contents is required.

The book itself is a complex matter. The history of the Mormon Church is inaccurate in the details and clearly polemical. Sidney Rigdon and Spalding are key contributors to the Book of Mormon, and the famous copyright page canard is ponied out again. However, the style of the BoM is rightfully chastised, and the contradictions between translation and interpretation, seer stone and Urim and Thummim on the one hand, and the plurality of grammatical and spelling errors in the BoM on the other hand, are expounded.

As far as the Mormon trek to the West is concerned, there is in general more appreciation for the fears of the Missourians or the worries of the people of Illinois than for the rights of the Mormons, given the existing and granted laws and charters.

The book becomes a bit more interesting when the discussion moves into the then-current state of Utah, where the Mormon myths are rejected, esp the notion that the Mormons are especially good as agriculturalists (the beet example).

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