M Russell Ballard Where Will You Go?
What was Abortion Like in the 19th Century?
My Book of Mormon Podcast
Mythinformation by Mythicist Milwaukee
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
Voicemail Line (864)Nake-dMo (625-3366)
Perspective is a powerful concept with which the human mind constantly wrestles. What does it take to shift a person’s perspective? Even that question introduces all kinds of variables. How are you trying to shift their perspective? What would you like the person to see that they aren’t seeing already? What is the most effective way to shift their perception? Is it even possible to shift their perspective, or are they too entrenched and closed-minded to even consider any alternate perspective? As an extension of these questions, what barriers exist which inhibit someone considering a new perspective?
I’m a constant advocate for education of all kinds because I think it is the only way to shatter ignorance, one mechanism by which to accomplish said education is offering new perspectives in a way which is digestible to whomever is receiving the education. I want you to think back to a time when you learned something which truly shifted your understanding of something in your life. I won’t offer any examples because this is up to you, but think of anytime in your life you gained a whole new understanding of a topic, issue, or field of study. I would be willing to assert that your change of mind came from a source which offered a different perspective than what you were used to. Whether it was a conversation with somebody who offered the perspective, or reading a book, maybe listening to a podcast, audiobook or overhearing a conversation. It’s the fundamental way humans learn new information, by communicating with each other and offering one another new perspectives. We can see the evolutionary benefit to communicating new perspectives. What’s beyond that hill over there? Well I saw a talked to a guy yesterday who came from that direction and it turns out there’s great hunting grounds and fertile soil, our God probably promised the land to us. What dangers lie in the woods over yonder? Well I heard a guy talking about great monsters which rule the woods so if we go in there we’ll likely die. Alright then, let’s just settle up to the woods and leave them be so we can survive and have more children. Maybe once we have a few thousand warriors together we can go explore the woods and kill the great beasts before they kill us. God will watch over us as we conquer the forest because the prophet told us he promised us the land. God always knows exactly what our tribe needs.
Let’s discuss the obstacles which force us to not consider a new perspective. There may simply be physical limitations, which are completely understandable. Take an iPad back to the 1950s and watch people’s brains melt because our modern perspective would seem too far out of reality for them to realistically consider. That’s a practical limitation to changing someone’s mind and we can excuse people from the 20th century for not understanding our perspective. Much less excusable is people who refuse to accept a shift in perception because they want to believe their perspective so much that no other perspective matters, or maybe they’re too afraid of what the other perspective has to offer.
The reason I bring this up in the first place is due to a post on the exmormon subreddit by Sage0wl talking about M. Russell Ballard’s talk during the October 2016 conference titled “To Whom Shall We Go?”. The reddit post was brilliant and I’ll just read it here to offer some context. The title is “Oh snap: When Ballard said “Where will you go?”…He was talking to HIMSELF.” With the subtext of: “He’s trapped. He feels trapped, down in his subconscious, where all the doubt and questions and individuality have been squashed and hidden away over the decades… One of the memes he uses to keep those ghosts down is ‘where will you go?’ Outside the church, he’s just a used car salesman in a cult. Where will you go? It’s what he says to HIMSELF.” Quite the brilliant observation by Sage0wl, and I would add that fear of the unknown is what keeps Ballard from even considering an alternate perspective might be correct. He’s far too entrenched in his beliefs as an apostle of the church to shift his perspective. I had to chase down the video of the talk to see the quote in context and I was happy to extract a few gems.
“For some, Christ’s invitation to believe and remain continues to be hard or difficult to accept. Some disciples struggle to understand a specific church policy or teaching. Others find concerns in our history or in the imperfections of some members and leaders, past and present. Still others find it difficult to live a religion that requires so much… For these and other reasons, some members vasciliate in their faith….If anyone of you is faltering in your faith, I ask you the same question as Peter asked: “To whom shall you go?” If you choose to become inactive or leave the restored church of Jesus Christ, where will you go? What will you do?”
“There may be some doctrines, some policy, some bit of history which puts you at odds with your faith, and you may feel that the only way to resolve that inner turmoil is to walk no more with the Saints. If you live as long as I have, you’ll come to know that things have a way of resolving themselves.”
“Never abandon the great truths revealed through the prophet Joseph Smith. Never stop reading, pondering, and applying the doctrine of Christ contained in the BoM.”
“We must not assume that just because something is unexplainable by us, that it is unexplainable.”
“The danger comes when someone chooses to wander away from the path that leads to the tree of life. Sometimes we can learn, study, and know, and sometimes we have to believe, trust, and hope. In the end, each one of us must respond to the Savior’s question: Will ye also go away? We all have to search for our own answer to that question.”
There are a few other gems in there, check the show notes for a link to the entire 14-minute talk. Altogether, he said ‘where will you go?’ 10 times, with variants of the question racking up the total tally to just under one per minute.
Ballard did briefly talk about times when he’s had issues with the church, but somehow his personal revelation and spiritual experiences always won out. I think this only adds to the claim that Sage0wl made that Ballard was saying this to himself more than the members. When somebody is so deeply entrenched in their beliefs that they refuse to see a different perspective, that’s a terrifying question. To put the question more bluntly, if everything I believe is wrong, what do I do now? Who do I talk to? Who could understand what I know? Where will I go? What will I do?
This question plagues the Mormon community. If the church isn’t true, how can my life continue? This gets to the crux of the issue. Sometimes, when you gain a whole new perspective on something you considered an undefeatable truth which makes it seem less true or wholly false, it’s tough to reconcile, and you’re forced to include ancillary issues to rationalize believing in something that isn’t true. I’ve been in a number of conversations with TBMs who say, even if the church isn’t true, it’s a great way to raise a family. The Hitler youth was a great way to raise children, it doesn’t mean that the Aryanism is the one true race. This is a red herring in the conversation about what makes something true or not. Refusing to consider a new perspective and evaluate it based on its own merits does a disservice to yourself and the human race as a whole.
This gets to a major problem with anybody who claims to be a prophet. By definition a prophet refuses to see anybody else’s perspective as accurate, because they hold the one singular truth. If a person is a prophet, they can’t possibly be wrong because they’re talking to God who knows everything there ever was, is, and could be known. Built into that role is a failure to learn anything, consider new information, or even approach a new perspective with any level of open-mindedness.
Through what I consider refusal to consider a new perspective, Joseph Smith truly couldn’t understand why things weren’t going well for him and the saints in Nauvoo. Page 189 of the Dan Vogel HoC includes this entry with regards to the Missouri-Mormon conflict throughout 1838.
“The Governor of Missouri, after a silence of about two years, has at last made a demand on Governor Carlin of Illinois, for Joseph Smith, junior, Sidney Rigdon, Lyman Wight, Parley P. Pratt, Caleb Baldwin, and Alanson Brown, as fugitives from justice.
The demand it seems has been complied with by Governor Carlin, and an order issued for their apprehension; accordingly our place has recently received a visit from the Sheriff for these men; but through the tender mercies of a kind Providence, who by his power has sustained, and once delivered them from the hands of the blood-thirsty and savage race of beings in the shape of men that treat Missouri’s delightful soil; they were not to be found—as the Lord would have it, they were gone from home, and the Sheriff returned, of course without them.
These men do not feel disposed to again try the solemn realities of mob law in that State; and a free and enlightened republic should respond against it, for Missouri has no claim on them, but they have claim on Missouri.
What right have they to demand of Governor Carlin, as fugitives from justice, men against whom no process had ever been found in that State—no, not so much as the form of a process? They were taken by a MOB MILITIA, and dragged from everything that was dear and sacred, and tried (without their knowledge) by a court martial, condemned to be shot, but failing in this, they were forced into confinement, galled with cahins, deprived of the comforts of life, and even that which was necessary to save life, then brought to a pretended trial, without even having a legal process served, and then deprived of the privilege of defense. They were taken by a mob, tried, condemned and imprisoned by the same, and this Missouri cannot deny.”
This was published in the Times and Season in September of 1840. Undoubtedly written by Smith or one of his cronies, if you’ve listened to the episodes where we cover the history of the church in Missouri, you know just how profoundly ignorant these statements were. Ignorance is merely one manifestation of refusal to understand new perspectives.
Apparently, Jo and the Mormons couldn’t empathize with the perspective of Missourians who truly hated them. It’s understandable though, it’s hard to put yourself in your enemy’s shoes to see things how they see it, it’s even hard to gain the motivation to even want to view the world through their eyes.
Jo’s inability to empathize or alter his perspective would do himself a great disservice for the rest of his short life. You can learn a lot about a person and prepare for incredible unforeseen circumstances if you ask yourself what is the best or worst possible scenario that could come out of any given circumstance. Mapping that to see another person’s perspective, what is the best or worst thing this person could want? What is the best or worst thing this person could do to me? If I do X, what is a likely possible Y that somebody could do which would land at scenario Z?
I’ll pose a couple questions Jo could have asked himself which require him gaining a new perspective, but could have insulated him from some bad actors, or possibly mitigated some of the damage done so publicly by his closest acolytes. What is the history of this John Bennett guy? What is the worst thing he could do to hurt me and the church? Is Isaac Galland as good of a guy as he claims to be? If I don’t fulfill the contracts I made with Hotchkiss, could he do anything that would crumble the foundation of the Church in Nauvoo? What should I do if we can’t raise enough tithes and taxes to pay for all the land contracts I signed to secure this settlement for the Saints?
Each and every one of these questions presents an opportunity for Jo to insulate himself from likely damage which would occur in the future, but I must speculate that Jo was an eternal optimist, because I don’t think he ever asked these questions or cared to gain new perspectives in any of these regards. It requires us empathizing with Jo’s mindset to understand why he may have never asked these things, so let’s try to gain a new perspective on Jo.
Everything Jo did was interpreted through the eyes of a god-fearing man. When his life was going well, he was favored of the Lord. When things weren’t going well, he was somehow doing something God didn’t like and he or the Saints needed to repent for their iniquity. Unfortunately, a person like Jo likely saw everything in his day-to-day life as some manifestation of God’s will. When he lost and found the keys to his carriage, it was god’s will and he was favored. When Galland approached him with the perfect land purchase agreement which would secure a place for the Saints to settle in Illinois and Iowa, it was obviously divine providence. It probably didn’t occur to him that Isaac Galland was a self-serving bastard and was looking to make a quick buck off some religious refugees who had no other options, it was just God smiling down upon his chosen people.
This metric is useful to god-fearing folk to understand if they are doing the right thing or not. I remember hearing my dad tell me as a kid that if I experienced Déjà vu’ that it meant I was at the right place and doing the right thing with my life, that was how God approved of what I was doing, by giving me a feeling a Déjà vu’. Of course, I didn’t then, nor do I now understand the complicated brain chemistry which creates the feeling of Déjà vu’, but there is a naturalistic explanation for it. In a similar vein, good luck can easily be interpreted by the god-fearing as divine providence. What secular people call a good day could easily be interpreted as being blessed and in the favor of God. But, isn’t that a metric which begs to be misused and misinterpreted by those with certain motivations particularly those motivations of self-aggrandizement? If somebody is truly an asshole, but they’re a lucky asshole, couldn’t said asshole construe their actions as being divinely approved? It’s all a matter of perspective.
Speaking of bastards and assholes, let’s talk about Brokeit, a guy who had no problem interpreting the will of God to be whatever he wanted. Brokeit could be considered lucky and ambitious, making a dangerous combination to Jo who, at this time, probably felt like John Bennett was a gift from God.
During the October of 1840 conference, John Bennett made his first public address to the brethren. The conference went for 3 days during the first weekend of October, and he spoke at some point during all three days. His topic of presentation on Monday, however, is the most fascinating by my metrics, and we’ll get to it very soon.
His first address on Saturday, October 3rd, was simple. If I were to try and put myself in Brokeit’s shoes and see things through his perspective, I would wager that his first address was calculated to gain the favor of the brethren. This is the passage out of the Dan Vogel HoC vol 4 pg 196:
“John C. Bennett, M.D., then spoke at some length, on the oppression to which the Church had been subject, and remarked that it was necessary for the brethren to stand by each other, and resist every unlawful attempt at persecution.”
Once the Nauvoo charter was passed, which was approved by the brethren during this meeting, it could be interpreted that nearly any lawful prosecution was unlawful persecution from the perspective of Jo and the saints, but, that’s beside the point I’m slowly meandering towards right now.
The second day of the conference, Brokeit spoke a bit more on some deeper topics than just telling the brethren what they already knew concerning their year in Missouri.
“Dr. [John C.] Bennett from the committee to draft a charter for the city, and for other purposes, reported the outlines of the same. On motion, resolved, that the same be adopted.
Dr. Bennett then, made some very appropriate remarks on the duty of the saints in regard to those, who had, under circumstances of affliction, held out the hand of friendship, and that it was their duty to uphold such men and give them their suffrages, and support.”
The next paragraph is fascinating as a side point, it says:
“Elder E[benezer] Robinson then rose and gave an account of the printing of another edition of the Book of Mormon, and stated that it was now nearly completed and that arrangements had been made for the printing of the Hymn Book, book of Doctrine and Covenants, &c.”
So now the 1840 Nauvoo edition of the BoM was just about ready to ship. Like I said, just a side note, let’s hear what Brokeit had to say during the third and final day of the conference on Monday Oct 5th, 1840.
“Dr. John C. Bennett said that many persons had been accused of crime, and been looked upon as guilty, when on investigation it has been ascertained that nothing could be adduced against them. Whereupon, on motion, it was resolved, that no person be considered guilty of crime, unless proved so by the testimony of two or three witnesses.
He next brought before the Conference, the treatment the saints had experienced in Missouri, and wished to know whether the Conference would take any further steps in relation to obtaining redress. On motion, resolved, that Elias Higbee and Robert B. Thompson be appointed a committee to obtain redress for the wrongs sustained in Missouri.”
Alright, let’s step back and think about what Brokeit was just able to accomplish. Let’s try to see his perspective and combine it with questioning what the most sinister possible motives he could have had for presenting these things in the conference. This is nothing but pure speculation that I’m concluding with a bit of historical 20/20 hindsight given everything that would happen in the near future with Brokeit.
Before I offer my musings, I’ll just ask of you. What do you think Brokeit was trying to accomplish here? Consider things from his perspective with the knowledge that he was a self-serving rat bastard who likely thought more with his dickhead than his actual head. He was obviously trying to insert himself into the in-group of the brethren with his appeals to how terrible the persecution had been. Winning these guys over may have been a bit of a challenge because they’d been burned before by trusted guys in the highest echelons of Mormonism like Doctor Sampson Avard and Thomas B. Marsh, so he was obviously vying for their approval. But what motivations may have been lurking underneath the surface?
I would argue that Bennett knew the church may be paid out a large settlement from the Government soon enough, and if he were in the trusted in-group of Jo’s best friends, he may somehow benefit from it. Remember, before Jo went to Washington D.C. at the end of 1839 to the beginning of 1840, the brethren voted that he would be placed in charge of all the land acquired by the church, and placed in the office of trustee-in-trust of all church finances. If the Mormons were paid out, Jo would be offensively wealthy, and Brokeit would undoubtedly gain from it.
But let’s extend the implications to what Brokeit had voted in with any accusation requiring two or three witnesses for conviction. Let’s view this scenario through accusations which would soon plague the Mormon leadership’s very existence. Hey man, you fucked my wife! No I didn’t. Yes you did! Where’s your proof? My wife told me you did while I was on my mission! Well, do you have the requisite two or three witnesses to the crime? Is she pregnant with my child? Well…. No…. But she said you drugged her and she doesn’t remember what happened after that. Well, until you have evidence or witnesses, or until your wife bears a child with my likeness, I can be convicted of no crime, it’s what the brethren voted.
You see how convenient this would become in the very near future? And, Brokeit had some training as a medical doctor and was likely able to perform abortions, so there really would be absolutely no evidence of him committing adultery, or even rape for that matter.
When we talk about abortion in the early church, it’s always a sensitive subject, particularly because, even today, it’s a highly charged and politicized topic of debate. For Mormons to consider that the founding prophet of the church used abortions to cover up sexual indiscretions is understandably a tough issue to approach without causing some offense. The primary reason abortion is so charged is because it’s a topic centered around women’s autonomy and ability to choose what they want to do with their own bodies and lives, while at the same time it’s an issue of the sanctity of the life of the unborn fetus. It’s hard enough trying to convince people of the importance of women’s autonomy nowadays, imagine how hard of a sell that was to early 19th century Christians who would be considered way to the right of the most far right groups by today’s standards. Let’s bring in some perspective to this topic. Until VERY recently, women’s worth has been largely determined by their chastity and ability to bear good strong sons for their husband. Some cultures still enshrine such antiquated ideals even today, Mormonism included. Historically speaking, the options for a woman who was unmarried with child were disturbingly limited. Women either had to find a man who would marry them regardless of the bastard child, or it was off to the brothels with them.
I can’t even pretend to see life through the eyes of women facing the social implications of having a child out of wedlock, or having to deal with the decision of abortion for any reason whatsoever, but I’m exponentially less qualified to discuss the plight of women facing those choices in the 19th century.
To help me broach this subject, I’m bringing on Marie Kent, my wonderful cohost on the My Book of Mormon Podcast where we read through the Doctrine and Covenants every week. Marie, it’s been a while since you’ve been on the show, thanks for joining me after much ado…
Friend of the show Julie sent an article to me a while back from Elle online magazine titled “What Abortion was like in the 19th Century: To be unmarried and pregnant meant deep trouble” written by Kate Manning; there will be a link in the show notes for anyone who wants to read this wonderfully informative piece of history literature. Let’s discuss it to try and get some perspective of the issues surrounding women’s autonomy and pregnancy from Jo’s time.
“In the 1800s, unmarried pregnant girls like Maria were in deep trouble. Religious ideas about sin held that a woman's "virtue" was ruined if she had sex outside of marriage. Thus disgraced, a woman had few options if her "seducer" refused to marry her. Often she was banished, forced to live apart from family and community. This was an era when birth control was not widely available or reliable. Women could not vote, own property, or control their own money. (They could also be committed to an insane asylum on the say-so of a man). Countless 'fallen' women—who'd been raped, or jilted by their lovers—had to resort to prostitution to make ends meet. Prostitutes lived an average of about four years, falling victim to violence and venereal disease. As for surrendering a child for adoption, in the mid-1800s, there were 30,000 homeless children living on New York streets, and no reliable foster care or orphan asylums.”
“In court, the lawyers, judge, jury, and journalists were all men. Maria was viciously cross-examined on the witness stand. Restell's lawyers, to defend their client, said Maria was not to be trusted, for "as regards women, when they part with their chastity...no reliance can be placed in her that loses it." Maria was called a "foul, corrupt, loathsome, guilty a thing as ever polluted God's blessed earth by her pestilential presence."
“By some estimates , one in five pregnancies ended in abortion in the 1800s. It was perhaps the most common form of birth control, and while dangerous, many women survived it. Childbirth was dangerous, too, and maternal mortality rates were high…
Still, for the most part, it was not single women who were having abortions, but married mothers wishing to limit the size of their families. "I am 30 years old and have 11 children... kidney and heart disease, wrote one mother to Margaret Sanger, who founded Planned Parenthood in 1921. "Can you please help me. I have miss a few weeks and don't know how to bring myself around. I have cryed my self sick... The doctor won't do anything for me... Doctors are men and have not had a baby so they have no pitty..."(sic)”
“One woman, an actress, purportedly wrote a letter to Madame Restell in 1840,  saying: "It was a lucky star for me under which you were born. God bless you, dear Madam." A newspaper printed it as an example of Restell's wickedness. But in our times, we might interpret this letter as a rare example of a woman's voice, expressing gratitude for the choice to bear a child or not.”
Say what you will about Jo and Brokeit practicing polygamy among all their other shenanigans, it was an inevitable conclusion given the circumstances. There are a number of situations throughout history we can point to where an insular society led by an insulated group of men begin to exert their power in ways seen abhorrent to the outside world. A ton of religious leaders have practiced polygyny throughout history, and Mormonism was no different. Jo and Brokeit couldn’t really be touched by the law while living in the sanctuary city of Nauvoo so they used that power to influence people to do all sorts of things seen as illegal and immoral to the Mormons and even to us today.
If polygamy was one of the main byproducts of Mormonism in the Nauvoo years, let’s just consider the logistics and morality given the 19th century society in which these practices were cultivated. Jo had had a number of supposed sexual indiscretions prior to this point, but all were surrounded with secrecy and controversy, and historians have a very hard time proving even the Fanny Alger affair. If Jo was going to practice polygamy all along in some way, isn’t it best that he took care of the byproduct of having sex with dozens of women? In no way am I condoning what Jo did, but he did it, and given the social stigmas which damned those women with children out of wedlock, wasn’t it the most moral thing for him to have Bennett perform abortions? Yes, I know, Jo shouldn’t have fucked these women in the first place and stayed faithful to his beloved Emma all along, but that didn’t happen, so wasn’t him mitigating the consequences of his actions the best possible thing he could have done for these women in the long run? Think of it from their perspective. Jo propositioned them to join him in plural marriage, and when that didn’t work he usually went with commanding them to marry him. But every one of these marriages was only known to the very elite of Jo’s cronies, and most of them didn’t even know how many wives Jo had by 1844. The wide public had no idea this was going on until Brokeit’s expose, and even then, most of them denied it or didn’t seem to care much.
But the inevitability with one guy copulating with many women is childbirth. Without DNA testing, there was no way to know if Jo was the father of any babies who may crop up because an accused baby could just be written off as the child of the wife and her husband. But, when those husbands were hundreds or thousands of miles away and the wives became pregnant, that was the evidence needed to shatter Jo’s entire foundation and public persona of pious prophet of the people. If we consider the plight of his wives in trying to make it through life with the child of a disgraced prophet, likely being left by their first husbands once they found out about the situation, wasn’t Bennett performing abortions just as much a favor to these women as it was a favor to his best bud Joey to keep the rumors from being proven? If adultery were proven by a bastard child, these women had very few options, so Bennett, and probably somebody else after mid-1842 mitigating the consequences was the most moral thing that could be done.
The thing is, there’s a lot of nuance to polygamy in Nauvoo as there is to nearly any topic, historic or current. We can’t see what it was like for those who lived under Jo and his elite high council during this time, we’ll never be able to see the world through their perspective. We can learn all kinds of wonderful things with a quick perception change, but it really helps to hear what other people have to say, who knows we might learn something. We’ll be spending some time rooting through the journals of Joseph’s wives as we continue to progress through Nauvoo.
The divisiveness with which we treat each other is something appalling to me. I just saw this graph which analyzed tweets from both sides of the political aisle and it showed almost no crossover between the two worlds. Almost nobody interacts with people from the other side, nobody wants to see things from the other side’s perspective. While I try to stay out of politics as much as possible, this same divisive phenomenon occurs heavily in the Mormon and exMormon communities. Never is this more apparent than in a couple of blog posts by self-proclaimed Mormon apologist Dan Peterson. He wrote two posts titled “Can there be any valid criticisms of the Church” and “Son of can there be any valid criticisms of the Church” which was a response piece to criticisms he received from the first post. Basically, he presupposes the church to be true and therefore no logical argument can be made that proves it’s false. His logic is obviously flawed, but all it takes is some perusal of the comments section to see both perspectives duking it out with each other. I extended an invitation to Dr. Peterson to come on the show to discuss Mormonism and Mormon history and I’m going to ask a favor of those of you who are active on facebook. I don’t think Dan will ever come on the show at my singular request, but if he gets a few messages from people who want to hear him, he may reconsider. I’m not very optimistic that he’ll actually do it, but I’m hopeful he will. I want to ask him a simple question which gets to the fundamental point of today’s show. Dan, have you ever asked an exMormon why they became an exMormon? Have you ever tried to consider a different perspective? I don’t want to debate him, I want to ask him about his perspective and offer my Secular Mormon perspective to him to see if we can make sense of each other’s perspective. This is likely an exercise in futility because I’ll never convince him the church isn’t true, nor will he convince me it is true, but crossing the aisle and having a conversation with somebody on the other side of the gap can’t hurt, and who knows, it may actually be enlightening to share each other’s perspectives. Go forth and multiply messages to Daniel Peterson’s inbox, you’ll find a link to his fb page in the show notes. Let’s see how useful it can really be to gain his perspective of Mormonism and judge it on its own merits. If we just do a quick perception check, we can learn about worlds without number.