MHA concludes with life sketch of Danish member

Published: Sunday, July 1 2012 11:00 p.m. MDT

Outgoing president Richard L. Jensen, left, turns the reins over to president-elect Glen M. Leonard.

r. scott lloyd, deseret news

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CALGARY, ALBERTA — Concluding the 47th annual Mormon History Association Conference Saturday evening, outgoing president Richard L. Jensen sketched the life of Danish Church member Frederik Ferdinand Samuelsen, 1865-1929, the first Mormon member of a national parliament.

Jensen, a senior researcher and historian with the LDS Church History Department, wore a distinctive white cowboy hat during the three-day conference on the campus of the University of Calgary, a reminder to conference-goers that the 100th annual staging of the Calgary Stampede, the world's most famous rodeo, occurs next week in this metropolis on the western Canadian prairie.

Association presidents serve one-year terms, and at the traditional presidential banquet, Jensen turned the leadership reigns over to president-elect Glen M. Leonard, former director of the LDS Museum of Church History and Art (now the Church History Museum) in Salt Lake City. Leonard will preside over the association's conference in Layton, Utah, June 6-9 of next year.

Jensen spoke of Samuelsen's service in the Danish parliament, the Rigsdag, from 1906-1918. He won re-election in 1913 with 54 percent of the vote.

"Samuelsen wrote that he was surprised he had done so well, as well he should have, given the circumstances," Jensen said. "For one thing it was widely known he was a Latter-day Saint, a tiny religious minority that had attracted waves of negative publicity of late. Beginning two years earlier, Europe was treated to a barrage of accusations against the Mormons in a variety of media."

In 1911, a Danish film company released a silent movie with a title that translates to "Victim of a Mormon." An international box office hit, it depicted a Mormon villain winning the favor of an attractive Danish woman, then smuggling her onboard a steamer bound for America, where he takes her to Utah to be his plural wife and imprisons her in a bedroom.

"The release came during a time when considerable attention was focused on what was called the white slave trade, a human trafficking problem that in fact did exist in Europe," Jensen said.

A professional lecturer who was an ex-Mormon claimed that Mormon men from America were spiriting away Danish women as slaves. Jensen said Samuelsen challenged the man to produce evidence of the claims.

At that time, Samuelsen learned that the Danish government's minister of culture was exploring the possibility of working in concert with the Swedish and Norwegian governments to expel LDS missionaries from their respective countries.

In a speech before Parliament, Samuelson asked whether the minister indeed had such intentions "to take part in the diminution of the already limited freedom of religion of the non-recognized religious societies."

"He pointed out the ratio of clergy in the Lutheran state church to Mormon missionaries was abut 22 to 1, that the Lutheran pastors were learned men, in a position of power, whereas Mormon missionaries were ordinary laborers and shopkeepers who had not studied theology," Jensen said.

He suggested that if Lutheran clergy from such an advantageous position could not prove the teachings of Mormons were false, the honorable minister "should not speculate in that kind of restrictions of freedom in the realm of religion whereby Denmark would sink into the second rank of civilized countries."

Jensen said that despite being a Latter-day Saint, Samuelsen was popular because he was a member of the Social Democrat Party, he championed the rights of labor unions, and he represented his constituents well.

When he fell into disfavor with the party, Samuelsen saw it as a sign that he should proceed with plans to immigrate to Utah, where he could perform temple work for his deceased father. He died in Salt Lake City, in 1929.

Email: rscott@desnews.com

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