Future diversity in Mormonism is a theme of history conference

Published: Tuesday, June 10 2014 12:05 p.m. MDT

Giving Africa as an example, he said Christianity is growing there faster than anywhere else, now accounting for 24 percent of the world’s Christian population. “Mormonism in its recent history grew spontaneously on the African continent,” he observed. “Yet … the growth of Mormonism in Africa … has been quite modest, and compared to other traditions, disappointing.”

The main reason for this is the church’s lack of accommodation to African cultures and worship styles, he said.

Calling for more cultural inclusiveness, and alluding to Moses’ statement in the Bible, “Would that all God’s people were prophets,” Hanciles concluded, “In a church where members speak approximately 170 different languages as their first language, only God knows the number of his prophets.”

In the conference’s Thursday night opening session, Henry Cisneros, former San Antonio mayor and former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, welcomed attendees.

“I have great respect for the church, for its legacy here in San Antonio,” Cisneros said. “I live in Colonia Mexicana, the traditional Hispanic neighborhood. I live in my grandparents’ old home. And it’s not unusual to see two young men with black pants and white shirts riding bicycles through our neighborhood on their missions.”

He said the church’s San Antonio Texas Temple is about four blocks from his house, and he spoke of its positive influence on the neighborhood, where residents work hard to keep their own property in good shape because of the presence of the temple.

“When I meet people who are converts to Mormonism in our community, I know they have committed to solid values, and it’s good for their families, and they’re going to make an impact in the community and work harder than most.”

Cisneros gave a capsule history of Texas, a topic that was the focus of a subsequent speaker at the session, Michael Van Wagenen, author of “The Texas Republic and the Mormon Kingdom of God.”

Mormons, he said, made their first overtures to Texas during the transitional period after Texans fought off control by the Mexican government following the legendary battle of the Alamo and Texas had become an independent republic under the leadership of its own congress and the presidency of Sam Houston.

The Council of Fifty, a group established in Nauvoo by Joseph Smith, whose followers had endured oppression in the United States, explored the possibility of negotiating with Houston for part of the land claimed by Texas, where it was hoped the church could establish a theocratic republic.

Van Wagenen said church emissary Lucien Woodworth entered into negotiations with Houston, who hoped a Mormon presence would create a buffer nation between Texas and Mexico. But the church leaders subsequently abandoned the plan, and the annexation of Texas by the United States followed.

During the church's leadership succession crisis after the murder of Joseph Smith, apostle Lyman Wight split from the main body of the church and led his own group to Texas, where it founded settlements on the frontier.

Richard E. Turley Jr., LDS assistant church historian and recorder, and two of his colleagues from the Church History Department, Matthew J. Grow and Ronald K. Esplin, whetted scholars’ appetites about the Council of Fifty minutes, soon to be published as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

Turley defined the Council of Fifty as a deliberative body of the church formed in Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1844 that provided a pattern of political government, the nucleus or focus of God’s latter-day kingdom. The council was later revived in Utah, but in the Joseph Smith Papers Project, only the Nauvoo-era minutes will be published, as footnote material in upcoming volumes and eventually in one self-contained volume.

Grow explained that the immediate impetus for organizing the Council of Fifty was the receipt by church leaders of two letters on March 10, 1844, from two church missionaries, George Miller and Lyman Wight, in the Wisconsin territory, where they were procuring lumber to build the temple in Nauvoo.

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