> -----Original Message-----
> From: Jim Cobabe [mailto:[EMAIL PROTECTED]
> Sent: Tuesday, November 18, 2003 10:04 AM
> Subject: [ZION] Standards vs Censorship
>   There have been predictable howls of anguish and protest
> against such heavy-handed censorship.  But I suspect that serious LDS
> writers who wish to have a market for their work will toe the line. <

I'm not sure what line I'm supposed to toe. But, whatever it is, I'm not
howling in protest. The Church leadership has every right to do whatever it
will regards artists and their works.  Deseret Book should not carry any
books that it deems inappropriate.

I'd like to think that many serious Mormon writers are seeking audiences
that include more non-Mormons than Mormons.  Many serious writers, who
happen to be Mormons, do not want to be labled  a "Mormon Writer" any more
than Chaim Potok wanted to be labled a "Jewish Writer."

But the sensitivity of Church leadership -- it's quite a bit less now than
it was a few decades ago -- does create some challenges for Mormon writers
of fiction who want draw from their life expereiences. For instance, I'm
reasonably certain that the writer of the piece below -- an excerpt from a
draft of a novel -- does not expect that his book will be distributed by
Deseret Book.  Neither does he expect that he will be called in to have a
"chat" with his bishop or stake president. I'm sure he would like it if
Mormons read the book, but I'm absolutely certain his book is aimed at a
very general audience.  In this excerpt, he sets-up the dilemma that
confronts novelists (and other artists) who happen to be Mormons:


The piece below is protected by U.S. Copyright laws.  The author has given
permission for its ONE-TIME use here. YOU MAY NOT distribute it by any means
to anyone nor may you copy it. The material remains the SOLE PROPERTY of its
author and may not be given to or shared with others unless you first obtain
written permission from the author.


A Mormon Goy

        "Write about what you know," my favorite English teacher always said.
Easier to do for Mrs. Margaret Mulder, garden variety shikse that she was.
It seemed to me that her selection of religion was more connected to
temporal matters than doctrinal correctness; the thoughtfulness of the
minister; his oratorical skills and personal charm; the architecture and
ambiance of the sanctuary; the resonance of the pipe organ; whether the
organist that had mastered Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D and tenors in the
choir sang in tune. Doctrinal correctness was an incidental “oh by the way;”
truths to her were malleable and relative, not exactly hard and fast divine
edicts etched in granite by God, Himself, or rolling off His tongue on
earth: the prophet, seer, revelator and President of the Mormon Church –The
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

        Writing about what I knew best, my life and times -- which then as now are
inextricably linked to the church – presented a complex and troublesome
challenge. Mormon religion and culture are so deeply embedded in me that it
is practically impossible to conjure anything original, fresh, however
benign, without running the considerable risk of offending or unsettling my
ancestors living and dead (there are scores of each); putting me crosswise
with church leaders, from the bishop of my ward upwards to the Apostles
themselves (or in their crosshairs, figuratively, of course!). Worse,
writing about what I knew best could inadvertently lead to what some may
deem to be heretical and ethnically treasonous acts.

        I was no turncoat. I was born to unflinchingly stand my ground. Though my
head be bloodied, it would remain unbowed; I was the captain of my fate, the
lord and master of my soul. No Gentile blood coursed through my veins. I,
Jedediah Pratt Russell, was fruit from the loins of those roaring Lions of
Zion Joseph Smith and Brigham Young. And, most critically, from the
resilient apostle brothers Pratt, Parley and Orson.¨ And, like them, from
the womb of the stalwart founding mother of feminism and unshrinking head
witch Anne Hutchinson of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New
York; and Lathrops, and Howlands and Tillies and The Mayflower.

        Scratch any vein on the family corpus and it will bleed Yankee royal blue.
Never mind that in my mind and heart I was a bona fide member of the house
of Israel, an anointed son of Joseph and his colorful coat, and his begotten
Ephraim and Manasses, a kissing cousin of Judah and his tribe. I was called.
I was chosen too. What I once sang in guileless plangent soprano  (a year
before testosterone-engorged testicles knocked my voice down an octave –
and, eventually, my faith and works too?) was a simple fact of life: I might
be envied by a king for I am a Mormon boy.

        "Ethnicity?" Rosenabum asked.  His eyebrows arched.  "I thought Mormonism
was an American Christian religion. What's this ethnicity and gentile stuff
all about, and from a Mormon sheygets?"

        “Mormon what?”

        “Sheygets as in as in shikse; a boy goy, a girl goy— you’d think an alleged
kissing cousin in a shtetl like Westport, Connecticut  and Jew York City
would be familiar with such pejoratives.

        It is true that many old line Mormon families like mine -- ones that
converted when the headquarters of the fledgling Church were still in
Ohio -- were often descendants of Puritans who disembarked at Plymouth.

        The remarkable progress of my own pilgrim forebears and their
descendants -- one, the founder of Hartford, was rewarded for his diligent
service to King George with title to practically all of what is now Essex
County Connecticut; and other Pratt descendants founded Pratt & Whitney
Aircraft)--was quite enough to make me resentful that God consigned me to
the perpetually religiously zealous wing of the family: those Pratts and
Russells who never forgot that they came to America in order to worship how,
when and what they may. Which Mormons do often.

        By the time I arrived on the scene – at the mid-point between Adolf’s and
Eva’s suicide in a bunker beneath the Reichstag in Berlin and the flight of
the Enola Gay to Hiroshima, Japan -- Mormonism was firmly ensconced and
thriving in the regions surrounding the semi-arid Great Basin, sequestered
from the world around it by the formidable barrier of the Wasatch Range of
the Rocky Mountains. In its nearly hundred years of isolation, Mormonism had
come to define a religion -- arguably the most successful one founded in
America – and a distinctive and somewhat idiosyncratic culture as well.
Mormon ethnicity was not just a birthright– but being Born In The Covenant
(BIC) certainly ensures a lifetime of conflicts, the severity of which have
everything to do with how much of the world one becomes -- Mormon-ness can
be acquired too. It always astonishes me that many converts assimilate so
rapidly and thoroughly that, after a few years of membership it becomes nigh
unto impossible to distinguish them from BICs.

        Given its New England roots and sociological parallels to Puritanism, it
amuses me that many Americans find the Mormon culture and religion weird,
even threatening. I always assumed it had more to do with Lion Brigham's
marital trove than basic doctrines and practices. Mormonism’s links to
Puritan New England and Judaism, its success, its increasing power, wealth
and influence, and, yes, Brigham’s multiple brides and bedrooms, made it all
the more likely that people beyond the reach of the shadow of the
everlasting hills could become interested readers, no matter what Sarah
The real deft trick would be to fashion a compelling, revealing and
non-apologetic novel that would neither simultaneously offend my parents nor
invoke the stealthy and subtle wrath of The Brethren, whose numbers are
legion and memories are many. And, long too!

        If fiction mirrors the soul -- "as a man thinketh, so is he"-- I had reason
to worry. I found some comfort in the fact that hypersensitive parents and
Judaism had not exactly constrained writers like Philip Roth, even the rabbi
’s son, Chaim Potok. So, I should be inhibited? If Judah un-tethers its
authors, why not cousins from Joseph’s tribe (We are both from  Israel’s
house, although Mormons are probably more connected by belief and
patriarchal blessing than by DNA). Especially a son of Lion Parley’s and
Giant’s Orson's lines; a sturdy offset a from a strict and strident
grandmother who learned Hebrew and Yiddish from her parents and
grandfathers – Orson and Parley.”

        “Your great-great-grandfathers knew Hebrew,” Dr. Rosenbaum asked,

        “Amazing, but true. Both trained with the prominent Hebrew teacher and
lexicographer Joshua Seixas, who taught Hebrew to the Mormon prophet Joseph
Smith and members of the original Quorum of Twelve Apostles, which included
both Orson and Parley.”

        The training enabled them to read the scriptures in the original text,
perhaps grasping important subtleties that had been washed-out as the Bible
was translated into new languages. Orson, the star of the Hebrew class at
the School of The Prophets in Kirtland, Ohio, not only passed-on his
facility for languages to his children and grandchildren, but taught them
Hebrew and Yiddish as well, which is how Grandmother Russell acquired it
along with a number of Jewish dietary practices. When presented with various
concoctions of pork she’d invariably express her righteous indignation
rather colorfully: “Chozzer drek macht goyisher kopf (Pig shit makes gentile
brains!).” It is important to note that she would never indulge or abide
such expressions in English. Perhaps it was just her way of passing on her
love for expressive, visual and memorable Yiddish words and phrases to my

        The big difference between Judah and Joseph is humor. Jews poke fun at
themselves and their culture. Mormons don’t have six millennia on their
side. So, for now, we are hypersensitive lot indeed, too hell-bent for
superficial acceptance by mainstream Christian sects to mock our own
cultural idiosyncrasies. Like groveling shmatte, we go to great lengths to
explain, justify, appease, turn the other cheek, and search for common
ground even when none need be found, no compromise required. No need for any
of it, frankly, if only we weren't so over-wrought about our peculiar
history and culture.


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