Two Palestinian Christians, and a visit with one of the most interesting of Latter-day Saint historians

Two Palestinian Christians, and a visit with one of the most interesting of Latter-day Saint historians July 29, 2022


The new Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy.
The Hale Centre Theatre, in Sandy, Utah, is (as I’ve often said before) a local, state, and regional treasure.
(Photo from the Hale Centre Theatre website)


We’re just back from attending a performance, with friends, of Singing in the Rain at the Hale Centre Theatre in Sandy, Utah.  It was extremely well done.  The whole cast was good.  The leads were strong.  David Paul Smith did remarkably well with both the singing and the dancing of Gene Kelly’s famous “Singing in the Rain” number, which he performed under a real shower falling from the theater ceiling above him.  And we were all absolutely smitten with Debra Weed Hahn, who played Kathy Selden (the character depicted in the movie version by Debbie Reynolds.)


Earlier today, I enjoyed lunch and a long and leisurely conversation with Don Bradley.  (Finally, too, I was able to get a copy to him of the docudrama Undaunted: Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, in which he appears.  [He’s even, briefly, in the minute-long trailer for the film.]  We had mailed a copy of Undaunted to him some time ago, but it’s apparently still floating out there somewhere in the Wood Between the Worlds.)  The author of the significant 2019 volume The Lost 116 Pages: Reconstructing the Book of Mormon’s Missing Stories — see the blog entry that I posted about it when it first appeared — Don is an indefatigable and meticulous researcher who, to coin a completely original phrase that I’ve just created, routinely and insightfully thinks outside the box, and whose work I appreciate very much.  I really enjoyed hearing about his upcoming articles and research projects, including a forthcoming BYU Studies piece on the small plates of Nephi that he’s recently shared with me that’s actually connected to the story of Mary Musselman Whitmer’s encounter with the plates and the mysterious messenger.


After hearing about Don’s recent work, I told him about an experience that I had while I was in graduate school at UCLA.  Taking a break from my Arabic studies for a few moments, I read an article about Brigham Young that I’d found in a journal in the library stacks.  It was by Jan Shipps, and I recall thinking that it was one of the few academic articles about Brigham Young that I’d ever read that treated him primarily as a religious leader, and that it was ironic that such an article was written by a Methodist rather than by a Latter-day Saint.  Perhaps at least partially because of the pivotal and formative role played by the late Leonard Arrington — an economic historian — in the emergence of modern Latter-day Saint historiography, much biographical and historical writing that’s focused on the Church has, umm, historically emphasized economic and political approaches to our story.  And, obviously, those are important aspects of Utah, Great Basin, and Latter-day Saint history.  But the Church was never primarily a beet sugar firm or an overland trail company, and Brigham Young, great colonizer and organizer that he was, was motivated principally by spiritual and religious commitments.  I told Don that one of the reasons that I really like his work is that he focuses on the specifically religious history of the Restoration.


Incidentally, at Don’s suggestion we ate at La Carreta Peruvian Restaurant, which is located in south Orem.  I had never eaten there before, but I really liked the food.  (I mention this not so much because mentioning good restaurants in which I’ve eaten really drives some of my hyper-focused critics crazy — though it manifestly does drive them crazy — but because I hope to give at least some slight attention on my humble blog to places that, I think, deserve to succeed.)


Anthony Kennedy's place
The seat of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington DC
(Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)


Finally, this topic interests me quite a bit — both because I am, by both training and former trade, an Islamicist and because, more particularly, I was among a small group of academics who filed a 2017 amicus brief with the Supreme Court of the United States regarding the matter:


“Cato Lawsuit to Discover if Trump Lied to SCOTUS about the Muslim Ban”


See also  “Amici Curiae Brief of Scholars of Mormon History & Law in Support of Neither Party.”


When I was a young man, many centuries ago when Earth was still new, Latter-day Saints were far more reflexively and uncritically pro-Israeli than they are today.  I think that the change has been for the good.


Shortly after my wife and I were married, we attended somebody else’s wedding reception.  As we were going through the line, a man standing there, a relative of the groom (as I recall), asked me about what our plans were.  I indicated that we would soon be leaving for Egypt, where I was going to be studying Arabic.  “Well,” he said in response, “I’m on the Lord’s side.”


That naïve and uninformed assumption that the Israelis represent “the Lord’s side,” simpliciter, irked me then and it irks me now.  But I encounter it far less commonly now than I once did.


Latter-day Saints are scripturally obligated, in my judgment, to believe in and to support the gathering of Israel, which plainly includes the gathering of the Jews to Palestine.  But we are not obligated, in my view, to support any particular policy of the United States toward Israel, let alone any particular policy of Israel itself.


During my first stint of living in Israel, which occurred just before I came back to the States to marry my wife, I ran into a group of American visitors on the streets in the Sheikh Jarrah section of East Jerusalem.  We got into a conversation, and they told me that they were part of a group who were there to assure then Prime Minister Menachem Begin that all true Christians in America supported him 100%.


I remember that “100%” very clearly.


I don’t support my own government’s policies 100%.  I never have, even under presidents for whom I voted.  (It’s been a while since we’ve had one of those.)  And the thought that it is somehow a “true Christian’s” obligation to support any government’s policies fully, completely, and without any dissent or reservation strikes me as idolatrous.


Besides which, my feelings about Menachem Begin, of all people, representing the Christian ideal and deserving unlimited Christian loyalty were — shall we say — less than completely enthusiastic.


I won’t for a moment attempt to whitewash the various evils visited upon innocent Jewish people and others by Palestinian terrorism, but, unfortunately, Jewish hands are also not entirely clean in the ugliness that has afflicted Palestine for more than a century now.


And I’m especially bothered when I see some Evangelical Protestants, especially, treat the Arab-Israeli conflict as a battle of obvious good (represented by the righteous Jews who simply want to regain their ancestral land) against obvious evil (the heathen Muslims who seek to steal Jewish land from the Holocaust survivors who have settled upon it and made it to blossom as the rose).


I wish the situation were so simple and clear-cut.


Unfortunately, many of the Jews aren’t pious or even righteous.  And, although I don’t concede that Muslims deserve to be oppressed in the first place, many of the Palestinian Arabs aren’t even Muslims.  They’re Christians.  And they have been for many centuries — Christianity, after all, didn’t begin in Canterbury, or Wittenberg, or even Rome, but in Palestine — and their roots in Palestine go back to far before the founding of the State of Israel.  Accordingly, they’re mystified when their ostensible Christian brothers and sisters in the West seem to support the alleged “biblical right” of the Jews to take their land.


I hope that many Latter-day Saints have read or will yet read Sahar Qumsiyeh’s 2018 Deseret Book volume, Peace for a Palestinian: One Woman’s Story of Faith Amidst War in the Holy LandDr.Qumsiyeh, who teaches mathematics at Brigham Young University’s campus in Idaho, was born in Jerusalem and raised in Beit Sahour, Palestine.  A convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she also served a mission in England.  Peace for a Palestinian will give its readers a different perspective on a sad historical situation and a painful continuing reality that is a great deal more complex than many Americans realize.  Another significant book from a Palestinian Christian, this one a prominent Melkite Greek Catholic clergyman,  is Elias Chacour’s Blood Brothers: The Dramatic Story of a Palestinian Christian Working for Peace in Israel.



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