I apologize it took so long to get this up.

This year’s 2010 MHA Conference in Independence, MO was sensational — the best I can remember. It was well attended, and loads of fun. If you haven’t made plans to attend the upcoming conference for the John Whitmer Historical Society in Amboy, Illinois this year, I urge you to do so. And please plan to attend next year’s MHA conference over Memorial Day weekend — you won’t regret it.

As always, there were too many excellent papers presented to see everything one wanted to see.

The conference got off to an amazing start on opening night. I had the good fortune of sitting next to Mark Brown, Kevin Barney, and Mike Reed during the opening session. In his welcoming address, President Steven Veazey, 8th President of the Community of Christ/RLDS Church, spoke about a call that he got from Gordon Hinckley when President Veazey became prophet. Hinckley told President Veazey that he’d like to meet him, as he had met most of his predecessors. Veazey spoke of how much both of them valued the good relations that are shared between their churches.

President Veazey then spoke about the identity of his church, and what he said was quite profound. In the Community of Christ, there is this beautiful notion that I’ve been aware of for many years, but that I’m only beginning to understand. They speak of “prophetic leadership among a prophetic people.” Throughout his remarks, you could sense the love that he has for the members of his church, the faith that he has in their beliefs and the significance that he grants to them, and unwavering dedication to work and worship alongside them. This is in stark contrast to the top-down leadership of the LDS church, whose age and moral outlook have sometimes been out of step with the beliefs of many of its members, with seemingly little effort to genuinely bridge this gap through constructive engagement. The way that the Community of Christ leadership is able to recognize it’s members as a prophetic people amazes me.

John Hamer’s presentation at the opening ceremony was one of the highlights of the conference — a paradigm shifting tour de force, introducing compelling frameworks to give meaning and order to the vexing historical narratives surrounding schism and conflict in the early years of The Restoration. Specifically, he discussed the two primary tensions within Latter Day Saint religions: (a) between continuing revelation and restoration of an ancient order, and (b) between personal revelation and one prophet. He then discussed the three main impulses to which these tensions give rise: The drive to innovate through new revelation, the drive to preserve the existing revelation, and the drive to purify to get to the core of the truth. Though each of these impulses is present to some degree or another within Latter Day Saint religions, the emphasis that each Latter Day Saint group places on each defines the primary fault lines among schisms. For example, polygamous fundamentalists have a stronger emphasis on preservation, while the Temple Lot church is more invested in purification. Brilliant.

Following the banquet, I had a great time talking with Robin Jensen, Russell Arben Fox, Kristine Haglund, John Hamer, and Michael Karpowicz until it was late.

The next morning, J Stapley and Kathleen Flake gave awesome presentations on the Mormon practice of ritual adoption, which preceded the current practice of sealing to birth-parents. Greg Prince, in his response, noted (among other things) that the essence of Joseph’s continuing doctrinal innovations was the increase in certainty of one’s salvation.

I frequently saw David Howitt, who was quite busy coordinating the conference — and it was largely thanks to his efforts that the conference was such a success.

At lunch, President Becky Savage of the CoC 1st Presidency spoke about her experiences in the priesthood. It was surprisingly candid and personal. She’s an spectacular speaker.

Jean Addams gave an remarkable presentation about the Danielsen factory as the LDS church’s first attempt to redeem Zion. (Remember back when that was still a priority of our church?). Since I first saw Jean present at the 2008 SLC MHA conference on the Articles of Harmonization between the Temple Lot and RLDS churches, I’ve tried not to miss his presentations, because he does such a good job of drawing out the interesting aspects of the narrative. (I was lucky enough to chair one of his sessions at last year’s John Whitmer conference.)

Robin Jensen gave an outstanding presentation on Joseph’s transition from oral revelation to secret written revelation to published revelations.

At the awards banquet, I was lucky enough to sit at the same table as Vicki Cleverly Speek, Newel Bringhurst, Larry Foster, and Richard Jensen.

Thanks to the awards banquet, I learned how US Senator Kit Bond (R-MO) rescinded the Missouri Extermination Order issued by Lilburn Boggs in 1976: An RLDS stake in the area was planning a week-long activity for 1776, and when the planning committee met to discuss possible activities, somebody quipped, “Why don’t we invite the governor to come and rescind the Extermination Order?” At first everybody laughed, but it was eventually thought to be a terrific idea. Governor Bond was running for re-election, so his ability to attend was in doubt. But he came to the activity and rescinded the Extermination Order. He then gave a speech, in which he mentioned that people had asked him why he would bother with the order, since it had long since expired. He explained that it was essential to erase the order from the books, because its presence there dignified the violence that Missourians had inflicted upon the saints. After the speech, he stayed for much of the day and spoke with many of the members. Senator Bond received the Thomas L. Kane award at this year’s MHA conference for his outstanding service as a friend to Mormonism. Though he was unable to attend, he did send a very nice video expressing his thanks for the award and re-iterating the importance of rescinding the Extermination Order.

Also at the awards banquet, Matt Bowman won the award for best graduate paper, and his winning of this award has become a staple of the awards banquet. Unfortunately, transportation difficulties conspired to keep Matt from attending, and he was well missed.

On Saturday morning, Vicki Cleverly Speek, John Hamer , and Michael Karpowics did a fascinating session about the doctrines of family and development of kindred relationships among the Strangites, the branch of Mormonism that followed James Strange following Joseph’s death, and that was the chief rival to the Utah church until Strange’s martyrdom at the hand of Federal authorities.

Saturday afternoon, I had lunch with Brad Kramer, Mark Brown, J. Stapley, Kristine Haglund, Rosalynde Welch, David Knowlton, and Don Bradley, whose paper on Zelph later that day was terrific.

The last session I attended featured Lavina Fielding Anderson speaking on Joseph Sr’s patriarchal blessings, LaJean Purcell Carruth speaking on the 1st hand accounts of Missouri persecutions, and Gary James Bergera on moral and ethical aspects of Joseph’s plural marriages.

For the Presidential address, I sat at the same table as Gary James Bergera and Bill Russell. Ron Romig, the president at this year’s banquet presented a paper on Alexander Hale Smith, the child that Joseph and Emma had at Far West and named after Alexander Donifon. The photos that Ron used during his presentation were engrossing. I remember when I first met Ron Romig and Bill Russell at the Salt Lake City MHA Conference. They were the first “real live” CoC members that I met. I look back at the questions that I asked them about their church, and I cringe. Not only did my questions betray a voyeuristic ignorance, but it must have been the millionth time that they’d been asked those questions by a curious, if tactless, member of the LDS church. Yet, they were not just polite, but kind and engaging and respectful. That’s the quality of person that you regularly meet at these conferences, and seeing Bill and Ron is always a highlight of my trips to Latter Day Saint historical conferences.