So, in honor of the broad-mindedness that is Mormon Matters, I would like to suggest a list of the top ten “Righteous Gentiles.” In orthodox Judaism, these are known as gerim toshavim, “resident aliens.” These are Gentiles who either formally or informally have associated themselves with the people of the Jews by agreeing to abide by the mitzvot or Noachian laws.
What great men/women among our people have demonstrated similar affinity for our cause, while they themselves remain outside the fray of the Mormon center?
A. They must be well-regarded on either the folk or elite level, and their contributions must be perceived as distinctively Mormon (even if they are not).
B. They aren’t necessary “righteous” by our standards, but their names must have currency among our people as a sympathizer (whether they were actually sympathizers or not is irrelevant)
The List–10th through 5th
10. G.K. Chesterton
A British author and Christian apologist well-renowned for his series of novels, The Father Brown Mysteries as well as his vigorous critiques of secularism and modernity, Chesterton has reached wide audiences amongst all Christians of essentially any Christian faith. Even though he was vehemently opposed to any deviation from Catholic orthodoxy and even levelled a mild critique against Mormons, I rank him #10. Chesterton has been quoted often enough by general authorities and leaders to be comparable with C.S. Lewis. Bruce C. Hafen devoted an entire talk (one of those typically well-worn talks on balancing faith and reason and so-on) to a single quotation by Chesterton. While most of his renown has come from Elder Maxwell’s extensive usage of him, Maxwell alone has made Chesterton’s name worth noting.
9. Richard Muow and co.
The president of Fuller Theological Seminary, Muosw is less known as a person and more known as a symbol. In 2004, Muow declared, at the Mormon Tabernacle, to thousands of LDS that evangelicals “have sinned against you.” He proceeded to provide a mea culpa on behalf of the Evangelical community, stating that they have spread lies and untruths about Mormons and their beliefs. His remarks set off a firestorm within the Intermountain evangelical outreach center, some suggesting that his remarks were only going to empower Mormons more in their wrong-headed beliefs that they were mainstream Christians. This, of course, only increased Muow’s cachet amongst the Utah circles as an evangelical who was finally willing to tell the truth against the roar of the masses. Such things carry tremendous pathos to the Mormons as a people.
Muow’s admission was the culmination for a golden age of Evangelical-Mormon dialogue, starting with Stephen Robinson’s collaborative work with Craig Blomberg, a Protestant scholar of the New Testament at the Denver Seminary in Colorado: How Wide the Divide?: An Evangelical and a Mormon in Conversation. In essence, Muow, Robinson, and Blomberg represented the actualization of many Mormons’ hopes—albeit fleeting— that evangelical leaders might finally acknowledge that we do share some core beliefs and that we are *gasp* indeed Christians.
8. Alexander Doniphan
Doniphan should be noted in his own right for his contributions as a military commander during the Mexican War. Indeed, he has been so noted, as the litany of schools in Missouri have been named after him. But Mormons, of course, have other reasons for the soft spot for ole’ Al in their collective conscience.
Doniphan was an attorney living in Missouri at the time of the Saints’ expulsion from Jackson county in 1833. Doniphan provided legal representation for Joseph Smith during the bazillion legal hearings he had to trudge through in the Missouri era. He refused to execute Joseph when General Lucas commanded him to do so—at risk of court martial and perhaps execution himself. As a member of the Missouri state legislature, he worked to create Caldwell County as a settlement for the Saints in the wake of the expulsion from Jackson county. While he never particularly liked Joseph Smith or his religion, Doniphan will be, for the time being, remembered as a lover of liberty and justice to the Mormon mind.
7. Klaus Baer
The Egyptologist extraordinaire who made made himself famous as the great middle-way on matters concerning the Abraham papyri. Baer instructed Hugh Nibley in Egyptian in 1959 and became attached to the Joseph Smith papyri from that point on. When some of the original papyri were discovered in 1966, Baer, as commissioned by Dialogue, provided a highly agnostic translation of the documents. While devoutly agnostic, Baer refused to jump on board with the critics in declaring Joseph Smith to be a fraud. Indeed, in one letter to the Tanners, he instructed them that similar translation difficulties can be found in the New Testament and that these difficulties cannot be used to delegitimize faith. While Baer does not quite constitute a hero for Mormon thought, he demonstrates the cool-headed scholarship that refuses to point fingers—a tendency most Mormon intellectuals appreciate even if they do not agree with.
6. Margaret Barker
A scholar of Old Testament studies who studied at University of Cambridge, Barker has written widely on monotheism amongst the Canaanites. What has made her a Blessed Gentile? Her scholarship has touched all of Mormon gurus’ soft spots: Enoch, temple theology, and questions re: the plurality of gods. Her most famous work within Mormon circles, The Great Angel: A Study of Israel’s Second God wherein she argues that “the Lord” was indeed seen as a Son of God in early Israelite theology. While her work is certainly unusual in her field, that she is a Cambridge-trained scholar of Old Testament studies has helped Latter-day Saints feel an added sense of legitimacy in their intellectual claims.
5. Jan Shipps
Called “the beloved Gentile” by higher-ups within the Church and the “Jane Goodall of Mormon studies” by others, Jan Shipps almost single-handedly made the study of Mormonism into a mainstream fashion rather than just the niche studies of academics. Before Jan Shipp, few credible scholars indeed commented with any degree of favorability to the Church. Jan Shipps has provided a dominant wherein scholars can understand Mormonism without judging its veracity. It was Shipps who proposed that we stop seeking to determine whether Joseph’s visions were correct or not, but rather, she suggested we look to determine what kind of collective meaning these visions had to the people who experienced them. While Bushman has taken a similar approach, his orthodoxy in the Church has been an obstacle (albeit, one that could be overcome). Shipps has demonstrated that one can study Joseph Smith’s story and still be a sympathetic non-believer.
And if she’s really the Jane Gooddall of Mormons, maybe the Mormon creationists should re-think their position…