There are 9 thoughts on “Marjorie Newton on “The Mormons in Australia” — A Retrospective Review”.

  1. Darren:
    I wish that someone would have immediately complained about the words “that there was no Lehi” in my comment above. The fact is that I have not seen one shred of evidence indicating that she has ever questioned the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon. I deeply regret having use that language to set out in simple terms her effort to insist that DNA evidence has somehow proven that Maori and others in Pacifica are not Children of Lehi.
    If Marjorie Newton somehow became aware of my stupid remark about how she understands the Book of Mormon, I apologize to her. I can only hope that she will accept by apology so that the much needed conversation can take place on what I consider very serious flaws in her Mormon and Maori. And I hope that she will keep in mind my praise for her fine Tiki and Temple.
    Why had I not immediately corrected that unfortunate and flatly false remark earlier? This might seem to some to be a sorry excuse, but I have been faced with ever increasing loss of my eyesight. Though I have managed to assemble what I believe all but one of Marjorie Newton’s published essays, as I made an effort to read these carefully. It has taken my months to do this because of I have quite often been forced by what is called Fuchs Dystrophy, as well as serious cataract problems in both eyes. I have recently undergone what is called DMEK surgery on my right eye, which has now made it possible for me to see better than I have for at least fifteen years. While recovering from this surgery, I have been urged to avoid any strain on my eyesight. I am now to the point where I can complete my response primarily to what I consider a shabby trashing of the Maori Latter-day Saint historical narrative.
    I still must have surgery on my left eye. That should take place in January. Then I will again be faced with a necessary but frustrating recovery period.

  2. I was an editor at Greg Kofford Books, the publisher of Marjorie Newton’s books on the Church in New Zealand, and edited both of her books on New Zealand.
    Louis C. Midgley’s retrospective review (see contains some disturbing claims. Marjorie Newton has written four books – Southern Cross Saints (a history of the LDS Church in Australia), Tiki and Temple and Mormon and Maori (the Church in New Zealand), and Hero or Traitor? Charles Wesley Wandall: A Biography of Charles Wesley Wandell. The review challenges what Midgley perceives as Newton’s anti-American agenda. A key claim is: “Even though she is Latter-day Saint, she has chosen to follow those who claim they are not interested in the question of the truth (or untruth) of that faith. Marjorie Newton’s own understanding of the faith of the Saints manifests indifference to truth questions. An indifference to truth-claims prevents or hampers understanding what believers find soul-satisfying.”
    This claim of Marjorie Newton’s “indifference” seems to be a manifestation of Midgley’s own agenda, which has, for years, been an attempt to defend Mormon truth claims. Defending the faith requires an enemy – someone or something who is attacking the faith. Positioning Marjorie Newton as such an enemy is a serious misreading of her books, and a misapplication of Midgley’s defensive agenda. He seems to be attacking Marjorie for not having written the books that he wants instead of reviewing the books she actually wrote.
    In the “Comments” section, he states that “she insists there is scientific proof that there was no Lehi, and hence the indigenous peoples of America and Pacifica could not possibly be Children of Lehi. She sees belief that the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient history as part of what she considers American Mormon cultural imperialism.” These statements are so inaccurate that they approach slander. Marjorie makes no such claims about Lehi or the historical nature of the Book of Mormon. In fact, such statements flatly contradict her personal beliefs and commitment to the Church. She reports arguments from others who differ from her own views, but they are clearly identified as those of others.
    Both of Marjorie Newton’s books on the Church in New Zealand (Tiki and Temple and Mormon and Maori) were awarded the prize for international history by the Mormon History Association in the years they were published. Marjorie’s family associations with the Church date to the late 1840s when her stepmother’s grandparents were converted in England. She was blessed at age five, and has been an active, contributing member, serving in ward, stake and Area callings and assignments to the present day. Her husband served as a bishop and a counselor in two stake presidencies among many other callings. Marjorie is currently serving as a member of the Australia Church History Committee and, at the request of the Pacific Area Presidency, served on the committee preparing displays for the new Matthew Cowley Pacific Church History Museum, with the responsibility of ensuring the historical accuracy of all texts used in displays.
    Her vita is available on request. She invites those interested to read her books and draw their own conclusions.

    • I was invited to review Marjorie Newton’s Tiki and Temple for the Journal of Mormon history. Lavina edited my review for that publication. On 14 July she began with the following: “Attached please find the editing on your fine review of the Newton book.” Lavina is known for her skill as a technical editor. I enjoyed my exchange with her over my review of Tiki and Temple. I urged her to find a way to put a macon over the long vowels in Maori words, which she did. She is a gifted technical editor. And she is also a former student of my from very early in my teaching career at BYU, where for two or three weeks I introduced some bright able students to one brand of Protestant theology during a team taught course.

      On that day Lavina addressed me as “Dear Lou,” and signed her note “Affectionately, Lavina.” Her message began as follows: “Attached please find the editing on your fine review of Newton’s book.”

      I am now simply astonished and deeply disappointed at Lavina’s diatribe. What was the motivation for her hit piece aimed at me? I wonder if Marjorie Newton might have asked Lavina to trash my retrospective review.

      Since I have recently undergone DMEK surgery to restore my failing eyesight, I have only recently given close attention to Lavina’s tasteless and unwarranted diatribe.

      When I was able to actually read, rather than listen to someone else read my essay, I discovered that I had somehow turned the word “Islam” into “island,” and I had also garbled Newton’s maiden name. Both of these glitches have now been corrected. I also notice mistake in my effort to set out what I call Newton’s “Publishing and Academic Milestones.” On page 145 in my essay I indicate that Newton began work on her “Mormonism in New Zealand” in 1988. The fact is that I do not know when she began work on her PhD thesis. The fact is that I only know that she found a distinguished scholar in the School of Religious Studies at Sydney University who was willing to sponsor her PhD thesis, but I have now idea exactly when that happened. My rule is that if there is no clear textual evidence, or a very inference, it is wrong to just assume something. There is no textual evidence indicating when she began her PhD thesis. At this point I do not believe that I can correct that glitch.

      Lavina makes a huge fuss about my claim that Newton indicates in Southern Cross Saints that she will not address the fundamental truth claims upon which the faith of the Saints necessarily rests. She claims that my statement approaches slander. I provided the evidence by citing a page in Southern Cross Saints. See footnote 7 in my essay above.

      If Lavina had read Newton’s affirmative appeal to what Marv Hill and Jim Allen wrote in a book of essays they edited on Mormonism and American Culture, which was published in 1972, she would have found the following on page xix:
      “Today…most non-Mormon scholars are no longer concerned with determining the ultimate truth or untruth of Mormon doctrine but with understanding the nature of the movement and its relationship to the broader American culture. Similarly, Mormon students and scholars are no longer concerned with simply defending their faith but are motivated instead by the same concerns Hill and Allen attribute to non-Mormon scholars.”

      This seems to me to be exactly what Keith Thompson (see page 144 in my essay) had in mind when he radically contrasted Tiki and Temple, which is solidly faith-affirming, with Southern Cross Saints.

      Readers should keep in mind my heavy reliance on two very fine reviews of Newton’s Southern Cross Saints, one of whom was born, raised and educated at Sydney University. I called attention to my reliance on those two excellent reviews precisely because I did not want to be accused of attributing opinions to Newton that other experts did not also see clearly in her Southern Cross Saints.

      I do not see how setting out a list of the callings Newton and her husband have held, or that her roots as a Latter-day Saint go back to the late 1840s, or that she has won prizes for things she has written are response to my essay. Instead, much of what Lavina has written above seems to me to be an effort to prevent a free and open conversation on Marjorie Newton’s effort to explain away or otherwise dismiss the of the Maori Latter-day Saint historical narrative and other closely related portions of the faith of Maori Saints that are found in her 1998 PhD thesis and then again in 2014 in her Mormon and Maori.

      • I would disagree Mr Midgley.

        I think the summary provided of Newtons life service gives great context to this discussion, as your article is permeated with an overtone that Newton is some how antagonistic towards the church and faith promoting experiences – with a careful reading of her work and understanding the context/audience it was written for – this view is not justified.

        This subtle, ad-hominem, approach may have been accidental given you are disagreeing with much of her work.

        I appreciate the clarification from Lavina and do not see how her comment is an “….effort to prevent a free and open conversation…” merely because she disagrees with your content, tone, and perceptions as to Newtons ‘agenda’.

    • Thanks Lavina – this is a very interesting summary of Newtons life work. I didn’t realize how decorated her works were and also the significance of her ongoing, and even recent, contribution to the Church via the various committees see serves on (at the request of the Pacific Area Presidency!).

      It gives me a much clearer view of Newton as an author, and in many respects, places her as a leading authority on these matters.

      This was not made clear in in Midgley’s blog post.


  3. In Australia there has been a significant difference between those who enter the Government census and those numbers the church claim as members.

    • I am not sure what, if anything, the comment by Noel H. has to do with my effort to try to identify Marjorie Newton’s publishing agenda. I have located and read carefully all twenty-three items she has published, including those on the Saints in Australia, in an effort locate and asses her publishing agenda, which I then described in my review of of the published version of his M.A. thesis.

      However, I also hope that my essay will indicate the very difficult struggle that LDS missionaries had in Australia beginning in 1851 until after WW II. And then the success that subsequently followed.

      I am, of course, aware of the census figures for both New Zealand and Australia. If the Aussies are anything at all like the Kiwi, who are obsessed with privacy, this would help to explain why the government figures differ from the actual number of members. It is, as Noel H. knows well, likely that many on the West Island have gone missing. Footy and Fosters make exactly no moral demands.

      Given what I think I know about Aussie popular “culture,” it is to me simply amazing how many very devout Latter-day Saints there are on the West Island. It is more than possible that this fact annoys some of those who have gone missing.

  4. I always enjoy Louis Midgley’s insights on the Latter-day saint faith among the Maori and the south eastern pacific in general. I enjoyed this read as well and look forward to his review of Mormons and Maori.

    • Darren:
      I appreciate your kind remarks. My review of the 1991 published version of Marjorie Newton’s 1986 M.A. thesis was part of my own effort to assemble and read carefully everything she has written in a effort to identify her agenda. I have reviewed Marjorie Newton’s faith-affirming Tiki and Temple favorably. Unfortunately, her Mormon and Maori is serious flawed. For example, she insists there is scientific proof that there was no Lehi, and hence the indigenous peoples of America and Pacifica could not possibly be Children of Lehi. She sees belief that the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient history as part of what she considers American Mormon cultural imperialism.
      For an informed opnion on the I highly recommend Professor Robert Joseph’s talk at the fifth annual birthday party of the Interpreter Foundation. See

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