Marjorie Newton on “The Mormons in Australia” — A Retrospective Review

  • Article Formats:
  • MP3 audio
  • PDF
  • MOBI
  • ePub
  • Kindle store
  • NOOK store
  • Order Print Copy

A Review of Marjorie Newton, Southern Cross Saints: The Mormons in Australia, foreword by Lawrence Foster (xiii-xv). (Laie, HI: Institute for Polynesian Studies, 1991). xxvi+283 pp., with a glossary of Latter-day Saint Terms (257–59), Bibliography (261–71), Index (273–83). Softcover (out of print, but copies are still available).

Abstract: This is a survey of Marjorie Newton’s account of Latter-day Saints in Australia which identifies the roots of her agenda — that is, what she was striving to accomplish in her first book in 1991 (and the other related essays) which she published before turning her attention to a criticism of the faith of Māori Latter-day Saints, first in 1998 and then in 2014. Midgley locates in her early publications on the Saints in Australia early signs of her controlling cultural Mormon agenda and hence how and why she insists that there has been a trampling of the Māori culture by what she considers a Mormon version of American cultural imperialism.

Until the fall of 1996 I was only barely aware that Marjorie Aileen Burnett Newton1 had published a book on “The Mormons in Australia.” I was also not aware she was working on a PhD thesis at the University of Sydney on “Mormonism in New Zealand.”2 Then I noticed an essay in the Journal of Mormon History in which she opined on [Page 144]how Latter-day Saint mission presidents dealt with Māori customary modes of marriage (and divorce).3 A note on the first page of this essay indicates that “she is currently completing her doctoral dissertation on Mormonism in New Zealand at the University of Sydney.” She finished her thesis in February 1998. In 2014, the substance of her thesis, augmented by some troubling assertions about the Book of Mormon, was published,4 two years after her excellent, faith-affirming Tiki and Temple5 appeared in print.

Keith Thompson, who knows well the Latter-day Saints in both New Zealand and Australia, contrasted Newton’s faith-affirming Tiki and Temple with her Southern Cross Saints. Her book on “the Mormons in Australia,” he noted, has been “the subject of criticism because some felt that it did not adequately address the faith of the members or the spirit of revelation that guided the work” in Australia.6 Southern Cross Saints was radically unlike her faith-affirming Tiki and Temple.7 His observation led me to look into Marjorie Newton’s first book and her other essays on Australian Latter-day Saints.

Publishing and Academic Milestones

Marjorie Newton, born in 1933, began her studies at the University of Sydney in 1967 as “a mature-age student (a very mature-aged student),” she explains.8 The most important milestones in her academic career are the following:

  • [Page 145]After completing her high school degree by correspondence in 1967, she was awarded, at age 34, what she describes as “a mature-age scholarship” to the University of Sydney, where she began her bachelor’s degree, which was awarded in 1976 when she was 44.
  • She then began work on her master’s degree in the history department at the University of Sydney. In 1987, at age 54, she completed this degree.
  • Southern Cross Saints, which is a revision of her MA honors thesis on Mormons in Australia, was published in 1991 when she was 58.
  • In 1988 she began work on a doctorate in the School of Religious Studies at the University of Sydney, where she worked on “Mormonism in New Zealand,” which is the title of her PhD thesis.
  • In February 1998, she was awarded her PhD at age 65.
  • Major revisions of two portions of her PhD thesis were eventually published as two books, the first of which was Tiki and Temple in 2012.
  • In 2014, at age 81, 16 years after she had competed her PhD, Mormon and Maori was published. It is the capstone of her scholarly career.
  • Her remarkable publishing career, which began in 1986, includes the following: two theses, three books, one monograph,9 and 17 reviews and essays.10

[Page 146]Newton began writing about the Saints in Australia, then shifted to New Zealand, where her primary focus was on the faith of Māori Latter-day Saints. However, she soon published six essays setting out her opinions on the Saints in Australia. My commentary will also draw on the contents of these other essays. Instead of merely setting out my own assessment of Southern Cross Saints, I will begin with a summary of two fine reviews of this book. I do this to avoid being seen as reading into Southern Cross Saints something that is not there.

Two Expert Opinions

The first review was written by Professor Peter Lineham,11 a gifted New Zealand Church historian.12 He points out that “in nineteenth century Australia Mormon missionaries struggled desperately, and the Australian side of the Australasian mission was abandoned for a mission to the Maori of New Zealand.”13 The reason was that the scant LDS missionary resources were sent where there was an opportunity for the Kingdom of God to prosper. This increasingly was New Zealand, not Australia. Why?

Newton explains that the Australasian Mission, the official name of Latter-day Saint missionary endeavors in Australia, began in 1851 with a limited presence in Australia. There were only a few Saints in this large and diverse land until after World War II. Beginning in 1854, LDS missionary activities also included a periodic presence of a few missionaries in New Zealand. In 1897, the Brethren made these two British dominions separate missions, each with its own Mission president and headquarters. In addition, beginning in 1878 and before this division, the Australasian Mission headquarters were in New Zealand. For instance, William M. Bromley, the Australasian Mission president in 1881-1883 — under whom missionary work among the Māori began at the very end of 1882, which soon led to a large and an essentially Māori community of Saints in New Zealand — never visited Australia. The reason for this shift from Australia to New Zealand seems to be that Australia was far more “godless” than New Zealand. In addition, though travel was difficult in New Zealand, this difficulty was minimal when compared with what has been called “tyranny of distance” in Australia.

[Page 147]Lineham also indicates that Southern Cross Saints makes a valuable contribution not only to “Mormon historiography but also to Australian religious history.”14 The key reason is that “she sees the Church in the general context of the religious tone of her country” and hence she also interprets the Latter-day Saint “experience in Australia as compatible to that of other churches and its struggles as a by-product of Australian godlessness.”15 Lineham’s astute observation seems to me to be a fine summary of Newton’s stance. But the problem, also according to Lineham, is that her tentative explanation “does not really explain the contemporary growth” of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Australia after World War II,16 since Australia seems to have become even more and not less godless.

Again, according to Lineham, “Newton prefers to emphasize the American character of the church as what made it different, and her section on Australian Mormons’ frustrations with this must be read for sheer enjoyment.”17 Lineham senses that Newton is annoyed by the American features she detects and deeply resents in her own community of faith. She is not fond of America (or Americans). She may like individual Americans, but she resents American influence in Australia. Put more bluntly, Lineham identifies Newton’s hostility to what she sees as an LDS version of a variety of American cultural imperialism.

Rapid growth in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Australia has taken place during Newton’s adult lifetime. Lineham insists that she fails to explain why American Latter-day Saint missionary endeavors in Australia soon after World War II led to many among the presumably worldly, skeptical, often unchurched Australians becoming faithful Latter-day Saints. The reason seems to be that in Southern Cross Saints, there is little about the actual faith and memory of Australian Saints. Instead, Newton has much to say about “cultural conflict.” In addition, from my perspective, she overlooks the impact of the message on those willing to listen and accept a message taught only incidentally by American Latter-day Saint missionaries. In my own experience, the Good News about the victory over both spiritual and mortal death has a transcultural power and appeal. She does not ask how this happens, very often despite vast cultural differences between peoples.

[Page 148]In his review of Southern Cross Saints, Geoffrey F. Spencer18 indicates that he believes that Newton sets out some sound reasons why there had been so few Australians becoming Latter-day Saints until “the early 1950s,” when in the next 40 years the LDS membership in Australia grew from 2,000 to 76,000.19 (The number of Latter-day Saints in Australia may now have even doubled.)

The reasons Newton sets out for the earlier, very slow growth of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Australia during its first hundred years, according to Spencer, include the fact that “Church authorities in Utah simply failed to understand the formidable barriers to proselyting, supervision, and communication in a land mass approximately the size of mainland U.S.A,” whose urban areas are scattered mostly along or near the rim of this vast, mostly empty continent. Even if they had understood these sorts of things, the Brethren were under restraints that would have rendered such a comprehension null, given the resources available and also the situation in Australia.

Also, again according to Spencer, Newton identifies several special “cultural factors”20 that hampered Church growth in Australia until, of course, the very rapid growth beginning shortly after World War II. These include “not so much domestic influences as to policies and attitudes emanating from Utah” but also events in the United States as well as large events in the world. In addition, “New Zealand was more generously equipped than its sister dominion” by the Brethren in Salt Lake City.21 The reason, of course, was the remarkable openness of the Māori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, who after 1882 soon made the Church primarily a Māori community of Saints.

Spencer also draws from Newton’s book the claim that American Latter-day Saints were indifferent to “Australia’s peculiar culture and [Page 149]history.” For instance, they insisted on “standardized materials and programs,” which they imposed in Australia.22 Both Lineham and Spencer call attention to Newton’s concern over this sort of essentially true but trivial thing, which clearly irritates Newton. For Newton, the story of the Church in Australia is of an American lack of interest in or indifference to what she sees as important elements of Australian “national culture.”

Seeking to Understand Newton’s Agenda

Although I have tried to figure out what might have generated Marjorie Newton’s concern about “cultural conflict,” I have found no evidence that those who lectured in the history department at the University of Sydney, including Professor J. K. (John Kenneth) Cable (1929-2003), who supervised her master’s thesis, generated her concerns that became the key element in her publishing agenda. Professor Cable, though not familiar with the history of Latter-day Saints, was a faithful Anglican and also an expert on the Anglican history in Australia. He was also the only one in the history department with any interest in sectarian church history or even “religion.” In addition, no one in the history department at the University of Sydney was interested in the faith of Latter-day Saints or familiar with the unique and interesting history of Latter-day Saints in Australia. Professor Cable could, and I assume did, provide Newton with assistance on archival and other research. Southern Cross Saints is clearly the work of someone who has learned well this part of the historian’s craft.

In Australian as well as American universities, students research and then write on topics about which no one in a department is interested or at all knowledgeable. And students can also get caught in partisan ideological struggles between faculty members. For quality control, Australian universities require an “expert” from outside of Australia to approve to disapprove a master’s thesis.23 With no one in that history department with “any experience in Mormon history,” the burden for approving Newton’s thesis was shifted to Lawrence (Larry) Foster, an American historian and well-known critic of the faith of Latter-day Saints, to assess and approve Newton’s “Southern Cross Saints.” He later provided the “Forward” to her Southern Cross Saints. (For the same reason, a PhD thesis in Australia is routinely examined by three scholars from outside of Australia who are, it is hoped, experts on the topic. The author of a thesis may even have a say in the selection of these outside examiners.)

[Page 150]After Southern Cross Saints appeared in print, Newton indicates that Professor Cable encouraged her “to proceed to a doctorate but not in Mormon history. This was because,” she explains, “no one in the history department at Sydney University at that time had any expertise in Mormon history.”24 Professor Cable was unwilling to supervise a PhD thesis by Newton on a Mormon topic. Perhaps this was because Cable was not willing to rely on three outside “experts” picked by her to assess the quality of her work. Be that as it may, she grants that at this point she had “virtually given up the idea of a doctorate.”25

Then something happened: Professor Eric J. Sharpe (1933-2000) agreed to supervise Newton’s PhD thesis (on the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New Zealand) if she shifted from the history department to religious studies. Professor Sharpe was the inaugural professor of religious studies in the School of Religious Studies, which he founded in 1977.26

It seems that at some point, Professor Sharpe,27 having read Newton’s master’s thesis, “offered to supervise” her PhD thesis, even though he was not familiar with Mormon history or the history of New Zealand. She claims that Sharpe saved her academic career; without his “interest and encouragement, not only would my thesis not have been completed, [Page 151]it would not have been begun.” There is, however, very little or no indication that Professor Sharpe contributed substantively to Newton’s thesis.28 And her secular agenda was in place prior to having him direct her PhD thesis. Instead, it seems that her own dogged determination over three decades of studies, driven by a passion to publish her opinions about the faith of Māori Saints, led to the publication of the capstone of her academic career, Mormon and Maori.

In addition, she has the disposition and training necessary to do original archival research. Southern Cross Saints is thus packed with an impressive assortment of details flowing from extensive and careful research. It is not, however, a chronological, narrative account, nor is it merely the story of Latter-day Saint missionary work in Australia. Rather it is a complex, thematic, topical treatment of “The Mormon Church in Australia.” She does not focus on the contents of the faith of the very few Australians who became Latter-day Saints in Australia beginning in the 1850s, when the first tiny missionary endeavors began, nor on the grounds or contents, after World War II, of the faith of new converts, when the Australian community of Saints began to grow rapidly.

In her Southern Cross Saints, Newton seeks to explain the very rapid growth of an American religion after World War II in a land where, as she puts it, “working class people” are largely indifferent to faith in God. Why the indifference? In his justly famous Democracy in America,29 Alexis de Tocqueville showed the importance for the future mores of America of an initial “Puritan founding” (which preceded the later “Republican founding”), which set in place an ethos that in subtle ways is still present among Americans. Australia had a far different founding, including prison ships from England30 then gold seekers and others not linked to churches. Australia was mostly initially colonized by those who were often unchurched, whose descendants are now often apathetic about, if not hostile to, faith in God.31

[Page 152]In contrast, New Zealand was largely colonized by devout religious communities, whose impact is still present despite the growing secularization taking place. Where the Latter-day Saint missionaries, who first began visiting New Zealand in 1854, faced considerable sectarian religious bigotry (and hence also closely related legal restrictions), Church missionaries for a hundred years in Australia faced mostly apathy and indifference. Then, shortly after World War II, what Newton tends to picture as an alien American faith became attractive to some Australians.

Missing the Mark

Marjorie Newton’s lack of interest in the reasons for the faith of the Latter day Saints in Australia seems to me to be intentional. Why? She indicates that non-Latter-day Saint scholars are busy trying to figure out the nature of the strange Mormon movement and its strained relationship with its many host cultures. 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.32 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. It is a mistake to follow non-Latter-day Saint scholars who claim they merely examine what they consider cultural influences or challenges generated by shifts in public opinion among those who are not Latter-day Saints.

After the publication of Southern Cross Saints, Newton found several venues in which she opined about the Church in Australia, which for a century had been tiny communities of Saints scattered around a vast continent. Then, soon after World War II, this changed, and the Australian community of Latter-day Saints grew rapidly. It seems this happened despite its being, from Newton’s perspective, an alien American cultural imposition on Australian “national culture.”33

I am confident the faith of the Latter-day Saint, when taken seriously, does not challenge the noble but the base elements found in every human culture. This began as part of the history of Christian faith from the moment the first disciples of Jesus sought to take the Good News to the world.34 Does Newton believe, I wonder, that we are merely witnessing [Page 153]American cultural imperialism as the Church gains a foothold and then becomes a faithful community of Latter-day Saints in a host of locations not limited to Latin America, the Philippines, islands in the South Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa, and even in the United States of America?

Perhaps this is what she believes. Why? In the “preface” to Southern Cross Saints she claims that “since World War II, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon Church) has expanded enormously, not only numerically but also, if many acute observers are to be believed, in wealth, power, political influence, and social prestige.”35

The LDS Church exerts political power in both the United States and in Central and South America far out of proportion to its numerical strength. Moreover, the Mormon Church has once again come under the intense public scrutiny as its increasing visibility has brought criticism and even legal challenges to some of its practices and doctrines for the first time since the anti-polygamy campaign of the nineteenth century.36

Again, according to Newton, having previously survived certain challenges,

the Church is facing pressure from another source, because women are not eligible for ordination to the priesthood. Thus, at present, Mormonism is receiving a considerable degree of attention from not only investigative journalists, but also from sociologists, cultural anthropologists, political scientists and historians.37

Given this new critical “attention,” she asks: “Why has an American church experienced such growth in Australia?”38

Without really addressing the grounds and contents of the faith of Australian Latter-day Saints, though describing, for example, how some lesson materials were not well-suited for Australia, which Professor Lineham found amusing, coupled with her annoyance that direction comes from Salt Lake City, she struggles and fails to explain how — what she pictures as a strange, marginal, controversial American religious movement, which struggled and even languished for a century — soon after World War II managed to become, especially in worldly Australia, a [Page 154]thriving community of faithful Latter-day Saints. Professor Thompson was right about Newton’s Southern Cross Saints. Unfortunately, her Mormon and Maori has far more serious flaws, as I will demonstrate elsewhere.


1. This is the name under which the Church History Library of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City, Utah, catalogues her publications.

2. Newton, “Mormonism in New Zealand: A Historical Appraisal,” PhD thesis, History Department, University of Sydney, 1998.

3. Newton, “From Tolerance to ‘House Cleaning’: LDS Leadership Response to Maori Marriage Customs, 1890-1990,” Journal of Mormon History 22/2 (Fall 1996): 72–91.

4. Newton, Mormon and Maori (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014).

5. Newton, Tiki and Temple: The Mormon Mission in New Zealand, 1854 1958 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012).

6. A. Keith Thompson, review of Newton’s Tiki and Temple, BYU Studies 52/2 (Fall 2013): 186–90. Professor Thompson is currently associate professor and associate dean at the University of Notre Dame Australia School of Law, Sydney, Australia. For his vitae, see See also

7. For my own affirmative assessment of Newton’s Tiki and Temple, see Journal of Mormon History 40/1 (2014): 253–56; and also my essay “Māori Latter day Saint Faith: Some Preliminary Remarks,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 8 (2014): 45–65.

8. See “Q&A with Marjorie Newton, author of Mormon and Maori” (Greg Kofford Books, May 12, 2014), available without pagination at, accessed on 25 November 2016. This interview consists of eight brief questions to which she has provided answers. (I have numbered the questions to facilitate location of the language cited; hereafter cited as “Q&A with Marjorie Newton”). Some information useful in establishing a timeline for Newton’s studies can be found in “Australian Author Receives Award for ‘Mormon and Maori,’” available at

9. Hero or Traitor: A Biographical Study of Charles Wesley Wandell (Independence, MO: Independence Press, 1992). This 104-page monograph is a biography of Wandell (1819-1875), who was born in Courtland, NY, and became a Latter-day Saint on 5 January 1837. He completed a Latter-day Saint mission to Australia, where his missionary companion was John Murdock. Wandell ceased being a Latter-day Saint in 1864 and later joined the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, for whom he was a missionary in Australia.

10. See Newton’s “’Almost Like Us’: The American Socialization of Australian Converts,” Dialogue 24/3 (1991): 9–20; “ An Australian Viewpoint,” Dialogue 24/4 (1991): 74–78; and “Towards 2000: Mormonism in Australia,” Dialogue 29/1 (1996): 193–206.

11. Peter Lineham, review of Marjorie Newton’s Southern Cross Saints, in Pacific Studies 16/1 (March 1993): 125–26. Hereafter cited as Lineham.

12. For Professor Lineham’s”Research Outputs,” see, for evidence of Professor Lineham’s impressive publishing career.

13. Lineham, 125.

14. Ibid.

15. Ibid., emphasis added.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid., 126.

18. Geoffrey F. Spencer (1927-2005) was born and raised in Australia and was educated at the University of Sydney. He first taught high school in 1949-1953, then was employed in 1954 as a pastor by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Australia; then, beginning in 1966, also a pastor in Independence, Missouri. He was an Apostle for the RLDS (1984-1994), and then the president of the quorum of their Twelve Apostles (1990-1994). For details, see the obituary for Geoffrey F. Spencer at

19. See Geoffrey F. Spencer, review of Newton’s Southern Cross Saints, Journal of Mormon History, 19/1 (1993): 190–94 at 191. Hereafter cited as Spencer with page number(s).

20. Ibid., 191.

21. Ibid., 192.

22. Ibid.

23. For the PhD, three “experts” from outside Australia are paid to evaluate a thesis.

24. This is a quote from Newton’s second answer to “Q&A with Marjorie Newton,” author of Mormon and Maori May 12, 2014.” This can be accessed online at–of-em-mormon-and-maori-em. This interview consists of eight brief, unnumbered questions to which she has provided answers. I cite this as “Q&A with Marjorie Newton.”

25. “Q&A with Marjorie Newton,” question #2.

26. Newton quotes Professor Sharpe from an address titled “Manning Clark Revisited,” read on 22 August 1993 on the Australian Broadcasting Commission Radio in her Mormon and Maori, 112; and see also what is cited under Professor Sharpe’s name in her “Bibliography” to Mormon and Maori, 208. (This talk is on a controversial Australian historian.) She also cites the notes she made on a conversation she had in May 1996 with Professor Sharpe. He seems to have merely urged her to follow her agenda.

27. Newton has described Professor Sharpe as a “missiologist.” See “Q&A with Marjorie Newton,” question #2. However, this label does not capture the contents of his many books and essays. Instead, religious studies, as Sharpe conceived it, included “world religions,” such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, understood with presumably neutral explanations and through the lens of secular categories, with only incidental attention to Christian missionary endeavors. For details about Sharpe’s academic career, see the Wikipedia entry on “Eric J. Sharpe,” at

28. “Q&A with Marjorie Newton,” question #2.

29. For a truly remarkable translation of Democracy in America, and also a fine introduction to this book, see the translation by Harvey C. Mansfield and Delba Winthrop, published by the University of Chicago Press in 2000.

30. See Robert Hughes’s best-selling The Fatal Shore: The Epic of Australia’s Founding (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1986). (This remarkable book is available in paperback from Vintage Book, 1988.) The second wave of colonists were often gold diggers eager for instant wealth and often indifferent to things divine.

31. See Newton, Southern Cross Saints, 69-76, for her interesting treatment of “Religious Apathy” among Australians.”

32. Ibid., preface, xvii-xxii at xix.

33. See the three essays Newton published in Dialogue, cited in note 10, above.

34. What could be the greatest mass conversion to Christianity began to take place in China when Mao began terrible persecution. For a brief review of some of the literature on this remarkable change that has taken place despite or because of terrible persecution of Christians, see Midgley, “Christian Faith in Contemporary China,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 2 (2012): 35–39.

35. Southern Cross Saints, xvii.

36. Ibid.

37. Ibid., preface, xvii.

38. Ibid.

Posted in Review and tagged , on . Bookmark the permalink.

About Louis C. Midgley

Louis Midgley (Ph.D. Brown University) is an emeritus professor of political science at Brigham Young University, where he taught the history of political philosophy, which includes efforts of Christian churchmen and theologians to identify, explain, understand and cope with the evils in this world. Dr. Midgley has therefore had an abiding interest in both dogmatic and systematic theology, and the alternatives to both. His doctoral dissertation was on the religious socialist political ideology of Paul Tillich, a once famous German American Protestant theologian, most famous for his systematic theology which is a radical elaboration of classical theism. Dr. Midgley’s encounter with the writings of Leo Strauss, an influential Jewish philosopher/intellectual historian drew his attention to the radical challenge posed by what is often called modernity to both the wisdom of Jerusalem, which is grounded on divine revelation, and also the contrasting, competing wisdom of Athens, which was fashioned by unaided human reason. Dr. Midgley has an interest in the ways in which communities of faith have responded to the challenges posed by modernity to faith in God grounded on divine special revelation.

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

Leave a Reply to Louis Midgley Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

All comments are moderated to ensure respectful discourse. It is assumed that it is possible to disagree agreeably and intelligently and comments that intend to increase overall understanding are particularly encouraged.