[Page 179]Abstract: Marjorie Newton’s Mormon and Maori is a version of her 1998 thesis in which she rejects key elements of the Māori Latter-day Saint historical narrative. This contrasts with her earlier, faith-affirming Tiki and Temple. In Mormon and Maori Newton targets what she sees as Māori/missionary mythology. She has written for different audiences; one was for secular religious studies scholars, while the other was for faithful Saints. Midgley rejects Newton’s claim that a Mormon American cultural imperialism requires Māori to abandon noble elements of their culture. Faithful Saints are liberated from the soul destroying behavior that results from the loss of traditional Māori moral restraints. Midgley insists that Newton has little understanding of the deeper structures of Māori culture.
Review of Marjorie Newton, Mormon and Maori (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014). 248 pp. $24.95 (paperback).
After Marjorie Newton’s PhD was approved in February 1998, a potential publisher sent me a Xerox copy of her thesis.1 I gave it careful attention. It turned out that my Māori friends had been right. At the Pioneers in the Pacific Conference held at BYU-Hawaii on 7–11 October 1997, at least two of them indicated that they doubted that [Page 180]she would do justice to the grounds and content of their faith. She would, they thought, ignore, downplay, or explain away matters sacred to them, and she would also be too critical of the way LDS mission presidents responded to the difficult issues they faced. They did not, however, make known how they came to know about her agenda.
I was also invited to evaluate her first effort to turn the two introductory chapters of her PhD thesis (MNZ, 1–84) into a history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints2 in New Zealand. There were, however, serious flaws in what I call “Newton’s Unpublished Manuscript,”3 one of which I will address in this appraisal of Mormon and Maori.
I was pleased when Tiki and Temple was published in 2012.4 It is a fine, faith-affirming narrative history of the Church of Jesus Christ in New Zealand. She begins her account in 1854, when the periodic visits by Latter-day Saint missionaries from Australia first began, and ends with the creation of stakes and the dedication of the Temple in Hamilton in 1958. Primarily, she tells the story of the conversion of Māori that began in 1882 and resulted in an essentially Māori community of Latter day Saints in New Zealand.
While I have praised Tiki and Temple,5 I have also demonstrated that Newton has little grasp of Māori tikanga (culture). However, she warns her readers: “as an Australian, I am vulnerable to errors of fact and interpretation in both New Zealand and American history, and especially in Maori culture” (T&T, xiv). She also expresses her “hope that one day a Maori historian will produce a scholarly history of Mormonism in New Zealand that will remedy any omissions and defects in both my works. I also hope to see additional work done with the hundreds of [Page 181]stories of New Zealand Saints, both Maori and Pakeha,6 that are still waiting to be told” (T&T, xiv). Some of this additional work is beginning to be published.7 In Tiki and Temple she says that she hoped she had been able to “convey a sense of the faith, courage, and dedication of the North American missionaries, and the corresponding faith, courage and dedication of their converts, whether Maori or Pakeha. It features the stories of pioneers of the Church in New Zealand, some of whom are otherwise uncelebrated” (T&T, viii).
Two years after Tiki and Temple was published, the bulk of her 1998 thesis was published as Mormon and Maori. In both these works she claims there has been much Māori/LDS missionary mythmaking as well as connivance in fabricating miracle stories. In addition, she claims that “American Mormon cultural imperialism” has required Māori Saints to abandon large portions of their culture. Hence, Marjorie Newton asserts in both her thesis and in Mormon and Maori, “The LDS Church’s success in New Zealand was not achieved without cost to the culture and traditional way of life (Maoritanga) of its Maori converts” (MNZ, v; M&M, xii).
In an effort to discover the source of her agenda, I have consulted all of Marjorie Newton’s publications.8 She has mastered library and archival research, and she is adept at telling a good story. When coupled with her truly remarkable tenacity, this explains her impressive publishing career. Why has she sought to challenge the traditional Māori Latter-day Saint historical narrative in 1998 and then in 2014, while her Tiki and Temple [Page 182]was faith-affirming? This constitutes a puzzle I have sought to solve by looking carefully at everything she has published.
Clues to solving this puzzle are found in a remark in Mormon and Maori about Tiki and Temple:
That book, addressed primarily to a Latter-day Saint audience, was honored by the Mormon History Association with its Best International Book Award for 2012. However, it does not deal with deeper or more scholarly issues. Mormon and Maori was originally written as a Ph.D. thesis (dissertation) for the School of Studies in Religion at the University of Sydney and is accordingly a more objective and more academic examination of the interaction of Mormonism and Maoritanga. (M&M, vii, emphasis added)
In Tiki and Temple, she indicates, she “does not attempt to address the recent scientific debate over Maori origins or current LDS teachings on the subject, but rather explains what the Mormon missionaries believed and taught in their own day and how those teachings resonated with their Maori converts” (T&T, xiv). This appears to be her own justification for publishing both a faith-affirming account of Māori Latter-day Saints and also a “more objective and more academic” account in which she challenges the traditional Māori Latter-day Saint historical narrative as “faithful history,” fashioned by “Mormon apologists,” and hence mythical, fictitious and false.
Māori Saints and Mormon Cultural Imperialism
Newton correctly claims that “many Maori today, including stalwart Church members, want their culture to survive and feel that it exemplifies true Christian principles — not just the outward symbols displayed for tourists, but the deepest Maori values” (M&M, 180), some of which she mentions. However, the “deepest Maori values” constitute what Māori scholars tend to call tikanga — that is, the traditional “right” or “correct” ways of living,9 and not māoritanga, a word that tends to identify the ordinary or usual way things actually are, since the word māori means “ordinary,” or “usual.” A century back, māoritanga began to mean “culture” in the sense of the usual way Māori behave. Colonization radically challenged and also eroded Māori tikanga.
In her concluding remarks in Mormon and Maori, Newton opines that “for a small minority” of Māori Saints, “the costs of being a Maori [Page 183]Mormon may be too high” (M&M, 180). Why? In her thesis she claims that: “The Mormon Church still speaks with an American voice in its foreign missions and stakes … Although the Mormon Church may not demand ‘cultural suicide’ from its converts, New Zealand Mormons, in common with all members of the international LDS Church, are implicitly expected to commit what Rana Kabbani termed ‘cultural treason’ if they wish to identify fully with Mormonism” (MNZ, 353).
At the end of her thesis she highlights issues with American cultural imperialism, a crucial version of which is “Mormon cultural imperialism” (MNZ, 316–56). She clearly has a dim view of the impact of American culture outside of the United States, an example of which is the following:
What remains to be seen is how much the present blurring of cultural differences in the industrialized world will trivialize cultural tensions; if American “pop” culture, variously referred to as “Coca-colonization” or the “McDonald’s culture,” continues to conquer the world at its present pace, preservation of Maoritanga or any other culture may become an academic question. (MNZ, 355.)
My own review of all 29 of Newton’s publications suggests that it is not individual Americans, some of whom she knows and likes, who ground her concern about “cultural conflict.” Instead, she seems deeply concerned about the enormous social and economic changes that have, especially since WW II, opened large parts of the world to a mixing and blending of cultures. Additionally, she is certain that an alien American church has increasingly insisted that Māori pay a high cultural price if they desire to be faithful Latter-day Saints.
However, in the penultimate paragraph in Mormon and Maori, she grants that most Saints do not see it her way:
Nevertheless, despite the problematical issues described in this book, the Mormon Church has grown steadily in New Zealand in both numbers and status until it now occupies a respectable place in New Zealand society … While there are many thousands of recent converts, there is also a considerable base of multi-generation Maori families strengthening the LDS Church in New Zealand. Most find spiritual satisfaction and happiness in Church attendance, participation in Church programs, and the Mormon way of life (M&M, 181).
She adds the following lament: “Most New Zealand Mormons, both Maori and Pakeha, accept Church teachings unquestionably and remain untouched by [Page 184]deeper or more difficult issues” (M&M, 181) in both her thesis and in Mormon and Maori. I will address these difficult issues she refers to later.
In her thesis, Newton focuses on what she calls “cultural conflict” between Māori ways and what was brought to them by American Saints. There is little or none of this in Tiki and Temple, but it is a major focus of Mormon and Maori. In its Preface she insists that
never before have their leaders and missionaries faced the problems associated with socialising converts from such a wide spectrum of cultures. Resurgent nationalism and indigenisation philosophy in many nations also pose problems for Mormon leaders, and recent attempts to strip the LDS Church of its American cultural overtones have been only partially successful. Thus, the history of Mormonism’s impact on its Maori converts and their culture is surprisingly relevant to the wider Church today (M&M, xi.)
Concern about Mormon cultural imperialism thus seems to be the key to both her thesis and Mormon and Maori. I therefore sought signs of this concern — and hence her agenda10 — in what she published on Latter-day Saints in Australia beginning in 1984. This led to “A Retrospective Review,” the published version of her 1986 MA thesis. I sought signs of her concern about “Mormon cultural imperialism” in what she published about the Church of Jesus Christ in Australia. There are some signs of this agenda, though fewer than in her 1998 PhD thesis.
What I have also discovered is that when Newton tells the truly heroic story of the long, very difficult struggle to bring the Church of Jesus Christ to Australia and then later to New Zealand, there is no sign of her concern about a clash between American and native Australian and New Zealand cultures. In her excellent essays on Australian Latter day Saints (see items 1, 4, 5, 9, 15, 21, and 23 in the Appendix), there are no signs of concern about Mormon cultural imperialism. However, in several other essays on the Church of Jesus Christ in Australia (see items 3, 6, 7, 8, and 13 in the Appendix, below) there is an overt concern about cultural conflict.
[Page 185]The difference might be either her intended audience or the venue in which she sought to publish. The cultural imperialism about which she complains only seems to rise to the fore when she is discussing the sudden expansion of the Church of Jesus Christ in Australia that began in the decade after WW II. However, concern about cultural conflict becomes dominant when she discusses the faith of Māori Saints.
In Mormon and Maori and in her thesis, she grants that faithful Māori Latter-day Saints are not troubled by what she pictures as the increasingly nefarious impact of Mormon American cultural imperialism. Hence, she hopes that what she calls “those fringe-dwelling New Zealand Latter-day Saints,”11 Pākeha or Māori, who question what they see as Mormon cultural imperialism might ponder this conclusion: “It is only possible … to travel in one direction … Any possibility of return has been preempted by the journey itself'” (MNZ, 356; M&M, 181).
Newton uses this quote from a scholar speaking of another time and place and people. It is taken out of context from a book by Anthony Pagden. I will provide the context. Pagden is describing the opinions of Denis Diderot (1713–1784), a French Huguenot and hence a staunch Calvinist, who was briefly a Protestant missionary in Brazil.12 The full passage, with the language quoted by Newton in italics, follows:
Fluid and ultimately porous though Diderot’s cultures may have been, they were also thought of as integral and discrete. It is only possible, as we have seen, to travel in one direction. As with Lery’s Norman translators, any possibility of return has been pre-empted by the journey itself. At best he (or she) who has undergone the trial of travel will be condemned, like Gulliver, to perpetual isolation from those who had once been his fellows. (Pagden, 172)
Pagden’s point seems to be that the difficult experiences of the first Europeans to encounter the indigenous peoples in America and the Pacific led to a personal “trial by travel,” which included getting there [Page 186](and then getting back home again) and also communicating what they had experienced to others.
Writers like Diderot came to believe that cultures, though porous, are not commensurable, which they also believed “was underpinned by the concept of providential order in which all humans should be in harmony with nature” (Pagden, 172). This may also entail the assumption that God does not want a fluid mixing of cultures. Pagden also indicates that Johann Gottfried Herder, a German nationalist, thought that “religion” might somehow “unite all peoples” (Pagden, 172).
Why focus on Newton’s concluding paragraph? It illustrates the problem she has when she shifts from narrations, which she does remarkably well (see the Appendix items 1, 2, 4, 5, 9, 15, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 27, and 28), to analyses and arguments, which she does not, in either her PhD thesis or Mormon and Maori. She is very skilled at archival research, and she can tell a good story, but she becomes unreliable when she speculates about abstractions like “cultural conflict.”
A Passion to Publish; Hitting Some Snags
When Newton’s PhD thesis was approved in February 1998, the Institute for Polynesian Studies, which published her Southern Cross Saints,13 was no longer publishing books. She had to seek a publisher interested in publishing a book challenging key elements in the Māori Latter-day Saint historical narrative, suggesting that “Mormon cultural imperialism” was harming Māori Saints and making claims about Māori/Mormon mythmaking.
She sought the assistance of the Pacific Area President at the time, Elder Bruce Hafen.14 He suggested that she approach Ron Esplin, then director of the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute.15 As a favor to Elder Hafen, Esplin assigned Richard Jensen to have a look at her thesis, which then underwent peer review. Newton was urged to turn the first two chapters of her thesis (MNZ, 1–84) into a narrative history of the faith of Latter-day Saints in New Zealand, which she immediately did. Her [Page 187]510-page first draft then underwent peer review and was rejected for publication. She was then more strongly urged to fashion an accurate account of the faith of Māori Saints, which was published more than a decade later as Tiki and Temple.
Newton explains how she came to write Tiki and Temple in the following way:
My completed dissertation,16 entitled “Mormonism in New Zealand: A Historical Analysis”17 was to be published by the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History at Brigham Young University, Provo. When it was suggested that I should write a chronological history of the New Zealand Mission first, publication of the dissertation was delayed until the manuscript of Tiki and Temple was completed. Both books were still in the early stages of copy-editing when the institute was closed in 2005. (M&M, xiii)
She describes Tiki and Temple as the “second of my studies of the Latter-day Saints in New Zealand” (T&T, xiv), even though it was published two years prior to Mormon and Maori. That book represented the ideological core of her more objective doctoral thesis, “Mormonism in New Zealand: A Historical Appraisal,” which was written for the Religious Studies Department18 of the University of Sydney (1998, forthcoming from Greg Kofford Books) (T&T, xiv).
Confusion over Hagoth
In Mormon and Maori, Newton advances what she believes is the primary reason why some Māori, beginning in 1882, rapidly became faithful Latter-day Saints:
[Page 188]Undoubtedly the Mormon doctrine that had the greatest impact on Maori conversion and that underlay most other reasons for the appeal of the Mormon message for Maori, was the belief that Polynesians are descendants of the expatriate Israelites of the Book of Mormon and are therefore eligible for the redemptive blessings promised to scattered Israel. (M&M, 12)
I consider it a “red flag” when I see words like undoubtedly begin what should be an inductive argument intended to yield a conclusion. Newton provides no textual evidence to support her assertion about what is presumably beyond doubt. Instead, she claims that LDS missionaries believed that “Book of Mormon prophecies … would be fulfilled, and the Lamanites on the isles of the sea, like those in the Americas, would be regenerated” (M&M, 12, emphasis supplied). However, what some LDS missionaries may have believed is not necessarily evidence for her opinion about what had “the greatest impact on Maori conversion.”
She introduces, in the next paragraph, what she claims is a widespread belief that the Māori are the very remote descendants of Hagoth (M&M, 13). I must stress that Hagoth, who is mentioned briefly in Alma 63:5–8, was a Nephite shipbuilder and mariner — both he and his associates are specifically said to be Nephites; they are not Lamanites. In addition, Hagoth, we are told, built an “exceedingly large ship … and launched it forth into the west sea” (v5), and “many Nephites … did enter therein … and took their course northward” (v6). “This man built other ships” (v7). “And … one other ship also did sail forth” (v8). Newton states: “It was upon the basis of this fragmentary Book of Mormon story [in Alma 63:5–8] that Mormon missionaries found success among the Maori” (M&M 13).
She also claims that a “prior widespread acceptance by Maori of Christian speculation about their Israelitish origin provided a fertile field in which the Mormon missionary message flourished” (M&M, 13). There was, in fact, some Pākeha (European) speculation about the Māori being a remnant of Israel. Māori also tended to see their own very dim situation resulting from the ravages of colonial intrusion explained in stories found in the Old Testament, which had been made available to them by Christian missionaries. She then asserts that,
Although many Mormons (including many Maori Mormons) think that the LDS Church is unique in its belief that Polynesians are related to Native Americans and that both are remnants of Israel, such beliefs were neither new nor unique when the Book of Mormon was published in 1830. (M&M, 12–13)
[Page 189]However, she neglects to mention that Pākeha speculation about the Māori being a very remote remnant of ancient Israel did not link them with any indigenous peoples in America. Instead, the belief that the Māori are somehow linked to America is a unique Latter-day Saint belief, rooted in the idea that they are at least partly the decendents of Nephite mariners mentioned in the Book of Mormon.
At least 25 times in the first chapter of Mormon and Maori, when Newton refers to Hagoth, she identifies him and his associates as Lamanites, even though twice she correctly identifies Hagoth and those mariners as Nephites (M&M, 12, 32). She seems to ignore the fact that Hagoth was Nephite in her argument that, by teaching the Māori that they were Lamanites, LDS missionaries clashed with what she calls maoritanga, and thereby challenged both Māori traditions about their own origins as well as recent secular speculation about such matters.
Wrongly Insisting on “Lamanite Descent”
Mormon and Maori ends with a chapter entitled “Mormon and Maori?” (M&M, 149–81). The chapter title is an interrogative that signals that there is a radical tension between being a Latter-day Saint and being a Māori. However, she grants that
for the majority of today’s Maori Latter-day Saints, many of whom are third-, fourth-, or fifth-generation descendants of early Maori converts who accepted the Mormon gospel because of this teaching, Lamanite descent is still a fundamental element of their self-identification. (M&M, 180, emphasis supplied)
The fact is that Māori Latter-day Saints actually both venerate and read the Book of Mormon. She knows this is the case, since she quotes Grant Underwood as follows:
To this day, Maori Latter-day Saints cherish the Book of Mormon as their story, the account of their people in distant antiquity before they sailed their waka (canoes) to Aotearoa. The American missionaries may have carried it to them and the American Pakeha Joseph Smith may have translated it, but for well over a century it has been read as the story of their ancestors. (M&M, 180)19
The Book of Mormon was read by the older Māori I knew in 1950–1952 as “their story” in the sense that it was a tribal history [Page 190]whose narrative was very much like their own; they had long been and still unfortunately were much like the people described in the Book of Mormon. They knew and understood its contents better than any LDS missionary,20 including myself. When I encountered Māori in 1950, they were not pious stuffed-shirts; even though they knew they were of Nephite descent, they would say that, much like naughty missionaries, they sometimes misbehaved like Lamanites. They were often adept at seeing how stories and prophetic teaching were woven together and then how those teachings applied to their own tribal identities.
Why would Māori, for whom the Book of Mormon is “their book,” incorrectly see themselves as having “Lamanite descent” when there is exactly nothing in that book to justify such a belief? Gina Colvin, who was raised as a Latter-day Saint but who has now become an Anglican, is the only Māori of whom I am aware who muddles Hagoth with the Lamanites.21 However, she could merely be following Newton’s lead on this matter.
Confused by the Debate over DNA
Why make those Nephite mariners who sailed away into the “west sea” into Lamanites, when the language found in Alma 36 mentions only Nephites? Newton seems to insist on the Māori being Lamanites because doing so fits her own misunderstanding of the recent debate over DNA and the Book of Mormon. Much of this controversy was advanced by two former Latter-day Saints, neither of whom are population geneticists.22 Newton appears to use the opinions of the Australian “molecular biologist and ex-Mormon Simon Southerton” (M&M, 27) to justify rejecting her own false idea that Māori believe that they are Lamanites, which is [Page 191]scattered around two chapters in Mormon and Maori. In addition, she may not realize that it is a mistake to take seriously Simon Southerton’s polemic about the Book of Mormon (M&M, 27, 31, 178–79). Finally, the Book of Mormon provides the correct answer to her question: “Nephites or Lamanites?” (M&M, 32–33),23 which she then ignores.
Newton claims that “many Mormon apologists” fashioned a Mesoamerican limited geography for the Book of Mormon as a result of DNA studies (see M&M, 27–28). The fact is that John Sorenson (and others) were advocating a Mesoamerican (and hence a limited) geography for the Book of Mormon long before the debate over DNA began. She does not seem to know that the argument for both a limited geography and a Mesoamerican location for the events depicted in the Book of Mormon flowed from very careful attention to the geographical clues in the Book of Mormon. This led to what John Clark called an “internal map,” which turned out to be consonant with a portion of Mesoamerica.24
In this same section of Mormon and Maori, Newton indicates that “orthodox Mormons are still expected to subscribe to the literal historicity of the Book of Mormon. ‘On this we draw a line in the sand,’ stated Mormon Apostle Jeffrey Holland in 1994” (M&M, 33). Then she adds the following:
Tied to acceptance of the historicity of the Book of Mormon is the uncanonised Mormon belief about Polynesian origins. The recent scholarly debate over conclusions reached by scientists researching the DNA of Native Americans and Polynesians — that they are unrelated — has added another layer to the unquestioning faith required of those Maori Mormons aware of the arguments and counter-arguments presented. (M&M, 33)25
Newton argues that belief in literal descent from Nephites adds another “layer of unquestioning faith required of Maori Saints.” Having to “subscribe to the literal historicity of the Book of Mormon” is already [Page 192]presumably a sufficient burden. Removing this additional burden would thus be a blessing to Māori and other Polynesian and Native American Saints, if indeed it has been disproved by Southerton and Murphy.
Her argument in the first chapter of Mormon and Maori seems to be that, by allowing the publication of an essay by John Sorenson in 1984 in which he sets out a limited geography,26 the Brethren have thereby set in place the grounds for rejecting the belief that the Māori are in any way children of Lehi. Hence it is both foolish and unnecessary for the Brethren to continue to urge Māori Saints to seek the prophetic promises available to Lehi’s remote descendants. She also insists that Māori were badly misled when they were identified as “children of Lehi” in their Temple dedication prayer.
The flatly false assertion that DNA studies by Southerton and Murphy led John Sorenson to fashion a limited geography for the Book of Mormon leads to the following:
Coupled with increasing scientific evidence of multiple migrations to America, and continuing lack of archaeological and linguistic evidence for the existence of Book of Mormon peoples in the Americas, many Mormon apologists began to re-examine traditional assumptions about the Book of Mormon.” (M&M, 27)
However, increasing “evidence of multiple migrations to America” only enhances the plausibility of the three migrations to America described in the Book of Mormon.
What Newton described in 2012 as the “recent scientific debate over Maori origins or current LDS teachings on the subject” (T&T, xiv) thus turns out to be the debate over DNA and the Book of Mormon. Without being aware of what Latter-day Saint geneticists have published about population genetics and the Book of Mormon, she insists that the Brethren ought to officially jettison any idea that remote descendants of Lehites exist outside a limited area in Mesoamerica. She makes this claim based on what she believes is a false belief about Māori origins, supported by DNA evidence, but she misunderstands what Mormon apologists have written in response about DNA and the Book of Mormon.
Despite her comments about Book of Mormon historicity, she does not deny that there were Lehites. Instead, she seems to assume that Southerton has only proven that remote descendants of Lehi cannot now be outside the limited area of Mesoamerica. This false assumption seems to be why she takes exception with John Sorenson’s argument for [Page 193]a limited geography (see M&M, 27–2 8) with what she sees as official approval and also for a Mesoamerican location of the bulk of the events depicted in the Book of Mormon.
She insists that because the Brethren seemingly approved John Sorenson’s limited geography, they now can and should officially jettison the idea that there are any remote descendants of Lehites outside of a limited area in Mesoamerica. She wrongly assumes that no Lehites could ever have traveled outside of the area where they initially lived. In addition, she does not address the fact that Southerton’s attack was on the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon and hence was not an argument that confines Lehites and their remote ancestors to a limited area. She also argues that the belief that some of the remote ancestors of the Māori (and other Polynesians) were Nephite mariners would be easy to officially jettison because it never has been canonized. However, it is texts that are canonized, not interpretations of texts.
Newton attempts to respond to Southerton’s claim “that LDS leaders, faced with unanswerable scientific data about Native American and Polynesian origins, are trapped in a situation in which they cannot make fundamental doctrinal changes without damaging the faith of millions of adherents” (M&M, 178). She does so by asserting that “[a]ccepting a changed perspective on their origins may be difficult, but not devastating, for the majority of Maori Saints” (M&M, 180). She then mentions that some past practices, like taking the sacrament emblems only with the right hand, have been abandoned without the Saints even noticing (M&M, 178–79).
She also claims that a “formal retreat” from the teachings that some of the ancestors of the Māori were Lamanites through Hagoth, “would in no wise mean that Maori were not Israelites in the eyes of the Mormon Church” (M&M, 180). However, in her own assessment of the early Pākeha speculation about Māori origins, she debunks the belief that the Māori could actually be a very remote remnant of ancient Israel (see M&M, 13–15).
Trashing the Māori Latter-day Saint Historical Narrative
In Tiki and Temple, Newton relies on textual sources that include accounts of divine manifestations to Māori. For instance, she relies heavily on the remarkable contemporary account written by William Bromley,27 who arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, in December 1880 to serve as [Page 194]Australasian Mission President. He had been instructed by the Brethren to take the gospel to the Māori. He struggled to do this. Some of his very few fellow missionaries made some unwise and even bizarre efforts to reach and teach the Māori, which Newton describes in detail, often following Bromley’s diary.
These efforts all failed, until on 5 April 1881, Bromley set apart William McDonnel, who had joined the Church of Jesus Christ in Auckland after he arrived in New Zealand from Ireland, to be a missionary to the Māori. He also blessed McDonnel to learn the Māori language, which he immediately began to do.28 On 18 October 1881, McDonnel baptized Ngataki, who was the first Māori to join the Church in New Zealand.29 However, the real breakthrough came later. On 17 December 1882, Thomas Levis Cox30 who was born in England in 1845 and who, with his family, had moved to New Zealand where he became a Latter-day Saint, invited Bromley to spend Christmas with him in Cambridge, which is 91 miles from Auckland and 14 miles south of Hamilton.
Bromley indicates that, as a result of didactic dreams, McDonnel also made the journey to Cambridge for Christmas. McDonnel arrived unexpectedly at the Cox residence before breakfast on 24 December. After breakfast they set out to contact some Māori who were camped near Cambridge.31 Later that day they met Hare Teimana, who desired a blessing for his very ill daughter, which was given. Teimana also told McDonnel that he had been visited by the Apostle Peter, who was dressed in white clothing, and who showed him the three Latter-day Saints—that is, Bromley, Cox and McDonnel—in a vision, so that he recognized them as agents with Apostolic authority.32 Hare Teimana, his wife, and one other adult were baptized in the Waikato river on Christmas Day, 1882.
McDonnel then returned to Auckland, but Bromley soon summoned him back to Cambridge to interpret for other Māori anxious to hear the [Page 195]LDS missionary message, which took place on Sunday, 31 December 1882. On the following day, six more baptisms took place. These and additional conversions led to the establishment of the first Māori LDS branch, which was located in tiny Waotu, 18 miles south of Cambridge.
One cannot fashion even a murky narrative of the very first conversions of Māori to the Church of Jesus Christ in New Zealand without mentioning the encounter of Bromley, Cox, and McDonnel, who served as translator with Hare Teimana, and those subsequent baptisms. However, in her thesis, Marjorie Newton made some critical factual errors. For instance, in her thesis, she located those crucial events at least once in Huntly (MNZ, 15), which is 35 miles north of Cambridge, but also on the Waikato River. She also missed other details of that important event.
In the section entitled “The First Maori Branch” in “Newton’s Unpublished Manuscript,” she wrote the following:
In August 1882, Thomas and Hannah Cox, English emigrants who joined the Mormon Church in Auckland in 1880, moved to Cambridge in the Waikato, where Thomas set up business as a boot and shoemaker. Here they became friendly with the local Maori tribe. Seeing an opportunity, they invited President Bromley to spend Christmas with them. On Christmas Eve, a Sunday, they were joined by McDonnel, and the three men spent the evening preaching to a group of Maori. Later that evening, after discussing Mormon doctrine in a chief’s home, they laid hands on and blessed his sick daughter who quickly recovered. On Christmas Day in 1882, the Maori chief Hare Teimana, his wife Pare and another Maori, possibly Hare Katere (Harry Carter) were baptized in the nearby river. (“Chapter 2 – 1878–1 887,” 29.)
Some of the more problematic details in this paragraph include the following:
- Newton presents no evidence that Teimana was a Māori “chief.”
- Neither Bromley nor Cox could understand Māori. Without McDonnel, they could have only passed out some leaflets that McDonnel had previously managed to have translated into Māori.
- [Page 196]On 24 December 1882, McDonnel arrived at the Cox home before breakfast, after which they set out to contact Māori camped near Cambridge.33
- On 24 December 1882, those three fellows did not discuss “Mormon doctrine” with Teimana. Instead, he told McDonnel how he had come to recognize them as authorized agents for the Apostle Peter, and asked them to bless his very ill daughter — she had not eaten in days — which they did.
- On 25 December 1882 (Christmas Day), when the three Latter day Saints visited Teimana again, his daughter was recovering nicely — she had even eaten some strawberries. Then McDonnel explained to Teimana, his wife and probably Hare Te Katere (Harry Carter) what being baptized entailed, prior to that being done that evening in the Waikato River. Other interested Māori observed the baptism.
After quoting Bromley’s descriptions of the baptism of Teimana, his wife and perhaps Hare Te Katere in the Waikato River, Newton indicates that “McDonnel’s version of the story portrayed his visit to Cambridge and subsequent teaching of the chief and his family solely as the result of inspiration and the happenings of one day” (“Chapter 2 — 1878–1887,” 30). She then argues that “[t]he Cox family deserves more credit for the first successful introduction of the Restored Gospel to the Maori people” (“Chapter 2 — 1878–1887,” 31). Her reason for celebrating Thomas and Hannah Cox’s role in the first “successful introduction of the Restored Gospel to the Maori people” is that Samuel Cox (1871–1967), who was the oldest son of Thomas and Hannah Cox, and presumably “a witness to the events” (when he was barely eleven), wrote a letter in 1957 in which he claimed that his father “had become very friendly with the three Maori” who were baptized on Christmas Day in 1882. They were, he claimed, “already prepared for and waiting for baptism when Bromley and McDonnel arrived [Page 197]in Cambridge” (“Chapter 2 —1878–1887,” 30).34 This letter was written 75 years after the events that took place in December 1882.35
In her PhD thesis, she tells a slightly different version of this important story. She begins by mentioning that Bromley “set apart” McDonnel “to take the Mormon message to the Maori,” after which he eventually baptized Ngataki (MNZ, 15), then writes:
Fifteen months later, Bromley and McDonnel baptized several Maori near Huntly. McDonnel’s story of the December 1882 visit there implies that he was suddenly inspired to follow the mission president, who was visiting Church members Thomas and Hannah Cox in the Waikato town; that, meeting the Maori who had been prepared by a vision, he and Bromley taught them the gospel that evening (24 December) and baptized the first of them on Christmas Day. (MNZ, 15, emphasis supplied)
Then Newton adds that Samuel Cox “later stated that his father had become very friendly with the local Maori tribe and that the three baptized were already prepared and waiting when Bromley and McDonnel arrived in Cambridge” (“Chapter 2 — 1878–1887,” 30). In this account, Newton uses this letter, written 75 years after the events it presumably describes, to trump Bromley’s detailed contemporary diary and the later reminiscences of William McDonnel and Thomas Cox, Samuel’s father.
A Step Forward
Those who were then at the Smith Institute must be praised for insisting that Marjorie Newton produce the much more accurate narrative history that was eventually published as Tiki and Temple. In this book she correctly indicates that Māori Saints were prepared by their own prophets for their initial encounters with the message of Latter-day Saint missionaries. She even included a slightly more accurate version of the story about Hare Teimana’s encounter with (or dream of) the Apostle Peter (T&T, 32–33). She explains that Māori “prophets” played a role in generating a Māori community of Saints (see T&T, 23–2 4, 37, 41–4 3). [Page 198]However, in her first attempt to fashion a narrative account of the faith of Māori Saints, she never mentions Arama Toiroa, Paora Potangaroa, or other Māori seers.
Downplaying Specific Prophecies
In her thesis, Newton addresses the claim that Mormons cite Māori prophecies as evidence of the divine preparation of the Māori people. She claims that the prophecies merely foretold a rather vague, generalized list of items and insists that Mormon apologists have not confronted the fact that “few of these items are characteristic of Mormonism” (MNZ, 275). She casually mentions that the true messengers “would be recognized because they would pray with their arms raised to the square” (M&M, 3; cf. MNZ, 275). What she does not indicate is that in Paora Potangaroa’s He Kawenata,36 which he dictated in 1881, he specifically mentions that the true messengers would pray with their right arms to the square. When those Latter-day Saint missionaries who turned up in the Wairarapa in 1883 prayed with their right arms raised to the square, they were immediately recognized as true messengers from God. (During my life, as a young boy, this mode of prayer was not uncommon for blessing the emblems of the sacrament.)
The prophetic proclamation by Arama Toiroa in 1830 was that the true messengers would raise both arms over their heads when they prayed, which is how Alma Greenwood, Ira Hinckley, and William Stewart prayed at Korongata/Bridge Pa where some who were familiar with Toiroa’s prophecies then lived. This, and several other very distinctive behaviors, quickly led to the conversion of those at Korongata and then elsewhere among those familiar with Toiroa’s words.
Newton uses the expression, “variously foretold,” in relation to these prophecies, which obscures the fact that different Māori seers provided very specific indications that the true messengers had arrived for their own people. It was not a “one size fits all” sort of thing.37 She has jumbled together several proclamations of Māori Matakite in an effort to dismiss the role they played in the conversion of Māori Saints. This she did in both her theses with essentially the same language. However, the [Page 199]specific details of the account are essential in assessing what Professor Robert Joseph identifies as the “Māori Latter-day Saint historical narrative.”38
Failure to Fully Consider Alternative Viewpoints
I have previously called attention to an essay by Robert Joseph,39 a Latter- day Saint scholar who set out significant new details about those whom Latter-day Saints, including Marjorie Newton, have called “prophets,” but whom the Māori call Matakite (seers). They played a crucial role in preparing some Māori iwi (tribes) for Latter- day Saint missionaries and their message.40 Newton is fully aware of Professor Joseph’s essay, the contents of which challenge her writings in Chapter 8 of her thesis (MNZ, 271–77) and in the beginning of Mormon and Maori (M&M, 2–3).
In fact, in Mormon and Maori, Newton cites Professor Joseph’s essay in her bibliography (M&M, 200) and then quotes portions of the opening paragraph of his essay, where she indicates that he “has summarized some … often overlooked consequences of the imbalance resulting from the introduction of Western culture into colonial New Zealand” (M&M, 159).
Professor Joseph began his essay with a Māori prophecy. His English translation read as follows:
Behind the tattooed face, a stranger stands,
He will inherit the world — he is white.41
What followed was a detailed account of some of the Māori seers who played a crucial role in the story of the faith of Māori Saints. Newton, however, does not seem to be even aware of the names of some of these Māori matakite. In addition, though she quotes language out of context from Professor Joseph’s essay, she never hints that he provided valuable new information on the Māori seers who opened the way for the Latter-day Saint missionaries and their message.
Instead of engaging Professor Joseph’s evidence and arguments, Newton only quotes portions of the opening paragraph of his essay, where he introduces the actual cultural context in which seers opened the way for Māori to become faithful Latter-day Saints. I will quote the entire paragraph, with the portions she quotes in italics:
[Page 200]According to Ngati Whatu sources, the prophecy above was uttered by their tribal tohunga matakite (seer), Titahi, who foretold the bittersweet arrival of the Pakeha and the subsequent impacts of European contact, which thrust the Māori world view into a state of perilous imbalance as had been prophesied. Land and natural resources loss through unjust wars, confiscations and their legal machinations wreaked havoc on the relationship between people and the natural environment. The forcible individualisation of land, property and world values in the Native Land Court disturbed the balance between members of kin groups. Introduced diseases and addictive substances — alcohol, tobacco, coffee, tea and sugar — decimated tribal populations, and undermined Māori health and well-being. Christianity damaged in many ways the connection between the people and the gods, and the individualistic and economic assumptions of European capitalism and Western liberalism destroyed traditional reciprocity economics, the equilibrium between kin, the physical and metaphysical world, the environment and the fundamental obligations to past, present and future generations.42
None of the relentless, bleak unraveling of the traditional Māori way of life was the work of Latter-day Saint missionaries, or of the quirks of mission presidents or missionaries, or the result of “the inadequacy of LDS Church policies for non-Western indigenous converts” about which Newton complains. The unraveling of the traditional Māori way of life was well on its way when LDS missionaries suddenly found Māori who were prepared for them and their message by their own seers, and in various other stunning ways. Newton tends to ignore, downplay, or explain this away in her presumably “more objective and more academic” thesis and in its published version, but not in Tiki and Temple.
Latter-day Saint missionaries made contact with Māori many years after the radical degradation and decline of their world was in full swing. It was, as Joseph points out, “the bittersweet arrival of the Pakeha” that provided the context for truly remarkable cultural interchange that took place between the Māori and Latter-day Saint missionaries in which both were (and still are) blessed. In the dismal situation in which the Māori found themselves by 1880, with rapid decline well on its way, and a desperate scramble to preserve Māori resources and identity, some were [Page 201]anxious for answers to the evils they faced. Then Māori matakite opened the way for the Latter-day Saint message. What those missionaries offered, among other things, was a genuine revival of Māori moral discipline. Faithful Saints were thereby shielded from the very attractive but also soul-destroying beliefs, practices, vices, and addictions made available by their British colonizers. These base behaviors even now have much of the Māori world teetering on the rim of an abyss. The fact is that faithful Māori Saints, in the face of the growing degradation that many Māori face, have become much better Māori. In addition, Latter- day Saint missionaries who enter their charmed world have also become more solid Saints.
Finally, at the risk of being seen as immodest, I must point out that, in addition to not genuinely engaging the work of those Newton clearly denigrates as “Mormon apologists” (MNZ, 275)—that is, those who advance “the Mormon faithful history interpretation” (M&M, 1) of the grounds and contents of the faith of Māori Saints — she has ignored two of my own essays. The first of these was published in 1998,43 shortly after her PhD thesis was approved; the second was published in 1999, while my wife and I directed the Lorne Street LDS Institute in Auckland, New Zealand.44
Some Concluding Comments
In her thesis, as I have demonstrated, Newton strives to expose the clash between an alien American church and Māori culture; she also opines about the “role of myth in Maori Mormonism” (MNZ, vi). She strives to demythologize the “faithful history” version of the faith of Māori Saints advanced by “Mormon apologists.” Her chapter entitled “Mormon Legends in New Zealand” (M&M, 79–110) is a sustained and also strained effort at debunking what she claims is clumsy, crude embellishment and/ or outright fabrication of accounts of miracles (M&M, 89–107).
She describes what she labels “three legends” that “provide classic case studies of the way religious myths grow, develop, and become entrenched” (M&M, 79). Then, under the chapter subheading “Implications for the Church,” she asks: “What, then, can be made of an apostle, later president of the LDS Church” (she has in mind Elder David O. McKay) “promoting a story that was, it appears, at worst fabricated, at best exaggerated?” (M&M, 107). Her conclusion is that the stories she strives to debunk in Chapter 3 of Mormon and Maori “fit the category of ‘myth’ rather than history” (M&M, 110). This is also, [Page 202]as I have demonstrated, her “objective” stance on Māori Saints being providentially prepared for the Church of Jesus Christ by their own seers.
Newton ends her assessment of what she considers mythmaking by quoting what Eric J. Sharpe, the religious studies professor who supervised her thesis, once said on a radio station about a famous Australian historian with whom he strongly disagreed on political issues: “history written for propaganda purposes … is bad history. There is no easier way to bear false witness than to misrepresent those who are no longer able to defend themselves, merely in order to comfort the true believers” (M&M, 112). This is, of course, the reason that every effort ought to be made to give serious attention to the Māori Latter-day Saint historical narrative.
In this essay I have not addressed Marjorie Newton’s comments about the Māori Io cult or its close relationship with the initiation that elite Māori men once underwent in a whare wānanga (house of learning). I have previously shown that Tiki and Temple would have been improved by a careful study of what was imparted in those wānanga, since those so initiated were both able to grasp what Latter-day Saint missionaries presented and to assist in their efforts to take their message to other Māori. The reason, of course, is that what they had been taught meshed so well with what they heard from Latter-day Saint missionaries.45
Appendix: Marjorie Newton’s Writings46
- “Pioneering the Gospel in Australia,” Ensign (October 1986): 32–41. This series of essays consists of Part One, “New Light on the First Missionaries,” 32–34; Part Two, “Hunted, Fished and Gathered,” 38–35; Part Three, “The First Half of the Twentieth Century,” 38–41.
- [Page 203]Latter-day Saints in Bankstown (Bankstown, New South Wales, Australia: privately printed, 1986). This was published by a Committee of Saints in the Bankstown Ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for the Bankstown New South Wales Diamond Jubilee.
- “Southern Cross Saints: The Mormon Church in Australia” (MS honors thesis, History Department, University of Sydney, 1986).
- “The Gathering of the Australian Saints in the 1850s,” BYU Studies Quarterly 27, no. 2 (Spring 1987): 67–78.
- “Rosa Clara: Bravery on the Pacific,” Ensign (August 1990): 54–55.
- Southern Cross Saints: The Mormons in Australia (Laie, HI: Institute for Polynesian Studies, 1991). This is the published version of Newton’s MA thesis (item 3).
- “‘Almost Like Us’: The American Socialization of Australian Converts,” Dialogue 24, no. 3 (1991): 9–20.
- “Mormonism becomes a Mainline Religion: An Austrailian Viewpoint,” Dialogue 24, no. 4 (Winter 1991): 74–78.
- “Father of Joseph’s Daughter: John Murdoch,” Journal of Mormon History 18, no. 2 (Fall 1992): 177–93.
- Hero or Traitor: A Biographical Study of Charles Wandell (Independence, Missouri: Independence Press, 1992).
- Review of an exhibit called “Come, Let Us Rejoice” (the Relief Society Sesquicentennial Exhibition at the Museum of Church History and Art, Salt Lake City), March 1992–February 1993, in the Journal of Mormon History 19, no. 1 (Spring 1993): 177–80.
- “‘Seduced Away’: Early Mormon Documents in Australia,” BYU Studies Quarterly 35, no.3 (1995): 149–90.
- “Towards 2000: Mormons in Australia,” Dialogue 29, no. 1 (Spring 1996): 193–206.
- “From Tolerance to ‘House Cleaning’: LDS Leadership Response to Maori Marriage Customs, 1890–1990,” Journal of Mormon History 22/2 (Fall 1996): 72–91.
- “Australia’s Pioneer Saints,” Ensign (February 1997): 44–51.
- “Mormonism in New Zealand: A Historical Appraisal” (PhD thesis, School of Studies of Religion, University of Sydney, 1998).
- Review of The Journals of William E. McLellin, 1831–1836, in the Journal of Mormon History 25, no. 2 (Fall 1999): 245–48.
- Review of New Mormon Studies CD-ROM (by Smith Research Associates, 1998), Journal of Mormon History 26, no. 1 (Spring 2000): 203–205.
- “My Family, My Friends, My Faith,” BYU Studies Quarterly 41, no. 1 (Spring 2002): 141–46. (This is a personal essay that won second prize in a BYU Studies contest in 1996.)
- “The Gathering of Australian Saints (Mormons) in Australia,” in Proclamation to the People: Nineteenth-century Mormonism and the Pacific Basin Frontier, Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp and Reid L. Nielsen, eds. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2008), 185–97.
- “Nineteenth Century Pakeha Mormons in New Zealand,” in Proclamation to the People: Nineteenth-century Mormonism and the Pacific Basin Frontier, Laurie F. Maffly-Kipp and Reid L. Nielsen, eds. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 2008) ,228–54.
- “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in Australia,” in Encyclopedia of Religion in Australia, ed. James Jupp (Cambridge University Press, 2009), 375–79.
- Tiki and Temple: The Mormons in New Zealand, 1854–1958 (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2012).
- Mormon and Maori (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2014).
- “‘Hope in the Gospel’: Rosa Clara Friedlander Logie (1837–1913),” in Women in the Latter-days, Volume 2: 1837–1913, eds. Richard E. Turley and Brittany Chapman (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2014), 196–209.
- “Her Very Presence Is a Sermon: Mere Mete Whaanga,” in Women in the Latter-days, Volume 3: 1846–1870, eds. Richard [Page 205]E. Turley and Brittany Chapman (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2014), 252–62.
- “‘Give of Myself to the End’: Polly Tuawatea Deven Duncan,” Women in the Latter-days, Volume 4: 1871–1900, eds. Richard E. Turley and Brittany Chapman (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2014), 82–96 (endnotes at 317–20).
- (With Tina Dill), “Matthew Cowley: Beloved Apostle of the Pacific,” Church History, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, May 30, 2017, https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/article/matthew-cowley-beloved-apostle-of-the-pacific?lang=eng.
Go here to see the 27 thoughts on ““Marjorie Newton’s Account of the Faith of the Māori Saints: A Critical Appraisal”” or to comment on it.