Danes, Lutherans, and Latter-day Saints, with Julie K. Allen [MIPodcast #86]
The religious marketplace in Denmark was thrown wide open in 1849 when the country ratified its first democratic constitution. After nearly a thousand years of state control, the people were guaranteed religious freedom. No more would Danes automatically be Lutheran. Missionary-minded Christians from around the world flocked to Denmark. Thousands upon thousands of Danes joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In this episode, Dr. Julie K. Allen joins us to talk about these converts as described in her new book Danish But Not Lutheran: The Impact of Mormonism on Danish Cultural Identity 1850-1920.
Julie K. Allen is a professor of comparative literature at Brigham Young University and author of Danish, But Not Lutheran: The Impact of Mormonism on Danish Cultural Identity, 1850-1920. Before coming to BYU she held the position of Paul and Renate Madsen Professor of Danish in the Scandinavian Studies Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
BLAIR HODGES: It’s the Maxwell Institute Podcast. I’m Blair Hodges. Something miraculous happened in Denmark in 1849. Their first democratic constitution was ratified, and after nearly one thousand years of state control over religious expression the people were guaranteed religious freedom. No more would Danes automatically be Lutheran. Missionary-minded Christians from around the world flocked to Denmark to offer their views in this new religious marketplace. Thousands upon thousands of Danes joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In this episode, Dr. Julie K. Allen of Brigham Young University joins us to talk about these unusual converts. We’re talking about her book Danish, But Not Lutheran: The Impact of Mormonism on Danish Cultural Identity, 1850-1920.
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And now, here’s Julie K. Allen on Danish Latter-day Saints.
BLAIR HODGES: Julie Allen, welcome to the Maxwell Institute Podcast.
JULIE ALLEN: Thanks, Blair. I’m happy to be here.
HODGES: So today we’re talking about your book Danish but Not Lutheran. The history of Denmark in general is kind of a case study in what happens when a nation becomes secularized, especially when it comes to the separation of church and state. Denmark passed a new constitution in June of 1849 and it completely changed the relationship between Denmark and the Lutheran church, which was the church of the state. So people today might be surprised to learn that.
Some of the key figures in this circumstance were themselves religious believers. It’s not a case where people said, “We want to separate church and state because we don’t like religion.” It was quite different than that. Let’s talk about one person in particular that you introduce us to in the book, D. G. Monrad.
ALLEN: Sure. I think it’s important to understand that it wasn’t that it was the church of the state, the church was the state and the state was the church. According to the King’s Law of 1660 the religion of the king was the religion of the state. So the church was just part of the state. So the idea of separating it out and making it a separate entity was radical, but it was largely members of the church, leaders of the church, who wanted that, to give the state—as we know here in America—some autonomy, some freedom to determine its own doctrine and policies.
Because of the outside rules of the church there were also lots of political figures in Denmark who were clergy, so Monrad—Ditlev Gothard Monrad—his name, he was one of many politicians and bishops whose roles crossed those lines frequently. You see some of the complications that results in, but also some of the possibilities. So Monrad is a fascinating story. His father dies when he’s quite young and he is on his own for his education, and he comes to an education through reading about the American Revolution, the French Revolution, and really is inspired by these ideals at a time when Denmark is discovering democracy as a policy, a political opportunity. The state had an absolute monarchy since 1660 and the king is a benevolent monarch; people love him and trust him, but they have no say.
HODGES: How did he view the relationship at that time? So they’re kind of negotiating what the nation would be. How did he view the relationship of church and state? You say it was basically the same thing. How was he trying to shift away from that?
ALLEN: Well Monrad felt like the church had a different role to play, that it needed to be really more inclusive and he wanted people to have the opportunity to exercise their beliefs. He was also very much part of the baptist crisis of 1842 when some Danes had become baptists, converted by German baptists who had been converted in turn by American baptists. It was illegal. So the state really cracked down to save the children of these baptists from their parents’ heresy. They would take them away from their parents and forcibly baptize them into the Danish Lutheran church, and Monrad felt like that was just a travesty. People have made these choices responsibly and the state shouldn’t be interfering in this way. So he felt it was important that people had the right to choose their own form of religious expression.
HODGES: So he was a member of the clergy. How was it safe for him to express dissent on issues like that, like infant baptism, for him to say, because he wasn’t just saying it to the church, he was saying it to the church/state of, “Hey, this is actually not a good idea.”
ALLEN: Right. He was saying it through newspaper articles and in public meetings, so he was very much a public figure at a time when people were going to jail for this. There was no freedom of the press or freedom of assembly, so he was taking a very calculated risk that the benefit to the population as a whole would be greater than the risk to him as an individual. He was in pretty good company with other political reformers, like Orla Lehmann, who was another major figure in getting the constitution started, but he was also in company with people I discuss elsewhere in the book like Peter Christian Kierkegaard who also was asked to perform these baptisms of baptist children and refused, and had to explain himself to the king to explain why he wouldn’t uphold this ruling by the primate of the Danish church.
HODGES: How do you think Monrad would define Danish national identity? Because as they’re trying to reimagine what the politics will look like, nation building includes the identity of that nation, like who are these people, that’s kind of how people would make a nation. How would Monrad characterize Danish national identity?
ALLEN: I think Monrad was very much a thinker. He looked at the Enlightenment philosophies as a way of giving people a chance to define themselves as individuals first. His colleague and fellow pastor, Nils Frederik Severin Grundtvig, was very much in the folkloric mode. He felt like a people was sort of an organic thing that emerged, and you are first and foremost a Dane, and then a Christian.
But Monrad felt it was much more about you as an individual taking responsibility for your citizenship, and that’s what made you a good member of the situation. He has a great quote that he wrote in April 1840 where he talks about the king of Denmark, kind of the Moses, whose job was to lead people out of ignorance. He says that if the king is not acting, your job is to promote that action to spur him to action, and he quotes from sort of a bible style and says, “Verily, I say that a people that does not even have the power to ask for freedom is unworthy of it.” So I think people felt like what made people Danish was this taking responsibility for their own agency and creating a state that was inclusive and democratic and empowering to people.
HODGES: And what makes it really interesting is the fact that Monrad is arguing for a separation between church and state, but he’s using some religious arguments to do that, which some people today might find ironic.
ALLEN: Well, that’s one of the threads that goes through the book is how many of the figures involved in this transition from a church and state that are inseparable to a church and state that are quite distinct, are themselves religious and they’re not promoting this because they don’t believe religion, even Kierkegaard, who gets kind of a bad rap among Christians today who haven’t read his writings apparently, he wanted this church to be separate so that people would be more religious because when it was part of the state it downplayed the religion part of it and became just a function of the state. Pastors became officers of the state whose job was just as much collecting taxes and keeping roles for the draft as it was ensuring people’s spiritual wellbeing.
HODGES: I think they also would talk about coercion as a problem, like if someone is sort of forced to be in a church, how spiritual could that person ultimately be?
ALLEN: Right. That becomes one of Kierkegaard’s issues. He talks about people, the path is narrow, the way is straight, you can’t go through on mass hand-in-hand an entire nation. It’s an individual process and when you’re lumped into the complacency of, “We’ll just come to church and you’ll be saved because you’re Danish and because we’re all Lutheran” then no one will be saved.
HODGES: So how did the constitution settle the matter ultimately of church and state? What did they land on? It didn’t appeal to everybody, even those who were appealing for a separation.
ALLEN: Sure. They ended up compromising, as one inevitably must, and not granting full freedom of religion, but granting people the right to exercise their beliefs even when they differed from the religion of the people, which they’ve called the people’s church, folkekirken, people have the right to exercise as long as it didn’t impede public morality. So it didn’t give other churches the same status as the Lutheran church, but it opened the door for people to create those churches and attend them.
HODGES: So it kind of became a safe place for… the baptists were already there, but now it became safe for them to be baptists.
ALLEN: Correct. Which is one of the great ironies that it’s the baptists, who are the largest group of converts to Mormonism.
HODGES: So Danish and Lutheran, these were synonymous for hundreds of years or for over—
ALLEN: Since the Reformation.
HODGES: Since the Reformation, okay. So the new constitution changed that so Lutheran or non-Lutheran religious groups are beginning to grow. This is where Mormonism enters the scene. So talk a little bit about the first Mormon missionary experiences in Denmark and how that began.
ALLEN: It’s a great story. So the first Danish converts to Mormonism are two brothers, the Hansen brothers. One is a sailor in Boston. His brother hears about the church in Denmark and comes to Boston and is baptized there. They make their way to Nauvoo where they meet Joseph.
HODGES: So this is in the 1840s.
ALLEN: Early 1840s. Joseph Smith encourages Peter Olsen Hansen to start translating the Book of Mormon into Danish, which he starts doing in the early 1840s. After the martyrdom and the expulsion from Nauvoo, that gets lost. The brothers cross to Utah with Heber C. Kimball who adopts them, even though they’re grown men, into his family. But I think they seem to be keeping track of what’s happening in Denmark because once the constitution is in play, I think they go to Brigham Young, at least Peter goes to Brigham Young and says, “We should go to Denmark. Denmark’s a great place.”
HODGES: And it’s free now.
ALLEN: Yeah. “I’ve got this half-finished translation.” So Peter Olsen Hansen goes to Denmark with Erastus Snow who becomes known as the apostle of the Scandinavians and gets all the credit for translating the Book of Mormon, but I think Peter Olsen Hansen actually is the man of the hour.
They’re accompanied by two other missionaries. One is George Parker Dykes, who had been working among the Norwegians in Fox River, Illinois, so had some familiarity with the language there. And John Erik Forsgren, who is the first Swedish convert and he is supposed to go to Sweden, but he goes to Sweden, baptizes his brother, and gets kicked out, and convinces the captain of the ship to drop him off in Denmark instead of taking him all the way back to the United States.
So these four characters who are all very strong-minded, passionate people, who show up in Denmark in May and June of 1850 about exactly a year after the constitution has been passed, and they just start talking to people trying to find people who want to listen, and the people they find are the baptists. So they go to the baptist meetings. They have their first converts in August, all of whom are drawn from that baptist congregation in Copenhagen.
HODGES: When the missionaries arrived what was the message? What kind of ideas were they offering the Danish people as they were inviting them to learn about Mormonism?
ALLEN: It’s pretty radical. They’re basically saying that you’ve been missing out on the truth and we’ll let you know how to really reach God in important ways, and so they go and they initially tell people that the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is quite imminent, and that’s a message that permeates the entire nineteenth century. There’s an urgency about this that the Second Coming is coming.
They’re very outspoken about how corrupt the Danish church is, described Lutheran theology as erroneous and apostate, and encourages people to sort of cast aside the tradition of their fathers in order to embrace this restored gospel that will lead them to Christ in time for the Second Coming.
HODGES: You also talk in the book about how gathering, the idea of gathering was the part of the initial message.
ALLEN: I think that comes a little bit after. It’s not the first 1850, come and go to Utah, that actually is 1851, so I don’t know to what extent they said this to the very first converts, but very early on it does become part of it that to be gathered was to come together for that Second Coming. It wasn’t just to come and eat jello and farm the desert, it was to be present when Christ comes to his church.
HODGES: So this is a pretty brash message that they’re offering. You talk about some of the initial violent opposition, even some of it was violent, that these missionaries faced.
ALLEN: Right. The Danes today find that very shocking. Danes are not a violent people, and they don’t tend to be in the streets protesting, especially not religious minorities. This is very aggressive missionary work, saying, “You’re wrong, you’re damned, you should join our church.” It doesn’t help that George Parker Dykes goes to Ålborg to open the mission in Jutland. He is kind of a biblical prophet figure: hair uncombed, beard unshaven, eating dandelions at the side of the road, going to that purser script as literally as he possibly can and preaching fire and brimstone.
But I think that more than just the characters of the missionaries, what is threatening to people is this disruption because religious freedom the abstract is one thing, but to have your neighbors actually joining a different church and meeting this church that seems to say that you are wrong and being cast out of the way people have been practicing their beliefs, whether you believe them or not, you feel attacked by that.
So these mobs do gather. A lot of them are incited to a certain extent by Lutheran clergyman who want to drive this theological danger out of Denmark. So people go and they disrupt meetings and they break windows and they mock the speakers. There are some great moments where a group of women take the missionaries under their protection and escort them home to protect them from the mobs, and Danish readers writing into newspapers saying this is not Danish, this is not how we do things. But the doctrine of the gathering aggravates that because it also gives a way out for people who have embraced this gospel, broken with the Danish norm, and then have this sense of chosen-ness, that now you’re something special, and especially for people who were day-laborers or tenant farmers, who were disenfranchised by the land reforms of the preceding fifty years. This is a really radical empowerment that says I can go and be something more than you ever thought I could be. So I think that’s as much part of the cause of these disruptions as the theological differences.
HODGES: That kind of gives a little profile of the type of people who are likely to convert. Expand on that a little bit more, maybe, the type of Danes who would hear this message that the missionaries were speaking. What backgrounds were they coming from and why did this message resonate with them?
ALLEN: Well Denmark was largely rural at the time, so that’s one big contrast to today where it’s very, very urbanized country. Most people converting were farmers. They were peasant farmers, tenant farmers, day laborers, some of them were land-owners, but most of them were in this disadvantaged class.
In the late eighteenth century the crown prince had instituted land reforms that allowed people to consolidate their land and buy their own farms and move up into the middle class, and so of the large group of people who had been farming in that way in the eighteenth century maybe a quarter of them move up into the middle class, and three quarters fall down into this day-laborer tenant farmer class. So they have much less to lose economically by leaving than people who have more established businesses or property.
So it’s a well-worn trope that the gospel appeals to the humble and the down-trodden. It may be that people are just more receptive spiritually when they’re in harder economic circumstances, but in the Danish case it’s also very much people who have less to lose by breaking with society, by taking such a radical step.
HODGES: And when you say “breaking with society” you mean that in pretty literal fashion, right? Because the identity of what it meant to be Danish was still heavily tied to Lutheranism at this point.
ALLEN: Absolutely. Legally until the constitution it was inextricable. You couldn’t own land, you couldn’t have a job, you couldn’t get married if you weren’t a Lutheran. There were very small communities of Jews and Catholics and Huguenots who had some protections, and the Jewish situation is itself a topic that many books have been written about. It’s very interesting to see how their path to citizenship coincides with these changes, but even after the constitution culturally it’s all wrapped up with being Lutheran, that this is the way you are Danish, this is where you interact with your neighbors, and especially through the land reforms. People’s village life had been disrupted, so the church had become even more important to the place to meet your neighbors and then have your sense of community.
So for missionaries to come and say, “Your church which you’ve always believed in is wrong and you should leave that church and break away from your neighbors and form this other church” was terrifying for a lot of people.
HODGES: And maybe even leave the country.
ALLEN: Yeah, and then leave the country, which is the beginning of Danish emigration. The Norwegians and Swedes had started emigrating already in the 1820s because of financial and economic hardship, but the Danes hadn’t. So the first impetus for large-scale emigration comes from Mormons.
HODGES: As you said, that can threaten the status quo. That’s Julie K. Allen, a professor of comparative literature of Scandinavian studies at Brigham Young University. We’re talking about her book Danish, But Not Lutheran: The Impact of Mormonism on Danish Cultural Identity 1850-1920.
So, Julie, your research suggests that initial responses to Mormonism in Denmark tend to fall in two distinct camps. On the one hand there was some of this vigorous opposition from the masses, so to speak, but on the other hand some of Denmark’s educated elites started to engage with Mormonism. They took a more philosophical and measured approach to it, even if it was combative, it was kind of on that level of civilized combat, you might say. So let’s begin with some of the ways that educated elite Danes were confronting Mormonism. I wanted to start with the realist painter Christen Dalsgaard. Is that right?
ALLEN: Dalsgaard would be the Danish pronunciation, sure.
HODGES: So let’s talk about how he engaged with Mormonism.
ALLEN: Sure. So the Danes have a long history of great artists, and a lot of this peaks in the nineteenth century. They have the realist artist in the mid-century and the Skagen painters toward the later part of the century who are really interested in observing the world as it is. So Christen Dalsgaard falls into this camp. He wasn’t, as far as I can tell, particularly religious beyond being Lutheran, but he was very interested in the people of Denmark and trying to understand their experiences. So he was commissioned to paint a picture of—
HODGES: Do you have the whole title? Because it’s awesome. The whole title of it is “Two Mormons Have In the Course of Their Wanderings Entered the Home of a Country Carpenter Where They Seek to Win New Follows By Means of Preaching and Exhibiting Various of Their Sects’ Scriptures.” So that’s the title.
ALLEN: Right. So this long, long title of this painting, he submitted it for the national exhibition in 1856 and it was immediately purchased by the Society for Nordic Art, which I think is an acknowledgment of how well he captured this moment in Danish life.
HODGES: And when you say capture moment it sort of reminds me of like the correspondent photographers for Time Magazine or something today, where they go and the idea is to capture a scene, capture a moment that shows people doing their people things, and they didn’t have photography. Painting played that role.
ALLEN: Sure. In some ways he’s anticipating the Danish-American photographer and photojournalist Jacob Riis, who would go into slums in New York and with Teddy Roosevelt and break open the door and photograph people sleeping fifteen to the floor.
But yeah, Dalsgaard was trying to get a sense of what people were experiencing, and it’s not just about secularization, it’s about a time of enormous transition and change in Denmark. As I had mentioned, the break-up of village life as a result of land reforms had changed the way farmers related to each other, the constitution, and the introduction of suffrage for men, and democracy changed the way they related to the state. The king had gone from being a benevolent father figure to being a constitutional monarch who could, theoretically, be deposed.
So they’re trying to understand how they relate to this new version of Denmark. I think that’s what Dalsgaard captures here. It’s so fortunate for me as a historian that he wrote this letter explaining what he was trying to accomplish in this painting. He’s trying to understand the different factors that play for people listening to Mormon missionaries. What is it that is attractive to people? The blind girl in the center of the painting seems to have been captivated by the promise of healing.
There are lots of accounts of miraculous healings. There’s a Danish historian who has written about the miracles that were very much a part of the early conversions. It was very often somebody who had been ill that was healed or had had a loss of a family member who was attracted to the gospel, but he also sees in the other members of the room sort of skepticism, people worried that these promises are pie in the sky, that there’s no way that this could actually be. The carpenter whose home the Mormons are meeting in Dalsgaard describes as too healthy in nature to want anything to do with this sect, without really knowing why, sort of rejection of these promises.
But you see the way people are gathering in this home, people looking through the window, trying to understand what this means. Even the little child under the table looking up at the carpenter makes it feel very immediate and this is exactly what was happening. They were going into homes all over the country, particularly in Jutland, and teaching people this revolutionary doctrine. And in some cases, I have been told, they would carry pictures of America, pictures of Utah, and say, “This is what awaits you if you join this gospel you can go and have these fields of grain waiting for you.” So sort of marketing America at the same time as they’re selling the gospel.
I think you get that sense here from Dalsgaard. Obviously he feels like the missionary he describes as sly and devious is a reprehensible person, but he doesn’t seem to be condemning this scene. He’s just showing this is what’s happening in the homes of Danish peasants.
HODGES: That’s what’s really interesting is in contrast to some of the really vocal opposition in Mormonism, he really is just apparently here depicting a scene that doesn’t seem to be skewed for or against Mormons. This painting it was mentioned in a recent General Conference you said as well. Talk about that a little bit.
ALLEN: Yeah it was mentioned in Conference and attributed to Arnold Friberg, which I found rather jarring.
HODGES: Didn’t he paint every Mormon painting? [laughing]
ALLEN: Well, and actually he did paint this, but he copied the Dalsgaard painting and he attributed it to Dalsgaard. So attributing it to Friberg is kind of like attributing the Mona Lisa to me if I was to make a copy.
HODGES: You should. You never gave it a try.
ALLEN: Not yet.
HODGES: What interests me about that is the fact that the painting can then be used by Mormons as well. It shows that the almost photographic nature of the approach—
ALLEN: Absolutely. I think Dalsgaard’s style inspires Carl Christian Anton Christensen, C. C. A. Christensen, who is one of the great early Mormon Danish American artists. Capturing the life of the saints on the trail is what Christensen’s trying to do. He was attending art school in Copenhagen when he joined the Mormon church, and he later did more training. So Dalsgaard’s establishing a type of artistic study that Christensen picks up on.
HODGES: That’s realism, right? This idea that it’s what it sounds like, it’s a real picture of something that’s happening.
ALLEN: Right, but sort of almost a psychological realism because there’s all these ideas informing the different expressions and faces that Dalsgaard is trying to convey through the painting.
HODGES: And that to them would be almost more real, like you’re capturing even more by using facial expressions and that type of thing.
ALLEN: Right, and intuiting what they’re thinking.
HODGES: Yeah. Another example of a cultural elite that was engaging with Mormonism is the philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s brother, Peter Christian Kierkegaard. He’s a fascinating example. He differed from his brother on some things, he also differed from Mormons on some things. What did Kierkegaard’s opposition look like?
ALLEN: So Kierkegaard was a pastor in the Danish Lutheran church, but not really in the mainstream. He was a follower of Nils Frederik Severin Grundtvig, and Grundtvig really advocated a big tent Christianity, an expansive but capacious church. So Kierkegaard had been involved in the baptist crisis, had rejected the forcible baptism of baptist children and was well disposed towards allowing people to choose their own congregations, to follow their hearts, and he I think was also a very sincere believer, very much a convert to Lutheranism spiritually himself, but he was also a pastor appointed by the state with responsibility for the parish of Pedersborg in Sorø near the Sorø Academy, which has been a hub of Danish intellectual life for centuries.
So when he discovers in August of 1854 that Mormons are preaching his parish, it’s a threat to his livelihood and he sort of kicks into gear as the pastor and does his job, meets with the missionaries, talks to Mattias Helmut who is the man whose home they’re meeting in, is invited to speak at their meeting, and comes to counter the missionaries’ claims, which I think is exactly what he was supposed to do in his job and what we would expect of sort of a similar situation if it was reversed here today.
When he comes to the meeting he speaks from prepared remarks that he later publishes as a pamphlet called “About and Against Mormonism,” and it runs to about fifty published pages. If you want to read it it’s in BYU Studies from 2007 in translation with annotations. But he tries very hard to be responsible. He’s not following in the style of people who are trying to slander the church or trying to reproduce hearsay from the American or British press. He takes the missionaries exactly at their word and says he won’t use anything he’s used about the Mormons, he’ll only address what they have said.
He does resort to humor and mockery to a certain extent. He talks about the Mitus touch of the stick of Joseph, Judah being converted to gold plated in the United States and of how that of course is attractive, and he has some pension for alliteration saying the Muhammadians and the Mormons and the Methodists and Menonites all are sort of threats to the order of Lutheranism, but he tries mostly to appeal to his listeners’ own spiritual convictions, to speak of how the charge that there had been an apostasy was problematic for people who believe in the continuity of the confession of faith from the days of Christ to the days of the present, to call Christ a gambler who couldn’t make good on his bets is for Peter Christian Kierkegaard something very threatening to one’s own testimony.
So I think he stands out from his peers, many other pastors had written against the church, but for this very sincere engagement with the fundamental principle of could there have been an apostasy and restoration, or does that contradict the nature of Christ’s promise to his church?
HODGES: How did he differ from his brother, Søren Kierkegaard? According to your book we don’t have clear examples of Søren really engaging with Mormonism in particular. I think there might be one instance when he mentions Mormonism, but it’s peripheral. How did he differ? How did the two Kierkegaards differ from each other?
ALLEN: That’s what fascinating. And actually this encounter between the brothers or non-encounter was one of the founding moments for me in writing this book because Søren Kierkegaard was very, very passionately devout, raised in the same household as his brother, they were pietists, very much engaged.
HODGES: That means they were even more Lutheran, like we say our prayers even more—
ALLEN: He would go to church on Fridays because fewer people went on Fridays so it showed extra devotion. He was very, very committed to his faith. So for people that say that Søren Kierkegaard was anti-Christian I think is a fundamental misreading.
HODGES: Why did people start saying that?
ALLEN: Because he’s coopted by the existentialists in the twentieth century.
HODGES: Okay, so later philosophers borrow—
ALLEN: And they strip away the Christianity and focus on the individual.
HODGES: And he had been critical of the church, so you could point to that.
ALLEN: But that’s the thing that is interesting, that he was very critical of the Danish Lutheran church as an obstacle to people’s religiosity. At the same time his brother is encountering the Mormons, Søren is embarking what comes to be known as the attack on Christendom. Christendom is not Christianity. Christendom is the apparatus, it’s the church, it’s the bureaucracy—
HODGES: The institution.
ALLEN: The institution that he feels like is distracting people from their actual relationship to God.
HODGES: Which Mormons were trying to say as well, but not in terms of their institution, but with regards to the Lutheran institution.
ALLEN: Right. And he felt like paid clergy was a major problem. He calls them “cannibals living off the flesh of their parishioners.” He felt like people, much like Monrad, weren’t taking responsibility for their own faith. He calls them geese being fattened for the slaughter who have been told they have wings but aren’t supposed to be able to fly. So Kierkegaard, Søren embarks on this attack on Christendom at the same time as Peter Christian is debating with the Mormons. So for me they’re in conversation with each other indirectly, which is really appropriate for the way Kierkegaard always writes.
HODGES: Yeah, he would write under different names and things like that.
ALLEN: Yeah, and trying to put different perspectives and conversation, and not tell you exactly what to think, but just raise perspectives. So Peter Christian is saying the church that has nurtured you is the continuation through the oral confession of faith from the church that Christ established from earth and you should stick with that. Søren says that church is getting in your way, that church is holding you back from really engaging with God. You should grapple with Christ and with your testimony on your own terms.
HODGES: What do you think Søren’s impression of Mormonism would have been? It’s a guessing game, I realize, but based on what he said what do you think?
ALLEN: I think there would have been things he would have been sympathetic to. The idea of being unpaid clergy, of going out by conviction of sacrificing everything, that was a topic that Kierkegaard really felt strongly about, that you need to sacrifice for your faith. So I think he would have approved of the missionaries going out and devoting themselves to this cause, and for the converts selling all their belongings, emigrating to Zion, really following their faith. At the same time the fact they were doing that to join a church in some ways I think would have not appealed to Kierkegaard, that he felt they were then just surrendering that agency to a different institution.
HODGES: How wide-reaching do you think Peter Christian Kierkegaard’s writings would have been? How many regular Danish people would have been familiar with it in comparison to, say, Christen Dalsgaard’s painting?
ALLEN: Well Christen Dalsgaard was painting for the elites. It went right into museum collections and was not something that ordinary people would have seen except in their own lives they would have maybe have encountered that experience. But Peter Christian Kierkegaard, he was a rockstar. He was the Dr. Kierkegaard that everybody knew. Søren was this crazy guy with too short pant-legs running around the walkways of Copenhagen whereas Peter Christian was respected. He was a bishop, he was a minister in the government, he was very, very much a celebrity of the day. He was known as the debating devil of the north during his PhD studies in Germany.
So I think his arguments against Mormonism would have had a very wide audience. He spoke at the meeting and then he published them as a pamphlet in the Danish church news and then he published it as a book and he would go around giving presentations to local communities. Other pastors would write to him asking him for his advice, like, “There’s Mormons in my parish. What should I do?” Sort of a “Dear Abby” for dealing with Mormon missionaries. So I think he was very wide reaching. I think it’s particularly poignant that they’re talking about the same question of religious freedom and religious identity at a time when they were not speaking to each other, that in 1849 Peter Christian had called Søren an ecstatic to a council of pastors, and Søren was heartbroken. He was devastated his only remaining sibling , all of his other siblings had died, his parents had died, his only brother, who is dismissing him.
HODGES: As kind of a crazy visionary.
ALLEN: As a crazy visionary who can’t be relied on. Søren was very responsible. He had a very clear methodology about trying not to tell anyone what to think. But as his health is declining and he has spent all his money on promoting his very personal view that you need to engage with God personally to be saved, to have this rupture with his brother is kind of heartbreaking. So Søren pours his health and his energy into this attack on Christendom as Peter is going around being vetted by everybody as the great champion of the Danish church. Then he dies, Søren dies, having never spoken to his brother again, but he leaves his papers to him, gives this question of legacy into the hands of his brother who he didn’t know believed in him.
HODGES: And could have destroyed the papers if he wanted to. Why do you think he didn’t?
ALLEN: I think it has to do with personal integrity, that Peter Christian was of the same cloth as his brother. So he wrestled with himself what do with this. He gave them to editors to deal with who did modify the papers, but he didn’t throw them out, he didn’t burn them and he had them published, and he tried I think to be responsible. There’s a moment around Søren’s funeral that is really telling, that for Peter Christian the Danish church, folkekirken, Peter Christian coined that name, folkekirken.
HODGES: The people’s church.
ALLEN: The people’s church. It was definitely the way to salvation. So when Søren dies he has him buried in a Danish Lutheran church cemetery, which Søren’s nephew takes offense at. At the graveside he says, “Søren wouldn’t have wanted this. He was breaking with the church. Why would you do this to him? Why would you co-opt him for the church?” But Peter Christian I think was very invested in keeping his brother inside the fold.
HODGES: These type of family divisions weren’t exclusive to the Lutheran faith. A little bit later on we’ll talk about how some family divisions and difficulties happened for Danish Mormons as well, but let’s talk about one more cultural elite engagement with Mormonism. This is Elise Stampe. She was a highly privileged Danish woman, she wrote a manuscript about Mormons. It was never ultimately published, but it’s really a fascinating manuscript. It seems like a dear friend of hers had converted to Mormonism and it prompted her desire to look into this faith and write about it.
ALLEN: Absolutely. Elise Stampe is a Danish noblewoman. Her parents were the mentors of the sculptor Thorvaldsen, whose Christus is everywhere in Mormon visitor’s centers.
HODGES: Yeah, it’s the famous white statue at Temple Square.
ALLEN: Exactly right. And Grundtvig, who I’ve mentioned a couple of times, was her pastor, she was confirmed with him, so she was very much an insider in the Danish Lutheran system. But she has the education and has traveled and has studied other cultures to give her some perspective on what’s happening.
So when she has this friend who becomes a Mormon, she decides that it’s not enough to just condemn it out of hand based on hearsay and slander, but she really needs to understand what it is that appeals to her friend. So she takes that psychological realism that Christen Dalsgaard visualizes in the painting and internalizes that to think what is going on in my friend’s heart? What strains of truth are being played on that are then being converted in her mind into falsehood eventually? So she writes this book and, if I can quote a little bit from the forward, she says, “It would be asking a great deal of the reader to digest an entire book about Mormonism.”
HODGES: You should have led with that, by the way, in your book. It would be asking a lot of the reader to expect them to read a whole book about Mormonism, now here we go.
ALLEN: I should have. In the next edition I’ll have to change that. But she says that people, if they’re intellectually responsible, need to take the time. She says that Mormonism which detracts only ignorant uneducated wretches with no prospects in the mind of the public, which is rarely even mentioned in the civilized world, and can’t even be bothered to be written about. She says, “How can we understand what people are thinking if we don’t understand what they’re converting to?” So she presents it here, she says is a highly interesting and enlightening phenomenon, but also is not exactly as a theology, but rather a combination of doctrines that pose quite serious questions for which we need to find answers, whether it be in Mormonism itself or somewhere else.
So kind of like Kierkegaard, who is also a Grundtvigian, opening up to the question that there might be truth outside of what we know and what is there in Mormonism that appeals to us? Then she goes on to quote from Parley P. Pratt and the voice of warning and the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, and she says that the Book of Mormon for her isn’t even the most radical part. It’s the Doctrine and Covenants, this ongoing revelation and a living prophet today, that’s what she finds really compelling.
HODGES: And she’s trying this open-minded approach. She’s not uncritical at the same time, but you get a sense from her manuscript that she really was trying to understand Mormons on their own terms, and she was also giving voice to Mormons themselves within her work as well, and almost letting them self-represent as well.
ALLEN: Absolutely. She quotes at length from not only missionaries and published writings, but from people. She says, “If you meet a Mormon on the street and you ask him he will say this,” so she clearly was talking to Mormons on the street about what they felt and why they were converting.
She’s very open to the beauty of the scriptures. She’ll quote at length from the Mormon scriptures to say how beautiful they are and how much they would appeal to someone of a poetic nature, really trying to understand what is good in Mormonism, and then saying, “But this is where we differ. This is what I think because of my Lutheran beliefs, and this is why I wouldn’t accept Mormonism.” But I think it’s a very Kierkegaardian approach as well. He says you can meet people where they are to take them to where you want them to go, and she does exactly that. For someone who is interested in Mormonism they find a lot of positive description that then leads them into saying, “This is why I disagree.”
HODGES: While she’s writing this she’s also corresponding with a church figure as well.
ALLEN: With Grundtvig.
HODGES: Yes. So talk about that a little bit. That relationship is interesting.
ALLEN: Yeah, so Grundtvig was a kind of father figure for her. She had gone to confirmation with him and he was her spiritual mentor. She was sure that she would not approve of her relationship with this Mormon woman and writing about Mormonism, so she doesn’t write for a while. Then she does write to him and defends her decision to write about Mormonism. For me in some ways becomes a spokesperson for the Grundtvigian engagement with Mormonism, since Grundtvig himself doesn’t seem to have written about Mormonism.
It was a very courageous move for a woman in a time when women had some rights, and women of her class had some rights, but they didn’t have the vote, they didn’t have political agency in the way that they get into the public policy. She becomes a representative of not just Grundtvigism, but also of women taking a different approach to understanding this new phenomenon.
HODGES: You found in some of that correspondence too that it seems as though her friend actually died during this time.
ALLEN: Yes. So to Grundtvig it’s kind of a relief, saved her from the hellfire that she would have endured by being a Mormon, but for Elise I think it’s really a tragedy that she has lost this friend that she dearly wanted to understand.
HODGES: She never published it though. She published a lot of other books. I know it’s guesswork yet again, but what are your thoughts about the fact this book never actually saw the light of day and you had to find it in an archive someplace and then translate it?
ALLEN: Well most of her books were self-published. Publishing was not the same field it is today, and Kierkegaard, many of his books were also self-published. Well, his newspapers at least.
HODGES: Yeah, so it’s not like she needed to find a publisher to do it. She could have done it.
ALLEN: But I think it had to do with her friend dying. That she was writing it for her friend, and her friend was no longer the audience, that maybe she lost heart and didn’t have the motivation to push it through, though I think it would be enormously interesting for people to read, both to understand how missionaries were representing themselves in Denmark at the time, and how she was engaging with that. So one of my future projects is to get that transcribed and translated.
HODGES: Yeah. Even the excerpts you include in the book are really interesting. In fact I think that was probably my favorite part of this book was getting to know her and her thought process and the open way in which she engaged with a religion that was threatening to other people. Do you think that also might have played into it? Or did she publish other manuscripts that might have been controversial?
ALLEN: She published some things that were controversial. She wrote a lot about religion in other countries. She wrote some very powerful books about Danish national identity, particularly after the war of 1864, which was a devastating time for Danes. So she, I think, identifies Danishness with that same sort of conception that Monrad had of an open-mindedness, a broad-mindedness that the Danes today I think also share.
HODGES: That’s Julie K. Allen. She’s a professor of comparative literature in Scandinavian studies here at Brigham Young University. We’re talking about the book Danish, But Not Lutheran.
As people can tell by now that title Danish, But Not Lutheran was to signal the idea that being Danish was to be Lutheran until this constitutional revolution happened there and then all these other religions, including Mormonism, popped up. So rather than telling a history of the LDS church in Denmark you decided to talk about what Mormonism’s presence suggest about Danish people, about culture, about identity. Why that approach? A lot of times when people talk about Mormon history they’re just going to say, “This is the date when the missionaries arrived. They met this person. This person was baptized. A branch was established. This person visited.” And so on through that. Why your approach?
ALLEN: Well in part because the other approach has been done. Andrew Jenson, assistant church historian for many years, he wrote a history of the Scandinavian mission and provided a lot of those dates. Who was baptized when, who was transferred where, but that only has interest for people who are really invested in that particular development.
William Mulder, the eminent historian who was at the University of Utah for many years, wrote the story of the emigration in his book Homeward to Zion. He tells again terrific stories, which is of interest also to people whose ancestors came. But the question of what that meant to convert, what your neighbors though, what kind of a repercussion there was in society as a result of these changes, that story hadn’t been told. So that was the story that I decided to try and tell. I was amazed to find how much resonance there was, how many people were talking about Mormonism, and not just in dismissive ways as we’ve already discussed.
HODGES: That was one thing I really appreciated as well. This book doesn’t seem like it was written as merely an attempt to cheerlead from Mormonism itself, but also to really try to get at what it was like to be a Mormon in that country, or what it was like to engage with Mormons in that country at that time. I think that’s a valuable exercise because you notice things that would otherwise be overlooked, including the fact that there were Danish people that were sympathetic to Mormonism. They might not have joined, but they didn’t like violence against Mormonism. Some people like Elise would actually engage with members of the LDS church and try to understand them from those perspectives and those sort of things.
So what I’m saying is you are a Latter-day Saint yourself writing a book about Latter-day Saints, but it doesn’t seem like it’s only advocating on behalf of the LDS church.
ALLEN: I don’t think that’s my job. I think my job in this book is to help us understand the history of the time more fully, and I think it does a disservice to focus on this victim narrative that valiant Mormon missionaries came in and were terrorized by the Danes, and a few valiant souls were converted and fled. Because that’s not helpful, especially for global Mormonism today. People need to live in their countries and be part of their societies. The question of how you do that is something that we’re still figuring out. I think this example of how over the seventy year period it goes from being a foreign religion to something that Danes can be and be Danish, which is really inspiring I think also as the church is moving into other countries.
I think also we tend in Mormon historiography not to give countries and other cultures in-depth examinations. We look at the church as an incursion into that culture without understanding the culture that it’s participating in, and it makes it, in my mind, more impressive what converts were willing to do, what missionaries were able to do, but also to understand how the church can grow in those countries by understanding what the stakes were.
HODGES: Yeah, and as part of that transition from being like violently opposed to sort of cultural elites’ opposition and uncertainty about Mormonism, it also went through a period where there were some popular responses to Mormonism that were even kind of fun or funny. Mormonism went from something to be feared to something to be—
ALLEN: To be memed.
HODGES: Yes, to be meme-ified. Let’s talk about that. An example would be the penny songs that you explore.
ALLEN: Sure. So I think what we have in the 1850s is this theological response to the doctrinal challenge of Mormonism, but once there’s some critical mass and there’s people converting, not just in the teens or handfuls, but by the hundreds and leaving, there are entire boatloads of Mormon emigrants in the 1850s and 1860s, it really permeates into the public consciousness.
HODGES: How could that not feel like a judgment against you as a Danish person? How dare you. What’s wrong with us? You’re leaving your… you’re not a Dane.
ALLEN: Right. You’ve cast this aside. This is before there’s a large-scale migration of Danish Lutherans, which comes in the 60s and 70s, and by the 1880s it’s largely Lutherans that are leaving. So that has changed the parameters a little bit. But the question still of what are they seeing that I’m not seeing really informs these questions.
So the penny ballads I talk about, called skillingsviser in Danish, were the most popular entertainment there was. This was social media. They’re really cheap, really quick printed, distributed as handles on the street, and they tell sort of—again like social media—stories that will engage with people’s emotions. A rich young girl who falls in with the missionaries, goes to Utah and is married to an old man as his seventh wife and has this life of misery and drudgery and longs for home. So this is a Buzzfeed; it’s a clickbait.
So these kinds of stories, there aren’t that many I could find preserved of the penny ballads, but they would have had wide circulation and people would have known these stories and taken them, as people often do still today, for fact. There’s a story of a rich farmer who invests all his money with the Mormons and leaves, and regrets it later. So these kinds of stories circulated widely beyond even the penny ballads themselves, but in retelling and being performed at social events. “Did you hear the one about the guy?”
There’s this great one about this man, Ole and his wife Doter, who go to the Mormons because it’s pleasant to be there. They’ve got geese stuffed with parsley for dinner every day. You can have as many wives as you want. So Ole and his wife go to the Mormons and he gets a little cottage and he has a couple of extra wives, but he has to work and there’s not roast goose every day, and the wives squabble, and there’s nothing to drink. He says, “This is terrible! Let’s go home, and that’s where we’ll stay. In Denmark.”
HODGES: It kind of fits in to classic tropes of cheering for the home country where the grass is always greener on the other side type of stories. What’s interesting about these is it’s not engaging on doctrinal levels, theological levels, these more popular responses to Mormonism are much more focused on social ramifications.
ALLEN: Even at the level of polygamy. The mob violence in Denmark predated the announcement of polygamy, and then there are some moments in the 1850s when the clergy is trying to figure out if polygamy is being practiced in Denmark and the primate of the Danish church sends out a circular to all the pastors and says to report on whether or not polygamy is being practiced, and the pastors survey their congregations and come back and say, “No, there’s a lot of Lutherans living in sin, but there’s no polygamy we can find.” So it’s this very pragmatic, down to earth approach that you see in this popular media as well. People saying, “Really is it going to be so much better in America? Is polygamy really that much more fun?” You know, Ole and his wife discovering it’s not a bed of roses is I think part of that. So this sort of deflating impulse to say those pie in the sky stories are pie in the sky, so don’t believe everything you hear.
HODGES: Yeah. So as technology advances they’re going to go from penny songs to things like silent films. You spend a little time in the book talking about how Mormonism pops up in some early Danish silent films as well.
ALLEN: Right. The very first anti-Mormon film ever made is Danish, which I thought was very interesting. It’s called “Victim of the Mormons.” It’s not like a B production made out of shoe-string, this is made by Nordisk, the biggest film company in Denmark which exported hundreds of films to the whole world in this period. It stars Valdemar Psilander, who was like Brad Pitt. He was the highest paid movie star in Denmark by a wide margin in this period. So this is a blockbuster film.
HODGES: Hollywood blockbuster.
ALLEN: Absolutely. It’s building on a series of successful erotic melodramas about the white slave trade. So right about this time Mormonism has come in the cross-hairs of the white slave trade campaigns, people campaigning against the slave trade I should specify. So it’s an easy fit to say let’s make the Mormons the next subject of our next white slave trade film and have Valdemar Psilander as a crowd-pleaser and Clara Wieth, who is a leading actress, and it follows a very clear pattern of girl explores forbidden intellectual territory, gets into trouble, is rescued by brother and her fiancé. We’re told in the program notes that her fiancé Sven is too occupied with sports to pay attention to his fiancé, that’s why she falls in with the Mormons.
There’s kind of slapstick moments. Psilander as the missionary, Andrew Larson, wears a false mustache on board ship and he’s abducted Nina, who has changed her mind, he drugs her, puts her on the boat, goes out for a smoke on deck, and his mustache falls off and catches the attention of the radio man on the boat. So there are all kinds of moments that trigger this as entertainment. This is not an engagement with Mormon doctrine. This is a way to show people that yeah, Mormons might be a threat, but it’s an interesting threat that involves car chases and trans-Atlantic scavenger hunts, and a trap door in the living room of Psilander’s house through which he falls when Nina finds the lever in the basement and he shoots himself and all is well that ends well.
HODGES: It’s funny how these things map on to things that happen today. So in the past we have these sort of clerical engagements with Mormonism where religious figures are combating the evil doctrines of Mormonism, and then you have these popular lampoonings, I mean we see clear parallels today in counter-cult literature and then in things like the Book of Mormon Musical, which is a lampooning thing.
ALLEN: I think what’s interesting is that when you get to that stage of being lampooned, you already gained a degree of acceptance, that people are familiar enough with you that you’ve become a trope, so they don’t have to tell you all the background. They can just say, “Oh, this is what Mormonism associates with in our minds. Let’s go with that.”
One of my very favorite of these silent films is called “He’s a Mormon.” It’s an eight minute short by the comedy Lau Lauritzen. It features a man having an affair. His wife comes home unexpectedly, catches him with his mistress, and he says, “Oh, it’s my sister-in-law from America.” Then his brother from America telegrams and says, “Oh we’re on the boat. We’re coming to visit you.” He shows up having lost his wife in the tumult at the dock, and the brother says, “Pretend this is your wife so I don’t get in trouble.”
HODGES: So he doesn’t blow his cover.
ALLEN: Right. So he does but then the real wife shows up and the adulterer says, “Well, my brother’s a Mormon!” And explains it all away. There’s no engagement with Mormonism. It’s really just with Danish morals and infidelity, and had it become a meme people would understand, but they wouldn’t actually have any hard feelings against Mormons at that point, just as I don’t think the Book of Mormon Musical is trying to actually make fun of actual Mormons.
HODGES: Yeah, it’s just sort of this social commentary, or sort of fun playing around with tropes and ideas in comparison with these other counter-cult literature, which is we’ve got to keep people away from Mormonism in religious terms. These things serve completely different purposes.
ALLEN: Absolutely. In fact, there’s Tivoli, an amusement park in Copenhagen, and they have review every summer like a vaudeville show, and in 1911, the same year the film comes out—”Victim of the Mormons”—they have a vaudeville show that features a song called “Mormon’s Mormons,” and it says that Jensen wants to have a wife-swapping event in his parlor with Hansen, and he will have Hansen’s wife and Hansen will have his, but then he has to get with Jensen’s mother, and all these things, and he says we don’t need Mormons for wife-swapping, we can do that ourselves.
HODGES: Yeah, some of the differences between pop cultural responses to Mormonism and engagement with Mormonism compared to more theological responses to Mormonism are really interesting.
We’re talking with Julie Allen about the book Danish, But Not Lutheran. So we’ve talked a lot about how people reacted and responded to Mormons. We haven’t talked as much about people who converted themselves. Your book also includes conversion stories and stories of people who were Danish and decided to join the LDS faith. Mormons were recording their stories in personal writings. They’re also publishing things publicly to tell their stories. So did these type of stories differ by venue? You studied personal writings and public writings.
ALLEN: Yes. I think in the Scandinavia’s Star, which is the church publication, they tend to be really faith promoting and only tell the good things about what it’s like to be in Zion with your fellow believers, and how wonderful that is, but in the personal writings they tend to be a little more nuanced, and you get a sense of the cost of conversion. Not to say that people regretted their conversion. Even in one of the stories I tell of a man named Mads Nielsen, who had to leave his wife and most of his children behind to gather to Zion, he is absolutely convinced of the rightness of his choice, but that doesn’t lessen, in fact it heightens, the cost of his conversion. That he feels like he has to be in Utah for the Second Coming of Christ, and he wants his wife to be there, and she won’t come, but he can’t not go. I think that humanizes him in a way that glossier faith-promoting narrative might not.
HODGES: Yeah, the details of that story aren’t going to seem inspirational in that context. The people wanted good stories, stories that sort of affirmed those decisions and didn’t focus as much on the costs. What are some other examples of costs that converts paid to join the faith there?
ALLEN: Well obviously financial costs. Another couple I write about, Hans and Vilhelmina Göransen, he joined the church as a seventeen year old farm hand and was transferred away from his farm by his master because he had joined the church. So he goes into sort of exile. As soon as he obtains his majority he becomes a missionary and spends three years preaching to his fellow Danes, emigrates to Utah, meets Vilhelmina, they get married, get a farmstead in Pleasant Grove have five children, are just barely eking out an existence, and he’s called on a mission back to Denmark in 1881. He’s gone for three years, leaving her alone with these five kids on a farm, but she’s never farmed herself. He writes in his response to President Taylor that this is going to be really hard for my family, but I’ll do it.
He does go, but their correspondence is amazing because you see how she endures, which is less the subject in this book as in other things I’ve written, but also for him what it’s like to go home again and see what he has given up culturally, that he doesn’t feel like a part of the Danish people. He talks about “them” and “they” and “their” experiences in Denmark; he’s critical of them for papering their parlors and riding in well-sprung carriages, and sort of getting above their station. He’s also critical of their lack of religiosity and their unwillingness to hear his message. So he’s writing this in Danish to his Danish wife.
HODGES: Right, and even in that context they still spoke the language of their home country. I don’t remember if he ended up learning English, but she didn’t. Is that right?
ALLEN: Not very well. She would attend English meetings occasionally, but her whole world was Danish.
HODGES: Yeah. So they were stuck in this place where Danish wasn’t home anymore and they were establishing a new home in Zion, in Utah, doing this, but they weren’t fully at home there either.
ALLEN: Brigham Young recognized that. He encouraged English usage in church, but he also allowed for the creation of these Danish language congregations, because you recognize that people as you know need to hear the gospel in their own language. So for Hans and Vilhelmina, they lived in this parallel society in Pleasant Grove, which was about half Scandinavian, half Anglo. Her network of support was largely Danish, so Danish culture permeated their lives. At the same time, they had chosen to adopt this Mormon identity that was different from that of their fellow Danes, also their fellow Danish immigrants to the United States who were Lutheran.
HODGES: But even their Mormon identity was not—
ALLEN: So they’re totally alienated.
HODGES: So they differed from Mormonism on certain things as well. I’m thinking of polygamy in particular. So they didn’t throw all-in with Mormonism either in some respects.
ALLEN: Right. That’s a really interesting question. There’s lots of anecdotal evidence of Danes, for example, not being willing to give up coffee. That’s just too Danish, I can’t give that up. Of course Jennifer Lund, who has pointed out that there were many other converts who didn’t give up coffee and it wasn’t nearly as emphasized in the nineteenth century at church as it later became, but I think it’s important to remember that cultural identity is so multifaceted. The people are not just an ideology.
So yes they embraced the church, yes they came to Utah, but they retained their language, they ascribed the American dream of making it for yourself, but they also still value their Danish heritage, their holidays, their food. Mads Nielsen, he plants acres and acres of Danish berries and his daughter-in-law makes Danish food, and they always had regret that it’s never quite the same as it was in Denmark. They have Danish bands, they have Danish dances. In fact to the point that the Swedes in the church complain that the Danes get too many advantages and are privileged members of the church. They also had an apostle.
HODGES: What was the difference to them? Because they had an apostle?
ALLEN: Well they get Anthon Lund as an apostle, just that they numerically were far more significant and were much more represented. The Swedish feud is a tempest in a teapot.
HODGES: This whole story really is about negotiating these identities and how multi-faceted these converts really were. They were Mormon, they were Danish, with footnotes, with asterisks.
ALLEN: Absolutely. And that’s really what I wanted to get across in this chapter, especially for people who have Danish ancestry, is to understand the complete people that these ancestors were, to understand that negotiating identity meant sacrificing things that mattered to them, but also hanging on to things that maybe weren’t as mainstream as we’d like to see them as having been. They didn’t come to America and jettison their cultural identity. They brought it with them, and they contributed to the shaping of Utah culture, that we don’t necessarily know, but there’s a fascinating article that was published a couple of years ago about Danish speech particles that are still existent in English spoken in Sanpete County, and people don’t know that they’re speaking in Danish syntax and using Danish formulations in English.
HODGES: Like what kind of thing?
ALLEN: I can’t think of any examples off-hand, but I can send you the article.
HODGES: We’ll link to it on the blog or something.
ALLEN: There we go.
HODGES: That’s Julie Allen. We’re talking about her book Danish But Not Lutheran. She’s a professor of comparative literature in Scandinavian studies here at Brigham Young University.
Do you have family connections to Denmark yourself? Or how did you get interested in this?
ALLEN: I have one Danish great-great grandmother who married Samuel Knight and was at Mountain Meadows. They had a new wagon, and he came home with a wagon full of orphans after the massacre. But she died when she was thirty-nine. Her daughter married into a Swiss clan, the Hafens, and that Danish line was just sort of erased from at least my consciousness.
But when I went to Denmark as a missionary I discovered I had this Danish connection, but really more than that, I sometimes say that I went to Denmark as a missionary and I got converted to Danishness because I just discovered there were so many interesting stories. The Danish saints were such a huge part of the early church. Their story doesn’t get told as a Danish story. It gets told as a pioneer story. The specificity of their experience has been lost.
HODGES: That’s what makes this book stick out to me. In your conclusion of the book you talk about what histories like this one can say about the present, and what people can learn from history or think about similar issues and by looking at past events we can sort of come back to the present with new eyes. Do you think that history has morals to teach like that? What are your thoughts about history as sort of moral instruction or something like that?
ALLEN: I’m a big believer in Santayana’s quote that if we don’t know history we’re bound to repeat it. I think that history teaches us how things have been done and helps guide us in the present. So whether it teaches a moral lesson is harder to say, but it definitely teaches lessons. I think for me one of the triggers for writing this book was the Muhammad cartoon crisis of 2005, looking at Denmark in that era grappling with a new Muslim population, trying to understand where the limits are, where the limits of mockery—
HODGES: Yes. They published some cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, which offended some Muslims even to the point of wanting to respond with violence or anger.
ALLEN: Right. So it was a different situation and didn’t end up being a very visible part of the framing of the book, but also because of the developments that changed the parameters of that situation. But this idea of how the majority relates to minority religion, and how you find acceptance I think is something that we are definitely struggling with today also in the United States, and in the church. How do we accept cultural difference and not make that a marker of ideological dissimilarity?
So I think that history definitely has lessons to teach us of how people have done it in the past, of how time can change the way we look at things, how circumstances outside of the events themselves impact the way the events are talked about, and see how this changes from 1850 to the 1920s, it gradually becomes familiar enough to be made fun of, and then familiar enough not to be made fun of anymore.
There are a couple of very minor anecdotes at the end of the book that I thought were really telling of the way that Danish saints in World War II were very much involved in the defense of their country. In the resistance movement, there were some young boys in the town of Silkeborg, they were members of the church, kind of Danish Helmuth Hübener figures, who gave their lives to defend their countries against the Nazis. At the same time there are saints in the town of Esbjerg who see a visiting German Nazi soldier who was a member of the church, invite him to speak in their congregation, and he writes home to his family about how powerful that was for him to be accepted as a saint and a brother, despite the uniform he wore. Then he went to Russia and was never heard from again. So his family’s last testament of him was of the power of the gospel to bring people together.
HODGES: You’ll see more stories like that one in the book Danish, But Not Lutheran: The Impact of Mormonism on Danish Cultural Identity, 1850-1920 by Julie K. Allen.
Julie, I really enjoyed talking to you about this book. Thanks for coming in today!
ALLEN: Thank you so much.
The views expressed here and in Maxwell Institute publications are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Maxwell Institute, Brigham Young University, or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
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