Churchill — yes, that Churchill — investigated Mormon missionaries to see if they were just shopping for wives
Peggy Fletcher Stack
First Published Jun 20 2016 07:27PM • Last Updated Jun 20 2016 07:27 pm
In July 1910, Mormon missionaries were expelled from Germany amid allegations they were recruiting women to become polygamous wives in Utah. That move prompted the British Parliament to wonder whether England should follow suit.
The politician assigned to oversee the investigation? A young man named Winston Churchill.
The future prime minister took to the task with his usual aplomb and thoroughness, but the final report was lost — until it was unearthed recently by Utah researcher Ardis Parshall.
"Churchill did take seriously the request that he investigate Mormon missionary practices," Parshall explained in a paper during the recent Mormon History Association conference at Snowbird. "Churchill's inquiry took several forms. First was an investigation of actual Mormon proselyting activities in England. How extensive were those activities? Who were the men who conducted them? What did they teach?"He instructed the police to contact missionaries' landlords to ask about the preachers' "habits and visitors," she said in the presentation. "They interviewed mailmen about missionary correspondents. Both lines of inquiry seem aimed at learning whether the elders corresponded with or entertained young women. They collected missionary tracts, counted the number of Mormons in the neighborhood and asked how aggressively elders pursued proselytes, and how many of those proselytes were young women."
Detectives attended Mormon meetings, Parshall said, to listen for sermons on polygamy or whether the missionaries urged emigration, especially by single women.
In the end, Churchill's inquiries produced no reason to expel the Mormons.
"There is nothing sensational in [the files]: no lurid accounts of kidnapping or white slavery, no missionaries using hypnotic powers on innocent girls; no despotic Mormon leaders exercising force to curtail the rights of free Englishmen," she concluded. "It is ... a jewel of an illustration of British commitment to the rule of law."
The file is rich with details for Mormon historians, Parshall said, but "confines itself solely to a consideration of whether Mormon activity violated British law in any respect."
It did not, Churchill concludes, "so no action, whether legislative or executive, was called for."
The Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints had officially sworn off plural marriage in 1890 and had issued a "Second Manifesto" against the practice in 1904.
Parshall found the Churchill file while researching her forthcoming book, "She Shall Be an Ensign," which tells the story of Mormonism through the eyes of its women.
She hopes to publish that book as well as the Churchill report late this year, she said, or in early 2017.
Peggy Fletcher Stack, Salt Lake Tribune