Apostasy is something the LDS Church show serious concern over. And why shouldn’t they knowing James Strang, Lorin C. Wooley, Denver Snuffer, Julie Rowe all have led Splinter Factions of one sort or another that have had influence over segments of Latter-day Saints. The idea that a few voices or even a single voice can sway large groups of people into disaffection has the Brethren always on guard. But often the heart of the issue is the lack of listening on the part of the Leaders themselves who can in fact be their own worst enemy. We dive into one such story where LDS Leadership and those they call to preside often become their very own stumbling block as we discuss “The Third Convention”.
Mormonism LIVE: 101: The Third Convention
Rey Lucero Pratt
- Born October 11 1878
- Pratt was born in Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, the fourth child of Helaman Pratt and Emmeline Victoria Billingsley Pratt.
- When Rey was nine, the Pratts moved to Mexico to help settle Colonia Dublán, a Mormon colony in the northern state of Chihuahua. His father was settling in Mexico to escape being prosecuted by the United States federal government for practicing polygamy (Note to the audience that Helaman is a polygamist and has more than one wife). Rey grew up in Mexico, learning to appreciate its history and people.
- Somewhere along the way he and at least some of his siblings became mexican citizens
REY PRATT & ORSON F WHITNEY & Hyrum Harris
- Apostle Orson F. Whitney set Pratt apart as a missionary on 4 October 1906. On 1 November, Pratt arrived by train in Mexico City and reported to the mission home. He served for nearly a year under mission president Hyrum S. Harris, during which time he presided over the Toluca conference for seven months. Then, on 25 August 1907, Harris announced that Pratt would replace him as president of the Mexican Mission. Pratt was set apart by Harris on 29 September and the Pratts moved to Mexico City shortly thereafter.
- Pratt started as president of the Mexican mission in 1907. Church membership in Mexico more than doubled during Pratt’s first six years as mission president. By 1911, over a thousand church members lived in the Mexican Mission.
THE CRISTERO REBELLION
[ Cristero Rebellion, a peasant uprising from 1926 to 1929, pushed Mexico to the brink of political chaos. The Cristeros generally saw the conflict as a religious war against the anticlericalism of the Mexican government. This anticlericalism originated in northern Mexico, where North American-style entrepreneurs, Protestant converts, and ambitious politicians built a movement to transform their traditionally Catholic nation into a center of secular economic expansion. The movement’s leading proponent, Plutarco Elías Calles (president of Mexico, 1924–1928), placed rigid regulations on the church, including required registration of priests and the closing of church schools. The church responded with a strike—the cessation of religious services—which caused a panic among the faithful. In Jalisco and the surrounding states of central Mexico, this panic sparked a peasant rebellion. Government claims that the rebels were superstitious tools of scheming priests were largely propaganda. Only about 45 of the 3,600 priests in Mexico supported the rebellion. The Cristeros were indigenous and mestizo peasants whose motives for rebellion were mixed. Most acted to defend their faith against an expansive secular state, while others seized the opportunity to demand more extensive land reform] – https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/cristero-rebellion
- The Cristero rebellion of 1926 had disrupted the religious atmosphere in Mexico for nine years and forced all foreign clergy out of Mexico. (The rebellion was instigated as a response to an executive decree by Mexican President Plutarco Elías Calles to strictly enforce Article 130 of the Constitution, a decision known as Calles Law. Calles sought to eliminate the power of the Catholic Church in Mexico, its affiliated organizations and to suppress popular religiosity.)
- However, Mexico’s political climate gradually worsened. Porfirio Diaz, Mexico’s longtime dictator, lost control of the government and revolution ensued. Shortly after serious fighting began in Mexico City in 1913, the church’s First Presidency authorized the Pratts and the American missionaries to return to the United States. The Pratts moved to Salt Lake City in September 1913. Two years later, the First Presidency again instructed the Pratts to move, this time to Manassa, Colorado, and establish missionary work among Mexicans in the United States. After five years, in November 1918, church leaders moved the mission headquarters to El Paso, Texas, making it closer to the center of the vast mission territory. In March 1921, Pratt reopened missionary work in Mexico with eight missionaries. In November, jurisdiction of the Juárez Stake in Chihuahua was transferred to the Mexican Mission. This made Pratt president of all the church’s Spanish-speaking organizations. He continued to expand the mission, opening up work in southern California in 1924 and establishing a Los Angeles branch.
- What this means for the Mormons is that their connection to Salt Lake is partially severed. The mexican Saints have no direct liaison to Salt Lake outside of mail and they must lead themselves inside the country. Rey Pratt the sort of local (As he had lived in Mexico off and on since he was 9 and had Mexican Citizenship) serving as the Mission President is the highest ranking leader they will have direct contact with for a almost a decade. And Rey seems to be well respected and manages keeping the Church there on track and growing.
- Rey L. Pratt was a much loved mission president. When Pratt was assigned in 1924 to help open the Church’s mission in Argentina, (next Slide 7) he appointed Isaias Juarez to preside over the central Mexican District, with Abel Paez and Bernabe Parra as his counselors. These three men maintained stability and confidence in the small branches in Mexico. The branches survived their isolation from Salt Lake City and some even flourished. But much of the Church members and leader’s stability depended on Rey Pratt’s guidance and direction.
- Pratt was also responsible for creating a new translation of the Book of Mormon into Spanish; he also translated many of the hymns of the church into Spanish.
EY PRATT (Death)
- Disaster struck on April 14, 1931 following an operation for an intestinal rupture (appendicitis) and Rey L. Pratt died in Salt Lake City.
Antoine Ridgeway Ivins
- Antoine Ridgeway Ivins was appointed to replace Rey Pratt. Ivins showed no interest in his new appointment. For nearly a year he never paid a visit to Mexico nor did he communicate with the leaders or members there. The Mexican Saints get together (The first Convention) and request the Church do something about the lack of leadership they are getting from Salt Lake and wished for a native born leader. The fact that they received no support nor a response to their petition for a native born mission leader increased the chasm. (He wasn’t lazy, just didn’t prioritize the Mexican Saints)
Antoine Ivins and Melvin J Ballard
- Finally in the spring of 1932, nearly a year after his appointment as Mexican mission president, Antoine R. Ivins traveled with Elder Melvin J. Ballard to Mexico to meet with the petitioning Mexican Mormons (I believe this trip was in response to what is now understood as the 2nd Convention).
IVINS AND JUAREZ
- Ivins approached the situation aggressively. He reprimanded the members for their assertiveness in sending a petition to Salt Lake City. President Antoine Ivins returned to the United States and left them alone once again. A silent arrangement between President Ivins and President Isaias Juarez continued through the end of Ivins term in 1934.
Harold Wilcken Pratt
- The Cristero rebellion of 1926 had disrupted the religious atmosphere in Mexico for nine years and forced all foreign clergy out of Mexico. The ensuing isolation of the Mexican Mormon leaders from Church headquarters in Salt Lake City resulted in an understandable independence among them. Twice during Ivins serving as Mission President, the Mexican Saints had petitioned Church Headquarters to call a Mexican Citizen as Mission President
- Seeing they have a mess on their hands the Church releases Antoine Ivins in 1934 and calls Rey Pratt’s half brother Harold Wilcken Pratt as the new Mexican Mission President. While Pratt had lived stateside most of his life he was born in Mexico July 16th 1899 and had served a mission in Mexico 1921-1923. Besides that he is Rey Pratt’s half brother. With that mustache what could go wrong?
- Harold Wilcken Pratt [son of Helaman Pratt and Bertha Wilcken Pratt] was called to preside over the Mexican mission on January 1934 as clergy had recently been re-admitted into Mexico by the Mexican government. He presided for two and a half years from El Paso while he simultaneously continued to serve as counselor in the Juarez Stake Presidency.]
Harold Pratt along with Abel Paez and Margarito Bautista (Valencia)
- The Mexican Saints independence away from Salt Lake’s Church Leadership and having a defunct Mission President in Ivins who failed to connect the local Saints to SLC’s Church Leadership, along with strong feelings of nationalism and ethnic pride persuaded several local leaders in and around Mexico City, to organize. Soon after news of Harold W. Pratt’s appointment reached Mexico City, Abel Páez, first counselor in the Mexican district presidency, was at work. Spurred on by his uncle, Margarito Bautista (Valencia), he summoned the Saints to a crisis conference now called the Third Convention.
Who is Margarito Bautista
- Born in Mexico 1878 June 10, he converted to the Church Nov 10th 1901 in what he describes as a very spiritual experience. He has his conversion show up Stateside in the Improvement Era. Margarito Bautista was one of the most articulate members of the Church in Mexico. Bautista, a member for many years, was an experienced leader in the Church and was an ordained high priest. He had known and admired Rey L. Pratt. Bautista was an uncommonly literate man and a gifted orator who had worked to educate himself, studying English and living for many years in Salt Lake City, where he taught the Spanish-American branch’s Gospel Doctrine class in Sunday School. He had observed Church government over a number of years and had done ordinance work in the Salt Lake Temple. Like many temple workers, Bautista had become an expert genealogist. After 1934 he was back in Mexico helping the Mexican Saints trace their ancestry. Bautista took to heart many Book of Mormon prophecies that speak of the rise of the Lamanites. An avid scriptorian, he agreed with Rey L. Pratt and numerous other leaders that Mexican history was inseparable from Lamanite history and that Book of Mormon promises were inseparable from both. Rey Pratt had often expressed this theology to the Mexican Saints, many of whom took great pride in their mighty Lamanite ancestors. Bautista, stimulated by Rey Pratt’s sentiments, decided to write a book correlating Book of Mormon teachings with the Old Testament. Pratt, who was anxious to see more literature become available to the Mexican members, encouraged Bautista. Even after Pratt’s death, Bautista persisted, completing his manuscript in 1934.
Isaias Juarez (District President) who was part of the first two Conventions is apprehensive about the preparations for this 3rd Convention
- “Sensing his people’s mood, Isaias Juárez, president of the mission’s Mexican district, was alarmed by their preparations for the Third Convention. He could see the implications perhaps better than anyone, having struggled through nine years and many storms to lead the mission. Juárez had learned to read the pulse of the Mexican Saints accurately. He knew this would be no simple petition; quite a few Mexican Mormons were determined to settle for nothing less than a Mexican leader, however unusual even odd, such a demand was for Mormons, whose authorities are always appointed from above, never “selected” by the congregation. Juárez also sensed accurately the mood of the authorities in Salt Lake City, he knew there would be no Mexican mission president forthcoming. The church, he reasoned, would not succumb to pressure politics, and he foresaw an unfortunate and inevitable clash.”
Juarez comes up against Paez
- Isaias Juarez siding with the Church tried to dissuade Abel Paez out of confronting the Brethren in Salt Lake. Juárez was no passive fence-sitter. Having taken a position against the Third Convention, he then tried to soothe and persuade the Mexican Saints. Finally he issued a circular letter explaining that the meeting was unauthorized and out of order and that those who participated in it would be considered rebellious and therefore run the risk of excommunication. He contacted Harold Pratt posthaste and tried to sensitize him to the impending trouble and its roots. He met repeatedly with Abel Paez, trying to dissuade him.
- Juarez at first convinced Paez to call of his confrontation with Salt Lake but Paez returned to his position after speaking to Margarito Bautista
The Third Convention
- The Third Convention convened on 26 April 1936. An observer was sent to take notes for Presidents Juárez and Pratt who did not attend. The Conventionists quickly decided that the Salt Lake City leaders had misunderstood their previous requests. Even though Harold Pratt had come from the Mormon colonies and was a Mexican citizen, he was not one by blood and race and certainly not one culturally. The Saints’ new petition was intended to convey their desire for a president who was Mexican by blood and spirit (de raza y sangre). Reasoning that the church’s General Authorities might not be aware of qualified Mexican members, the Third Convention decided to nominate a candidate. They considered several men, including Narciso Sandoval and Margarito Bautista. In the end, however, the convention settled on Abel Páez. They did not intend to demand Páez’s appointment but rather to clearly inform the Salt Lake City authorities that qualified Mexicans were available. After making their main decision, the Conventionists strengthened their petition in two ways. 1st wanting their leaders to recognize their intense seriousness, they agreed to gather signatures for the petition. 2nd, the Conventionists authorized a commission composed of Abel Páez, Narciso Sandoval, and Enrique González to travel to Salt Lake City and personally present the petition and supporting documents to the Mormon church’s General Authorities. Its business concluded, the Third Convention then adjourned.”
Observer reports back
- When the Observer reported back to Harold Pratt and Isaias Juarez that Paez had gone through with the convention and relayed the outcome, Isaias Juárez wept hearing that his counselor of many years had betrayed him. “Harold Pratt realized that the Mexican brethren would soon implement their decisions. Seeking to prevent that, Pratt immediately contacted Abel Páez. They set a meeting for 30 April, the Thursday following the convention.”
- On the appointed day Abel Páez met with Pratt, Juárez, and Bernabé Parra, the second counselor in the district presidency. After a long discussion, the men agreed on four points: 1st, Páez would terminate the Third Convention’s activities, including the gathering of signatures for the petition. Moreover, Páez would thereafter take no unilateral action on any matter without the district presidency’s consent, a hallowed leadership practice within the Mormon faith. 2nd, to show their unity and harmony, the four leaders- Páez, Juárez, Parra, and Pratt, would together visit all the local branches. Third, each would send a separate report of the Third Convention to the First Presidency of the Church. Fourth, all would prepare to visit Salt Lake City soon to discuss the Mexicans’ feelings and desires with the General Authorities. The upcoming October general conference was set as a tentative date for the trip.
Bur Pratt and Juarez Broke their Agreement
- Páez was to be disappointed. As the district presidency visited the various branches, Pratt and Juárez seemed to equivocate on their position. Pratt said that he alone would take the petition to Salt Lake City at conference time. Then, instead of assuring church members that Third Convention desires would be enacted through regular church channels, Juárez and Pratt made it increasingly clear that both the convention’s procedures and its goals were out of order. They suggested that Páez and his colleagues were wolves among the Lord’s sheep and warned all members against listening to them. Mainline Mexican Mormons, approximately two-thirds of the membership, had made their anti-Third-Convention opinions known to Juárez and Parra, and no doubt Pratt had received communications on the issue from Salt Lake City. In any case, Conventionists were incensed. They wondered how Páez could believe that Pratt would do anything but present the Third Convention’s case negatively.
- With Pratt and Juarez having broke the agreement and called out Paez and others as being in apostasy, Paez had no choice but to feel tricked and betrayed. Also Harold Pratt seemed to lose what little trust he had left with a significant number of the Mexican Saints. Paez felt he had little choice but to move forward with the original Third Convention’s ruling
- Almost One Third of the Mexican Saints disaffect. Salt Lake in turn moved forward with Pratt as the Mission President and 2000 of the mexican saints remained with the mainline faith in spite of many of them sharing frustration with Pratt and the Church generally.
- The Third Conventionists maintained belief in Salt Lake’s Leadership and continued at least early on practicing Mainline orthodox Mormonism. But simply waited on Salt Lake to meet their demands.
J Reuben Clark Letter
- In November of 1936 the First Presidency formally responded. J. Reuben Clark, Jr.,a member of the First Presidency and former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico prepared a carefully written letter to be read in all the congregations. Within, Clark declared that the people who signed the convention’s petition were entirely out of order; that the mission president was not the representative of the members to the president of the church but of the president to the people, and that this representative should therefore be acquainted with all the church procedures in order to prevent disorder and disruption; that none of the church’s missions were presided over by any other than men from the bosom of the church; that if the president of the church ever felt so inspired he would appoint one of their number to preside over them; that Mexicans had an unusual number of their own people in responsible positions anyway; that the Mexicans were not exclusively (among Mormons) of the blood of Israel, and that both Mexicans and North American Mormons were from the same family (that of Joseph); that all of the Book of Mormon’s promises applied as well to one people as to another, and so on for fourteen typescript pages.
- But this doesn’t seem to fix the issue
Salt Lake Tries Again though seemingly being tone deaf
- The First Presidency themselves learned quite soon that the letter had solved nothing. No doubt somewhat exasperated by this time, the authorities decided to send Antoine R. Ivins to Mexico one more time to attempt a reconciliation. Although Ivins was considered the church’s frontline expert on Mexico, his previous trips there had been largely unsuccessful because, as he perceived, the Mexican Mormons did not respect his authority (And Because he was an absent Leader). So Apostle George F. Richards, one of the senior members of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, was appointed to accompany Ivins.
- What Could Go Wrong?
Outcome of that Visit
- Apostle George F Richards & Antoine R. Ivins never address the people and are put back on a train fearing they will be arrested by Mexican Officials.
- LDS Leaders misunderstood the 3rd Convention as imposing Paez be called rather than showing there were several worthy Mexican Nationals who potentially could be called and hence had a tone of distrust and misunderstanding and magnified the situation.
- The Church begin Disciplinary measures. On 6, 7, and 8 May 1937, courts were convened in San Pedro Mártir and the sentences handed down. Andres C. Gonzalez Jr. wrote that eight Conventionist leaders were excommunicated for rebellion (having worked against the mission authorities), insubordination (having completely disobeyed the orders of mission authorities), and apostasy (having failed to recognize the Mormon church’s authority).
- A Serious divide ensued between those loyal to the mainline Church and the third Conventionists. Distrust and bad mouthing persisted and eventually deep separation between the two groups followed. Hence an apostasy of ⅓ of the Mexican Saints
What Happened to the Third Conventionists
- They organized Sunday Schools, conducted sacrament meetings, established “Mutual Improvement Associations” (MIA, the church’s youth organization), and functioned very much like a normal Mormon congregation. Like the mainline church, they blessed infants, baptized children, and ordained men to the priesthood.
- Conventionist men and women were sent out as missionaries to “preach the word” to all who would listen.
- Constructed at least six new meetinghouses and, in accordance with Mormon custom, dedicated them to the Lord.
- Produced some religious literature, for example; a magazine entitled El Sendero Lamanita (The Lamanite Path), which contained articles such as “How the Gospel Came to Mexico” and “The Blessed Gentiles about which the Scriptures Speak,” and reports of various convention conferences and activities
Efforts to bring them back into the fold
- Finally the Church sees its hardline approach doesn’t work. And under George Albert Smith’s presidency the effort to love these saints and to show kindness and to interact with them in healthy ways begins to make headway
- Arwell Pierce was a month short of being sixty years old when he entered Mexico as mission president. Given his age, some wondered if he would be up to the task of holding the Church together in Mexico, a challenge that had taxed a series of mission presidents beyond their capabilities. Actually, Pierce’s age may have worked in his favor; the problems in Mexico called for someone with patience, wisdom, insight, and compassion—characteristics frequently associated with maturity and possessed in good measure by President Pierce.
- Pierce’s assigned task was to bring Third Conventionists back to the fold. President David O. McKay had told him that “we don’t have a divided mission; we have a big family quarrel,” adding that “you are the Abraham Lincoln who must save this union.”
- Arwell Pierce observed that their reasons for apostasy were certainly not doctrinal, and yet Conventionists were outside the community of the Church. Studying the situation, he wondered how brotherhood could have decayed so completely. During the five years since the schism, the issues had become clouded, remembrances diffused or altered, and passions changed. Slowly and painstakingly, he put all his diplomatic skills to the task. Realizing that feelings had been hurt, he set out to heal those wounds. Although the Conventionist’s initial response was antagonism,that soon changed—first to respect and later to admiration, in part because Pierce met every travail with kindness and understanding. Pierce began by attending Third Convention meetings and conferences. Slowly and carefully, he introduced himself and built friendships with Third Convention members and leaders. He even tried to assist the Convention in its own programs, inviting its members to the mission home to pass on information from Salt Lake City, giving advice when asked, and distributing recently translated Church literature. And he talked with Abel Páez and his wife, also Othón Espinoza, Apolonio Arzate, Julio García, and even Margarito Bautista, all of whom had been principal leaders in the Third Convention. Always ready to listen and to understand, he extended personal hospitality and acceptance unconditionally. After weighing all that he had heard, Pierce concluded that the Third Convention problem could have been handled better. Given the circumstances, he even thought that some of the Convention’s complaints were justified. Although having an ethnic Mexican mission president was the Third Conventionists’ primary concern, they also wanted a building program for chapels, access to Church literature, and an opportunity for their young people to go on missions—all privileges that members in the U.S. had. They also wanted an educational system for their children like the system that the Anglo members had established in northern Mexico. Pierce realized that he did not object to the Conventionists’ goals, although one could legitimately wonder how programs to achieve them could possibly have been funded in the 1930s. On the other hand, he saw how the Third Conventionists’ methods for achieving their goals had brought them trouble. Pierce did not approve of the Third Convention’s rebellion and withdrawal from the Church. Because of his willingness to listen, however, disagreeing people, for the first time in nearly a decade, were discussing the issues rather than shouting about them. In the meantime, the Conventionists had generally maintained doctrinal integrity, had done a lot of proselyting in central Mexico, and had promoted much interest in the Book of Mormon. Given all of these factors, reunification was possible and desirable. So Pierce listened, argued, lectured, sympathized, persuaded, and worked long hours. He often told them “the brethren are willing to give you everything you want, but not the way you want it.” The Conventionists recognized him as a friend, its leaders even asking him to speak in Convention conferences. He did so, carefully honoring their confidence in the initial stages by avoiding sensitive issues, speaking instead on “neutral” subjects such as prayer. The Third Conventionists began to visit mainline Church meetings, and Pierce characteristically asked them to sit near the front whereas in years past, when Conventionists had visited a mainline branch, the seats would empty of mainline members as quickly as the Conventionists sat down. Finally, Páez began to soften and warm up to Pierce and started to think with cautious enthusiasm about reunification.
They return to the fold
- Eventually 1200 Third Conventionists returned under George Albert Smith’s Leadership in 1946
- Several members of the Third Convention were temporarily excommunicated by the LDS Church during the period in which it was active, although most of these were changed to the lesser punishment of disfellowshipment by President George Albert Smith in 1946, signaling a compromise. Rapprochement continued with President Smith’s visit to Mexico that year, resulting in most Third Conventionists returning to the fellowship of the LDS Church.
One last loose end SIX NEW MEETING HOUSES?
- Though scholars had believed the Third Convention movement had died out by the 1970s and ’80s, anthropologist Thomas W. Murphy located an active Third Conventionist community in Ozumba, Mexico in 1996. The group was situated in Colonia Industrial, founded in 1947 as the community of Margarito Bautista, a prominent Third Conventionist. As of 2011, there are 800 people living in Colonia Industrial, and all are members of a church officially named “El Reino de Dios en su Plenitud” (The Kingdom of God in its Fullness), though adherents preferred to call themselves “Mormons.” The group practiced plural marriage and communal principles of the law of consecration, and seemed to be moderately affluent. They were affiliated with the Apostolic United Brethren Mormon fundamentalist church, and saw Owen Allred as a prophet.
- Another Third Conventionist group about 300 strong, also rediscovered by Murphy in 1997, exists in San Gabriel Ometotztla, Puebla. It is called La Iglesia de los Santos de la Plenitud de los Tiempos (The Church of Jesus Christ of the Saints of the Fullness of Times).