Clash of Cultures LDS in Norway

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This work was originally researched, titled “The Norwegian Experience with Mormonism, 1842-1920” and approved as a dissertation “presented to the Department of History, Brigham Young University, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree doctor of Philosophy” in August 1981. Since then the work has been thoroughly revised for publication by Peter Lang.
1. Norwegian and American Preludes through 1849. The fires of religious dissent in Norway did not originate outside the country or with religious sects outside the State or Lutheran Church. Instead, seeds of apostasy were nurtured in a revivalist movement which was internal, both in its germination within the framework of the orthodox church, and in its conception and leadership under lay preacher and martyr, Hans Nielsen Hauge (1771-1824).

Another Norwegian adventurer and possible dissenter, Kleng Peerson, arrived in America in 1821 and traveled extensively in New York State. Thrilled with what he saw as a unique opportunity for Norwegian settlement in America, he hurried back to Norway to promote a colony in Murray (now Kendall) Township, Orleans County, New York. In Stavanger, Peerson succeeded in convincing a group of Norwegian Quakers and Haugians to purchase a tiny sloop. This sloop, dubbed the Restoration, sailed from Stavanger on 4 July 1825 with fifty-two persons who “came to be known as the sloopers,” whereas “their ship, the “Restoration,” is often referred to as the “Norwegian Mayflower.” By 1833, Peerson was casting about for another “Promised land” where his fellow Norwegians could settle. He has heard rumors of better farmland in regions west of New York, to an area west and south of Lake Michigan and finally decided on a spot near the Fox River in what is now La Salle County, Illinois. Here they ran into George Parker Dykes (1814-1888) a Mormon missionary, which resulted in some of them joining the Mormon Church.

2. Forerunners and beginnings in Scandinavia. Mormon beginnings in Scandinavia revolved largely around lives of key men or forerunners. Chief among these was Peter Olsen Hansen (1818-1894). A native of Copenhagen and son of a Danish naval officer, Hansen was entitled to free government schooling. This, however, was against wishes of his father who, fearing the public schools would expose his son to “bad habits,” decided to teach him at home. His mother died of consumption in 1832 and her death transformed her husband, into a despairing and possessive drunkard. Conditions at home grew worse, and Hansen began making frequent trips to the harbor to watch incoming ships from all over the world, especially America! “And now whenever I could get the chance of seeing an American vessel, I thought them the nicest in the world, and even the sight of the American flag was a feast to my longing soul.”

In 1842 Hansen happened on a mere statement in a newspaper that some Norwegian had written from America to his friends in Norway, that an ancient book called “Mormons Bok” (The Book of Mormon) had been found in a miraculous way by a young man whose name was Joseph Smith. This account filled Hansen with a strange excitement further heightened in June 1842 when his seafaring brother wrote that he had joined the Mormon Church. Hansen’s brother was by this time sailing on an American line which used Boston, Massachusetts, as its home post. With this in mind, Hansen made secret arrangements with friends of his father for passage to America. He arrived in Boston November 1st. 1843 and spent the winter there working odd jobs. His brother baptized him into the Mormon Church on March 7th. 1844. Hansen’s enthusiasm for Mormonism was boundless, and after paying an apostate a dollar for a copy of the Book of Mormon, he hit on the idea of translating it into Danish. By the end of 1844, Hansen traveled west to Nauvoo, Illinois where he communicated his interest in translating it to Apostle Brigham Young. Hansen spent six months translating while in Nauvoo, but then it came time for the church to leave Illinois and Hanson had to quit translating for a want of paper. He then traveled with Elder Heber C. Kimball’s folk and left Nauvoo with them February 12th 1846. He arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley on September 29th 1847. Hansen’s other duties kept him away from his translating for nearly 17 months, during which time it was several times revealed to him that he would be sent to his native land with the gospel.

He states: “Not in words, nor by hearing a voice. But I sensed that the information was imparted to me and yet I could not account for it. But, as often as it came, it made me glad.” These feelings persisted and Hansen shared these feelings with his adoptive father, Heber C. Kimball, counselor to the famous Mormon Prophet and colonizer, Brigham Young. Kimball immediately informed Young who agreed that time was at hand to open Scandinavia for the preaching of Mormonism, and stated “he had understood by the spirit for some time that the time had come for preaching of the Gospel to be extended to other nations as well.” Young suggested Hansen travel to Denmark with Apostle Erastus Snow since it was the calling of apostles “to open the gospel door (dispensation) to the nations.”

Snow and Hansen were sustained missionaries to Scandinavia at a General Conference on October 6th 1849, made hastily preparations, and left Salt Lake on October 19th in the company of 35 men. Traveling together as far as Kanesville, Iowa, the men then split unto small groups. Hanson arrived in Copenhagen May 12th 1850 not wanting to wait for Snow who first went to Scotland where Mormons supplied him with money and clothing. Snow arrived in Copenhagen June 14th 1850 in the company of George Parker Dykes, F. D. Richards and John Erick Forsgren. Here they met with Hanson and started what became the Scandinavian Mission.

The first branch was organized September 15th 1850 in Copenhagen, Denmark, the first on the European Continent. Since Denmark had received freedom of religion by 1850 they did not foresee problems from the Danish government. When Hansen asked if Mormons might preach and organize he was told “hold your meetings in the name of God, and if you are careful none can forbid you.”

After the first branch was established the missionary work moved forward. The Articles of Faith where produced, and the Book of Mormon was translated, and the monthly periodical, Scandinavians Stjerne (Scandinavia’s Star) was published already in 1851. From here the church moved to Aalborg, Denmark and then to Norway. However, it was not all easy sailing. There are reports of how mobs took over, threatened the members, destroyed property, and how the saints were told they were not to get any protection from the government.

3. The Supreme Court decision of 4 November 1853. This chapter addresses “whether Mormons should be considered Christians.” The Supreme Court of Norway experienced dissenter religions and Mormonism, and decided that Mormons were “non Christians,” dated 4 November 1853. The Dissenter law of 1845 defined “dissenters” as “those who confess the Christian Religion without being members of the State Church.” Therefore the Mormons could not enjoy protection under the Dissenter Law of 1845.

4. Mormonism in Norway, an historical overview, 1851-1919. The Decade of Revivalism 1832-1862 in Norway was mainly because of the religious revival sparked by Haugian and Methodist preaching to so-called “awakened” Christians. Mormon missionaries described a revivalist climate in Fredrikstad (August 1852), “so great that even some of the policemen requested baptism.” Brevik’s Adresse-Tidende (the newspaper Brevik Times) compared Mormon preaching meetings in 1853 to Haugian gatherings where sinners were called to repentance. There was little doubt Mormon sermons, with warning of impending destruction and denigration of Lutheran priests, complimented certain points of Haugian sermonizing.
Johnsonian Orthodoxy, 1550-1895. Describes that Mormonism had not generated the revivalist climate, and the result was a Mormon harvest of overripe plums—a series of Mormon brushfires in “burned over “Haugian districts. Mormons herded “strays” to sanctification in Zion, but established no meaningful bridgehead in Norway itself. A Mr. C. C. A. Christensen described a definite slump in Mormon fortunes as early as 1855 when he visited the once-thriving congregation in Brevik and found only a remnant. Most members had emigrated or fallen away. Pages 51-53, 60, 64-66 list statistical tables for Mormonism in Norway.

5. Mormon Relations with Civil and Ecclesiastical Authorities, 1851-1923. Armed with the Supreme Court Decision of 4 November 1853, the Government Department for Church and Education (Kirke og Undervisningsdepartement )[KUD] expressed no qualms over enlisting police and parliamentary support to contain the “Mormon menace”. Arrest, imprisonment, and threats of deportation were all deemed justifiable by Lutheran clerics to stop Mormon proselyting activities once and for all. Many a missionary was imprisoned for preaching and baptizing. However, there was, in short, ample evidence police officials throughout Norway were “going easy” on Mormon missionaries by the mid-1860s, and that, far from being persecuted; Mormons were actually receiving police assistance.

6. Mormon Relations with the Norwegian Public, 1851-1920. The culture of Vestlandet (Western Norway) made it hard for missionaries. One missionary stated that “people here in Vestlandet Western Norway), both in town and country, are generally very narrow of hearth”. Another missionary in 1855 stated “just as hard and unreceptive to the Gospel as the unyielding and naked cliffs which surround them on all sides.” More important than regional or cultural differences in shaping Mormon relations with the general Norwegian public were the hundreds of anti-Mormon articles in newspapers and magazines. Folk songs, public debates, lectures, and beginning about 1910, motion pictures, also called attention to Mormons and Mormonism.

Another factor was the Violence and Persecution. Canute Peterson stated in 1853 “The man who goes on a mission in Norway, must take his life in one hand and the Bible in the other.” Although Peterson was exaggerating, mobs frequently spilt Mormon blood in the 1850s: street gangs in Fredrikstad in 1853 pelted Mormons with stones, “and Brother, Niels Mauritsen (Brake) was hit in the head, causing blood to flow freely, and others were also hit, but not seriously hurt.” Mobsters in Christiansand in 1856 nearly crushed missionaries Samuel Gudmundson and his companion against a wall—“the mood of the people got uglier and uglier and their cries were that they would spit in our faces, chase us from the town, throw us in the river, etc.” Others would have to leave their house and employment for the sake of the gospel.

Norwegian Ambivalence and Hospitality. You cannot, however, typify Norwegian as basically mean or hateful. Haranguers by prelates, newspaper and magazine editors, and self-styled protectors of public morality were often ancillary to deep-seated personal revulsion: Mormons induced a son to emigrate leaving “old folks” to man the family farm; Mormons converted single girls whose parents feared they were being sexually exploited or dreaded the heartbreak of permanent separation; some parents considered the “loss” of a son or daughter to Mormonism, or worse yet, that child’s marriage to a “heathen Mormon,” a social slap in the face.

There was also the matter of tradition: Mormon converts were usually the first in their communities to challenge clerics and civil authorities in religious and political matters. Mormon teachings about polygamy, though never actualized in Norway, were deemed particularly serious challenges to traditional sexual mores and monogamous family life. There were also numerous occasions where residents in remote districts treated Mormon missionaries with respect, and exhibited, as it were, true Norwegian hospitality with layers of rumors and suspicion peeled off. Probably the first Mormon to visit remote regions of Telemark, for example, was O. H. Nielsen who preached for a group of “Mountain people” at Folkestad (Bø herred) in 1877: “The men wore short, white vests and jackets, long or knee-length black trousers and red caps: the women [wore] long black skirts which extended up under their arms, belts around the waist, short black jackets, breast pins and rings, and large embroidered head scarves. It was truly a Norwegian setting and very interesting to observe--- declared our belief and teaching as based on Biblical proofs, and all present listened with rapt attention---As far as I know this was the first gathering which was held in this area under Latter-day Saint auspices.”

Popular Support of Mormonism. In direct contrast to violence or persecution, popular grass roots support for Mormonism often bubbled just beneath the surface. George M. Brown, for example, observed in Gran clerical District in 1866 that “in this place there are no people who belong to the [Mormon] Church, but we have many good friends here who receive us and administer to our wants with great kindness and warmness of hearth.” Mormon celebrations and social events frequently attracted large numbers of “friends”: more than a hundred non-Mormon well-wishers, including an officer of the civil court, attended missionary. C. Poulsens farewell party in Trondheim on 26 November 1857, ate assorted refreshments, and drank coffee and red wine. Many similar stories are listed in this book as well as accounts of non-members attending church, and meetings, at times more than half of the attendees were non-members.

7. The Mormon community in Norway 1851-1920: Part I. The story of Mormonism in nineteenth-century Norway was part and parcel of Norwegian industrialization, especially after 1845. The setting was the cities—especially Oslo and Fredrikstad—with poor and unplanned housing, water troughs on the streets, inadequate sewage control, and shanty towns which sprang up almost overnight. Mormons won most of their early converts in “low, ill-drained, and dirty” Oslo neighborhoods of Piperviken and Ruseløkbakken which social historian, Eiler Sundt described in 1858 filled with crooked and narrow… and filthy streets.” Another Mormon stronghold was “Forstaden” [Suburb], district of Fredrikstad, where a surge of economic activity tied to export of beams to Holland attracted large numbers of workers in the late 1840s. Two steampowerd saw works were operational by 1851, and Fredrikstad emerged in the 1850s as center of Norway’s wood products industry populated by newcomers who “had moved in from places far enough away that they lost the regular contact with their home communities.”

It continues listing how the missionaries had most success converting the working class of Norway, including names of people and how they fared. Although most converts were poor, “so were the great majority of Norwegians,” such that Mormonism in Norway, although it “appealed to very few of the upper class, otherwise represented a fairly accurate cross section” of the urban, working-class population. Includes accounts of how many of the early converts in Norway had to endure hardship for sake of being Mormons. One account lists how Anders Olsen, a Mormon in Oslo, served twenty days in prison for having baptized, and returned home to find his wife and eight children “sitting on the floor eating food from a kettle with only two spoons “which they passed around amongst themselves. Police “had confiscated the furniture and taken it to an auction in order to enforce a ten-dollar fine Olsen was sentenced to pay.”

Communications and Transportation. The first government-funded telegraph lines were strung in 1851, and mission leaders in Copenhagen enjoyed twenty-four-hour reply service to Liverpool dispatches after 1861. Telephone service was operational in Oslo by 1895, and mission leaders heralded another telephone milestone in 1910 on completion of a “wireless” connection between the Eiffel Tower in Paris and New York offices of Mutual Life. Steamboat service between Norwegian coastal towns commenced in the 1820s, and the 1840s and 1850s marked extensive construction of new roads, improvement of existing roadbeds, and wide-ranging canal-dredging projects which opened remote regions of the country. In the 1850s and 1860s, “railroad fever” impelled construction of three new branch lines near Oslo, and plans for the important Drammen-Randsfjord and Oslo-Drammen lines.

8. The Mormon community in Norway, 1851-1920: Part II. Scarred not only by negative confrontation with fellow countrymen, but by acrimonious exchanges with non-Mormon family members and near relatives, many Mormons in Norway comprised a group on the defensive. Marie Carlsen’s father forcibly removed her from a Mormon meeting at Larvik in 1906, and stirred up a mob of two hundred rowdies who threatened to destroy the Mormon meetinghouse.

Why did Norwegians convert to Mormonism? One of the reasons is that most converts to Mormonism had earlier undergone Lutheran confirmation—evidence in itself of literacy since confirmation presupposed reading knowledge of the Bible and Catechism, and Mormons themselves frequently emphasized the primary role “reading” played throughout the conversion process. One person, who joined the Mormons in 1880, recalled that reading the Bible at school during the 1860s first made him aware of “inconsistencies” between Biblical accounts and practices in the State Church, and another Antohon L. Skanchy, one of the first to preach Mormonism in northern Norway, read incessantly before his Mormon baptism: “I had my own room in our home and spent all my spare time in the study of the Bible and the ‘Mormon” books.” In weeks preceding his Mormon baptism in 1856, O. C. Larsen (born 1836) described himself as reading so much “people thought I was going crazy.” Others tied conversion experiences to personal prayer. Mormon doctrine contained several other drawing cards, not least of which were promises to the righteous of a bliss-filled “life eternal” in the world to come, and economic security in the temporal Mormon Zion. Mormonism filled a variety of social and spiritual needs endemic to the “rootless urban poor” imbued with a “renewed desire for community,” and of “uniting themselves with others of a like mind.”

Education. Mormonism craves and gives a full and complete scholastic education,” declared F. F. Hintze at Fredrikstad in 1885. “In other words it elevates its followers from ignorance to the higher degree of perfection and places them in time above all.” There is little doubt many Mormon immigrants shaped new lives for themselves and children on the Utah Frontier qualitatively all out of proportion to the sordid, bleak existence in Oslo slums or the impoverished Norwegian countryside plagued by overpopulation and traditional social stratification. Utah also afforded an environment largely free of persecution and social ostracism.
APPENDIX l. An annotated list of the first Norwegian converts to Mormonism.
APPENDIX II. Gerhard B. Naeseth to Gerald M. Haslam, 4 July 1980.
APPENDIX III. An inventory of court extracts authenticated in connection with the Supreme Court decision that Mormons were non-Christians, 4 November 1853.
APPENDIX IV. Birthplaces of converts to Mormonism in Oslo Branch 1853-1860 Inclusive.
APPENDIX V. Birthplaces of converts to Mormonism in Oslo Branch 1895-1900 Inclusive.
APPENDIX VI. Mormon Places of worship in Norway before 1920.
NOTES to chapters 1 through 8.

This book will be helpful to anyone wanting to learn some history about how Mormonism came to Norway, how it fared, as well as a list of names and a genealogy of early converts, where they were born and where they settled in the United States. This information is listed on pages 123-145.


Reference: Haslam, Gerald Myron.  Clash of Cultures: The Norwegian Experience with Mormonism, 1842-1920.  New York:Peter Lang, 1984.