By Mark Wright
Jan Shipps and the Study of Mormonism
BLOOMINGTON, INDIANA -- Jan Shipps is not a member of the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but she probably knows more about
the Church than many members of the Church. A member of the United
Methodist church, Shipps is generally regarded as the leading
non-member authority on the Church of Jesus Christ.
Shipps was first introduced to the Church and its members in 1960
when her husband Tony accepted a position working at the Utah State
University library. While she knew little about the Church at first,
the members she met piqued her curiosity and she began to research
their lifestyle and denomination. As the years went by, her interest
in the Church and its culture continued to grow. Many references to
the Church and its history found their way into Shipps' graduate work
on American history.
After her stint in Utah, Shipps moved to Bloomington, Indiana in 1967
with her husband when he accepted a position as a librarian at
Indiana University. Although she left the state of Utah, she never
lost her fascination with the Church and its people. Generally
recognized as the leading non-LDS expert on the history and doctrine
of the Church of Jesus Christ, Shipps is respected by scholars both
within and without the Church. Her fair handed and unbiased writings
on the Church reflect a careful balance between admiration for the
Church and scholarly commentary on the historical perspectives of
years gone by. The opinion of Bruce Olsen, managing director for LDS
public affairs at Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, is
representative of the high opinion most members of the Church have
for Shipps. "Jan Shipps is an excellent scholar and has treated the
church honorably and fairly for many years," he said.
A more tangible expression of appreciation for Shipps' work was
evidenced by a standing ovation given to Shipps by the Mormon
Tabernacle Choir during a recent visit to Temple Square for a Choir
rehearsal. Shipps and a close friend were enjoying the rehearsal when
the Choir director suddenly stopped rehearsal and read a short
tribute to Shipps. It was then that the members of the Choir joined
in a standing ovation for the 71-year old Shipps.
Given her long exposure to the Church and its doctrine, many people
wonder why Shipps is not a member. Simply put, Shipps is very happy
in her own faith, and after 40 years studying the Church and its
history, she respects the Church but remains a staunch Methodist. The
other thing that sets Shipps apart from many others who have studied
and commented on the Church is that Shipps refuses to exclude
Mormonism from the community of Christian faith. In her opinion,
"There's no supreme court on Earth that says this is Christian and
that is not," she explained. "I say Mormonism is a legitimate way to
be Christian. It's just not my way."
Shipps' first book to focus solely on the Church was entitled
"Mormonism: The Story of a New Religious Tradition," and was
published in 1985. Many colleges still use Shipps'. book as a
textbook for various religious studies courses. Her most recent work,
"Sojourner in the Promised Land: Forty Years Among the Mormons,"
continues to blend her previous research with her ongoing encounter
with the Latter-Day Saints. As a faithful observer for many years,
Shipps has carefully presented an unbiased view of the Church that
offers a unique perspective that would be absent otherwise.
Hopefully, Shipps' respectful attitude and well-researched
understanding of the Church can be successfully transferred to others.
Bloomington IN Herald-Times 8Apr01 N6
By David Horn: Hoosier Times
Local Methodist woman is well-regarded among Mormons