Eugene England (full name George Eugene England) was an essayist and scholar. He was also considered an activist and advocated belief, peace, poverty, race, gender, community, and academic freedom in his personal essays, his preferred genre. He was also a sought-after teacher and mentor.
England was born on July 22, 1933, in Logan, Utah, and was raised in the farming community of Downey, Idaho, where his father owned a wheat farm. Soon after his marriage at age 20 to Charlotte Hawkins, they were called to serve as missionaries in Samoa for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He then served as a captain in the US Air Force for a time.
In the 1960s, England was a graduate student at Stanford University. While there, he and Wesley Johnson conceived the idea of an independent academic journal on Mormon culture, and Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought was founded in 1966 by England, Johnson, Paul G. Salisbury, Joseph H. Jeppson, and Frances Menlove. England also cofounded the Association for Mormon Letters in 1976 “to raise the visibility of the study of Mormon literature.”.
England taught at St. Olaf College in Minnesota while completing his PhD. He was asked to leave after some of his students expressed interest in Mormonism and their parents complained. He taught at the LDS Institute of Religion adjacent to the University of Utah for two years. He then received a professorship at Brigham Young University where he taught from 1977 to 1998. He then became the first writer in residence at Utah Valley State College. In February 2001, England was diagnosed with brain cancer. He passed away on August 17, 2001.
England’s literary and cultural analysis met with controversy. On the one hand, one writer said of him, “Not everyone has had such faith in religion and literature; few have been so hopeful, so doggedly optimistic, so celebratory of the literary word and the atoning Word. . . . It is not exaggeration to compare Eugene England’s tandem faith in God and writing with that of Leo Tolstoy or Flannery O’Connor or C. S. Lewis—or John Milton. Gene England was equally at home with great literature and with the great vibrancy of Latter-day Saint Christianity.”
But England felt under fire for his work, beginning, possibly, with a 1981 letter he received from apostle Bruce R. McConkie chastising him for publicly advocating the view that God continues to learn new things. The letter came from Elder McConkie after England had sent him a letter and a 19-page essay he had entitled “The Perfection and Progression of God: Two Spheres of Existence and Two Modes of Discourse.”
In McConkie’s 10-page response, he indicated that he decided to respond to England’s letter and article because word had reached him that England was “presenting and championing” the views he had sent to McConkie. In the letter, McConkie also taught England “in kindness,” “plainness,” and “sharpness,” the omnipotence and omniscience of God as taught in the Standard Works and invited him to meet with him. He also counseled England to cease putting forth his ideas on the subject, adding, “It is not in your province to set in order the Church or to determine what its doctrines shall be. . . . The Lord’s house is a house of order and those who hold the keys are appointed to proclaim the doctrines.” He also expressed hope that England would “ponder and pray and come to a basic understanding of fundamental things and that unless and until you can on all points, you will remain silent on those where differences exist between you and the Brethren.”
Historian Claudia Bushman said that "the McConkie-England disagreement revealed the division between theological conservatives and liberals within the believing camp and, in a larger sense, the tensions between authoritarian control versus free expression.”