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Waiting For Saints 3

Three years ago this month, Saints, Volume 1: The Standard of Truth, 1815-1846 was published.  Saints, Volume 2: No Unhallowed Hand, 1846-1893 followed about a year-and-a-half later in February 2020.  If later volumes had followed the same cadence for releases, we’d have seen Saints, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent, 1893-1955 right around now and Saints, Volume 4: Sounded in Every Ear, 1955-The Recent Past in early 2023.[1]  I went to check on that recently and noticed that the Saints FAQ on the official site of the history series now indicates that: “Saints, Volume 2 was released in February 2020. Volumes 3 and 4 will follow at roughly the pace of one volume every 2 years.”[2]  So, we still have about six months to go before we see Volume 3 (sigh) and it will likely be at least early 2024 before we see Volume 4.  I’m not surprised that the volumes are taking longer than I had hoped they would to come out—they are complex undertakings and the COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy on project timelines.  I have been favorably impressed with the volumes out so far, however, and Volume 3 covers what may be my favorite time period of Church history, which is why I’m anxious to see it come out.

The portion of the painting being used as the covers for the books that will likely be used for Saints, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent, 1893-1955. Image courtesy of[3]

While I wait for Saints, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent, 1893-1955 to come out early next year, I figured I’d take some time to discuss why the era of Church history that it covers is important and some of the challenges that the authors of the book will be facing.  The first two volumes of the Saints series covered what might be called the pioneer period of Church history—the era in which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established and then developed while colonizing the Great Basin region of the American west (and also took root in Great Britain and the Pacific Islands).  While the modern Church very much emerged from what happened during the first 60 years of the Church’s existence, it has changed in a lot of significant ways and the 1890s through the 1950s is when we really see the modern Church emerging.  This happened as the Church underwent significant changes in response to pressure from the United States of America to give up plural marriage, theocracy, and the communitarian projects; in response to trying to re-establish financial stability for the organization after the Raid; and in response to establishing footholds in countries around the world.  It is also considered a golden age for theology in the Church, with prolific general authorities like B. H. Roberts, James E. Talmage, John A. Widtsoe writing books on Church doctrine and other notable Church leaders like Joseph F. Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith also giving shape to much of how the Church views its doctrine and ecclesiology today.  The timeframe of 1893-1955 essentially covers the development of the modern Church.

Some of the major contours of the era are as follows:  After resisting incursions from the culture and administration of the United States of America, Church resources had become exhausted and rather than give up the temples and the ability to function as an organization, the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began a process of re-assimilating into American culture.  They reluctantly worked to give up political control over Church members and plural marriage, a process that was accelerated in the early 1900s after the election of apostle Reid Smoot to the U.S. Senate resulted in an extensive trial of all things Mormon in an effort to block him from acting in political office.  With the acceptance of Utah as a state in 1896 and the conclusion of the Reid Smoot hearings, however, those pressures began to recede, and the Church worked to reestablish its footings and resources.  Tithing was reemphasized, the Church continued to support and operate businesses, and modern auditing methods were incorporated in the Church’s financial system.  Church structure and organization (especially priesthood structure) underwent some modernization and reform, temple ordinances and work continued to develop, and early investigations into what we now call correlation took place.  It was during this time that the idea of emigrating to Utah was deemphasized and temples were constructed outside of the Church’s stronghold in the western U.S.  The Church and its membership were also involved in some social reforms of the early 20th century in the United States, including women’s rights, temperance (this is the era that the modern emphasis on the Word of Wisdom began), etc.  The Church continued to take root in Europe, despite opposition and two world wars, and began to also spread into Central and South America (particularly Mexico) at an accelerating rate.  World War II also opened doors for the Church to begin taking hold in eastern Asian countries.  The intellectual efforts of Church members began to really advance during this era as well.  This proved fruitful but also began to be challenging to the Church due to modern scientific theories like organic evolution, Biblical higher criticism, archeological evidence that challenged the Book of Mormon, modern historical efforts that challenged the founding narratives of the Church, etc.  In general, it was an era of development and consolidation for the Church that was hugely important in shaping what we experience as Mormonism today.

Thorny Issues

Now, the Saints series so far has made a name for being open about difficult issues, and I would imagine that this one will take the same tact.  Some of the thorny issues from this era that it will have to grapple with:

  1. Withdrawal from Political Involvement—Around the time that this volume picks up, the Church issued a political manifesto to the intent that it was going to withdraw from operating political parties and dictating voting habits to its members. In an effort to both show that they were participating in the American two-party system and to win favor with the GOP, Church leaders began to encourage members to vote more Republican rather than Democrat (which was the dominant party in the Church during the 1890s).  At times, this brought Church leaders into conflict with each other, since some Democrats like B. H. Roberts and Moses Thatcher felt that this was an effort by Republican-voting Church leaders to make gains for their political party using their religious positions of authority.  It is also debatable how successful the Church was in removing itself from politics in the end.  The election of high-ranking Church officials to positions in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate was also a major issue, with B. H. Roberts being barred from assuming office while Reid Smoot’s election prompted a thoroughgoing trial of the Church as a whole.
  2. Post-Manifesto Polygamy—While the Church officially announced that it was no longer sanctioning plural marriages in 1890, the principle had been hugely important to Church members and continued to be practiced in secret for years afterwards. This became more untenable during the Reid Smoot Hearings, leading to Church leaders dropping two members of the Quorum of the Twelve who had vocally supported continuing plural marriage and issuing a Second Manifesto that made performing new plural marriages an excommunicable offense.  Ending polygamy was a messy affair.
  3. Reid Smoot Hearings—As the inflection point for the two items listed above, the Reid Smoot Hearings were hugely important in the Church’s development. It can be a bitter pill to discuss in the Church, since it highlights that the Church’s leadership had allowed polygamy to continue after it said it would not allow that to happen, that Church leaders weren’t always honest and sometimes said things to avoid trouble (Joseph F. Smith saying that he had not received revelations is a particularly painful one, since he was serving as the president of the Church), and that plural marriage was given up more due to political expediency than any revelation or changes in doctrine.
  4. Evolution and Higher Criticism Controversies—Organic evolution was controversial among conservative Christian groups, as demonstrated by the Scopes Trial in 1925. It was not any different in the Church.  While some intellectuals like Nels L. Nelson, William Chamberlin, and B. H. Roberts made efforts to reconcile Church doctrine with evolution, efforts to denounce evolution as incompatible with Church doctrine by individuals like Joseph Fielding Smith would largely carry the day.  The 1911 modernism controversy at Brigham Young University was a major flashpoint, where four popular BYU professors who were teaching about evolution and Biblical higher criticism resigned after facing pressure from university and church officials to stop teaching what they had been saying on those subjects.  The Roberts-Smith-Talmage controversy of the 1930s was another major event where evolution was debated in the Church, which resulted in the Church’s current ambivalent official stance on the subject.
  5. Studies of the Book of Mormon—Elder B. H. Roberts was asked to draft a response to a series of questions by a non-member intellectual about the Book of Mormon. He had no great answers at first and began several years of research to figure out a good response, only to find that doing so proved more challenging than reassuring to the case for Book of Mormon historicity.  Throughout the 1920s, he presented his findings to both Church leaders and leading intellectuals in the Church and they were not well-received.
  6. Mormon History Developments—The first half of the 20th century was the era in which Mormon studies (particularly Mormon History) began to come of age. Dale Morgan, Juanita Brooks, and Fawn Brodie were all active during this time.  Leonard Arrington researched and wrote the content of Great Basin Kingdom and Thomas O’Dea was likewise working on The Mormons towards the end of this era.  While an exciting era of intellectual development for the Church that laid the groundwork from which the Saints series itself is emerging, the publication of Brodie’s No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (1945) and Brooks’s The Mountain Meadows Massacre (1950) both proved challenging to the Church.
  7. Race—While the priesthood and temple ban against individuals with black African ancestry took shape in Saints, Volume 2, there are a few key moments in the ongoing development of the ban that solidified its existence during the period covered by Saints, Volume 3. First, there is the time when Jane Manning James requested to be sealed into the Joseph Smith family and was only allowed to be sealed as a servant (rather than as a child) to Joseph Smith in 1894.  Second, after Jane Manning James’s death in 1908, Joseph F. Smith began to publicly accept the story that all priesthood ordinations of black men had been overturned by Joseph Smith, building up the idea that the ban had its origins in a revelation to Joseph Smith.  It’s not clear why he did so, since he had previously stood up for the fact that Elijah Abel had remained an ordained priesthood holder throughout his life using the priesthood certificates to prove it.  In any case, as a result, succeeding presidents of the Church believed that the ban was something that they should not change and enforced it as such, though David O. McKay began to take steps to narrow its application during his presidency.  The other major race-based issue from this era is the beginnings of the Indian student placement program in the late 1940s.
  8. Anti-Communist Focus—While I’m sure whether this is a thorny issue or not depends on your political opinions, the Cold War obsession of Ezra Taft Benson and David O. McKay towards fighting communism with its political ramifications for solidifying conservative political tendencies in the Church began during this era.

Greatest Hits

Every era of Church History has a set of stories and moments that are relatively well known and likely to be discussed in official Church histories—a set of greatest hits to cover, if you will.  Here are a few I see from this era that will likely come up in Saints, Volume 3:


Those are the key points, both thorny and otherwise, that I see Saints, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent, 1893-1955 as being likely to cover.

Now, what all did I miss?  What are you interested in seeing in Saints, Volume 3?


Update: Some information about Saints 3 is available here:



[1] Volume titles listed in Tad Walch, “The first official multi-volume Latter-day Saint history since 1930, ‘Saints,’ is on sale today,” Deseret News, 4 September 2018, retrieved 2021-09-11,  The time periods for the volumes are listed in Steven E. Snow, Saints: The Story of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Ensign February 2018,

[2] Saints FAQ, accessed 2021-09-11,

[3] Image displayed in Gerrit W. Gong, “All Nations, Kindreds, and Tongues,” CR October 2020,

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