Category: Church History

On Winter Quarters

Sometimes called the “Valley Forge of Mormondom”, Winter Quarters was the primary (thought not exclusive) location that Latter-day Saints in the United States of America lived between their forced exodus from Nauvoo and their efforts to move westward to the Great Basin region. In a recent interview with Richard Bennett, Kurt Manwaring discussed the history and legacy of Winter Quarters with the president of the Mormon Trail Center at Winter Quarters.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a shorter post with quotes and some discussion), but feel free to also read the full interview here. As the Latter-day Saints planned to leave Nauvoo due to increasing hostility from their neighbors, they had to explore options for where to go next.  Richard Bennett explained some of what their plan was when they began to evacuate Illinois in 1846: The original Latter-day Saint plan of exodus, as laid out by Brigham Young and his colleagues of the Council of the Twelve Apostles, and with advice from various members of the Council of Fifty, was to locate a new “Zion” home for the Saints somewhere “over the Rocky Mountains.” The Prophet Joseph Smith may have indicated on different occasions that the Saints would have to go west to escape mounting persecution, but he never specified a precise location. Nor did Brigham Young announce a firm destination, although he clearly felt that he would know the site when and where he laid eyes…

Of Brigham and Bridger

Jim Bridger and Brigham Young are two very important people in the Euro-American colonization of the American west. Their relationship with each other, however, was complicated. Kurt Manwaring recently discussed that relationship with Jerry Enzler in connection with Enzler’s biography, Jim Bridger: Trailblazer of the American West. What follows here is a copost to the full interview (a shorter post with quotes and some commentary), but feel free to hop on over to the full interview here. Young and Bridger only met on one occasion–June 28, 1847, as the vanguard company of Latter-day Saints settlers made their way west. Bridger was an experienced trapper and frontiersman that the Saints consulted for information about the areas they were considering settling. As Enzler summarized: Jim Bridger gave them a lengthy description of the lands ahead as well as his recent trip to California. Young and other members of the Church had been studying Frémont maps and journals, and Bridger pointed out that Frémont was in error when he depicted Great Salt Lake connected to Utah Lake as one continuous body. Several Latter-day Saints recorded Jim Bridger’s extensive description of the Great Basin and surrounding area. Bridger told them that the Indians south of Utah Lake grow corn, wheat, and other grains in abundance. One common story from this meeting is that Bridger was quite negative about the prospects of settling along the Wasatch Front in what is now Utah, going as far…

Margarito Bautista – A Forgotten Revolutionary in Latter-day Saint History

Elisa Eastwood Pulido’s biography, The Spiritual Evolution of Margarito Bautista (Oxford University Press, 2020), provides a fascinating glimpse into one of the more significant but controversial figures in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mexico.  An important founding figure among Mexican Latter-day Saints, Bautista was a successful missionary who helped to spread the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans in Mexico, Arizona, and Utah; the father of family history efforts among Mexican Latter-day Saints; the most prolific indigenous author of Mormon literature to date; and a ceaseless advocate of empowering Mexican Latter-day Saints.  Yet, despite his promise as a charismatic teacher and leader in the Church, his criticism of Euro-American leaders of the Church for their paternalism born of racial prejudice and staunch loyalty to the vision of Mormonism he was taught when he converted in 1901 (including ideals of communalism and plural marriage) led to his ultimate excommunication from both the Church and from a splinter movement in Mexico known as the Third Convention.  His efforts within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Third Convention, and his own fundamentalist Mormon group mark him as a worthy candidate for a biography and Elisa Eastwood Pulido delivers beautifully in sharing his remarkable story and life. The biography is billed as a spiritual biography, following Bautista’s religious life and thought as he flirted with Methodism and then journeyed through various…

What If … Chad Updated the Doctrine and Covenants? Part 1

I told you I wasn’t done with the Doctrine and Covenants yet.   Follow me, and ponder the question: What if? It’s the year 2023 and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has decided to produce a new edition of their scriptures.  For reasons that are unclear, the project was picked up by the most unlikely creature imaginable:  Chad Nielsen, of Times and Seasons.  Challenged to produce a new edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, Chad goes to work, planning out what he will do. Now, in reality, I know full well that the Church doesn’t care about any suggestions I might have and that I would be very far from their first candidate for a project like that.  That is why I opened by presenting this as a Mormon multiverse story (sorry about using the moniker, the alliteration was just too good to pass).  This series of posts is entirely for fun and also entirely hypothetical.  It is, I will also note, a logical outgrowth of my spending the entire last year focused on the Doctrine and Covenants and then important documents in Latter-day Saint history.   Disclaimer out of the way, now, what would I do if I was tasked with an update to the Doctrine and Covenants?  I might start out by laying out guiding principles, looking at the updated hymnal guidelines for inspiration.  Excluding the guideline about inviting joyful singing, the relevant guidelines from…

Important Documents from Latter-day Saint History

I’ve always had the idea running in the back of my mind to compile a list of the most important documents across the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that are not in the scriptures nor book-length publications.  Documents in the list include important summaries of doctrine that capture the thought of an era, documents that outlined and solidified an approach to policy or doctrine in the Church, or which signaled some significant changes.  I’m going to take a stab at it here, though no doubt it will fall far short of the goal.  Still, I’ll try to present in approximate chronological order and break it up into four broad eras, roughly following the time periods covered by each volume of the Saints history series. Period 1: Up to 1846 1832 Joseph Smith’s History The earliest effort on Joseph Smith’s part to write down a history, it is the account closest to the events of the First Vision and the visit of the angel to introduce the Book of Mormon Lectures on Faith These were lectures that covered a lot of basic doctrines of the Church prepared in Kirtland and published as the “doctrine” section of the Doctrine and Covenants until the 1920s, when they were phased out (at least partly due to a more trinitarian description of God) 1835, Oliver Cowdery’s Charge to the Twelve This has the account of what Oliver Cowdery told the…

Sextuple Endowment Rooms: What Does it Mean?

“In the end, the character of a civilization is encased in its structures,” stated Frank Gehry—an important contemporary architect. One of the more interesting episodes in the treatment of historic Utah structures has been the decision to tear both the Ogden and Provo temples down to their frames and rebuild them with completely new façades. Back in 2010, preservationists Steve Cornell and Kirk Huffaker related this structure to the character or nature of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by stating that: “Architectural preservationists should be up in arms about the planned changes. The Ogden temple with its counterpart [in Provo], represent a paradigmatic shift in the way Mormons conceived and interpreted the temple, transitioning from a sacred abode to a sacred machine.”[1] While the Ogden and Provo temples have an important place in history, it should not be assumed that they represent a worldview change in Latter-day Saint temple doctrine. The shift that Cornell and Huffaker are referencing is the streamlined organization of the buildings that allowed them to house six endowment rooms, which allowed an endowment session to begin every twenty minutes in each temple, while older temples usually were only able to begin a session every hour at best.  Temple architect Emil Fetzer was commissioned to design a temple that was economical and functional that “the membership can use to do efficient temple work.”[2]  Fetzer described the experience of creating the interior design that was…

Does This Design Offend You?

It has been our privilege, as guided by the whisperings of thy Spirit, to build unto thee this temple, which we now present unto thee as another of thy holy houses. … We humbly pray that thou wilt accept this edifice and pour out thy blessings upon it as a house to which thou wilt come and in which thy Spirit will direct all that is done, that it may be acceptable unto thee.[1] Fifty years ago today, the Ogden, Utah Temple was dedicated.  Its sister, the Provo, Utah Temple, followed a month later, on February 9.  I’ve lived in Weber County, Utah for a significant portion of my life, so in many ways, the Ogden Temple is my temple.  Yet, I’ve always had mixed feelings about the temple itself—the space-age appearance I grew up with was unique, but not terribly attractive.  At the same time, I found it a bit sad that the Church felt the need to change its appearance so drastically a few years ago and that we will soon see, as President Nelson announced in general conference, the “reconstruction of the Provo Utah Temple.”[2]  I’m caught between the side of me that has a strong preservationist urge (as discussed last spring with the pioneer temple murals) and the side of me that has an appreciation for the aesthetically pleasing update to the Ogden Temple. I’m not alone in being caught in the crossfire of torn feelings…

“As we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ”

Of all the Christmas carols in the English hymnbook, the one with the longest association with the Church’s hymnals is “Joy to the World.”[1]  It’s probably fitting, then, that the “Come, Follow Me” materials for this week reference it.  The reading material for the week is the document “The Living Christ,” published by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve on 1 January 2000, “as we commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ two millennia ago.”  The document covers the mission of Jesus Christ before, during, and after his mortal life.  In one section, it states that: “We testify that He will someday return to earth. ‘And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together’ (Isaiah 40:5). He will rule as King of Kings and reign as Lord of Lords, and every knee shall bend and every tongue shall speak in worship before Him.”[2]  Asides from some nice references to the Biblical texts behind George Frideric Handel and Charles Jennens’s Messiah (which President Gordon B. Hinckley was fond of quoting), this paragraph is brought up in the “Come, Follow Me” manual because it addresses the Second Coming of Jesus Christ: “Christmas is a time both to look back on the day Jesus Christ was born and to look forward to the day He will come again. … It might … be interesting to read, sing, or listen to Christmas hymns that teach about…

“The long-promised day has come”

Official Declaration 1 has some supplementary materials included in the Doctrine and Covenants in the form of three excerpts from different addresses where he explained the reasoning for the change.  I’ve often mused on the idea of what would an analogous set of supplementary quotes look like for Official Declaration 2.  At one point, I even created my own insert in my scriptures to fill that function.  Admittedly, the addition of an introduction to the section in 2013 provides the key information, but I enjoy playing with hypotheticals for updates to the scriptures, so what would I include if I were to prepare the additions for the declaration?  And, while I’m sharing in the post, I’d be interested in hearing folks’ thoughts about what they would or would not include and their thoughts about my selections as well. My version would probably look something like this: EXCEPRTS FROM THREE STATEMENTS REGARDING THE PRIESTHOOD REVELATION We have revelations that tell us that the gospel is to go to every nation, kindred, tongue, and people before the Second Coming of the Son of Man. And we have revelations which recite that when the Lord comes he will find those who speak every tongue and are members of every nation and kindred, who will be kings and priests, who will live and reign on earth with him a thousand years. That means, as you know, that people from all nations will have the…

“All that God has revealed, all that he does now reveal, and … that he will yet reveal”

A few years ago, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf shared the following thoughts in general priesthood session: Sometimes we think of the Restoration of the gospel as something that is complete, already behind us—Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon, he received priesthood keys, the Church was organized. In reality, the Restoration is an ongoing process; we are living in it right now. It includes “all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal,” and the “many great and important things” that “He will yet reveal.” Brethren, the exciting developments of today are part of that long-foretold period of preparation that will culminate in the glorious Second Coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.[1] Drawing on the nineth Article of Faith, President Uchtdorf talked about the Restoration of the gospel as an ongoing process, even today.  Since then, the idea of ongoing Restoration has caught on as a paradigm to discuss changes in the Church that result from continuing revelation and changing circumstances in the world. One of the paradoxes of the Restoration of the Gospel that I’ve discussed before is that there are both concepts that the Church has to change and adapt through continuing revelation and that there is a “perfect state” that needs to be restored (and thus must also stay static to maintain that perfect state after it is achieved).  The goal of restoration in general is to return something to a former condition.  Joseph Smith looked…

John Sillito’s B. H. Roberts: A Life in the Public Arena (book review)

In traditional Christianity, there are significant figures known as the Early Church Fathers who are noted as influential Christian theologians and writers who established the intellectual and doctrinal foundations of Christianity as we know it today.  While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is still a form of Christianity and is indebted to these early Christian thinkers, Mormonism is its own movement and I’ve often pondered on who we would consider to be the Church Fathers (or Parents) of the Latter-day Saints.  Certainly many of the presidents of the Church fall in this category—all three Joseph Smiths, Brigham Young, and Wilford Woodruff among them.  Beyond that, however, who would be considered a part of that category?  Certainly Parley P. Pratt, Orson Pratt, Eliza R. Snow, James E. Talmage, and Bruce R. McConkie stand out as candidates.  Emmaline B. Wells and John A. Widtsoe come to mind as well.  It’s probably no surprise to anyone who has been reading my writing for a bit, however, that the first candidate I would suggest is B. H. Roberts. Over the course of the almost 90 years that have passed since his death, Elder Brigham Henry Roberts (1857-1933) has received the high praise of being called Mormonism’s most eminent intellectual,[1] the best officially accepted theologian that Mormonism has known,[2] one of our most important historians,[3] and the most prolific and most effective defender of the Church.[4]  Imagine my delight, then, to find…

Brian and Laura Hales on Polygamy

‘Tis the season … to talk about polygamy, apparently.  Kurt Manwaring recently sat down with Brian and Laura Hales for a question and answer session about polygamy.  They have spent decades researching and writing about plural marriage (past and present), approaching the subject as faithful members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It’s a very interesting interview to read through, so I recommend hopping on over to read it here.  What follows on this page is a co-post to the one over at Kurt Manwaring’s site, with excerpts and some discussion on the subject. One topic they discussed early on was the “Latter-day Saint Perspectives” podcast that they run.  Laura discussed the origin of the podcast, stating that: The idea for the podcast arose from a conversation I had with a Swedish member of the Church. In 2016, Brian and I gave a presentation in Gottingen, Sweden, on Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy. After the conference, an attendee approached me about the need for better resources on Church history for members living outside the United States. At the time, these members only had easy access to information that presented polar views. My new friend reinforced the point that struggling members lose trust in resources produced by the institutional Church, only leaving antagonistic sources as a place to reach out for answers to their questions about Church history and doctrine. More books were not the solution because of…

“I saw the hosts of the dead”

President Joseph F. Smith’s Vision of the Redemption of the Dead is one of the most recent documents to be included in our cannon (only followed by Official Declaration 2).  Experienced on 3 October 1918 and recorded shortly thereafter, the vision outlines the underlying theology behind proxy work for the dead that we perform in the temples.  Received against a dramatic backdrop of death, the vision gives hope for all of humankind.  Yet rather than breaking new ground, the document is a capstone of years of theological development in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  That doesn’t undercut its significance, however, since its later inclusion in the scriptures canonized those developments for the Church. Received over 100 years ago, this important vision came at a time of wide-spread death and destruction.  WWI was just a month away from its official end, after four years of carnage that resulted in millions of deaths.  Similar to today, a deadly pandemic was raging at that time that would kill tens of millions of people.  Joseph F. Smith himself had experienced loss not long before the vision.  In that year alone, his eldest son, a son-in-law, and a daughter-in-law had all died at young ages.  In addition, as his great-grandson stated: “During his lifetime, President Smith lost his father, his mother, one brother, two sisters, two wives, and thirteen children. He was well acquainted with sorrow and losing loved ones.”[1]  It was…

“The Word and Will of the Lord”

There is a story about President David O. McKay where a youth who wasn’t active in the Church flippantly asked him, “When was the last time you talked to God, President McKay?”  President McKay answered in all seriousness that: “It was last week.”  The person who shared the story noted that: “He left everyone wondering what he really meant by that, whether he was praying, talking to God, or whether it was another kind of experience.  But the way it was said, it really left this kid shaken up.”[1] One of the ongoing tensions in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is reconciling the belief in ongoing revelations with both the number of written revelations produced by Joseph Smith and the lack of similar documents in our canon from later Church leaders.  As noted in the document about the “Martyrdom of Joseph Smith and his Brother Hyrum” that was added to the Doctrine and Covenants in 1844 (now D&C 135), Smith “has brought forth the Book of Mormon … has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men.”[2]  On the other hand, out of the 140 main documents presented in the Doctrine and Covenants, only 2 are revelations or visions from later Church presidents, and 2 are press releases about changes resulting from other Church presidents having revelations.  Even…

“There is never but one on the earth at a time”

Polygamy was one of the most divisive and explosive policies that Joseph Smith ever embraced.  In many ways, it was what led to Joseph Smith’s death.  He knew that it would be a cause of contention, both within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and with those who were not members, and he made some efforts to both conceal the practice and to set up rules to keep it controlled.  Key among the latter was the idea of only one individual serving as the gatekeeper to entering plural marriages.  Yet, polygamy was a confusing and messy practice to early church members from the very start and it was difficult to stick to those rules.  As Amasa Lyman once said about the early attempts to practice plural marriage, “We obeyed the best we knew how, and, no doubt, made many crooked paths in our ignorance.”[1] Joseph Smith’s Presidency During the 1840s, a series of difficult situations may have led Joseph Smith to centralize the authority to perform plural marriages and eternal marriages to the office of church president. First, Benjamin Johnson recalled that in Kirtland, Ohio in the early 1840s, some church members followed a man who “claimed he had revealed to them the celestial law of marriage.” This led to “men and women of previous respectability” engaging “in free love.”[2]  More significantly, the assistant president of the LDS Church and mayor of Nauvoo, John C. Bennett, seduced women in…

“That they may bear the souls of men”

My wife is 37 weeks pregnant, and she is ready to be done.  She’s started writing down a list of reasons she doesn’t enjoy pregnancy for me to use in reminding her next time we start thinking about having another child.  She has also assured me that if creating spirit children in the next life involves pregnancy, we’re not going to have a high population on any planets we create. With our family growing and the “Come, Follow Me” texts for this week, Section 132 has been on my mind.  It is both one of the most important and most uncomfortable documents that has been canonized from Latter-day Saint literature.  It is important as the textual basis for the idea that: “Sacred ordinances and covenants available in holy temples make it possible for individuals to return to the presence of God and for families to be united eternally.”[1]  As stated in the revelation: if a man marry him a wife, in the world, and he marry her not by me, nor by <?my?> word; and he covenant with her, So long as he is in the world, and She with him, their covenant and marriage is not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world therefore they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world … And again verily I Say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word which is my law,…

Brittany Chapman Nash on Polygamy

We’re coming up on one of the most dreaded lessons of the Sunday School cycle—no, not reviewing the law of chastity with teenagers, the lesson that includes D&C 132 (the revelation on plural marriage).  Polygamy is a topic in the Church that is uncomfortable, troubling and, at times, painful to discuss.  Recently, however, the Church published a short book by Brittany Chapman Nash called Let’s Talk About Polygamy that I would recommend to read for anyone who wants to better understand our history with plural marriage (for a longer review of the book I put up a couple months ago, click here).  In addition, Brittany Chapman Nash sat down with Kurt Manwaring for an interview about the book.  For those interested in the full interview, it is available here.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview at Manwaring’s site—a shorter post with excerpts and some commentary. At one point in the interview, Brittany Chapman Nash discussed her feelings as she researched polygamy.  It was connected with her master’s thesis research project, and she: was initially confused and disturbed as I began navigating this foreign view of Church history that did not fit the tidy paradigm I had curated from Sunday School and Institute classes. History was messy! It didn’t make sense! I wasn’t ready to accept that the Church was built by people, not two-dimensional superheroes…. I think I experienced the whole “five stages of grief” as I explored…

“This ordinance belongeth to my house”

Throughout this year, I’ve talked about the development of temple doctrine as a braiding of strands from Joseph Smith’s theology and cosmology.  That continues to be true of the 1840s, when the Latter-day Saints were working on the Nauvoo temple.  Previously, when discussing the House of the Lord in Kirtland, I discussed the idea of beholding the face of God, an endowment of power from on high, preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus the Christ, the Zion project, and some practical functions of the temples (in connection with building Zion).  These threads continued to have a place in the Nauvoo Temple but began to be ritualized and some meanings (such as that of the endowment of power) began to shift.  In addition, priesthood, binding or sealing power, and salvation for the unbaptized deceased were added to the braid of temples by the time that 1842 the epistles we are reading this week (D&C 127-128) were written.  Later, binding or sealing into eternal families and the connected concept of plural marriage would likewise be woven into temple liturgy as well, though those are topics for another day. The endowment of power is, perhaps, the key example of a shift in understanding and ritualization of previous hopes for the temple and priesthood.  Originally, the endowment of power seems to have been considered some sort of blessing from God that would be helpful in missionary work.  In its initial rendition, this endowment seems to have been…

“Instituted for travelling Elders”

If you’ve ever asked yourself what exactly is a Seventy, you’re not alone.  In fact, I’d dare to say that the question is one of the more persistent ones throughout Church history.  Based on two brief mentions in the Bible, the idea of the Seventies is laid out in two separate documents in the Doctrine and Covenants and was organized initially in 1835.  Yet, the exact function and role of the Seventies has varied over the years in the Church. The first major mention of the Seventies in our scriptures comes in the 1835 document “On Priesthood” that is now Section 107 in the Doctrine and Covenants.  After discussing the “twelve apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ, in all the world,” the document states that: “The seventy are also called to preach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world. Thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling: and they form a quorum equal in authority to that of the twelve especial witnesses or apostles, just named.”  It then adds that: “The seventy are to act in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the twelve, or the travelling high council, in building up the church and regulating all the affairs of the same, in all nations: first unto the Gentiles and then to the Jews:—the twelve being sent out, holding the keys, to open the door by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ; and first unto the Gentiles…

“All these things shall give thee experience and shall be for thy good”

For a long time, I underestimated the depth of the trauma experienced by the Latter-day Saints in Missouri and the impact that it had on their psyche.  I think I started to grasp it more when I was researching for an essay about Latter-day Saints and their relationship with the US Government (which was an earlier version of the “The constitution of this Land” post I put up on this site in September).  What they endured was horrific and that left deep scars on the Latter-day Saints.  In the midst of all of this, however, Joseph Smith began to write general epistles to the Church, portions of which were later incorporated into the Doctrine and Covenants as Sections 121, 122, and 123.  Within those epistles, he began to explain a theology of suffering that grappled with what they had endured. The fallout of the 1838 Missouri-Mormon War was terrible (trigger warning that this section of the post may be distressing).  Parley P. Pratt famously recalled how while Church leaders were in prison: We had listened for hours to the obscene jests, the horrid oaths, the dreadful blasphemies and filthy language of our guards … as they recounted to each other their deeds of rapine, murder, robbery, etc., which they had committed among the ‘Mormons’ while at Far West and vicinity. They even boasted of defiling by force wives, daughters and virgins, and of shooting or dashing out the brains of…