Mormons in Missouri

Today’s Sunday School lesson, “They Must Needs Be Chastened and Tried, Even as Abraham”, was frustrating to me (although I am currently less frustrated about it). The Lesson was about the persecution of the Saints in Missouri:

Doctrine and Covenants Gospel Doctrine Manual: http://www.lds.org/manual/doctrine-and-covenants-and-church-history-gospel-doctrine-teachers-manual/lesson-27-they-must-needs-be-chastened-and-tried-even-as-abraham?lang=eng

Our Heritage: (http://www.lds.org/manual/our-heritage-a-brief-history-of-the-church-of-jesus-christ-of-latter-day-saints/chapter-four-establishing-zion-in-missouri.p31?lang=eng)

I like the wikipedia account of the 1838 Mormon War. It seems to be a fairly unbiased, historically accurate account. It seems accurate to me because I count 31 sources cited in the article (see the references listed at the bottom of the page) including published journal articles, historical novels, autobiographies, and other historical documents written from various perspectives: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1838_Mormon_War.

The source of my frustration is that the church presents a very one-sided picture of the situation in Missouri. The church presents it as mob persecution of innocent saints who took the beating almost completely without retaliation. Now, those are my words. Read the Sunday School lesson from the links above and you can decide for yourself. This is frustrating to me because there are important parts of the story that are left out of both the Sunday school manual and the accompanying Our Heritage. Is it true that LDS members were persecuted? I say, absolutely. They were murdered, driven from their homes in the middle of the winter–several individuals dying from exposure, had their homes and businesses burned, and other horrific things. The LDS members at this time suffered a lot. However, the saints also persecuted the people in Missouri. Out of anger, a whole bunch of atrocities were committed on both sides. Mormon militia and Danites drove the people of Missouri out of Far West, Missouri, in the middle of winter, causing these people to suffer from exposure (one lady gave birth prematurely and the baby suffered permanent damages from this event). These Mormons drove the people out, stole whatever they could get their hands on, then burned the homes and businesses to the ground. Hardly a one-sided war I would say.

Now, there are also lots of stories of Mormon suffering that the Sunday school manual doesn’t even mention–people held as prisoners and tortured, people surrendering and then being shot and then mutilated while they were still alive.

I guess I don’t expect that my church manual is going to tell all the gruesome, gory details of this horrible, frontier war. And, to be honest, this lesson is one of the most interesting to me because it includes so many historical details, so I don’t want the church to throw the history stuff out all together. But, it frustrates me that the manual presents such a biased picture of what happened. It seems like the manual could at least throw in a one-liner like, “Mormons also, out of anger, pillaged homes and stores in Far West Missouri, driving it’s inhabitants out, and burning homes and businesses.”

What do I think after reading more about the 1838 Mormon War? I think Missouri was a dangerous place for Mormons to try to settle. The people there seem to care more about swift, emotionally-charged justice than about obeying the laws. We’re talking about a place where the “residents were outraged by the escape of Smith and the other [Mormon] leaders [from jail]. William Bowman, one of the guards, was dragged by his hair across the town square. Sheriff Morgan was ridden through town on an iron bar, and died shortly afterward from the injuries he suffered during the ride” (wikipedia). That’s how they carried out justice with their own people. Doesn’t sound to me like a pleasant place to try to establish Zion. I also think both the Missourians and the Mormons were easily persuaded by rumors and exaggerated stories of injustices committed, and often didn’t wait around for the facts to be sorted out before they retaliated (this type of thinking is a common cause for violence world-wide, I would suggest). This escalated the conflict at an alarming rate, since both sides were hearing exaggerated, one-sided accounts of injustices committed against their people.

I think the conflict started with the Missouri people disliking the Mormons settling in their state. This might be comparable to how we would feel if a group of Muslims, wanting to live Sharia law, large enough in number that they would determine who would be elected, moved into your state. The Missouri people didn’t like the Mormons because they were a very cohesive group that was very different from them and was becoming quite powerful. The people of Missouri felt threatened by the Mormons and decided to limit Mormon influence legally or by force. Mormons quickly became angry that their rights were being taken from them. In a short time, violence on both sides ensued.

My heart goes out to those who suffered during this time.

I find the stories of faith during this time of suffering very beautiful. My favorite quote from this Sunday’s lesson is this, “In D&C 105:38–40, the Lord counseled the Saints to seek peace, even with those who had persecuted them. He promised that in return, ‘all things shall work together for your good’ (D&C 105:40). How have you been blessed as you have applied the counsel to seek peace?” This to me is an important, even faith-promoting, lesson: Seek peace; forgive people who hurt you. I like that 🙂

I hope the church will make changes to tell this story more accurately in the future. I think it could still be faith promoting, but also present a more accurate tale of what happened.

The Problem with Telling a One-Sided Story:

Some of you may be thinking something to the effect of, “the church doesn’t need to air its dirty laundry in public,” so to speak; after all, the church is trying to build faith, not create doubts. There is some validity in this statement. But the problem with the church presenting its members with such a one-sided view of church history is that people are building their faith on a cracked foundation. This faith often comes crumbling down.

My opinion: Tell people a more accurate, honest view of history. If people find this builds their faith, great, if not, at least they know the truth.

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14 Responses to Mormons in Missouri

  1. jennifer says:

    well said. I agree.

  2. Chelsea says:

    Great job Alicia. I understand that many people don’t want the “dirty laundry” aired publicly, however, I feel like many people are struggling with similar faith issues in the church because they did just discover it was not all painted correctly and so many of us feel lied to. I know much of my struggle also comes from this fact because something that was such a rock in my life (even though most of the people sucked) suddenly wasn’t that stable and had in my mind, lied to me and so many others. Perhaps if the church told the complete truth (that we urge our members to do) less people would feel so shocked and lied to about our history and doctrine and therefore maybe feel like their faith was built on something 100 percent truthful and solid rather than something half truthful and shaky. I remember when non member friends would tell me something about church history that we hadn’t been taught I would strongly deny their version was correct (i.e. Joseph Smith and his many wives, most especially the young ones and why many thought he was a false prophet). We had been taught those things were out there to hurt the church etc…. Now I realize how better educated more non members were about our history than me, an active seminary attending, Book of Mormon quoting lds girl. This fact has made me sad.

    • crooks14 says:

      Chelsea, I can totally relate to your feelings of feeling shocked that you had been going to church and seminary, etc. for all these years and yet complete strangers knew your religion’s history better than me! I have to say that I think honesty is the best policy and I hope the church will come around to this as well! Sending you a big hug that I should have given you years ago when you really needed it!
      Alicia

  3. Chelsea says:

    Alicia- thanks for the hug! It wasn’t the not feeling included or feeling different than everyone else that was hard (well at the time I was a teenager and everything was dramatic lol) , what was more difficult was watching people stab each other in the back and form these cliques and feeling like if we are supposedly such good people then why is this the typical story so many of us see? I’m not bitter about the people, I realized a long time ago that people are the same no matter what religion or group, what is more important to me is that if we claim that we are more loving etc…. then lets be that way. Less fake, more real, less gossipy, and less judgmental. I think so many feel like they live two lives, the one that the church members see (you at church, the activities, doing church callings, the list continues…) and the one that is the most comfortable to them, with their diverse friends, interests, etc…. It shouldn’t be that way. Human nature is an interesting thing (we love groups lol). The main point again for me is this, be honest with the members, don’t hide your history, be “better” people.

  4. Sarah says:

    Hey Lish,
    Sorry I’m am now just catching up with your blog. So my response when I read this post was this. . I get that you may feel lied to or you feel they are hiding things about this, but in all honesty things like that happen right now from “mormons.” We’ve heard them before. Mormons have murdered, mormons have raped, there’s lots of things that “mormons” have done and are doing right now, but they are definitely not representing the church. Those people may have been part of the church, but they weren’t the church. Do you see what I mean? Even if it was an apostle. He would have been in the wrong. Heavenly Father would have never approved of that or what happens today by some people. Also all those people, in the eariy years of the church were new converts in the gospel, including the prophet and 12 appostles and there wasn’t a set organization already in place, I think there has to be more for learning room for them and understanding of maybe where they came from. It sounds to me like physical violence was a huge thing back then 😉 But I agree with you. That isn’t right that they did those things. I dont know if this makes sense and I dont have all the answers but in this case it makes sense to me. Love you as always! 🙂 Ps. So cute to hear about little andrew!

    • crooks14 says:

      Hey Sarah! Thanks for reading, I appreciate it! It is true that people from any organization can commit crimes and not necessarily be committing those crimes representing their organization. And I am at a point where I actually am okay with what happened historically here (at least as far as feeling like the church has reason to say the saints in Missouri were persecuted). It just bothers me that the church tells such a one sided story. I do, however, have some things to say in reply. Here is a quote from the Wikipedia article mentioned in the post:

      “Colonel Hinkle and Mormons of the Caldwell County militia were joined by church leaders including Joseph Smith and also by elements of the Danite organization.[53] On October 18, these Mormons began to act as vigilantes and marched under arms in three groups to the Missourian settlements of Gallatin, Millport and Grindstone Fork. The Missourians and their families, outnumbered by the Mormons, made their way to neighboring counties. Having taken control of the Missourian settlements, the Mormons plundered the property and burned the stores and houses.”

      If Joseph Smith himself was a part of the group that went to Missouri and did these horrible things, doesn’t that seem like a little bit more than a few random crimes being committed? And if we are to just assume that this was not church sanctioned activity, even though the prophet himself was with the group, and therefore the church cannot be responsible, then you also have to excuse the people of Missouri for the same types of crimes they committed against the Mormons. You can’t preach in Sunday school that the people of Missouri persecuted the Mormons and yet forget to mention that the Mormons persecuted the people of Missouri too. At least, you can’t say that and feel like you are telling the whole story. That’s my point. I just get frustrated because this is one of many things in the church, where the church tells only half the story. I think this leaves members open for a huge let down when they hear the rest of the facts.

      • Brooke Wilson says:

        Sarah, I think what Alicia was trying to say is that the Church is telling the story one-sided NOW. It would be one thing if a bishop or gospel doctrine teacher gave the one-sided story, it’s another thing that an official manual by Church Headquarters is being distributed with a one-sided story. Maybe God himself wouldn’t approve, but the Church is still doing it. Yes, the Church shouldn’t have to air all its dirty laundry, but if they’re going to preach honesty to us, they need to be honest in return.

  5. Kaitlyn says:

    dearest auntie (ok, I’ve never called you that, and totally think of you more as my friend… but. whatever)
    I’d just like to give you a tad bit of hope in this realm of “how come we never learned THIS in church before?” Given your current research, I suspect you probably already know about it, BUT, from a not-too-long-ago young woman in little girl Sunday School’s perspective: the Church’s started a new teaching program for the young men/young women age Sunday School lessons. To me, it’s like switching from the memorized discussions to Preach My Gospel- they’re opening up for discussion SO much more. the lesson guides were (in my experience) monthly topics with a bit of guidance. Of course, it depends on how rooted the teacher was in traditional teaching/ every other factor under the sun, but in my class, we discussed a lot of things that we didn’t really talk about in Sunday School before- things like gaining a testimony of what the prophets tell us to do for ourselves, how all of those called of God are still human and make mistakes, and how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon by the power of God,whatever the details. It was good, and I feel like we are finally taking that step beyond the basics- if a very slow and cautious step. and I’m ok with that- discovering truth is a slow process (which you probably know much better than I do right now. side note/thought: you know.. I feel like you have a very special privilege. how many of us born into the church have the opportunity to build our testimony, however sure that might be, from the ground up? We usually are started on the platform of others’ testimonies, and then must go back and replace their foundation with ours if we are to remain strong. Whatever truths your journey will take you to will become so much more precious and sure. and I think that is maravilhoso!). Anywho, what I’m trying to say is that I think that the church is beginning to take some of what they had left to parents and the world to teach and opening a bit of discussion. A small step, but I see it there.
    much love,
    soon-to-be Sister Kaitlyn Johnson

    • crooks14 says:

      Hey Kaitlyn,

      It’s fun to see all you wonderful nieces and nephews growing up and acting and thinking like all us old folks–hehe (since my 6ish years I have on you is SO much). That does make me happy that you see some changes and openness to differing ideas in discussing topics in church. I like that. This blog is probably good education for your mission 😛 You’ll run into lots of frustrating people like me out there, haha. Can’t wait to hear more about the next couple years for you 🙂 Love you!

  6. Jennifer says:

    you know Alicia, I have it in my mind that Joseph Smith’s involvement with the Danite raids is a little controversial. Let me know what you find, but if my memory serves me well (which it often doesn’t) Bushman found Joseph’s involvement in that violence disputed.

  7. Jennifer says:

    ok. I went back and re-read. I think I’m wrong. wikepedia uses Baugh, which I haven’t read, but Bushman, which wikepedia also uses, pages 349-366 has info. on the war. It does appear that Joseph initially tried every peaceful recourse possible and counseled even the danites not to be unlawful though ready to defend (He certainly was wary of their leader Sampson Aavard), but finally in frustration after several mob attacks and being driven out over and over decided the church organized militia was justified in attacking the vigilante home base that October–probably? unwise, definitely important to acknowledge as it escalated things, much too rageful and wrong, but certainly understandable. that’s my interpretation anyway.

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