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
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listed at the bottom of the page) including published journal articles, historical novels, autobiographies, and other historical documents written from various perspectives: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1838_Mormon_War.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.