Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake
Get the Christians.
Lie if you have to!
The Mormon genius transforming wild landscape into well-ordered towns and cities with well-tended gardens and productive farms was nowhere more evident than in Nauvoo, as they renamed Commerce. The name was taken from the Hebrew for 'beautiful.' At first sight the name may appear too grand for the mosquito infested swamp on which the Saints laid down their weary and battered bodies after the expulsion from Missouri. The vision of their Prophet was vindicated in a very few years as the only city-state in North America rose out of reclaimed bogland. Soon Nauvoo was the largest city in Illinois, dwarfing Chicago. In time the Illinois State Legislature granted a city charter which guaranteed to Latter-day Saints the right of self-government.
The city council's first mayor was John C Bennett, who led four aldermen and twelve city councillors. This civic council had the right to frame and enact laws provided that they were in accordance with the Constitution of the United States. Provision was made in the charter for an education system and a university, and for an independent militia which was called the "Nauvoo Legion." Holding the commission of Lieutenant General, Joseph Smith was its commander-in-chief. The city had a Municipal Court with complete authority over the city and its people. Agriculture and industry flourished and crime was virtually unknown. The Saints, it seemed, had found heaven on earth where they could worship and live in peace, unmolested by their enemies. But the calm of the early Nauvoo years gave way to a period marked by bitter internal strife and schism, in which Joseph Smith was seen by some as a fallen prophet.
A number of dissenters, among them some high [Church] officials unable to go along with Smith's demagoguery and his private sanction of a plurality of wives, started an opposition press, the Nauvoo Expositor. Its first issue on June 7, 1844, denounced the prophet's high-handedness and immorality, demanded the unconditional repeal of the city charter "to correct abuses of the unit power," and announced the organization of a reform church.
Internal difficulties coupled with the revival of anti-Mormon hostilities led to the murder of Joseph and his brother Hyrum in Carthage Jail. The attempt by the Mayor and City Council to defuse the situation by destroying the press of the Expositor had the opposite effect. Tempers were inflamed to the point where opposing elements joined together to put an end to what they considered the prophet's high-handedness. As he languished in jail for the date of his court appearance, an armed and disguised mob stormed the building, and murdered the Smith brothers.
Joseph's death provided opportunity for several ambitious men to make moves to assume the leadership of the Church. Brigham Young who was president of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles at the time of the martyrdom, was sustained President and Prophet by a significant majority of members. Some disappointed men formed splinter groups and led a few disaffected Saints after them. The Church continued to expand in Nauvoo. Concurrent with this expansion was an upsurge in hostilities from external enemies which was prompted in many instances by transient Missourians with long memories. Even in their own habitat where they posed no threat to others, Mormons were not allowed to enjoy peace. Brigham Young feared for the safety of the Saints, and led them out from their beloved city, (which, following the martyrdom of Joseph, had been renamed "The City of Joseph"), westward across the Mississippi into Iowa Territory. The Saints of God had left the United States of America.
The hurt was doubly painful for this patriotic people who believed that America was the Promised Land of the Tribe of Joseph. They had to turn their backs on the country they loved, but whose government refused to afford them the protection of the law and guarantee their Constitutional right of freedom from persecution and the right of religious expression. They had to leave their homes and their cherished Temple, an edifice which was the axis of their sacred and secular universes, and the symbol of their faith essential to their kinship to their Father-God and his universe. They had to leave behind the grave of their beloved prophet and patriarch, Joseph and Hyrum Smith It was a sad and humbled people who crossed the river in the silence of winter in 1847.
Fourteen thousand numbed Saints made their way from Nauvoo towards the Rocky Mountains. The trails they blazed have become legendary. After months of hardship and privation during which hundreds of family members and friends were buried in shallow graves, they reached their destination: a high desert basin in the tops of the mountains.
Here they built their city in the desert close by the Great Salt Lake. They instituted the first Anglo-Saxon irrigation system, established industries, farms, a university, founded more than six-hundred towns and cities, and erected the magnificent Salt Lake Temple and Tabernacle. The desert blossomed as the rose, and the Saints became a mighty people in the Rocky Mountains, as Joseph had prophesied in 1842.
For many years the Saints lived in virtual isolation from the rest of their countrymen as the United States continued to expand its frontiers westward and northward. The Mormons called their region the "Territory of Deseret" and sought its incorporation into the United States. Deseret covered an area the size of six present states. A greatly reduced "Utah" was admitted to the Union in 1894 after the resolution of the plural marriage issue.
Even in their isolation they were still tormented by the attentions of outsiders. Malicious rumours were multiplied, concocted horrors were sent to and published by eastern newspapers. The results were the intensifying of anti-Mormon hatred, particularly against the issue of plural marriage. This practice along with the invented "blood atonement", the full brother of the anti-Semitic "blood-libel," brought matters to a head in the form of Johnson's Army and the so-called "Utah War."
The Saints' remoteness ended with the arrival of the transcontinental railroad. Whereas the Saints had sought isolation in order to secure peace, under President Young's leadership a railroad spur was constructed at the Church's expense to connect Mormon settlements with the main line some miles north. Young understood that bringing cheaper goods from the growing factory systems would ease the financial burdens and drudgery which isolation had imposed.
During all the difficult years the Saints continued their missionary efforts at home and abroad. Mormons are dedicated Christians, committed to family, traditional morality and the practice of good neighbourliness. They are recognised for their missionary enthusiasm which has fielded more missionaries than all other Christian missions together. This volunteer ministry has carried the message of the Restored Gospel to the farthest corners of the earth. In recent years the Church has become less focused on gathering to the American Zion, its members encouraged to strengthen the Church in their own nations while working to make the world a better place, joyfully anticipating the Lord's Second Coming.
Few could foresee today's Church of ten million members operating in a hundred and sixty countries in the little gathering of fifty who were at the first meeting of 6 April 1830. This growth causes concern to some Christians who consider it threatens their faith. Latter-day Saints are tolerant people committed to Christian living. They have high moral standards and positive motivation to establish the Kingdom of God among all nations which is interpreted by some as the Church's desire to dominate the world. High standards of education and culture are encouraged. The system of lay ministry provides ordinary men and women with opportunities for spiritual ministry, pastoral outreach, personal development and leadership experience which is beyond the reach of laity in other churches.
In spite of continuing persecution Latter-day Saints have not retaliated. Official policy has been to ignore attacks. However, in 1991 Public Affairs Councils were established through which the Church can respond to hostile attacks in a positive way. It is hoped that thereby the most severe effects of anti-Mormon persecution can be lessened. Inter-faith activities are encouraged so the Saints can make positive contributions to local communities for the common good. Even this has been interpreted by the director of one anti-Mormon ministry.
[Latter-day Saints] are a non-Christian cult [who] may try to join inter-church groups to support claims to be the true church.
Those acquainted with Latter-day Saints and their patterns of belief and worship know this is untrue. For this reason it is difficult to comprehend the persistence of the charge that Latter-day Saints are not Christians - a charge considered in greater detail in a later chapter.