“Symposium Focuses on the Missouri Experience,” Ensign, May 1991, 107–8
Latter-day Saints’ trials in Missouri in the 1830s had a profound effect on the future of the Church and its members, according to presentations given during a recent Brigham Young University symposium.
The two-day symposium, titled “The Missouri Experience: Past, Present, Future,” was held on March 29–30. Sponsored by the Religious Studies Center and the Department of Church History and Doctrine, it attracted several hundred participants.
Elder John K. Carmack of the Seventy opened the symposium by raising two questions: Did any good come out of the Missouri era? And can we reap wisdom and insight from its tragic events?
Elder Carmack answered those questions by outlining numerous benefits the Church and its members gained from this period in its history, including the revelations the Prophet Joseph Smith received while confined in Liberty Jail. Those revelations, now known as Doctrine and Covenants 121, 122, and 123, “may be worth the whole tragic episode,” Elder Carmack commented. “Hardly a day goes by without some Church leader or member referring to or quoting from them.” [D&C 121–123]
Other benefits gleaned from the Missouri era include a clearer understanding of the law of tithing. “It was at Far West, Missouri, on July 8, 1838, that the concept of a standing law to finance the Church by having members ‘pay one-tenth of all their interest annually’ [see D&C 119:4] was revealed through Joseph the Prophet,” Elder Carmack pointed out. “Its strength is its utter simplicity. We have the Missouri era to thank for the principles of tithing. …
“In addition, those authorities who have the power and responsibility for administering the money and property resulting from tithing were also designated on that date,” he continued. “There is still in full operation a Council on the Disposition of Tithing Funds, which makes final decisions on major financial matters for the Church.”
Elder Carmack concluded by saying that the Missouri experience made the Saints “more alert” to “individual and institutional preparation for times of tribulation, more committed to our safety and security.” “[We] have learned to stand up for our rights and not retreat from mobs and injustice,” he added. “We need always, in addition, to state our side of a controversial issue clearly and to accommodate the rights of others, but avoid strident rhetoric.”
The two-day symposium included more than fifteen presentations on various phases of Church history in Missouri. Topics ranged from travel and communication to the Haun’s Mill Massacre. Personal histories recorded by Latter-day Saints living in Missouri were presented, and the Missouri revelations’ significance was also examined. Following are excerpts from a few of the presentations:
Reflections by Early Latter-day Saints
“Two of the best descriptions of cultural differences in western Missouri and some areas of the United States from which some Mormons had emigrated were identified in the writings of Edward Stevenson and Emily Partridge. ‘Everything was different,’ Emily explained. All seemed so strange in our new home, plenty of Indians … , and the white folks were so different in their customs and manner of speaking.
“One of the best descriptions of the Church’s involvement in the settlement of Far West and vicinity was recorded in one of the few Mormon diaries or journals written during the late 1830s. Albert Rockwood observed that much of the land in and near Far West was initially purchased by Church leaders. Some of this land was then leased to Church firms … [and] by uniting members with different skills helped many families obtain homes shortly after arriving in the Missouri frontier.” (“Reflections of Early Latter-day Saints,” Milton V. Backman Jr., professor of Church history and doctrine, Brigham Young University.)
“In portraying Amanda Barnes Smith, biographers have used phrases of description such as ‘remarkable pioneer woman,’ ‘woman of great faith,’ and ‘heroine of the Haun’s Mill Massacre.’ These and many other flattering words of characterization can only provide a glimpse of the woman whom I have come to know as Grandmother Amanda. Through inconceivable trial and tragedy, Amanda Smith stretched the power of faith, and as a result, miracles occurred. While her entire life provided opportunities for the nurturing of such stalwart faith, Amanda’s agonizing experiences in Missouri, especially the massacre at Haun’s Mill [in which she lost her husband and son], illustrate clearly the development of her unwavering confidence in God. With no mortal to whom she could turn, Amanda relied entirely upon God for inspiration, assurance, and comfort.” (“None but God as Our Physician and Help: Amanda Smith at Haun’s Mill,” R. Drew Smith, descendant of Amanda Smith.)
Church Expansion and the New Jerusalem
“Throughout the twentieth century Church leaders have urged the Saints to remain in their own lands, strengthen the Church, and establish stakes of Zion. …
“The General Authorities have continued to urge the Saints to develop the qualities which must characterize those who build Zion. …
“As part of its broadened focus, the Church has increasingly erected temples in many lands. Temple work will accelerate even further during the Millennium. ‘When the Savior comes,’ foresaw Elder Wilford Woodruff, ‘a thousand years will be devoted to this work of redemption; and Temples will appear all over this land of Joseph—North and South America—and also in Europe and elsewhere. …’
“Despite this broader view of the gathering and of temple building, the Saints have continued to show a keen interest in the land of Missouri, the center place, and the future temple to be built there.” (“The Great Temple of the New Jerusalem,” Richard O. Cowan, professor of Church history and doctrine, Brigham Young University.)
Rumor in Richmond
“The Saints rose above the rumors that threatened to bury them in Richmond. They removed to Illinois and created their ‘city beautiful,’ Nauvoo. The persecutions that they underwent in Missouri strengthened their resolve and helped to separate the true believers from those susceptible to the powerful pull of hearsay, conjecture, and rumor. The former Saints who remained in Richmond never attained the spiritual heights of those who endured; instead, the deception they practiced against the Mormons signaled the beginning of fifty years of turmoil in Missouri.” (Susan Easton Black, professor of Church history and doctrine, Brigham Young University.)