Unit 25: Day 1, The Church Moves to Northern Missouri

    “Unit 25: Day 1, The Church Moves to Northern Missouri,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students (2017)

    “Unit 25: Day 1,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide

    Unit 25: Day 1

    The Church Moves to Northern Missouri


    In 1837 and 1838, the Prophet Joseph Smith and other Church leaders nobly led the Church through a difficult season. As a result of economic distress, greed, faultfinding, and persecution, an estimated 10 or 15 percent of the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, apostatized, including some prominent Church leaders. Faithful Saints in Ohio began moving to join those in northern Missouri. Far West, Missouri, became the headquarters of the Church until the Saints were forced to leave the city in early 1839. This lesson can help you understand and learn from historical events and give you insights into the revelations received during this period.

    Difficulties and Apostasy in Kirtland, Ohio

    Ponder the following question: Do difficulties and trials help strengthen your faith, or does your faith weaken during those times?

    In 1837 and 1838, a period of trials led many of the Saints to face this question. While some of their trials were the results of persecution from outside the Church, many were the results of contention within the Church. As you study this lesson, ponder how our reaction to trials can either strengthen or weaken our faith in Jesus Christ.

    map, Missouri to Ohio

    Kirtland, Ohio, in relation to sites in northern Missouri

    As you read the following historical summary, consider what principles you can learn from the events described:

    In 1837, the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, experienced some financial problems. To help the Saints be more self-sufficient in their finances, the Prophet Joseph Smith and other Church leaders established the Kirtland Safety Society, a company similar to a bank. Because of a widespread economic depression during this time, many banks failed throughout the nation. The Kirtland Safety Society also failed in the fall of 1837. Two hundred investors in the bank lost almost everything, with Joseph Smith sustaining the greatest losses. Even though the Kirtland Safety Society was not funded by the Church, some of the Saints considered it a Church bank or the Prophet’s bank and blamed Joseph for their financial problems. Some even began calling him a fallen prophet. But despite the bank’s failure, many others who lost money remained faithful and stayed true to the Prophet. (See Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 171–73.)

    President Brigham Young

    A spirit of apostasy and faultfinding spread among many of the Saints. Brigham Young described an occasion when some of the Church members, including Church leaders, met to renounce Joseph Smith and appoint a new prophet: “Several of the Twelve, the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and others of the Authorities of the Church, held a council in the upper room of the Temple. The question before them was to ascertain how the Prophet Joseph could be deposed, and David Whitmer appointed President of the Church. … I rose up, and in a plain and forcible manner told them that Joseph was a Prophet, and I knew it, and that they might rail and slander him as much as they pleased, they could not destroy the appointment of the Prophet of God, they could only destroy their own authority, cut the thread that bound them to the Prophet and to God and sink themselves to hell” (Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1801–1844, ed. Elden Jay Watson [1968], 15–16).

    1. journal icon
      Answer the following questions in your scripture study journal:

      1. What truths can we learn from these historical events?

      2. What would you have done to remain faithful to the Prophet during this time of faultfinding? When has enduring a trial with faith strengthened your faith in Jesus Christ?

      3. In what ways has following the prophet been a spiritual protection for you?

    By June 1838, approximately 200 or 300 apostates had left the Church, including four Apostles, the Three Witnesses of the Book of Mormon, and a member of the First Presidency (see Church History in the Fulness of Times, 177). However, most of the Saints responded to this period of testing with faith, much like Brigham Young did. They were strengthened by the Lord, and they remained true to their testimonies. Several of those who left the Church during this period of apostasy later returned and requested that they be reunited again with the Lord’s Church. Among them were Oliver Cowdery, Martin Harris, Luke Johnson, and Frederick G. Williams.

    In the midst of these struggles in Kirtland, a few apostates sought to kill Joseph Smith. Luke Johnson, who had himself apostatized from the Church, had enough integrity to warn the Prophet of the plot. Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon left Kirtland in January 1838. They were pursued for days, but the Lord protected them. They arrived with their families in Far West, Missouri, in March 1838.

    Northern Missouri

    Look at the state of Missouri on the map at the beginning of this lesson. When the Saints were driven from Jackson County, Missouri, in 1833, the citizens of a neighboring county welcomed them and gave them temporary relief, anticipating that the Saints would stay for only a short time. However, after the Saints had lived there for almost three years, these citizens began pressuring them to leave the county.

    As you read the following historical summary, consider what principles you can learn from the events described:

    In 1837, John Whitmer and William W. Phelps, the two counselors in the Missouri stake presidency, used Church funds to purchase land in a place known as Far West in northern Missouri. However, when they offered parcels of land to incoming Saints, they sold the land for a small profit, which they kept for themselves. Nonetheless, the high council in Missouri forgave them and appointed others to distribute the land. However, John and William continued to try to profit from the sale of lands. In 1838, the high council excommunicated them. (See Church History in the Fulness of Times, 183–85.)

    Joseph Smith upheld the council’s action, and William was offended. In November 1838, he signed an affidavit against the Prophet. This affidavit contributed to Joseph and others being arrested and thrown into Liberty Jail for the winter.

    In jail, the Prophet Joseph Smith and those with him suffered immensely, not only from the brutal conditions of their imprisonment but also from reports of the Saints being driven from their homes and abused in many ways. The Missouri mobs, unchecked by the governor, destroyed property and killed 17 people at a mill owned by a man named Jacob Haun.

    William W. Phelps suffered spiritually for his actions, and he wrote Joseph a letter asking for forgiveness. The Prophet wrote back:

    Joseph Smith

    “It is true, that we have suffered much in consequence of your behavior—the [bitter cup], already full enough for mortals to drink, was indeed filled to overflowing when you turned against us. …

    “However, the cup has been drunk, the will of our Father has been done, and we are yet alive, for which we thank the Lord. …

    “Believing your confession to be real, and your repentance genuine, I shall be happy once again to give you the right hand of fellowship, and rejoice over the returning prodigal. …

    “‘Come on, dear brother, since the war is past, / For friends at first, are friends again at last’” (in History of the Church, 4:163–64).

    handwritten letter

    A portion of Joseph Smith’s letter to William W. Phelps

    1. journal icon
      Answer the following questions in your scripture study journal:

      1. Why is it difficult to forgive a friend who has betrayed you and caused you to suffer?

      2. What principle can we learn from Joseph Smith’s example? (This principle might remind you of the scripture mastery passage in Doctrine and Covenants 64:9–11. You may want to review that passage to see how it relates to the experience of Joseph Smith and W. W. Phelps.)

      3. What other lessons can we learn from this account?

    2. journal icon
      Choose one of the principles you identified from these two historical summaries. In your scripture study journal, write about when you have seen an example of it in your life or in the life of someone you know.

    Events Leading to the Saints’ Expulsion from Northern Missouri

    Have you ever seen a member of the Church make a choice that resulted in another person having a negative impression of the Church? You may also want to consider how your own actions have influenced others’ impressions of the Church.

    Why is it important for us to think about how our actions or words reflect on the Church?

    In 1838 the actions and words of some Church members added to the negative feelings some citizens of Missouri had toward Latter-day Saints. As you read the following historical summary, look for things that some of the Saints said or did that hurt the Church and its members. Consider marking what you find.

    In 1837 and 1838 some disaffected and excommunicated members of the Church living among the Saints in Far West, Missouri, began to bring lawsuits against the Church and to harass the Church. Some of the Saints began to grow impatient with these dissenters. In June 1838, Sidney Rigdon spoke heatedly in what has become known as the “Salt Sermon.” He referenced Matthew 5:13 and said that if the salt loses its savor, it is good for nothing and should be cast out, implying that those who had left the Church should be cast out from among the Saints. Additionally, 84 Church members signed a document ordering the apostates to leave the county. Two weeks later, on July 4, Sidney gave a speech where he promised that the Saints would defend themselves even if it came to a “war of extermination.” Though both of these speeches seemed to contradict the Lord’s instruction to “sue for peace” (D&C 105:38), both speeches were published and caused great alarm among non–Latter-day Saints. (See Church History in the Fulness of Times, 191–92.)

    On August 6, 1838, a group of Saints tried to vote in Gallatin, Missouri, but were attacked by a group of Missourians. The Saints fought back, and men on both sides were injured. This incident led to additional conflicts and threats and increased the misunderstanding between the Latter-day Saints and their neighbors in Missouri. (See Journals, Volume 1: 1832–1839, vol. 1 of the Journals series of The Joseph Smith Papers [2008], 298–301.)

    During this time a convert named Sampson Avard administered secret oaths to those who would join him in forming a band of marauders called the Danites. Avard instructed them to rob and plunder the Missourians, saying that this would help build up the kingdom of God.

    Avard convinced his followers that his directions were coming from the First Presidency. The truth was later discovered, and Avard was excommunicated. Avard’s actions caused significant damage to the image of the Church and helped lead to the Prophet’s imprisonment in Liberty Jail.

    covered wagons

    The Saints were forced to leave Far West, Missouri.

    In October 1838 there was a battle between some members of the Church and Missouri militiamen. Exaggerated reports of the battle reached Governor Boggs, who then issued an extermination order: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state, if necessary for the public good” (in History of the Church, 3:175). Soon, the city of Far West was surrounded by a militia that outnumbered the Saints’ forces five to one. The Prophet Joseph Smith and other Church leaders were imprisoned in Liberty Jail, where they remained all winter. The rest of the Saints were forced to leave the state. (See Church History in the Fulness of Times, 199–200, 204208.)

    One principle we could identify from this time period is that our actions and words can influence how others view the Church of Jesus Christ.

    Why do you think it is important for us to recognize that the actions of some early Church members contributed to the negative opinions some Missourians had about the Church?

    Although our poor choices can influence others to view the Church negatively, we can also help others have a positive view of the Church through our words and actions.

    1. journal icon
      In your scripture study journal, write about a time when you have seen someone’s words or actions influence someone to have a positive view of the Church.

    Watch for ways to represent the Church of Jesus Christ positively during the next week. As you do, the Lord will bless you.

    One of the main principles we can learn from this time in Church history is that as we choose to respond to trials with faith rather than doubt, our testimonies can be strengthened.

    1. journal icon
      Answer the following question in your scripture study journal: What will I do differently because of the doctrines and principles I learned today?

    2. journal icon
      Write the following at the bottom of today’s assignments in your scripture study journal:

      I have studied “The Church Moves to Northern Missouri” lesson and completed this lesson on (date).

      Additional questions, thoughts, and insights I would like to share with my teacher: