A few months ago, while traveling on a rickety bus in Peru from Cusco to Puno, I read Craig Campbell’s Images of the New Jerusalem: Latter Day Saint Faction Interpretation of Independence, Missouri. While it has been several years since it was published, it has not received nearly enough attention in Mormon circles. The introduction states that it “is a historical interpretation of the millenial geography of Independence and its surroundings as seen by the Latter Day Saint churches” (xiv). While it is a geographical study, written by a professor of geography, I found the book fascinating and a great contribution to Mormon History. Besides getting a few facts wrong (including several pretty obvious mistakes like writing that the Saints purchased Independence land in 1832 rather than 1831), it appears to be very accurate to historical sources. More importantly, I found it to be very astute in chronicling how Mormon thought has changed regarding this sacred space in the Midwest.
Campbell does a laudable job in articulating the progression in how the various Mormon groups interpreted what Joseph Smith called the location for the New Jerusalem. While he does touch on many different Mormon movements, he focuses primarily on the views of the LDS Church, the Community of Christ, and the RLDS branches. I felt that he is fair to all three groups (though his tone iss harshest towards the LDS Mormons, which is ironic since he is in the bishopric of an LDS ward), and is also very careful in demonstrating how there is wide diversity even within each movement. Besides learning lots of new information concerning RLDS views of Independence that I hadn’t known beforehand, I was very intrigued on how he presented our own evolving views of Missouri.
One interesting point that stood out to me was the transition the “Brighamites” made after moving to Utah. While Saints in Joseph’s lifetime felt Zion needed to be established immediately, it changed during Brigham’s tenure to something more in the future: “the image of Jackson County as an almost folkloric destiny was employed to spur the Saints to make the Salt Lake Valley a lovely place” (128). Campbell persuasively demonstrates how Utah leaders used a “carrot-before-the-horse technique to motivate development” (129). Teaching that only those who are worthy could return to Zion, they urged their followers to build up the temporary kingdom in Deseret in order to be prepared.
Campbell also explored the tensions within LDS culture today concerning Independence. One end of the spectrum believes that we could pack up and move back any day now, while the other end is questioning whether there is a future in Independence at all. The official position of the Church itself is hard to pinpoint, because on the one hand they are buying up massive amounts of land in Missouri, while at the same time they are reluctant to put a temple in Kansas City when the demographics suggest one is needed. Campbell also includes many intriguing excerpts from books, newspapers, and folklore stories to demonstrate the different views.
While I could share more insights from the book, there are three reasons why I feel this book is worthy of more attention than it has received. First, it is published by University of Tennessee Press, which is a publisher new to the Mormon scholarship scene. Second, being a geographical work, it is a new framework in which to explore Mormon history. I especially appreciated Chapter 9, entitled “Independence Classified,” where he places the Mormon view of Zion within the larger view of other “sacred spaces,” particularly in Asia. And third, I really enjoyed the fact that the study looks at several different groups within the larger Mormon movement.
All in all, I think that Images of the New Jerusalem is a real gem that has been overlooked. Has anyone else read it? Has anyone else even heard about it? Also, how do you guys feel about the evolution of the Mormon view of Independence?
 Ron Romig and David Howlett did review it for Journal of Mormon History, and gave it a generally favorable review.