From the Archives: The Times and Seasons on Suffering, Donations, and Salvation

By November 9, 2007

Early Latter-day Saints saw the world through martyrological lenses. To suffer persecution was the ultimate sign of chosenness and the Saints themselves used the memory their persecutions to draw distinct boundaries between themselves and their neighbors that had not suffered. Given this persecution discourse, many Nauvoo Saints that had not been in Missouri in 1838 yearned to be persecuted as had been their brethren.[1] The following excerpt from a letter written by Bishop Alanson Ripley, who had been in Missouri, shows how the Saints negotiated these boundaries to include those that had not actually suffered persecution.

The appeal of the church to the American people, clearly and understandingly sets forth the outrages practised upon the saints by the mob in the State of Missouri, a parallel of which cannot be produced in the annals of history since the days of our saviour; for we were stoned, we were whipped, we were robbed, we were imprisoned, and plundered, of all we possessed, and many of the saints sealed their testimony with their blood. But thanks be to our God, we take the spoiling of our goods[,] and the wasting of substance joyfully, knowing  that we have a building of God, a house not made with hands eternal in the heavens, and being expelled as we were from our homes, and plundered of all our property, renders us almost destitute of means to carry on the works which the Lord our God has commanded us to do…

[W]e firmly believe that the brethren who have funds will notice this appeal and come to our aid, and give us influence, so that they may be heirs with those who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this obtain a knowledge that the course of life which they pursue is according to the will of God.—See book of covenants, lecture 6, 9th paragraph.

It is vain for persons to fancy themselves that they are heirs with those, or can be heirs with them who have offered their all in sacrifice, and by this means obtained faith with God and favor with him, so as to obtain eternal life, unless they, in like manner offer unto him the same sacrifice, and through that offering obtain a knowledge that they are accepted of him.[2]

[1] Historian Stephen J. Fleming argues that “Mormonism gave the particularly romantic the potential opportunity to suffer for conscience sake. [Edward] Hunter felt that he had missed out on something by joining Mormonism after the Missouri expulsion. Shortly before his death, Joseph Smith asked Hunter to go talk to the governor of Illinois, explaining, “?You have always wished to have been with us from the commencement. If you go to Springfield and do this business for me now in this time of danger, it shall be as though you had been in Missouri and had always been with us.'” [HC 6:492]  In this way, Mormonism allowed these converts to live out their romanticized heritage” (Stephen J. Fleming, “?Congenial to Almost Every Shade of Radicalism’: The Delaware Valley and the Success of Early Mormonism,” Religion and American Culture 17, no. 2 [Summer 2007]: 149). [2] Times and Seasons, July 1840, 137.

Article filed under Categories of Periodization: Origins Cultural History From the Archives


  1. Very interesting post, David. This is the first time I have seen an early saint use Lectures on Faith in any sort of text.

    Whats even more interesting to me, is not only is there a yearning of those who had not experienced the persecutions to take part in it somehow, but it seems like there is a somewhat elitist feel coming from those who did experience it.

    Comment by Ben — November 9, 2007 @ 11:13 am

  2. This reminds me of Laurence Moore’s argument that the Mormon Church nurtured an identity of persecution. Does Fleming mention Moore?

    Comment by Justin — November 9, 2007 @ 12:05 pm

  3. I don’t want to threadjack this post, but the last paragraph strikes me as very similar to discourse by Mormon leaders later in the 19th century regarding plural marriage. In fact, if you read just the last paragraph alone, it could very well be from a George Q. Cannon sermon in the 1870s.

    David, do you see polygamy discourse of this sort replacing the memory of Missouri persecutions during the Utah years? Or do they co-exist (and possibly reinforce one another)?

    Comment by Christopher — November 9, 2007 @ 12:28 pm

  4. Justin: He doesn’t cite Moore in his article, but I know that Steve is familiar with Religious Outsiders and its argument. Steve’s primary contribution to our understanding of persecution’s role in early Mormon identity construction is the evidence he presents that many early Mormons (including Edward Hunter) were descended from Quakers and other radicals. As such, they had family martyrological traditions and were drawn to Mormonism for what they saw as a manifestation of God’s suffering church.

    Comment by David Grua — November 9, 2007 @ 6:08 pm

  5. Ben: This is the only reference I’ve come across of the Lectures on Faith as well. I agree that it is fascinating to see this yearning to suffer and the accompanying implication that those that do not suffer persecution do not have the same blessings. This Ripley letter is by far the most explicit statement I’ve come across that offers suggestions for those that did not suffer.

    Comment by David Grua — November 9, 2007 @ 6:12 pm

  6. Chris: I’m not as familiar with the polygamy discourse, but I can say that Mormons do not stop talking about Missouri during the Raid. In fact, as I argued in my Utah State Historical Society paper this year, the memory of the Missouri persecutions served to reinforce Mormon resolve during the 1880s in the face of federal prosecutions.

    Comment by David Grua — November 9, 2007 @ 6:14 pm

  7. […] Mormons in the late 19th-century carried on earlier traditions of viewing persecution as “the ultimate sign of chosenness.”  However, the fact that many Latter-day Saints attempted to avoid federal prosecution for […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » From the Archives: “A most important mission” in the Yuma Territorial Prison — November 15, 2007 @ 1:43 am

  8. […] were also adept in reversing their losses and turning them into triumphs. For Parley P. Pratt and other Latter-day Saints, being called to suffer and even die for the truth was preferable than the alternative of […]

    Pingback by Juvenile Instructor » Suffering as the Highest Good — January 30, 2008 @ 5:00 pm


Recent Comments

Ben S on Call for Applicants: Mormon: “Dang. Missing it by 36 hours.”

John Turner on What's in a name?: “Titles are hard because they serve so many purposes, as several of you have mentioned. I am also agonizing about my current project (it's a…”

Ben P on What's in a name?: “These are good questions, Janiece. I suck at coming up with titles, so I often rely on others. (Ironically, it was John Turner who came…”

JJohnson on What's in a name?: “I'm not so much opposed to the pithy quote title formula, as I am impressed when a non-semi-colon title is able to accomplish as much…”

J Stuart on What's in a name?: “I may stand alone but I like the pithy quote title formula, so long as it isn't too obscure. I think it's what the book…”

JJohnson on What's in a name?: “Secularism in Antebellum America's subtitle wins everything.”