5 questions answered about Parley P. Pratt

By Kurt Manwaring

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Oct. 30 2011 5:00 a.m. MDT

Terryl Givens, left, and Matthew Grow discuss their new biography of Parley P. Pratt at Benchmark Books on Oct. 14.

Benchmark Books

The life of Parley P. Pratt is inextricably linked with the early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow shed additional light on Pratt’s life and his influence on the early history of the LDS Church in their new biography, “Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism.” The contents of the book, along with a recent lecture by the authors at Benchmark Books in Salt Lake City, provide answers to many questions about Pratt, including the following:

In what ways is Pratt comparable to the Apostle Paul?

Givens and Grow refer to Pratt in the subtitle of their biography as “the Apostle Paul of Mormonism.” While the authors acknowledge there are significant differences between the two, they also point out three ways in which Pratt is similar to the Apostle Paul.

First, just as Paul’s writings “systematized and popularized Jesus’s teachings,” Pratt was a prolific writer who both clarified and expanded upon key doctrines revealed by Joseph Smith Jr. His writings helped bring masses into the newly formed church and continue to influence Mormon theology today.

Second, Pratt mirrored the Apostle Paul in “extensive missionary travels (that) helped put his movement on the path from small sect to worldwide religion.” Pratt’s unique gifts and his commitment to missionary work led Brigham Young to declare men like Pratt “ought never to be called upon to do (another day’s) work,” but rather should devote their lives to missionary service. Year after year, mission after mission, Pratt wore out his life in preaching the gospel.

Lastly, just as Paul endured persecution and died for his beliefs, so Pratt “reveled in opposition and persecution, and in his own eyes and the beliefs of the Latter-day Saints, met a martyr’s death.”

How accurate is Pratt’s autobiography?

Pratt had a flair for the dramatic, but Givens and Grow find Pratt’s autobiography to be very accurate. In fact, the authors rely heavily upon Pratt’s self-portrait in their own work. At the same time, they point out autobiographies “conceal as much as they reveal,” and explain Pratt’s work is no exception. While his writings are factual, “he’s telling the story of how he became the Apostle he was in the 1850s.” Consequently, certain events are unevenly emphasized (such as his imprisonment in Missouri) while others are generally omitted (such as details about his family life).

What was the nature of Pratt’s relationship with Joseph Smith?

Pratt revered Joseph as a prophet of God. He “enjoyed Smith’s intimate association at a number of periods in his life, including their initial confinement together in Missouri.” He soaked in the Prophet's teachings and friendship.

However, unlike many others who were deeply influenced by Joseph’s “prophetic charisma,” the Book of Mormon was Pratt’s primary tool of conversion. His “esteem for Smith was a function of his respect for the office he held and the role he filled in the Latter-day restoration.”

Pratt parted ways with Joseph once in 1837 “in a personal dispute over a failed business transaction.” While it was a dark period in his life, he soon sought reconciliation and “never again wavered in his devotion to Smith or the church he led.” His autobiography records, “I went to brother Joseph in tears, and, with a broken heart and contrite spirit, confessed wherein I had erred in spirit, murmured, or done or said amiss.”

Joseph was quick to forgive and the two remained close for the rest of their lives.

What was the influence of Pratt on early Mormon theology?

Pratt had a substantial influence on early Mormon doctrine.

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