Official LDS essay details violent acts against and by Mormons during 1800s

Published: Tuesday, May 20 2014 12:00 p.m. MDT

In 2007, President Henry B. Eyring of the church's First Presidency spoke at a sesquicentennial event at the site and expressed "profound regret" for the massacre.

“The gospel of Jesus Christ that we espouse abhors the cold-blooded killing of men, women and children," he said. "Indeed, it advocates peace and forgiveness. What was done here long ago by members of our church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct. We cannot change what happened, but we can remember and honor those who were killed here.”

The church opened its archives to three church historians who wrote the book "Massacre at Mountain Meadows," which was published by the Oxford University Press in 2008.

Last week's essay summarized the book's finding by saying that "intemperate preaching about outsiders by Brigham Young, George A. Smith and other (church) leaders contributed to a climate of hostility, (but) President Young did not order the massacre.

"Rather, verbal confrontations between individuals in the wagon train and southern Utah settlers created great alarm, particularly within the context of the Utah War and other adversarial events. A series of tragic decisions by local Church leaders — who also held key civic and militia leadership roles in southern Utah — led to the massacre."

Baugh said that while non-LDS historians may not agree with every conclusion, the essays have been well-received in the academic community.

"They are well-done, well-annotated," he said. "They are straightforward, honest and balanced."

Baugh's dissertation, "A Call to Arms: The 1838 Mormon Defense of Northern Missouri," was one of the citations among the 47 footnotes to the newly posted essay.

The governments of Missouri and Illinois apologized in recent decades for the 19th-century violence committed in their states against Latter-day Saints.

In 1838, Missouri Gov. Lilburn Boggs ordered the expulsion or extermination of all Mormons. Though Latter-day Saints began to return to Missouri around 1860, the 1838 Mormon extermination order stayed on the books for more than 137 years.

In 1976, Missouri Gov. Christopher "Kit" Bond issued a new executive order that rescinded the extermination order. Bond expressed "deep regret for the injustice and undue suffering" caused by the 1838 order, which eventually forced more than 10,000 Latter-day Saints to abandon the state.

In 2004, the Illinois Legislature apologized to Latter-day Saints for violent events that included the murder of church founder Joseph Smith in 1844 and the expulsion of more than 20,000 church members from Illinois.

The Legislature's lengthy resolution sought "the pardon and forgiveness" of Latter-day Saints.

Baugh called the release of the essays a positive step in reviewing LDS Church history.

The church posted the latest essay, as it has the others, in the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org.

The church began to enhance or add new topic pages late last year.

Other Gospel Topics pages enhanced or added at LDS.org since early December include "Race and the Priesthood," "First Vision Accounts," "Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah," "Book of Mormon and DNA Studies," "Book of Mormon Translation" and "Becoming Like God."

Baugh said he shares the topic pages with students in his BYU classes about early LDS history. He also emails links to the topic pages to many in his own LDS congregation.

"It demonstrates the church's openness about these issues and demonstrates the church's stand on these issues," Baugh said. "I think it's absolutely terrific."

Email: twalch@deseretnews.com

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