As they walked down the streets of Palmyra, N.Y., professor S. Brent Plate and others from Hamilton College took notes of what they saw on their way to attend the Hill Cumorah Pageant, just one of their stops on a tour of LDS Church history sites.
The group was a part of a joint visual arts/religious studies project focused on documenting and exploring original sacred locations.
But what Plate didn’t expect to encounter in the small town filled with Mormon history was similar experiences to those Joseph Smith had described having two centuries ago.
"Walking down Palmyra's Main Street today, past history and old conflicts don't feel that past," Plate along with author Hannah Grace O'Connell wrote in the article, "Mormons, Anti-Mormons and Anti- Anti-Mormons," published on the Huffington Post.
"As we made our way toward Grandin Print Shop, where the first five thousand copies of the Book of Mormon were published, we are confronted by a slew of contention that was probably not unlike that experienced by Smith and his followers."
Plate continued to describe his encounter with members and missionaries of the LDS Church, along with the many groups of protesters.
"They are a diverse bunch, unaffiliated with any larger anti-LDS organization and spending their days downtown out of personal concern for the print shop faithful," Plate wrote. "They range from a local evangelical pastor to a former LDS member, the latter now proclaiming to be not only against the LDS church, but also against the protestors who are against the LDS church, and against all organized churches for that matter."
The number of groups proclaiming their truths only grew as Plate made his way to the Hill Cumorah Pageant. He said many had traveled long distances and were civil in their approach as they remained in their designated location outside of the pageant area.
"The exception is one definite dissenter with a bullhorn shouting anti-Mormon speeches that are heatedly angry and contain far too many puns (remove the middle "m" from Mormon)," Plate wrote. "But it's doubtful that anyone can hear this inside, where music swells in preparation for a roaring, epic recreation of the Book of Mormon."
They watched the performance and met with participants of the play and other members of the LDS Church. But the night came to an end and Plate was left to contemplate his experience in Palmyra. He once again likened it unto that of Joseph Smith's.
"In the end we're left with a clash of opinions and stories. The debate surrounding religion that pushed Joseph Smith to seek for his own truth has proven to be equally prevalent and contentious at the Palmyra of today as it was close to two centuries ago," Plate wrote.
"In all this hullabaloo, where else to go but to the very places where Joseph Smith found clarity and revelation? We head to the Sacred Grove at dawn, the site of Smith's first visions, and then on to the top of Hill Cumorah itself."
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