It’s been a really interesting couple of days.
After my remarks on Mormonism and Islam to a mixed-faith audience on behalf of the St. Louis chapter of the BYU Alumni Association, my wife and I drove across Missouri to the Kansas City area. We arrived here too late to hear Susan Easton Black Durrant’s lecture in the rotunda of the Visitors Center at Liberty Jail, but we did manage to hear the results of Alex Baugh’s research into the history of the Jail and of the Visitors Center itself — the fiftieth anniversary of which has been marked this weekend. After an excellent outdoor barbecue across the street, we returned to the rotunda and I gave a talk from the upper floor of the reconstructed Jail entitled “Suffering, Lies, and Injustice: Lessons from Liberty.” (I would never have imagined myself being permitted into the structure, let alone speaking from it. This was a singular honor and privilege, as I felt that I was on holy ground.)
Afterwards, we drove over to and around the still relatively new Kansas City Missouri Temple, which is both more magnificent and more spectacularly situated than the photographs of it had prepared me to expect. It looms above the 495 Freeway in a manner that reminds me of the Washington DC Temple or the San Diego Temple.
One of the real high points of the visit was the chance to spend time, both at the barbecue and then after my speech, with Ted Vaggalis, a great and thoughtful guy who really deserves to be a fan of some baseball team that is less evil than the Yankees.
This morning, we attended sacrament services in the new stake center adjacent to the Temple, which is only minutes from our hotel, and then we drove up to the Mormon historic site of Adam-ondi-Ahman, in Daviess County. A beautiful day, and beautiful scenery. We next drove down to Kingston, where we paid our respects at the grave of John Whitmer, one of the Eight Witnesses to the Book of Mormon, and then over to what remains of the briefly thriving May-October 1838 Mormon community of Far West. Specifically, we walked the site where the four corner stones of the never-built Far West Temple were laid and still remain. It was from here, in one of the most daring stories from early Mormon history, that the enormously important apostolic mission to England began:
On 8 July 1838, in answer to the question “Show us thy will, O Lord, concerning the Twelve,” Joseph Smith received the revelation at Far West that is now known as Doctrine and Covenants 118. It includes these two verses:
And next spring let them depart to go over the great waters, and there promulgate my gospel, the fulness thereof, and bear record of my name. Let them take leave of my saints in the city of Far West, on the twenty-sixth day of April next, on the building-spot of my house, saith the Lord. (Doctrine and Covenants 118:4-5)
But Far West had become a ghost town by 26 April 1839. Virtually all of the Latter-day Saints were now refugees in Illinois. In fact, on 27 October 1838, Missouri governor Lilburn W. Boggs had issued his infamous Missouri Executive Order 44, which declared that “the Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace—their outrages are beyond all description.”
Enemies of the Mormons were boasting, therefore, that this was one prophecy of “Joe Smith” that would never be fulfilled.
But the Twelve, under the leadership of Brigham Young, made their way quietly to the temple site at Far West nonetheless, and, at considerable risk but on the day appointed, took their leave for England. Before leaving, however, they ordained Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith to fill two vacancies in their number.
We then made our way back to Liberty Jail, where Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of the Twelve and Elder Robert C. Gay of the First Quorum of the Seventy and the Mormon historian Karl Ricks Anderson spoke in the rotunda (having just flown in from Kirtland, Ohio). And, in the evening, we were privileged to attend a public fireside in the stake center by the Temple that was addressed by, among others, Brother Anderson, Elder Gay, and Elder Ballard. There was a huge crowd that extended all the way back to, and onto, the stage in the cultural hall. And I’m told that the fireside was broadcast to six other stake centers in the Kansas City area, as well as two ordinary chapels.
It pleases me enormously to realize that, 175 years after the unjust imprisonment of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in Liberty Jail and the expulsion of the Mormons from Missouri under threat of extermination, a massive Latter-day Saint temple stands only a very few miles — almost within visual range — of Liberty. In the 1830s, Mormons tried to build three temples in Missouri — in Far West, Adam-ondi-Ahman, and Independence — but they were prevented from doing so and were driven out. Today, there are two temples in the state, in Kansas City and St. Louis — larger and grander than anything those early-nineteenth-century Saints could have imagined.
In a revelation given to the Prophet Joseph Smith in March 1839 in Liberty Jail, where he had languished under terrible conditions through the winter, the Lord told him:
My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes. (Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8)
Posted from Kansas City, Missouri