Today, Mormons celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. It is common to speak of the Mormon Church as the quintessential American religion. Despite its global outreach, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is still governed from Salt Lake City and utilises American mores for its cultural currency. For Joseph Smith, America was the land of promise, the New Jerusalem. In the Book of Mormon, Jesus appears on the American continent after his Ascension from the Holy Land.
And yet Joseph was also wholly un-American and for this America murdered him and chased his people into the wilderness. He favoured a communitarian theocracy; he had himself crowned king [disputed] whilst also serving as city major, lieutenant general, prophet, and priest; he instituted family practices that were shocking to Victorian America (polygamy); he destroyed a printing press when it ran inflammatory articles on him; on the slave-owning American frontier he supported abolition.
On June 27, 1844, Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob. He had been granted protection by the State of Illinois, but was betrayed by its governor.
It seems America has a penchant for killling it prophets, the crazy and the noble, from Lincoln, to Koresh, to King and Kennedy. I wonder why this is. Smith once described himself as a “rough stone rolling down a hill.” Perhaps America cannot tolerate rough stones.
I am a believer. I believe Joseph Smith desired equity, charity, and justice for his people and for America. I wholeheartedly recommend his story.
The world hardly knows Joseph Smith. Mormon detractors demonize him, believers beatify him. But as the founder of America’s most successful homegrown religion, he deserves some kudos today.
[Friendly suggestion: religious discussions about Joseph abound at the Mormon blogs.]