Waiting For Saints 3

Three years ago this month, Saints, Volume 1: The Standard of Truth, 1815-1846 was published.  Saints, Volume 2: No Unhallowed Hand, 1846-1893 followed about a year-and-a-half later in February 2020.  If later volumes had followed the same cadence for releases, we’d have seen Saints, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent, 1893-1955 right around now and Saints, Volume 4: Sounded in Every Ear, 1955-The Recent Past in early 2023.[1]  I went to check on that recently and noticed that the Saints FAQ on the official site of the history series now indicates that: “Saints, Volume 2 was released in February 2020. Volumes 3 and 4 will follow at roughly the pace of one volume every 2 years.”[2]  So, we still have about six months to go before we see Volume 3 (sigh) and it will likely be at least early 2024 before we see Volume 4.  I’m not surprised that the volumes are taking longer than I had hoped they would to come out—they are complex undertakings and the COVID-19 pandemic has not been easy on project timelines.  I have been favorably impressed with the volumes out so far, however, and Volume 3 covers what may be my favorite time period of Church history, which is why I’m anxious to see it come out.

The portion of the painting being used as the covers for the books that will likely be used for Saints, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent, 1893-1955. Image courtesy of churchofjesuschrist.org[3]

While I wait for Saints, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent, 1893-1955 to come out early next year, I figured I’d take some time to discuss why the era of Church history that it covers is important and some of the challenges that the authors of the book will be facing.  The first two volumes of the Saints series covered what might be called the pioneer period of Church history—the era in which The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established and then developed while colonizing the Great Basin region of the American west (and also took root in Great Britain and the Pacific Islands).  While the modern Church very much emerged from what happened during the first 60 years of the Church’s existence, it has changed in a lot of significant ways and the 1890s through the 1950s is when we really see the modern Church emerging.  This happened as the Church underwent significant changes in response to pressure from the United States of America to give up plural marriage, theocracy, and the communitarian projects; in response to trying to re-establish financial stability for the organization after the Raid; and in response to establishing footholds in countries around the world.  It is also considered a golden age for theology in the Church, with prolific general authorities like B. H. Roberts, James E. Talmage, John A. Widtsoe writing books on Church doctrine and other notable Church leaders like Joseph F. Smith and Joseph Fielding Smith also giving shape to much of how the Church views its doctrine and ecclesiology today.  The timeframe of 1893-1955 essentially covers the development of the modern Church.

Some of the major contours of the era are as follows:  After resisting incursions from the culture and administration of the United States of America, Church resources had become exhausted and rather than give up the temples and the ability to function as an organization, the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints began a process of re-assimilating into American culture.  They reluctantly worked to give up political control over Church members and plural marriage, a process that was accelerated in the early 1900s after the election of apostle Reid Smoot to the U.S. Senate resulted in an extensive trial of all things Mormon in an effort to block him from acting in political office.  With the acceptance of Utah as a state in 1896 and the conclusion of the Reid Smoot hearings, however, those pressures began to recede, and the Church worked to reestablish its footings and resources.  Tithing was reemphasized, the Church continued to support and operate businesses, and modern auditing methods were incorporated in the Church’s financial system.  Church structure and organization (especially priesthood structure) underwent some modernization and reform, temple ordinances and work continued to develop, and early investigations into what we now call correlation took place.  It was during this time that the idea of emigrating to Utah was deemphasized and temples were constructed outside of the Church’s stronghold in the western U.S.  The Church and its membership were also involved in some social reforms of the early 20th century in the United States, including women’s rights, temperance (this is the era that the modern emphasis on the Word of Wisdom began), etc.  The Church continued to take root in Europe, despite opposition and two world wars, and began to also spread into Central and South America (particularly Mexico) at an accelerating rate.  World War II also opened doors for the Church to begin taking hold in eastern Asian countries.  The intellectual efforts of Church members began to really advance during this era as well.  This proved fruitful but also began to be challenging to the Church due to modern scientific theories like organic evolution, Biblical higher criticism, archeological evidence that challenged the Book of Mormon, modern historical efforts that challenged the founding narratives of the Church, etc.  In general, it was an era of development and consolidation for the Church that was hugely important in shaping what we experience as Mormonism today.

Thorny Issues

Now, the Saints series so far has made a name for being open about difficult issues, and I would imagine that this one will take the same tact.  Some of the thorny issues from this era that it will have to grapple with:

  1. Withdrawal from Political Involvement—Around the time that this volume picks up, the Church issued a political manifesto to the intent that it was going to withdraw from operating political parties and dictating voting habits to its members. In an effort to both show that they were participating in the American two-party system and to win favor with the GOP, Church leaders began to encourage members to vote more Republican rather than Democrat (which was the dominant party in the Church during the 1890s).  At times, this brought Church leaders into conflict with each other, since some Democrats like B. H. Roberts and Moses Thatcher felt that this was an effort by Republican-voting Church leaders to make gains for their political party using their religious positions of authority.  It is also debatable how successful the Church was in removing itself from politics in the end.  The election of high-ranking Church officials to positions in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate was also a major issue, with B. H. Roberts being barred from assuming office while Reid Smoot’s election prompted a thoroughgoing trial of the Church as a whole.
  2. Post-Manifesto Polygamy—While the Church officially announced that it was no longer sanctioning plural marriages in 1890, the principle had been hugely important to Church members and continued to be practiced in secret for years afterwards. This became more untenable during the Reid Smoot Hearings, leading to Church leaders dropping two members of the Quorum of the Twelve who had vocally supported continuing plural marriage and issuing a Second Manifesto that made performing new plural marriages an excommunicable offense.  Ending polygamy was a messy affair.
  3. Reid Smoot Hearings—As the inflection point for the two items listed above, the Reid Smoot Hearings were hugely important in the Church’s development. It can be a bitter pill to discuss in the Church, since it highlights that the Church’s leadership had allowed polygamy to continue after it said it would not allow that to happen, that Church leaders weren’t always honest and sometimes said things to avoid trouble (Joseph F. Smith saying that he had not received revelations is a particularly painful one, since he was serving as the president of the Church), and that plural marriage was given up more due to political expediency than any revelation or changes in doctrine.
  4. Evolution and Higher Criticism Controversies—Organic evolution was controversial among conservative Christian groups, as demonstrated by the Scopes Trial in 1925. It was not any different in the Church.  While some intellectuals like Nels L. Nelson, William Chamberlin, and B. H. Roberts made efforts to reconcile Church doctrine with evolution, efforts to denounce evolution as incompatible with Church doctrine by individuals like Joseph Fielding Smith would largely carry the day.  The 1911 modernism controversy at Brigham Young University was a major flashpoint, where four popular BYU professors who were teaching about evolution and Biblical higher criticism resigned after facing pressure from university and church officials to stop teaching what they had been saying on those subjects.  The Roberts-Smith-Talmage controversy of the 1930s was another major event where evolution was debated in the Church, which resulted in the Church’s current ambivalent official stance on the subject.
  5. Studies of the Book of Mormon—Elder B. H. Roberts was asked to draft a response to a series of questions by a non-member intellectual about the Book of Mormon. He had no great answers at first and began several years of research to figure out a good response, only to find that doing so proved more challenging than reassuring to the case for Book of Mormon historicity.  Throughout the 1920s, he presented his findings to both Church leaders and leading intellectuals in the Church and they were not well-received.
  6. Mormon History Developments—The first half of the 20th century was the era in which Mormon studies (particularly Mormon History) began to come of age. Dale Morgan, Juanita Brooks, and Fawn Brodie were all active during this time.  Leonard Arrington researched and wrote the content of Great Basin Kingdom and Thomas O’Dea was likewise working on The Mormons towards the end of this era.  While an exciting era of intellectual development for the Church that laid the groundwork from which the Saints series itself is emerging, the publication of Brodie’s No Man Knows My History: The Life of Joseph Smith (1945) and Brooks’s The Mountain Meadows Massacre (1950) both proved challenging to the Church.
  7. Race—While the priesthood and temple ban against individuals with black African ancestry took shape in Saints, Volume 2, there are a few key moments in the ongoing development of the ban that solidified its existence during the period covered by Saints, Volume 3. First, there is the time when Jane Manning James requested to be sealed into the Joseph Smith family and was only allowed to be sealed as a servant (rather than as a child) to Joseph Smith in 1894.  Second, after Jane Manning James’s death in 1908, Joseph F. Smith began to publicly accept the story that all priesthood ordinations of black men had been overturned by Joseph Smith, building up the idea that the ban had its origins in a revelation to Joseph Smith.  It’s not clear why he did so, since he had previously stood up for the fact that Elijah Abel had remained an ordained priesthood holder throughout his life using the priesthood certificates to prove it.  In any case, as a result, succeeding presidents of the Church believed that the ban was something that they should not change and enforced it as such, though David O. McKay began to take steps to narrow its application during his presidency.  The other major race-based issue from this era is the beginnings of the Indian student placement program in the late 1940s.
  8. Anti-Communist Focus—While I’m sure whether this is a thorny issue or not depends on your political opinions, the Cold War obsession of Ezra Taft Benson and David O. McKay towards fighting communism with its political ramifications for solidifying conservative political tendencies in the Church began during this era.

Greatest Hits

Every era of Church History has a set of stories and moments that are relatively well known and likely to be discussed in official Church histories—a set of greatest hits to cover, if you will.  Here are a few I see from this era that will likely come up in Saints, Volume 3:

  • Chicago World’s Fair of 1893—Three things happened here for the Church. First, Emmeline B. Wells presented to the National Council of Women.  Second, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed for the first time outside of Utah and won second place in the eisteddfod.  Third, B. H. Roberts was basically shut out of presenting in the Parliament of the World’s Religions because he was a Latter-day Saint.
  • Wilford Woodruff’s final testimony—the first extant audio recording of a prophet speaking, this testimony is a notable incident of President Woodruff bearing testimony towards the end of his life
  • Lorenzo Snow sees Jesus in the Salt Lake Temple—a story that comes to us through Lorenzo’s son tells us about how when Wilford Woodruff died and Lorenzo Snow was positioned to assume the presidency of the Church, Snow prayed in the Salt Lake Temple and was visited by the Lord on the grand staircase (which is a beautiful story in its own right and also sets up discussion of the first smooth succession in the First Presidency)
  • Lorenzo Snow reemphasizes tithing
  • First official female missionaries (Inez Knight and Lucy Jane (Jennie) Brimhall)
  • Martha Hughes Cannon beats her husband in the 1896 senate race, becoming the first female State Senator elected in the United States
  • Lorenzo Snow’s Grand Destiny of Man sermon—one of the most significant discourses on the concept of apotheosis in the Church, it’s famous for the couplet ‘As man now is, God once was; As God now is, man may become’
  • Development of the Church in Mexico—The Mexican mission was re-established in 1901 after a 12 year hiatus and began to see success despite opposition (the story of Andres Gonzalez writing the hymn “Placentero nos es trabajar” is a fun one that would fit in this story). There are also the Church colonies down there that developed and then were largely abandoned during this period.  With the revolutions during the early 20th century, the Anglo-American Mormon presence in Mexico was disrupted, allowing Mexican Saints to serve in leadership positions and develop/exercise the necessary skills to do so in their absence.  There was a schism in the 1930s and 1940s when the Anglo-Americans returned and reasserted control of the Church in Mexico while some Mexican Saints wanted to continue to lead the Church in their own country (the Third Convention) that eventually reconciled with the Church.
  • Relief Society founds its nurse training program in 1902
  • Heber J. Grant’s mission to Japan
  • Willard Bean as a missionary in Palmyra (the Fighting Parson/Preacher)
  • Joseph F. Smith’s vision about the redemption of the dead (Section 138)
  • Heber J. Grant calls Melvin Ballard instead of his friend Richard Young as an apostle despite every intention to call the latter
  • David O. McKay and Hugh J. Cannon’s world tour in the 1920s
  • Music and the Spoken Word’s first broadcast in 1929
  • Church leaders’ opposition to repealing Amendment 18 (Prohibition) and members in Utah voting to repeal it anyway
  • Establishment of Church welfare programs during the Great Depression
  • Reuben Clark’s 1938 “Charted Course for Church educators” address
  • Helmuth Hübener and his friends opposing fascism in Nazi Germany as a teenager and paying the price for doing so
  • Relief efforts after WWII (especially those involving Ezra Taft Benson reopening European missions)
  • Belle S. Spafford joins the National Council of Women, tries to pull out but is told to keep trying by George Albert Smith, then goes on to serve in leadership positions in the organization, including as leader of the United States delegation at the International Council of Women in 1954
  • Ezra Taft Benson serves as both an apostle and as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture
  • David O. McKay’s “Every member a missionary” mantra


Those are the key points, both thorny and otherwise, that I see Saints, Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent, 1893-1955 as being likely to cover.

Now, what all did I miss?  What are you interested in seeing in Saints, Volume 3?


Update: Some information about Saints 3 is available here:



[1] Volume titles listed in Tad Walch, “The first official multi-volume Latter-day Saint history since 1930, ‘Saints,’ is on sale today,” Deseret News, 4 September 2018, retrieved 2021-09-11, https://www.deseret.com/2018/9/5/20652803/the-first-official-multi-volume-latter-day-saint-history-since-1930-saints-is-on-sale-today#the-first-volume-of-a-new-set-of-books-about-key-events-in-church-history-is-now-on-bookstore-shelves-saints-the-standard-of-truth-is-the-first-of-an-official-four-volume-history-of-the-church-of-jesus-christ-of-latter-day-saints-it-went-on-sale-on-tuesday-sept-4-2018.  The time periods for the volumes are listed in Steven E. Snow, Saints: The Story of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Ensign February 2018, https://abn.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2018/02/saints-the-story-of-the-church-of-jesus-christ-in-the-latter-days?lang=eng#aside2_title1.

[2] Saints FAQ, accessed 2021-09-11, https://history.churchofjesuschrist.org/faq/saints-faqs?lang=eng

[3] Image displayed in Gerrit W. Gong, “All Nations, Kindreds, and Tongues,” CR October 2020, https://abn.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2020/10/24gong?lang=eng

17 comments for “Waiting For Saints 3

  1. I too am looking forward to volume 3. We’ve all been raised on stories and experiences which occurred during the founding and pioneer times; not so much during the established in Salt Lake times. I think it will be beneficial to learn some and integrate them into our collective knowledge.
    I hope that B.H. Roberts is represented in the book as much as he is here in this post.

  2. I would also flesh out:
    1.The increase of LDS participation in the U.S. armed forces during WWI and WWII.
    2. The adoption and development of Scouting
    3. J. Reuben Clark’s efforts to abolish plural marriage
    4. The rise of seminaries and institutes
    5. The relationship between RS and women’s suffrage.
    6.Evolving role of Relief Society/ role of women
    7. Changes to rites and ordinances

  3. Jader3rd, I’m hoping that we’ll get to hear more from Roberts as well. I think I actually complained about not having more of him in Volume 2. But, afterwards Matthew McBride noted that:

    “Another response from readers that will be increasingly common as we move into the latter volumes in the series is, “I wish you could have told the story of” such and such.

    “We wish we could too!

    “There are so many phenomenal stories and the selection process can be excruciating. We are trying to address this question with some of our digital support materials in the Gospel Library app, such as the Church History Topics and Global Histories.

    “Be aware that we also sometimes hold stories in reserve to tell them as backstory in later volumes. We did this with the story of Helen Mar Kimball Whitney’s experience with plural marriage in Nauvoo because it provided needed context to her defense of plural marriage in the 1870s.

    “And there are a couple stories some might expect to find in Saints Volume 2 that will actually be told in Volume 3. So be patient with us as we try to place the stories where we think they will best serve our readers.”

    So, here’s to hoping that’s partly in reference to Roberts.

  4. I heard that another thing making Vol 3-4 take longer, especially Vol 4, is that some of the participants are still alive, so there are more concerns to deal with about how events are depicted by those still with us.

  5. Looking forward to the world war content, especially from a more international perspective. If Helmuth Hübener and the growth in Polynesia isn’t featured heavily too I’m gonna riot. Also hoping for a lot of Amy Brown Lyman and Social Work, Relief Society Welfare content.

  6. You’re right RL, and I can’t believe I forgot to include Helmuth Hübener. I’ll add that to the post.

  7. Apostle John A Widtsoe died in 1952. This left the Church free to swing toward conservative Christianity, biblical literalism, and anti-science. This arc was exemplified by publication of “Man: His Origin and Destiny” and “Mormon Doctrine.”

  8. Yeah. Having both Joseph F. Merrill and Elder Widtsoe die that year as the last two scientist holdouts opened up the doors to a lot of that. We may see some discussion in Saints 3 about the controversy behind the scenes where David O. McKay was opposed to what Elder Smith was writing about evolution and did some subtle stuff to counter it (like having J. Reuben Clark Jr. give the “When Are Church Leaders’ Words Entitled to the Claim of Scripture?” talk at BYU). I’m not really expecting them to go into that, but that was the mid-1950s, so would be in that era.

  9. Speaking of Joseph Merrill, Casey Griffiths’ new biography, Truth Seeker, is an excellent report on a modest, straight-forward individual who was quietly important during the period covered by Volume 3.

  10. It should be quite interesting. Lots happening. I too am interested to see how some of these get handled.
    Thanks for the post.

  11. B. H. Robert’s did receive some mention in Saints Vol. 2 over his struggles to come to terms with the end of Polygamy.

    I strongly suspect that he will show up again. I suspect he will be mentioned in the context of the political manifesto. He will also be mentioned in the context of his lost election to office. Some mention of his writings will be brought up, and his role as a chaplain in WWI and a New York City mission president in the 1920s will be brought up.

    So too may be his strong opposition to women voting.

    John A. Widstoe we have seen as a child leaving Denmark and as a youth fully in the Church in Logan, both as a deacon and as a priest, and thenas a student at Harvard. I think Susa Gates was about to head to Boston area as Vol. 2 closed, but she had not yet gone there, met Widstoe let alone started to plot marrying him to her daughter.

    Come to think of it Roberts is a big figure in the Chicago World’s Fair, although his role there more shows that there are limits to acceptance at that point.

  12. Someone mentioned the issue of how to cover the living being an issue.

    Russell M. Nelson is unlikely to be mentioned in Vol. 3.

    However Howard W. Hunter and Gordon B. Hinckley both might appear.

    I know neither is alive, but they are not among those who are from the deep past.

    Howard W. Hunter was closely involved with the start of early morning seminary as a stake president. This is a story less told than Joseph F. Merrill’s role in the start of seminary, but I think more crucial to the international stability of the Church.

    Gordon B. Hinkley has a significant rule in the world’s fair and other exhibitions of the 1930s. Still everything there is just a build up to the crowning wonder of the public exhibition in the 1962 New York World Fair. So some of that might be left out.

    Another person I really hope to see is Eduardo Balderas. He was the first full time translator for the Church. When he came on only the Book of Mormon existed in Spanish. He did the Doctrine and Covenants translation with Antoine Ivins and the Pearl of Great Price on his own.

    Balderas and Ivins do the first translation of the endowment ever, although the idea started with the Mexican American mission president based in El Paso, Texas and is conveyed to headquarters by Joseph Fielding Smith after he toured that mission.

    This is in some ways hard to get our minds around. The endowment was not given in a language other than English until about 105 years after it was first given. 1946 is the year it is first translated.

    General conference would not be translated until 1960.

    While emigration to Utah is no longer officially encouraged in the 1890s those coming to Utah by train in the early 1950s from Europe still feel they are gathering to Zion and with no temples or even stakes in Europe it is easy to see why they feel that way.

    It is not until the early 1970s that President Lee explicitly says you can build Zion where you are. I have heard accounts of how going to listen to President Lee’s talk on that subject at the area general conference changed the way members in Mexico viewed a lit of things. Even then it is not the voice of President Lee those who understand Spanish hear, but the voice of Eduardo Balderas. It is not until the 2010s that a president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints gives a public discourse in a language other than English, and during that decade I think such discourses are only in Spanish.

    So I get ahead of myself. 1955 may see a temple in Switzerland but at that year all stakes still function in English and all stakes outside the US are still in basically based in Latter-day Saint founded communities, although a few stakes in Western Canada may be that year not fit that description.

    It will be interesting to see what we end up with. I want it as soon as possible, but also do not want a rushed project that is not at the best possible.

  13. It would be nice to hear some of the experiences the German Saints were going through during World War II.

  14. Volumes 1 & 2 did an exceptionally good job tackling the thorny issues, and resolved questions for me that had bothered me for decades. I’m excited to see if Vol. 3 will do the same.

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