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Conflict in the Quorum: Orson Pratt, Brigham Young, Joseph Smith Hardcover – December 15, 2002

3.8 out of 5 stars 12 ratings

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Editorial Reviews


Historians of the American West who include the Mormon experience in their studies usually focus on settlement patterns, water rights, relationships with Native Americans, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, church and state conflicts, and plural marriage. Mormonism is depicted as a monolithic corporate structure that leaves little room for theological speculation and freedom of thought. Writers tend to believe that when the Lion of the Lord (Brigham Young) roared, all the thinking had been done and Utah grew silent. Only the sounds of church members rushing to fall into step filled the mountain air. Gary James Bergera relates a different story as he details the theological conflicts that raged between Brigham Young and Orson Pratt. Was Mormonism, according to Pratt's argument, to become a religion primarily bound to scripture or would it continue to find its fundamental strength in the living oracles who led the church, the position espoused by Brigham Young? Church members were aware of many of these conflicts. Accounts were published in Mormon newspapers and church leaders addressed subjects regarding Pratt's and Young's disagreements in public meetings as well as in the private gatherings of the Council of the Twelve Apostles. At the time, more church members sided with Young than Pratt, but in the twentieth century, Mormon leaders found many of the theories of Pratt more acceptable than those of Young. As Bergera points out, "reliance on Pratt has continued to be pervasive and unmistakable in Mormonism to the present" (p. 282). Pratt's difficulties with Joseph Smith and Brigham Young began in Kirtland, Ohio, where he and Joseph Smith argued over the pronunciation of a Hebrew word. They disagreed, too, over aspects of plural marriage and Pratt's belief that Joseph Smith had "made advances towards apostles' wives, including his own companion, Sarah" (p. 19). Pratt's conflicts with Smith's successor, Brigham Young, included disagreements over such theological issues as Young's Adam-God doctrine, Young's idea of the eternal progression of God, and on worshiping the attributes of deity. Bergera's primary sources are minutes of meetings of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, diary entries of participating parties in the conflicts, and the words of the combatants themselves. (Historians today are denied access to the minutes, an important trove of primary source material.) While Young clearly convinced other church leaders that even apostles were required to seek his approval before teaching or publishing new ideas, Pratt won the war of words. It can be effectively argued, as Bergera does, that today many of Pratt's theological ideas are supported in the writings of Mormon apostles, while those espoused by Young are believed to be flawed. Those convinced that leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have always been "monolithically unified" and afraid to speak their minds will find this book not only surprising but interesting as well. Bergera's volume whets the appetite of those interested in Mormon doctrine and points to the need for someone to research and write a multivolume history of Latter-day Saint theology. There is, I believe, a trove of documents available to historians in Mormon archives to make such a study possible. "The field is white, ready to harvest," to borrow a phrase often used in the Doctrine and Covenants, a book both Young and Pratt agreed was scripture. --Kenneth W. Godfrey, Western Historical Quarterly

The conflicts between Apostle Orson Pratt, Joseph Smith, and Brigham Young revolve around the key concepts of apostolic authority, theological harmony, and the role of continuing revelation within the governing body of the LDS church. The Pratt-Smith conflict emerges with the introduction of plural marriage and an alleged illicit affair of Pratt's wife Sarah in 1842. Bergera argues effectively that the 1842 allegation was a response to Sarah's rejection of Joseph Smith's advances. Pratt, his world shattered over the incident, voluntarily withdrew from the church for a time. This led to the misconception that he had been excommunicated. The alleged excommunication would provide Brigham Young with the legitimization needed to realign the governing body in 1875. The first major Pratt-Young conflict began in 1847 with the reorganization of the First Presidency. Pratt contended it was the right of the apostles to lead the church and not a separate quorum or individual. The debates continued for the next two decades over doctrinal issues. Bergera argues effectively that the heart of the conflict lay in Pratt's intellectual reservations over Young's consolidation of power and Young's theological teachings. It was Pratt's striving for a consistent, harmonizing, literal hermeneutic rather than blind acceptance of charismatic authority that led to the difficulties. Bergera's work provides a valuable tool for researchers by including transcripts of previously unpublished apostolic council minutes surrounding the Pratt-Young conflicts. Bergera has made a welcome and significant contribution to the field of Mormon studies. --Kurt Widmer, Religious Studies Review

From the Inside Flap

"There is not a man in the church that can preach better than Orson Pratt," Brigham Young told the twelve apostles on one occasion. "It is music to hear him. But the trouble is, he will ... preach false doctrine."

Pratt’s response was that he was "not a man to make a confession of what I do not believe. I am not going to crawl to Brigham Young and act the hypocrite. I will be a free man," he insisted. "It may cost me my fellowship, but I will stick to it. If I die tonight, I would say, O Lord God Almighty, I believe what I say."

"You have been a mad stubborn mule," Young replied. "[You] have taken a false position ... It is false as hell and you will not hear the last of it soon."

It was not infrequently that these two strong-willed, deeply religious men argued. Part of the difficulty was that they did so from opposing perspectives--Pratt’s a rational and independent-minded stance and Young’s a more intuitive and authoritarian position. "We have hitherto acted too much as machines ... as to following the Spirit," Pratt explained in a quorum meeting in 1847. "I will confess to my own shame [that] I have decided contrary to my own [judgment] many times. ... I mean hereafter not to demean myself as to let my feelings run contrary to my own judgment." He issued a warning to the other apostles: "When [President Young] says that the Spirit of the Lord says thus and so, I don’t consider [that] ... all we should do is to say let it be so."

For his part, Young quipped that Pratt exhibited the same "ignorance ... as any philosopher," telling him "it would be a great blessing to him to lay aside his books." When Pratt appealed to logic, Young would say, "Oh dear, granny, what a long tail our puss has got."

Ironically, Pratt would have the last word both because Young preceded him in death and because several of Young’s teachings and policies had proven unpopular among the other apostles. One of Young’s counselors said shortly after the

Product details

  • Item Weight : 1.27 pounds
  • Hardcover : 300 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1560851643
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1560851646
  • Product Dimensions : 6.25 x 1.9 x 9.25 inches
  • Publisher : Signature Books; Second printing Edition (December 15, 2002)
  • Language: : English
  • Customer Reviews:
    3.8 out of 5 stars 12 ratings