Not many people know that Joseph Smith not only had a pistol in the Carthage Jail. Did you know he fired at the mob? Some critics say this is evidence that Joseph didn’t go like a lamb to the slaughter. Is that fair? Dr. Casey Griffiths, author of 50 Relics of the Restoration, will show us the gun the Joseph likely used, and push back against some of the critics. We’ll also talk about a crime scene investigation to see if a bullet hit John Taylor’s watch!
Casey: Honestly, John Taylor’s descendants believe, sincerely, and John Taylor believed sincerely that what happened was after Joseph Smith fires the gun, Joseph Smith said, “Hold them off, as long as you can, Brother Taylor.” John Taylor ran to the window, and on the way there he is shot in the leg. It produces an involuntary reaction that causes him to fall forward. At that point, John thought he was going to fall out the window, but he says he was forced back into the room. What John Taylor believed had happened was that a bullet had hit his pocket watch, and forced him back into the room. Now, that may have been what happened. If that is what happened, though, it was miraculous, because we did, the Church History scene did a similar Mythbusters sort of challenge all night. They took a similar watch and fired a similar caliber bullet, and the watch just blew apart.
GT: Oh, really?
Casey: Yeah. To watch that we have right now shows forcible damage, like it was hit by something. The gears in the watch have been driven forward through the watch face. But it hit into something really hard. So, what some people think happened, and again, nothing is settled here, is that when John was shot, he fell and hit into the window sill so hard, that he shattered the watch. Now, to John, it’s all confusion and gunfire and he wasn’t lying when he said he thought that the bullet hit. In fact, when we went back and we investigated a little bit, we found out that the way John Taylor told the story was–he’s so badly shot up when it’s over, he doesn’t know what happens. Willard Richards goes and gets the doctor and John Taylor has to spend two weeks convalescing in the town where Joseph Smith was killed. I mean, that’s part of the story that we don’t bring up is that John Taylor has to stay in Carthage for two weeks after the martyrdom.
Were you aware of these events in Carthage? Do you wish you were there for the watch-bullet experiment?
What is the best beginner book to learn Mormon history? Back in 2016, Dr. Casey Griffiths said there really wasn’t a book, so he set out to make one. We’ll talk some of the important events over the past 2 centuries in another one of his books: The 100 Most Important Events of Church History.
GT: One of the things that I love about your new book is it’s kind of like your old book. We haven’t talked about your old book. Why don’t you go ahead and show that one to us? And how old is that book, by the way? I’ve had that for quite a while.
Casey: This book was published in 2016.
GT: Okay, so it’s not that old.
Casey: What You Don’t Know About the 100 Most Important Events in Church History. That is a long title, right? Almost all of our viewers are like, that is an awkward title. Well, the background behind it is, I was looking for an entry-level book in Church History for people. My entry-level book in Church History was Church History in the Fullness of Times, which was the institute manual, which I just thought was fascinating. On my mission, I would split my study between Church History in the Fullness of Times and the Book of Mormon. I got so excited about it. But I came back, and I was serving as a bishop, and I had someone come up to me and say, “Hey, what’s the first Church history book that I should read?” I sort of realized, gosh, it was hard to find something that was entry level for people. This was before Saints was published, by the way. I think they kind of had the same idea as us. But I was like, what’s a book that in one volume, we could cover all the major events of the Church. Another problem I have sometimes, too, is that we have this major bias towards the 19th century. For instance, the first article I published was on an event that took place in the 1920s. My dad said to me, “Has anything really interesting happened after Brigham Young died?” I kind of said, “A lot of stuff that’s interesting has happened after Brigham Young died.”
So, me with Mary Jane [Woodger], my co-author, and Susan Easton Black helped us on this book as well, sat down and just had arguments about what we thought were the 100 most important events. Obviously, some things like the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, or the restoration of the priesthood were always on list. But, where we had a lot of fun was kind of arguing in the 20th century, what was a big deal. David O McKay, in 1920, goes on this tour of all the missions. He’s assigned to visit every single mission of the Church. He’s gone for a year.
The problem with that was the closer we got to the present, the harder and harder it was, to sort of say, “Is this going to be a consequential event for the History of the Church?” For instance, Mary Jane and Susan, and I all argued about the missionary age change in 2012. I was saying, “They’ve changed the missionary age a bunch of times. It doesn’t really seem like it’s that big of a deal to me.” So, I was arguing…
GT: From 19 to 18.
Casey: From 19 to 18. I was like, “What’s the big deal? We’ve always send out missionaries and the ages have changed. I don’t really see this as being something that is consequential in the history of the Church.” Mary Jane and Susan, both argued that it wasn’t the 19 to 18 change, it was the 21 to 19 change for women that changed it. They pulled out a couple of statistics that noted the shift in the missionary force of the Church. It had gone from being about four to one for males to being about a 50/50 split between males and females.
Casey: They pushed back by saying, “Don’t you think that having so many more female returned missionaries is going to have an impact on the Church?” I had to kind of back off and say, “Yeah, it seems like that is going to be consequential in the overall history of the Church, so that in the history of age changes, that might be the most significant age change.”
Do you agree? What do you think are the most significant events of the 21st century?
We’re continuing to discuss some of The 100 Most Important Events of Church History. We will talk about how observance of the Word of Wisdom has changed. We will also see who is closer to Joseph Smith’s observance. Is it the LDS Church or Community of Christ?
Casey: At any rate, Heber J. Grant is the person that finally, I think, just puts the hammer down. But there’s pressure from Brigham Young all the way up to making the Word of Wisdom more than just a suggestion, making it more of a commandment. Now, in Community of Christ, in the RLDS tradition, as I understand it, that pressure doesn’t exist quite as much. So, their observance of the Word of Wisdom, ironically, is probably closer to what Joseph Smith did, than what we do today. But it does show, like I said, that there’s other people in the Church, besides Joseph Smith that affect the course of the History of the Church.
We will also talk about how the LDS Church has changed from a regional church to a global faith with Dr. Casey Griffiths. Is the LDS Church exporting American culture instead of the Gospel?
Casey: But our correlation system makes it so that if you’re an active member of the Church in the United States and an active member of the Church in Thailand, you pretty much have the same understanding what the Word of Wisdom means. That is rare in the religious world. I’ll just say, that a uniformity of belief, the kind of which Latter-day Saints have across the board is rare. It comes at a cost in some senses, too. There are some things that are correlated that maybe don’t need to be, but on the whole, correlation has given us kind of this unified expectation. Church members will often get up and say, “Hey, I went to church in this foreign country, and it was cool to see them studying out of the same manuals as us.” And yes, that’s great. At the same time, too, there’s some question as to, when we say the church is globalizing, how much do we give? Another facet of my research that we wanted to put into this book was the transition from a regional American religion to a global faith. One of the major questions that the correlation movement had to ask was, “What is the gospel? What’s American culture, and what is the gospel and to what boundary do we cross over the two?” For instance, I have a friend who works in educational groups in Africa. In Africa, the idea that a husband and wife would kiss in public, in certain parts of Africa, is just taboo. It’s pornographic. They would see it as just terrible.
GT: Oh, really?
Casey: He told the story where this local American leader of the Church was worried that the husbands and wives weren’t expressing enough affection. He held a fireside, and he brought his wife up front, and he gave her a big kiss in front of the congregation and said, “I want all of you to do this.” The entire congregation was just sitting there horrified. “How can we do this?” Well, we’d have to go back to the earlier question of, is kissing your wife in public a facet of the gospel?” It’s really not.
Casey: It’s something that is part of American culture and in America is a good way of expressing your affection and love for your spouse, but it’s not necessarily something that we have to transfer somewhere else. Now, other things like the atonement, repentance, the Book of Mormon, we do have to transfer from cultures, and if they come into conflict, we have to deal with that. But there’s a lot of leeway. Church leaders have been negotiating this boundary for a really long time as to what’s gospel culture and what isn’t gospel culture.
Do we export too much American culture with the Gospel?