Orson Pratt is less famous than his older brother, apostle Parley P. Pratt. But it could be argued that he has had a bigger impact on the Church than Parley did. From polygamy to the First Vision to his theological arguments with Brigham Young, Orson Pratt is one of the unsung people who has shaped the modern LDS Church.
Casey: There is a good biography. Breck England, wrote a book called, The Life and Thought of Orson Pratt, that I think is great. Apparently, someone is writing a biography. Now, I can’t remember his name. But, maybe in a couple of years, we’ll get another good one. But I think Breck England’s is really good. He addresses a lot of the issues that a 19th century Church member would face, which Orson Pratt is a good example of. You’ve had podcasts on this before, I know. But Orson Pratt almost leaves the Church. Well, he does leave the church. He’s excommunicated, because of complications over plural marriage, because of his wife, Sarah Pratt. He may have tried to commit suicide. They were worried for a little while there. Ten years later, he’s the person that’s chosen to publicly announce the practice of plural marriage. Then, he becomes known as the most famous intellectual defender of plural marriage. That’s an interesting journey in 10 years. Breck, who you should get on this, and you should talk to him about it, goes through a couple questions. One of the big wrestles Orson Pratt often had to answer for people was, “If I don’t enter into plural marriage, does that mean I’m not going to go to the Celestial kingdom?” In the 19th century, some Church members wrestled with the question of, “Is it eternal marriage, or is it plural marriage that’s essential for salvation.” Orson Pratt was the person that mediated those questions. The conclusion he came to was, “It’s celestial marriage, it’s not plural marriage that’s essential for salvation,” which is really because most Church members weren’t practicing plural marriage.
Historians don’t usually talk about the future, because they are historians! In our next episode with Dr. Casey Griffiths, he will talk about what he thinks will be the biggest future events in church history, as well as what some events of the recent past will make impacts in future Church history.
Casey: Even the things that are happening right now, it’s difficult to kind of pull back and say, “How big a deal is this going to be in 20 years? Are we even going to think twice about it? Or is it going to be something that really becomes huge in the history of the Church, the way it works. The Family Proclamation, which we put in, has had big ripple effects. The Perpetual Education Fund, which we put in, isn’t talked about as much anymore, though, I do think that if you look at the long-term effects of the Perpetual Education Fund, it’s going play a big role in the development of the Church, especially the International Church. So, it was a fun thought experiment to kind of sit down and have conversations. We, by the way, it wasn’t just the three of us. I was walking into people’s office and saying, “Give me your top five events.” They usually, the First Vision coming forth, the Book of Mormon, Priesthood is restored. I go, “Okay, give me your top five in the 20th century. Give me your top five in the last 20 years.”
So what are your top 5 events in the last 20 years? What do you see in the future of Church history? Do you agree that Orson Pratt’s influence on LDS Theology is under-appreciated?