Sponsored by BYU Studies—Saints Volume 2: No Unhallowed Hand is the second book in a four-volume history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Join Matt McBride as he explains what the book covers, how it came to be—and what comes next.
Who is Matt McBride?
Hello! I am Matt McBride, the Director of Publications for the Church History Department.
I have responsibility over the Saints project as well as the Joseph Smith Papers and many of our other publications. I get to work with an amazingly smart and dedicated group of historians, writers, and editors on the Saints project team.
I also had the pleasure to research and write several scenes in Saints Volume 2 and to help produce the digital content that supports the volumes, such as topic essays and videos.
One of my contributions to Saints Volume 2 was the story of the translation of the Book of Mormon into Spanish and the opening of the first mission in Mexico. That was fun for me because my own research interests include the history of missions and globalization.
I have been with the Church History Department for almost nine years, and one of the things that has most impressed me is the willingness on the part of Church leaders to engage with our history, including the difficult bits. The Joseph Smith Papers and Saints are outgrowths of this climate of transparency. We are really pleased to be able to tell our history in such a forthright way.
What kind of feedback have you received about Saints, Volume 1?
We feel overwhelmed at the response to Saints so far. We have sold over 500k print copies and have over one million digital readers.
The most common responses from readers are that they learned so much that was new to them and that they enjoyed the storytelling style. This is music to our ears, because the narrative approach was a key strategic decision made early in the project’s history.
Richard Turley, who was then serving as Assistant Church Historian, had a vision for the project that entailed creating not only a rigorous history, but one that would be read and enjoyed by a much wider audience than any previous church history.
To make this happen, we have added creative writers to our staff, including Scott Hales and Angela Hallstrom, who work directly with Jed Woodworth, Steven Harper, and our other historians to create Saints. It is this hybrid team that makes Saints engaging for readers while staying firmly grounded in the sources.
Ours is a very different writing process than you might typically find for a history book. In some ways, it is a lot like the writers’ room model used for television writing.
The team meets frequently to pitch ideas for characters and story arcs that will support the demands of the history. We put those pitches through the ringer. Who’s point of view would best help shed light on a particular event or theme? Do the sources we have provide enough detail to write compelling scenes? Have we adequately represented the voices of men and women, leaders and members?
It has been fascinating for me as a latecomer to the team to see this collaborative process unfold. It requires a lot of humility on the part of everyone.
And of course ultimately, the storytelling has to serve the history, not the other way around.
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.
What time period is covered by Saints Volume 2?
Saints Volume 2 covers the period from 1845 to 1893. It starts with the Saints’ departure from Nauvoo and ends with the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple. As you would expect, it includes the story of the pioneer migration, the settlement of Utah, and the construction of the pioneer temples.
It also includes the stories of women’s suffrage, the indigenous peoples of Utah and their relationship to the Church, black members like Jane Manning James, and the expansion of missions in Europe, the Pacific, South Africa, Mexico.
What is the meaning of the subtitle, “No Unhallowed Hand”?
The time period covered by this volume was a real crucible in the history of the Church. Most readers will be familiar with the difficulties the Church faced in migrating and settling in the West. But some of the biggest obstacles were posed by the government and broader culture of the United States, which was hostile to the Church’s marriage practices, its cooperative economics, and the way its leaders blended civic and religious authority.
The title refers, in part, to the way external pressures brought the Church almost to the point of extinction.
The book then becomes a story of deliverance.
The subtitle, “no unhallowed hand,” which was taken from a well-known statement in the Wentworth Letter, refers to these threats to the Church’s existence, which failed to “stop the work from progressing,” though they did prompt important changes.
In fact, one of the things I hope readers will see more clearly as a result of these books is that the surrounding culture and the agency of the Saints and their leaders can have a profound effect in shaping the Church and its history, but that we can still celebrate it as sacred history and see the guiding hand of the Lord in it.
God works with mortals to carry out his purposes. We in turn make covenants to see his will done on earth.
We are imperfect agents in all of this, to be sure. But it is remarkable that the work moves forward sometimes in spite of our faults, and it is empowering and sobering to know how much our choices matter.
Saints Volume 1 opens with a volcanic eruption. How does Saints Volume 2 begin?
The opening scene is a poignant talk given by Lucy Mack Smith about her martyred sons. Her opening line is, “I want to speak about the dead.”
The setting is the October 1845 conference and the Saints are preparing to leave behind their beloved city and the temple they have worked so hard to construct. Lucy and most of the Smith family stay behind when Brigham Young leads the majority of the Church to the Great Basin.
So, this is a hinge point in the Church’s history. Lucy looks backward on her son’s life and work while the Saints are looking forward to their immanent departure and an unknown future.
Not as dramatic as a volcanic eruption, but a great way to launch into the second installment.
What are the benefits of including controversial topics like polygamy and the Mountain Meadows Massacre?
We often celebrate inspiring accounts from our history such as the story of the handcart rescue. We talk about the lessons we learn from those pioneers’ faith, endurance, and sacrifice.
That is all good, but it’s also important to remember episodes such as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. We have to look at them squarely and unflinchingly because there are lessons we need to learn from them too.
Failure is an important teacher.
In one of the supporting videos for Saints Volume 2, Richard Turley notes that the massacre can teach the modern Church the value of councils and the danger of judging harshly those who are different from us.
I think Saints Volume 2 will give readers a different appreciation for the sacrifices the Saints made to live plural marriage. They lived for many years in civil disobedience to the laws of the United States out of a deep desire to place God’s laws first.
Reading the stories of the men and women who practiced plural marriage from their own point of view is a very different experience than thinking about polygamy in the abstract.
It gets very real when you read, for example, that Heber J. Grant’s wife Emily lived under and assumed surname and told her children that their father was their “Uncle Eli” to protect against arrest and prosecution.
I think stories like this will give readers greater sympathy and appreciation especially for what women endured during this time.
What were the personal circumstances under which William Clayton wrote Come, Come Ye Saints?
He was on the trail in Iowa under terrible conditions for travel—rain, mud, cold. He was traveling with three wives, one of whom was pregnant.
He was not a hearty frontiersman, but a British bookkeeper who was out of his element.
He had spent the previous night trying to corral loose animals and was probably exhausted. As the skies began to clear a little, he penned the poem we sing.
How did Lorenzo Snow almost die in Hawaii—and why was he there in the first place?
Brigham Young sent Snow, who was an apostle, to Hawaii in 1864 to establish order in the Church there after Walter Murray Gibson, a former missionary had apostatized, declared himself president of the Church in Hawaii, misused funds, sold priesthood offices, and generally created a lot of havoc.
When Lorenzo Snow’s boat arrived, the sea was rough and a wave threw him overboard. He obviously survived, but I’ll let you read Saints to find out how (chapter 22).
Spoiler: Gibson was excommunicated, but not until after he had sent Hawaiian converts Samuela Manoa and Kimo Belio as the first missionaries to Samoa (chapter 36).
What three words most describe the challenges faced by Brigham Young and Latter-day Saints in 19thcentury Utah?
That is a difficult question. A classic answer might be desert, dissension, and persecution. That would be a pretty good response. I might say:
1) Money, both the Church’s lack thereof at the time and the lure of wealth that would make establishing a Zion society impossible. This was a recurring theme for Brigham Young, who really took extraordinary measures to protect the poor and vulnerable and build a society that would live up to the ideals of consecration set forth in the Lord’s revelations to Joseph Smith
2) Marriage, which can be difficult enough when faced with economic uncertainty but was even more challenging for the men and women who practiced plural marriage. Participants often characterized it as a refining fire.
3) Republicans. I say this not to be provocative, but to point out how much things have changed in the past century and a half (and because I was asked for a one-word answer). Of course, Americans of all political and religious stripes felt a similar disdain for the practice of plural marriage. But the Republican Party platform famously characterized polygamy as one of the “twin relics of barbarism,” and its party leaders in congress led the effort to introduce legislation that would place tremendous strain on the Church and its members.
What will be covered in Saints, Volume 3?
In volume 3 because readers will get to learn how the pioneer church was transformed into the very different church we know today.
After the Church effectively ceased practicing plural marriage and Utah attained statehood, its leaders were faced with a new set of questions.
The actions of the U.S. government during the nineteenth century had made it clear that a certain degree of assimilation with broader American politics and economics was necessary.
But how much? How could we remain distinctive even as we participated more fully in mainstream culture? And how could we best take advantage of unprecedented security to now carry forward the work of the Lord throughout the world?
Though familiar to historians, this will be new territory for most of our readers.
Volume 3 will also address the challenges of internationalization, including the ending of the era of gathering to the Western U.S., the building of temples outside of Utah, and the calling of local ward, stake, and mission leaders.
This last theme plays out most dramatically in Mexico when a large group of members leaves the Church in protest over the question of local leadership. The conflict is resolved, in part with a visit from President George Albert Smith and the creation of a stake led by Mexican Church members. These are some of the growing pains experienced by a rapidly expanding Church.
Volume 3 will culminate with the dedication of the Swiss Temple, which was an important landmark with its use of film to present ordinances in a variety of languages in the same temple.
Learn more about the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
- Five Fascinating Facts about the Council of Fifty
- 10 Questions and Answers about Joseph Smith and Seer Stones
- The First Vision: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast
- Foundational Texts of Mormonism: Examining Major Early Sources
- History of the Saints: Zion’s Camp
This interview is made possible thanks to the generous sponsorship of BYU Studies.