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See How the Church Changed in Remarkable ‘Saints 3’

The General Editors of Saints 3 discuss the official history of the Church and tease what’s to come in Saints, Volume 4.

Saints 3 is the third volume in the new official history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Scott Hales (General Editor and lead writer) and Jed Woodworth (General Editor and lead historian) discuss the Saints book and tease Saints Volume 4.

Read Saints Volume 3: Boldly, Nobly, and Independent, 1893–1955 on the Church’s website.

The scope of Saints 3 is astounding. How did you decide on which stories to include?

Scott Hales: When we’re considering a story for Saints, we look for three things. First, we’re looking for interesting stories—stories that will engage readers. Second, we’re looking for sacred stories—stories that show people making and keeping covenants with God. Third, we’re looking for stories that show change in the Church over time.

We look for stories that help us advance the narrative and show how the Church changes and evolves under the Lord’s direction.

Since we know we can’t make Saints a comprehensive history of the Church, our aim is to make it a representative history—something that captures the essence of the story of the restoration.

Before beginning each volume, we create a list of key events that represent important developments in the history of the Church. We then look for people—characters—who can help us show how those events unfolded.

Jed Woodworth: Scott speaks of writing a representative history. This means representing a range of Latter-day Saint experience. We try and find stories that cover all segments of the lifespan: children, youth, the aged, unsung Saints, accomplished Saints, and so on. We “play the hits,” as it were, telling beloved stories in a fresh way, but we also try and find stories no one has ever heard before. We are not always able to find the character we are hoping to find, and when that happens, our prayers become unusually fervent. The manna from heaven eventually comes.

Saints 3 includes a vast number of narratives from Church members outside the United States. What are you doing to make the volume available in other languages?

Jed Woodworth: When Saints, Volume 3 begins, most Church members are living in the United States and Europe. There are also a handful of congregations scattered across the Pacific. By the end of the volume, most Saints still live in the United States, but now the Church has a significant and growing presence in Canada, Mexico, South and Central America, and on the Pacific Rim (Japan, Korea, and Hong Kong). As a result of World War II, the Church also has dozens of serviceman’s groups in far-flung places like Italy and the Philippines.

Saints living in those nations today are hungry for their country’s origin story. Space considerations made it impossible for us to survey the beginnings of the Church in every country. Several representative beginnings, however, are told in Saints, Volume 3: Argentina, Brazil, Guatemala, and Japan.

Scott Hales: Beginning with Saints, Volume 1, the series has been available in 14 languages. This has made the series available to a vast majority of Church members in their primary or secondary languages. We’re telling an international story, and it’s important to us that the story is available to all Saints everywhere.

Fortunately, the Ensign and Liahona magazines have published stories from Saints over the years, making portions of the narrative available in another 34 languages. We also have audio books in Spanish and Portuguese in addition to English.

What unique difficulties did people like Anthon Lund face as Latter-day Saints living in Europe?

Jed Woodworth: In Saints, Volume 2, Latter-day Saint converts stream into the Great Basin as they heed the prophet’s call to physically gather to Zion. Anthon Lund, a Danish convert, is one of them. In Saints, Volume 3, we observe a reversal of the gathering: Saints like Lund go back out into the world and help set up permanent congregations.

Some gathered Saints, like Lund and Maori convert Hirini Whaanga, serve their native lands as missionaries before returning home to Utah. Others, like Charles and Christine Anderson, move away from Utah and strengthen fledgling branches. The stories of Lund, Whaanga, and the Andersons are all told in Volume 3.

We introduce Anthon Lund early in the book, in the early 1890s, when he is president of the European Mission. He helps foreground this outmigration from the Great Basin, one of the central themes of the book. His main task is to assist the European Saints adjust to living in the world as a small, persecuted minority rather than as a majority religion as do the Saints in Utah.

At this time a worldwide financial depression makes jobs in Utah scarce. To avoid competition for scarce resources, the First Presidency instructs Lund to have the European Saints remain in their native lands and build up the Church there.

But the task is not so easily accomplished.

Lund must also grapple with lingering anti-Latter-day Saint prejudice stemming from the Church’s one-time practice of plural marriage. Because Lund is a monogamist, he is well-poised to meet the challenge of rehabilitating the Church’s image.

What three words would you use to characterize the presidency of Joseph F. Smith.

Jed Woodworth: Henry Adams, the grandson of U.S. president John Quincy Adams who happens to share birth and death dates with Joseph F. Smith (1838-1918), famously remarked that a young man living in 1854 was in many ways closer to A.D. 1 than he was to the year 1904. What Adams meant was that the changes wrought by the industrial age—cars, planes, modern medicine, secularism, etc.—had transformed the way people understood their place in the cosmic order.

Leading during a time of rapid change, President Smith understood that the Church had to adjust.

First and foremost, I think we must conclude that he was a forward thinker.

The most far-reaching change he made was breaking free from plural marriage. For over 50 years, Church leaders had lived and died for “the principle.” Joseph F. Smith himself went into hiding for seven years as a result. Wilford Woodruff’s Manifesto is often credited with ending this marital practice, but it was really Joseph F. Smith’s Second Manifesto that nailed the coffin shut.

On April 6, 1904, the last day of general conference, [Joseph F. Smith] stood at the pulpit of the Tabernacle and read a new official statement on plural marriage in the Church. “Inasmuch as there are numerous reports in circulation that plural marriages have been entered into, contrary to the official declaration of President Woodruff,” he said, “I hereby announce that all such marriages are prohibited.”

Saints, Volume 3, p. 108

President Smith could see that plural marriage had accomplished its purposes and that monogamy provided a better passport in the modern world.

Second, personal revelation. 

If the Church would be no longer identified by plural marriage, what would it be known for? The historian Kathleen Flake once observed that Joseph F. Smith’s great accomplishment was to reorient the Church away from Joseph Smith’s last revelation—plural marriage—towards his first—the First Vision.

Under President Smith’s leadership, the First Vision enjoyed much greater visibility and currency. Joseph Smith’s search for the one true and living Church became the first thing missionaries shared with potential converts in this era. Personal revelation had always been critical to conversion, but in the Joseph F. Smith era the First Vision became the archetype for how Latter-day Saints could brave a hostile world through individual personal revelation.

Third, Joseph F. Smith was a reformer. 

For the first time, young men moved through Aaronic priesthood offices in an orderly way. Advancement from one office to another became a rite of passage. In this era, recreation became tied to religion as young people came off the farm and into the classroom, creating more discretionary time than ever before.

President Smith kept pace by turning the Mutual Improvement Associations into the Church’s recreational arm. Church was not just a place where people listened to long sermons while sitting on hard benches. It could also be a fun place where people mingled and socialized.

Scott Hales: As Jed suggests, Joseph F. Smith was a transitional figure, a bridge between our past and present. And President Smith was aware of that. He was the last Church president to know the Prophet Joseph Smith personally, and he did much to preserve his legacy for coming generations. He worked in the Church historian’s office for many years, and he was deeply interested in preserving Latter-day Saint heritage.

As we show in the book, the acquisition and preservation of Church historical sites began under his direction. But his historical efforts extended beyond that. He bore testimony often of Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling and the role of the Smith family as the first family of the restoration. He also ensured that the contributions of his mother, Mary Fielding Smith, to the history of the Church were not forgotten.

President Smith was also courageous. 

Readers get a sense of this in Saints, Volume 2, which tells several stories about his determination in the face of opposition. In Saints, Volume 3, we show him heroically confronting such things as the Smoot hearings and various muckraking articles written against the Church in the years immediately following the hearings.

President Smith could have easily ignored these articles; the Church, after all, had been the subject of scathing articles before, and it had always weathered them well enough. But President Smith understood that it was in the Church’s best interest to speak up for itself and tell its side of the story.

He understood that if the Church did not tell its own story, someone else would. And he wanted to set the record straight.

Finally, I think of the word “visionary.” 

We can’t talk about Joseph F. Smith without talking about his vision of the spirit world. Susa Young Gates, a close friend of President Smith, observed that he was not a naturally visionary man—certainly not like Lehi or Wilford Woodruff. President Smith was apparently cautious about saying “thus sayeth the Lord,” which made it all the more remarkable that he spent so much of his final weeks and months in continuous “communication with the Spirit of the Lord,” as he put it.

We can thank him and his vision, now canonized as D&C 138, for our greater understanding of the redemption of the dead and the importance of temple work.

We can identify countless ways that President Smith’s presidency shaped the way we experience the Church today. But this vision, more than anything save D&C 76, has shaped the way we think about the life to come and its relevance to our day-to-day experience here on earth.

What were the Smoot Hearings?

Jed Woodworth: Reed Smoot was a Latter-day Saint apostle who was elected Senator from Utah in 1903. At this time, Protestantism dominated most power levers of society, and many believed God favored the United States so long as it remained Protestant in religious composition. Catholicism, Mormonism, and eastern religions had no meaningful place in this conception, destined to wither on the vine.

Smoot’s election raised an immediate outcry among Protestant evangelicals in Salt Lake City and, later, around the country. For four years, his right to sit in the U.S. Senate hung in the balance as a Senate subcommittee generated thousands of pages of testimony about Latter-day Saint belief and practice.

Today, we would say a person’s private religious belief should have no bearing on their fitness to serve. But Smoot’s membership in the Quorum of the Twelve raised a specter for Protestants: Could Smoot be trusted to cast votes according to his conscience? Or would he secretly be taking directions from Salt Lake City?

In a later generation, the same questions would be asked of a Catholic presidential candidate, John F. Kennedy.

In the end, the Senate voted to confirm Smoot, and he went on to enjoy a long and illustrious political career. Smoot became the poster child for the worldly-wise Latter-day Saint. If outsiders could not accept the Church’s truth claims, they could admire Latter-day Saint character, allowing the believer to rise up to positions of great responsibility in the world.

In terms of worldly power and influence, Reed Smoot was the most successful Latter-day Saint of the era.

Scott Hales: Let me add that the Smoot hearings posed a significant challenge to SaintsTranscripts of the Smoot hearings are now available digitally, so anyone who wants can look them up and read them in their entirety.

The challenge is getting through them all. They consist of thousands of pages of legal testimony and deposition—some more interesting and dramatic than others. So how do you distill it down to a single chapter? It’s impossible.

Our narrative focuses on Joseph F. Smith’s testimony at the hearings, and we’ve done our best to capture the immense pressure he was under at the time.

As we show in the book, he was criticized—by people in and out of the Church—for some of what he said at hearings. But he showed immense courage under fire and had the confidence he needed to weather the storm that followed.

What was the Second Manifesto?

Jed Woodworth: The Second Manifesto dovetails with the story of the Smoot Hearings discussed above. Near the beginning of the hearings, plural marriage surfaced as one of the central questions under debate.

Smoot himself was a monogamist and insisted that the Church no longer taught polygamy. But witness testimony revealed that at least two of the apostles, John W. Taylor and Matthias Cowley, continued to perform plural marriages against the teachings of the Church. Wilford Woodruff’s Manifesto, it appeared, was little more than a paper tiger.

To put teeth into the Manifesto, President Joseph F. Smith issued the Second Manifesto, which declared that anyone who performed or entered into new plural marriages would be subject to Church discipline.

The following year, Taylor and Cowley were brought before a tribunal of the Twelve. It emerged that they did not support the Second Manifesto and as a result they were asked to sign letters of resignation from the Twelve.

“How could it be shown that polygamy now is absolutely forbidden by the Mormon church?” asked the reporter.”
The best evidence that we seriously and conscientiously are fighting polygamy,” Joseph [F. Smith] replied, “is shown by the fact that Mr. Taylor, formerly an apostle of the Church and a member of the governing council, has been excommunicated.”

Saints, Volume 3, pp. 143–144.

Some years later, when it was discovered that Taylor had married plurally in 1909 and Cowley had done the same in 1905, the men were further disciplined. Taylor was excommunicated and Cowley was restricted from using his priesthood (a lesser punishment than disfellowshipment). Saints, Volume 3 tells this painful story.

The postscript we do not tell in the book is that John W. Taylor died of cancer in 1916, estranged from the Church. His membership and priesthood were restored posthumously. Cowley maintained friendly feelings towards the Church and issued a formal confession in 1936, allowing him to again enter the Church’s temples.

Both men have much faithful posterity in the Church today. Yet their rupture with their quorum does mark the beginning of a schism within the larger Church as “Mormon Fundamentalism” emerged in opposition to the mainstream Church.

How did the time period of Saints 3 lay the foundation for today’s Church Educational System?

Jed Woodworth: I have already mentioned that Joseph F. Smith made a place for recreation in the Church. He could do that because at the same time he was building up the MIA as a recreational arm, he was promoting the idea of weekday religious instruction for all Latter-day Saint young people. He could be confident that recreation wasn’t getting out of hand, eclipsing spiritual instruction.

Seminary, as we know it today, began in the Joseph F. Smith presidency as the Church began buying up property adjacent to Utah high schools and building seminary buildings upon them. Institute, which is the equivalent program for college-aged students, began under the Heber J. Grant presidency.

In the long run, these programs had the effect of democratizing religious education, embedding it as a permanent feature of Latter-day Saint youth culture. It is our Catholic catechism. The Church could extend this religious education across the world because cost was not prohibitive; all the Church needed was a building and a teacher.

Near the end of Volume 3, we tell the story of the beginnings of early morning seminary, which extended the program of weekday religious education further by involving lay members of the Church as teachers.

Today, of course, the program overflows four brick walls. Virtual learning communities have replaced the physical classroom, but the commitment to weekday religious education remains.

Tell us about the disagreement about evolution between Joseph Fielding Smith and B. H. Roberts.

Scott Hales: One of the purposes of Saints is to show how the Church and its members respond to and interact with the broader world. And few ideas shook the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries more than Charles Darwin’s notions of natural selection and biological evolution.

The Saints were divided on the matter, just as others were at the time. Both Joseph Fielding Smith and B. H. Roberts had a great love of the scriptures, but they differed over how one should read scripture in light of Darwin and his like-minded contemporaries.

When B. H. Roberts wrote The Truth, the Way, the Life, a long theological work that made space for the possibilities of “pre-Adamites,” or humanoid life before Adam and Eve, Joseph Fielding Smith, a biblical literalist, objected.

The disagreement ultimately made its way to the First Presidency, and Heber J. Grant and his counselors wisely decided to take a neutral position on the issue, affirming their faith in scripture while also acknowledging that they were not scientists and did not care to rule on something that was, by their own admission, outside their purview as ecclesiastical leaders.

On April 7, the day after general conference, the First Presidency called the Twelve and other general authorities together to settle the dispute.
John [Widtsoe] listened as the presidency expressed their view that both Elder Smith and Elder Roberts should drop the matter. “Both parties make the scripture and the statements of men who have been prominent in the affairs of the Church the basis of their contention,” they observed. “Neither has produced definite proof in support of his views.”

Saints, Volume 3, p. 321

Stories like this remind us that faithful Church members, like Elder Roberts and Elder Smith, sometimes disagree—and that’s OK. Really, disagreements only become harmful when we let them divide us. We need to find ways to respect differences of conviction while also acknowledging and affirming common ground.

Jed Woodworth: I like Scott’s way of putting it: the story reminds us that disagreement, even among the authorities, is OK. Disagreement can be a crucial part of our mortal testing, inviting us to humble ourselves and locate the truths that unify us.

For me, this story provides an additional lesson. The Lord does not give us final, settled answers to every question we might have.

We are to walk by faith, and the most important truths the Lord gives us are saving truths, applicable to all. Scientific truth is of a different kind.

How did Heber J. Grant feel after the death of Joseph F. Smith? What were the greatest contributions of the Church during the Grant presidency?

Jed Woodworth: Heber J. Grant came to the Church presidency with several disadvantages:

  • He didn’t feel like he knew the scriptures very well.
  • He didn’t serve a mission as a young man, which was the time other Church presidents had become scriptorians. (Because Heber’s mother became a widow at a young age, Church leaders asked him to stay at home and care for her financially.)
  • He was first and foremost a businessman, not a theologian, and he felt that lack down to the end of his life.

He also had no experience serving as a counselor in the First Presidency. Joseph F. Smith had been a counselor to three presidents over the course of thirty years. He knew the business of the presidency intimately, which gave him a deep memory of precedents. Heber had been an apostle for many years, but he didn’t know the presidency’s business. Probably for that reason, he chose as his counselors two men who had served in the First Presidency under President Smith.

President Grant’s presidency is often noted for two things: (1) implementing an exacting standard of Word of Wisdom observance and (2) making the ward or the branch the center of Church activity.

These changes had far-reaching consequences in the Church. As the Saints went out into the world, they became known as much for what they didn’t do—no smoking and drinking—as for what they did do. After polygamy declined as an identity marker, the Word of Wisdom emerged as the primary identification of a Latter-day Saint.

Likewise, as individual Saints became more successful in the corporate world, service in the Church became a way of grounding Latter-day Saints in spiritual things. The ward emerged as a formidable competitor to the corporation. Material success could rival but was never permitted to eclipse service to the kingdom.

As we wrote Saints, Volume 3, another great contribution of Heber J. Grant stood out to me.

His sermons were primarily homiletic in nature. He often taught that the best antidote the Saints had against criticism was their own good behavior. We can see this emphasis in the Church today as the doctrinal sermon has declined in significance. We take it as a truism that the best way to regenerate a darkened world is by walking in the Christ-like way.

Behavior, not just doctrine, sets a tone.

How did the world wars impact Latter-day Saints living in different parts of the world in different ways?

Scott Hales: In writing this volume, we wanted to show how war became a major obstacle in advancing the work of the Lord. During both world wars, missionary work all but stopped in many parts of the world as the demand for able-bodied soldiers drained the Church’s pool of prospective missionaries. Wards and branches were also affected, particularly in Europe, as priesthood leaders went off to fight and war’s devastation made regular meetings all but impossible.

In Volume 3, we show the development of two branches of the Church, one in Cincinnati, Ohio and the other in Tilsit, East Prussia. Being closer to the fighting in World War II, the Tilsit Saints faced harrowing challenges that the Saints in Cincinnati never had to face.

But the war infected everything, and even the Cincinnati Saints had to make sacrifices and adapt their worship to the exigencies of the war.

In D&C 98:16, the Lord commands us:

"Renounce war and proclaim peace, and seek diligently to turn the hearts of the children to their fathers, and the hearts of the fathers to the children."

That’s a powerful message. Saints, Volume 3 shows that we can’t move the work of the Lord forward on either side of the veil if we are fighting.

Jed Woodworth:The wars narrated in Volume 3 were the first world wars where Saints could be found on opposite sides. This presents a problem for a multinational Church headquartered in the United States.

Would the Church take a partisan position on the war and risk alienating some of his constituency? We can see Church leaders trying to walk a fine line in this era. President Joseph F. Smith publicly supports the American war effort in 1917, but he also directs funds sent to help the European Saints to be distributed equitably, regardless of country.

During World War II, Heber J. Grant condemns Hitler even as he proclaims war to be “foul”: no one wants war, and God is not pleased with war.

The issue is most poignantly raised during the General Conference April 1942, when J. Reuben Clark, a counselor in the First Presidency, calls for the Saints to forgive their enemies a few months after his beloved son-in-law has been gunned down by Japanese warplanes at Pearl Harbor.

Showing how the worldwide Church rises above a strict nationalism is one of the accomplishments of Saints, Volume 3.

Why did future Apostle Neal A. Maxwell feel that the Lord preserved his life during World War II?

Scott Hales: We were reluctant to tell Neal A. Maxwell’s story in this volume because his experience during World War II was already masterfully told in his biography by Bruce Hafen. We also thought it might be best to feature a less prominent person in the narrative since our impulse is always to feature hitherto unknown people and stories in Saints.

But the more we thought about Elder Maxwell’s story, the more we came to value its message of faith and self-reflection in the midst of adversity.

Hunkered down in a fox hole on Iwo Jima, Private Maxwell learned the value of human life and the importance of committing oneself to serving God and His children. It was a turning point in his life.

Foxhole faith brought some real blessings that evening, causing me to make some covenants which I am still striving to keep.

Neal A. Maxwell, “Insights from My Life.”
Elder Bruce R. Hafen talks about his experiences writing the biography of Elder Neal A. Maxwell.

How did the Church seek to help people throughout the world after the end of WWII?

Scott Hales: The end of World War II brought about a massive humanitarian crisis, and the Church immediately responded to the material and spiritual needs of those affected by the war. Those who know the history of the Church at this time know that Heber J. Grant died shortly before the end of the war, leaving George Albert Smith to oversee the Church’s humanitarian response to the war’s end.

And President Smith was ideally suited for this work. He was a man of immense empathy and compassion, and he knew how to mobilize the Church’s resources to alleviate the suffering of others.

In the narrative, we show how Church members worked together to feed the hungry and clothe the naked in the aftermath of war. Some of their efforts originated with general Church leaders like George Albert Smith.

Other efforts were more grassroots. In some instances, their efforts required them to drop wartime animosities to minister those in need. Their experiences are a testament to the value of burying our weapons of war for the temporal and spiritual salvation of all God’s children.

Jed Woodworth: The corporate Church did what it could, but it could not do everything. Latter-day Saints on warring sides needed it each other after the war.

One of the more touching scenes in Volume 3 narrates the Dutch Saints growing potatoes for starving German Saints, even though the German people had caused untold suffering by invading the Netherlands during World War II. The Dutch Saints didn’t have much, but what they had they were willing to share with their one-time enemies.

How does Saints 3 end—and how will it eventually transition into Volume 4?

Scott Hales: Well, you’re not getting any more spoilers from me. Readers will have to read the book to find out how it ends.

But I’ll say this: Saints Volume 4 tells the story of a truly international Church, a time when Saints everywhere are able to enjoy the blessings of temple covenants. Something significant happens at the end of Volume 3 that makes this global story possible.

It’s probably one of the most important developments in the history of the Church. And its something so commonplace in the Church today that we take it for granted.

Jed Woodworth: Saints, Volume 1 ends with the dedication of the Nauvoo Temple, and Volume 2 ends with the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple. I sense the beginning of a pattern here….

The characters featured at the end of the Saints books are not arbitrarily chosen. In Volume 2, for example, we show Anna Widtsoe, a gathered Saint from Scandinavia, attending the temple dedication, underscoring the overall arc of the book. Intelligent design can be found in the last chapter of Volume 3 as well.

As with other volumes, the characters in the last chapter leave readers with at least one large problem the next volume will have to solve.

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Further reading

Saints 3 resources

Anthon Lund

Bern Switzerland temple

B. H. Roberts

Church Educational System

Heber J. Grant

Joseph F. Smith

Latter-day Saints and evolution

Second Manifesto

Smoot Hearings

World War I

World War II

By Kurt Manwaring

Writer. History nerd. Latter-day Saint.

3 replies on “See How the Church Changed in Remarkable ‘Saints 3’”

I downloaded Saints 3 in my church Library app the day they announced that it was digitally available. The story of the Widtsoe courtship is a powerful reminder of learning to let God prevail in your life when choosing an eternal companion. I can’t wait to finish the rest of the volume.

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