The history of the US government and its relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a unique and intriguing one. The doctrine of the Church is held in its canonized scripture, including the Book of Mormon—Another Testament of Jesus Christ, which describes America as the promised land, and the Doctrine and Covenants, which clearly sustains “the law of the land which is constitutional, supporting that principle of freedom in maintaining rights and privileges” (Doctrine and Covenants 98:5). Additionally, from the first prophet of the Church, Joseph Smith, to the current president of the Church, all have embraced and revered the Founding Fathers and have called the documents establishing the United States of America as inspired. The Church would not have organized in 1830 but for religious freedom and the creation of principles based on such liberty. However, religious persecution, unfortunately, has led to some serious challenges and historically bloody forays.
Multiple failed attempts and pleading for help from government officials seemed to fall on deaf ears during the early days of the Church following the persecution from outsiders. Thus, were the days of the mid-1800s. It was as if the First Amendment to the Constitution, allowing for freedom of worship, needed time to enter the heart of all people, just as the Declaration of Independence took until after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1836 and after Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 to help people fully understand that “all men are created equal,” regardless of skin color.
Nevertheless, Church members have suffered for their beliefs while attempting to obey, honor, and sustain the law and operate in the bounds of the principals of freedom and liberty. For instance, on August 6, 1838, one hundred angry rioters gathered to stop members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from voting at the polls for fear they would have elected whom the Church members most favored. This action led to a brawl in which several people were injured. A militia leader closely allied with the mob decided to start a conflict by kidnapping some Latter-day Saints. Subsequently, three men taken hostage by a mob were held at Crooked River, Missouri. A militia of Saints was organized. Men rode on horseback, armed with guns and sabers, to rescue the men. Upon entry into the camp, shots rang out. David W. Patton was mortally wounded, making him the first of the high leadership of the Church to die at the hands of those who opposed the nascent religion.
Six days after the Battle at Crooked River and three days after the Missouri Extermination Order was given, a small group of Latter-day Saints at Haun’s Mill ran to safety after an angry mob galloped towards them. Men rather helplessly gathered into a small wooden building where they were brutally massacred. Others were shot—children—attempting to hide behind bushes and trees while helpless mothers looked upon them. The shocking and inexcusable murderous actions often brightly cover what could have protected them. While miracles of healing did occur there, Joseph Smith told them to gather in with the rest of the Saints before the attack, but their leader refused. Saints are reminded that although such difficult lessons cannot change what happened, following the prophet’s counsel is of utmost importance. As a result of failing to heed the words of light and truth from the prophet, several people died and many were seriously injured.
The Missouri Extermination Order called for Latter-day Saints to be “exterminated or driven from the State if necessary.” Who would have thought that a government under the US Constitution would behave in such a way? Missouri and Illinois legislators have since officially apologized to the Church for the illegal and illogical way their past elected officials treated the Saints.
Shortly after the order was given, men forcibly entered the home of Joseph Smith to take him. An illegal seizing today would have most certainly been classified at a minimum of aggravated kidnapping where a civil court would have awarded the Smith family millions of dollars. Regardless, he was taken by an armed mob acting under the auspices of an unjustified government order and held in an ironically named cell called Liberty.
During the forcible entry into their home, Joseph’s little six-year-old son wept aloud, grabbed a hold of his father and cried out, “My father, my father, why can’t you stay with us? O, my father, what are the men going to do with you?” (Doctrine and Covenants 122:6). The mob of angry men called the child a damn brat and told him he’d never see his father again.
As someone who specializes in trauma and mental health, I can say with quite certainty that that moment alone would have emotionally paralyzed the young boy and, undoubtedly, caused him a lifetime of physiological and emotional struggles, even if his father had not been murdered by a mob a few years later. When considering history, how often do we think of the impact of the little children who “walk with pain and fear, in loneliness and despair”? We must remember that “God will not be mocked concerning the abuse of his little ones.”
Well, that little boy’s father did survive, at least for a while. The cold winter spent in Liberty Jail was some of the most miserable times of his life. Yet in the most miserable and disturbing period of his life, “while enduring the most painful injustices, [and] facing the most insurmountable odds surrounded and opposition,” Joseph had “sacred, revelatory and profoundly instructive experience with the Lord” and so can you and I.
Even after being driven from their homes and deprived of their lands and possessions in Missouri and Illinois, when called upon by the government to send a battalion to war, the Mormon Battalion heeded the call. Even after Congress and the President of the United States, failed to address the concerns of the actions against the Saints, they answered the call to serve the nation. However, while discussing the petition to Congress, Joseph Smith prophesied “that if Congress [did] not hear [their] petition, and grant [them] protection, they shall be broken up as a Government” and that “the Government will be utterly overthrown and wasted.” But the Constitution will remain.
Brigham Young reported that Joseph Smith prophesied that the Constitution would hand upon a single thread. John Taylor, one of the early presidents of the Church, gave more information by saying, “When the people shall have torn to shreds the Constitution of the United States, the elders of Israel will be found holding it up to the nations of the earth and proclaiming liberty and equal rights to all.”
From only six members, which formed the Church on April 6, 1830, the Church has grown to many millions and will yet have millions more. Joseph Smith stated, “The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”
Yes, there have been persecutions. Yes, there have been mobs, and many have attempted to disparage the Church, but all will hear of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ until He comes again to rule and reign forever. And what a glorious day that will be.
Image of Joseph Smith: Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
 Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 1996. Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
 Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt. Parley P. Pratt (Ed.). 1985. Deseret Book Company.
 Bruce R. McConkie, “Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice,” Hymns 1985, no. 21.
 Extermination Order. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/history/topics/extermination-order?lang=eng
 Jeffrey R. Holland, Call upon God. https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/jeffrey-r-holland/call-upon-god/
 Gordon B. Hinckley, Save the Children, Oct. 1994. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/1994/10/save-the-children?lang=eng
 Jeffrey R. Holland, Lessons from Liberty Jail, BYU Speeches. https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/jeffrey-r-holland/lessons-liberty-jail/
 Gerald Lund, The Second Coming of the Lord, Deseret Book, 2020, p. 172.
 Ibid. as qtd p. 175.
 Ibid. as qtd p. 177.
 History of the Church, 4:540.