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SALT LAKE CITY — The second volume of the historical series "Saints," released Wednesday by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will delve into the “complexity” of polygamy, according to writers and historians involved with the project.
“Saints: No Unhallowed Hand” picks up where the first volume left off in 1846 as the early Latter-day Saints celebrated the completion of the temple they had built in Nauvoo, Illinois.
Soon after, however, church members were forced to flee Illinois to escape angry mobs, and they began a treacherous journey west. Volume 2 details this mass migration, the Saints’ arrival in what would become Utah, and ends with the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in 1893.
During this time period, church leaders formally announced the practice of plural marriage, though leaders in the church had practiced polygamy prior to the announcement — citing orders from God to do so. By 1870, 25-30% of the Latter-day Saint population lived in polygamous households, according to the church's website.
The decision to practice polygamy has remained controversial for those both in and out of the church since its onset — though the practice was officially ended in 1890, about 40 years after it formally began.
“Latter-day Saints do not understand all of God’s purposes for instituting, through His prophets, the practice of plural marriage during the 19th century. The Book of Mormon identifies one reason for God to command it: to increase the number of children born in the gospel covenant in order to 'raise up seed unto (the Lord),'” the church’s website reads, noting that polygamy did result in increased numbers of births in faithful Latter-day Saint homes.
But there was a great deal of “complexity” in the actual practice of plural marriage, said Angela Hallstrom, a writer involved with the historical project. “Saints” delves into those intricacies and shows the perspective of participants who left records of their experiences.
“An important contribution to any discussion about plural marriage is to remember that these were real people who did this and weighed their options and experienced it in a lot of different ways and had a lot of different feelings,” said Lisa Olsen Tait, who also helped write the volume.
“I think one thing that will surprise readers is to just see how much the members of the church suffered, and especially … the leaders of the church,” she added.
The book examines the difficulties the church faced as the United States government cracked down on plural marriage, as well as the trials that surfaced when the church officially decided to end the practice in an announcement now known as the “Manifesto.”
“We definitely show that practicing plural marriage was not easy. It was often a very difficult choice for the men and women who entered into it,” Hallstrom said, noting that the volume highlights a particular woman named Lorena Larsen who was a second plural wife when she learned of the “Manifesto.”
“That was a very difficult thing for her to accept because she had given up a lot to live this principle. And after the Manifesto, she had a crisis of faith. But then that crisis of faith was answered with a revelation from God that comforted her and helped her to understand that the things that she had learned and the experiences that she would have would bless her and her family,” Hallstrom added.
In fact, much of the Saints volume is derived from people like Larsen who kept records of their experiences, especially church President Wilford Woodruff and Elder George Q. Cannon, who served as a counselor to four different church presidents. Both men kept daily journals, said Jed Woodworth, managing historian on the project.
Brigham Young, the faith’s second president, also kept a copy of every outgoing letter he ever sent, providing a wealth of historical knowledge for the book — which is based entirely on historical sources, Woodworth added.
“Saints” will be a four-volume series that covers the church’s history from the childhood of the faith’s founder, Joseph Smith, to the present day. While the church has published historical volumes twice in the past (in 1842 and 1930), “Saints” puts special emphasis on the growth and presence of the church across the globe.
The second volume of Saints will also focus extensively on the missionary work of the church outside the U.S. in England, Denmark, South Africa, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands.
“We try to make these as global as possible. … People who read these books want to see the stories of their people, their nations,” said Scott Hales, general editor and lead writer on the project.
Those working on the project also wrote the series with younger people in mind, knowing they would need to stick to a “fast-paced narrative style,” to keep the interest of millennials and Gen Z readers, Woodworth said.
“We have histories of the church written in the past that quite honestly haven’t been read quite as thoroughly. Often they don the shelves of people, but they’re not designed to be read page to page. And this is a page turner, and we’re proud of that,” he added. “We feel like if (young people) are not reading the history, then we’ve failed.”
The first volume, which was released in 2018, sold half a million print copies and has more than one million digital views since its release. The final two volumes will be released in the coming years.
Volume 3 in the series will focus on the church’s global growth and conclude with the dedication of the temple in Bern, Switzerland, in 1955. The final volume will “bring readers to the recent past, relaying the ongoing challenges of membership growth and having temples located all over the world,” a Wednesday news release from the church reads.
Volume 2 is currently available for purchase online or at retail stores. It can also be found in the church history section of the Gospel Library app.
The digital version of the book is currently available in 14 languages, which should reach about 99% of the church, according to Woodworth. Print editions for all languages other than English will be available in the coming months.
The book is 675 pages of text, but 835 pages total — including the end notes. The digital version of the book can link readers to the historical sources cited in the text.