Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet by John G. Turner

Brigham Young: Pioneer ProphetBrigham Young: Pioneer Prophet by John G. Turner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I approached what looked like a dry history book with a little trepidation. It was long, for one. As I actually got into it, I found it quite interesting. Not a nail-biter for sure, but interesting. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and many of the stories included in this history-first rendition of Brigham's life were not new to me. Some of the details were, however. Many of them showcased questionable decisions made by the pioneering church leader, and, well, true history is like that. Part of the challenge of learning the history of someone you revere is discovering the inevitable--that they were human. The fact that Brigham Young made some sketchy decisions, and had an imperfect personality, shouldn't be shocking, although to many Church members it is. I'm a fairly objective sort of person (although no one is really objective, I know) and I prefer to know the person. By knowing the person, I feel like I understand more about how they tried to apply what they knew about God's teachings. I don't just say this through the lens of my church membership. The last book I read was written by Pope Francis, and I was looking for the same thing there. I wanted to see and hear the man that was the Pope, and get to know him. That book failed at that objective for me, but what glimpses I did have of the man, I saw someone who was also trying to live out God's teachings as he understood them. Despite the mistakes and weaknesses of mankind, I feel that the world improves as each of us try to live out God's teachings as we understand them.

So do I leave this book with my faith shaken at all? I don't think so. I feel educated. I know more about what happened in the past, and I see more of why our current world and local culture is the way it is. I see the mistakes of others and see how we can learn from them. I see how trying to following God's laws, despite the lack of perfect execution, can bring about great results.

I appreciated this author. My 3-star rating is not really a rating of the quality of his work, but in part my interest level in the topic. He did a great job of writing a historical biography and not succumbing to the temptation of taking sides. He does not discredit the Church, and makes this clear in the prologue and epilogue. He also does not make this an endorsement for the church, or in any way a spiritual book. Brigham Young was a religious leader, and so he had to address spiritual topics, but he does so only in respect to his goal of writing an accurate history. He does not coddle the past, even the ugly parts. If you feel he defends Brigham Young now and then, remember that he was writing about the man, and in order to understand him, you have to understand his justification for his choices, so presenting his view of events and reasoning for his actions is justified.

An interesting note: As I was listening to this book, I talked about it with several other Church members, and was surprised at the level of push-back I got. It caused some introspection. There is a lot of negative, incorrect content about our faith out there, and as members of the Church we purposely and justifiably choose to not subject ourselves to it. I think this has unintentionally created a fear of any content that might be less than positive. While I understand the purpose behind that fear, I think that this actually weakens the faith of church members. They start to believe in an infallible earthly organization free from error, but by definition that also means free from humanity. Individuals within the Church make mistakes. They always have and they always will. While it is more infrequent, the Church as an organization has made mistakes. Thankfully, the organization of the church and how it has evolved continues to make that more and more unlikely in my opinion. But from on top of my oh-so-small soapbox, I would suggest to Church members that they learn about the history of the Church, and accept historical facts as they are. Don't base your testimony of the Church on the infallibility of men, even good men. You will be let down. And to those who aren't of our faith, if we seem like we have our heads stuck in the sand and are ignoring historical facts, remember how much misinformation is out there. Remember the history of persecution and hardship that are now a part of our cultural heritage, and it will be easier to be a little more forgiving of our oddities, but also to see where our real spiritual commitment lies.