Cover image for Mormon America : the power and the promise
Mormon America : the power and the promise
Ostling, Richard N.
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First edition.
Publication Information:
San Francisco : HarperSanFrancisco, 1999.
Physical Description:
XXVI, 454 pages : illustrations, 1 map ; 26 cm
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BX8635.2 .O88 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In this candid examination of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of America's leading religion journalists covers everyaspect of this little-understood community of faith whose family values, business success, and evangelistic missions have helped it become one of the world's fastest growing religions.

Esteemed Time and Associated Press reporter Richard N. Ostling and fellow journalist Joan K. Ostling navigate the Mormon Church's complex origins and inner workings. They explore the dramatic changes in its policies on polygamy, its conviction in its manifest destiny as the true religion of America, its vocal dissenters, and the ways in which the church handles its vast financial, media, and educational resources.

Richard and Joan Ostling give readers a comprehensive and insightful look into this intriguing religion, complete with the church's history, beliefs, culture, and plans for the future. They shed light on the church's phenomenal success and the strong appeal of its teachings, and provide previously unreported details about its financial investments, worldwide missions, and internal politics.

In Mormon America, Richard Ostling picks up where his widely read 1997 Time magazine cover story, "Mormons, Inc.," left off, by illuminating the church's continuing surge in power and popularity. The Ostlings assemble through their reportage the complete story behind the most prosperous religious group in contemporary America.

Author Notes

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.
Joan K. Ostling, a freelance writer and editor, was formerly a writer and editor for the U.S. Information Agency in Washington, D.C., a reporter for the Press Publications newspaper chain in Chicago, and an English and journalism professor.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

This account of the history and current situation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is better than its cover would lead one to believe. Packaged as another sensationalist expos‚ of Mormon economic and political power, with chapters promising to unlock "The Power Pyramid" and "Rituals Sacred and Secret," the book is in fact generally well-balanced and often insightful, particularly on matters of race and gender, and draws upon a number of recent studies by Mormon scholars. (The authors, a well-educated husband and wife team with copious journalistic accolades between them, describe themselves as "conventional Protestants.") Their erudite chapter on Mormon theology sheds light on a fascinating but neglected subject (even by Mormons), and they sensitively portray what is at stake in the telling of Mormon historyÄa controversial undertaking nowadays due to the recent excommunications of some high-profile Mormon historians. Yet in its effort to provide a one-stop panorama of Mormonism, the book seems a bit of a hodgepodge at times (the authors evaluate the authenticity of Joseph Smith's revelation in one chapter and catalogue "Great Mormons of Sport" in another). Although the Ostlings say they hope to profile the "multidimensional" character of Mormonism, and they include chapters on Mormon family life and dissent, this is very much an institutional account, focusing on the "very controlled...very top-down" leadership of the church rather than on the mass of believers. Finally, while the authors attempt to be "nonpolemical," their close attention to the church's financial assets cannot help but hint of conspiracy theory. (Why does no one write books on "the Episcopalian empire"?) While this book is undoubtedly the best introductory snapshot of the Mormon world available in print, there is still room for improvement. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This definitive introduction to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) for most non-Mormons will also be essential reading for Mormons who are interested in something other than an "all is well" analysis of their church. The authors, a husband-and-wife team, are both religion reporters. Unlike earlier journalistic accounts of the LDS churchÄsuch as Robert Mullen's Latter-Day Saints: The Mormons Yesterday and Today (o.p.), Wallace Turner's Mormon Establishment (o.p.), Robert Gottleib's America's Saints (1986. reprint.), and John Heinerman and Anson Shupe's The Mormon Corporate Empire (o.p.)Äthis work gives much more play to doctrinal concerns in its comprehensive treatment. The Ostlings look at the history, beliefs, and economic, social/cultural, and religious practices of the LDS, and they don't shy away from any of the controversies facing the contemporary church, such as issues of academic freedom at church-owned Brigham Young University and the church's wealth. Highly recommended for all libraries.ÄDavid S. Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Libs., Philadelphia (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Mormon America - Rev. Ed. Chapter One Sealed With Blood Nauvoo, Illinois, today sits at a picturesque bend in the Mississippi River, a tourist attraction and state historical park with visitor centers operated by competing churches at opposite ends of the restored town. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) owns the imposing brick Heber C. Kimball house and the Masonic lodge. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) owns Joseph Smith's grave and his two homes. Relations are polite. The visitor can take the LDS tour in a cart pulled by Amish-raised draft horses and admire the cornfields and soybeans, the rushing creek, the restored shops, and the old Masonic building. There is no sign of the once mosquito-infested malarial swamps, and neither church has restored any of the cramped wooden hovels in which most of the Saints actually lived during Nauvoo's brief moment of glory. Today as one breakfasts at Grandpa John's Cafe in the backwater country town perched on the high bluff above the river, it is hard to believe that in its day--five years of growth and fame before it became a ghost town--Nauvoo rivaled Chicago. Nothing like this theocratic principality in the heart of America had been seen since Pilgrim and Puritan days. Here the prophet Joseph Smith maintained a militia of 3,000 to 4,000 men under arms, at a time when the full U.S. Army had only 8,500 soldiers. At its height the population of Nauvoo proper reached 12,000 citizens; several thousand more Saints tilled the ground in nearby Hancock County or across the river in Iowa. These were frontier days, and the white limestone temple rising 160 feet high on the crest of the hill was an imposing sight for miles around. Praise for Nauvoo's impressive achievements appeared in the newspapers of Boston, New York, and elsewhere. A steady stream of visitors came in 1843 and 1844 to admire the town, visit the strange exhibit of Egyptian mummies in its little museum, and sample Smith's hospitality. They included Charles Francis Adams, son of former president John Quincy Adams, and Josiah Quincy Jr., son of Harvard's president and later the mayor of Boston. Quincy was impressed with Smith's charisma and how he "won human hearts and shaped human lives." But Quincy also sounded a somewhat ominous cautionary note when he observed that Joseph Smith was far more than the entrepreneurial mayor of a successful, if unique, frontier town: "His influence, whether for good or for evil, is potent today, and the end is not yet." That influence had begun in Palmyra, New York, fifteen years earlier with the translation of the golden plates that Smith testified had been lent him by the Angel Moroni. These latter-day scriptures described the migration of Israelites to the New World--where they became ancestors of Native Americans--and the risen Christ's ministry on American soil. Smith translated these writings into the Book of Mormon, a revelation that Mormons would place alongside the Bible. The influence continued as a band of six followers incorporated a new church and multiplied into a movement of thousands willing to follow their prophet anywhere. And it did not end when a mob left Joseph Smith's bullet-ridden body propped against a well outside the jail at Carthage, Illinois. The assassination of their prophet left the Saints grief-stricken and dispirited. Nevertheless, as in Quincy's prediction that "the end is not yet," from that bloody atrocity there emerged the most successful faith ever born on American soil, a church regarded by some today as a major emerging world religion. In the spring Of 1844 matters were spinning out of control for the prophet. He was charged as an accessory to attempted murder and faced an extradition warrant to Missouri, where a thug had pumped buckshot into the head of Governor Lilburn Boggs, who had cruelly mistreated the Saints. Amazingly, Boggs survived. It was rumored that the assailant, never caught, had operated at the behest of Smith. Despite vigorous denials by church officials, talk also abounded of something unthinkable--that the prophet and other top church officials were secretly taking multiple wives. Accusers also said Smith was profiting from land speculation over the miseries of poor Saints. Some of his closest colleagues were beginning to regard him as a fallen prophet. Never passive, Smith responded with a frenzy of political activity. First he declared himself a candidate for president of the United States. Shortly thereafter he organized the secret Council of Fifty to plan an ambitious political future, and he had that body anoint him as "King, Priest and Ruler over Israel on Earth." He petitioned Congress for authorization to raise and lead a 100,000-man army, personally loyal and answerable only to him, that would subdue the western territories from Texas to Oregon. He proposed that anyone who would "attempt to hinder or molest the said Joseph Smith" in this design was to be liable to two years' imprisonment. Congress did not oblige. In the midst of all this, Smith preached the most important sermon of his career. The doctrines he presented in this discourse--multiplicity of gods, eternal progression, a heavenly Father who had a body and used to be a man, denial that God created the cosmos "out of nothing"--departed radically from Christian orthodoxy. Joseph Smith once said, "A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation." The Saints' readiness to sacrifice all things had already been well tested. Just five years earlier the Mormons had arrived in Illinois, fleeing east across Missouri up into Iowa and across the frozen Mississippi. Missouri's Governor Boggs had thrown them a threat: get out or face extermination. Joseph Smith was in jail in Liberty, Missouri, that winter of 1838-39, under threat of execution for a trumped-up charge of treason. His loyal... Mormon America - Rev. Ed. . Copyright © by Richard Ostling. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold. Excerpted from Mormon America: The Power and the Promise by Richard N. Ostling, Joan K. Ostling All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. XI
Introduction: A New World Faithp. XV
1. Sealed with Bloodp. 1
2. Beginnings: A Very American Gospelp. 20
3. The American Exodusp. 38
4. Polygamy Then and Nowp. 56
5. Redefining the Kingdom of Godp. 76
6. Almost Mainstreamp. 94
7. Mormons, Inc.p. 113
8. Some Latter-day Starsp. 130
9. The Power Pyramidp. 147
10. Families Foreverp. 159
11. A Peculiar Peoplep. 173
12. Rituals Sacred and Secretp. 184
13. Two by Twop. 203
14. Saintly Indoctrinationp. 220
15. Faithful Historyp. 238
16. The Gold Biblep. 259
17. Discovering "Plain and Precious Things"p. 278
18. "How God Came to Be God"p. 295
19. Are Mormons Christians? Are Non-Mormons Christians?p. 315
20. Rivals and Antagonistsp. 334
21. Dissenters and Exilesp. 351
22. Mormonism in the Twenty-first Centuryp. 372
Appendix A Joseph Smith's King Follett Discoursep. 387
Appendix B How the Income and Wealth Estimates Were Madep. 395
Endnotesp. 401
For Further Readingp. 432
About the Authorsp. 441
Indexp. 443