Wars bring death, and with it, apocalyptic thought. In our next conversation with Dr. Christopher Blythe, we’ll talk about how World Wars 1 and 2 affected LDS apocalypticism. We’ll also talk about how Mormons thought the apocalypse was going to happen in 1890!
GT: Well, one of the interesting things that really kind of struck me in your book was this idea that around 1890–there was the prophecy that Joseph Smith would see God when he was 85 years old, which would have been about 1890. So, then there was this kind of resurgence of apocalyptic thought. Can you tell us more about that?
Christopher: Yes, absolutely. I think, leading up into the 1880s, there are several moments. In 1880, Wilford Woodruff himself is going to say in 1890, there’ll be no more United States. People are really moving, but as they get closer to that date, people begin to become less certain. So, some scholars have pointed to the conference of October 1890, as the spot where leaders seem to be on either side of the issue. I don’t think that’s actually the case.
I didn’t know Latter-day Saints were pacifist at the time of World War 1.
Christopher: World War I was a very important moment of Latter-day Saint apocalyptic and that’s rethinking how we fit into the story. Ultimately, we were pacifists. The idea of Utah…. A great verse, I’m not going to remember where it is, says, “If you don’t want to take up a sword in the last days flee to Zion.” Zion is the place where there won’t be war. Latter-day Saints don’t fight wars. God defends their battles, and maybe they have to protect themselves defensively, but they’re not going out to wage war. They are the place where people can be protected.
It started with the Spanish-American War, Church leaders are saying, “Hey, you have your duty to fight for the nation, just like you had a duty to fight when soldiers came to Utah in 1857, for your faith.” George Q. Cannon has taken that idea. In the Spanish-American War, we have Franklin Richards opposing that idea, saying, “No, we are pacifists, don’t buy into that.” But by the time we get to World War I, that’s changed, for the most part, and leaders are encouraging Latter-day Saints to participate as good Americans. Now how does that make sense with prophecies about Zion, particularly, if this is the Last Days’ war. I think it’s fascinating.
We will also talk about World War 2, and how that affected apocalyptic thinking. Check out our conversation….
By the way, here is a link to Dr. Blythe’s book, Terrible Revolution. It’s currently over 40% off, here’s your chance to get a good deal! https://amzn.to/35hud6K
Don’t miss our other conversations with Dr. Blythe!