Newsweek Devotes Cover Story to Mormons--200 Years After Joseph Smith's Birth

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Prophet and polygamist, mesmerizer and rabble-rouser, saint and sinner: Joseph Smith is arguably the most influential native-born figure in American religious history, and is almost certainly the most fascinating. This year marks the 200th anniversary of his birth, and the bicentennial is prompting fresh and searching looks at Smith, the faith he built and the legacy he left behind. The church is opening Smith's life and contributions to research--a new stance for an institution whose early experience with persecution has often made it defensive and secretive. This summer, Brigham Young University hosted a six-week multifaith seminar, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and Smith's papers are now being consolidated and published.

Joseph Smith Jr. was struggling. It was a spring day in 1820, in upstate New York&, an era of fiery Protestant revivals and a region so seared by evangelical fervor that it was known as the "burned-over district." Smith was 14, from a family of small means but grandiose expectations. His grandfather prophesied that a family member would revolutionize the world of religion; his father had a series of prophetic dreams about his family's salvation; his aunt became a local celebrity by claiming that she had been healed by Jesus himself. And so it was natural that Smith would wonder about his own faith. His mother had just joined the Presbyterians; should he? Or should he stay outside the mainline churches the way his father had?

Turning to the family Bible, Smith came to a verse in James that struck him powerfully: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God ... and it shall be given him." Inspired, Smith went into a grove of trees to pray. As he began, a dark force seized him until, Smith said, God himself intervened. "At this moment of great alarm," Smith recalled, "I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me." God and Jesus appeared and delivered a startling message: he shouldn't join any of the churches of the world, for they had long ago fallen away from Christ's true Gospel.

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Walter McElligott - 10/12/2005

Pretty story about an ordinary man. Tell me more about Jesus Christ, the messiah!