Interview with the authors of new Parley P. Pratt biography

As Political Surf readers know, I mentioned the new biography of early Mormon leader Parley P. Pratt, “Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism,” Oxford University Press, 2011, by Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow, in a previous blog that dealt with Pratt’s death (read). I will be reviewing the biography soon in the print edition of The Standard-Examiner. However, I had the opportunity to ask the authors, Givens and Grow, some questions about Pratt, his contemporaries, and the biography. The results are below:

Q: Did Pratt view his calling in life as an apostle to be as the apostles in the Book of Acts, such as as receiving visions, being persecuted or martyred, as Stephen, performing miracles, debating disbelievers, gathering and counseling members, and preaching without recompense and living in poverty?

A:  There is no doubt that Pratt saw his calling as an apostle as consistent with the New Testament pattern of apostleship. He was a fervent restorationist, was convinced that Joseph Smith had received the authority and keys necessary to restore the kingdom of God, and personally experienced those spiritual gifts such as healing that he believed were sure evidence of an authentic restoration. His willingness to leave his family behind time and again to preach the gospel at  home and in foreign lands, and suffer persecution and imprisonment for the gospel’s sake, was in part a consequence of the
office he held and the biblical precedent of apostolic sacrifice and martyrdom.

Q: As a premillennialist, did Pratt have any theories as to a particular time Christ was going to return. Would he have been amazed that Christ had not returned by 2011?

A: Pratt’s millennial expectations preceded his conversion to Mormonism, but found particular focus and support from two events. First was his exposure to the Book of Mormon itself-Isaiah’s “ensign to the nations.”  Second was its reinforcement of his personal interest in the spiritual destiny of the American Indians. In light of Book of Mormon prophecies, he read the Indian Removal Act of 1830 as a providential episode that heralded the gathering of that segment of Israel, and was convinced the Second Coming was accordingly imminent. Smith’s announcement of the city of Zion to be built further confirmed him in his sense that he was living on the cusp of millennial events.
The failure to realize the promise of Zion in Missouri was devastating to Pratt, as it was to thousands of his co-religionists.

Q: Pratt’s books and pamphlets, although rarely discussed today, are so much a part of Mormonism’s deepest beliefs. Did these emulate mostly from his private talks with Joseph Smith or from his personal study? And did he ever run into conflict on his published doctrine with Brigham Young, as his brother Orson often did?

A: Because so little is recorded of Smith’s Kirtland teachings and personal interactions with other leaders, it is impossible to know how much of Pratt’s writing was directly derivative of Smith’s ideas, and how much was Pratt’s own extrapolation and elaboration of seeds he garnered from Smith and his revelations. Most likely, it was both. Smith did on one occasion complain that Pratt and other “great big
elders” were passing off his ideas as their own. Some later editions of Pratt’s writings had portions edited out, but we found no evidence of Young criticizing any particular ideas of his.  Rather, Young recommended Pratt’s writings to others.

Q: Did Brigham Young like Parley P. Pratt? An earlier biography of Pratt (Stanley) claimed the prophet disliked him and kept him away via constant missions?

A: In general, Young and Pratt seem to have had a good relationship, though there were moments of tension and conflict.  For instance, during the trek west, Young rebuked Pratt over several issues related to authority and organization of the trek west.  In general, though, Young respected Pratt for his preaching and literary talents, as well
as his willingness and ability to take on difficult tasks like the Southern Utah Expedition, and Pratt accepted Young as his quorum president (and later Church president) and looked to him for guidance and advice.

Q: Regarding Pratt’s murder, do you think he wished to be a martyr or had resigned himself to dying when he left the Van Buren jail?

A: The last years of Pratt’s life were marked by disappointment in the millennium deferred, and in the failure of the Saints to attain the high standards expected of them. (Their unwillingness to generously support his missionary endeavors was one factor in that perception). He missed his family terribly during his missions, and was worn out
emotionally and physically. In his final days, he refused to take precautions to defend himself against the man thirsting for his blood, and certainly met his death with uncommon equanimity.

Q: What are some unanswered questions about Parley P. Pratt that are still left to be discovered by historians?

A: One important question relates to your question 3. How much of a role did Pratt have as a catalyst to Joseph Smith’s own expansion of his ideas, especially in regard to human theosis, which Pratt discussed in print long before the King Follett discourse? Another question might be the enduring theological legacy of Pratt’s works. How did Pratt’s books, especially Voice of Warning and Key to the Science of Theology, shape Mormon thought throughout the nineteenth century and the twentieth (and indeed to the present)?

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9 Responses to Interview with the authors of new Parley P. Pratt biography

  1. Pingback: Mormon apostle Pratt suffered a violent death at the hands of a cuckold | The Political Surf

  2. Howard Ratcliffe says:

    Parley Pratt was killed by his last polygamy wife Eleanor’s husband Hector because they were not divorced.
    The story seems fitting today because Aug 29 is the celebration of the beheading of John the Baptist by King Herod who had been chastised by John for marrying Herodius, the wife of his brother Phillip while they too were still married. Herodius’ lawful daughter Salome then danced the “Dance of 7 Veils” for Herod and demanded John’s head on a charger which he obliged.

  3. Pingback: Mormon apostle Pratt suffered a violent death at the hands of a cuckold | Arkansas News | Arkasas Breaking News Headlines | Arkansas News Directory

  4. Henry T. Parker says:

    Can anyone tell the origin(reason)(for whom named) for the middle name of Parley Parker (Parker) Pratt?

  5. Mary Ellen Elggren says:

    If you view marriage only through the context of sexual attraction and fulfillment, which is usually an essential element in monogamist marriage, then I can understand many of the gut reactions above. It does, however, show a lack of understanding of plural marriage as practiced by the early Mormons.

    One of the requirements of plural marriage for the men was respect for the women in their families. Any kind of abuse was not tolerated and sexual contact was at the discretion of the woman.

    Many women entered plural marriage for the sole purpose of being sealed into the covenant and gaining the protection and benefit of being in a functional and organized family. Assuming that Eleanor McComb McLean married Parley Pratt for sexual reasons may be entirely incorrect. It seems clear that she truly was in desperate need of protection, not only from an abusive husband, but also from her own family who would be party to the kidnapping of her children. The fact that the judge in the case, after talking to Eleanor and Parley, sided with their plight, says a whole lot.

    • Fred Barrett says:

      Mary Ellen Elggren I do believe you have hit the nail on the head so to speak. There is no doubt in my mind that most of the folks who condemn The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are speaking in ignorance because of the false teachers in a number of different Christian Religions are who are spreading false accusations against the church and its members an opinion after fifty years of observation and following what such organizations as The Christian Research Institution have told their listeners on the radio and in print such false hoods. This was just one organization of many. They seem to be numerous in the State of Utah and across the nation and for that matter around the world.

      One of the general misconceptions is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Mormon Church. This is an obvious attempt that began by the enemies of Jesus Christ in the in the early years of Joseph Smith even before the church was organized. No offense taken from these false reports because I know in the end all of the world and its inhabitants from the beginning to the end will know the truth.

    • Erick says:

      As I have read some of the accounts of polygamy, even among the Utah Mormons in the late 1800′s, I have come to wonder what a “functional organized family” really was? Some were more organized than others and shared in a microcosm of consecreation, and others were functionally independent units. For all of the good talk, I rarely hear from Modern Mormon women who would be interested in a polygamist relationship (though I do know of exceptions), rather most seem appalled at the notion. Furthermore, the records of those who lived it are often far from compelling. Many of the early Mormon who lived it are on record as saying, had they the chance to make the decision to live in polygamy again, they would not do it. Lastly, back to this argument of a “functional family”. By modern standards, and in accordance with the Proclomation to the World, a functional family consists of a father and a mother. It doesn’t take a lot of math training to see what happens to that formual when a father is divided among more and more families. In other words, by that definition, polygamous families would become increasingly less “functional” with the addition of every new wife.

      • Chris says:

        In some cases these polygamist families were functional, in some they were not. As you say, there were many different organizations of these families, which functioned better or worse depending on the implementation.
        Despite this fact, the LDS church is an extremely functional organization, that does much good all over the world, whose body is largely composed of the descendants of these polygamist families (Part of the purpose of polygamy was to build this body, as it was in the Old Testament). Many of these descendants live now in very functional, twenty-first-century families and would maybe say they would not want to be involved in polygamy now. However, nearly all would say they are grateful for their ancestors practice of polygamy and the very effective and necessary effect it had on building the church. In this sense, polygamy performed this function very, very well. It is obvious with any research into the fruit of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that the good fruit is much more plentiful than the evil fruit, which, admittedly, is not totally lacking and is a part of every organization involving human beings.

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