Church History Department executive director Matthew Joseph Grow defended Brigham Young in his “Saints” Education Week Overview, Volume 2.
Recently, Brigham Young has been attacked by many who believe his actions were racist, sexist, authoritarian, violent, and more. A petition was even created asking for Brigham Young University to be renamed.
Because Brigham Young is a central character in “Saints,” Vol. 2, Grow defended Brigham and his reputation while trying to accurately display the complex figure he was.
Grow said Brigham suspended the Relief Society, then later reinstated it while strongly supporting women’s education and suffrage. Brigham commended the early black members of the church as the most faithful elders in the church, but also announced priesthood and temple restrictions for blacks. Brigham sought peace with the Native Americans, but many acts of violence occurred under his leadership. He also had dozens of wives, which created political and social tension for him and the Church.
Brigham served as the head of the Church for more than three decades and left hundreds of journal entries, writings, observations of others, and transcripts of revelations and speeches. These numerous records create an overwhelming amount of conflicting information about him.
To help Church members navigate through all the evidence and history, Grow outlined three keys to understanding “Brother Brigham.”
The first key is knowing that people loved Brigham because he was one of them. Grow explained how Brigham insisted on engaging with everyone and being genuinely interested when talking to people.
Many of those who dislike Brigham try to paint him as a “totally unsympathetic person,” Grow said. In fact, Grow said he was a loving and caring leader who not only “ruled from the pulpit,” but led the Church from across his territory. People didn’t call him President Young; they chose to call him Brother Brigham, which Grow says is significant.
Grow pointed out that the church is willingly following Brigham’s lead. “When we hear some people’s perception of Brigham as an overbearing, tough leader who cared little for those around him, we don’t know why people would follow him across the street. But they followed him across the country. They went where he asked them to go,” Grow said.
The second key to understanding Brigham, said Grow, is recognizing that his involvement in plural marriage was motivated by what he considered to be the law of God at the time. Brigham went through a “test of faith” when he first learned that he should practice plural marriage. But at the end of his life, Grow said Brigham learned to see the blessings that came with it and always put his family first.
Brigham’s last testimony before his death was not at General Conference or before a large congregation. Instead, “it came as a father helping his daughter through a moment of crisis,” Grow said.
The final key to understanding Brigham Young is knowing that he was a spiritual leader as well as a practical leader.
Grow spoke of the tremendous importance Brigham placed on the temple and temple work throughout his life. He helped complete and dedicate the Nauvoo Temple before moving the Saints out of Illinois. He systematized and organized temple ordinances and ceremonies and oversaw the construction and dedications of five pioneer-era temples.
Grow said he hopes through “Saints,” Vol. 2, readers will see Brigham as a man who cared deeply for the Saints and took his responsibility as a prophet seriously. He was a man who grew in faith, intellect, and knowledge and learned throughout his life from personal revelation.
“If we only looked at what Brigham Young said in 1845, we would miss the growth and do it an injustice. We need to allow historical figures to grow, learn and mature,” Grow said.
“Saints,” Vol. 2 is part of a four-volume Church history that will be “rigorous in its history, transparent in its approach to subjects, written in an accessible and readable style, and faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” , says Grow. Grow is part of the team of historians writing these books.
He said he hopes these four books will create “a great panorama of faith and teach the church how God has guided and directed in the last days.”
The five themes of the book are Global Church, Gathering, Restoration of Truth, Challenges, and Temple. With a focus on an expanding global church, “Saints,” Vol. 2 focuses on sharing the perspectives of Indigenous Latter-day Saints around the world, not just the perspective of American missionaries called to serve in Europe and the South Pacific, Grow said.
Grow said the series is intended to reach the “rising generation” of Saints to help fortify their faith through the stories of covenant people bringing the gospel to the world.