Back home after our Nauvoo trip, I settled in at the newspaper while Margaretta returned to the bank. Outwardly things continued to go well for us, but behind closed doors of our new home an uneasiness was settling in. We seemed to be caught in a rut. Though we were fully active in our ward, neither of us felt a sense of direction for our lives.
Margaretta would not discuss my waning confidence in the Church. But she did acknowledge the general restlessness we both were feeling.
"What is wrong with me?" she asked one evening after dinner.
"What do you mean?" I responded, although I knew what she was going to say.
"We just seem to live from day to day. We go to work. We come home. By the time we get Erin in bed its time to go to sleep, just to start over tomorrow. Isnt there more to life than just making it from day to day, from paycheck to paycheck?"
"But everybody seems to have that problem."
"Jim, we arent everybody. Were us! Where is our direction? Youre the one who used to say people have a right to be excited about life. What are you excited about?"
"I dont know," I replied thoughtfully. "But I sure know what youre talking about. And you know, Im having some problems figuring out where the Church fits in with all this."
"Jim, our problems are not the Church."
"Are you sure?"
"Maybe the Church isnt perfect. But we have to take responsibility for our own lives. If Im not happy, its not the fault of the Church. Its my own fault."
"I think it is."
"Let me finish. The Church is supposed to be perfect. We have a living prophet who is in touch with God. We go to meetings led by men who are called by inspiration to guide us. But Margaretta, those meetings are boring and you know it!"
"Im not going to talk about the Church."
"O.K., but answer me this. Why dont we feel life in those meetings? Why arent we getting anything out of church? I get up on Sunday, spend nearly all day in church and I feel worse at the end of the day than I did at the beginning."
"I dont know why these discussions always have to come back to the Church."
"Because something is wrong!"
"If something is wrong," she said firmly, "its us."
"You know, honey, I have always thought that. You know Ive always said, The Church is perfect, but the people are imperfect. But Im not so sure anymore that the Church is perfect. Oh I know it was set up to be perfect, but the Church Christ established in the first century was perfect and it fell. Thats why God had to restore it through Joseph Smith. How do I know that same thing hasnt happened again, now?"
"I dont care. I think we can solve our own problems. There is something wrong with our marriage. Something wrong with us. We just arent interested in anything."
"Yeah I know."
"And even if there were something wrong with the Church, I wouldnt want to know it. I was raised in the Church and Ill die in it. Nothing is going to change that. And frankly, Jim, your attitude doesnt make me very happy. I want you to remember one thing: I married you in the temple. Thats very important to me. I dont like some of the things I hear you saying. You can blame our problems on the Church if you want to, but that isnt going to solve anything."
I was silent. She got up, started for the living room, then stopped. "Let me say this plainly. If you ever leave the Church, it will be the end of our marriage." She continued to look at me for a moment, then turned and left the kitchen.
I knew she meant what she said. And because St. Anthony was her hometown, because her parents still lived there, because she knew almost everyone in town, she was not even willing to consider the possibility of major problems in the Church.
Given Margarettas adamant stand, I was dismayed to find two middle-aged men at our door one evening who introduced themselves as missionaries of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Margaretta shot me an irritated look as I invited them in.
They were dressed neatly but casually. One of them, Elder Zellinger, was a handsome man of about 45, perhaps six feet tall, with wavy black hair. As I ushered them into the living room, he explained that he had been a full-time missionary for fifteen years. To him, I knew, full-time meant lifetime. Elder Batenhorst looked to be about 60, paunchy and more relaxed than his colleague. He said he was the principal of a school in Idaho Falls.
Once seated on the couch, Elder Zellinger looked directly at me. "We have the card you filled out at the World Headquarters in Independence last summer, Mr. Spencer," he said politely. "Thats why were here. What can we do for you?"
I was a little taken aback. I had expected him to launch into a prepared discussion in order to reason me out of the Utah Church and into the Reorganized Church.
"Well," I began, "I dont really know what I want. Im just having some problems with things as they are in the Church and I dont know what to do about it."
"Well for instance, I have a problem with the fact that my Church will not ordain Blacks into the priesthood. How do you feel about that?"
"We ordain Blacks. God is no respecter of persons."
"Id be very interested in pursuing that subject with you, but let me ask you a couple other questions. What about polygamy and plurality of gods?"
"We are neither polygamous nor polytheistic."
"How can you not be, in light of the fact that Joseph Smith was both?"
"Well, you see, thats where we disagree with the Utah Church. We do not believe Joseph Smith was either polygamous or polytheistic."
"No, we dont."
"How do you get to that position? In the King Follett Discourse, Joseph Smith makes it patently clear that he taught plurality of gods."
"It is our position," he said, "that the King Follett Discourse was not recorded accurately. What you need to remember Mr. Spencer, is that Brigham Young had a vested interest, since he was a polygamist, in tying Joseph Smith to that practice. The same is true with the plurality of gods idea. In fact, most of the doctrines that are way out in the Utah Church can be traced directly to Brigham Young the Adam-God theory, Blood Atonement, and so on."
I spent three hours talking to the two missionaries. They gave me much information comparing the practices and doctrines of the Utah Church and the Reorganized Church.
At the end of our time together, I thanked them for sharing with me. And that night I made one important commitment to myself that, despite what Margaretta had said, I would look even deeper into the whole history of the Church. And I knew that before I could make any real judgments about the validity of any of the claims of the various factions, I was going to have to dig.
I knew a little Church history. I knew, as a good Mormon, that shortly after Joseph Smith began the Church in 1830 in New York, he moved to Ohio, then Missouri and eventually Illinois, where he was killed. I knew Brigham Young had led a large contingent of the Illinois population in flight from Nauvoo across the frozen Mississippi to winter quarters in Iowa. On July 24, 1847, Young and his followers had entered the Salt Lake Valley, where he is supposed to have uttered his famous line, "This is the place."
Brigham, according to all accounts, ruled the new state of Deseret with an iron hand. He was a genius at organization and colonization. Under his skillful leadership, innovative irrigation plans were executed that made the desert "blossom as a rose" from St. George in southern Utah (referred to affectionately as "Dixie") to the reaches of southeastern Idaho and northwestern Wyoming.
Brigham Young was not only the religious leader, but the political governor of "Zion." The United States government watched the territory of Utah warily as Brigham governed it. The Mormons, with their strange religious views, temple ceremonies, polygamy, plurality of gods and iron-fisted authoritarian priesthood, were considered candidates for rebellion.
Many Washington congressmen still remembered the Mormons as the followers of the strange "prophet" from Illinois who had initiated an independent campaign for the United States Presidency. The country was gearing up for the Civil War, which erupted just thirteen years after the Mormons entered Utah, and Washington was in no mood for a confrontation in the West. In addition, there was already trouble on the Mexican border and with the Indian wars. Washington needed, at least temporarily, the friendship of Brigham Young.
And so the debate over the official government position on Utah was tabled, although the discussion about Mormon polygamy considered outrageous by the nation as a whole continued to be a topic in both houses of Congress.
As I mentally set my sails to investigate the roots of the Mormon Church, I determined to go to the original sources. I was not going to be satisfied with secondhand information.
Then I realized I had been unwittingly prepared for this investigation from the earliest days of my association with Mormonism. One of the first purchases I had made as a new believer was a series of books called The Journal of Discourses. The 26-volume set had been on sale in a Deseret bookstore, specially priced at that time at $50.00.
The Journal of Discourses was a compilation of most of the important sermons of the Church from Brigham Youngs earliest days. I had seldom used the books; they had just gathered dust in my library. But I knew that much of the key to the history of the Church would be found in the sermons of the early leadership.
As I pulled one of the black volumes from my shelf, I suspected that, whatever the outcome of my research, there would be no turning back.