Question: Did Gordon B. Hinckley cite false information regarding an 1820 Palmyra revival in a book called Truth Restored?

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Question: Did Gordon B. Hinckley cite false information regarding an 1820 Palmyra revival in a book called Truth Restored?

The evidence does not suggest that this was an attempt to deceive, but simply an error that was perpetuated between multiple authors

It is claimed that there were no religious revivals in the Palmyra, New York area in 1820, and that Gordon B. Hinckley cited false information regarding an 1820 revival in a book called Truth Restored. The material found in Truth Restored was written in 1947 under the title What of the Mormons? It was written as an introduction to the Church for non-members when Gordon B. Hinckley was a 37-year-old employee of the Church.

Several chapters were later reprinted as Truth Restored. The relevant material reads as follows:

This condition among the people of the frontier areas of America became a matter of serious concern to religious leaders. A crusade was begun to "convert the unconverted." It was carried over a vast area from the New England states to Kentucky. In 1820 it reached western New York. The ministers of the various denominations united in their efforts, and many conversions were made among the scattered settlers. One week a Rochester paper noted: "More than two hundred souls have become hopeful subjects of divine grace in Palmyra, Macedon, Manchester, Lyons, and Ontario since the late revival commenced." The week following it was able to report "that in Palmyra and Macedon . . . more than four hundred souls have already confessed that the Lord is good."[1]

The source for this claim is Preston Nibley, Joseph Smith the Prophet (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1946), pp. 21-22. Nibley, in turn is quoting from Willard Bean, A. B. C. History of Palmyra and the Beginning of "Mormonism (1938).[2] Bean writes:

In the year 1819 a sort of religious awakening... spread... After reaching New York it spread to the rural districts upstate, reaching Palmyra and vicinity in the Spring of 1820.... The revival started the latter part of April [1820]... which gave the farmers a chance to attend the meetings... By the first of May, the revival was well under way with scores of people confessing religion... The revival had been even more successful than the ministers had anticipated. I quote from the Religious Advocate of Rochester: 'More than 200 souls have become hopeful subjects of divine grace in Palmyra, Macedon, Manchester, Lyons and Ontario since the late revival commenced. This is a powerful work. It is among young as well as old people.... A week later [also from the 'Religious Advocate' of Rochester]... 'It may be added that in Palmyra and Macedon, including Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist churches, more than 400 have already confessed that the Lord is good. The work is still progressing. In neighboring towns, the number is great and still increasing. Glory be to God on high; and on earth peace and good will to all men.'"[3]

This is almost certainly a miscitation

Yet, as the Reverend Wesley Walters pointed out in his article which attempted to dispute the existence of a revival, this is almost certainly a miscitation, since the quoted newspaper did not begin publication until 1825.[4]

Thus, Gordon Hinckley (1947) quoted a line from Nibley (1946), who was quoting from Bean (1938) that was in error. It is important to remember, however, that then-Bro. Hinckley's book was not intended to be a scholarly treatise, but was an introduction to the basics of Church history. The material from 1947 was later reprinted as Truth Restored.

Despite the miscitation, there actually is, however, evidence of religious excitement in Palmyra in 1820

Despite the claims of Walters and other critics, modern research has demonstrated that there were religious meeting in the Palmyra area in 1820. The cited newspaper article did not apply to the 1820 events, but other reports are known today which would make the same point.

The evidence does not suggest that this was an attempt to deceive, but simply an error that was perpetuated between multiple authors.

Anti-Mormon authors should be well aware of this phenomenon—anti-Mormon arguments are constantly recycled and requoted by their successors, with little heed given to LDS responses or the primary sources. In this respect, the Church has done better than the critics—the current brief introduction to Church history, Our Heritage, quotes no newspapers about the 1820 revival.[5]

Notes

  1. Truth Restored (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1979), 1–2.
  2. Rev. Wesley P. Walters, "New Light on Mormon Origins From the Palmyra Revival," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 no. 1 (Spring 1969), 67, 67 n. 48.
  3. Cited in Dale Broadhurst, "Uncle Dale's Readings in Early Mormon History: Misc. New York Newspapers," note 2. off-site
  4. Rev. Wesley P. Walters, "New Light on Mormon Origins From the Palmyra Revival," Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought 4 no. 1 (Spring 1969), 67, 67 n. 48.
  5. See Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1996), 1–4. LDS link