“Lesson 121: The Church Moves to Northern Missouri,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013)
In 1837 and 1838, the Prophet Joseph Smith and other leaders led the Church through a difficult season. As a result of economic distress, greed, faultfinding, and persecutions, 10 to 15 percent of the Saints in Kirtland, Ohio, and northern Missouri apostatized, including some prominent Church leaders. Faithful Saints in Ohio began moving to join those in northern Missouri. This lesson can help students understand and learn from historical events and give them insights into the revelations received during this period.
Suggestions for Teaching
Apostasy and the city of Far West
During a period of apostasy and persecution, faithful Saints move to northern Missouri
Before class, write the following question on the board: Do difficulties and trials help strengthen our faith or cause us to lose faith? You may also want to draw a map on the board showing the location of Kirtland, Ohio, and other settlements in northern Missouri.
Begin class by inviting students to respond to the question on the board. After students have shared their insights, explain that in 1837 and 1838, a period of trials led many of the Saints to face this very question. Explain that in this lesson, students will learn about these difficult events and how the Saints responded to them. Invite students to ponder how our reaction to trials can either strengthen or weaken our faith in Jesus Christ.
You might also explain to students that this lesson can help them understand the historical setting of the revelations they will study in Doctrine and Covenants 113–123.
Point to Missouri on the map. Explain that when the Saints were driven from Jackson County, Missouri, in 1833, the citizens of neighboring Clay County welcomed many of them and gave them relief, anticipating that the Saints would stay only temporarily. However, after the Saints had lived there for almost three years, these citizens began pressuring them to leave the county.
Point to Kirtland, Ohio, on the map. Explain that in 1837, the year after the Kirtland Temple was dedicated, the Saints experienced trials that tested their faith. A number of Saints apostatized and left the Church, including some prominent Church leaders.
Divide the class into two groups. Provide a copy of one of the following historical summaries for each group. (If you have a large class, you may want to divide students into four or six groups and give each group a copy of one of the summaries. This will allow more students to participate in the discussion.) Invite each group to read the summary together and discuss the questions at the end of the summary. Assign one person in each group to lead the discussion and help the group write a principle to share with the class later.
After groups have had time to read and discuss the historical summaries, invite them to recount to the class the history they have learned and the principles they have identified. As they teach, ask them to write the principles on the board. These principles might include the following: As we choose to respond to trials with faith rather than doubt, our testimonies can be strengthened; as we support the prophet and follow his counsel, we receive spiritual security that binds us to God (see historical summary 1). As we forgive others, the Lord can heal our relationships (see historical summary 2).
As students identify principles, ask follow-up questions to help them understand and feel the importance of these truths. These questions might include the following:
Why is this principle important for us to remember?
How would you explain this truth to a friend?
When have you experienced or seen an example of this principle?
To help students apply the truths they have learned, ask them to select one or two of the principles the groups have identified. Then invite them to write a response to the following question in their class notebooks or scripture study journals:
What will I do differently because of the principle or principles I learned today?
Events leading to the Saints’ expulsion from northern Missouri
Ask students to raise their hands if they have ever seen a member of the Church make a choice that caused another person to have a negative impression of the Church. (Do not ask them to share their experiences.) You may also want to ask students to consider how their own actions have influenced others’ impressions of the Church.
Why is it important for us to think about how our actions or words reflect on the Church?
Explain that in 1838 the actions and words of some Church members added to the negative feelings some citizens of Missouri had toward Latter-day Saints. Provide students with copies of the following historical summary, and invite a student to read it aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for things that some of the Saints said or did that hurt the Church and its members. Consider inviting the student to pause after each paragraph. At each pause, ask students the following question:
What did a few of the Saints say or do that caused negative reactions to the Church?
Why might it be important for us to recognize that some of the persecution the Saints suffered resulted from Church members’ actions?
What can we learn from these events about how our own actions and words can influence others? (As students respond, emphasize the following principle: Our actions and words can influence how others view the Church of Jesus Christ. You may want to ask students to read Alma 39:11.)
Invite a few students to share experiences they have had when they have seen another person’s words or actions influence someone else to have a positive view of the Church.
Conclude by referring again to the question you wrote on the board before class. Invite students to share what they have learned today about how our response to challenges and trials can either strengthen or weaken our faith. Share your testimony of the power of remaining faithful to the gospel during times of difficulty.
“Required to Forgive” (7:52)—W. W. Phelps tells how he was forgiven by Joseph Smith. You might show this video from timecode 2:57 to the end instead of having a student read Historical Summary 2 in the lesson.
Trial of Your Faith (0:52)—Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles teaches how to remain steadfast during a trial of faith. You might show this video at the beginning of the lesson as context for the principles being taught in the lesson.