I just watched the first three hours of the PBS special, “God in America.” The series documents the role religion played in the creation of the United States of America and will undoubtedly explore religion’s impact on the current American consciousness. I was awed by the fervor of the Puritans. I was overwhelmed with gratitude for Thomas Jefferson for pushing the need for religious freedom as part of the American experiment. I was caught up in the idea of America being “the city on a hill” as presented by Protestant America in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s. I cheered the Catholic Priest who challenged the public school system for being bigoted against Catholics in New York. I feel religious freedom was, is and will be necessary for democracy to survive. When I feel patriotic zeal towards America, “The land of the free” as our national anthem says, a good portion of that love centers on my ability to practice my religion how, where and what I may.
As I watched the documentary I patiently waited for the religious timeline to approach 1820. I couldn’t imagine how a documentary named “God in America” could skip a true American original like The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or an American prophet, Joseph Smith. As we neared 1820, the show clearly portrayed the religious fervor that was afoot in America at the time Joseph Smith was alive and young in New York state. And yet, my patience was only rewarded in a one line reference to Joseph Smith being just another pastor preaching for converts amongst a Methodist conversion explosion. From what I read online about the next three-hour segment, the documentary will not cover the Latter-day Saint exodus and settling of the western United States, which to me is unbelievable.
I recently had dinner with delightful neighbors not of my faith who declared themselves “Irish Catholic” and I wanted to tell them that I am a “Worldwide Mormon.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is now a worldwide religion. We do not have regional factions that lay claim to particular adherence to tenets or historical events in our religion. (Despite what you may hear or read about the show “Sister Wives” or other religions that have splintered off of our faith, we do not have fundamental factions that are included in our membership.) The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints currently has more members outside of the United States of America than we do in but we were founded in, have trekked across, and have teachings particular to America.
For example, did you know that we believe that the Son of God Himself, Jesus Christ, came and ministered to the peoples living in the Americas after his crucifixion and resurrection? We believe that Jesus Christ, the Lord of all, let the people living at that time feel the nail prints in His hands and let the people thrust their hands into His wounded side. He healed the sick, made lame to walk, gave sight to the blind just as He did in His Biblical ministry. He taught His gospel of faith, repentance and baptism and the reception of the Holy Ghost. Jesus Christ called Apostles and set up His church in the Americas just as he had in Jerusalem.
We also believe that God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith in a shaded grove in New York state in 1820 to answer to Joseph’s fervent prayer to know which of all churches were correct and which he should join. We believe that Joseph was called as a prophet like Moses, Abraham or Peter to restore Christ’s church on earth. All of this was done in America.
So how a documentary named “God In America” could possibly miss the fact that a portion of Americans believe that God has actually been in America is beyond me. Despite this obvious oversight, I will continue to watch the next segment of the documentary because freedom of religion is a privilege that has profoundly shaped my “American Experience.”