David Salisbury (1836-1918), my great-great-great-grandfather, joined the church in England, crossed the plains and settled in Nephi, where he had 12 children. He wrote an autobiography, so we know a lot about him.
We also have eight letters he wrote to his son Jacob (my g-g-grandfather) between 1916 and 1918. They are not casual letters; they are in the style of Benjamin or Alma, letters of an aged father to a son. Apparently David thought Jacob and his family were straying from the gospel.
A recurrent issue in the letters is that of generational difference. David saw the experiences of his generation — namely crossing the plains, settling the wilderness and being involved in the Utah War — as formative and defining:
‘I cannot tell you what it means for us at our age to have followed the Prophet not just in our habits but in our whole lives, to go across this country because we knew the Lord had commanded it through the voice of those he had chosen. And to arrive here and find only work, but glorying in the part we played and relying only on the faith we all had. How can I be other than I am?’
He saw Jacob’s generation as recipients of the efforts of his generation:
‘Your generation had much to support you. Not just the farms and the houses, also the Sunday School, which I built with my own hands, and the temple in Manti. When we did the work of God, we thought of our children and how they might grow strong with the Spirit of the Lord, in the Kingdom of God, which I stood ready to defend with my life.’
He implies throughout all the letters that the younger generation has not taken advantage of the blessing they were provided, and even hopes that ‘the Great and Terrible war will humble the sons of the church and bind them closer to the Lord.’
I don’t know if his generational identity is representative of a trend in the church at the time. For myself, I have never seen my generation as a useful identity: the boundaries seem artificial, and in my own life I think church membership and culture have dulled the influence of being Generation X, or whatever it is.
But I wonder if in the church, does generation matter? I have seen people comment here that understanding of some doctrines differs by generation. Is that accurate? Does the church’s official rhetoric of the greatest generation have an influence in people’s lives? I think we have three generations of bloggers around: can we tell, or does it matter?