A word today in praise of Brother Brigham (d. August 29, 1877). Brigham Young was a man of his times, and those times were, by all measures, rough. With an iron will he and the Saints endured the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith, finished the Nauvoo temple sufficiently that ordinance work could go forward there, and then worked day and night so that the Saints could be endowed and sealed there before their departure into the wilderness. In the semi-desert of the Great Basin, Brigham Young and his followers planted their crops and commanded them to grow with irrigation water channeled from the rivers and lakes, then raised up more temples, and sought for Zion.
Recent assessments of his long and imposing career, even by sympathetic writers, have shown that not everything Brigham said or did turned out for the best. His racism towards blacks and his paternalism towards the Indians of the valley did damage that is rightly acknowledged as such today. He was human and bounded, as all humans are, by the horizon of his understanding and the atmosphere of the world he inhabited. But today let us also avow that he was a beloved prophet to his people and accept the responsibility we incur with that avowal to seek by the (still partial) light that we have today the good and the true in his teachings.
He was a remarkable man at a remarkable moment. As the Deseret Evening News stated upon the announcement of his death on this date in 1877, he “rescued thousands from poverty and raised them to independence, opened the deserts of these mountains to colonization, preached the gospel of salvation to many nations, declared the counsel of heaven to the inhabitants of the earth, prepared the way in the Temples of God for the redemption of hosts of the dead, [and] organized and consolidated the order of the everlasting Priesthood.”
Brigham Young recognized that he had a rare and historic opportunity—the chance to build a community from the ground up in an unspoiled environment. He met his moment with vision. No prophet in Latter-day Saint tradition has a stronger record than he of teaching the Saints their stewardship over creation. He preached a communitarian ethic (he called it “filialty”) of virtue, frugality, and industry. To the first settlers of Logan, Cache Valley, he commented on how remarkable it was “to see people from so many nations joining hearts and hands to build cities, gather the poor, preach the Gospel, cultivate the earth and do whatsoever is necessary to be done to accomplish what the Lord designed in the beginning of this creation…. With all our weaknesses and imperfections, there is more brotherly kindness here than in any other country…. It is the work of the invisible hand of that Being we call our Father.” (Journal of Discourses 8:77–78.)
Echoing the book of Isaiah, Brigham Young taught that the content of human character would be revealed in our treatment of the created world. Our external environment will thus reflect our internal values.
I do not wish the brethren to cut all the timber to put it into log-houses. Erect saw-mills and make lumber, which will be far better than building log-houses. We have no timber to waste.
You are here commencing anew[.] The soil, the air, the water are all pure and healthy. Do not suffer them to become polluted with wickedness. Strive to preserve the elements from being contaminated by the filthy, wicked conduct and sayings of those who pervert the intelligence God has bestowed upon the human family (Journal of Discourses 8:79).
Brigham saw clearly a connection between our moral attitudes and the health of the created order. And he was worried, rightly so, that greed and avarice would eventually scar the land and dull the conscience of his people. Since his time, much has been lost that was once pristine in the world. But there is still more to loose, or conversely, still much to save, and even more to reclaim of the creations we have blighted. May the people of God love His creation even as they love themselves, for an injury to one is an injury to the other. So taught Brother Brigham.
The Feast of Brigham Young
The Collect: O God, Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, who by the hand of thy servant Brigham Young led thy people into the wilderness that they might build Zion; lead also our hearts, through repentance and the reception of thy grace, to newness of life. Let us work and build with consecrated hands, dwelling peaceably in the earth, so to make it beautiful, even as thou and thy Son together with the Holy Spirit dwell in One, the beauty of holiness. Amen.
Hymn: Gonna Build a Mountain by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. This song, though much performed, has not often received its due as the spiritual anthem that it is, and it’s best rendition, I believe, is still in the future.
Gonna build a mountain from a little hill
Gonna build me a mountain, least I hope I will.
Gonna build a mountain.
Gonna build it high.
I don’t know how I’m gonna do it.
I only know I’m gonna try.
Gonna build me a daydream.
From a little hope.
Gonna push that daydream.
Up the mountain slope.
Gonna build a daydream.
Gonna see it through.
Gonna build a mountain and a daydream.
Gonna make them both come true.
Gonna build a heaven.
From a little hell.
Gonna build me a heaven.
And I know darn well.
If I build my mountain with a lot of care.
And take my daydream up the mountain.
And heaven will be waiting there.
When I build that heaven as I will someday.
And the Lord sends Gabriel to take me away.
What a fine young son to take my place.
I’ll leave a son in my heaven on earth.
With the good Lord’s praise.