The end is near? Why some Latter-day Saints (hey, it’s in their church’s name) and others think it is.

(Illustration by Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

The world was supposed to end Wednesday, a doomsaying Latter-day Saint couple in Idaho predicted, and usher in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

If you’re reading this, however, you know that the Earth continues to turn, with no sign of the Christian Savior.

And the husband and wife, Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow, are in jail, facing charges related to the deaths of Vallow’s two children.

No matter how discredited the Daybells are, though, there are still hundreds if not thousands of Latter-day Saints — and other believers — who are looking for signs of the prophesied apocalypse and insist it is imminent.

Some, in fact, calculate that the end will come sometime in July or August, based on their interpretation of scriptures.

With the global coronavirus shuttering society, the economic meltdown draining finances and protests filling the streets of so many cities — on top of an extraordinary comet streaming across the sky as well as nerve-rattling earthquakes jolting the ground — it is no wonder these studious souls see signs of the end everywhere.

Even without these extraordinary circumstances, the very name of the Utah-based faith — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — proclaims that these are “latter days.”

And church President Russell M. Nelson, though not giving a date, has referenced the Second Coming more than his immediate predecessors.

For her part, Mormon prognosticator Julie Rowe, who lays claim to visionary powers herself, dismisses the Daybell prophecy.

“I’ve asked the Lord over and over, but nothing is coming,” she says in a phone interview. “Chad Daybell is deceived.”

Daybell was Rowe’s publisher and friend for years, but she says he now has given into “lust and greed.”

Standing on prophecy

(Photo courtesy The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Harry Anderson painted "The Second Coming."

From its initial moments, Mormonism was built on the foundation of millenarian beliefs, says Christopher Blythe, author of the forthcoming book, “Terrible Revolution: Latter-day Saints and the American Apocalypse.”

In church founder Joseph Smith’s first publicly reported encounter with an otherworldly visitor in 1823, Blythe notes, that Angel Moroni — of Book of Mormon fame — kept the future prophet, seer and revelator up all night, quoting biblical prophecies about end times and saying their fulfillment was at hand.

From that day to this, Blythe says, the church has steadfastly preached that it existed in the “last days,” but the end was always described as a generation or more away.

“Rarely do we have moments where church leaders have said it is just a few years off,” says the scholar, a research associate at Brigham Young University’s Maxwell Institute.

Last year, though, Nelson called the faith’s dedication of a temple in Rome “a hinge point” in church history.

“Things are going to move forward at an accelerated pace,” he told the Church News. “The church is going to have an unprecedented future, unparalleled. We’re just building up to what’s ahead now.”

In January, he reiterated that point on his social media accounts, urging members to ponder what the faith’s founding means to them.

“This is a hinge point in the history of the church,” Nelson wrote, “and your part is vital.”

In the church’s April Ensign magazine, Nelson wrote about the return of Jesus.

”We are just building up to the climax of this last dispensation — when the Savior’s Second Coming becomes a reality,” the 95-year-old leader said, reminding the faithful that a “necessary prelude ... is the long-awaited gathering of scattered Israel.”

Nelson then described Christ’s triumphant reign.

“He will govern from two world capitals: one in old Jerusalem and the other in the New Jerusalem ‘built upon the American continent,‘” the Latter-day Saint leader said. “From these centers, he will direct the affairs of his church and kingdom. Another temple will yet be built in Jerusalem. …The earth will be returned to its paradisiacal state and be made new. There will be a new heaven and a new earth.”

Nelson gave no timing for these events, though.

If Latter-day Saints become too zealous in trying to pinpoint dates, Blythe points out, the church “has had a regulating goal of discouraging them from thinking it is right around the corner.”

That hasn’t stopped some members who have had dreams or visions, or spent years trying to piece together scriptural clues, from seeking “safe spaces to have these conversations,” the scholar explains, whether “in small pockets of family members or small like-minded groups.”

And now, more than ever, on the internet.

Mormon country

(Tribune file photo) Latter-day Saint leader Ezra Taft Benson waves to a youth choir.

At first blush, these world watchers appear to be committed Latter-day Saints — loyal to the institution and tradition, says Lindsay Hansen Park, executive director of the Sunstone Education Foundation.

The more radical interpretations of Mormon scripture they embrace are tolerated by local lay leaders, says Park, “because they form in geographical pockets where the groundwork for extreme ideas has already been seeded.”

Western Latter-day Saints, including the Cliven Bundy clan, often embrace libertarian rural values, she says, “because issues of sovereignty and range wars are deeply tied to faith for many in the area.”

Similar veins run within the Latter-day Saint mainstream in Utah, Nevada, Arizona and Idaho, says Park, who hosts a podcast, “Year of Polygamy,” that traces breakaway sects within the Mormon tradition.

These movements attract Latter-day Saints, Park says, “because they get more theological autonomy in a tradition that promises the possibility of mystical experiences and spiritual gifts.”

They are largely influenced by “both popular American Christian culture (energy work, essential oils, Christian mysticism, survivalism),” she says, and by the “red-scare” preachings of former church President Ezra Taft Benson and John Birch Society advocate Cleon Skousen.

Benson, U.S. secretary of agriculture under Dwight Eisenhower and later the church’s 13th president, grew up on a farm in Idaho. Through the years, he became increasingly convinced of Cold War conspiracies and doomsday scenarios.

He merged those fears with scriptures and Mormon teachings, presenting his ideas in many church forums, including General Conferences, says historian Matthew Harris, whose book “Watchman on the Tower: Ezra Taft Benson and the Making of the Mormon Right” is just being released.

Benson’s apostolic status led many members to believe his ideas were endorsed by the church, Harris says, as if they represented a mainstream position rather than the fringe.

Despite being regularly rebuked by other church authorities, including Presidents David O. McKay, Joseph Fielding Smith, Harold B. Lee and Spencer W. Kimball, says the scholar who teaches history at Colorado State University-Pueblo, Benson continued to call the civil rights movement a communist plot.

His end times warnings — about the United Nations, a “new world order” and the need to arm against a police state to protect the Constitution— were passed down to each new generation.

What’s new in today’s apocalyptic movement, Harris says, is the inclusion of near-death revelatory experiences, which can be compelling and hard to control.

Just ask the LDS Church.

A new breed of preppers

In 2014, Rowe, a Mormon mother of three in Kansas City, Mo., detailed her “near-death experience” a decade earlier in “A Greater Tomorrow: My Journey Beyond the Veil.” She writes that she visited the afterlife and saw visions of the past and future.

The book took off, she says, selling more than 60,000 copies, and Rowe became a sought-after speaker.

Though she did not offer specific dates for predicted events, she did describe "cities of light," including scores of white tents where people would live in the mountains and sometimes be fed heavenly "manna." She saw a "bomb from Libya landing in Israel, but Iran will take credit."

LDS Church headquarters received so many inquiries about Rowe that church officials sent a letter to administrators and teachers in the Church Educational System, saying that her book was “not endorsed by the church” and that her experiences “do not necessarily reflect church doctrine, or they may distort doctrine.”

Still, her popularity ballooned as she continued to publish books with Spring Creek Book Co. in Rexburg, Idaho, run by Chad Daybell.

In 2017, Rowe and Daybell addressed a Preparing a People Conference in Orem, which drew about 200 people.

That conference was the beginning of the end of her friendship with Daybell, Rowe says. “I saw a lot of red flags.”

But the charismatic prepper continues to expand her efforts to include several podcasts, a nonprofit dedicated to creating safe houses for those needing refuge, and one-on-one energy therapies.

On May 26, 2019, Rowe announced on her podcast that she was excommunicated from the church for “apostasy, teaching false doctrine, priestcraft, and defaming the good name of the church,” Blythe reports in his book, and that she said it was the work of corrupt men who had “infiltrated” Latter-day Saint leadership.

“She prophesied that church leaders would eventually visit her where she would be living in Idaho after the destruction in Salt Lake City,” Blythe writes, “and seek her forgiveness.”

Since then, though, he says other apocalyptic groups — especially AVOW (Another Voice of Warning), which has some 20,000 online followers — have distanced themselves from Rowe in hopes of staying close to the church.

Even so, Rowe presses on with what she sees as her mission: to warn people and help them discern what is coming:

That includes a bigger earthquake next year along the Wasatch Front (“I had a vision of the [March 18] Salt Lake earthquake and the trumpet falling off Angel Moroni’s statue”), another pandemic in the fall, the U.S. eventually being enslaved to a new world order, and two-thirds of the planet’s people perishing.

“Lucifer is behind it,” Rowe declares. “He [and] a 13-man council (the puppet masters) headquartered in Switzerland are orchestrating everything.”

Picking a date

Police sources in Rexburg say Daybell’s friends were told that the beginning of the end would happen July 22.

The best explanation comes from fellow prepper Melanie Gibb, a close friend of Vallow and Daybell, who gave an extensive interview to Nate Eaton of the East Idaho News.

Vallow and Daybell married weeks after Daybell’s wife died and the jailed mother told Gibb “there was going to be an earthquake that was going to hit so large in Utah by the end of 2019 that (people) wouldn’t notice anything in her personal life going on,” Gibb says in the interview. “Lori often mentioned the world would end in 2020, and Jesus Christ would return to the earth. She based this belief on scriptural study and research.”

On Wednesday, lots of former Daybell devotees gleefully posted on social media, “Marked Safe from the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.”

Other Latter-day Saints, though, still have an explanation for why the summer of 2020 might be an auspicious date for the beginning of the end. It is based on the oft-cited “seven seals” described in the Bible’s Book of Revelation.

If a day in God’s time is a thousand human years, then the earth has a temporal existence of 7,000 years, it says in the LDS Church’s Doctrine and Covenants Section 77. The seventh seal was opened in 2000, so this analysis goes.

“Yet, the opening of the seventh seal was not the only clue for end times events,” Blythe notes in a post on his website. “The Book of Revelation does not present the Second Coming occurring alongside the opening of the seventh seal.”

He notes that the scriptural passage continues: “And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.”

Doing the math, if a half-hour of God’s time equals 20.8 earth years, that would bring the date closer to August.

Latter-day Saints continue to be intrigued by trying to uncover the meanings in Mormon and biblical apocalyptic verses — especially amid COVID-19.

A YouTube video aimed at Latter-day Saints uses many of these scriptures to build a timeline full of solar eclipses and speculations about times of tribulation — and it’s been viewed more than 636,000 times.

“Five months ago, most Latter-day Saints would have ignored the [video] altogether,” Blythe says. “Now [it] has a huge audience.”

David Gillmore, who runs “LDS Prepper” in Shelley, Idaho, has sold more of his products — water filtration systems, plant food, 10-inch can sealers, organic seed banks and gardening course books — in the past eight weeks than all of 2019.

“Noah was the first prepper,” the amiable Gillmore quips, “prepper with a purpose.”

But Gillmore is clear: He is not a doomsday prepper or anticipating Christ’s imminent return or listening to somebody’s dreams or visions about the end of the world.

No, he says, “We are preparing for life.”