‘Mormon Land’: Historian on J. Reuben Clark’s church, Gordon Hinckley’s Olympics, Russell Nelson’s reforms

Benjamin Park discusses “American Zion,” his new history of the LDS Church.

(George W. Reed via J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah) A large American flag hangs from the Salt Lake Temple commemorating Utah's statehood in 1896. Benjamin Park's new book notes this was the largest Old Glory to date, measuring 132 feet by 74 feet.

Scholar Benjamin Park’s new book, “American Zion: A New History of Mormonism,” tells the sweeping saga of the rise, rifts and resilience of the nation’s most successful homegrown religion.

“The Mormon story,” he writes, “is the American story.”

Under the guidance of founder Joseph Smith, this new movement was cradled in upstate New York and nurtured in the heartland. But mounting persecutions and prosecutions left leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints feeling so abandoned by the country that gave the faith birth that they abandoned the country itself.

Out West, Brigham Young and his band of beleaguered believers built a remote religious empire. In the decades that followed, though, successive generations of Latter-day Saints slowly but surely returned to the arms of the American fold, eventually becoming among the nation’s most passionate, even partisan, patriots.

(Amazon) "American Zion: A New History of Mormonism" from scholar Benjamin Park.

But like the country it once battled and now embraces, this global faith of 17 million members finds itself caught up in polarizing culture wars. Former frictions — between church and state, faith and intellect, obedience and dissent, patriarchy and feminism — regularly resurface even as new conflicts emerge.

On this week’s show, Park talks about some key players and moments in Latter-day Saint history, including:

(The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) Historical photos of Eliza R. Snow, left, and Emmeline B. Wells. On Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022, the Church History Department announced the publication of the diaries of the two prominent LDS women.

• Emma Smith, Eliza R. Snow, Emmeline B. Wells, Amy Brown Lyman and their visions for women in the church and the all-female Relief Society.

• The emergence of former First Presidency member J. Reuben Clark and how he sculpted much of the present church.

(Utah State Historical Society/Tribune negative collection) President Heber J. Grant, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, center, walks past the Tabernacle at Temple Square with the other members of the First Presidency, J. Reuben Clark, left, and David O. McKay, right.

• Former President Gordon B. Hinckley and the welcoming tone he set for the 2002 Winter Games, and how the church might handle the return of the Olympics to Salt Lake City in 2034.

• How current President Russell M. Nelson’s string of reforms might compare to that of a “venture capitalist” and “market strategist.”

Park addresses those issues and more as he discusses this evolving church and nation, along with the tensions that persist for both to this day.

Listen here:

Author will be in Utah

Historian Benjamin Park will be in Utah to discuss his new book, “American Zion: A New History of Mormonism,” at the following times and locations:

• Benchmark Books, 3269 S. Main, Suite 250, South Salt Lake, on Thursday, Jan. 18, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. He will speak at 6.

• Writ & Vision, 274 W. Center St., Provo, on Saturday, Jan. 20, 7 p.m.