The Work and the Glory II: American Zion

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As a movie, The Work and the Glory II: American Zion (hereafter American Zion) is an excellent production superbly directed by Sterling Van Wagenen. It is based on the nine-part tome of novelist Gerald N. Lund. The Utah Jazz basketball owner, Larry H. Miller, largely financed the film. The novel has done well, with over two million copies purchased.

For the readers of this well-crafted series, or those who are not historians, the movie is compelling. While the worldwide audience is much less than The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it is good theater. But for Gandalfs--those who are drawn to dig as deep as one can and even, allegorically speaking, travel to the libraries of Minis Tirith--American Zion is a production that deserves credit in its ability to convey its message, which is the opposite of Sergeant Joe Friday on Dragnet: "just the emotions, m'am." In a lawsuit, when the law is on one's side, argue the law; when the facts are on one's side, argue the facts; and if neither is... argue emotions. American Zion is emotional, and on this facet, it glows.

Speaking of emotions, I am rather confused though on one part: at the wedding of heroes Nathan Steed (Alexander Carroll) and Lydia McBride (Sera Bastin, who replaced Tiffany Dupont from the first film), the entire wedding party and witnesses were wearing looped ribbons on their lapels. (This made me think of pink ribbons for supporting breast cancer or rainbow looped ribbons for supporting gay pride parades and such politically charged ideas as these. I felt a bit uncomfortable with the film's anachronistic looped ribbons.) I guess from the emotional edge of the movie and the constant repeat of "the family" that these looped ribbons symbolized the preeminence of the family, although this is far from clear.

If in fact this was what these ribbons symbolized, certainly this preeminence was not so back in the 1830s when this story unfolds. It didn't seem that Joseph Smith taught the preeminence of the family as he copied from his supposed golden plates to translate the Book of Mormon. The golden plates financier Martin Harris, who mortgaged his farm to pay for the Book of Mormon, lost his wife Lucy when he abandoned her to follow Joseph to Kirtland, Ohio and drew the father of the Steed clan, Ben (Sam Hennings) with him. Superbly orchestrated, Martin convinces Ben by saying, "I held the golden plates." Of course, Lucy nagged Joseph Smith one time too many to see the golden plates and perhaps that's why the Harris family dissolved. God supposedly forbade Joseph to show the plates to anyone at that time. She just could not see eye to eye with Joseph, who would let her husband heft the plates inside a pillowcase and ended up being a witness of allegedly seeing the plates and the engravings on them.

But early broken families aside, the story is dramatic with a capitol D. After all, drama is conflict, and this movie is conflict; I mean drama. I mean it's good stuff. Especially when Joseph Smith (Jonathan Scarfe) toting a pistol and rifle heads on south with his Yankee thoughts into Missouri--the land of many Wild West outlaws. The friends of these nasty non-Mormon outlaws talk over ale in the pub with Missouri Lt. Governor Boggs, and tell him that they are nervous about the solid voting block and purchases of the Mormons. To the credit of director Van Wagenen, he clearly conveyed that in Kirtland, Ohio "the Mormons outnumbered the original settlers." I think the Missourians probably were thinking this when they confronted Joseph Smith and his "1834 Zion's Camp Expedition--an army of 250 men carrying bayonets and muskets."

No problem. An army invades Missouri and one angry Mormon tells villain Joshua Steed (Nathan's brother, played by Eric Johnson), "The Saints are coming to Missouri, and you better get used to it." Of course in that army under Joseph Smith is Parley Pratt of Parley's Summit fame just west of Park City, Utah on highway 80. Parley tells his pals as they have marched their cavalry into (i.e., invaded) Missouri with their "natural leader" Joseph Smith, "Wherever Joseph Smith is, I'll follow." Interesting thoughts, especially when considering that the prophet threatens Lt. Governor Boggs with words to the effect, "I have full authority from God and will repay you 100 fold."

The drama, the conflict is resolved when Prophet Joseph Smith tells his men in the genre of Pastor Jonah Clark at Lexington Green, "If there's going to be trouble, let them start it." Of course, this is after Prophet Smith's
army of bayonet lugging, musket toting men have ambled down from their homes in Ohio to Missouri. Interesting spin.

Much has been written about the later Govenor Boggs' statement about exterminating the Mormons, but nothing in LDS literature has been written that it was actually Sidney Rigdon, member of the LDS, who first said they would exterminate any mob of Missourians and their families if provoked at all (July 4th, 1838). After--that is correct--after Sidney Rigdon made this statement, Boggs merely returned Rigdon's phrase (October 27, 1838). Unfortunate, but when faced with bayonets and muskets, perhaps one can get a feel for Boggs' utterance, especially when one's land experiences a group of people who--to the best of my recollection in a dark theater with a note pad--will, according to Smith's prophecy, "fill North and South America to the Rocky Mountains. There will be ten thousands of thousands in Zion. We paid for that land and we'll take it by force if necessary."

As a newcomer to "Zion" (i.e., Utah), I have been impressed with the constant theme of the unprovoked persecution of the Saints by the Protestants, and also equally impressed by the other chant that the majority of pioneers who crossed the fruited plains were "the Saints." Of course "the Saints" suffered, but they were probably between five to ten percent of the pioneers, and all the pioneers, whatever their background, suffered equally. As a Protestant, I look back at Wycliffe, Huss, Tyndsale, Luther and hundreds if not thousands others becoming martyrs for the faith. The other persecution of LDS, you know, come to think of it, feels like propaganda. Yes, this is the word, "propaganda," and it brings up a statement by World War I U.S. Army Captain, later President, Harry Truman's tongue-in-cheek observation, "The greatest propaganda machine ever in the history of the world is the Russian apparatus, but they have been replaced by the United States Marines." After watching the entertaining American Zion, I sense that if Harry came back and worked like Gandalf in the archives to study LDS history, he'd still agree that the Russians may have been replaced by the Marines, but the Marines have been replaced by the LDS Church.

Whether you are LDS or not, American Zion is worth seeing and I look forward to The Work and the Glory III.

For more information on American Zion, please see here, here, and here.

Steve Klein
steve@kleinus.com
October 28, 2005

Steve is CEO of Courageous Christians United--the pre-eminent experts in the U.S. on conducting safe and meaningful First Amendment educational outreaches in front of Mosques and locales in California. We work to make Romans 10:13ff. possible under the First Amendment. Steve is a former Marine officer who came up through the ranks and in Viet Nam was a team leader and interpreter in the Marine's Combined Action Program which excelled in dismantling the masters of Cell Organization, the Viet Cong. Steve has a BA with honors in Political Science from Cal State University Long Beach, has been married for 35 years, and has two grown children.


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