Anyone who knows the Joseph Smith story knows that he felt some persecution from the religious leaders of the day in his adolescence after making public having a vision. I think we sometimes dismiss that persecution to some degree – after all, how much real persecution could anyone in the sleepy little town of Palmyra possibly render?
Some days ago I visited this same, still quiet little town in upstate New York. I had seen the outskirts before but had never happened to look about in Palmyra proper. What I saw astonished me.
The center of the town boasts a main road bearing the name of Church Street, and for very good reason. Four towering, beautifully rendered edifices of brick, mortar and extraordinary stained glass windows stand majestically at heart intersection of town. It seems that they were built in defiance of one another, each stating its own authority without question, each seeming to intimidate, inspire and contend more forcefully than the other three. These churches gaze upon each other like a never ending stare down, faces of stern devotion carved in stone. The breathtaking sight finally brought into focus for me just how much power had combined against young Joseph and my heart paled in the glare of these, in this endeavor, unified forces. Surely this kind of opposition would have silenced even the heartiest man. But a teenage boy, unlettered and untutored, knowing only that God had answered his confiding prayer, received all the blows that the greatest men of the age within reach could lavish.
One would think that after Mormonism because an international religion, things would settle down around its birthplace. Not so. This year’s opening night of the Hill Cumorah Pageant, which celebrates Joseph’s discovery of the golden plates as well as the Book of Mormon itself drew many crowds of naysayers, yelling and arguing how Joseph Smith was an evil sinner and how Mormonism proved an ugly farce. Palmyra clearly put a young boy to the test beyond all bounds of decency and the animosity apparently continues, alive and well, today.