Mormon America: The Power and the Promise


In this candid examination of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of America's leading religion journalists covers everyaspect of this little-understood community of faith whose family values, business success, and evangelistic missions have helped it become one of the world's fastest growing religions.

Esteemed Time and Associated Press reporter Richard N. Ostling and fellow journalist Joan K. Ostling navigate the Mormon Church's complex origins and inner ...

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In this candid examination of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one of America's leading religion journalists covers everyaspect of this little-understood community of faith whose family values, business success, and evangelistic missions have helped it become one of the world's fastest growing religions.

Esteemed Time and Associated Press reporter Richard N. Ostling and fellow journalist Joan K. Ostling navigate the Mormon Church's complex origins and inner workings. They explore the dramatic changes in its policies on polygamy, its conviction in its manifest destiny as the true religion of America, its vocal dissenters, and the ways in which the church handles its vast financial, media, and educational resources.

Richard and Joan Ostling give readers a comprehensive and insightful look into this intriguing religion, complete with the church's history, beliefs, culture, and plans for the future. They shed light on the church's phenomenal success and the strong appeal of its teachings, and provide previously unreported details about its financial investments, worldwide missions, and internal politics.

In Mormon America, Richard Ostling picks up where his widely read 1997 Time magazine cover story, "Mormons, Inc.," left off, by illuminating the church's continuing surge in power and popularity. The Ostlings assemble through their reportage the complete story behind the most prosperous religious group in contemporary America.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This definitive introduction to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS) for most non-Mormons will also be essential reading for Mormons who are interested in something other than an "all is well" analysis of their church. The authors, a husband-and-wife team, are both religion reporters. Unlike earlier journalistic accounts of the LDS church--such as Robert Mullen's Latter-Day Saints: The Mormons Yesterday and Today (o.p.), Wallace Turner's Mormon Establishment (o.p.), Robert Gottleib's America's Saints (1986. reprint.), and John Heinerman and Anson Shupe's The Mormon Corporate Empire (o.p.)--this work gives much more play to doctrinal concerns in its comprehensive treatment. The Ostlings look at the history, beliefs, and economic, social/cultural, and religious practices of the LDS, and they don't shy away from any of the controversies facing the contemporary church, such as issues of academic freedom at church-owned Brigham Young University and the church's wealth. Highly recommended for all libraries.--David S. Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Libs., Philadelphia Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Michael Freedman
In Mormon America, the Ostlings reveal how the church operates much like a corporation, with a centralized authority structure, a public-relations campaign, and a willingness to put pressure on those who criticize from within. "Such discipline of rank-and-file members in other churches is virtually unknown," the Ostlings write.

The writers also include Frank discussions of church history and theology, including the emphasis on family, community, and missionary work. But according to the Ostlings, the church's self-told history contains troubling inconsistencies. The late church leader Brigham Young had more than 20 wives, for instance, yet official church documents characterize him as a monogamist.
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Kirkus Reviews
A thoroughly-researched, impartial treatment of that homegrown American religion so shrouded in mystery and myth: Mormonism. The Latter-Say Saints have been the subjects of a number of illuminating scholarly works, from Jan Shipps's Mormonism to D. Michael Quinn's The Mormon Hierarchy, but until now there has been no book of the same caliber for the general audience. An outgrowth of Richard Ostling and S.C. Gwynne's 1997 Time magazine cover story, Mormon America is an accessible, even-handed treatment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS), which, according to sociologist Rodney Stark, will number well over 63 million faithful by 2080. Not themselves Mormons, the Ostlings bring a newcomer's curiosity and a healthy respect for the LDS to their project. After a brief summary of the history of Mormonism, which was born in the late 1820s, the Ostlings investigate a number of hot-button issues, from polygamy (officially banned, but still practiced by a few renegade "Mormon fundamentalists," who are excommunicated if church authorities discover their marital practices) to money ("If the LDS Church were a U.S. corporation, by revenues it would rank number 243 on the Fortune 500 list"), from LDS politicos (including presidential hopeful Orrin Hatch) to the Mormon doctrine of God (which is at odds with orthodox Christian teaching in matters such as deification, the LDS belief that a person can become a God). Mormon America deals with many topics that Americans have heard of but don't understand, explaining what Mormons mean when they talk about being "eternally sealed" in marriage, evaluating the Latter-Day Saints' famed system of tithing and welfare, explicating therelationship between Mormon ritual and Masonic rites, and investigating the special undergarments that some Mormons wear. For Protestants and other "Gentiles," Mormon America is an invaluable primer; Latter-Day Saints will find the book a useful refresher course. (8 pages b&w photos)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060663728
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 10/28/2000
  • Edition description: Older Edition
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 6.16 (w) x 9.22 (h) x 1.23 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard N. Ostling, a religion writer for the Associated Press, was formerly senior correspondent for Time magazine, where he wrote twenty-three cover stories and was the religion writer for many years. He has also covered religion for the CBS Radio Network and the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS-TV.

Joan K. Ostling, a freelance writer and editor, was formerly a writer and editor for the U.S. Information Agency in Washington, D.C., a reporter for the Press Publications newspaper chain in Chicago, and an English and journalism professor.

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Read an Excerpt

Mormon America - Revised and Updated Edition

The Power and the Promise
By Richard Ostling

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2007 Richard Ostling
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780061432958

Chapter One

Sealed With Blood

Nauvoo, Illinois, today sits at a picturesque bend in the Mississippi River, a tourist attraction and state historical park with visitor centers operated by competing churches at opposite ends of the restored town. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) owns the imposing brick Heber C. Kimball house and the Masonic lodge. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS) owns Joseph Smith's grave and his two homes. Relations are polite. The visitor can take the LDS tour in a cart pulled by Amish-raised draft horses and admire the cornfields and soybeans, the rushing creek, the restored shops, and the old Masonic building. There is no sign of the once mosquito-infested malarial swamps, and neither church has restored any of the cramped wooden hovels in which most of the Saints actually lived during Nauvoo's brief moment of glory.

Today as one breakfasts at Grandpa John's Cafe in the backwater country town perched on the high bluff above the river, it is hard to believe that in its day--five years of growth and fame before it became a ghost town--Nauvoo rivaled Chicago. Nothing like this theocratic principality inthe heart of America had been seen since Pilgrim and Puritan days. Here the prophet Joseph Smith maintained a militia of 3,000 to 4,000 men under arms, at a time when the full U.S. Army had only 8,500 soldiers. At its height the population of Nauvoo proper reached 12,000 citizens; several thousand more Saints tilled the ground in nearby Hancock County or across the river in Iowa. These were frontier days, and the white limestone temple rising 160 feet high on the crest of the hill was an imposing sight for miles around.

Praise for Nauvoo's impressive achievements appeared in the newspapers of Boston, New York, and elsewhere. A steady stream of visitors came in 1843 and 1844 to admire the town, visit the strange exhibit of Egyptian mummies in its little museum, and sample Smith's hospitality. They included Charles Francis Adams, son of former president John Quincy Adams, and Josiah Quincy Jr., son of Harvard's president and later the mayor of Boston. Quincy was impressed with Smith's charisma and how he "won human hearts and shaped human lives." But Quincy also sounded a somewhat ominous cautionary note when he observed that Joseph Smith was far more than the entrepreneurial mayor of a successful, if unique, frontier town: "His influence, whether for good or for evil, is potent today, and the end is not yet."

That influence had begun in Palmyra, New York, fifteen years earlier with the translation of the golden plates that Smith testified had been lent him by the Angel Moroni. These latter-day scriptures described the migration of Israelites to the New World--where they became ancestors of Native Americans--and the risen Christ's ministry on American soil. Smith translated these writings into the Book of Mormon, a revelation that Mormons would place alongside the Bible. The influence continued as a band of six followers incorporated a new church and multiplied into a movement of thousands willing to follow their prophet anywhere. And it did not end when a mob left Joseph Smith's bullet-ridden body propped against a well outside the jail at Carthage, Illinois.

The assassination of their prophet left the Saints grief-stricken and dispirited. Nevertheless, as in Quincy's prediction that "the end is not yet," from that bloody atrocity there emerged the most successful faith ever born on American soil, a church regarded by some today as a major emerging world religion.

In the spring Of 1844 matters were spinning out of control for the prophet. He was charged as an accessory to attempted murder and faced an extradition warrant to Missouri, where a thug had pumped buckshot into the head of Governor Lilburn Boggs, who had cruelly mistreated the Saints. Amazingly, Boggs survived. It was rumored that the assailant, never caught, had operated at the behest of Smith. Despite vigorous denials by church officials, talk also abounded of something unthinkable--that the prophet and other top church officials were secretly taking multiple wives. Accusers also said Smith was profiting from land speculation over the miseries of poor Saints. Some of his closest colleagues were beginning to regard him as a fallen prophet.

Never passive, Smith responded with a frenzy of political activity. First he declared himself a candidate for president of the United States. Shortly thereafter he organized the secret Council of Fifty to plan an ambitious political future, and he had that body anoint him as "King, Priest and Ruler over Israel on Earth." He petitioned Congress for authorization to raise and lead a 100,000-man army, personally loyal and answerable only to him, that would subdue the western territories from Texas to Oregon. He proposed that anyone who would "attempt to hinder or molest the said Joseph Smith" in this design was to be liable to two years' imprisonment. Congress did not oblige.

In the midst of all this, Smith preached the most important sermon of his career. The doctrines he presented in this discourse--multiplicity of gods, eternal progression, a heavenly Father who had a body and used to be a man, denial that God created the cosmos "out of nothing"--departed radically from Christian orthodoxy.

Joseph Smith once said, "A religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation." The Saints' readiness to sacrifice all things had already been well tested. Just five years earlier the Mormons had arrived in Illinois, fleeing east across Missouri up into Iowa and across the frozen Mississippi. Missouri's Governor Boggs had thrown them a threat: get out or face extermination. Joseph Smith was in jail in Liberty, Missouri, that winter of 1838-39, under threat of execution for a trumped-up charge of treason. His loyal...


Excerpted from Mormon America - Revised and Updated Edition by Richard Ostling Copyright © 2007 by Richard Ostling. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: A New World Faith
1 Sealed with Blood 1
2 Beginnings: A Very American Gospel 20
3 The American Exodus 38
4 Polygamy Then and Now 56
5 Redefining the Kingdom of God 76
6 Almost Mainstream 94
7 Mormons, Inc. 113
8 Some Latter-day Stars 130
9 The Power Pyramid 147
10 Families Forever 159
11 A Peculiar People 173
12 Rituals Sacred and Secret 184
13 Two by Two 203
14 Saintly Indoctrination 220
15 Faithful History 238
16 The Gold Bible 259
17 Discovering "Plain and Precious Things" 278
18 "How God Came to Be God" 295
19 Are Mormons Christians? Are Non-Mormons Christians? 315
20 Rivals and Antagonists 334
21 Dissenters and Exiles 351
22 Mormonism in the Twenty-first Century 372
App. A Joseph Smith's King Follett Discourse 387
App. B How the Income and Wealth Estimates Were Made 395
Endnotes 401
For Further Reading 432
About the Authors 441
Index 443
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Sort by: Showing all of 9 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 7, 2006

    Respectful, Fair, Informative

    The Ostlings have done something special here. Part history, part biography and part adventure story, they have woven a tale too strange and amazing to be fiction. You just can't make this stuff up. Everything you wanted to know about the Mormon church but never knew to ask. The history of the church from its earliest, unlikely beginnings (Joseph Smith seems a bit of a 19th century L. Ron Hubbard), the rites of the church (not coincidentally similar to rites of the Freemasons), the nature of the church leadership (nearly none of the church heirarchy owns degrees in graduate-level theological training) and so much more. Don't miss this chance to learn so much about this fastest-growing of religions. Some of it may shock you, some of it you simply will not believe. But its all meticulously documented and noted, and its all done with the respect and reverence the Mormon church deserves. If comparitive religion interests you in the least, read this book.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 19, 2004

    A Balanced Look at a Misunderstood Religion

    This book gives a detailed, mostly unbiased look at one of the least-understood religions in the world. I give the authors credit for seeing the good which the Saints' culture promotes: strong families, healthy lifestyles, community service, etc. I also admire the Ostlings for not whitewashing the questionable accounting practices and unsavory characters of Mormon history. When making an addition to a discussion as polarized as that on the LDS Church is, it must be very hard to stay neutral. I believe that the Ostlings have done so, and at the same time, the product of their work is readable and above all, engrossing.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2000

    Meticulous and fair

    'Mormon America' is, simply put, one of the best books about Mormonism out there. All of the major issues having to do with the Church are covered, meticulously and fairly. Refreshingly, the Ostlings show appreciation where appreciation is due, but not at the expense of dealing with the more controversial topics (such as polygamy) that continue to dog the Church into the 21st century. Containing the most up to date research available, this is a must have book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2000

    The Official Christian Church ?

    In the attempt to show differences between the Mormon Church and other christians the authors missed the claim of the Mormons that they are the 'official' christian church. It is their claim that their church is the same church that was founded by Jesus Christ himself. One wonders what else has been left out of their book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2001

    Five Stars For A Biast Book and Ten for Imagination

    The Ostlings need a hobby. People are dying of AIDS in the world and these two have nothing better to do than to publish a book on their opinions. Much respect to what they think but that's all this book is, full of opinions and personal experiences. Most people are seeking that peace everyone has with God and The Ostlings put down the church. I myself, think alot about religion, but the world is so full evil, you are just looking for some comfort and guidance. If the church is so bad and so built 'upon nothing', what church is there that would contain the fullness? What church is it in their opinion has been restored in it's fullness? If these two knew God, they would know that they need to back off the Mormons and move on in their lives. I am a Catholic living in Salt Lake City and with all the mormons that surround me, I know my place and where I stand, it's sad that others feel so crowded that they feel they need some followers to support them in their quest for MOROMON HATERS!!!!!!!!!!

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2000

    Objective Views of Mormonism: Mormons and Non-Mormons Must Read!

    After reading this book, I became intensely interested in the church. I soon after read the Book of Mormon (one of the finest works, whether it be literary or religious, to come out of the nineteenth century), and, did meticulous research independently on the Church. I find this book, with its unbiased (and sometimes even witty) view of one of the most amazing organizations in the world to provide an honest education about who/what/where/why/how the Latter-Day Saints are. This book opened up my eyes to a new view of faith, for which I must thank it. It is also an easy one to follow. Despite what others (presumably Mormons) have said, I find this book to provide the most accurate way of bringing the message across. I have come not to care about whether or not Joseph Smith was 100% accurate or not or about Mormon history which always isn't 100% clean. After learning about the Church, I've come to learn that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is one I'd be proud to be a member of.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2000

    Utter Failure in Explaining Mormonism

    This is a very lousy book. I have to admit that Ostlings are totally ignorant of the Mormon church and treat the subject as some sort of biz which is the wrong impression. The person should start learning about the church from the Book of Mormon not some vicarious book which skirts the major issues of the church which Hugh Nibley deals with must better. However, the pictures are rather nice.

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2000

    Great Expectations!

    When I saw the author discussing this book in SLC, I was interested, I thought, from what he said, that this book would be an honest 'behind the scenes' account of things that most Mormons don't know,which they would find interesting to know, as well as non-Mormons. Red flags began to wave when the authors dealt with Church history. One final suggestion, when leveling heavy handed statements against Joseph Smith, that would discredit him, be sure to cite two or three credible sources, don't just say that 'so and so' said, give exact refrences to where we can find the same info, and be sure to tell BOTH sides of the story. Unfortunately, Mr. and Mrs. Ostling do none of these, which is a hallmark for 'Anti' literature.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 1999

    Interesting, but missed the point...

    This is an interesting book, and as well written as it could ever be expected. However on page after page, it felt like they were shooting their arrows a little off-center. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is just that- a Church. It has assets and holdings as any large organization should, but that is not the message of the Church... it is not even discussed at the Church! The message of the Church is simple: God lives. Jesus is the Christ. The Gospel of Christ is on the Earth again and contained within the doctrine of this Church. The Book of Mormon is the word of God, along with the Bible and both testify of the validity of the Church's doctrines. If you want to learn about the Mormons, I suggest finding the core of them first -- Read the Book of Mormon. Then, as I said, this excellent book can be read for what it is worth: Simple information.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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