Other than being the hometown of former United States President Harry Truman, Independence, Missouri, does not have much extraordinary history to offer mainstream America. Unless, as Craig S. Campbell rightly points out in this noteworthy book, one considers a specific religious heritage held by several related movements; then the history is “one that transcends the prosaic and is very beautiful, fantastic in fact, depending on ‘which end of the day you see it from’” (xiii–xiv). Within several blocks in this city, one can find temples, churches, and visitors’ centers belonging to several different groups all claiming this area to be sacred space. Regardless of what each group believes today, they all share a common history that involves a prophet, a place, and a promised future.
Craig S. Campbell, professor of geography at Youngstown State University, has contributed a fine volume to Mormon historiography with his Images of the New Jerusalem: Latter Day Saint Faction Interpretation of Independence, Missouri. In the preface, he describes the book’s objective as “a historical interpretation of the millennial geography of Independence and its surroundings as seen by the Latter Day Saint churches” (xiv). “Churches” is listed in the plural, and a hyphen is missing between “Latter” and “Day,” because the book focuses on several religious movements that claim lineage from Joseph Smith, mainly focusing on the LDS Church, the RLDS Church (now known as the Community of Christ), and the Church of Christ (Temple Lot). The result is a rich manuscript chronicling how these different people have, for almost two centuries, viewed an area that they believe has both a sacred past and a millennial future.
While the history of the groups other than the “Utah” Mormons will obviously be new and exciting for most readers, Campbell’s analysis of the LDS Church is also quite laudable and worthy of close attention. He narrates the fascinating progression of how the Church went from viewing Zion in Independence as something that needed to be immediately established (48) to a future incentive to be used as a “carrot-before-the-horse teaching” in order to inspire the Saints to build up Utah (129). Today, references to Zion are rarely taken to mean the specific location of Jackson County, and Church leaders almost never mention Missouri in reference to the future hopes of the millennial day (200). The author does an exemplary job of identifying the tensions that exist among believers today while speculating on what Independence really means in today’s international Church.
Just like any other book, however, there are parts to be quarreled with. While Campbell often keeps remarkably objective throughout the book to most of the different Mormon groups, his tone at times seems harshest toward the LDS faith. Also, he can sometimes appear quite judgmental toward those who hold more speculative views about scripture and millennial prophecy, such as the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) interpretation that Isaiah 2:2—“the mountain of the Lord’s house”—refers to Missouri (257). Also, while the book is commendable in its historical accuracies, there are still a few small errors, including stating that the Saints bought the temple land in 1832 (46), rather than 1831. But these are minor quibbles, and they do not detract from the overall quality of the work.
While many other important themes and points could be presented as evidence for this book’s importance, I will single out three that I feel are especially meaningful. First, the book was published by University of Tennessee Press, which is a new publisher to the Mormon scholarship scene. Second, as a geographical study, it is a new framework in which to explore Mormon history. I especially appreciated chapter 9, entitled “Independence Classified,” where Campbell places the Mormon view of Zion within the larger view of other “sacred spaces,” particularly in Asia. And third, I really enjoyed the fact that the study looked at several different groups within the larger Mormon movement, a trend that this reviewer hopes will continue. Overall, this is a significant book that deserves much more attention than it has heretofore been given.