Book Review: The Polygamist King – James J. Strang

I was fascinated to learn celebrated journalist John J. Miller 1 had written a Kindle Single on the subject of James J. Strang.

I was thrilled that John Miller was willing to do a Q&A with me for your benefit.

For those not familiar with James J. Strang, he was the 1844 convert who claimed to be Joseph Smith’s chosen successor.

Strang started by renouncing polygamy and spiritual wifery at a time when Brigham Young and Heber Kimball were continuing Joseph Smith’s secret teachings regarding the possibility of plural wives in Celestial marriage. Ironically, men known to have participated in illicit intercourse and spiritual wifery under the leadership of John C. Bennett and William Smith would become Strangites. Strang came to Nauvoo right around the time William Law and Austin Cowles were becoming lethally disaffected with Mormonism. He was baptized in the month when Law and Cowles were gathering conspirators with the intent of murdering Joseph Smith. As many who actively conspired against Joseph allied themselves with Strang (including my ancestor, Austin Cowles), I have come to regard membership in Strang’s sect as a highly suspicious sign.

A few years after Strang put himself at the front of a post-martyrdom Mormon sect claiming to renounce polygamy, Strang began gallivanting around the country with “Charles J. Douglas,” a 19-year-old woman whose real name was Elvira Eliza Field. Ms. Field would dress in men’s clothing to permit her to accompany the man she regarded as her husband. Strang’s original wife, never more than lukewarm about her husband’s association with Mormonism, left him. Strang married three more plural wives. All four of his plural wives were pregnant in 1856 when matters came to a head.

By 1856 tension between Strang and those who opposed him resulted in his shooting. Strang lingered for weeks before dying, never conferring on another the keys to his Strangite kingdom. In Strang’s case, he had actually had himself coronated king, hence the title of John Miller’s book.

Meg: I enjoyed this slim volume immensely. What brought you to write about James Strang?
Continue reading


  1. John J. Miller writes for National Review, the Wall Street Journal, and other publications. The Chronicle of Higher Education has called him “one of the best literary journalists in the country.”

The Lord Leads His Church

Elder D. Todd Christofferson posted a highly revealing and fascinating status update on his Facebook page today:

Someone recently asked me why the Brethren are focused on teaching about Sabbath day observance throughout the world. The answer is very simple. It came as a direct revelation to the First Presidency and the Twelve from the Lord.

If we keep the Sabbath day holy, individuals will be stronger and will experience a transforming depth of spiritual maturity. The Lord has taught for centuries to let the Sabbath be a delight for all. We are all learning and teaching this law anew worldwide. We know it will bless all.

This status should quell any doubts that people have as to whether the Lord actively leads his Church.

With most impressions and promptings that we feel, the line between the Holy Ghost and our own efforts is blurred. It is hard to tell whether something comes directly from God, or whether comes from our own desire to be righteous and do good. And indeed, we have been counseled to not worry ourselves too deeply about the difference between the two. But there are times when revelation comes through in a fashion where its divine origin is unmistakable. And in those moments, words and thoughts from heaven flow through us. Those are the moments that we might describe “as a direct revelation . . . from the Lord.”

What Elder Christofferson is suggesting is not merely that the First Presidency and Twelve are trying to do their best and acting upon their good desires. Instead, the instruction to focus on Sabbath day worship was “direct revelation . . . from the Lord.”

This language is unequivocal and profound. God is leading his Church. He cares about what the Brethren teach. He cares about our spiritual state. And he has made it clear that improving Sabbath worship is one of the greatest priorities for our day.

Tools for a Happy 2016 – Money Management

Savings graphSaving money was the topic of our ward’s last 5th Sunday discussion.

Fun as it was to come up with a perpetual planner, that was a mere lark compared to the really cool tool I worked on during the holiday break. The problem was developing a template to plan and manage family finances and scheduling.

Just like there are lots of tools for performing tactical management of money, I was looking for something that would help us get a strategic approach to money. To some people this comes naturally. To many couples, this is no big deal. Some families already have systems to live well within their means.

We, on the other hand, find the financial aspect of life to be somewhat of a challenge, in part because we have lacked a tool that helped us have a common understanding of our spending and obligations.

A few years ago I had set things up so the bills would get paid with a minimal amount of effort on the part of my husband and myself. The holy grail was a tool that would help us easily visualize the year’s finances in advance so it would be easy to stay on budget even when the bank account showed lots of money “just sitting there.”
Continue reading

Taking Control of Mobile Technology


As a parent of children with Android and iOS devices, I want to be able to control and limit their ability to use their electronic devices, inside or outside of the home.

The sight of a child’s face buried in their cell phone or tablet—for hours on end, with their ears covered with headphones, watching YouTube videos—is enough to drive any parent crazy. Mobile technology can be a wonderful thing, especially when it is properly controlled, and used in small doses.

Continue reading

The Scandalous Book of Mormon

Recently, I read The Emmaus Code, a book written by a Protestant Christian author about types and symbols of Christ in the Old Testament. The author did an admirable job of rounding up a variety of things which point to the coming of Christ. Yet, what surprised me most was the author’s suggestion that these images and metaphors were not understood fully by the Prophets of old and that it wasn’t until the coming of Christ that their meaning was revealed. Even though he rightfully pointed to the fact that Christ infuses the whole of the Old Testament, he did not believe that those who came before truly knew Christ.

As Mormons, it is easy to forgot how shocking and revolutionary some of the claims in the Book of Mormon are. It is easy to fall into the trap of seeing the Book as merely a collection of powerful but utterly conventional stories and sermons on Christ. But the scandalous insight at the core of the Book of Mormon is precisely what it reveals about Jesus Christ and knowledge of him long before his coming. Continue reading