The most dramatic religious event of the 1850s was the reformation of 1856–57. While the new communities were being settled, many members of the Church had drifted into spiritual lethargy as they struggled to survive on the frontier. During their first decade in the West, most Saints had concentrated on temporal affairs and had often neglected individual spiritual matters. The need for a reformation became especially apparent in 1856 when the effects of rapid immigration into Utah and the severe drought and grasshopper plague of 1855 combined to threaten the economic stability of Utah. Many Saints wore threadbare clothing and were on the verge of starvation. Church leaders taught that these conditions had come about partly because of the Saints’ laxity in keeping the commandments. 35
35. Previous six paragraphs derived from Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, pp. 272, 275–79.
In 1856 the First Presidency commenced a reform movement. Leaders traveled throughout the territory preaching repentance with unprecedented fervor. Second Counselor Jedediah M. Grant in particular stirred many congregations with his enthusiastic sermons. Special reformation missionaries preached and called upon congregations to repent. Block teachers took a list of questions about moral behavior into the homes. Saints everywhere were called upon to rededicate themselves to the Lord and his commandments through rebaptism. Church leaders led the way. Elder Wilford Woodruff characterized the reformation: “The spirit of God is like a flame among the Leaders of this people and they are throwing the arrows of the Almighty among the people. JM Grant is pruning with a sharp two edged sword and calling loudly upon the people to wake up and repent of their sins. The Elders who have returned are full of the Holy Ghost and power of God.” 36
The reformation had a positive effect upon the Saints. Religion and moral practices once again took prominence in their lives. They demonstrated by rescuing the stricken handcart companies that they truly cared for each other and could successfully organize to meet emergencies. By the summer of 1857, ten years after first entering the Great Basin, the Church was on a strong footing and was accomplishing the things it was restored to the earth to do.
TO BE ASKED THE
LATTER DAY SAINTS.
Have you committed murder by shedding innocent blood, or consenting thereto?
Have you betrayed your brethren or sisters in anything?
Have you committed adultery, by having any connection with a woman that was not your wife, or a man that was not your husband?
Have you taken and made use of property not your own, without the consent of the owner?
Have you cut hay where you had no right to, or turned your animals into another person’s grain or field, without his knowledge and consent?
Have you lied about or maliciously misrepresented any person or thing?
Have you borrowed anything that you have not returned, or paid for?
Have you borne false witness against your neighbor?
Have you taken the name of Deity in vain?
Have you coveted anything not your own?
Have you been intoxicated with strong drink?
Have you found lost property and not returned it to the owner, or used all diligence to do so?
Have you branded an animal that you did not know to be your own?
Have you taken another’s horse or mule from the range and rode it, without the owner’s consent?
Have you fulfilled your promises in paying your debts, or run into debt without prospect of paying?
Have you taken water to irrigate with, when it belonged to another person at the time you used it?
Do you pay your tithing promptly?
Do you teach her family the gospel of salvation?
Do you speak against your brethren, or against any principle taught in the Bible, Book of Mormon, book of Doctrine and Covenants, revelations given to Joseph Smith the Prophet and the Presidency of the Church as now organized?
Do you pray in your family night and morning and attend to secret prayer?
Do you wash your body and have your family do so, as often as health and cleanliness require and circumstances will permit?
Do you labor six days and rest, or go to the house of worship, on the seventh?
Do you preside over your household as a servant of God, and is your family subject to you?
Have you labored diligently and earned faithfully the wages paid you by your employers?
Do you oppress the hireling in his wages?
Have you taken up and converted any stray animal to your own use, or in any manner appropriated one to your benefit, without accounting therefore to the proper authorities?
In answer to the above questions, let all men and women confess to the persons they have injured and make restitution, or satisfaction. And when catechizing the people, the Bishops, Teachers, Missionaries and other officers in the Church are not at liberty to pry into sins that are between a person and his or her God; but let each person confess to the proper authority, that the adversary may not have an opportunity to take advantage of human weaknesses, and thereby destroy souls.