Episode 53: Historian Spencer W. McBride on the importance of the Nauvoo Temple for early Church pioneers and for Latter-day Saints today

Construction of the original Nauvoo Temple began in the spring of 1841 on a hilltop overlooking the Mississippi River. Early Latter-day Saints labored to build the temple, completing the sacred building after the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

This episode of the Church News podcast explores the history and significance of the Nauvoo Temple. Joining the podcast is Spencer W. McBride, an associate managing historian of the Joseph Smith Papers who earned a Ph.D. in history from Louisiana State University. The host of “The Nauvoo Temple: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast,” he is uniquely poised to speak on Joseph Smith, the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the importance of the Nauvoo Temple for early Church pioneers and for all of us today.  

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Transcript

Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with leaders, members and others on the Church News team. We end each Church News podcast by giving our guests the last word and the opportunity to answer the very important question, “What do you know now?” We hope each of you will also be able to answer the same question and say, “I have just been listening to the Church News podcast and this is what I know now.” 

Construction of the original Nauvoo Illinois Temple began in the spring of 1841 on a hilltop overlooking the Mississippi River. Early Latter-day Saints labored to build the temple so they could receive the blessings promised by the Lord. President Gordon B. Hinckley announced plans to rebuild the historic temple during April 1999 general conference. He dedicated the temple on June 27, 2002 — the anniversary of the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.

This week, as Church members are focusing their “Come, Follow Me” study on the Nauvoo Temple, this episode of the Church News podcast explores the same topic. Our guest today is no stranger to podcasts: Spencer W. McBride, a Ph.D., hosts the new eight-part miniseries, “The Nauvoo Temple: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast.” Brother McBride is an associate managing historian of the Joseph Smith Papers, having earned a Ph.D. in history from Louisiana State University. He has authored multiple books on religion and American politics and is uniquely poised to speak on Joseph Smith and the importance of the Nauvoo Temple for early Church pioneers and for all of us. Welcome to the Church News podcast.

1:59  

Spencer W. McBride: It’s great to be here.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, let’s just start and have you explain to us what is so interesting to you about the Nauvoo Temple.

Spencer W. McBride: There are so many temples in the Church and each one is special, each one is unique; but I think there’s something about these historic temples, these temples that were built during Joseph Smith’s day that are especially important to our understanding of Church history and the Restoration, both then and now. And I think the Nauvoo Temple kind of stands out in my mind, because that’s where we get the restoration of these core temple ordinances: baptisms for the dead, the sealing ordinance, the endowment, those are all restored in Nauvoo, and I think most Church members know that, but there’s something really special that comes into our gospel learning and our discipleship when we have a deeper understanding of just how they were restored and how the first Latter-day Saints responded to their introduction.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And President Russell M. Nelson has made the temple and temple covenants such an integral part of his ministry. His first public address as President of the Church was from the Salt Lake Temple annex, and he said, “We want to start with the end in mind,” and so it’s fitting that we start this podcast with the beginning in mind.

The Nauvoo Illinois Temple at sunset in Nauvoo, Illinois, on Saturday, May 29, 2021.
The Nauvoo Illinois Temple at sunset in Nauvoo, Illinois, on Saturday, May 29, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

3:15  

Spencer W. McBride: And I think for most Church members who worked on the Nauvoo Temple, as they built it they didn’t really understand what was going to happen inside — and that’s not all that different from us today. Before we go to the temple, we might take a temple prep class, you will have a general idea of what’s going to happen inside; but then we go and we experience it for the first time. And so, Church members who built the temple, they understood the most important principle: that what would happen in the Nauvoo Temple would be the full restoration of the priesthood, and that it would endow them with power. That from these temple covenants, they would have a greater outpouring of God’s blessings and God’s power in their lives, and they took that very seriously. So they may not have known the details of the temple ordinances they would experience, but they believed with all their hearts that this was essential to the Restoration of the gospel, and to bring the power of God more fully into their lives.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And they were building the Nauvoo Temple at a time where the Church was sort of in turmoil. They were looking to go west, they thought they might go west, they had just lost the Prophet and his brother; and then we all hear stories about them lining up in the final days after the temples dedicated to get their temple endowments. What, really, did that temple mean to them?

4:41  

Gary Smith painting shows building of the original Nauvoo Temple.
Gary Smith painting shows building of the original Nauvoo Temple. Credit: Deseret News archives

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah. It was so important, and they started it in their poverty as refugees coming out of Missouri — and this happens in the Church even today. God gives a commandment, and it’s easy to say, “Well, this isn’t the most convenient time to do that,” but convenience is rarely the most important factor. It’s what God wanted them to do. And sure enough, once Joseph Smith and Hyrum Smith are assassinated and die as martyrs, questions are: “Should we finish the Nauvoo temple? Should we, essentially, be done?” But under Brigham Young’s leadership, they were determined to do it. And these stories that come in this 60-day period of time when the endowment and the sealing ordinances were administered in the Nauvoo Temple are amazing. It was only 60 days, that these men and women who had sacrificed for years to build this temple, were able to use it; and when we read from Brigham Young’s journals, we read from the journals of other Church members of that time, we see that they understood very distinctly that the power that would come into their lives, the blessings of eternity, were essential for what lay in the future for them.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, when I first started traveling for my job as a reporter for the Church News, I was amazed when I met Saints internationally who would take their vacation, travel to a temple — whether it be the São Paulo [Brazil] Temple, or the Swiss Temple — and they would spend the week there, and they would go to multiple sessions each day, and they would do a year’s worth of temple work in just a few days. And some of us who have access to a temple on a more regular basis, maybe aren’t doing as much temple work.

6:24  

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah. You know, I grew up in Southern California, I was fortunate to have the San Diego [California] Temple only about an hour away from me; but now I live in Utah, and there’s temples everywhere, and it’s something we have to make a priority in our lives. I think President Nelson has made no secret of that, right? Every time he talks about the blessings of temple work, he urges us to make it a priority to plan a day, a time to go regularly. And now that COVID restrictions are being lifted, that’s even more possible than it has been recently.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, I tell the story: I met this little boy in Manaus, Brazil, where members really had to sacrifice to get to the temple. They didn’t even make it to the temple till 1992, And then they’re going down the Amazon River and on a bus, the journey took multiple days. And so, for this little boy — his name was Nefi — temple work was all about sacrifice. And he was practicing his English on me when I was in the city, and we were outside the temple just before the Manaus temple dedication, and I was telling him all the temples in the Salt Lake Valley, and I started listing them, and he interrupted me and he said, “Oh, Sister, how do you sacrifice?” And so let’s talk about historically how temple work, especially for those early Saints, is connected to sacrifice.

7:44  

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah, absolutely. We talked about the monetary sacrifice — obviously, it costs money to build temples. The Nauvoo Temple was built in a time of the Saints’ extreme poverty, and they are donating whatever they have that they can spare. Sometimes, it’s broken watches that maybe can be repaired and sold, the money from that sale can help build the temple, or they’re donating clothes for the temple construction workers, but they’re doing whatever they can. And we have these just tremendous documents from England, where general authorities are out there on missions and the Saints in England are so excited about the Nauvoo Temple, even though it’s thousands of miles away, and they’re sending silver teaspoons and whatever money they can spare and they’re sending it back to Nauvoo because they want to be a part of this temple building. I think, for many of the Latter-day Saints who did go through the Nauvoo Temple — we talked about distance and time and sacrifice. I think they knew they would build more temples when they got into the Western United States, but they knew it would be a while. And so they received their temple ordinances in Nauvoo, knowing it would be years before they were ever able to do it again and for many, they never were. They passed away before more temples were built.

Sarah Jane Weaver: We did an interview at the beginning of the pandemic, as temples were closed worldwide, and Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles pointed out just what you’re talking about: He said that early Latter-day Saints went to the temple once, and then it was 40 years before they had access to those temple blessings again.

Video: ‘Is the temple in us?’ Elder Bednar asks

9:22  

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah, it’s true, and I seem to recall a story that Elder James E. Faust told about his ancestors. They were part of that group, and they received these ordinances and that was the only time in their life that they were able to go through the temple, but how much it meant to them, and then to Elder Faust, as a descendant. What they did in Nauvoo was a story that they passed on and cherished throughout their family.

Sarah Jane Weaver: You know, Latter-day Saints share the legacy of temple work in both Kirtland and Nauvoo with the Community of Christ, and you had a chance to interview one of the leaders of that church for your podcast.

10:01  

Spencer W. McBride: That’s right, I was able to sit down and speak with Lachlan Mackay, who’s a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles in the Community of Christ, because in the last two episodes of the podcast, we talked about how the Church has returned to Nauvoo and the reconstruction of the Nauvoo Temple. And to talk about that, we have to talk about some tension that existed between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which is now known as Community of Christ. And we thought it was important that we understand the story both from the Latter-day Saint perspective, but also from the Community of Christ perspective. And so it was a great conversation to hear from Lachlan Mackay, how he understands some of the conflict and tension that once existed, but then also to talk about how the relationship between the two churches has become so positive and mutually beneficial. We have a shared history, and there’s a recognition between our church and their church that we need to preserve and protect and share that history, even if there’s some disagreements or some different approaches to doctrine. And so it’s a really magnificent relationship, and it’s built on this fact that we have a shared history.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I love the fact that the Church has, especially in recent years, invested in preserving so much of, not just the temple, Temple Hill, but the rest of the legacy of Nauvoo; and that when you visit, you can walk those streets and get a feel for what it may have been like to live then. 

Elder Quentin L. Cook, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, walks the grounds near the temple during a tour the Historic Nauvoo in Nauvoo, Illinois on Saturday, May 29, 2021.
Elder Quentin L. Cook, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, walks the grounds near the temple during a tour the Historic Nauvoo in Nauvoo, Illinois on Saturday, May 29, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

11:33  

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah, absolutely. One of the most recent projects is the restoration of what we’re calling the Temple District, and Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was there just recently to dedicate these new historic sites, and we talked about this in the podcast a little bit, because one of the things when the Nauvoo Temple wasn’t rebuilt, and you could see the foundation, you could see where it was. This allowed us to give historical interpretation, it would become a historical site you would visit to learn about the temple, and while we’re very excited that the temple was rebuilt in that spot, all of a sudden, a new challenge was presented in the Church History Department — how do you tell people the history of the temple while still having the temple function as an operating temple? And one of the ways that the curators and historians and the historic sites division have done this is to restore houses of people who were very much involved with the temple. So you can now go to the house of William Weeks, who was the architect of the Nauvoo Temple, and learn about how the Nauvoo Temple was designed and built, and so it’s a really neat challenge that came because of the rebuilding of the temple, but it’s allowed us to restore and present even more history in that important place.

Video: What Nauvoo, the temple and its history mean to Elder and Sister Cook

Sarah Jane Weaver: I received the assignment to cover the dedication of the Temple District. It was a really interesting experience to stand in the home of William Weeks and actually learn something about the temple from his perspective, and I’ll never forget standing and looking down on the Mississippi River and contemplating everything that had occurred in that city. 

A room in the William and Caroline Weeks home in historic Nauvoo, Illinois, on Sept. 24, 2021. Williams Weeks was an architect and worked with Joseph Smith on plans for the Nauvoo Temple.
A room in the William and Caroline Weeks home in historic Nauvoo, Illinois, on Sept. 24, 2021. Williams Weeks was an architect and worked with Joseph Smith on plans for the Nauvoo Temple. Credit: Christine Rappleye, Church News

13:11  

Spencer W. McBride: You know, it’s a quiet place — well, it depends when you go. If you go in the summer, it’s filled with visitors. But often, when I go, Nauvoo is a pretty quiet place. It’s a good place to reflect on Church history. I liked that. But I also, as a historian, try to remember what the city once looked and felt like. It was much more bustling and frenetic back in Joseph Smith’s day than it is now. Now, it’s a historic site you go to learn. Back then, it was a frontier United States city that had all the growing pains of cities back then, and so it’s fun for me, as a historian, to kind of reflect on the peaceful serenity of the present in that place, but also all that was once there.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, some of the restored homes face the temple, and I remember looking down at that view of the Mississippi River thinking, “Wouldn’t you have wanted your house to face that gorgeous view?” And it just is symbolic to me of how much the temple meant to those early Latter-day Saints.

14:12  

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah, you get magnificent sunsets on the Mississippi. But you get this magnificent image of a sacred edifice if you’re facing the temple, right?

The Nauvoo Illinois Temple at sunset in Nauvoo, Illinois, on Saturday, May 29, 2021.
The Nauvoo Illinois Temple at sunset in Nauvoo, Illinois, on Saturday, May 29, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and the original Nauvoo Temple is made of limestone. Certainly, it’s a symbol for all of us today of the early Church of the sacrifice of all that happened for the foundation of the gospel in Nauvoo. How is the reconstructed temple similar or different to that original temple?

14:40  

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah. When we were doing the Nauvoo Temple podcast, I had a great conversation with one of my colleagues. She’s a historic sites curator named Emily, and she explained that the Nauvoo Temple rebuilt today is essentially a modern building that pays homage to the original building. You know, we have much better construction technologies today than they had in the 1840s, and it makes sense that we should use them. So the facade is limestone, but this limestone actually comes from Alabama, so our Alabama Latter-day Saints will be pleased to know that’s where that stone came from. But it’s ultimately a concrete building with a limestone veneer. And the use of temples, the internal space had to be adapted to modern use for elevators, things such as that, and so it’s this building that pays homage to the original Nauvoo Temple wherever possible. The architects and the builders tried to make it as true to the original building as possible, but you also had to modernize it because it’s a historic building, but it also needs to be used for Latter-day Saints today.

Elder Quentin L. Cook, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, look over a model of the temple as they tour Historic Nauvoo on Saturday, May 29, 2021.
Elder Quentin L. Cook, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, look over a model of the temple as they tour Historic Nauvoo on Saturday, May 29, 2021. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and the original temple had meeting rooms and stuff on the main floor, didn’t it?

15:49  

Spencer W. McBride: That’s right, and you still have one in there in Nauvoo today, but it doesn’t take up the same amount of space that you would have seen in the original Nauvoo Temple.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And certainly, the endowment has changed enough over the years that it would reflect the way the temple would be used as well. 

16:05  

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah, absolutely — and in fact, when the endowment was happening in the Nauvoo Temple, [the temple] wasn’t finished — it was finished enough to begin using it, so they dedicated the space they use for the endowment. When you go into the Nauvoo Temple today, though, the entirety of the temple is finished and given the great care of detail that we expect in our holy edifices, and it’s just marvelous to see. But sometimes, I try to remember what it would have looked like for Brigham Young and those first Saints. It wasn’t quite as ornate as it is now, but necessity required them to begin using it once it was ready to be used.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, I would love to talk about this, because President Nelson has talked a lot about temple endowments, the covenants that we make in the temple, how the covenants are consistent, they do not change, but other parts of the temple may change. Now, that was happening from the earliest days of the Church, right?

17:00  

Baptismal font in rebuilt Nauvoo Illinois Temple nearly replicates that of early temple, the first where baptisms for the dead were performed.
Baptismal font in rebuilt Nauvoo Illinois Temple nearly replicates that of early temple, the first where baptisms for the dead were performed. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah, that’s right. You know, it even begins with the first ordinance that Joseph Smith reveals that is destined for the temple, and that’s baptisms for the dead. And you read of the very first baptism for the dead performed in this dispensation, and it’s a woman named Jane Nyman, and she is baptized for her deceased son, and to Latter-day Saints today, you might hear that and say, “Well, today we expect females to be baptized by proxy for females, males for males.” That adjustment doesn’t come until Brigham Young’s presidency in Utah and they figure out what should the prayer be, and they adapt it, and this ordinance is adjusted to fit ongoing revelation. And we see that with the endowment too: The endowment was first administered in the second floor of Joseph Smith’s store in Nauvoo. And with the help of Brigham Young, they administered it to more and more people, and they tweaked and adjusted the ceremony until it was right with the revelation Joseph Smith was receiving. So even in Joseph Smith’s lifetime, there were adjustments to temple ordinances, but at the core of those ordinances were unchanging covenants, and the power of those ordinances comes from the making and keeping of those covenants. And I think this is helpful for Latter-day Saints to understand because sometimes, when there’s adjustments to temple ordinances, it can strike us as a little bit difficult because we believe that these are ancient ordinances that were restored by revelation to Joseph Smith, but the core part that was revealed to him are those covenants. The presentation of the ceremonies is free for adjustment as needed for the benefit of Latter-day Saints in whatever time they are living.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And I love to think back on how and what the Nauvoo Temple meant for Latter-day Saint women. You know, Nauvoo is the foundation of the Relief Society. Certainly, the Relief Society has multiple purposes. We have the charges as Latter-day Saint women to take care of the poor and needy, but also to help build our families and increase faith.

19:18  

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah. In making the Nauvoo Temple podcast, I had a great opportunity to sit down and talk with some of my fellow historians who are experts on the history of women in early Latter-day Saints history, and I was also able to speak with Sister Jean B. Bingham, the president of the general Relief Society. And one of the themes that came across is just how much the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo was designed and founded to prepare women to be full and equal participants in the ordinances of the temple — yes, it was about service. Yes, it was about charity, and doing good in the community — but the Relief Society was also about preparing women spiritually to participate fully with their male counterparts in the Church and receive all the blessings of the temple alongside them.

Primary General President Camille N. Johnson, her husband, Brother Douglas R. Johnson, left, and Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham and her husband, Brother Bruce Bingham, pause for a photo with the Nauvoo Illinois Temple in the background during a tour of historic Nauvoo, Illinois, on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021.
Primary General President Camille N. Johnson, her husband, Brother Douglas R. Johnson, left, and Relief Society General President Jean B. Bingham and her husband, Brother Bruce Bingham, pause for a photo with the Nauvoo Illinois Temple in the background during a tour of historic Nauvoo, Illinois, on Friday, Sept. 24, 2021. Credit: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I love that that is part of our collective heritage, both as Latter-day Saint women and Latter-day Saint men. Before this podcast taping started, we were talking about some of the things that you had enjoyed from taping your podcast, and you mentioned that the Renlunds have kind of a different shared history, and so let’s talk about that. Elder Dale G. Renlund and his wife, Ruth Lybbert Renlund; he’s in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and she has a pioneer ancestry that dates back to Nauvoo, and he does not.

20:43  

Spencer W. McBride: You know, I really enjoyed my conversation with Elder Renlund, and he explained that his wife’s ancestor is Reynolds Cahoon, who led the temple committee in charge of building the Nauvoo Temple. And then he told me that none of his ancestors were involved in that construction at all; yet, he still claims that legacy is as much his as it is his wife’s, because it’s a legacy. It’s a tradition, it’s a heritage that belongs to all who join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, no matter when they join, or the circumstances under which they join. That legacy belongs to every member of the Church. It’s a legacy of faith, perseverance, of sacrifice; and as Elder Renlund puts it in the podcast, it’s a vindication of the work of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, in bringing about the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that just really resonated with me, and I think it’s the type of thing that Church members around the world need to hear and know, is that this legacy, this history — well, it’s happening in the United States, it’s bigger than any country. It’s bigger than any decade or century, it belongs to all who engage in the Restoration of the gospel. 

The light of setting sun reflects off the Nauvoo Illinois Temple and statues of Joseph and Hyrum.
The light of setting sun reflects off the Nauvoo Illinois Temple and statues of Joseph and Hyrum. Credit: Photo by Elder Jack Renouf

Sarah Jane Weaver: And we now have historic documents that have preserved so much of this important era of the Church and the history of it; and actually, they’re accessible to the public through the Joseph Smith Papers project. Talk to us about that project and tell us what’s new with it, and how it’s going.

22:17  

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah, the project has been happening since, you know, the beginning of the 2000s. I remember I was a college student when I first heard about this project, and it was so exciting. I didn’t fully understand exactly what it would entail, the scope — but it was exciting, because here we were, saying, “All these original Joseph Smith documents, no matter whether they paint the Prophet in a positive light, or potentially in a negative light, or even in a mundane light” — his business documents aren’t always filled with doctrine, but they’re important nonetheless — and they were all presented to the Church and to the general public. And here we are, decades later, and the project is almost at its close. We anticipate publishing our last volume in print in the spring of 2023. I remember when I first joined the project some seven years ago, thinking, “Well, that seems so far away.” And here we are, it’s on the cusp, and it’s just really exciting because the — I’m a little biased, because I work on the project — but I look back, and I look around and see all the good that can come of it and that does come of it. It makes this history accessible to anyone who wants to dive deeper, and one of the things we’re doing as a project with things such as these podcasts miniseries, we want to make the research discoveries as accessible to general Church members as possible. The books that we publish can sometimes be a little daunting. They’re written for academics. They’re like reference books, but the discoveries are still important. And so, these podcasts are one way in which we’re trying to say, “Hey, look at what we’ve learned about the Prophet, and about the Restoration, and come learn about it in an accessible way.” You can listen to it, and you can hear people speak in, hopefully, a very accessible way.

Sarah Jane Weaver: What have you learned from studying the life of the Prophet Joseph Smith and this important era in Church history?

24:13  

Spencer W. McBride: You know, when I speak to Church members about my work, I often tell a joke that you can learn a lot by reading somebody’s mail. And I spend my days reading Joseph Smith’s mail, and you learn a lot about that person. I’ve learned so much about him. I see his humanity. I see his human frailty. I see his faults, his shortcomings. But I also see his sincerity, that he’s genuine, and that he’s doing something extraordinary. That he is in fact leading the restored Church of Jesus Christ as an imperfect man. And some people might see these imperfections and it might shake their faith or weaken their testimony; but for me, it makes it all the more extraordinary. And I think about myself, I think about my fellow Church members, and just how imperfect we are and what can God do through us, despite our imperfections, and I see that in Joseph Smith. I think my very favorite document we have published — and there’s so many to choose from — but there’s this group of recent converts from Long Island, New York, and they’ve arrived on a boat in Nauvoo. And it was common for Church leaders to meet the new converts as they got off the boat at the landing, and on this occasion, Joseph Smith is riding by and he stops and he speaks and he says: “I will not expect perfection of you, if you will not expect it of me. But if you will bear with me and the Brethren and our infirmities, we will bear with you in ours.” And it’s right there: Joseph Smith himself kind of tells us how he hopes we will understand him as a Prophet, not as a perfect human, but as someone who was doing the work of a perfect God.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Do you have personal roots that date back and reach the Nauvoo era?

26:08  

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah, so what’s really fascinating about my family is both of my parents are converts. They joined the Church shortly after graduating college in the ‘70s, but my family on my father’s side does go back to Nauvoo, and there was just a break in that family line in terms of Church membership. Reuben McBride is my ancestor and his distinction where the Nauvoo Temple is concerned, is he was actually living in Kirtland, but he comes to Nauvoo for the dedication of the baptismal font in the basement, and he is the first person baptized for the dead in the Nauvoo Temple’s baptismal font. And it’s this really cool story of how Brigham Young baptized him six times for deceased relatives, and that’s my personal family connection to the temple.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, President Russell M. Nelson, in the three and a half years that he’s been President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has announced 83 temples. Certainly, this is an era of temple building that is unmatched in the Church, and it all started in Nauvoo. What can we learn today as we look at temples and we watch them dot the globe, from the Nauvoo period?

27:20  

President Gordon B. Hinckley applies mortar to the coverstone at the Nauvoo Illinois Temple on June 27, 2002.
President Gordon B. Hinckley applies mortar to the coverstone at the Nauvoo Illinois Temple on June 27, 2002. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah. You know, I still remember being a kid and we had just gotten to 50 temples, and I thought, “Hey, I’d like to visit all of them one day.” And now I look at how many there are, and I don’t know if that’s possible to even have as a goal. But one of the things looking on this year of temple building as a historian is, I’m overly impressed by the idea that we are bringing these ordinances closer to people. There’s always sacrifice involved in building temples, there’s always sacrifice involved in going to the temple — and that may look different, based on where you live, but there’s always some level of sacrifice. But the more and more we can bring the temple, and the ordinances closer to people, that is more lives of men and women who are going to be empowered to do what God wants them to do, to live the lives God wants them to live. And I think that’s as noble a goal and mission of this Church, in our overarching mission of worshipping Jesus Christ, that we can hope for. So, it’s very exciting. Again, I may never set a goal of trying to visit every single temple, because that’s not going to happen these days, but it’s exciting nonetheless.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, you know, Elder William Walker, he’s an emeritus general authority, he served for many years as the executive director of the Temple Department, and he grew up in southern Alberta. He would talk about his youth where he would list all the temples. He said, “We memorize them, and we would say them in order that they were dedicated.” And certainly that is a test that may not be obtainable for a lot of younger Latter-day Saints today, because the list is changing and growing and in flux so quickly. I remember when President Gordon B. Hinckley announced the concept of smaller temples, and then he said, “In just a few years by the year 2000, we’ll have 100 temples,” and I thought: “I can’t imagine that. I can’t even imagine we could have 100 temples.” So, certainly, this era of temple-building, temple appreciation, should mean something to all of us.

29:24  

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah, that’s right. And I think — you know, when we listen in general conference and we hear that new temples are announced, there’s always something really special when it’s announced in your town, or your area of the world, or even maybe in an area in which you served a mission or have family. I think that’s all special. But I think there’s something to be said about — for me, there’s an excitement even if I have no personal connection, because as I hear the President of the Church announce the temples we are going to build, I try to imagine in my mind the men and women who I don’t know. They’re going to receive blessings and spiritual power that I do know, and they’re going to receive it more easily. And so it’s — some of these announcements, we get more excited than others, but I’m excited for every single one that’s announced.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and I’ve worked at the Church News for 26 years now. My favorite assignment — and they are just by far my favorite assignments — are covering temple dedications, because Latter-day Saints are so excited to have this blessing of a temple and of the ability to receive the power of God in their own lives in a temple in their own community, and they seem to gather and you can feel the energy, and you can actually get a sense, a glimpse of the future of the Church in that area at the temple dedications, because there’s just this energy that seems to push the Church forward in really, really exciting ways.

Latter-day Saints from Liberia to Bolivia react to President Nelson’s announcement of 13 new temples during October 2021 general conference

30:51  

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah, absolutely, and I think we see that wherever they’re built.

Sarah Jane Weaver: As we close, what are some of the things that you learned as you recorded the podcast for the Church on the Nauvoo Temple?

31:03  

Spencer W. McBride: In my mind, for so long, when I thought of the restoration of the priesthood — and this is probably the case for many Church members — we think of it as an event that happened in Harmony, Pennsylvania, with John the Baptist. And it is. But the restoration of the priesthood was bigger than that. What John the Baptist restored, what Peter, James and John restored, was all important. They were first steps. But then, there are keys restored in the Kirtland Temple, and the fullness of the priesthood isn’t restored until the Nauvoo Temple is built. And it’s broadened my understanding of what priesthood is in the Church — yes, it’s about administering the Church, that’s really important; but the priesthood is first and foremost about the ordinances of the temple, and bringing the power of godliness into the lives of every man and woman who receives it. And for me, I think I kind of had a sense of this, but it just really came home to me more than ever before. And this is one of those cases where my work as a professional historian has really helped me develop as a disciple of Jesus Christ, and as a member of the Church.

Sarah Jane Weaver: And for people who want to explore in depth about this topic, where can they find “The Nauvoo Temple: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast“? 

32:20  

“The Nauvoo Temple: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast” is an eight-episode documentary-style podcast.
“The Nauvoo Temple: A Joseph Smith Papers Podcast” is an eight-episode documentary-style podcast. Credit: Church History department

Spencer W. McBride: So, there’s a lot of ways. It can start with — just in your search engine, searching “The Nauvoo Temple Podcast,” it’ll almost certainly be your first link. But it’s also in the Gospel Library app in the Church History section. It’s also on the Joseph Smith Papers website, and it’s available in English, Spanish and Portuguese. So, most people have a preferred podcast platform they like to listen to. You can find it on all of the major platforms, or you can find it on the Church’s web page. We try to make it as available as possible for people’s preferences.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, and that’s so impressive that it’s in Spanish and Portuguese, in addition to English.

33:00  

Spencer W. McBride: Yeah. You know, we were really excited to be able to do that, because we want this information to be available to as many people as possible, and we need to translate it so everyone can hear the gospel in their own language, but also the history of the Restoration of that gospel, in their own language. We still have work to do, but this is a really big step forward.

Sarah Jane Weaver: Great. Well, I wish we could talk about this all day, but as our time comes to a close, we have a tradition at the Church News podcast where we have everyone answer the same question, and we love to give our guests the last word. And so, the question that we ask all of our guests is, “What do you know now?” And so, Spencer, what do you know now after studying and researching this important era in the history of the Church, and going in depth to look at the Nauvoo Temple, and as you’ve studied the life of Joseph Smith?

33:53  

Spencer W. McBride: For me, as a historian, my testimony is not based off my study of Church history. My testimony is based on the spiritual manifestations I’ve had in various places in my discipleship and Church membership; but what studying Church history does, for me, is it sometimes tells me why what the Spirit has already told me is true, is, in fact, true. It’s the greater details, the explanation, and so that’s what I get out of this study of the Nauvoo Temple, out of Joseph Smith’s life. Sometimes, I see a more complicated, messier history than I maybe thought there was, but what the Spirit has already told me is true is confirmed by what I’m reading and studying, and that’s no different with the Nauvoo Temple. I love every temple I’ve ever been to, ever seen. They’re all special, they all matter in the history of the Restoration of the gospel. The Nauvoo Temple holds an especially important place, because it’s more than just about being the temple in Nauvoo — it’s the site of the restoration of temple ordinances.

Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News Editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen, and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on thechurchnews.com.