“War of words”

As a young person with deeply felt spiritual questions, Joseph felt drawn to the lively religious landscape of upstate New York.

He was not alone. In churches, homes, and open-air clearings, people gathered to discuss human nature, forgiveness, morality, and authority.

Together, they struggled to understand the lessons of the past and the direction of the future.

Unfortunately, the debate was not always civil. Records from the era contain not only sharp rebukes of ideas but also snide attacks on those who held them. Joseph often felt caught in the cross fire of this “war of words.”

“It was impossible for a person young as I was, and so unacquainted with men and things, to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.”

1832 First Vision Account

In the face of the divisions and imperfections he saw in religion, Joseph could have given up. But he continued to attend the meetings of different churches “as often as occasion would permit” and to reflect on what he heard.

In an 1820 article, the editor of Palmyra’s newspaper claimed it was a “notorious fact” that Methodist camp meetings attracted “the intemperate, the lewd and dissolute part of the community.” Demeaning statements such as this one may have contributed to the feeling of religious tumult as much as doctrinal differences did.