|Title:||Salt Lake School of the Prophets: 1867–1883|
|Editor:||Devery S. Anderson|
In 1833 Joseph Smith founded a school to train ministers and missionaries and called it the School of the Prophets. Limited to men of the priesthood, they were initiated through a reenactment of the washing of feet described in the New Testament. The school met sporadically until 1837. Brigham Young resurrected it in Utah in 1867.
Young's version was more of a decision-making body than an educational academy. The Salt Lake School of the Prophets chose candidates for political office, regulated a command economy, and discussed—and ruled upon—theological and church procedural questions. It also governed satellite schools in all the major settlements in the territory. Young dismissed the washing of feet ritual, but he insisted that potential members receive a recommend from their bishops, based on worthiness, to participate in the school. Membership cards were issued, rolls were called, and members who had missed sessions were required to stand before the group and explain themselves.
After the school built a membership of nearly 1,000, it fell victim to its own success as it became nearly impossible to keep the deliberations of the group secret. Incensed to find information leaking to the outside world, Young closed the school in 1872 and started over, carefully scrutinizing each member before inviting him back. The school lasted another two years before being replaced by a council governing the LDS United Order, a cooperative association.
Over the span of its existence, school members discussed the church's most controversial doctrines, invented strategies for retaining control of the political landscape, pressured people to boycott non-Mormon establishments, and expressed their most heartfelt emotions in what today might be thought of as an LDS testimony meeting.
Young's successor as church president, John Taylor, tried to revive the school in 1883 based on a revelation he received commanding him to do so. Despite his best efforts, nothing came of it. The school's legacy, looking back today, is probably the influence it had on LDS theology and the belief that Mormon autonomy can be preserved against pressure to assimilate into the larger society. The minutes are available in print here for the first time and answer many questions about pioneer Utah and the role of the LDS Church in government and economics, as well as provide insight into the development of doctrine.
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