Excerpts of Confronting early Mormonism's critics by Michael De Groote, Mormon Times -- illustrating the formation of the church's identity
"Mormonism was a religion that professed to be constantly engaged with the supernatural world," said Christopher James Blythe, a graduate student in the history department at Utah State University [who] spoke on Thursday, July 2, at Brigham Young University during the Mormon Scholars Foundation Summer Seminar, "Parley and Orson Pratt and the Formation of Mormon Thought."
Pratt confronted a two-front war against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: On the one side was mainstream Christianity that all but denied any spiritual manifestations; on the other side were other new religions claiming their own spiritual gifts.
"In the case of Mormonism, apologists . . . differentiate themselves from a Christendom perceived as bereft of spiritual gifts and at the same time they felt compelled to differentiate themselves at the other end of the spectrum from those whose immersion in spiritual gifts tended towards extremism and fanaticism" -- Irvingites, Shakers, Swedenborgians and Spiritualism -- new expressions of religion that claimed spiritual manifestations.
Members were aware of the claimed similarities -- and focused on distinguishing between legitimate and illegitimate expressions of spirituality. Pratt's tactic was to engage these groups on their doctrine rather than their claims of spiritual experiences. "The question was how to determine a real or correct revelation from a false one."
In response to the spiritual claims of other groups "The saints began to see themselves as the only body operating in the spiritual world, knowing what they were doing and able to discern the nature of the pervasive manifestations."