Excerpted from The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary by William Shunn, available now!
My mission began around the time the prophet Ezra Taft Benson forcefully reaffirmed Joseph Smith’s declaration that the Book of Mormon was “the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion.” It was the absolute center of our proselytizing efforts, the axis around which all else revolved.
Joseph published the Book of Mormon in 1830, when he was 24 years old, in the wake of a revivalist firestorm that swept through western New York. New religious movements had sprung up left and right, and utopian societies were a dime a dozen. The region was fertile ground for experiments in faith, having already given rise to such charismatic figures as Jemima Wilkinson and Mother Ann Lee. Joseph and his book would go on to eclipse them all.
Joseph Smith, Jr.—named, like I was, after his father—was born into precarious circumstances in Vermont on December 23, 1805. He already had two older brothers and an older sister—another brother had died in childbirth—and his father shuffled the growing brood from one New England town to the next, hounded by bad luck and debt. Joseph’s was a childhood steeped in magic and visions from his father, but also, from his mother, in deep love and reverence for the Bible.