Prophetic Authority

Democratic Hierarchy and the Mormon Priesthood

The Mormon tradition’s emphasis on prophetic authority makes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints unique within America’s religious culture. The religion that Joseph Smith created established a kingdom of God in a land distrustful of monarchy while positioning Smith as Christ’s voice on earth, with the power to form cities, establish economies, and arrange governments.

Michael Hubbard MacKay traces the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ claim to religious authority and sets it within the context of its times. Delving into the evolution of the concept of prophetic authority, MacKay shows how the Church emerged as a hierarchical democracy with power diffused among leaders Smith chose. At the same time, Smith’s settled place atop the hierarchy granted him an authority that spared early Mormonism the internal conflict that doomed other religious movements. Though Smith faced challenges from other leaders, the nascent Church repeatedly turned to him to decide civic plans and define the order of both the cosmos and the priesthood.

Benjamin E Park, author of American Nationalisms: Imagining Union in an Age of Revolutions, 1783–1833

”Was early Mormonism excessively democratic, representative of a newly disestablished society? Or deeply theocratic, echoing the skeptical backlash against those same liberating impulses? In this exhaustively researched and sophisticatedly argued book, Michael MacKay argues that it is not an ‘either, or’ but ‘yes, and.’ And in doing so, MacKay digs into some of founding—and foundational—paradoxes concerning religion in the early American republic.”

Matthew Bowman, author of Christian: The Politics of a Word in America

In Prophetic Authority, MacKay gives us the most thorough and painstaking description of the slow blossoming of the Mormon priesthood hierarchy available, embedding the story in the raucous context of antebellum American democracy. Valuable for anyone who wants to understand either of those worlds better.”