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Learn about the founder of Mormonism Sunday

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By Special to the Monitor

Glen M. Leonard, a senior scholar on Mormonism, will discuss the faith’s first leader in an upcoming presentation titled “Joseph Smith: The Man and the Myth” at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints White Rock Ward. The lecture is free and open to the public.Leonard, an Utah historian and author of books and articles on Utah, the Mormons and the American West, will discuss Smith’s role as city planner, militia leader, presidential candidate and the leader of what one scholar has called “a new religious tradition.”Also included in the program will be a slide show of paintings, etchings and photos, plus performances of historic hymns by the White Rock Ward Choir, led by Marion Pack and accompanied by both Terry Helm and Ronalee Freestone.Smith organized the Church of Jesus Christ in 1830. He also laid out cities in Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, and in the early 1840s headed the Nauvoo Legion, the largest citizen militia in Illinois at the time.Additionally, Leonard said, Joseph Smith ran for presidency in 1844. The 38-year-old Smith sought the office, Leonard said, “with a pledge to guarantee the personal rights of all Americans at a time when not only his own people but many other minorities were being ignored or wronged.”The candidate’s third-party platform proposed to guarantee federal protection against “domestic violence,” put most prisoners to work on public works projects and free slaves through a buy-out program.Leonard describes himself as one of the “new Mormon historians” who approach their subject through open inquiry and a desire to broaden the discussion of the church's sometimes controversial past.“Mormon Studies programs and seminars are appearing in universities around the country,” Leonard said, “and more and more academic presses outside Utah are publishing scholarly works on the church and its history.”For instance, Princeton University recently hosted a two-day conference on “Mormonism and American Politics.”Also, books on Mormonism’s past and present, Leonard said, are now appearing from university presses such as Oxford and North Carolina, along with others who had previously issued regional Mormon studies.The latest biography of Joseph Smith, written by former Columbia University Professor Richard Lyman Bushman, was published in New York by Alfred A. Knopf.Bushman was recently named founding director of a Mormon Studies program opening at Southern California’s prestigious Claremont Graduate University.“Mormonism is coming of age,” Leonard said. “Curiosity about its origins and its place in today’s world has spawned a new interest in the church and its people.”The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is 366 Grand Canyon Drive. Call at 672-9888.