More than a hundred years before September 11, 2001, another terrorist attack took place on American soil that most of us know nothing about. I refer to the Mountain Meadow Massacre on September 11, 1857, in the Utah territory. The disturbing and horrific film September Dawn tells the story of the actual events of this attack. The film story is woven around a fictitious love story that gives a certain human texture to what would otherwise have been a documentary in the end.

Historians do not agree about the full story but even Mormon historians now admit the massacre actually happened. They put a spin on it and the debate rages on in many circles. But raw facts have a way of forcing you to admit the truth, even about your own religious fathers, when 150-plus years have transpired. Meanwhile the debate about whether Brigham Young actually knew and approved of this massacre still rages on in Mormon circles. You can read many articles, pro and con, if you search the subject on-line, as I did after seeing this deeply troubling film. All we know for sure is only one Mormon man was made to pay for the massacre, being shot by the U.S. military for his leadership in the massacre.

The film, which is rated R for its violence, runs 111 minutes in length. You can check out the Web site at September Dawn. It leaves you with no doubt that Mormon revelations and religious frenzies created the perfect storm for a religiously motivated terrorist attack. 120 men, women and children from Arkansas and Missouri were headed to California to seek a new life. They were low on supplies and needed rest. This led them to stop for a seemingly peaceful two weeks in Utah. The Mormons initially showed them grace but then privately plotted to kill these "Gentiles" who they believed were out to destroy them. The Mormon actions were deeply related to how they "heard from god." Rooted in the bitterness of their response to the death of Joseph Smith the Mormons lived as radical fundamentalists, often of the most violent sort. They believed, much like the militant Islamic 9/11 terrorists did, that if they killed infidels it would guarantee heaven in some manner. Like sheep following a shepherd these young Mormon men followed their leader’s orders and thus slaughtered innocent people.

This 2007 film stars the well-known academy award winner Jon Voight and Lolita Davidovich, as well as Trent Ford, Tamara Hope, Dean Cain and Terence Stamp. It is very hard to watch but a film that I believe thoughtful Christians should see and then contemplate how far one should go in listening to so-called prophetic leaders. One thing is for sure—religion can still be used for violent and deadly ends. American history has known more than one such religiously motivated episode of terrorism.

No one should be followed who advocates religious violence against innocent people no matter who gives the order. If you think this issue is only one that just surfaced in our time see September Dawn.

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  1. Gene Redlin September 10, 2008 at 11:42 am

    Thanks for posting on this, as one who embaces the prophetic and apostolic leadership model and one who is in place as a prophet in local assemblies it gave me great pause to see the abuse of that authority.
    I am MUCH more careful now.
    I don’t know the balance yet between the ordained order of the Ephesians 4 model and the potential to abuse it.
    This film upset me greatly and caused me not to reject the apostolic and prophetic but as a caution to use it only for Good.
    Scary stuff.

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