Helpful, but not true?

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A History Tour of Brigham Young’s Beehive House

BeehiveHouseSLCOn June 19, 2014 I visited Utah and took a tour of the Beehive House, Brigham Young’s principal residence in Salt Lake City. Guided through the 1854 home by two young sister missionaries, I learned a lot about the comfortable pioneer life enjoyed by Mormonism’s “Lion of the Lord” during the second half of the 19th century. However, much of what I learned was not true. For example, I was told that:

  • Lucy Decker Young was the only wife of Brigham Young that ever lived in the Beehive House. [Actually, Mary Ann Angell Young (Brigham’s only legal wife) also lived there until she opted for quieter surroundings, moving to another home in 1860 (see John G. Turner, Brigham Young Pioneer Prophet, 236, 377).]
  • The famous Lion House, located next door to the Beehive House, was built as a storehouse; no wives or women ever lived there. [Actually, the Lion House was built in 1856 to house Brigham Young’s growing family. In that year a “large number” of Brigham’s wives began living next door to him (Turner, 236).]
  • The only reason Mormons practiced polygamy in Utah was to care for the many women who lost their husbands back east because of persecution; legally, these widows were not allowed to keep their property or children. Mormon men married them in order to provide for their needs. [Actually, women had strong property rights as individuals in the 19th century. They did not need husbands to retain property or keep their children. And very few women became widows because of persecution. Additionally, there were more men than women in Utah Territory; why wouldn’t single men have married and cared for any needy women? This whole explanation made me wonder why, if Mormons were so committed to obeying the supposed laws regarding property rights, they did not feel constrained to obey the marriage law that said polygamy was illegal.]
  • A very small number of people practiced polygamy in Utah. [Actually, an average of 20-30% of Mormons lived in polygamy between 1850 and 1890, amounting to tens of thousands of people.]
  • Brigham Young with some of his 55 wives

    Brigham Young with some of his 55 wives

    Brigham Young didn’t want to engage in polygamy, but he did it in order to help these widows legally and financially. [Actually, some of Brigham Young’s 55 wives were women who divorced their husbands just prior to marrying Brigham Young, women who had other interested suitors, and women who already had living husbands (Turner, 374-382; Richard Van Wagoner, Mormon Polygamy: A History, 45). Furthermore, Brigham Young’s stated rational for polygamy was theological, not altruistic (Turner, 205). See "Polygamy, Brigham Young and His 55 Wives" by John Turner for further reading.]

  • Once married, Brigham Young never even saw most of his plural wives again. [Actually, Brigham Young’s 58 children suggest otherwise (Turner, 375). But if this were the case, Brigham Young completely disregarded the biblical model of marriage that provides for a man and a woman to complete each other – the two become one flesh (Genesis 2:22-24). The husband is to love his wife “as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” cherish her, and hold fast to her (Ephesians 5:25-31).]

In case you’re wondering, during my tour I didn’t challenge the sister missionaries about their misinformed history; I imagine they were just repeating what they have been told. But here’s the thing I struggle with. The Mormon Church knows its history. Given that, it seems to me that the Church can choose one of three options:

  1. It can choose to invite people to tour Mormon sites of historical significance and tell visitors the difficult but unvarnished truth;
  2. It can choose not to provide historical tours at all (or to provide unguided tours) and thereby be relieved of any obligation to reveal embarrassing truths; or
  3. It can choose to invite people to tour Mormon sites while lying about Mormon history.

The Church has chosen the third option. Why? It could choose to act faithfully, but instead has chosen that which is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 12:22).

Why has the Mormon Church made such a bad choice? Why does it choose to cast its lot among the wicked?

Posted in Brigham Young, LDS Church, Mormon History, Polygamy | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

John Walker’s Key Opens Book of Mormon Names

The wise biblical King Solomon wrote, “There is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Researcher Rick Grunder has provided a great latter-day example of “What has been is what will be.” In his massive work, Mormon Parallels: A Bibliographic Source, Mr. Grunder provides readers with an interesting look at names found in the Book of Mormon and a parallel source that could have aided Joseph Smith as he wrote it.

JohnWalkerIn 1732 John Walker was born in England. As an adult, Mr. Walker was known as an “actor, elocutionist and lexicographer,” teaching and lecturing on elocution. In 1791 he published his Critical Pronouncing Dictionary in London. This work was reprinted in many editions and abridgements, one of which was advertised in the Palmyra (New York) Herald on September 24, 1823, and another suggested for inclusion in the curriculum for Colesville, New York schools in 1826 (in Joseph Smith’s neighborhood).

The specific abridgment of Mr. Walker’s book that is examined by Rick Grunder is A Key to the Classical Pronunciation of Greek, Latin, and Scripture Proper Names, with the specific section of most interest being a 15-page list of “Scripture Proper Names.” Mr. Grunder explains,

“I have selected the following list of names and terms which I find similar to, resonant with, or identical to Book of Mormon names.  On page 79 alone appear not only the three eldest male members of the leading Book of Mormon family (Lehi, ‘Lah’man’ and Lemuel), but the Book’s first villain as well (Laban), plus two notable Master Mahan/secret combination protagonists in Joseph Smith’s 1830 Book of Moses (chapter 5): Lamech and Irad.  Walker’s Key also provides the unusual reference to the Apocryphal name Nephi, p. 81.  Of additional interest is a pronunciation rule to which ‘Ne´ phi’ is here referenced, showing the same pronunciation that is used by Mormons today.

“In preparing this list, I have excluded a number of the most famous biblical names shared or recalled by Book of Mormon people, as well as the names of exclusively biblical locations referred to in the Book of Mormon (primarily in 2 Nephi). Names which I place in LARGE & SMALL CAPITAL LETTERS, (not followed by comparison names in parentheses) are identical to names in the Book of Mormon.  Names which I signal with an asterisk (*) occur in Walker’s Key with added prominence by appearing first or last in a page column.”

Mr. Grunder’s list includes 137 of the 300-plus proper names found in the Book of Mormon. For you to get a taste of the list, the “A” section looks like this:

A-bin´ a-dab  (cf. Abinadi)
A-bin´ o-am  (cf. Abinadom)
A-bish´ a-i  (cf. Abish)
A ´ chish  (cf. Akish)
Æ´ nos  (cf. Enos)
A´ HAZ Al´ mon Dib-la-tha´ im [and,]
Al´ na-than,
Al´ pha,
A´ mal,
A-mal´ da  (cf. Alma)
Am´ a-lek  (cf. Amaleki)
Am´ non  (cf. Amnor)
Am´ o-rites  (cf. Amoron)
An-a-ni´ ah  (cf. Ammonihah)
An´ ti-och  (cf. Antion)
An-ti´ o-chus  (cf. Antionum)
An to´ ni-a  (cf. Antionah)
Ar-che-la´ us  (cf. Archeantus)

As another example, page 79 from Mr. Walker’s Key includes these notable parallels:

Jo´ tham  (cf. Jothan)
Kib´ roth Hat-ta´ a-vah  (cf. Kib)
KISH Ko´ rah [and,]
Ko´ rah-ites,
Ko´ rath-ites,
Kor´ hite,
Kor´ hites,
Kor´ ites
Ko´ re  (cf. Korihor, Corihor)
La-cu´ nus  (cf. Lachoneus)
Lah´ man  (cf. Laman)
[LA´ MECH - see Moses 5]
Lib´ nah  (cf. Limnah)
Lib´ ni [and,]
Lib´ nites,  (cf. Lib)

Rick Grunder’s research does not prove that Joseph Smith used Mr. Walker’s Key in writing the Book of Mormon. Indeed, Mr. Grunder does not even hint at this. Rather, he writes,

“I seek not so much to prove what another young man did or did not do in the nineteenth century, as to test in some measure the many easy assurances that I have heard since my own youth, that Joseph Smith simply could not have created the many unusual names which appear in the Book of Mormon.”

Along with King Solomon we affirm that there is nothing new under the sun. Joseph Smith did not need to create 300 new and unique proper names to fill out the Book of Mormon; many sources were available to him to draw from as he composed the book.

Joseph Smith by grindael

Joseph Smith by grindael

The reason this research is significant is that it is another piece in the grander puzzle to consider when contemplating the truth or falsity of the Mormon Church’s claim that Joseph Smith is “God’s mouthpiece.” Mormon Apostle Joseph Wirthlin wrote,

“Finally, conversion to the Book of Mormon is conversion to the divine, prophetic calling of the Prophet Joseph Smith. It is the divine evidence of the truthfulness of Joseph Smith’s calling. Either this is all true, or it is not. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained it best when he wrote:

‘To consider that everything of saving significance in the Church stands or falls on the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon and, by implication, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s account of how it came forth is as sobering as it is true. It is a “sudden death” proposition. Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is, or this Church and its founder are false, a deception from the first instance onward.

“‘Not everything in life is so black and white, but the authenticity of the Book of Mormon and its keystone role in our religion seem to be exactly that. Either Joseph Smith was the prophet he said he was, a prophet who, after seeing the Father and the Son, later beheld the angel Moroni, repeatedly heard counsel from Moroni’s lips, and eventually received at his hands a set of ancient gold plates that he then translated by the gift and power of God, or else he did not. And if he did not, he would not be entitled to the reputation of New England folk hero, or well-meaning young man or writer of remarkable fiction. No, nor would he be entitled to be considered a great teacher, a quintessential American religious leader, or the creator of great devotional literature. If he had lied about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, he would certainly be none of these…

“‘Joseph Smith must be accepted either as a prophet of God or else a charlatan of the first order…’” (“The Book of Mormon: The Heart of Missionary Proselytizing,” Ensign, 9/2002, 14)

Did Joseph Smith “lie about the coming forth of the Book of Mormon”? Did he find those proper names he used engraved on gold plates, or did he find them listed in the back of a schoolbook? The Bible warns again and again against being deceived by false prophets and deceitful workers; the world has seen countless charlatans across the centuries. To follow them is naught but (borrowing the poetic words of Solomon) “striving after wind.”

God Himself defines where spiritual safety lies:

“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal…the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world…I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst…whoever comes to me I will never cast out…everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:27-40)

May we all cease striving after wind and instead find life in Jesus, the very bread of God.

Posted in Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, Mormon Scripture | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

From Mormonism to Christianity Conference: July 17-19


See the Facebook event here. See more information here. Come!

I will be speaking at 11am on Saturday on “Matthew for Mormons”, a walk-through of some exciting and surprisingly relevant themes in the Gospel of Matthew.

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The Mormon logic of lost books and its implication for prophetic accountability

When talking to some Mormon missionaries in March I encountered an interesting line of thinking. One of the elders gave the standard claim that the Bible is missing books that should have been included.

I asked, “Which ones?”

He answered: Works that the Bible makes mention of.

So I asked, “So, mere mention of a work in scripture (of something presumably written by another prophet) indicates that the work should have been included in the canon as scripture?”

They answered, “Yes, because what prophets write should be considered scripture.”

This later was downgraded to a more modest claim: That the majority of what prophets write for public consumption should be considered scripture.

This is the default, functioning, practical view of mainstream Mormonism:

“We believe all that God has revealed, all that He does now reveal, and we believe that He will yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.” (Article #9)

This is “functionally” (in practice) taken to encompass most of what the LDS Church teaches and publishes, especially General Conference messages. I call this approach prima ecclesia. (It is far different than the standard LDS apologetic approach, which is something akin to sola scriptura.)

Just to dig this in, I asked: “Would you agree that prophets should be held to a high standard of expectation and accountability over what they publicly teach about God and the gospel?”

They answered, “Yes.”

These kinds of principles are important to pull out and explicate. Get them on the table. Help your Mormon neighbor commit to these principles — out loud. With words they commit to. This might seem simple but it’s radical. It implicitly presses the point that prophets should not be given a free pass for false teachings — especially and most obviously for public false teachings about God and the gospel which are never repented of.

The more clear and heavy you make the point, the more powerful things like Adam-God and the priesthood ban are. Jesus said to inspect alleged prophets by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). Serious fruit-inspection is a way of obeying Jesus. We’re also helping Mormons obey their own scripture: to study things out in their mind instead of depending on mere emotional epiphanies (D&C 9:7-8). I love what my friend Matt says about fruit-inspection: “Don’t do it with binoculars.” Peel the skin off and get dirty. It’s our responsibility.

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When it comes to the plates, there was no miracle

For the past several years I have been bringing a replica set of “gold plates” to the Mormon Miracle Pageant held annually in Manti, Utah. By encouraging Mormon visitors to lift my plates, it gives me an opportunity to explain the many problems I see with the official account of how Smith allegedly retrieved the plates back in 1827.

My plates are six inches by eight inches, by six
inches deep, the same measurements given by
Joseph Smith. And although my plates are made of sheet metal and are much lighter than gold plates, they are still quite heavy—80 pounds. If Smith’s plates were actually made of the metal gold, their soft consistency and dense weight would tend to expel any air gaps between the plates. In other words, as plates are added to the ever increasing record, the plates (at least near the bottom of the stack), would tend to flatten out. That being the case, it would be very likely that the six-inch stack would weigh around 200 pounds.

mormon-goldplates1Mormons are led to believe that Smith carried the plates under his arm, and while carrying them home three miles away, he was able to jump over a log, fight off three separate attackers, and that he ran “at the top of his speed” to get away from these men.

Amazingly, many Mormons insist that because Smith was “a buff farm boy” he was able to accomplish such a feat, but when a Mormon finally realizes that replicating Smith’s story is humanly impossible, they have no recourse but to insist that a miracle was involved. The problem with such a claim is that if Smith needed a miracle to carry the plates, then surely Moroni, the person Mormons believe buried the plates centuries ago, must have needed one too, not to mention all of the other Book of Mormon characters who certainly handled the plates towards the time they were supposedly buried in the ground. Amusing in- deed is a scene in the Mormon Miracle pageant where Mormon hands the plates to Moroni as if it was a football.

Are we to assume that the “eight witnesses” mentioned in the front of the Book of Mormon also needed a miracle to “heft” the plates? If so, wouldn’t Smith’s wife, Emma, who was known to have moved the plates around on the table “as her work required it,” also need a miracle? (See Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, p. 70.)

Mormon leaders of the past never seemed to entertain the notion that a miracle was needed.

For example, if a Mormon wants to insist that Smith needed a miracle to carry the plates he must explain the following comment from Mormon Apostle John A. Widtsoe. Understanding that plates of pure gold would be much too heavy for Smith to carry, he offered this explanation:

“A cube of solid gold of that size, if the gold were pure, would weigh two hundred pounds, which would be a heavy weight for a man to carry, even though he were of the athletic type of Joseph Smith. This has been urged as an evidence against the truth of the Book of Mormon, since it is known that on several occasions the Prophet carried the plates in his arms. It is very unlikely, however, that the plates were made of pure gold. They would have been too soft and in danger of destruction by distortion. For the purpose of record keeping, plates made of gold mixed with a certain amount of copper would be better, for such plates would be firmer, more durable and generally more suitable for the work in hand. If the plates were made of eight karat gold, which is gold frequently used in present-day jewelry, and allowing a 10 percent space between the leaves, the total weight of the plates would not be above one hundred and seventeen pounds—a weight easily carried by a man as strong as was Joseph Smith” (John A. Widtsoe and Franklin S. Harris, Jr., Seven Claims of the Book of Mormon, pp. 37-38).

Widtsoe would have no need to give such an explanation if he believed that a miracle was involved. Still, Widtsoe’s hypothesis fails for one simple reason — 117 pounds is not at all an easy weight to carry, no matter how strong he thinks Smith may have been. This can be easily demonstrated.

At the Utah Lighthouse bookstore in Salt Lake City, Sandra Tanner has a replica set of plates made of lead on display. Lead is lighter than gold, but like gold, it is very soft and very dense, hence the plates contain no air gaps, making it appear as a solid piece. Though only one pound heavier than Widtsoe’s estimate, visitors to the bookstore who attempt to lift the lead plates learn very quickly that Smith could not achieve what Mormons are led to believe. In fact, many who fail to lift the plates at all, often ask if they are bolted down. No, they are not.

Mormon apologists who admit that plates made of actual gold would be much too heavy for Smith to carry like to point to Reed Putnam, a Mormon metallurgist who insisted that the gold plates were actually made of an alloy consisting mostly of copper. Perhaps knowing that Witdsoe’s arbitrary 10% air gap between the plates is entirely inadequate, he argues that if plates had a whopping 50% air gap, the weight could be brought down to as little as 53 pounds.

But why bother if a miracle was involved? If God could miraculously allow Smith to carry 53-pound plates, He most certainly could have enabled Smith to carry 200-pound plates. Efforts by Mormon apologists to get the weight of the plates down to a manageable level tend to prove they do not believe a miracle was involved. Furthermore, Mormon attempts to make the plates lighter actually take away from the glory of God. After all, is it not more of a miracle for Smith to carry 200-pound plates as opposed to 118-, or even 53-pound plates?

This article is reprinted from the May-June 2014 issue of Mormonism Researched.

Posted in Book of Mormon, Mormon History | Tagged , , | 29 Comments

Sidney Rigdon’s July 4th Oration



Originally aired on Viewpoint on Mormonism on July 4, 2012

Posted in Early Mormonism, Mormon History | Tagged , , , | 9 Comments

Mormon Church’s “Bees” Are Swarming…

OrdainWomenPriesthoodLast week the threat of excommunication for Kate Kelly became a reality. Ms. Kelly is the founder of Ordain Women, a Mormon group advocating for gender equality in the Mormon priesthood. She was found guilty of apostasy. Her bishop explained:

“. . . our determination is that you be excommunicated for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church. This means that you may not wear temple garments or contribute tithes and offerings. You may not take the sacrament, hold a Church calling, give a talk in Church, offer a public prayer in behalf of the class or congregation in a Church meeting, or vote in the sustaining of Church officers. These conditions almost always last at least one year. If you show true repentance and satisfy the conditions imposed below while you are no longer a member, you may be readmitted by baptism and confirmation.

“In order to be considered for readmission to the Church, you will need to demonstrate over a period of time that you have stopped teachings and actions that undermine the Church, its leaders, and the doctrine of the priesthood. You must be truthful in your communications with others regarding matters that involve your priesthood leaders, including the administration of Church discipline, and you must stop trying to gain a following for yourself or your cause and taking actions that could lead others away from the Church.”

Ms. Kelly plans to appeal her excommunication within the next thirty days, according to the Church’s procedural policy.

Mormon bloggers John Dehlin (Mormon Stories Podcast) and Alan Rock Waterman (Pure Mormonism) are among additional Latter-day Saints that are currently facing Church discipline for apostasy. As I noted in “Mormon Church Kicks the Beehive” (June 16, 2014), many Latter-day Saints were upset and frustrated by what they saw as an effort by the Church to silence its critics. While the Church hoped the media interest and frustration of members would “de-escalate,” so far that hope has been nothing more than wishful thinking.

In an unprecedented move, an assembly of Latter-day Saints has begun organizing under the banner “Strangers in Zion”:

“Strangers In Zion is a grass roots movement for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are requesting to subject themselves to church discipline in solidarity for other wrongfully excommunicated and otherwise disciplined Latter-day Saints.” (“About“)

AngryBeeStrangers in Zion is calling for like-minded Mormons to contact their Church leaders with requests for disciplinary hearings based on each individual’s “beliefs that are contrary to the teachings, doctrines, and leaders of the Church.” In a letter template available on the website, participants are encouraged to list specific contrary beliefs they hold (e.g., “I find Joseph Smith’s fundamental character flaws, pathological dishonesty, and moral relativism not in harmony with an individual who should be speaking for God.”) as well as ways in which they have publicly promoted (and intend to continue promoting) those beliefs (e.g., “I have published numerous blog posts with wide circulation amongst the online Mormon community publicly opposing the Church’s stance on…”). The letter template concludes:

“All this being considered, I humbly request assistance from the Church in the form of a Church court to determine the best course of action for myself and my membership in the Church. If you have any questions I would be happy to address them at my disciplinary court.”

Strangers in Zion plans to post a list of participants along with information related to the participants’ individual experiences as the movement progresses.

As far as I’m aware, the modern LDS Church has never seen this sort of widespread uprising of members (though the early Mormon Church experienced rife dissention in Kirtland, Ohio and Nauvoo, Illinois). Certainly the majority of Latter-day Saints supports the Church in this situation and opposes those members accused of apostasy. Yet according to one of the accused, Mormon blogger Rock Waterman,

“There’s going to be a lot of fallout resulting from this needless debacle. And absolutely none of it is going to benefit the church.

“Already countless members on the fence have declared this nonsense to be the last straw for them, and they’re throwing in the towel. I’ve come to know a number of these people; two former bishops, several bishopric members, Relief Society presidents, counselors, ward clerks, stake High Council members, one former stake president, a stake patriarch, you name it — all of them believers in the gospel of the Restoration, and all of them have had their fill of the shenanigans the structural Church has been up to in recent years. This final malfeasance has done them in. They embrace the gospel, but they tell me this is it; they’re done supporting the corporate Church.

“And those are the devout believers. A whole lot more members who are not so devoted, but whose testimonies of the gospel have been shaken by the Magisterium’s transparent hypocrisy, have weighed in online declaring their intentions to resign. These people number in the tens of thousands.” (“Who Is Changing the Doctrine?”)

If this actually comes to pass, what will these “devout believers” do? Will they join the swelling ranks of atheistic ex-Mormons? Will they form a new Mormon denomination/splinter group just as hundreds of Mormon dissenters have done before them? What they do will affect them into eternity.

China DroughtAt the MRM website we address those struggling with their Mormon faith:

…we often hear from members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who are struggling in the aftermath of betrayal. Realization that their church has not been wholly truthful about Mormon Church history and the doctrinal teachings of Mormon leaders, many Latter-day Saints respond with hurt and anger and a myriad of questions. “Why did the church deceive me?” “Why couldn’t my bishop be honest with me?” “How could I have been so easily fooled?”

Anger is a natural reaction in this situation. Unfortunately, many become so disgusted that they throw the baby out with the bathwater. Feeling vulnerable, they may think, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” The idea of finding another church and religion is daunting – and scary. If Mormonism is false, they reason, why trust religion at all?…

Traditional Christian teachings are often never even considered or given a chance; for if the “only true church” isn’t true, that leaves no spiritual truth at all. Giving traditional Christianity a fair hearing, then, is prevented by pain and fear.

Hopefully, the confusion you are experiencing will not cause you to drift unnecessarily into agnosticism or atheism. To throw all faith away because Mormonism proved to be false is like abandoning all health care because you were once the victim of medical malpractice…

Struggling with faith issues can be a very emotional experience. While it may be easier and less threatening for you to dismiss the truth claims of the Christian faith outright, our prayer is that you would take the time to understand what traditional Christianity really is, and what it has to offer.

To that end, if you are a struggling Mormon please visit MRM’s Struggling with your Mormonism page to find resources that will help you make intentional and wise decisions about your eternal future – there’s a lot riding on it.

Posted in LDS Church, Mormon Culture | Tagged , , , , , | 26 Comments

Citizen Smith

Carthage JailIn the late afternoon of that sticky June day, Joseph Smith lay broken and bleeding beside the foundation of the Carthage Jail. Though few people knew he held the secret, self-imposed scepter of king, the fact that he had been in the race for the United States presidency was common knowledge. But Joseph Smith did not look like a ruler that day. Events which had intensified during the first half of 1844 had brought the Prophet to his ignoble end.

In January 1844 Joseph Smith had been privately nominated by his Apostles to run for president. The Saints at Nauvoo voted nearly unanimously to support this political move. By spring Mormon proselytizing missions in the U.S. had been suspended. Instead, hundreds of political missionaries were sent out to campaign for Joseph. Smith’s efforts at international diplomacy proved he was serious. By early June LDS ambassadors were strategically in place in England, Texas, Washington, D.C., France and Russia.

The thousands of Mormons in Illinois generally voted as a bloc. This concerned non-Mormon citizens because the Mormons virtually held the key to the state’s national politics. To the people of Illinois, Joseph’s campaign for president was no small matter.

Meanwhile, hidden from the public eye yet inextricably bound to his politics, Joseph Smith began organizing the Kingdom of God on earth.

In March Joseph organized the theocratic Council of Fifty. This Council was to be God’s Kingdom and Government to establish His rule and law for the “protection of civil and religious liberty in this nation and throughout the world.” Those initiated into the Council were sworn to secrecy “under the penalty of death.”

At a church-wide conference a veiled announcement was made about Mormonism’s new government: “When God sets up a system of salvation, he sets up a system of government;…a government that shall rule over temporal and spiritual affairs.” The Council of Fifty operated under the presumption of ultimate power, believing they had the authority to set aside and live above the laws of the U.S. and all other secular governments.

JosephSmithHorsebackOn April 11, at a meeting of the Fifty, Joseph was secretly “chosen as our Prophet, Priest and King by Hosannas.” The Council performed an ordinance “in which Joseph suffered himself to be ordained a king, to reign over the house of Israel forever.” Publicly, Joseph, the presidential candidate, announced, “I go emphatically, virtuously, and humanely for a THEO-DEMOCRACY, where God and the people hold the power to conduct the affairs of men in righteousness…”

Some within the Council privately suspected Joseph’s kingly ordination might be treasonous. Their fears were confirmed when, one month into his kingship, Joseph announced, “I calculate to be one of the instruments of setting up the kingdom of Daniel by the word of the Lord, and I intend to lay a foundation that will revolutionize the whole world.” Alarmed, these men broke their vow of secrecy and informed Joseph’s former (and excommunicated) first counselor William Law of the Prophet’s ordination as “King, Priest and Ruler over Israel on Earth.”

On May 10 William Law and fellow religious dissenters published a prospectus for their newspaper, the Nauvoo Expositor, which contained a reference to Nauvoo’s “SELF-CONSTITUTED MONARCH” and promised to reveal the city’s “gross moral imperfections.” On June 7 the first and only edition of the Nauvoo Expositor appeared, proclaiming, “We will not acknowledge any man as king or lawgiver to the church: for Christ is our only king and lawgiver.”

A sympathetic historian wrote in 1994: “Smith realized that Council of Fifty members had betrayed him. He could not allow the Expositor to publish the secret international negotiations masterminded by Mormonism’s earthly king.” Therefore, on June 10 the Nauvoo city council, Mayor Joseph Smith presiding, decided to destroy the Expositor and its press as “a public nuisance.” Twelve days later Joseph deserted his city and his people in an attempt to escape the consequences of his treasonous actions. However, being accused of cowardice by his friends, Joseph returned to Illinois and entered Carthage Jail.

On the morning of June 27 Joseph sent an order to the commander of his Nauvoo Legion instructing him to lead an immediate attack on Carthage in order to free the prisoners. At about 5:00 p.m. the frightened jailer informed Joseph that more than 250 men were approaching. The Prophet replied, “Don’t trouble yourself [--] they have come to rescue me.” But Joseph was mistaken. The Nauvoo Legion didn’t come; its Major-General refused to obey the attack order because he knew such action would bring civil war and destruction on the citizens of Nauvoo.

As the mob overtook the jail gunfire erupted and within minutes Mormonism’s king was dead. So ended the presumptuous ambitions of Joseph Smith the Prophet.

Every June as Mormons around the world remember the death of their Prophet, Christians are able to joyously proclaim that Jesus Christ, the true and living Prophet, Priest and King, reigns now and forevermore!

(Information included in this article is from D. Michael Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy, 117-141.)

This article is reprinted from the Summer 1995 issue of A Word in Season (newsletter of Word for the Weary).

Posted in Early Mormonism, Joseph Smith, Mormon History, Nauvoo | Tagged , , , , , | 22 Comments

Follow the Prophet?

It wasn’t long ago when an advertising campaign for basketball superstar Michael Jordan emphasized just three words: “Be like Mike.” The slogan became very popular and sold plenty of shoes.

PresMonsonatURedactedThis came to my mind as I read an article titled “Follow the Prophet” in the April 2014 Ensign magazine.  Written by Seventy William R. Walker, the piece puts the LDS president on a pedestal. If the reader wanted to predict what the article would be about, the pull quote on page 39 says it all: “As we follow President Monson and try to be more like him, we will inevitably succeed in being more faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Somewhere I was halfway expecting another pull quote that would have read, “Be like Tom.”

Consider the points made by Walker to succeed in “following the prophet’s example”:

  • Be positive and happy
  • Be kind and loving toward children
  • Follow the promptings of the Spirit
  • Love the temple
  • Be kind, considerate, and loving

Toward the end of the article, Walker writes on page 41, “President Monson has taught us the way to live our lives with his wonderful and inspiring messages at general conference. He has taught us how to be followers of Jesus Christ by his remarkable and wonderful personal example. . . . As we follow him and try to be more like him, we will inevitably succeed in being more faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Someone may predict that I am about to insist that it is wrong to imitate other people. That’s not my point. If a person’s walk is worthy to be imitated, then by all means it should be! For the Christian, this might be a pastor, Billy Graham, or another spiritual giant. Even Paul urged the Corinthians to “imitate me” (1 Cor. 4:16) and “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). In Philippians 4:17, the apostle wrote, “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.”

Was Paul perfect? By no means! He was a man who was transparent and even admitted to struggling with sin! (Rom. 7:7-25) Flip through the book of Acts and study how Paul handled certain situations, including a serious conflict with Peter. Read 2 Corinthians 11 and better understand the mindset of the man who told us to imitate him. There is much open transparency when it comes to the life of Paul.

Contrast Paul’s example with President Monson. Besides photo ops and generic biannual speeches at the general conferences, how much transparency is provided? Of course, there are plenty of PR pieces to make Monson look saint-like (example). And there is a 2010 biography (To the Rescue written by Heidi S. Swinton, a faithful member of the LDS Church), though the chapter titles (including “He went about doing good” and “The consummate counselor”) show the demeanor of this book. We must wonder if there really is enough information provided to give us an accurate assessment of his character. Could the image we are given be nothing more than a caricature?

Someone might say that we can learn more about the real Monson from General Conference messages that he’s given over the years. I have read or listened to many Monson addresses, and I just can’t remember a time when I heard him refer to situations where his current life or example was less than stellar. Oh, we certainly get some tales, including one that has been dubbed the “fire story.” It details a time when Monson and a friend got into trouble when they played with matches and started a fire. While this certainly was an admission of wrongdoing, I believe the narrative is presented in a way that appears innocent and cute, even if the moral of the story was to obey. (See the April 2013 account here.)

Except for certain long-ago stories like this, very little is shared at conference that provides an accurate picture of the 21st century Monson. The impression that is given—purposeful, I believe—reflects a mortal who appears to have a lock on sainthood.

We are left to wonder, does Mormonism’s top leader struggle with evil, lustful thoughts? Does he have any temptation with gossip or backbiting talk? Has he disagreed with one of his children and spoken in an angry tone? In other words—and I want to know—is Thomas S. Monson human? After reading Walker’s article, the top LDS leader appears to be a demigod who apparently walks on water.

MonsonMemoirsIn a 1985 book titled On the Lord’s Errand: Memoirs of Thomas S. Monson that has long since been out of print, Monson reminisced about a time when he was given advice from a senior apostle. He wrote on page 184:

“In about 1956 we recognized that our neighborhood was dete­riorating. We observed this one Halloween by the nature of the people who came in the guise of ‘Trick or Treat.’ The minority elements were moving into the area where we lived, and many of the old-time families had long since moved away. Seeking coun­sel, I visited with Mark E. Peterson, who for many years had been the General Manager of the Deseret News. O. Preston Robinson, my former professor of marketing at the University of Utah, had suc­ceeded Brother Petersen as the General Manager at the News. As I mentioned to Mark my dilemma, wondering if it would be unfair for me to move, he said simply, ‘Your obligation to that area is concluded. Why don’t you build a house in my ward?’”

By telling the story, Monson doesn’t appear to have any remorse referring to human beings as “the minority element.” He doesn’t seem to feel bad that he took Petersen’s advice to move away from these “elements.” Maybe this is why the story has never made it into a conference address. At the same time, I wonder, should we consider this as an example of how we ought to “follow the prophet”?

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