Reading between the lines on the issue of perfection (Part 2)

July 21014 EnsignIn Monday’s post, I quoted from an article found in the July 2014 Ensign magazine titled “Becoming Perfect in Christ” that was written by Seventy Gerrit W. Gong. When Gong’s words are put next to the teachings of the LDS leaders, there seems to be a disconnect. I will continue to quote from the section of his article titled “Perfectionism” and then provide citations from LDS manuals and leaders—which I’ll indent—that  I believe shows another side.

Gong: “Faith acknowledges that, through repentance and the power of the Atonement, weakness can be made strong and repented sins can truly be forgiven.”

“This progress toward eternal life is a matter of achieving perfection. Living all the commandments guarantees total forgiveness of sins and assures one of exaltation through that perfection which comes by complying with the formula the Lord gave us. In his Sermon on the Mount he made the command to all men: ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:48.) Being perfect means to triumph over sin. This is a mandate from the Lord. He is just and wise and kind. He would never require anything from his children which was not for their benefit and which was not attainable. Perfection therefore is an achievable goal.” (President Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 208-209).

Gong: “Happy marriages are not the result of two perfect people saying vows. Rather, devotion and love grow as two imperfect people build, bless, help, encourage, and forgive along the way. The wife of a modern prophet was once asked what it was like being married to a prophet. She wisely replied that she had not married a prophet; she had simply married a man who was completely dedicated to the Church no matter what calling he received. In other words, in process of time, husbands and wives grow together—individually and as a couple. The wait for a perfect spouse, perfect education, perfect job, or perfect house will be long and lonely. We are wise to follow the Spirit in life’s important decisions and not let doubts spawned by perfectionist demands hinder our progress.”

“There is not one requirement of the Lord that is non-essential; every requirement that He has made of us is essential to our perfection and sanctification, to prepare us to enjoy celestial glory” (President Brigham Young, November 6, 1863, Journal of Discourses, 10:284).

Gong: “For those who may feel chronically burdened or anxious, sincerely ask yourself, “Do I define perfection and success by the doctrines of the Savior’s atoning love or by the world’s standards? Do I measure success or failure by the Holy Ghost confirming my righteous desires or by some worldly standard?” For those who feel physically or emotionally exhausted, start getting regular sleep and rest, and make time to eat and relax. Recognize that being busy is not the same as being worthy, and being worthy does not require perfection.”

“I would emphasize that the teachings of Christ that we should become perfect were not mere rhetoric. He meant literally that it is the right of mankind to become like the Father and like the Son, having overcome human weaknesses and developed attributes of divinity” (President Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 26).

Gong: “For those prone to see their own weaknesses or shortcomings, celebrate with gratitude the things you do well, however large or small. For those who fear failure and who procrastinate, sometimes by overpreparing, be assured and encouraged that there is no need to withdraw from challenging activities that may bring great growth! Where needed and appropriate, seek spiritual counsel or competent medical attention to help you relax, develop positive ways to think and structure your life, reduce self-defeating behaviors, and experience and express more gratitude. Impatience impedes faith. Faith and patience will help missionaries understand a new language or culture, students to master new subjects, and young single adults to begin building relationships rather than waiting for everything to be perfect. Faith and patience will also help those waiting for temple sealing clearances or restoration of priesthood blessings.”

Harold B Lee“Christ came not only into the world to make an atonement for the sins of mankind but to set an example before the world of the standard of perfection of God’s law and the obedience to the Father. In his Sermon on the Mount the Master has given us somewhat of a revelation of his own character, which was perfect, or that might be said to be an autobiography, every syllable of which he had written down in deeds,’ and in so doing has given us a blueprint for our own lives” (President Harold B. Lee, The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles manual, p. 57).

Gong: “As we act and are not acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:14), we can navigate between complementary virtues and achieve much of life’s growth. These can appear in “an opposition,” being “a compound in one” (2 Nephi 2:11). For example, we can cease to be idle (see D&C 88:124) without running faster than we have strength (see Mosiah 4:27). We can be “anxiously engaged in a good cause” (D&C 58:27) while also periodically pausing to “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10; see also D&C 101:16). We can find our lives by losing our lives for the Savior’s sake (see Matthew 10:39; 16:25). We can be “not weary in well-doing” (D&C 64:33; see also Galatians 6:9) while taking appropriate time to refresh spiritually and physically. We can be lighthearted without being light-minded. We can laugh heartily with but not haughtily at. Our Savior and His Atonement invite us to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.” As we do so, He promises that His grace is “sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ” (Moroni 10:32).”

(Eric Johnson’s analysis of this part): The heart of this verse is conveniently left out. In context, Moroni 10:32 says, “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ; and if by the grace of God ye are perfect in Christ, ye can in nowise deny the power of God.” In other words, the grace of God can come only after a person denies himself “of all ungodliness and lov(ing) God with all your might, mind, and strength.” This has a much different connotation than “His grace is ‘sufficient for you.’”

Gong: “For those burdened by cares to find perfection or to be perfect now, our Savior’s freely given atoning love assures us: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. “… For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28, 30).”

“In the context of the spirit of forgiveness, one good brother asked me, ‘Yes, that is what ought to be done, but how do you do it? Doesn’t that take a superman?’ ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘but we are commanded to be supermen. Said the Lord, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:48.) We are gods in embryo, and the Lord demands perfection of us’” (President Spencer W. Kimball, The Miracle of Forgiveness, p. 286).

So there you have it. Mormonism’s current version of “perfection” versus the way a number of other LDS leaders took it to mean. According to Gong, as long as a person is doing his or her best, the Savior is apparently standing by and applauding in a reassuring manner. However, presidents such as Young, Lee, and Kimball seemed to have a different perspective. No wonder it’s so confusing for anyone to understand just what the religion of Mormonism teaches about just what is required for the celestial kingdom.

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Reading between the lines on the issue of perfection (Part 1)

July 21014 EnsignA recent article in the July 2014 Ensign magazine titled “Becoming Perfect in Christ,” written by Seventy Gerrit W. Gong, caught my eye. I’m not one to make many predictions, but when I saw the title, my immediate response was that this article would teach that “becoming perfect” is not what Mormonism teaches. In effect, I thought this general authority would do his best to make Mormonism look like the forgiving faith it really is not.

Gong did not disappoint. What I want to do in this blog is to quote from a section of the article titled “Perfectionism” and then provide quotes from LDS manuals and leaders—which I’ll indent—that  seem to show another side. (To be fair, I’m quoting every word from this section of the article, meaning that this will have to be a two-part blog.)

Gong: “A misunderstanding of what it means to be perfect can result in perfectionism—an attitude or behavior that takes an admirable desire to be good and turns it into an unrealistic expectation to be perfect now.”

“Perfection is a word that causes different reactions from many people. Some people say, ‘Perfection? Why, that is impossible!’ Others say, ‘Perfection? I get discouraged just thinking about it!’ Yet, would the Lord give us a commandment that was impossible for us to keep? And when He gives a commandment, doesn’t he, as Nephi said, prepare a way for us to accomplish what he commands? The Sermon on the Mount is the Lord’s blueprint for perfection” (The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles, 1979, p. 57).

Gong: “Perfectionism sometimes arises from the feeling that only those who are perfect deserve to be loved or that we do not deserve to be happy unless we are perfect.”

“Jesus said, ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matthew 5:48). Because it is very difficult to become perfect, our Father helps us. He has established the Church; called leaders; and given us commandments, principles, and ordinances. In our Church meetings we receive instructions concerning these things. We must obey and live according to God’s laws to become perfect.” (The Latter-day Saint Woman Part A, p. 122).

Gong: “Perfectionism can cause sleeplessness, anxiety, procrastination, discouragement, self-justification, and depression. These feelings can crowd out the peace, joy, and assurance our Savior wants us to have.”

“His example of unhesitating, unswerving obedience sets a very high bar, but when we accept His admonition to ‘be perfect even as I, or your Father is perfect’ (3 Nephi 12:48) as a key element of the plan of eternal progression, we begin to understand what the Lord expects us to be. As we seek to determine what kind of Saints we really are, we must honestly grade ourselves on our willingness to obey God” (Robert C. Oaks, “Stand and Be Judged for What We Really Are,” Ensign, April 2003, p. 65).

Gong: “Missionaries who want to be perfect now may become anxious or discouraged if learning their mission language, seeing people baptized, or receiving mission leadership assignments do not happen fast enough. For capable young people accustomed to accomplishment, a mission may be life’s first great challenge. But missionaries can be exactly obedient without being perfect. They can measure their success primarily by their commitment to help individuals and families “become faithful members of the Church who enjoy the presence of the Holy Ghost.”

Brigham Young“If the Latter-day Saints live their religion, they will forsake iniquity and overcome the evil that the enemy of all righteousness causes to rise within them, until every passion and appetite is as perfectly under their own control as a patient animal they hold by the bit” (President Brigham Young, September 2, 1860, Journal of Discourses 8:160).

Gong: “Students beginning a new school year, especially those leaving home for college, face both excitement and concerns. Student scholars, athletes, artists, and so forth go from being a “big fish in a little pond” to feeling like a minnow in an ocean with unfamiliar tides and swift, unpredictable currents. It is easy for students with perfectionist tendencies to feel that, no matter how hard they try, they have failed if they are not first in all things. Given life’s demands, students can learn that it is sometimes perfectly fine to do all they can and that it is not always possible to be the very best.”

 “Every principle of the gospel has been revealed to us for our individual advancement and for our individual perfection, but it is the business of the devil to blind men’s eyes to these facts” (President Heber J. Grant, March 17, 1904, The Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star 66:168).

Gong: “We also impose expectations of perfection in our own homes. A father or mother may feel compelled to be the perfect spouse, parent, homemaker, breadwinner, or part of a perfect Latter-day Saint family—now.”

“Be perfect here? Yes, it is man’s privilege, the Latter-day Saints believe, to be as perfect in his sphere as God our eternal Father is in his sphere, or as Jesus in his sphere, or as the angels in their spheres. Said Jesus to his disciples —‘Be ye perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect.’ Perfection, then, is to a certain extent possible on earth for those who will live, lives that are agreeable to the mind and will of God” (Apostle George Q. Cannon, October 8, 1874, Journal of Discourses 17:231).

Gong: “What helps those who battle perfectionist tendencies? Open-ended, supportive inquiries communicate acceptance and love. They invite others to focus on the positive. They allow us to define what we feel is going well. Family and friends can avoid competitive comparisons and instead offer sincere encouragement.”

“These declarations of the Master are known in the literature of the Christians world as the Beatitudes and have been referred to by Bible commentators as the preparation necessary for entrance into the kingdom of Heaven. For the purposes of this discussion may I speak of them as something more than that as they are applied to you and me. They embody in fact THE CONSTITUTION FOR A PERFECT LIFE” (President Harold B. Lee, The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles manual, 1979, p. 60).

Gong: “Another serious dimension of perfectionism is to hold others to our unrealistic, judgmental, or unforgiving standards. Such behavior may, in fact, deny or limit the blessings of the Savior’s Atonement in our lives and in the lives of others. For example, young single adults may make a list of desired qualities in a potential spouse and yet be unable to marry because of unrealistic expectations for the perfect companion. Thus, a sister may be unwilling to consider dating a wonderful, worthy brother who falls short on her perfectionist scale—he does not dance well, is not planning to be wealthy, did not serve a mission, or admits to a past problem with pornography since resolved through repentance and counseling. Similarly, a brother may not consider dating a wonderful, worthy sister who doesn’t fit his unrealistic profile—she is not a sports enthusiast, a Relief Society president, a beauty queen, a sophisticated budgeter, or she admits to an earlier, now-resolved weakness with the Word of Wisdom. Of course, we should consider qualities we desire in ourselves and in a potential spouse. We should maintain our highest hopes and standards. But if we are humble, we will be surprised by goodness in unexpected places, and we may create opportunities to grow closer to someone who, like us, is not perfect.”

“It is my duty, it is yours, to be better today than I was yesterday, and for you to be better today than you were yesterday, and better tomorrow than you were today. Why? Because we are on that road, if we are keeping the commandments of the Lord, we are on that road to perfection, and that can only come through obedience and the desire in our hearts to overcome the world” (President Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 2:18-19. See also The Life and Teachings of Jesus and His Apostles manual, 1979, p. 292).

We’ll finish Gong’s article and provide additional quotes in the next blog posting on Thursday.

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Ballad of the Mountain Meadows Massacre

On September 11th, 1857 a Mormon mob attacked and murdered 120 men, women and children who were passing through Utah Territory as they traveled from Arkansas to California on their way to a better life. Known as the Mountain Meadows Massacre, the following ballad performed by Pete Moore tells the tragic story.

The original words of this ballad (the variant below provided by Frank Kirkman’s Mountain Massacre Site) are believed to have been written within months of the massacre by a United States soldier who was encamped on the border of Utah Territory at the time of the murders (Austin E. Fife, Western Folklore, Vol. 12, No. 4 [Oct., 1953], 238-239).

Ballad of the Mountain Meadows Massacre

Come all you sons of liberty, unto my rhyme give ear
‘Tis of the bloody massacre you presently shall hear
In splendor o’er the mountains some thirty wagons came
They were awaited by a wicked band, oh Utah, bear the blame!

In Indian colors all wrapped in shame this bloody crew was seen
To flock around this little train all on the meadows green
They were attacked in the morning as they were on their way
They forthwith corralled their wagons and fought in blood array

Till came the captain of the band, he surely did deceive
Saying, “If you will give up your arms we’ll surely let you live.”
When once they had give up their arms, thinking their lives to save
The words were broken among the rest which sent them to their graves.

When once they had give up their arms they started for Cedar City.
They rushed on them in Indian style, oh what a human pity!
They melted down with one accord like wax before the flame,
Both men and women, old and young, oh Utah!, where’s thy shame?

Both men and women, old and young, a-rolling in their gore
And such an awful sight and scene was ne’er beheld before
Their property was divided among this bloody crew
And Uncle Sam is bound to see this bloody matter through.

The soldiers will be stationed throughout this Utah land
All for to find those murderers out and bring them to his hands.
By order from their president, this bloody deed was done
He was the leader of the Mormon Church, his name was Brigham Young.

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Why I Wish Mormonism Would Excommunicate or Disfellowship All of Its Unfaithful or Unbelieving Members

When Mormonism excommunicates or disfellowships people who aren’t faithful to Mormonism or believing in Mormonism, it helps both Mormons and evangelicals. It adds clarity to identity and worldview. It contributes to religious integrity. It speeds up the process of people re-evaluating their beliefs.

We’re better off interacting with Mormons as Mormons, agnostics as agnostics, and atheists as atheists. When the waters are muddied, and I have to parse between committed Mormons, cultural Mormons, New Order Mormons, Jack Mormons, agnostic Mormons, atheist Mormons, etc., it takes away from time and focus spent on actually promoting the truth.

For this reason, I would be glad if every religion excommunicated or disfellowshipped all of its unfaithful or unbelieving members. Evangelicals are better off too if we do this. It also happens to be biblical (1 Corinthians 5).

Posted in Friendship, Interaction, and Evangelism, LDS Church, Truth, Honesty, Prayer, and Inquiry | Tagged , , , , , | 13 Comments

Joseph Smith and Luke 10:22

The official History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka History of the Church or HOC) reproduces Joseph Smith’s journal where he stated:

“This winter [1832-33] was spent in translating the Scriptures…I completed the translation and review of the New Testament, on the 2nd of February, 1833 and sealed it up, no more to be opened till it arrived in Zion.” (HOC 1:322, 324; brackets in the quoted source; at link see volume 1 chapter 23)

BibleCorrectedMormon Seventy B.H. Roberts attached a footnote to this statement, relating that George Q. Cannon said that Brigham Young said that Joseph Smith said he wanted to go through the translation again to perfect it “upon points of doctrine which the Lord had restrained him from giving in plainness and fullness” in 1833. Whether this reflects Joseph Smith’s true intentions or not, one verse that Joseph was not restrained from revising was Luke 10:22 (numbered as verse 23 in the Joseph Smith Translation). The LDS-printed edition of the Bible includes Joseph’s revision of this verse in a footnote, which gives credence to the understanding that this verse, at least, had been corrected “in plainness and fullness,” according to the inspiration from God that Joseph Smith claimed.

Luke 10:22 in the King James Version of the Bible reads,

“All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth who the Son is, but the Father; and who the Father is, but the Son, and he to whom the Son will reveal him.”

I checked ten different translations/versions of this verse; nine of the ten translated the verse virtually the same. For example:

“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (ESV)

“All things have been entrusted to Me by My Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son desires to reveal Him.” (HCSB)

“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” (NASB)

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (NIV)

“All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (RSV; see also NKJV, NRSVCE, NRSVA, etc.)

All of these Bible translations faithfully convey the words of Jesus as He spoke of the unique relationship and deep intimacy shared between Himself and His Father.

Of the ten versions I consulted, only the Joseph Smith Translation varied in the essence or doctrine contained in Luke 10:22/23. Joseph’s translation (i.e., revision) changed this verse to read:

“All things are delivered to me of my Father: and no man knoweth that the Son is the Father, and the Father is the Son, but him to whom the Son will reveal it.” (JST as found in The Bible Corrected by Joseph Smith, compiled by Kenneth and Lyndell Lutes)

So rather than conveying deep intimacy between the Father and the Son (as the ancient Greek text does), Joseph Smith’s revision conveys sameness: the Father is the Son (and vice versa).

Joseph’s so-called correction of the biblical text presents the Father and the Son as one person. As Sandra Tanner pointed out in a recent article discussing the evolvement of the First Vision story and the development of the Mormon concept of God, Joseph’s revision of Luke 10:22/23 “hardly seems like a change one would make if ten years earlier the Father and Son had appeared to Smith as two separate individuals” (Sandra Tanner, “Grappling with the Past,” Salt Lake City Messenger, May 2014, 8).

Add roughly another decade to Joseph Smith’s tenure as the prophet of the Mormon Church; in June of 1844 he preached:

“I wish to declare I have always and in all congregations when I have preached on the subject of the Deity, it has been the plurality of Gods. It has been preached by the Elders for fifteen years.

“I have always declared God to be a distinct personage, Jesus Christ a separate and distinct personage from God the Father, and that the Holy Ghost was a distinct personage and a Spirit, and these three constitute three distinct personages and three Gods.” (HOC 6:474; at link see volume 6 chapter 23)

This doesn’t sound like “the Son is the Father, and the Father is the Son.”

What it does sound like is that Joseph Smith changed his theology – and his story – and that neither Joseph nor his “translation” were inspired by an omniscient God after all.

Posted in Bible, Early Mormonism, God the Father, Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, Mormon History, Mormon Scripture | Tagged , , , , , , | 21 Comments

“Love thy neighbor”: Mormonism’s second prophet explains what Jesus meant

Brigham YoungOn Sunday, February 8, 1857 Brigham Young took the stand at the Great Salt Lake City Tabernacle to deliver a discourse to his congregation. On this occasion, Mormonism’s second prophet included some expositional preaching on Jesus’ command found in Matthew 19:19 (also in Matthew 22:39, Mark 12:31, 33, and Luke 10:27), “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Brigham Young explained:

“When will we love our neighbour as ourselves? In the first place, Jesus said that no man hateth his own flesh. It is admitted by all that every person loves himself. Now if we do rightly love ourselves, we want to be saved and continue to exist, we want to go into the kingdom where we can enjoy eternity and see no more sorrow nor death. This is the desire of every person who believes in God. Now take a person in this congregation who has knowledge with regard to being saved in the kingdom of our God and our Father, and being exalted, one who knows and understands the principles of eternal life, and sees the beauty and excellency of the eternities before him compared with the vain and foolish things of the world, and suppose that he is overtaken in a gross fault, that he has committed a sin that he knows will deprive him of that exaltation which he desires, and that he cannot attain to it without the shedding of his blood, and also knows that by having his blood shed he will atone for that sin, and be saved and exalted with the Gods, is there a man of woman in this house but what would say, ‘shed my blood that I may be saved and exalted with the Gods?’

“All mankind love themselves, and let these principles be known by an individual, and he would be glad to have his blood shed. That would be loving themselves, even unto an eternal exaltation. Will you love your brothers or sisters likewise, when they have committed a sin that cannot be atoned for without the shedding of their blood? Will you love that man or woman well enough to shed their blood? That is what Jesus Christ meant. He never told a man or woman to love their enemies in their wickedness, never. ShedBloodHe never intended any such thing; his language is left as it is for those to read who have the Spirit to discern between truth and error; it was so left for those who can discern the things of God. Jesus Christ never meant that we should love a wicked man in his wickedness.

“Now take the wicked, and I can refer to where the Lord had to slay every soul of the Israelites that went out of Egypt, except Caleb and Joshua. He slew them by the hands of their enemies, by the plague, and by the sword, why? Because He loved them, and promised Abraham that He would save them. And He loved Abraham because he was a friend to his God, and would stick to Him in the hour of darkness, hence He promised Abraham that He would save his seed. And He could save them upon no other principle, for they had forfeited their right to the land of Canaan by transgressing the law of God, and they could not have atoned for the sin if they had lived. But if they were slain, the Lord could bring them up in the resurrection, and give them the land of Canaan, and He could not do it on any other principle.

“I could refer you to plenty of instances where men have been righteously slain, in order to atone for their sins. I have seen scores and hundreds of people for whom there would have been a chance (in the last resurrection there will be) if their lives had been taken and their blood spilled on the ground as a smoking incense to the Almighty, but who are now angels to the devil, until our elder brother Jesus Christ raises them up-conquers death, hell, and the grave. I have known a great many men who have left this Church for whom there is no chance whatever for exaltation, but if their blood had been spilled, it would have been better for them. The wickedness and ignorance of the nations forbid this principle’s being in full force, but the time will come when the law of God will be in full force.

“This is loving our neighbour as ourselves; if he needs help, help him; and if he wants salvation and it is necessary to spill his blood on the earth in order that he may be saved, spill it. Any of you who understand the principles of eternity, if you have sinned a sin requiring the shedding of blood, except the sin unto death, would not be satisfied nor rest until your blood should be spilled, that you might gain that salvation you desire. That is the way to love mankind.” (Journal of Discourses 4:219-220, GospelLink online edition. Emphasis added.)

For sake of contrast, read a contemporary Christian sermon on Jesus’ command as it was preached by Charles Spurgeon on August 9, 1857.

For more information of the early Mormon doctrine of Blood Atonement, visit the Mormonism Research Ministry website,

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The Gospel of Mark

Posted in Bible, Christianity, Jesus Christ | 9 Comments

“It is the voice of a god, not of a man”

How early Mormon leader Joseph Fielding and other Mormons responded to the King Follett discourse (April 7, 1844):

“I never felt more delighted with his discourse than at this time. They said at his oration, it is the voice of a god not of a man.” (Journal of Joseph Fielding, quoted in “The King Follett Discourse: Joseph Smith’s Greatest Sermon in Historical Perspective”)

How the people of Tyre and Sidon responded to the oration of Herod:

“On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, ‘The voice of a god, and not of a man!’ Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.” (Acts 12:21-23)

Joseph Smith died 81 days later, June 27, 1844.

Idolatry never wins in the end. “But the word of God increased and multiplied.” (Acts 12:24)

Note: The LDS manual “Church History In The Fulness Of Times Student Manual” awkwardly makes favorable use of Acts 12:20-23 to describe how the saints were “profoundly moved” by the King Follett discourse.

George Q. Cannon also spoke of Smith at the KFD:

“The Prophet seemed to rise above the world. It was as if the light of heaven already encircled his physical being… Those who hear the sermon may never forget its power. Those who read it today think it was an exhibition of superhuman power and eloquence.” (quoted here, also see here)

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Testing Joseph Smith’s Integrity

Joseph Smith by grindael

Joseph Smith
by grindael

Brigham Young University professor Daniel Peterson recently wrote an article for the Deseret News presenting evidence for the exemplary personal character of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith. In “Defending the Faith: 2 legal tests of Joseph Smith’s integrity” Dr. Peterson discusses Joseph Smith’s three-year responsibility toward the Lawrence sisters and their sizable estate as legal guardian. Dr. Peterson explains:

“Edward Lawrence, a Canadian convert to Mormonism, died at the end of 1839, leaving behind six minor children and a pregnant wife. Joseph agreed to serve as the guardian of the Lawrence estate, but critics have sought to portray his behavior in this role as exploitative, or at least negligent. Now, however, probate documents and court records related to the Lawrence family have been located, and [LDS researcher Gordon] Madsen’s article carefully examines those materials. They permit Joseph’s involvement to be investigated step by step.

“Contrary to the negative picture cultivated by critics, Madsen argues that ‘the record shows that he performed his duty honorably. He did not claim compensation for service as guardian, and he made no claim for boarding Maria and Sarah; he was more generous in expenditures for and to the children and to (those who cared for Maria and Sarah’s siblings) than the law required.’ Moreover, he took all the steps that he could in order, when appropriate, to transfer guardianship of the children to John Taylor.”

Dr. Peterson asserts,

“Time after time, the criticisms aimed at Joseph cannot withstand examination. In many cases, they actually turn into affirmations of his solid decency and integrity.”

As usual, there is more to this chapter in the Prophet’s life than Dr. Peterson chose to discuss in his short article. Allow me to fill in some of the missing pieces, provided by LDS author Todd Compton from his landmark book, In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith.

Sarah (14) and Maria (17) Lawrence became orphans under the law when their father died, even though their mother, Margaret, was still alive. In June of 1841 Joseph Smith stepped forward to become the legal guardian (as required by law) for the family. By early 1842 Margaret had remarried to Josiah Butterfield, a Mormon man in good standing with the Church. For the next year Josiah and Margaret worked unsuccessfully to regain guardianship of the estate and the girls. History of the Church records that in March of 1843 “Josiah Butterfield came to [Joseph’s] house and insulted [Joseph] so outrageously that [Joseph] kicked him out of the house, across the yard, and into the street.”

Almera Johnson v4

Images of the Restoration

In late spring of 1843 Joseph married both Sarah and Maria, bringing his number of wives to 24. Apparently Joseph’s legal wife, Emma, knew about his marriages to the Lawrence sisters, but she did not know about his earlier marriages to the Partridge sisters (Emily and Eliza). So when Emma demonstrated, via her willingness to accept the Lawrence sisters, that she had become more agreeable to plural marriage, Joseph took the opportunity to marry the Partridge sisters again – this time with Emma’s consent.

Joseph married another nine women over the following few months; he stopped taking new wives in November 1843. In the spring of 1844 disaffected Mormon William Law, a longtime friend of the Lawrences, filed a lawsuit against Joseph Smith for adultery in the case of Maria Lawrence — making Joseph’s secret marriages to the Lawrence sisters public knowledge. As noted by Todd Compton,

“In response [to the lawsuit], Smith flatly denied polygamy in a speech delivered on May 26: ‘What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can only find one.’” (History of the Church 6:411)

The public pressure mounted and, as Dr. Peterson notes, Joseph Smith took steps to transfer guardianship of the Lawrence estate to John Taylor. But the transfer never actually happened (in fact, just three weeks before Joseph was killed, an Illinois justice of the peace notarized a certificate stating Joseph was the guardian of the Lawrences).

After Joseph’s death on June 27, 1844, the Lawrence sisters tried to get what remained of their inheritance from the Smith estate, but they had no success. All of Joseph’s property (with which the Lawrence estate had been comingled as allowed by law) was in the name of his legal wife, Emma, and she was not willing (or maybe not able) to pay back the funds.

In the end, perhaps feeling a measure of responsibility, William Law used his own funds to pay the Lawrence sisters the money Joseph Smith rightly owed them.

Does this episode from Joseph Smith’s life demonstrate his “solid decency and integrity” as Dr. Peterson would have us believe? When the dust settles around this affair, the Prophet’s handling of the funds from the Lawrence estate may have been done within the bounds of the law. Joseph may have been generous in his distribution of Edward Lawrence’s money for Edward’s children’s care. But Joseph Smith added the young Lawrence sisters to his entourage of illegal wives; he lied to his wife, Emma; he physically assaulted Josiah Butterfield in an argument about the Lawrence estate; he lied to his followers (and the world); and he heartlessly denied 33 women who had sacrificed much to become his plural wives — in order to save his own skin. Is all of this to be overlooked because Joseph did not submit a claim demanding to be paid for the “boarding” of his plural wives?

After examining the facts, when it comes to integrity, Joseph Smith fails the test.

Posted in Early Mormonism, Mormon History, Nauvoo, Polygamy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

Mormon Missionaries Do Not Teach the Gospel

The Mormon-themed Meridian Magazine posted an article last week titled, “Baptized Too Soon?” In it, author Joni Hilton confessed her proclivity toward blaming the missionaries when new Mormon converts fall away, wondering if

“…the missionaries were too hasty, and scheduled a baptism before the investigator really understood the gospel. Do they even have a testimony of Joseph Smith? Have they actually prayed about whether the Book of Mormon is true? Do they know what they’re committing to?” (Emphasis in the original.)

mormon-baptismBut upon further reflection, Mrs. Hilton noted that, “Nobody comes out of the waters of baptism a complete gospel scholar—everyone will continue to learn and add to their testimony.” Mrs. Hilton decided she needed to repent of her poor judgment in questioning the missionaries’ techniques.

Leading to her change of heart were a couple of statements from LDS leaders. One was this from Howard W. Hunter, the 14th President of the Mormon Church:

“Missionaries don’t teach the gospel; they cry repentance and instill in the people enough faith to have the desire to be baptized. At that moment, they are turned over to Christ, then, the Church teaches them. There are not many in the Church that understand this. They think that the missionaries haven’t spent enough time and haven’t taught them the gospel. Now, the missionaries aren’t to do that! We have six discussions. We take them that far, and that does not cover all the gospel, but then the Church spends the rest of this person’s life teaching them the gospel. We do the same thing with our eight-year-old children. No one in this Church should ever be heard to say, ‘The missionaries baptized this person before they were ready!’” (Quoted in the Meridian Magazine article without a source attribution. Bold in the original.)

The other statement was from an LDS apostle:

“The stressing of the Gospel lessons right at first, before the purpose and intent of the missionaries’ presence, can lead to confusion. Their initial reaction is the result of the Spirit testifying to them and where this is manifest baptism should be accomplished as quickly as possible, otherwise the Holy Ghost will leave them. Let me reiterate this: If you have people who receive the spirit but you don’t baptize them, they will lose the spirit. This is why you should baptize them as quickly as possible.” (Apostle Alvin R. Dyer, “The Challenging and Testifying Missionary.” Mrs. Hilton’s quote is somewhat different from the text I found in the complete talk posted online. I have here quoted from the complete transcript rather than as quoted by Joni Hilton.)

WatchFaceThus, Mormon missionaries are not supposed to spend time teaching investigators the gospel. Rather, missionaries must strike while the iron is hot — get investigators baptized as soon as they indicate that they think the missionaries are servants of God (as explained in Elder Dyer’s talk). Converts don’t need to know the doctrinal content of the Restored Gospel or the unique doctrines of the Mormon Church. They don’t need to know the God Mormonism serves or the (different) Jesus it proclaims. They need only be convinced that Mormonism – whatever it is – is probably true. They are to be quickly baptized (before they can think too much about it and “lose the Spirit”), and then spend the rest of their lives (as Mrs. Hilton suggested) filling in the blanks.

Please understand that Mormons believe these investigators are receiving a testimony of the Spirit that Mormonism is true, hence the acceleration to immediate baptism. But both the Old and New Testaments encourage a very different approach to a Mormon missionary challenge than that suggested by these LDS Authorities. God tells us in the book of Proverbs,

“It is a snare to say rashly, ‘It is holy,’ and to reflect only after making vows.” (Proverbs 20:25)

It is a snare – a trap. We avoid this trap when we take our cue from the ancient Bereans:

“The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” (Acts 17:10-11)

This is important. God warns over and over again that we must be careful, discerning, questioning, watchful. Because “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)

I pray it will not be you.

Echoing the Apostle John I implore you,

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

Posted in LDS Church, Mormon Leaders, Mormon Missionaries | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments