How was Joseph Smith’s seer stone like a smart phone?

I know the headline sounds like a lead-in to a joke, but in fact, Mormon apologist Daniel Peterson wrote a “Defending the Faith” column for Deseret News in which he suggested that, though “some critics of Joseph Smith mock the fact that part of the Book of Mormon translation process apparently involved dictating while looking at a stone that he’d placed within a hat…far from being damaging evidence against his claims and against the Book of Mormon, this fact may strongly support their plausibility.”

Dr. Peterson asks his readers to “consider a smartphone or e-reader, for instance. Their screens are very difficult to read out in the sunlight and need to be shaded. Or consider your personal computer. You probably don’t place it directly in front of a window where bright light will be streaming into your face.” So too, he says, did Joseph Smith need to place his seer stone in a hat in order to better see the words on it, and to reduce eye strain.

Dr. Peterson argues that the fact that Joseph put his face in a hat while dictating the Book of Mormon has “intriguing” implications. Referring to a common charge by critic’s that Joseph Smith may have plagiarized existing documents to write the Book of Mormon, Dr. Peterson points out: “A manuscript hidden in the bottom of a hat would be difficult if not impossible to read.”

The question, of course, is why Joseph Smith needed to look at a stone in a hat in the first place. As the story goes, Joseph had been given tangible metal plates covered with the writings of ancient prophets written in “Reformed Egyptian.” God had supplied Joseph with “interpreters” — two stones in silver bows, called the Urim and Thummim — to enable him to translate the characters into English. But he set the plates and the interpreters aside and resorted to a stone in a hat.

The fact that he used a hat, according to Daniel Peterson, “strongly supports” Joseph Smith’s claims and the validity of the Book of Mormon. But if, in fact, the hat really does powerfully substantiate the plausibility of Mormonism’s claims, why has the Mormon Church largely neglected to include it in its official narratives regarding the origin of the Book of Mormon?

Despite Dr. Peterson’s apologetic, I’m afraid I remain unconvinced.

Listen to today’s Viewpoint on Mormonism where Bill and Eric discuss this particular defense of the Mormon faith as argued by Daniel Peterson.

Posted in Book of Mormon, Early Mormonism, LDS Church, Mormon History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

Do Mormons Have Faith in the Bible?

The Bible and the Book of MormonThe Mormon Church recognizes four books as scripture: The Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and the Bible. And yet, as noted at the MRM website,

Joseph Smith said [of the Bible], “Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 327). The First Presidency confirmed this idea in 1992 when they wrote, “The Bible, as it has been transmitted over the centuries, has suffered the loss of many plain and precious parts” (Presidents Ezra Taft Benson, Gordon B. Hinckley, and Thomas Monson, “Letter Reaffirms Use of King James Version of Bible,” Church News, June 20, 1992, 3). [A] BYU Professor explained that “the Bible is not, and was never intended to be, our sole guide, our template, our standard against which we measure what we teach or believe” (Review of Books on the Book of Mormon, 6:1, 198-199).

And though Mormons periodically use the Bible as their course of study in Sunday School as the curriculum rotates through the different volumes of Mormon scripture, in practice many Mormons do not give the Bible its due.

Love the BibleWhen visiting the Mormon Payson Temple during its open house in May 2015, Eric Johnson and I spoke with an LDS missionary who was staffing the open house’s hospitality tent (where visitors were ushered after their tours). As we discussed Mormon temples and how they differ from the biblical temple, and as we discussed the concept of Mormon exaltation and how it differs from biblical teachings on salvation and Heaven, the LDS missionary told us several times that she wasn’t very familiar with the Bible or its teachings.

Later, as Eric and I delivered newspapers to the homes surrounding the temple grounds, we enjoyed a long conversation with a life-long LDS woman. She told us that she wanted to get to know Christ better — that she wanted to understand Him more. She believed she would learn many things about Jesus in the Bible — a book, she said, that she hadn’t read much in her 70+ years. After admitting that she had some trouble understanding the language of the King James Version (the Bible the Mormon Church authorizes its members to use), Eric offered to give her a gift of a Bible in a more modern translation. The Mormon woman was hesitant to accept the gift. When asked if she would agree to read it, she said, “I won’t promise to read it, but I will promise to pray about whether I should read it.”

Mormonism builds reluctance in Latter-day Saints toward trusting – and using – the Bible. Mormons don’t know how accurate the Bible is, and they don’t know how much evidence exists for its historicity.

To borrow from and repurpose Joseph Smith—History 1:19, Mormonism draws near to the Bible with its lips, but its heart is far from it.

For Mormons (and others) who don’t know that the Bible can be trusted, here’s a short video (under 4 minutes) that presents a few reasons why Christians confidently place their trust in the Bible and embrace it wholeheartedly as the Word of God.

Posted in Bible, Mormon Scripture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

LDS Church on the Marriage(s) of Jesus

ThrowbackThursIt’s Throwback Thursday! The following blog article originally posted at Mormon Coffee on May 19, 2006. Though The Da Vinci Code is now old news, being nine years after the movie’s release, I just received an email last week that addressed the issue of a married Jesus. A Mormon woman wrote, “On this topic, we are told that, indeed, Jesus did marry. In order to get into the Celestial Kingdom, you must get married in the temple, and get baptized. Jesus was baptized to set an example unto us. To show that even the most perfect of men need to get baptized, so even the most perfect men need to get married, but not only that [–] Jesus also had to be baptized and married to live in the Celestial Kingdom.” Since this remains a current topic, it seems timely to use “LDS Church on the Marriage(s) of Jesus” as a Throwback Thursday Mormon Coffee post.

Today The Da Vinci Code opens in U.S. theatres. There’s a lot of buzzing going on, including some from the LDS Church. Wednesday’s online Deseret News ran a short article titled “LDS do not endorse claims in ‘Da Vinci'” quoted here in part:

LDS doctrine does not endorse claims made in a popular book and movie that Jesus Christ was married…

Dale Bills, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in a statement released Tuesday:

“The belief that Christ was married has never been official church doctrine. It is neither sanctioned nor taught by the church. While it is true that a few church leaders in the mid-1800s expressed their opinions on the matter, it was not then, and is not now, church doctrine.”

I don’t know quite how to take Mr. Bills’ claim. Two weeks ago here on Mormon Coffee I included a quote from Salt Lake Tribune journalist Pat Bagley:

Growing up in the church in California, I dutifully got up every morning during high school at 5:30 a.m. to attend seminary. It was there I first learned that the marriage attended by Jesus in Cana, where he famously turned water into grape juice, was probably his own.

If it’s taught in LDS seminary, isn’t it taught by the LDS Church? I suppose it might be an issue of where the seminary instructor got the idea in the first place. Was it just his or her speculation? If so, that teacher should have been replaced, but quick.

We don’t know where the teacher got his information, but quite possibly it could have come from LDS authorities. Consider this teaching from LDS Apostle Orson Hyde:

We will turn over to the account of the marriage in Cana of Galilee…

Jesus was the bridegroom at the marriage of Cana of Galilee, and he told them what to do.

Now there was actually a marriage; and if Jesus was not the bridegroom on that occasion, please tell me who was. If any man can show this, and prove that it was not the Savior of the world, then I will acknowledge I am in error. We say it was Jesus Christ who was married, to be brought into the relation whereby he could see his seed, before he was crucified. (Journal of Discourses 2:82. “A lecture by President Orson Hyde, delivered at the General Conference, in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, October 6, 1854.”)

As a side note, I’m not able to tell President Hyde who was married at the wedding of Cana, but I can tell him who wasn’t; John 2:2 says that both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. Grooms are not invited to their own weddings, they actually do the inviting. Jesus was not married at this wedding in Cana.

At any rate, if the President of the Twelve Apostles, speaking at General Conference, in his official capacity as an Apostle, said Jesus was married–and was never reprimanded for it–wouldn’t that indicate that the Church both taught and sanctioned the doctrine?

There was some fallout for Mr. Hyde, but not from the Church. In a sermon delivered five months later Mr. Hyde said,

I discovered that some of the Eastern papers represent me as a great blasphemer, because I said, in my lecture on Marriage, at our last Conference, that Jesus Christ was married at Cana of Galilee, that Mary, Martha, and others were his wives, and that he begat children.

All that I have to say in reply to that charge is this–they worship a Savior that is too pure and holy to fulfil the commands of his Father. I worship one that is just pure and holy enough “to fulfil all righteousness;” not only the righteous law of baptism, but the still more righteous and important law “to multiply and replenish the earth.” Startle not at this! (Journal of Discourses 2:210. “A sermon by President Orson Hyde, delivered in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, March 18, 1855.” Spelling retained.)

Mr. Hyde was still teaching this doctrine in 1857 (see Journal of Discourses 4:260). He was not the only LDS leader to teach that Jesus was married. LDS Apostle Orson Pratt taught:

One thing is certain, that there were several holy women that greatly loved Jesus–such as Mary, and Martha her sister, and Mary Magdalene;…now it would be very natural for a husband in the resurrection to appear first to his own dear wives, and afterwards show himself to his other friends. If all the acts of Jesus were written, we no doubt should learn that these beloved women were his wives. (The Seer, Washington D.C. edition, October 1853, page 159)

We have also proved most clearly that the Son followed the example of his Father, and became the great Bridegroom to whom kings’ daughters and many honorable Wives were to be married. We have also proved that both God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ inherit their wives in eternity as well as in time; ..And then it would be so shocking to the modesty of the very pious ladies of Christendom to see Abraham and his wives, Jacob and his wives, Jesus and his honorable wives. all eating occasionally at the same table… (The Seer, Washington D.C. edition, November 1853, page 172)

The index of the Journal of Discourses says the marriage of Jesus was implied by Jedediah M. Grant. Eight months before being made an apostle Mr. Grant said:

…and what does [ancient philosopher Celsus] say upon the subject of Christ and his Apostles, and their belief? He says, “The grand reason why the Gentiles and philosophers of his school persecuted Jesus Christ, was, because he had so many wives; there were Elizabeth, and Mary, and a host of others that followed him.”

A belief in the doctrine of the plurality of wives caused the persecution of Jesus and his followers. We might almost think they were “Mormons.” (Journal of Discourses 1:345-346. “A discourse by Elder Jedediah M. Grant, delivered in the Tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, Aug. 7, 1853.”)

There’s a more modern source for this teaching that may have been used by the seminary instructor who taught Mr. Bagley. LDS Seventy Milton R. Hunter wrote The Gospel Through the Ages in 1945. The preface states,

This book is designed primarily for a course of study in the Melchizedek Priesthood quorums of the Church. It is to be used by all high priests’, seventies’, and elders’ classes in their weekly meetings, beginning January 1, 1946….The volume has been written and published under the direction of the General Authorities.

As an authoritative course of study published under the direction of the General Authorities of the Church it seems that there should be no disputing that what it teaches is “official” and “sanctioned” by the Church. The book says,

Operating in addition to and as part of natural laws are the Gospel ordinances. They were instituted by God the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ before man was placed on this earth, for the purpose of assisting in bringing the sons and daughters of God back into Their presence. Such ordinances as baptism, confirmation, temple ordinances, priesthood ordinations, marriage, and others, are all part of the Gospel plan of salvation. All of these principles and ordinances of the Gospel are eternal. They were instituted before man was placed on the earth and are applicable to all human beings that live here…

Jesus Christ, the only perfect man who has lived on this earth, was perfect because He obeyed all the principles and ordinances of the Gospel in order that He “might fulfill all righteousness.” He thereby set a pattern of life for all mortals to follow. If they obey all the principles and ordinances of the Gospel, as did the Master, their growth will continue until they attain eternal life in the Kingdom of God. (pages 18-19. Emphasis mine.)

So I really don’t understand Mr. Bills and his statement on behalf of the LDS Church. Clearly, he is spinning the truth.

Posted in Jesus Christ, Marriage and Singlehood | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

The Pattern of Mormon Temples

Payson TempleLast week I returned from a visit to Utah. While there, I took a tour of the Mormon Church’s newly completed Payson Temple. As is the normal practice for temple open houses, the tour began with a video about Mormon temples. And as is usual for the temple open house videos, the claim is made that Mormon temples are a restoration of ancient biblical temples. I don’t have an exact quote from the video, but the idea it expressed is reflected in a comment recently made by a Mormon Seventy:

“Temples are patterned after Solomon’s temple and honor the Lord and express our gratitude.” (Kent R. Richards (Director of the LDS Church’s Temple Department), Payson LDS Temple: A Special Edition of the Daily Herald, April 15 2015, 14)

Mr. Richards’ remark is right in line with — or, one might say “patterned after” — information found in an older pamphlet produced by the Mormon Church:

“In Biblical times sacred ordinances were administered in holy edifices for the spiritual salvation of ancient Israel. The buildings thus used were not synagogues, nor any other ordinary places of worship. They were specially constructed for this particular purpose…. Following the pattern of Biblical days, the Lord again in our day has provided these ordinances for all who will believe, and directs that temples be built in which to perform those sacred rites.” (Mark E. Petersen, Why Mormons Build Temples, 3. Ellipses mine)

My tour of the Payson temple took me through many rooms on several floors of a very large building (96,630 square feet). I saw:

  • A reception area/recommend desk
  • A baptism clothing/towel rental area
  • A baptismal font
  • Locker rooms
  • Waiting rooms
  • Initiatory rooms
  • Ordinance rooms
  • Sealing rooms
  • Grand staircases
  • Upholstered furniture
  • Crystal chandeliers
  • And more…

This is the floor plan of one floor of a typical Mormon Temple:

LDSTempleFloor Plan

This is the floor plan of Solomon’s Temple as described in the Bible (see 1 Kings 6-7):

SolomonTempleFloorPlan

The Mormon Church may claim its temples are “patterned after” Solomon’s Temple, but in reality, there is nothing common to both other than the fact that they are both structures that are called “temples.” Neither the buildings themselves, nor those things that take/took place within them correspond to one another. King Solomon explained,

“Behold, I am about to build a house for the name of the LORD my God and dedicate it to him for the burning of incense of sweet spices before him, and for the regular arrangement of the showbread, and for burnt offerings morning and evening, on the Sabbaths and the new moons and the appointed feasts of the LORD our God…” (2 Chronicles 2:4)

Solomon understood that the temple was for a very specific purpose:

“Who am I then, that I should build him an house, save only to burn sacrifice before him?” (2 Chronicles 2:6, KJV)

The biblical temple was for offering sacrifices as temporary atonement for sin. It pointed to Christ as the full, final, and sufficient sacrifice. As Christian theologian John Piper noted,

“But all the Old Testament believers knew that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin (Hebrews 10:4). They pointed beyond themselves to Christ, who was the final sacrifice for sin. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 5:7, ‘Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.’ That was the final sacrifice for sin, because it was perfect and sufficient for all who believe. Most clearly of all Hebrews 10:12 says, ‘When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.’ So Christ brought to an end the Old Testament sacrifices for sin. He finished the great work of atonement. His death cannot be improved on. All we have to do now is trust him for that great work. We do not add to it.”

Mormon temples, on the other hand, are built for these purposes:

“These two great purposes – eternal marriage (binding the family for time and eternity), and opening the door of the kingdom for those who have died without an adequate opportunity to accept the [restored] Gospel of Jesus Christ and its essential ordinances [i.e., baptism for the dead, etc.]…

“In addition there is the Temple ‘endowment,’ which is also an ordinance pertaining to man’s eternal journey and limitless possibilities and progress…

“This is why Temples are built.” (President David O. McKay, “The Purpose of the Temple,” pamphlet published by the LDS Church, 1974, 10-11)

The Mormon Church has every right to build temples according to any design and for any purpose it pleases, but here’s the problem. The Church proclaims that Mormon temples are “patterned after” Solomon’s temple, and that Mormon temples are a restoration of ancient biblical temples, built for the performance of biblical ordinances. These assertions are completely untrue. And considering the fact that every detail of the biblical temple is clearly presented in the Bible, the Mormon Church knows its assertions are untrue. Which means the Church is willfully deceiving people about Mormon temples.

And so I believe these temples accomplish the opposite of the claim made by Kent Richards. Mormon temples do not “honor the Lord”; they dishonor the Lord through deception.

Posted in LDS Church, Mormon Temple | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 29 Comments

Mormon Church Essay on Priesthood Ban Banned From Church Classroom

ClassroomAn interesting thing happened to Mormon Sunday school teacher Brian Dawson. The Salt Lake Tribune reports that a student in Mr. Dawson’s youth Sunday school class asked him why his Nigerian wife joined a church that had at one time excluded blacks from the priesthood and Mormon temples. The student wondered where the priesthood ban came from so Mr. Dawson agreed to discuss it with the class:

“You know, he began, we could rely on the personal witness of believing black members, but there is also a church-approved document the class could read together. It’s called ‘Race and the Priesthood’ and was published in December 2013 on the faith’s own website.

“The students eagerly agreed, so the following week Dawson arrived, armed with the essay and several articles from the church’s official Ensign magazine about early black Mormons, including Elijah Abel, Jane Manning James and Green Flake…

“The essay noted the priesthood ban was rooted more in earthly racism during Brigham Young’s era than heavenly revelation.

“Pointing that out — and that future missionaries should understand this history — was where Dawson’s troubles began.” (Peggy Fletcher Stack, “This Mormon Sunday school teacher was dismissed for using church’s own race essay in lesson,” May 5, 2015)

Mr. Dawson was later contacted by his bishop and told, “Anything regarding black history before 1978 is irrelevant and a moot point,” according to The Salt Lake Tribune. The bishop “insisted that Dawson agree never again to bring up the essay or discuss ‘black Mormon history’ in the class.” Mr. Dawson countered,

“‘If the [Holy] Spirit guides me in a way that involves these multitude of documents,’ he asked the bishop, ‘who am I to resist the enticing of the Spirit?’

“The bishop replied, according to Dawson, ‘The Spirit is telling me to tell you not to use those documents.’”

wagging_fingerIt’s natural to wonder why the Spirit would tell Mr. Dawson one thing while giving his bishop an opposite message. I don’t know if Mr. Dawson entertained this question, but he chose not to submit to his bishop’s demands and was released from his position as teacher.

The Dawsons then appealed to a higher authority in the Church. The Salt Lake Tribune says,

“Eventually, their local LDS leaders agreed that Dawson’s materials were legitimate but decided he shouldn’t teach them anyway.

“It was too much for the kids, they argued, and church was not the right venue for the discussion.”

The Dawsons are reportedly baffled by all of this. The point of the Mormon Church essays on controversial aspects of Mormon history was explained in 2014 to journalist Laurie Goodstein:

“There is so much out there on the Internet that we felt we owed our members a safe place where they could go to get reliable, faith-promoting information that was true about some of these more difficult aspects of our history.” (Steven E. Snow, quoted in The New York Times, “It’s Official: Mormon Founder Had Up to 40 Wives,” November 10, 2014)

On its website, the Mormon Church urges all people to “read the essays as written” and “encourages members to study” them (“Gospel Topics” introduction).

But don’t talk about them at church. Don’t teach them at church. Don’t confuse teenage LDS members with the “reliable, faith-promoting information” they contain.

In her interview for this Salt Lake Tribune article, Mormon author Tamu Smith notes that even though the LDS Church essay on Race and the Priesthood has been announced to church leadership and is included in the newest curriculum for high school and college students,

“‘many seminary teachers [for high school], institute [college] teachers, and even some people teaching at Brigham Young University are blind to it — even when you point things out to them.’

“It’s ‘great’ that the essay is on the church website, Smith says, ‘but people don’t believe it.’”

I almost think the Mormon Church would like it to stay that way.

Posted in Authority and Doctrine, LDS Church, Mormon History | Tagged , , , , , , , | 35 Comments

How “official” is the Mormon First Presidency?

In 1973, five years before the Mormon Church lifted its ban on Blacks holding the LDS priesthood and participating in Mormon temple ordinances, Wendell J. Ashton, the Mormon Church’s director of Public Affairs, appeared on “1973 Special News Report: When the Latter-day Saints Go Marching In.”

Using an official statement on the matter issued by the First Presidency of the Church in 1969, Mr. Ashton explained that only God knew why the priesthood was denied to people of African descent at that time. The First Presidency Statement of which Mr. Ashton quoted a small part also says,

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints owes its origin, its existence, and its hope for the future to the principle of continuous revelation…

Our living prophet, President David O. McKay, has said, “The seeming discrimination by the Church toward the Negro is not something which originated with man; but goes back into the beginning with God…Revelation assures us that this plan antedates man’s mortal existence, extending back to man’s pre-existent state.”

And, according to Mr. Ashton, revelation “from the Lord” would be required for any change to “the seeming discrimination by the Church toward the Negro.”

Pre-dating the 1969 First Presidency Statement was a similar statement issued twenty years earlier. But the 1949 First Presidency Statement took a stronger stance on the reason for the priesthood ban. In addition to being in agreement with the 1969 statement regarding the fact that the ban was a consequence of revelation (“The attitude of the Church with reference to the Negroes remains as it has always stood. It is not a matter of the declaration of a policy but of direct commandment from the Lord, on which is founded the doctrine of the Church from the days of its organization…”), the 1949 First Presidency explained,

The prophets of the Lord have made several statements as to the operation of the principle. President Brigham Young said: “Why are so many of the inhabitants of the earth cursed with a skin of blackness? It comes in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God. They will go down to death. And when all the rest of the children have received their blessings in the holy priesthood, then that curse will be removed from the seed of Cain, and they will then come up and possess the priesthood, and receive all the blessings which we now are entitled to.”

President Wilford Woodruff made the following statement: “The day will come when all that race will be redeemed and possess all the blessings which we now have.”

The position of the Church regarding the Negro may be understood when another doctrine of the Church is kept in mind, namely, that the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence has some determining effect upon the conditions and circumstances under which these spirits take on mortality and that while the details of this principle have not been made known, the mortality is a privilege that is given to those who maintain their first estate; and that the worth of the privilege is so great that spirits are willing to come to earth and take on bodies no matter what the handicap may be as to the kind of bodies they are to secure; and that among the handicaps, failure of the right to enjoy in mortality the blessings of the priesthood is a handicap which spirits are willing to assume in order that they might come to earth. Under this principle there is no injustice whatsoever involved in this deprivation as to the holding of the priesthood by the Negroes.

Somehow, “the attitude of the Church…as it has always been” changed by December 2013. Though not as authoritative as a First Presidency Statement, the Mormon Church published an essay that was meant to explain and clear up misconceptions surrounding this aspect of Mormon history.

The essay says,

“There is no reliable evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.”

But if the priesthood ban “goes back into the beginning with God,” “antedates man’s mortal existence,” and was a “direct commandment from the Lord,” did Joseph Smith disobey God if he did not deny the priesthood to black men?

The essay says,

“Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.”

Since the Church’s First Presidency issued an official statement explaining the priesthood and temple restrictions were “in consequence of their fathers rejecting the power of the holy priesthood, and the law of God” and somehow a result of “the conduct of spirits in the premortal existence,” does the Mormon Church now reject the official First Presidency Statement?

The essay says,

“…the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life;…”

So does this mean that the Church today demotes an earlier official First Presidency Statement to the level of a “theory,” and washes its hands of the official proclamations of early Church prophets, seers and revelators?

What are we to make of this? Current LDS doctrine, as outlined in the Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual, Religion 333, is this:

“What the First Presidency Says Is Scripture

“President Marion G. Romney (1897-1988) of the First Presidency taught that the First Presidency speaks the words Jesus Christ would declare if He were here in person:

“ ‘…what the presidency say as a presidency is what the Lord would say if he were here, and it is scripture. It should be studied, understood, and followed, even as the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants and other scriptures. Those who follow this course will not interpret what they say as being inspired by political bias or selfishness; neither will they say that the brethren are uninformed as to the circumstances of those affected by their counsel; or that their counsels cannot be accepted because they are not prefaced by the quotation, “Thus saith the Lord.”’” (Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual, Religion 333, 2010, 52-53)

Sadly, Mormons don’t seem to be troubled by their leaders’ contradictory teachings. In fact, Mormons have been fond of misappropriating and quoting 1 Corinthians 14:33 in an effort to disparage Christianity: “For God is not a God of confusion.” Yet Mormonism is so confusing and contradictory that Latter-day Saints can’t know who or what they are supposed to believe. Do prophets speak for God – or not? Is what the First Presidency say Scripture – or not? Is the Church safe from being led astray – or not?

I implore everyone everywhere: do not listen to false prophets who claim to speak for God, yet who demonstrate through their contradictions and confusing messages that they “follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!” (Ezekiel 13:1-4). Instead, look to God Himself – “the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). His written Word — available to all — His Word is truth (John 17:17).

Posted in Authority and Doctrine, LDS Church, Mormon History, Mormon Leaders, Mormon Scripture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration

ThrowbackThursIt’s Throwback Thursday! The following blog article originally posted at Mormon Coffee on May 3, 2006. This year, 2015, marks the 10th anniversary of the original release of the Mormon Church-produced film discussed in this post. Please note: the original film was heavily edited in 2011 (“The revised version is five minutes shorter than the original and about 40 percent of the movie is new”). Some of the parallels noted in this blog post, which appeared in the original film, no longer exist in the current (revised) version.

——————

I’ve spent the last 4 days in Nauvoo, Illinois, the historic town used by the Mormon Church for faith-promotion and proselytizing. On Sunday, at the LDS Visitors Center (pictured at left), a friend and I viewed the movie, Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration. Produced as part of last year’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s birth, this hour-long film is meant to depict the life and mission of Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

As with all films produced by the Mormon Church, this one relies on manipulation of the viewers’ emotions at the expense of accurate history. I expected this; but I was surprised — and deeply offended — by the blatant near-deification of Joseph Smith. Though this comment may seem severe, it does not even begin to convey the blasphemous nature of the film’s portrayal of Joseph Smith’s life. Let me explain.

Near the beginning of the movie, during the scene of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, my friend leaned over to me and said, “Does this remind you of The Passion of the Christ?” And indeed it did. Joseph was portrayed in the Sacred Grove in torment as he prayed for wisdom. Nearly prostrate on the ground, he trembled and he sweat and he agonized as evil forces swirled around him. The scene immediately brought Christ’s struggle in the Garden of Gethsemane to mind.

As the film continued we were struck time and again by the way it portrayed Joseph’s life in seeming parallel with the life of Christ. It was almost as if the script writers had taken the story of Jesus and mapped Joseph’s life onto it. Though the details and sequence of events differed, in discussing it after the film we recalled these corresponding scenes between this portrayal of Joseph’s life and the life of Christ (listed here in no particular order):

  • The Garden of Gethsemane
  • Jesus crying, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
  • Scourging and mocking at the hands of soldiers
  • Judas’ betrayal
  • Jesus’ arrest
  • Peter’s denial
  • Pilate’s declaration, “This man is innocent.”
  • Jesus washing the disciples’ feet
  • Healing the sick
  • Raising Jairus’ daughter to life

Throughout the entire film Joseph was abused and mistreated continually; he received this treatment for no reason at all. He was portrayed as being wholly innocent and righteous in all his ways. In the words of an LDS woman, the Prophet of the Restoration was depicted as being perfectly and unreservedly “Christlike.”

After the film a Mormon missionary asked me if I liked it. When I told her I had been offended and thought the film did a grave disservice to my Lord and Savior, she replied, “I’m sorry, but it’s history.”

Of course, it’s not accurate history, but that’s not the point I’m making here. To me, the film sought to elevate Joseph Smith to the level of someone worthy — not just of reverence — but of worship. In portraying the story of Jesus Christ in the person of Joseph Smith the film crossed the line from propaganda to blasphemy.

My friend believes the film reveals that within Mormonism there is no need for Jesus; Joseph is enough. As it happened, we later spoke with another LDS missionary and my friend asked, “In this church, if you have a testimony of Joseph Smith, do you need a testimony of Jesus Christ?” The missionary and his wife both answered no; that a testimony of Joseph and a testimony of Jesus are “one and the same.” As we toured the historic LDS sites on Sunday, at each place we stopped and listened to the scripted tours, we were treated to the missionaries’ “testimony of Joseph.” Not once did a Mormon missionary share a testimony of Jesus.

Now that I’ve had a few days’ distance from my encounter with Joseph Smith: The Prophet of the Restoration my indignation has settled into a deep sorrow over the spiritual state of the Mormon people. They have been so conditioned that they cannot see a significant difference between Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ. They watch The Prophet of the Restoration and dab tears from their eyes — tears shed in gratitude for what the Prophet has done for them.

As I walked around Nauvoo and talked to the Mormon missionaries there I was saddened by their apparent willingness to sacrifice Christ’s offer of reconciliation with God in Him, in favor of maintaining their own love of Church and devotion to Joseph Smith. I thought of Christ’s words, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,…How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Matthew 23:37).

Yet even now Jesus stands at the door and knocks. If anyone hears His voice and opens the door, He “will come in to him” (Revelation 3:30). May God, in His mercy, give them ears to hear.

Posted in Early Mormonism, Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith, LDS Church, Mormon Culture, Mormon History, Mormon Missionaries, Nauvoo, Prophets | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

“As Mormons, we worship…?”

At the Mormon.org website, visitors can learn about Joseph Smith and what he means to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Under the sub-heading, “A Martyr of the Restored Gospel,” the site says,

“Joseph Smith gave his life for the cause of truth.

“Some people mistakenly believe Mormons worship Joseph Smith. This is false; we worship God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Joseph was not a perfect person, nor a deity. He was a man of virtue who fulfilled an extraordinary calling.”

Death of Joseph SmithIt’s a curious thing that “some people mistakenly believe Mormons worship Joseph Smith.” But perhaps there is a reason some get that idea.

Consider Mormon apostle Stephen L. Richards who, in 1941, commented that

“the day will come when the righteous of the earth will look to [Carthage Jail] and make their pilgrimages to it in worshipful veneration of the ‘man who communed with Jehovah.’” (Quoted in Brian Q. Cannon, “ ‘Long Shall His Blood…Stain Illinois’: Carthage Jail in Mormon Memory, 10. [pdf] Cannon citation: Journal History, October 31, 1953, 6; August 30, 1941, 2–3)

Indeed. Peoria’s Journal Star reported in 1988,

“The Old Carthage Jail, where Mormon founder Joseph Smith was murdered in 1844, holds the same significance to his approximately 6.5 million followers as Calvary holds for Christians all over the world.

“That’s the comparison made by Ted Cannon, director of the Mormon Visitor Centers at Carthage and Nauvoo.” (Doug Schorpp, “Mormons to renovate Carthage Jail,” Journal Star, June 26, 1988, D3)

These Mormon men were apparently mistaken in what they said, for Mormons do not worship Joseph Smith. Nevertheless, it seems there has been plenty of confusion throughout the history of Mormonism regarding who Mormons do worship. In Mormonism, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are three deities – three Gods (see the LDS Bible Dictionary, “God”). The question is, are they supposed to worship only one of these Gods, or are they to worship two, or perhaps all three of them? Members of the Mormon Church remain confused over the issue. Contradictory authoritative teaching in the Church is likely the reason why.

In 1912, in an effort to correct a mistaken Mormon belief resulting from doctrine taught by Brigham Young that the first human being, Adam, was God the Father, the Mormon Church’s First Presidency clarified,

“While, as Paul puts it, ‘there be gods many and Lords many (whether in heaven or in earth), unto us there is but one God the Father, of whom are all things, and one Jesus Christ by whom are all things.’ The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worships Him, and Him alone, who is the Father of Jesus Christ, whom He worshiped, whom Adam worshiped, and who is God the Eternal Father of us all.

“Your brethren, (signed) JOSEPH F. SMITH, ANTHON H. LUND, CHARLES W. PENROSE, First Presidency.” (Messages of the First Presidency, “Identity and career of Adam; February 20, 1912,” 4:267)

LDS Godhead (two of three)Mormons were not to worship Adam or Jesus, but were to worship Heavenly Father alone. Half a century later, in 1966, Mormon apostle Bruce R. McConkie believed something different. He explained that Mormons worship three deities:

“Three separate personages – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – comprise the Godhead. As each of these persons is a God, it is evident, from this standpoint alone, that a plurality of Gods exists. To us, speaking in the proper finite sense, these three are the only Gods we worship. But in addition there is an infinite number of holy personages, drawn from worlds without number, who have passed on to exaltation and are thus gods.” (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 1966, 576. Italics in original)

Then, in 2002, Mormon President Gordon B. Hinckley clarified in the Church’s General Conference,

“He [Jesus Christ] is the central focus of our worship.” (“We Look to Christ,” Ensign, May 2002, 90)

Today, the lds.org website says,

“Latter-day Saints pray to God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. They acknowledge the Father as the ultimate object of their worship, the Son as Lord and Redeemer, and the Holy Spirit as the messenger and revealer of the Father and the Son.” (“Godhead”)

Perhaps there is a difference between “the central focus” and “the ultimate object” of a Mormon’s worship; yet in the most recent quote above, there seems to be a distinction between worshiping the Father while acknowledging the Son and Holy Spirit.

In light of this, I don’t know if the December 2012 Ensign magazine actually clarified which God/Gods Mormons are to worship when it seemed to disagree with the lds.org website:

“While we believe Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, we worship our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.” (“What We Believe,” Ensign, December 2012, 8)

I’m inclined to think that the Ensign statement just muddied the waters because lds.org also says this:

“To worship God is to give Him our love, reverence, service, and devotion. The Lord commanded Moses, “Worship God, for him only shalt thou serve” (Moses 1:15)…

“Prayer is one way to worship Heavenly Father…

“Another way to worship Heavenly Father is to join in fellowship with others who worship Him…

“Participation in priesthood ordinances is also part of worship. As we reverently partake of the sacrament and attend the temple, we remember and worship our Heavenly Father and express our gratitude for His Son, Jesus Christ.” (“Worship”)

And this:

“Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have always worshipped God the Eternal Father in the name of Jesus Christ…

“ ‘We testify that He will someday return to earth. ‘And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together’ ( Isaiah 40:5). He will rule as King of Kings and reign as Lord of Lords, and every knee shall bend and every tongue shall speak in worship before Him.’” (“Jesus Christ”)

I don’t know exactly what it means that every tongue will “speak in worship,” but I do know that these entries at lds.org (as well as the entry titled “Holy Ghost”) say nothing about Mormons today actually worshiping either the Son or the Spirit; they only speak of worshiping the Father.

So while it’s pretty clear that Mormons do not worship Joseph Smith, the identification of which of the Mormon Gods they are supposed to worship remains a bit fuzzy.

Posted in God the Father, Jesus Christ, LDS Church, Mormon Culture, Mormon History | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 30 Comments

What I Learned on My Visit to Old Mormon Nauvoo

A few weeks ago I visited The City of Joseph: Nauvoo, Illinois. It was quick trip; I was only able to spend two days in the area, hurrying from place to place in an effort to do some primary source research. I had little success regarding the event on which I sought information, but I did learn a few unrelated things.

BrowningNauvooMy travelling companion and research assistant was a former Mormon who was visiting these sites for the first time as a Christian. I daresay she learned more than I did at the Land and Records Office as she came face-to-face with the truth of Nauvoo polygamy — a very different story than she had been taught as a Mormon.

I have been to Nauvoo and visited these sites so often that it is rare for me now to hear anything new. But on this trip…

At the Carthage Jail Visitors Center I learned:

• Following the shootings of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, 300-pound Willard Richards, knowing he would be killed, placed his considerable bulk in the doorway of the “martyrdom room” to protect the body of Hyrum from would-be body-snatchers. (Apostle Richards was not killed and the body snatchers never materialized.)

• A missing piece of the original door to the “martyrdom room,” significant for containing the bullet holes from the first shots fired in the 1844 attack, was discovered in a shed after the Mormon Church purchased the Jail building in 1903. God had miraculously preserved it to one day stand as a witness to the martyrdom.

• My honest answer (“No.”) to the question, “Do you feel the Spirit here?” at the end of the Jail tour was unacceptable. The LDS missionary guide made it clear that the Spirit most certainly was there, and my inability to feel it was my own fault.

At the LDS Land and Records Office I learned:

• In 1840s Nauvoo, Mormons did proxy work (for the dead) for those of the proxy’s own gender, and surprisingly, also for the dead of the opposite gender.

• My former Mormon companion learned that some Mormon women in Nauvoo were married to more than one living man at a time. (Even after 20 years of active membership in the Mormon Church, this information was a genuine shock to her.)

• One of the stone carvers for the original Nauvoo Temple, David Clark, was baptized in Nauvoo by Joseph Smith and later went west with the main body of Latter-day Saints. While living in Utah Territory he left Mormonism and converted to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (now named Community of Christ). David stayed in Utah and, upon his death, was buried in Lehi.

Leaving the Land and Records Office, I went across the field to the Joseph Smith Historic Site Visitor Center (Community of Christ) where I learned:

• The missionary guide on duty there was a descendent of the aforementioned David Clark. (Insert Twilight Zone theme song here.) The Community of Christ guide liked to think that Joseph Smith’s son, David Hyrum, might have converted his ancestor from the LDS Church to the True Church during David’s 1869 mission trip to Utah.

• The actual reason Emma Smith staged a mock public burial of Joseph and Hyrum while hiding their real bodies, was so that Brigham Young could not get his hands on them; the claim that she was worried about the graves being desecrated was merely a handy excuse.

HeberKimballNauvoo

Heber C. Kimball Home, Nauvoo

While all of this was interesting to learn, the new information that made the strongest impression on me was that presented at the Heber C. Kimball Home historic site. As we took the tour of this site, led by a senior sister missionary from the Mormon Church, I learned:

• Though the Church has officially published information about Nauvoo polygamy in its online essay, the approved scripts for the historic tours in Nauvoo have not changed. The tours still shun any mention of plural marriage, even though polygamy was practiced at many of these sites in the 1840s. (Some of the tour guides will talk about it if asked directly, depending on how comfortable they are with going off-script.)

• Heber C. Kimball hated the idea of polygamy and vigorously resisted it due to his great love for his legal wife, Vilate. (Yet this Mormon apostle married 36 plural wives during a 4-year span in Nauvoo, and gave his 14-year-old daughter, Helen Mar Kimball, to Joseph Smith as the Prophet’s 25th plural wife. Eventually, Heber Kimball’s number of wives reached 44.)

• Many Mormons are troubled by the Church’s history of polygamy. But all one must do is remember the Book of Mormon is true and put the issue of polygamy “on the shelf.”

• Heavenly Father was once mortal, and this fact is what gives Mormons hope.

• Heavenly Father has many wives, proven by the fact that there are so many different races in the world.

Most of what I learned on my short visit to Nauvoo would not be embraced by Mormons as “official” doctrine or teachings, and I would agree that no religion should be judged solely by anecdotal accounts. Even so, there is surely some reason these people believe what they are telling visitors to these historic Mormon sites, and some reason they believe these things are important enough to share. Therefore, it seems that no matter how many times I visit Nauvoo, I will always learn something new.

Posted in LDS Church, Mormon History, Mormon Missionaries, Nauvoo | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Looking at the April 2015 Mormon General Conference

The LDS Church’s most recent General Conference was held April 4-5, 2015. A couple of interesting graphics have been produced as a result.

Over at MormonChannel.org’s Facebook page visitors were asked to fill in the blank: “Because of #ldsconf I will __________________.” A few days later Mormon Channel posted this word cloud created with the answers they received.

April15GCWordCloud

This, then, focuses the Mormon’s take-away from General Conference, anchored with “be better,” “try harder,” and “do my best.” It’s interesting that the essence of President Uchtdorf’s widely acclaimed talk, “The Gift of Grace,” didn’t garner an honorable mention.

Another interesting General Conference graphic comes in the form of a chart. This graph displays the number of times the name of Joseph Smith was mentioned in General Conference. It includes data from 10 years: October 2005 – April 2015.

The exceptionally high number of references to Joseph Smith in the October 2005 conference was due to that year’s celebration of the 200th anniversary of the Prophet’s birth. Apart from that, Joseph Smith has been mentioned regularly during general conferences over the past decade at an average frequency of 29.6 times per conference. Until April 2015, that is, when Joseph Smith was mentioned only 4 times.

A year ago MRM’s Eric Johnson posted an April Fools Day blog titled, “New church essay distances LDS Church from Joseph Smith.” In his spoof Eric wrote,

“[A new Church essay] Titled ‘Distancing the Church from Joseph Smith,’ church authorities indicate that the LDS Church wants nothing more to do with the legacy of Joseph Smith… Among other issues, the [Salt Lake Tribune] article cited Smith’s polygamous ways with 34 women as ‘irresponsible, especially when it is considered that a third of his wives were teenagers and another third married to other men’s wives.’”

Was Eric’s joke prophetic? Is the LDS Church purposefully beginning to distance itself from Joseph Smith and his controversial history? While nobody seems to know what has caused this startling drop in the use of the Prophet’s name at General Conference, theories abound. What’s your theory?

Posted in General Conference, Joseph Smith, LDS Church, Mormon Culture | Tagged , , , , , , | 17 Comments