Reading the December 31, 2005 issue of Church News I came across this:
“As Latter-day Saints we no more worship Joseph Smith than we do Peter or any of the other ancient apostles. Peter, in fact, is an apt comparison. Both Joseph and Peter fearlessly obeyed the Master in conveying His gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. Both men dedicated their lives to the work of the Kingdom, ultimately suffering a martyr’s death in the cause of Christ. To both men we give our honor, respect, reverence and love—but not our worship.” (p. 16)
This topic of whether or not Latter-day Saints worship Joseph Smith interests me. I’ve tried to figure out why people think Mormons worship Joseph. The fact that many do is evidenced by the constant denials coming from Mormons and the LDS Church. I suppose it could be rumor, but rumors usually die out in the face of reality. Mormonism gets plenty of good press which should put a stop to unfounded rumors. That leaves me thinking that perhaps the rumors won’t die because there is something within Mormonism that keeps them alive.
So I asked the question on my web site, “In practical terms, how does LDS reverence for the Prophet Joseph Smith differ from LDS worship of Jesus Christ?” I had hoped to get some definitive answers from Latter-day Saints pointing out something unique in their worship of Christ that is not found in their behavior and feelings toward Joseph; for I am not aware of any differences.
By that I mean that Mormons sing songs about both Joseph and Jesus. They celebrate the births of both. They commemorate the deaths of both. They display statues of both. They testify of both, etc. So how is the general public to know the difference between how Mormons honor Joseph but worship Jesus?
My web question didn’t generate any responses of substance. Several non-Mormons and ex-Mormons wrote that Latter-day Saints do indeed worship Joseph Smith. The Mormons who responded to the question merely asserted that they don’t.
The comment from Church News caught my attention because of the comparison between Joseph and the Apostle Peter. If, as is implied, Latter-day Saints reverence both Joseph and Peter in the same way, then I would expect to find LDS songs, statues and celebrations in Peter’s honor just as I find in honor of Joseph.
But they are not there.
In fact, I’ve visited many LDS sites and I can’t remember seeing even one statue or monument depicting a biblical prophet or apostle—unless it also included Joseph Smith.
Of course, the mere fact of the display of a statue or monument does not indicate worship given. Consider how many LDS monuments there are to the Mormon pioneers, yet no one (or hardly anyone) accuses Mormons of worshiping these people. Consider the extensive statuary of the Catholic Church… Well, maybe that’s not such a good example.
At any rate, I think the rumor that Mormons worship Joseph Smith persists because there is fuel for the fire. LDS veneration of Joseph may be misunderstood (as Mormons say), but surely the mistake is an honest one and wholly understandable.
I’m not sure which side of the debate I come down on. Perhaps the truth of the matter lies in the way Latter-day Saints define the word “worship.” Or, as one Mormon responder to my web question implied, the difference lies in the one to whom the honor is given: If it’s given to man, it is reverence; if given to deity, it’s worship. Whatever the case, as Latter-day Saints continue to interact with non-Mormons in sharing their feelings about Joseph Smith—to borrow the words of Ricky Ricardo—”They got a lotta ‘splainin’ to do.”