Mormonism and Blood Sacrifice

A local TV station in Indianapolis ran a story earlier this month (16 October 2015) headlined, “Suspect harrassing Mormon Church elder allegedly had goal of blood sacrifice.” Journalist Derrik Thomas explained,

“A prominent local attorney, who is an elder in the Mormon Church, has been harassed, and fears for his safety and the safety of his family.

“The suspect accused of harassing Elder Paul Sinclair is a former member of the Mormon Church…

“In court documents, a witness told detectives that one goal [suspect Lee] Baker had was to kill an elder on temple grounds as a blood sacrifice.”

Lee-Kathy-BakerLast July Lee Baker was engaged in Christian outreach during the Indianapolis Indiana Mormon temple open house. It was during the outreach that he met and spoke with Paul Sinclair, as well as many other Latter-day Saints.
I don’t know Lee Baker well, but I have met him, and his wife Kathy, and I have observed him engaging in evangelism on the streets of Manti. I have heard his testimony of being brought out of Mormonism to new life in Christ. I have witnessed his expressions of love for the lost Mormon people. Nothing I have ever observed would suggest that this accusation against Mr. Baker has any foundation in truth.

But what, then? I haven’t seen the court documents to which the news story referred, which means the information I have is merely hearsay. Nevertheless, I’ve been pondering this sensational accusation against Lee Baker and wondering where it could have come from. I have a few ideas.

The setting was a Mormon temple. Mr. Baker was there as a Christian evangelist. Is it possible that Lee was misunderstood as he was explaining the differences between the purpose of a Mormon temple vs. the purpose of the biblical temple? Unlike Mormon temples, the Old Testament temple was a place of sacrifice, often involving the blood of animals. Animals were continually killed on temple grounds as provisional atonement for the sins of the people. It could perhaps be said, then, that the purpose of the biblical temple was to kill animals as a blood sacrifice. Could Mr. Baker’s explanation of the biblical temple have been terribly misunderstood?

Perhaps it was an explanation of Mormon temple rituals that led Mr. Baker’s accuser to form such a strange idea of what Lee said. Before 1990 Mormons who participated in the LDS temple Endowment ceremony pantomimed graphic penalties of throat slitting, having their hearts torn out, and disembowelment; they agreed to be killed by these gruesome methods if they ever revealed the secrets of the temple. Perhaps Mr. Baker’s explanation of what he was required to do when he went through the temple as a Mormon was so shocking that his words were misinterpreted.

It could be that Mr. Baker was misunderstood as he discussed the doctrine of blood atonement as taught by early Mormon Church leaders. This doctrine states

“But man may commit certain grievous sins — according to his light and knowledge — that will place him beyond the reach of the atoning blood of Christ. If then he would be saved, he must make sacrifice of his own life to atone — so far as in his power lies — for that sin, for the blood of Christ alone under certain circumstances will not avail.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:134)

As earlier Mormon Church leaders put it,

“There are sins that men commit for which they cannot receive forgiveness in this world, or in that which is to come, and if they had their eyes open to see their true condition, they would be perfectly willing to have their blood spilt upon the ground, that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven as an offering for their sins; and the smoking incense would atone for their sins…” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:53)

“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…This is loving our neighbor 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.” (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 4:220)

“But if the Government of God on earth, and Eternal Priesthood, with the sanction of High Heaven, in the midst of all his people, has passed sentence on certain sins when they appear in a person, has not the people of God a right to carry out that part of his law as well as any other portion of it? It is their right to baptize a sinner to save him, and it is also their right to kill a sinner to save him, when he commits those crimes that can only be atoned for by shedding his blood…We would not kill a man, of course, unless we killed him to save him.” (Jedediah Grant, Deseret News, July 27, 1854, 2)

“…if they are covenant breakers we need a place designated, where we can shed their blood… Brethren and sisters, we want you to repent and forsake your sins. And you who have committed sins that cannot be forgiven through baptism, let your blood be shed, and let the smoke ascend, that the incense thereof may come up before God as an atonement for your sins, and that the sinners in Zion may be afraid.” (Jedediah Grant, Journal of Discourses 4:50-51)

ShedBloodBecause Mr. Baker left The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormonism brands him a “covenant breaker.” Based of the teachings of early Mormon leaders, if anyone should fear being killed as a blood sacrifice on Mormon temple grounds, it would be Mr. Baker, not the people he is trying reach with the Gospel of Christ. Nevertheless, it’s possible that someone hearing Mr. Baker explain the early Mormon doctrine of blood atonement could have misunderstood.

Maybe Mr. Baker was merely retelling the story of Jesse Hartly. As told by Mr. Hartley’s widow:

“I married Jesse Hartly, knowing he was a ‘Gentile’ in fact, but he passed for a Mormon, but that made no difference with me, although I was a Mormon, because he was a noble man, and sought only the right. By being my husband, he was brought into closer contact with the members of the Church, and was thus soon enabled to learn many things about us, and about the Heads of the Church, that he did not approve, and of which I was ignorant, although I had been brought up among the Saints; and which, if known among the Gentiles, would have greatly damaged us. I do not understand all he discovered, or all he did; but they found he had written against the Church, and he was cut off, and the Prophet required as an atonement for his sins, that he should lay down his life. That he should be sacrificed in the endowment rooms; where human sacrifices are sometimes made in this way. This I never knew until my husband told me, but it is true. They kill those there who have committed sins too great to be atoned for in any other way. The Prophet says, if they submit to this he can save them; otherwise they are lost. Oh! that is horrible. But my husband refused to be sacrificed, and so set out alone for the United States: thinking there might be at least a hope of success. I told him when he left me, and left his child, that he would be killed, and so he was. William Hickman and another Danite, shot him in the canyons; and I have often since been obliged to cook for this man, when he passed this way, knowing all the while, he had killed my husband. My child soon followed after its father, and I hope to die also; for why should I live? They have brought me here [to Green River], where I wish to remain, rather than to return to Salt Lake where the murderers of my husband curse the earth, and roll in affluence unpunished.” (as told to Mary Ettie V. Smith, Mormonism: its rise, progress, and present condition, 310-311)

This is a story of an apostate Mormon elder who was killed on temple grounds (the Endowment House) as a blood sacrifice. It’s quite easy to imagine that a Mormon could hear this story and misconstrue the whole thing.

The sensational accusation against Lee Baker has more foundation in Mormonism than in evangelical Christianity. What I know about Mr. Baker is that he longs to see Mormons come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ. And he knows that Jesus is the One who has already made the only sacrifice that can save sinners (Hebrews 7:27, 9:12, 10:10).

Posted in Early Mormonism, Mormon History, Mormon Temple | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Joseph Smith’s Powerful Influence

ThrowbackThursIt’s Throwback Thursday!

Last week (15 October 2015) Deseret News announced the recent discovery of Emma Smith’s 1841 Book of Mormon. Apparently, Joseph Smith gave the book to John Quincy Adams’s grandson, Charles Francis Adams, when Charles visited the Prophet in May of 1844. The book was recently discovered in John Quincy Adams’ well-preserved library.

The Deseret News article explains the visit Charles Adams — along with his friend Josiah Quincy — paid to Nauvoo just weeks before Joseph Smith’s death. While quoting both men’s recollections of their meeting with the Prophet, it’s not surprising that the article does not mention the poor opinion both of these men had of Joseph Smith. For example, the article quotes Mr. Adams’ description of viewing Lucy Smith’s Egyptian mummies while listening to the Prophet “explain the contents of a chart or manuscript which he said had been taken from the bosom of one of them.” But Mr. Adams’ next sentence was not included in the article: “The cool impudence of this imposture amused me very much.”

This is not the first time the Mormon Church has brought attention to the fact that these two important men made it a point to meet the Mormon Prophet. Since I’ve written about this before, I thought now would be an appropriate time to revisit that article. The following blog article originally posted at Mormon Coffee on September 21, 2009.

——

“It is by no means improbable that some future textbook… will contain a question something like this: What historical American of the nineteenth century has exerted the most powerful influence upon the destinies of his countrymen? And it is by no means impossible that the answer to that interrogatory may be thus written: Joseph Smith, the Mormon prophet.” Josiah Quincy, Jr., Figures of the Past, 1883

The above quote is oft used in Mormondom to impress people with a notable non-Mormon’s positive opinion of Joseph Smith. It can be found in numerous Mormon videos shown at LDS Visitors Centers. It is included in books about the “Prophet.” Most recently it was highlighted at Mormon Times in an article titled “Joseph Smith ‘most influential’ 19th century American.”

I found that Josiah Quincy’s book, Figures of the Past, is available online, so I read Mr. Quincy’s entire chapter on Joseph Smith and did a little additional research.

Josiah Quincy, Jr. visited Nauvoo in mid-May, 1844. His travelling companion was Charles Francis Adams, Sr., son and grandson of two American presidents. Being deemed important visitors, these men were received and welcomed by Joseph Smith. Mr. Quincy wrote:

Intelligence of our arrival had in some mysterious manner reached General Smith, and the prophet’s own chariot, a comfortable carryall, drawn by two horses, soon made its appearance. It is probable that we owed the alacrity with which we were served to an odd blunder which had combined our names and personalities and set forth that no less a man than ex-President John Quincy Adams had arrived to visit Mr. Joseph Smith.

After spending a day with the Prophet, Josiah Quincy wrote his impressions in a journal. Later he wrote about the visit in letters to friends. Later still he compiled his impressions into a chapter for his book. The chapter began with the now-famous quote; Josiah Quincy was impressed by Joseph Smith. But if all that he wrote in his book is considered, Josiah Quincy was not favorably impressed.

Mr. Quincy referred to the religious system of Mormonism as being comprised of “monstrous claims” (383). He said the sect created by Joseph Smith was filled with “demoralizing doctrines” (377). Quincy noted several times that Joseph Smith apparently thought very highly of himself and thought himself quite clever. Speaking of himself as the militia commander of 3,000 men, Smith reportedly explained,

“I decided that the commander of my troops ought to be a lieutenant-general, and I was, of course, chosen to that position. I sent my certificate of election to Governor Ford, and received in return a commission of lieutenant-general of the Nauvoo Legion and of the militia of the State of Illinois. Now, on examining the Constitution of the United States, I find that an officer must be tried by a court-martial composed of his equals in rank; and as I am the only lieutenant-general in the country, I think they will find it pretty hard to try me.” (383-384)

When Joseph Smith talked about theology and his ability as Master of languages, Josiah Quincy wrote,

Smith was well versed in the letter of the Scriptures, though he had little comprehension of their spirit. He began by denying the doctrine of the Trinity, and supported his views by the glib recitation of a number of texts…The degrees and orders of ecclesiastical dignitaries he set forth with great precision, being careful to mention the interesting revelation which placed Joseph Smith supreme above them all…The prophet referred to his miraculous gift of understanding all languages, and took down a Bible in various tongues, for the purpose of exhibiting his accomplishments in this particular. Our position as guests prevented our testing his powers by a rigid examination, and the rendering of a few familiar texts seemed to be accepted by his followers as a triumphant demonstration of his abilities. It may have been an accident, but I observed that the bulk of his translations were from the Hebrew, which, presumably, his visitors did not understand, rather than from the classical languages, in which they might more easily have caught him tripping. (385-386)

Perhaps the most concise and clearly stated opinion Mr. Quincy formed of the Prophet Joseph Smith is found following Quincy’s praise of the beautiful city of Nauvoo. He wrote,

And all the diligent workers, who had reared these handsome stores and comfortable dwellings, bowed in subjection to the man to whose unexampled absurdities we had listened that morning. Not quite unexampled either. For many years I held a trusteeship which required me to be a frequent visitor at the McLean Asylum for the Insane. I had talked with some of its unhappy inmates, victims of the sad but not uncommon delusion that each had received the appointment of vicegerent of the Deity upon earth. It is well known that such unfortunates, if asked to explain their confinement, have a ready reply: ‘I am sane. The rest of the world is mad, and the majority is against me.’ It was like a dream to find one’s self moving through a prosperous community, where the repulsive claim of one of these pretenders was respectfully acknowledged. It was said that Prince Hamlet had no need to recover his wits when he was despatched [sic] to England, for the demented denizens of that island would never detect his infirmity. If the blasphemous assumptions of Smith seemed like the ravings of a lunatic, he had, at least, brought them to a market where ‘all the people were as mad as he.’ (388-389)

Josiah Quincy’s travelling companion also wrote of this 1844 visit with the Prophet. Though his recollections are not as detailed as Quincy’s, Charles Francis Adams wrote this in his diary:

There is a mixture of shrewdness and extravagant self-conceit, of knowledge and ignorance, of wisdom and folly in this whole system of this man that I am somewhat at a loss to find definitions for it. Yet it is undoubted that he has gained followers at home and abroad…On the whole I was glad I had been [to see Joseph Smith]. Such a man is a study not for himself, but as serving to show what turns the human mind will sometimes take. And herafter [sic] if I should live, I may compare the results of this delusion with the condition in which I saw it and its mountebank apostle.

Such was the “powerful influence” these respected visitors found in Joseph Smith, the Mormon Prophet.

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Early Mormonism in Missouri

In 1838 the headquarters of the Mormon Church was located in western Missouri. Mormons began arriving in this state in the early 1830s settling in Jackson County, around the city of Independence. However, trouble erupted between the Mormons and the non-Mormon Missourians, which resulted in the Mormons being forced out of Jackson County in 1833. Many were welcomed to Clay County, across the river to the north, where they settled and made new homes. A couple of years later, when new troubles between the Mormons and non-Mormons began, a peaceful settlement was negotiated as the state provided the Mormons a county they could call their own. The formation and settlement of Caldwell County brought about a year and a half of peace – and even friendship — between Missouri’s Mormons and non-Mormons.

Mormon Missouri 1838But as Mormonism grew, so many coverts gathered to Missouri that the boundaries of Caldwell County couldn’t hold them all. So contrary to the terms of the peace agreement, Mormons began settling in other counties. Thus, in 1838 hostilities began yet again.

Non-Mormons started getting nervous as Mormon settlements expanded and Mormon leaders proclaimed war-like rhetoric against dissenters and non-Mormon settlers. Once again, tensions and conflict increased on both sides, and eventually an armed force of Missourians displaced the Mormon settlement of DeWitt (in Carroll County). Once again, the Mormons packed up their belongings and headed to another county, this time to the Mormon settlement of Far West, Missouri.

In his book, The Mormon War: Zion and the Missouri Extermination Order of 1838, Brandon G. Kinney explained,

“When the DeWitt Mormon wagons arrived in Far West, the seasoned converts chalked up the defeat to their continued martyrdom, but the younger members were bent on revenge.” (131)

Indeed, the Mormons had had enough. Lyman Wight, a militant LDS Church leader in Daviess County, commanded a Mormon force of 350 men. Their task was to follow orders given by Joseph Smith to drive the non-Mormon residents out of Daviess County by force (135).

Beginning on October 18, 1838, Mormon forces raided the Daviess County communities of Gallatin, Millport, and Grindstone Fork. Brandon Kinney wrote,

“The first objective was to take provisions for the winter and compensation for Mormon losses in Jackson and Carroll counties. The second objective was to drive all non-Mormons from the county. The Mormons rounded up all horses, cattle, and hogs they could find and brought them back to [the LDS settlement of] Adam-ondi-Ahman…

“Over the next few days a group of three hundred armed Mormons marched back through Daviess County loading up all the property left behind by the fleeing citizens. As they cleaned the houses out they would set fire to them to ensure that the citizens could not return.” (137-138)

MormonViolenceMormon raids against the non-Mormons continued. At Gallatin the Mormons “took all the valuables and set the buildings on fire.” Mormon leader David Patten warned that all non-Mormons must leave Daviess County or face death (139).

“[F]our hundred armed Mormons visited the home of William Osbern. Finding only his wife at home, they ordered her out of the house at gunpoint and pushed and shoved her to the ground. They left no option but for her to leave immediately or be shot. They then began looting her home and preparing to set fire to it. The Mormons seized forty-two head of Osbern’s cattle. Finishing with the Osberns, the Mormons crossed the Grand River to the north side and set upon justice of the peace William Dryden…

“The Mormons took Dryden’s son, Jonathan L. Dryden, and nephew as prisoners…Young Dryden was sick in bed with fever but was nonetheless removed from his home and transported a mile away by his captors. At that point the Mormons left the boy…Perhaps they assumed he would die if abandoned to the elements or simply thought he was too sick to continue on; more likely, they were afraid he would spread infection. Regardless, Dryden survived…” (139-140)

In his book, Mr. Kinney related more stories of devastation wrought by Mormon troops. A doctor named Samuel Venable delivered a baby whose mother had been driven from her home while she was in labor. While the Mormons robbed and plundered her home, the woman traveled eight miles to neighboring Livingston County where she found a doctor at a campground hastily set up for refugee relief. While treating patients, the doctor saw another fleeing woman arrive at the campground carrying her four-day-old child (140).

Mormon marauders left Daviess County and plundered citizens in Livingston County as well. Mr. and Mrs. White, who had set up the refugee campground, suffered a Mormon raid when their home was plundered, their oats and corn confiscated to feed the Mormons’ horses, their fences torn down, and their standing crops destroyed (140).

All of this (and more) led to Sheriff William Morgan’s distressed October 21st letter to Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs pleading for help. “Our country is in a desperate situation [the Mormons] are burning and driving as they go,” he wrote (139).

Haun'sMillThe days that followed were filled with more threats, more rhetoric, and more Mormon raids. The culmination of this escalating violence came on October 30th when 17 Mormon men and boys were killed in a skirmish with Missouri militiamen at Haun’s Mill in Caldwell County. News of this tragic loss of life caused Joseph Smith to surrender, finally bringing an end to the Mormon War.

Who started all this trouble in Missouri? At whose feet can the blame be laid? Latter-day Saints generally blame the Missourians. Mormons share stories with one another of the way their people were mistreated, of how they suffered at the hands of their Missouri enemies, and of the injustices perpetrated against them. And they are right – they were mistreated, they did suffer, and their concerns were unjustly handled. However, as the examples detailed above demonstrate, the Mormons also mistreated people; they also caused suffering; and they also perpetrated injustices.

During those terrible weeks of October 1838 the Mormons went on the offensive. They sought to fulfill what Church leader Sidney Rigdon said would be “a war of extermination; for we will follow them till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us; for we will carry the seat of war to their own houses, and their own families, and one party or the other shall be utterly destroyed” (July 4, 1838; 90).

An objective look at this history reveals provocation, violence, and injustice on both sides of the conflict. As much as Latter-day Saints may want to imagine their early Mormon brethren wearing the white hats, no clear-cut good-guys-vs-bad-guys scenario existed in this Mormon War.

Posted in Early Mormonism, Mormon History | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

What matters more to being in God’s “image”: appearance, or calling and capacity?

Screen Shot 2015-01-24 at 10.28.55 AMIf God had created humans to look like sloths, yet with the same capacities as humans, and sloths to look like humans, yet with the same capacities as sloths, who would be more in His image? What, at core, does it mean to be made in his image? What matters more to this, our appearance or our capacity and calling?

See related New City Catechism video, How and why did God create us?

 

Posted in Christianity, God the Father, Jesus Christ | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

A Gift of Grace?

Dieter UchtdorfAt general conference in April, 2015, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a member of the LDS First Presidency, gave a message called “The Gift of Grace.” In it he said “salvation cannot be bought with the currency of obedience.” How is one to understand this in light of all the many comments made by other leaders and manuals that emphasize the need for complete obedience by members? After all, it was only two years ago when President Thomas S. Monson, citing Gordon B. Hinckley, said, “eternal salvation and exaltation of this people lie in walking in obedience” to the counsels of God (“Obedience Brings Blessings,” Ensign (Conference Edition), May 2013, p. 90).

Mormonism indeed includes a doctrine of grace in its theology, however this concept of grace does not at all resemble the New Testament grace that is unmerited and undeserved. If God’s best must be gained by works, it is not a gift in the true sense of the word. If it is not a true gift, it is not biblical grace.

In Uchtdorf’s conference talk, he said Mormons do good works “out of love” for God. No doubt, many Mormons have that motivation, but this does not erase all of the many times Mormons have been told that the grace that forgives the Mormon of sins comes after meeting a long list of performance requirements.

In making a reference to 2 Nephi 25:23, Uchtdorf said, “I wonder if sometimes we misinterpret the phrase ‘after all we can do.’ We must understand that ‘after’ does not equal ‘because.’ We are not saved ‘because’ of all that we can do. Have any of us done all that we can do? Does God wait until we’ve expended every effort before He will intervene in our lives with His saving grace?” Uchtdorf may trifle with the word “all” in this passage, but he never denied the fact that in Mormonism, grace enables the Mormon to keep the commandments, and as stated by Doctrine and Covenants 76:52, it is by “keeping the commandments,” a Mormon “might be washed and cleansed from all their sins.”

PersonalPerformanceWhile general salvation (resurrection) is not dependent on works of any kind, exaltation or eternal life most certainly is. Personal performance and commandment keeping is essential to complete a Mormon’s journey to exaltation. According to the manual, True to the Faith, “The phrase ‘after all we can do’ teaches that effort is required on our part to receive the fulness of the Lord’s grace and be made worthy to dwell with him” (p.77).

In the March, 2013 issue of Ensign magazine, members were told, “What do Latter-day Saints believe about grace? We believe that God’s grace is what ultimately saves us; yet it does not save us without our doing all that we can to live God’s commandments and follow Jesus Christ’s teachings. We do not believe salvation comes by simply confessing belief in Christ as our Savior. Faith, works, ordinances, and grace are all necessary” (Ensign, March 2013, p. 21).

The day after Uchtdorf gave the above message, Kevin W. Pearson, a seventy, told members, “Once we enter into covenants with God, there is no going back.” Covenants are promises made by members to keep all of the commandments. Mormons are told that God is not bound to keep his end of the agreement if a member fails to live up to the covenants made (D&C 82:9-10).

Mormons who have participated in the temple are also fully aware of the threat made by the character portraying Lucifer. In the endowment ceremony Lucifer addresses the crowd and tells “Peter,” “if they do not walk up to every covenant they make at these altars in this temple this day, they will be in my power!” Since it is highly unlikely that Dieter F. Uchtdorf was implying that members need not live up to every covenant to achieve exaltation, it’s highly unlikely that the LDS Church is moving toward a biblical view of grace.

This article is reprinted from the May—June 2015 issue of Mormonism Researched.

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General Conference: Mormons told to get past Joseph Smith’s history and move forward.

During last weekend’s General Conference of the LDS Church (3-4 October 2015), Mormon apostle Neil L. Andersen spoke on the topic of faith, and the importance of keeping it burning brightly. He said that faith does not come by chance, but by choice.

Mr. Andersen talked about faith challenges that result from “honest questions,” emphasizing the need to find answers using both intellect and feelings. Even so, he counseled,

“Faith never demands an answer to every question, but seeks the assurance and courage to move forward, sometimes acknowledging, ‘I don’t know everything, but I do know enough to continue on the path of discipleship.’”

Mr. Andersen spoke of the folly of “immersing oneself in persistent doubt fueled by answers from the faithless and the unfaithful” which serves to weaken one’s faith in the Restoration. Using the example of questions concerning the Prophet Joseph Smith that have been “hurled by his critics since this work began,” Mr. Andersen said,

“To those of faith, who, looking through the colored glasses of the 21st century, honestly question events or statements of the Prophet Joseph from nearly 200 years ago, may I share some friendly advice? For now, give Brother Joseph a break.”

Give him a break? What, exactly, was Mr. Andersen suggesting?

While the Mormon apostle did not provide any specific things for which Joseph Smith needs a break (I’d like to see that list!), perhaps he was suggesting, as many Mormons have of late, that Joseph Smith should be judged by reasonable 19th century Christian standards, not those of the 21st century. If so, this doesn’t help Brother Joseph at all. As Mr. Andersen pointed out, these criticisms have been “hurled” at the Prophet since the 1800s –19th century Christian standards did not allow people of Joseph’s time to give him a break.

Perhaps Mr. Andersen meant that those of us looking at the Prophet’s life two centuries after the fact cannot understand it. As he said,

“In a future day, you will have 100 times more information than from all of today’s search engines combined. And it will come from our all-knowing Father in heaven.”

This begs the question: What about the information we already have from our all-knowing Father in heaven? God Himself commanded us “Beware of false prophets” and explained, “You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-16).
There are two types of fruit evident in Joseph Smith’s life that, out of obedience to God, we should examine. One type is doctrinal: How did Joseph Smith affect the universal Christian church? Paul paints a picture that mirrors Joseph Smith’s influence on the church in 1 Timothy 6:3-5:

“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”

joseph-smithThere is no question that Joseph Smith’s life as a prophet was characterized by controversy, quarrels, slander, friction, etc.

Another type of fruit we can examine in Joseph Smith’s life is his character/morals. We want to avoid using 21st century standards, so instead, consider standards that were acceptable in Joseph’s day:

“Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:2-7)

How well did Joseph’s life display these biblical fruits (i.e., qualifications for church leaders)? Was he “above reproach”? Obviously not, or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Was he the husband of one wife? No, he had 30-40 wives. He was not “respectable,” he became “puffed up,” he did not “manage his own household” well, and the damage he caused as he “cared for God’s church” is well-known.

LDS apostle Neil Andersen must not have been suggesting that we be careful to judge Joseph Smith by 19th century standards, for that surely would not be giving the Prophet a break.

I considered that perhaps Mr. Anderson doesn’t want us to judge Joseph Smith at all. But that can’t be it because he asked his congregation to look at the “totality of Joseph’s life” (i.e., judge the positive things), noting that the Prophet translated the Book of Mormon in ninety days, though he was poor and under educated. “Tens of thousands of honest, devoted men and women embrace the cause of the Restoration,” Mr. Andersen said, “and at age 38 Joseph sealed his witness with his blood. I testify that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. Settle this in your mind and move forward.”

This, I think, is what Mr. Andersen was getting at when he said “Give Brother Joseph a break.” Or, to appropriate the words of another Mormon leader, “Don’t worry about those little flicks of history” (Gordon B. Hinckley, interview with Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes, April 1996). Mr. Andersen believes Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, and he wants Mormons to trust his testimony because, as he told the Mormon congregation, “The guidance of the First Presidency and the Twelve help protect our faith.”

What Mr. Andersen is really asking for is that Mormons give Brother Joseph a pass. Ignore the fruit of the Prophet’s life. Ignore Christ’s exhortation to beware of false prophets. Ignore the clear and persistent warnings throughout all of Scripture that plead with people to test the prophets and try the spirits for their own spiritual safety. Ignore it all and thereby “protect” your faith.

To what end, Mormon friends? Is such a misplaced faith worth protecting?

Posted in Early Mormonism, Joseph Smith | Tagged , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Nauvoo’s Bloody Autumn of 1845

BrowningNauvooNauvoo, Illinois, the city the Mormons built, was thriving and growing in the 1840s. The population was such that Nauvoo rivaled Chicago for “biggest city in Illinois.” Most visitors to today’s restoration of historic Nauvoo will learn that fact, perhaps from several different Mormon tour guides. One statistical comparison that isn’t mentioned, however, is that in the fall of 1845, Nauvoo’s violent crime rate very likely surpassed that of Chicago.

In 1845, crime in Chicago was such that the city had only four men responsible for keeping the peace: one marshal and three assistants; whereas the Nauvoo police force, in January of 1845, numbered 500 men. While there were extenuating circumstances in Nauvoo necessitating a high number of peacekeepers, in the fall of 1845 Nauvoo’s policemen were often the source of violent crime.

In his book, One Nation Under Gods, Richard Abanes details some of these events from September and October of 1845. He writes,

“A halt to the violent conflict between Mormons and anti-Mormons lasted but a brief period of time after Smith was killed. Armed mobs of Illinoisans, incited by endless newspaper articles covering Mormon issues, soon began to conduct raids against isolated church settlements. Saints were threatened, LDS homes were burned, rumors about various Mormon atrocities circulated, and militias were called out by the governor. Church dissenters and critics, meanwhile, continued to expose aspects of Mormonism that church leaders did not want revealed. The Saints retaliated with verbal intimidation, religious condemnation, and acts of physical violence… More disturbing were the many murders, vicious beatings, and intimidating assaults perpetrated by the Nauvoo police against perceived enemies of the church. Policeman Alan J. Stout summed up the rational of the Saints on these matters, explaining that to his mind such activity was nothing more than avenging the blood of Joseph and Hyrum. In reference to the Mormon dissenters remaining in Nauvoo, Stout expressed a common sentiment: ‘I feel like cutting their throats.’” (210-211)

Mr. Abanes continues his narrative by describing specific acts of violence perpetrated by the police and other Mormon enforcers during 1845. Using Mr. Abanes’ book (and consulting a few others), I here list ten of these violent crimes from September 1845.

  • On September 14, the Nauvoo police had three men flogged because they were not in good fellowship with the church.
  • Frank Worrell, a Carthage Jail guard who failed to protect Joseph Smith, was murdered on September 16, shot out of his saddle by Porter Rockwell.
  • Rockwell also killed four unnamed “anti-Mormons” at Highland Branch, near Warsaw, on September 16.
  • Again on September 16, suspected spy Phineas Wilcox disappeared in Nauvoo, having been last seen as he was led toward the Masonic Hall by three Mormons. Wilcox’s stepfather, Orrin Rhodes, inquired after him and searched for him for a week, finally concluding, “Wilcox has been murdered by…Mormons.” (See Hallwas and Launius, Cultures in Conflict, 278-280)
  • DaubenheyerGraveAndrew Daubenheyer disappeared on the road to Carthage on September 18. He was later found buried in a shallow gave near a campsite on the Carthage road “with a musket ball through the back of his head” (See Cultures in Conflict, 279). In due time Daubenheyer was given a proper burial with a headstone that reads, “Killed by the Mormons.”
  • Later in September, “several Saints captured a young man by the name of McBracking” who was accused of burning Mormon homes. McBracking’s friends found his body the next day and reported, “After shooting him in two or three places, they cut his throat from ear to ear, stabbed him through the heart, cut off one ear & horribly mutilated other parts of his body.”
  • Mormon apostles Heber C. Kimball and Orson Hyde ordered the killing of apostate Lambert Symes, who subsequently “disappeared without a trace.”

Nauvoo’s bloody autumn of 1845 could have been much worse, but as it was, it clearly demonstrated that the Mormons and non-Mormons of Hancock County would never learn to live together in peace. “Therefore,” wrote Brigham Young, “we propose to leave this county next spring, for some point so remote, that there will not need to be a difficulty with the people and ourselves…” The following February the Saints began their long journey to Utah Territory; and though the territory was remote, difficulties between Mormons and non-Mormons did not cease for long.

Posted in Early Mormonism, Mormon History, Nauvoo | Tagged , , , , , | 11 Comments

How to Help Mormon Missionaries

SisterCalledToServeI’m a mom. I get it. Mormon blogger and author Mette Ivie Harrison wants people to be kind to her kids as they serve their LDS missions. In a recent article at Huff Post Blog, “How to Manage Mormon Missionaries,” Dr. Harrison notes,

“…as a mother whose daughter recently returned from the Houston, Texas mission, I’ve found that I have new insights about what is the best thing to do in various situations [involving Mormon missionaries].”

Dr. Harrison’s new insights seem to center on being nice to children – hers and others’ who end up on LDS missions. For that’s what Mormon missionaries are: they are “practically babies,” she says. Mette the mom paints a plaintive picture for her readers. Mormon missionaries are but children living in a sad and difficult situation. They’re babies; they have looked forward to this mission their whole lives; often they don’t have enough money to even eat; they have to work all the time and don’t get to have any fun; they’re lonely and homesick; they know very little about Mormonism other than what they’ve been told in minimal training, and they don’t want to talk about any other elements of their faith or church; many of these kids don’t even want to be on missions, but go due to cultural pressures. Very sad.

YoungMissionaryWith the picture of these forlorn children in mind, Dr. Harrison offers seven suggestions for people who really don’t want to talk to the missionaries they encounter. Six of her suggestions can be summed up in this way: be honest, thoughtful and kind in telling the missionaries you are not interested in their message. I whole-heartedly agree with Dr. Harrison on these points; kindness, after all, is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). But on Dr. Harrison’s seventh point I ardently disagree. She writes,

“You may feel like it’s best to confront missionaries with the ‘truth’ about Mormonism, telling them about Joseph Smith’s multiple wives, or other horrible things you’ve heard about the church. You may think that you’re being kind to them by helping them get out of the ‘cult’ they’re caught in. I really don’t think this is helpful. Most missionaries have grown a pretty thick skin about anti-Mormon stuff and won’t listen to you at all.”

So basically, Dr. Harrison is saying that if you have any problems with Mormonism–if there are reasons you could not become Mormon–don’t tell the missionaries. For example, if you struggle with Joseph Smith’s polygamous and polyandrous affairs (as revealed on the LDS Church’s own website), explaining this to the missionaries would be “anti-Mormon.” Likewise, if you can’t accept Mormonism because you applied the biblical test of a prophet found in Deuteronomy 13:1-5 (for example) to Joseph Smith and discovered that he fails God’s test, conveying this to the missionaries would be “unhelpful.” Indeed, the missionaries won’t listen to you at all. So instead of explaining why you reject Mormonism and the message the missionaries bring, Dr. Harrison suggests that you instead offer a smile and words of encouragement as you send them on their way. Mette the mom wants her kids to have a good 2-year experience, unmarred by discord. She writes,

“I am so grateful for people who treated my daughter well and looked out for her on her mission, non-Mormon and Mormon alike. I don’t particularly care how many people she converted to Mormonism. The experience was a wonderful one for her, and I think it made her more optimistic about humanity, more comfortable in her own skin, more confident talking to strangers, and it gave her a pool of friends who have shared the same experience and whom she will never forget. That’s what I’d like for all Mormon missionaries out there.”

This is definitely Mette the mom talking. She has forgotten the point of a Mormon mission and views the whole thing more like a charm school. In her eyes, it’s not about bringing people into the “one true church”; instead, it’s about teaching Mormon kids self-confidence and poise. It’s making friends and having an “experience” that sticks with them throughout their lives – maybe like other kids who spend their summers before college back-packing across Europe. She wants her kids to enjoy the whole thing and have fun. Like I said: I’m a mom. I get it.

SkiOffCliffBut as a mom, I have deeper concerns for my kids – there are more important things than having a good time. If my child scrimped and saved to achieve her life-long dream of skiing the Swiss Alps, I would definitely hope that she’d have a good time when she finally went on that trip. But even more than that, I’d hope that she would come home safe and sound. If she was in Switzerland, and was about to ski down a slope that ended over a 300-foot cliff, I would want someone to warn her. And not just warn her, but stop her. I would give anything for someone to save my child’s life – even if it interfered with her fun. I’m guessing Mette the mom would, too.

Now, Dr. Harrison probably doesn’t understand that the young Mormon missionaries are in real spiritual danger. If she did, she would never suggest that those who truly know the narrow way of salvation hide it from these kids in order for them to have a trouble-free mission experience. Mette the mom doesn’t know it, but I do. And many other Christian moms and dads know it, too. For us, we can’t merely offer a smile and words of encouragement while watching these kids ski off a cliff. Because “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. [So] We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20).

When Mormon missionaries come to Christian homes, we must speak the truth. Yet we are charged to do it in love (Ephesians 4:14-15). When we follow God’s command to teach and correct spiritual error, we are to do it with kindness, patience, and gentleness (2 Timothy 2:24-25). We do this with one goal in mind: that

“God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:25-26)

Do you see the very real spiritual danger expressed in Paul’s words? There is not a mother alive who would want her child to have a nice, happy, 2-year challenge-free mission – but in the process forfeit her soul (see Matthew 16:26).

Mette, as one mom to another, I promise I will do my best to keep these precious children from skiing off a cliff. Though it may get in the way of their fun, I promise I will always–prayerfully and lovingly–strive to help them find that difficult, narrow gate that leads to eternal life (Matthew 7:14).

Posted in Friendship, Interaction, and Evangelism, God the Father, Joseph Smith, King Follett Discourse, Mormon Missionaries, Prophets | Tagged , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Sexual Morality in Old Mormon Nauvoo

Sexual morality in early 1840s Nauvoo, Illinois, the City of Joseph [Smith], was enough to make most people blush. John C. Bennett, who had for 18 months been a member of Joseph Smith’s inner circle and close confidante, left the Mormon Church in May of 1842. He subsequently exposed “Joe Smith as the seducer of single and married females” in a series of letters published in the Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Illinois) beginning in July of that year. In his second letter Mr. Bennett included an affidavit sworn out by Nauvoo resident Melissa Schindle:

SagamoJournal7.15.1842P2“8th. Mrs. Melissa Schindle, wife of Col. George Schindle. — I now proceed to give the affidavit of Mrs. Schindle, which is in the following words, to wit:

“State of Illinois,) ss. McDonough County.)

“Personally appeared before me, Abraham Fulkerson, one of the Justices of the Peace in and for said county, Melissa Schindle, who, being duly sworn according to law, deposeth and saith, that in the fall of 1841, she was staying one night with the widow Fuller, who has recently been married to a Mr. Warren, in the city of Nauvoo, and that Joseph Smith came into the room where she was sleeping about 10 o’clock at night, and after making a few remarks came to her bed-side, and asked her if he could have the privilege of sleeping with her. She immediately replied NO. He, on the receipt of the above answer told her it was the will of the Lord that he should have illicit intercourse with her, and that he never proceeded to do any thing of that kind with any woman without first having the will of the Lord on the subject; and further he told her that if she would consent to let him have such intercourse with her, she could make his house her home as long as she wished to do so, and that she should never want for anything it was in his power to assist her to — but she would not consent to it. He then told her that if she would let him sleep with her that night he would give her five dollars — but she refused all his propositions. He then told her that she must never tell of his propositions to her, for he had ALL influence in that place, and if she told he would ruin her character, and she would be under the necessity of leaving. He then went to an adjoining bed where the Widow [Fuller] was sleeping — got into bed with her and laid there until about 1 o’clock, when he got up, bid them good night, and left them, and further this deponent saith not.

“MELISSA (her X mark) SCHINDLE. Subscribed and sworn to before me, this 2d day July, 1842.” (Sangamo Journal, July 15, 1842. See page 2, bottom of column 5.)

Given what history reveals about Joseph Smith’s character, this account isn’t hard to believe. But Joseph Smith was not the only man seeking “illicit intercourse” in 1840s Nauvoo.

Consider the experiences of the Widow Fuller herself. Born Catherine Laur in 1807, in due time she and Josiah Fuller married and had five children. The family lived near Haun’s Mill (Missouri) in 1838 and suffered through the Mormon War. Some accounts state that Josiah was killed in the Haun’s Mill Massacre, but FamilySearch records his death near Haun’s Mill five months later (April 3, 1839). At any rate, Catherine found herself a widow with five small children to care for. She made her way with the rest of the beleaguered Latter-day Saints to Nauvoo, Illinois, and, in the spring of 1842, married William Warren. But in the fall of 1841 Catherine was an unmarried widow who shared her bed, it is said, with the Prophet Joseph Smith – and others.

JohnCBennettIn May of 1842 Catherine Fuller Warren testified before the High Council, stating that several men of the Church had told her illicit sex was permissible as long as no one knew or found out about it. It was her understanding that this teaching originated with Joseph Smith. Catherine believed she was being taught the truth and so submitted. When she discovered this was a scam, she repented and confessed to having “unlawful connexion” with John C. Bennett 10-12 times, Chauncy Higbee 5-6 times, Joel S. Miller 2 times, George M. Thatcher 2 times, and once with non-Mormon Jacob Backenstos.

Catherine was not the only woman in Nauvoo to be seduced in this way. Five women confessed, yet there is reason to believe that many more women were approached and taken in by this teaching, a teaching being touted by multiple men in the city (see “Arraigning the Band of Brothers” by Meg Stout at The Millennial Star for more information on this topic).

Assuming the truth of this episode in Mormon history, the thing that jumps out at me is the gullibility of the women involved. These were Mormon women who were in Nauvoo to live their faith. Why did they believe and submit to men who told them something they should have known was untrue? They did know the suggested activity was “illicit,” that is, forbidden. Yet they engaged with the men anyway. Because they believed.

They believed in John C. Bennett, the Assistant President of the Church. Surely, as a Church leader entrusted with such great responsibilities and powers by the Prophet himself, the women must trust and obey what he taught them.

They believed in Joseph Smith. Apparently whatever he said was good and right in their eyes, even if it conflicted with what the Bible said, and even if it conflicted with what their religion taught publicly.

Isn’t this exactly how Mormonism was born, and how it has grown and thrived over nearly two centuries? Joseph Smith spoke, and people believed. They believed/believe, even though what Joseph Smith taught conflicts with what the Bible says. They believed/believe, even though what the Church teaches in-house at times conflicts with what it teaches publicly.

It is so easy to be deceived. That’s why God warns us again and again to beware; take heed; watch out. God tells us our spiritual safety lies in testing the prophets, trying the spirits, and searching the scriptures.

My friends, I echo the words of Jesus: “See that no one leads you astray.” (Mark 13:5)

Posted in Early Mormonism, Joseph Smith, Mormon History, Nauvoo | Tagged , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Messing with the Gospel doesn’t make you wrong…

…it makes you an evildoer.

In this sermon on Philippians 3:1-3, Christian Pastor Troy Dobbs examines the Apostles Paul’s warning to watch out for “the dogs” –religious people who “mess around with the Gospel.”

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you. Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—” (Philippians 3:1-3 ESV)

"Run For Your Life: Starting Block" from Grace Church on Vimeo.

Bottom line: Look out for counterfeit Christianity. Stop trusting in religion. “Run to Jesus. Run to Jesus Christ.”

Posted in Christianity, Jesus Christ, Salvation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments