Worship of Joseph Smith?

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.”

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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One Response to Worship of Joseph Smith?

  1. jer1414 says:

    Do Mormons worship Joseph Smith? You are right, it depends on how one defines “worship” – and this is a classic example of how Mormons and non-Mormons differ on the definition of just about every religious term. The honor, reverence, and homage Mormons pay to Joseph Smith is something that is certainly unusual for non-Mormons. After all, as mentioned they sing praises to Joseph Smith, honor his birth and death (to an extraordinary degree), and even as one Mormon shared with me, believes that he “spilled his blood” for her. She speaks fondly of “the boy Joseph Smith” who grew to “seal his testimony in his own blood” by becoming a “martyr“. There is such an enduring emotional connection to Smith that if you ask about his character or questionable actions, it sparks strong, very strong, emotions. As of yet, I’ve not found that to be the case when speaking or asking about Jesus.

    Much of Mormon teaching centers around “THE Church”, of which, without Joseph there wouldn’t be any restored truth or “true” Church. A “testimony” of him, of course, is a critical part of what it takes to be a Mormon and “The Church” certainly isn’t going to let anyone forget it. And so, today’s Mormon culture follows suit from the early days of Mormonism (see below for just a few examples), where Joseph was set up as a critical part of one‘s salvation, on par with Jesus Christ.

    It’s no wonder there is confusion among Christians, as no man in Christianity is held in the same esteem. We certainly don’t sing praise to any man – whether Abraham, Peter, Paul, Luther, Wesley or Billy Graham. We may be thankful *to God* FOR someone or what they have done, but we give the thanks and praise to God for them, not to the man. We don’t sing “Praise to the man Billy Graham”, speak with extraordinary fond, enduring affection for Peter or Paul, or have huge fireworks celebrations commemorating Luther’s birthday, for instance.

    I can also understand Mormons’ confusion on why others might consider them to worship Smith, because Who Mormons believe to be “God” is so radically different from non-Mormons. Christians worship *One* True God, The Creator God Who has always existed as God and didn’t achieve Godhood as a status – which differs from the Mormon teaching about a “Heavenly Father” God who was once a man that progressed under his own father “God” to become a father God himself, and now obedient Mormons can also become a father God of their own world. I can see why Mormons would honor their “Heavenly Father”, but since they can become one themselves, it does seem their idea of “worship” varies from how others would define it. Sadly, since there is no distinguishing between Mormon actions in the way they honor Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ, it appears they miss the Christian view of the greatness, holiness, and majesty of the One True God and all that He truly is, and thus why He alone is worthy of all worship and praise.

    Examples –
    1. See Journal of Discourse 6:229-30: “Believe in God, believe in Jesus, and believe in Joseph his Prophet, and in Brigham his successor. And I add, “If you will believe in your heart and confess with your mouth that Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph was a Prophet, and that Brigham was his successor, you shall be saved in the kingdom of God.” which I pray, in the name of Jesus, may be the case. Amen.” April 8, 1857 Remarks by President John Young, made in the Bowery, Great Salt Lake City, Wednesday Morning, April 8, 1857.

    2. And J. of Discourse 7:289: “Joseph Smith holds the keys of this last dispensation, … no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith… every man and woman must have the certificate of Joseph Smith, junior, as a passport to their entrance into the mansion where God and Christ are…I cannot go there without his consent. He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation-the keys to rule in the spirit-world; and he rules there triumphantly, for he gained full power and a glorious victory over the power of Satan while he was yet in the flesh, and was a martyr to his religion and to the name of Christ, which gives him a most perfect victory in the spirit-world. He reigns there as supreme a being in his sphere, capacity, and calling, as God does in heaven.”)

    3. And of course, Joseph Smith said it best – “I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet…When they can get rid of me, the devil will also go.” (History of the Church, Vol. 6, p. 408, 409)

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