Past and Present: Rooting Out Sin Among the Mormons

Last week the Salt Lake Tribune reported on a recent shake up among members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Observers say an unprecedented number — up to 1,500 members — of the polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs were barred from the group’s church after being told over the weekend they were “unworthy” to attend.

Most don’t appear to have been instructed to leave their families and their homes, as is common when people are excommunicated from the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but instead forbidden to enter the LSJ Meetinghouse in Colorado City, Ariz.”

“Unworthy” FLDS members were allowed to go to meetings in a different location where they could repent and work toward becoming worthy again. The article continued,

The people were reportedly estranged for expressing doubt of Jeffs, breaking one of his new, extreme rules or failing to pay increasingly high tithing totaling thousands of dollars…

Former FLDS member Ezra Draper said that people were asked to “renew their covenants.”

“It wasn’t any kind of doom and gloom apocalyptic, it’s more[,] ‘If we’re going to earn the favor of the Lord in this upcoming year and ask that the prophet be released from the prison, signify that you’re willing to obey by coming forward and renewing your covenants with the Lord,’” he said.

Reading this put me in mind of the Mormon Reformation of 1856-57 and I was left thinking once again how much Fundamentalist Mormonism looks (and acts) like the early Mormon Church. According to Gustive Larson who was a professor of Church History at BYU at the time he wrote his article for the Utah Historical Quarterly,

By means of public exhortations and catechizing [i.e., interrogating] in private, the soul-searching process swept over Mormondom at home and abroad in 1856 and early 1857, until every Saint was rededicated to “the Kingdom” through rebaptism or purged from membership. It was an emotional experience which regenerated the earth-bound masses spiritually to knit them into a more self-conscious brotherhood. It was a drive for unity against a threatening world. (Gustive O. Larson, “The Mormon Reformation,” Utah Historical Quarterly, Vol. XXVI, No. 1, January 1958, 46)

In the spring of 1856, just ahead of the formal launching of the Mormon Reformation, Brigham Young warned his followers,

The time is coming when justice will be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet; when we shall take the old broad sword and ask, ‘Are you for God?’ And if you are not heartily on the Lord’s side, you will be hewn down. (Journal of Discourses 3:226)

According to Gustive Larson, both financial faithfulness and sexual purity (including renewed emphasis on plural marriage) were important elements of the Mormon Reformation. He wrote,

The consecration of property to the church, originally practiced in Ohio and Missouri, was revived to knit the Saints more closely together. This movement preceded the Reformation by two years when the leaders urged the Saints, in Conference speeches, to deed their properties in trusteeship to the church and receive ‘an inheritance in the Kingdom’ in return. (47)

Dr. Larson also quoted a song that was written for, and titled, “The Reformation.” It exhorted,

Now, sisters, list to what I say, With trials this world is rife
You can’t expect to miss them all, Help husband get a wife!
Now, this advice I freely give, If exalted you would be,
Remember that your husband must Be blessed with more than thee.
Then, O, let us say, God bless the wife that strives
And aids her husband all she can T’ obtain a dozen wives. (58)

As the Mormon Reformation spread, LDS Apostle and second counselor in the First Presidency Jedediah Grant told the Latter-day Saints at a meeting in Salt Lake City,

I am speaking to you in the name of Israel’s God and you need to be baptized and washed clean from your sins from your backslidings, from your apostacies, from your filthiness, from your lying, from your swearing, from lusts, and from every- thing that is evil before the God of Israel.

We have been trying long enough with this people, and I go in for letting the sword of the almighty be unsheathed not only in word, but in deed. (50)

As another BYU Church history professor, Paul Peterson, noted, “The problem was that while the Saints were good, they were not good enough” (Paul H. Peterson, “The Mormon Reformation of 1856-1857: The Rhetoric and the Reality,” Journal of Mormon History, Vol. 15, 65).

In November of 1856, at a priesthood meeting, Brigham Young sought to root out sin among the priesthood holders. After the meeting opened with prayer and song,

“President Young had the doors locked. He then said, ‘I am about to question the brethren and I charge them in the name of Jesus Christ to tell the truth. Those who cover up their sins the curse of God shall be upon them.’ He then drew from the breast pocket of his coat a long slip of white paper and read the following questions, calling upon the brethren to answer them as they were put”:

1. Have you shed innocent blood or assented thereto?
2. Have you committed adultery?
3. Have you betrayed your brother?
4. Have you borne false witness against your neighbor?
5. Do you get drunk?
6. Have you stolen?
7. Have you lied?
8. Have you contracted debts without prospect of paying?
9. Have you labored faithfully for your wages?
10. Have you coveted that which belongs to another?
11. Have you taken the name of the Lord in vain?
12. Do you preside in your family as a servant of God?
13. Have you paid your tithing in all things? (Larson, 53-54)

Later the number of questions was expanded to twenty-six and the list was taken house to house by special missionaries tasked to personally interview each church member. Among the additional questions were queries that dealt with how the individual treated animals, family and employees, and this one:

Do you speak against your brethren or against any principle taught us in the Bible, Book of Mormon, Book of Doctrine & Covenants, revelations given through Joseph Smith the prophet and the Presidency of the Church as now organized? (54)

I see a number of parallels between the Mormon Reformation of the nineteenth century and Warren Jeffs’ purging of “unworthiness” from his twenty-first century followers. In addition to those evident above, the FLDS Church also has a list of questions for its members. Lindsay Whitehurst, blogger for the Salt Lake Tribune, addressed the question of  “How FLDS leaders determined who was ‘worthy’ of church.” She wrote,

…questions were asked as Lyle Jeffs (or one of a handful of other interviewers) held the member’s hand to determine if they were speaking the truth.

Here’s the text…

To Qualify for the Holy United Order Covenant

1. Do you think only pure thoughts?
2. Are your desires in pleasures of unrighteousness?
3. Do you dwell in wickedness of evil dross of this generation?
4. Is there in your heart the seeking for Babylon?
5. Are you saying your prayers in all that you do?
6. Are you dwelling in the spirit of your calling as an emissary of God?
7. Have you received the gift of the witness of My approval in your marriage conduct?
8. Are you abiding the law of purity and righteous obedience in My Holy Law?

“Let all My people now be judged.”

Non-fundamentalist Mormons today generally regard Warren Jeffs and his church with contempt and/or pity. They are unaware–or fail to recognize–that the FLDS Church is not so very different from the early Mormon Church as led by Brigham Young. Warren Jeffs is, in many ways, living out a legacy he inherited from early Mormon prophets.

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.
This entry was posted in Early Mormonism, Fundamentalist Mormonism and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Past and Present: Rooting Out Sin Among the Mormons

  1. Rick B says:

    BY said

    The time is coming when justice will be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet; when we shall take the old broad sword and ask, ‘Are you for God?’ And if you are not heartily on the Lord’s side, you will be hewn down. (Journal of Discourses 3:226)

    The Bible says

    John 16:2 They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.

    Seems some mormons were willing and able to Kill in the name of God.

  2. Mike R says:

    Sharon, once again you’ve shared with us another bit of evidence why we all need to thank
    our God for saving us and preventing us from being spiritually manipulated ( 1Jn 2:26) into
    following false prophets. When we look at how the Mormon people submit to the teachings
    and counsel of their leaders because of a personal “spiritual witness” , instead of testing
    this counsel by the Word of God ( Acts 17:11 ) we see how rampant false doctrine can thrive.

  3. falcon says:

    What a marvelous summary of the article in the last paragraph.

    “Non-fundamentalist Mormons today generally regard Warren Jeffs and his church with contempt and/or pity. They are unaware–or fail to recognize–that the FLDS Church is not so very different from the early Mormon Church as led by Brigham Young. Warren Jeffs is, in many ways, living out a legacy he inherited from early Mormon prophets.”

    That’s what I’d call the money quote. Mormonism has to cling to “progressivism” because the Church certainly isn’t the Church of the past. That’s why there’s an FLDS. For further reference take a look at the other denominations of Mormonism. What are there, something like seventy different sects all laying claim to being the one true church, all with their prophets and all of the others being labeled as “apostate” (by each sect)?
    Mormons need to examine their history and the changing doctrine and also the evolution of Joseph Smith including his ever changing versions of the first vision tale.
    I really don’t know what modern day Mormons are really testifying to. It doesn’t take much examination to figure out that this religion was the results of Joseph Smith’s fertile imagination mixed with a heavy dose of the occult and a pinch of evangelical Christian revivalism for taste.
    It’s a real problem when people suppose that God is speaking and revealing something to them on the basis of what they think and feel. All religions make the same claims and all members cling to supernatural feelings and experiences.
    There has to be a defining revelation. One that doesn’t change with the next “prophet”. Progressive revelation is a convenient cover for erratic proclamations and faulty understanding of how God communicates with those who know Him by name and have accepted His revelation that was delivered by His Christ to His apostles.

  4. Mike R says:

    FLDS related to LDS ? That should’nt surprise anyone. There are some doctrines that they
    don’t share but one doctrine that they do , which is so spiritually destructive , is that they’ve
    been convinced of their need to submit to one man who claims to be the mouthpiece of God
    on earth and this supposedly is the arrangement for Jesus’ New Testament Church today. They
    fear that to doubt the prophet’s counsel and doctrinal pronouncements is to call into question
    God’s directing among them . By manipulating their followers with this type of mind-set these
    prophets can virtually get away with introducing any kind of doctrine . Allthey have to do is use
    phrases like ” new light ” , line upon line” or similar Biblical phrases, after all if these terms are
    found in the Bible then these prophets must be correct with their use , right ? Wrong . Jesus
    warned of false prophets because He knew of their tactics to mislead people. Why is it that these
    men love the word ” unworthy” ? They determine who is worthy and unworthy . I think that
    listening to Jesus’ original apostles when it comes to what makes us worthy to receive eternal
    life is the safe road free from the roadblocks that false prophets try to place in our way by their
    claimed new insight on the scriptures or from their supposed ability to ” interpret the mind and
    will of God ” for mankind today. 1 Jn.4:1 .

  5. spartacus says:

    Thanks again, Sharon, for not only a great article but keeping us up on what’s going on in the LDS world.

    I’ve always thought that FLDS were much more impressive in their refusal to compromise. Even Joseph Smith went about lying all the time to believers and outsiders alike about his polygamy teachings/practice. At least the FLDS don’t back down in practice.

    These list of questions, though, bring up a different topic for me. That of the sense of sin in LDS. I’ve always wondered how the LDS priesthood could possibly be effective at all if it is dependent on the righteousness of the holder. I can see someone saying that the holder can accidently sin but just can’t purposefully accept and commit sin. But where do you draw the line of “doing all you can do” and “only accidental”? Is it only boldfaced lies that are lies, not white ones, or deceit by omission or deceit by allowed misunderstanding(the hearer takes what you said in a beneficial-for-you way and you let it go without clarifying to your detriment)? Is it sinful pride only if its judgemental of others, or if you are just thankful to God that you are not “that person” or “in their situation”? This could go on and on.

    On a lighter note, I particularly like one thing about each list: Jeff’s about “do you think only pure thoughts?” – REALLY?! We expect someone to say “yes”? People plan on believing people that say “yes”?!! And in BY’s-I think the “Have you lied” shouldn’t be question 7 followed by a couple dozen more but wait until the end. Those who honestly got through the 1st six got really lucky…;)

  6. Mike R says:

    I’m wondering why Brigham did’nt include the dreaded cup of coffee/tea in his list of sins?
    Perhaps the Church , or Church members, were making money selling it ? In the 1970’s ,
    if I remember correctly, the Marriot Corporation was at one time the Nations
    largest alcohol seller etc. A lot of tithe money from Mr. Marriot ?
    Your heart has go out to those dear people who followed these ” Modern-day prophets ” like
    Brigham Young, as they were convinced that to leave the Mormon Church was to invite God’s
    judgement . Jesus warned to Beware of false prophets— Matt 7:15

  7. spartacus says:

    There are too many things to say on this topic! (LDS posters please reply!)

    1) I wish LDS would stop saying “of course we’re christian, just look at our name”. This is like someone saying “of course I’m a doctor, my name is Doctor”. Would that work for any LDS out there? Would you trust your life, the life of your wife/husband, children, parents, and friends to a guy named “Doctor” with a scalpel at your/their chest? Well, with the possibility that LDS is completely wrong, that is exactly what this argument says you are willing to do with your very souls.(Or for those that don’t understand why exmo’s “can’t leave the church alone” – what would you do if you realized he was not a true doctor and your parents hadn’t died naturally but by his fraud – would you just let him continue practicing??)

    Instead of looking at his history and the credentials given him by the Authority, you instead decide to listen to his portrayal of your condition and its remedy (maybe he sounds really good – read a lot of WebMD) and then seek a burning in your bosom to testify to you that he is real.

    2) Ultimately this is not just about the word “Christian” but that each group claims it in a non-compatible way. That is, Christians have their exclusive definition of the minimum a “christian” must be and LDS also have their own exclusive definition of a “real” Christian. The LDS Church(officials) don’t really believe that just anyone calling themselves “christians” are christians for real. After all, your belief in Christ gets you no closer to Heavenly Father than nonbelievers without the proper belief in Christ’s Only True Church on the face of the earth. (contd.)

  8. spartacus says:

    (3) but lets try a thought experiment I first heard from another brother on the heart of the matter – what if I wanted to start a church and I called it the Church of Jesus Christ: Latter-day Saints. I taught that Jesus Christ is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit is one with the Father and the Son. There is only one God of any kind, anywhere. Jesus saves you all the way to the very intimate presence of the Father/Son/Spirit upon your surrender and acceptance of the costly gift of Christ’s sacrifice for mercy and free gift of grace whereby you are effectively risen and returned in Christ’s resurrection and return to the Father without works. You are made perfect, by becoming the perfect human with Him as God wanted you to be. That works are only fruit of a the plant, the plant is already saved, or else it wouldn’t bear saved fruit. Oh, and that the Church of Jesus Christ: Latter-day Saints is the only true church on the face of the earth and “Should you ask why we differ from other Latter-day Saints, as they are called, it is simply because they are not Latter-day Saints as the New Testament defines Latter-Day Saints.” (altered quote, BY JoD 10:230). I also say, “We talk of the LDS church, but it is a perfect pack of nonsense… the devil could not invent a better engine to spread his work than the Mormonism of the nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries.” (altered quote, John Taylor, JoD 6:167). And “The great apostasy commenced on September 24th, 1890, and it has been waxing worse and worse from then until now.” (altered quote Orson Pratt, JoD 18:44). and…

  9. spartacus says:

    And finally, “The traditional Christ of whom LDS speak is not the Christ of whom I speak.” (altered quote, Hinckley, LDS Church News Week June 20, 1998, p.7) Say I said that my church and my followers were Latter-Day Saints too, but taught that we were the “real Latter-Day Saints” with the “real” priesthood (that of the Body of Christ Priesthood). What would you think about that?

    Or a different way, what if my Church of Jesus Christ: Latter-day Saints followed the Prophet Joseph Smith and we taught that he never married anyone and taught everyone should stay unmarried to eachother but only married to Christ for the good of the Kingdom (if they could)? That he taught the Priesthood of Believers (male and female), freedom from all ordinances and laws of salvation and taught that communion and baptism were remembrances and announcements, respectively, and that if you believed (trusted with heart and mind) in Christ’s work then you&all believers would be together forever in heaven experiencing the Greatest Experience and Existence possible by living in intimacy with the One God in three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (oh and he used the word “Trinity” just to make sure everyone understood); what then?

    4) Finally, how can LDS be taken seriously in their protests of Christians denying them the label “real christian” as long as LDS deny Fundamentalist Mormons the label “real Latter-Day Saints” or “real mormons”? How can they be bewildered or offended by Christians that express concern over their (the LDS’s) salvation when their church expressly, and with certainty, teaches that former-LDS-turned-FLDS are apostates a heart beat away from becoming sons of perdition doomed to outer darkness?

    (I really want to know how LDS think about these issues, so please respond. )

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