We Mormons know so very little of our history. I felt it would be beneficial to share Ten Historical/Theological Points that Every Latter-day Saint should be aware of. Included will be resources and links to learn more as we will attempt to be as brief as possible with each issue.
#1 – FIGURATIVE BELIEFS
Some Leaders have given us way more Room to see scripture as Figurative or Allegorical. Take the Creation for instance coupled with the Garden of Eden and the Fall. Top LDS Leaders through our history have been quoted as describing the essentially every noun in the story as figurative. We have leaders saying the Dust from which Adam was made, The rib of Adam’s from which eve was created, the Tree of Life and Tree of Knowledge of good and evil, the Fruit from which they partook, and Satan as a Snake all being figurative. Once one sees all these objects as figurative then one is left with little to maintain a literal story in the least.
For many Latter-day Saints, Once see they such room they then take a critical look at stories like Noah and a Global Flood, Moses parting a sea, Jonah swallowed by a whale, Job and all that occurs to him and examine and ask themselves if these are literal stories. When one gives validity to science and looks around at how the world works in the very here and now these stories not only become highly unlikely, they become outright problematic and unfathomable.
Have you ever considered if many of the stories you have based your faith on in all likelihood didn’t occur?
#2 – WOMEN NOT ONLY HAVE PRIESTHOOD POWER AND AUTHORITY, THEY HAVE A KEY, AND GAVE BLESSINGS OF HEALING.
Elder Oaks has taught us recently that the Sisters of the Church have Priesthood Power and Authority. The Church also recently released an essay on its website that share that the sisters were also given a key and gave priesthood blessings of healing.
Joseph Smith declared to the Relief Society, “I now turn the key to you in the name of God and this Society shall rejoice and knowledge and intelligence shall flow down from this time.”
Combine that with Joseph’s instruction that “Respecting the female laying on hands, it is no sin for any body to do it that has faith,” and he further admonished, “if the sisters should have faith to heal the sick, let all hold their tongues, and let every thing roll on.”
Curious why we put an end to something Joseph instructed to let be? I wish I had an answer, but it certainly gets the brain thinking.
#3 – CONTEXT OF THE TEACHING THAT YOU SHOULD FOLLOW THE PROPHET EVEN IF HE IS WRONG AND THAT HE COULD NEVER LEAD THE CHURCH ASTRAY.
We often repeat the Teachings that
A.) God will not permit the Prophet to Lead us astray.
B.) We should follow the Prophet even if he is wrong and we will be blessed for it.
These quotes come from Wilford Woodruff in the midst of his having received the First Manifesto (see #5 & #6), Marion G Romney repeating what Heber J Grant had told him privately (story lacks context and is circular reasoning – see #4), Ezra Taft Benson repeating the two quotes above in his talk 14 Fundamentals, and manuals and church materials repeating Elder Benson ever since.
The Trouble is we rarely share that Church leaders publicly as well as privately behind closed doors are not unified about such teachings.
For example the 1852 Millennial Star (official periodical of the Church – comparable to today’s Ensign) stated
“The questions is sometimes asked, to what extent is obedience to those who hold the Priesthood required? This is a very important question, and one which should be understood by all Saints. In attempting to answer this question, we would repeat, in short, what we have already written, that willing obedience to the laws of God, administered by the priesthood, is indispensable to salvation; but we would further add, that a proper conservative to this power exists for the benefit of all, and none are required to tamely or blindly submit to a man because he has a portion of the Priesthood. We have heard men who hold the Priesthood remark, that they would do anything they were told to do by those who presided over them, if they knew it was wrong: but such obedience as this is worse than folly to us; it is slavery in the extreme; and the man who would thus willingly degrade himself, should not claim rank among intelligent beings, until he turns from his folly” – 13 Nov 1852 Millennial Star
It also helps to know that after Elder Benson (then a member of the Twelve) gave his 14 Fundamentals Talk at BYU, Then President Spencer W. Kimball called him in before the top leaders. Kimball “was concerned about Elder Benson’s February 1980 talk at BYU.”
Mormon Scholar D. Michael Quinn relayed that Kimball was concerned about Benson’s talk and wanted “to protect the Church against being misunderstood as espousing ultraconservative politics, or— in this case—espousing an unthinking ‘follow the leader’ mentality.” A general authority revealed that Kimball asked Benson to apologize to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who “were dissatisfied with his response.” Therefore, Kimball required him to explain himself to a combined meeting of all general authorities the following week.
Again, before repeating this whole The Prophet can’t be wrong or can’t lead the Church astray, and even if he could we should follow him anyway, we should at least be aware of the history and understand this teaching is anything but official Doctrine.
#4 – BRIGHAM YOUNG AND THE ADAM GOD “DOCTRINE”
While not taught today it is historically proven that Brigham Young taught the saints on many occasions as well as within his private writings that he knew by revelation that Adam, the first mortal housing a spirit child of God, was in fact Heavenly Father himself. With the exception or Orson Pratt (who happens to think Brigham is wrong and leading the Church astray on this doctrine and dissents publicly and privately see #3), all the members of the twelve appear to be in agreement and also reiterating the teaching in their preaching and writing. The “Doctrine” becomes so prominent it is being worked into the instruction at the veil in the temple endowment ceremony. Eventually though the “Doctrine” is emphasized less and less and becomes unfamiliar to most of the saints though still a point of discussion among some on the fringe as well as fundamentalist groups who bring it up as a way to point out their credibility for having separated and having taken the Priesthood with them.
Fast Forward to the October 1976 General Conference. President Kimball in his talk “Our Own Liahona” stated
Such, for instance, is the Adam-God theory. We denounce that theory and hope that everyone will be cautioned against this and other kinds of false doctrine.
This quote makes it sound like it was just a theory and never seen as doctrine. Except we have Brigham on the record stating
“How much unbelief exists in the minds of the Latter-day Saints in regard to one particular doctrine which I revealed to them, and which God revealed to me – namely that Adam is our father and God”
And we have Elder Bruce R McConkie acknowledging it was not only Doctrine but False Doctrine, when he stated
“Prophets are men and they make mistakes. Sometimes they err in doctrine. Sometimes even wise and good men fall short in the accurate presentation of what is truth. Sometimes a prophet gives personal views which are not endorsed and approved by the Lord.
Yes, President Young did teach that Adam was the father of our spirits, and all the related things that the cultists ascribe to him. This, however, is not true. He expressed views that are out of harmony with the gospel.
I think you can give me credit for having a knowledge of the quotations from Brigham Young relative to Adam, and of knowing what he taught under the subject that has become known as the Adam God Theory. President Joseph Fielding Smith said that Brigham Young will have to make his own explanations on the points there involved…. As for me and my house, we will have the good sense to choose between the divergent teachings of the same man and come up with those that accord with what God has set forth in his eternal plan of salvation….
I do not know all of the providences of the Lord, but I do know that he permits false doctrine to be taught in and out of the Church and that such teaching is part of the sifting process of mortality…. I repeat: Brigham Young erred in some of his statements on the nature and kind of being that God is and as to the position of Adam in the plan of salvation. What he did is not a pattern for any of us. If we choose to believe and teach the false portions of his doctrines, we are making an election that will damn us.”
A.) Prophets can misrepresent the mind and will of God.
B.) Prophets can Teach False Doctrine
C.) We should not follow (believe and teach) the False Doctrines of Prophets or else we would be led astray
#5 – LEGITIMACY OF THE FUNDAMENTALIST/POLYGAMY CLAIMS
We often dismiss the FLDS and other break-off groups who continue polygamy as having chosen to follow their lust rather than the Prophet. Sadly we do so being not fully informed. We may struggle to recognize that what material we get in official sources and during the three hour block is only a particle of the important history pertaining to our church. One such obscured item is the 1886 revelation by 3rd president of the Church John Taylor. The revelation is confirmed by experts to be in his handwriting. Another such item is the Disciplinary Council of President Taylor’s son John W. Taylor. Lastly, Another is the history behind the 1890 manifesto and just how much authorized polygamy continued after the manifesto and where Saints were sent to continue the practice. Once these three data points are studied one will likely recognize that
A.) Christ seems to be saying Polygamy as a imperative piece of the New and Everlasting Covenant must be practiced and never be revoked.
B.) The LDS Church tried its best to keep polygamy going underground long after the first manifesto and likely even after the second.
C.) The break-off groups have a more legitimate claim than most LDS members thought.
D.) There may have been mutual collaboration between the LDS church and those who continued polygamy early on in hopes that once room could be made in the law they would join back together.
Why do we negate a revelation written in the first person of Jesus Christ in favor of a manifesto that was seen as just lip service to politicians when it was given?
#6 – FIRST VISION ACCOUNTS
You have likely heard in recent years that there are multiple First Vision Accounts. That Joseph Smith rather than having one consistent story actually recorded, dictated, or asked to have written a total of four existing accounts. These accounts vary and seem to develop on a trajectory. The 1832 account and the 1838 (official) account are the most discussed. The following points should be noted
A.) The 1832 account is the only account in Joseph’s own handwriting
B.) Scholars believe Sidney Rigdon and George Robinson likely had a heavy hand in the writing of the 1838 account.
C.) These two accounts describe Joseph’s motives very differently
D.) The 1832 account only has Jesus appearing to Joseph and the description of this manifestation resembles closely other spiritual experiences that folks contemporary to Joseph described.
E.) Joseph Fielding Smith, when Church Historian, removed the 1832 account and stored it away in the Church Historian’s vault keeping it out of the public eye and from being discovered. This account was not even known to the public till the 1950’s
Some scholars as they reconsider what all this means are giving increased weight to the 1832 account over the 1838 account. For instance consider the perspective of LDS Scholar Richard Bushman.
I am very much impressed by Joseph Smith’s 1832 History account of his early visions. This is the one partially written in his own hand and the rest dictated to Frederick G. Williams. I think it is more revealing than the official account presumably written in 1838 and contained in the Pearl of Great Price. We don’t know who wrote the 1838 account. Joseph’s journal indicates that he, Sidney Rigdon, and George Robinson collaborated on beginning the history in late April, but we don’t know who actually drafted the history. It is a polished narrative but unlike anything Joseph ever wrote himself. The 1832 history we know is his because of the handwriting. It comes rushing forth from Joseph’s mind in a gush of words that seem artless and uncalculated, a flood of raw experience. I think this account has the marks of an authentic visionary experience. There is the distance from God, the perplexity and yearning for answers, the perplexity, and then the experience itself which brings intense joy, followed by fear and anxiety. Can he deal with the powerful force he has encountered? Is he worthy and able? It is a classic announcement of a prophet’s call, and I find it entirely believable.
#7 – THE PARADOX OF THE BOOK OF ABRAHAM
As Mormon’s we grew up with hearing how Joseph translated The Book of Abraham from Egyptian Papyri. We heard how the writings were written by Abraham himself by his own hand. The trouble is that once the world figured out how to translate Egyptian it became apparent that the Papyri was anything but the Book of Abraham. It becomes increasingly apparent that Joseph mistranslated the facsimiles on the papyri, the text is a common funerary document, and Abraham has no connection to papyri. Many possible solutions are offered but each has serious flaws that prevent any one solution from holding up.
We get a sense for just how much of a fantasy was in Joseph’s head around the Book of Abraham when Josiah Quincy relates this experience
“As they entered the Nauvoo Museum, Joseph introduced Lucy Smith: “This is my mother, gentlemen. The curiosities we shall see belong to her. They were purchased with her own money at a cost of six thousand dollars.” Opening pine presses along the wall, he disclosed four black, shrunken bodies. “These are mummies,” he said. “I want you to look at that little runt of a fellow over there. He was a great man in his day. Why that was Pharaoh Necho, King of Egypt!” He pointed to various hieroglyphs on the papyri, which were preserved under glass. “That is the handwriting of Abraham, the Father of the Faithful; this is the autograph of Moses, and these lines were written by his brother Aaron. Here we have the earliest accounts of the Creation, from which Moses composed the first Book of Genesis.” When Quincy questioned him about a drawing of a serpent walking about on a pair of legs, he expanded heartily: “Why that’s as plain as a pikestaff. Before the Fall snakes always went about on legs, just like chickens. They were deprived of them in punishment for their agency in the ruin of man.”
Whatever the Book of Abraham is, it is not what we thought it was.
#8 – THE EXTENT OF JOSEPH SMITH’S TREASURE DIGGING
We catch tidbits of the idea that Joseph does some treasure digging in his youth but the Church says little about it and we assume there is little to be said. We actually have a lot. This is how Joseph finds several of his seer stones, including the one used to translate the Book of Mormon. These Treasure digs involved Guardians angels protecting buried treasure in the hills of Palmyra, including the drumlin Joseph retrieves the Gold plates from. When you dig (no pun intended) you realize there are so many similarities between Joseph’s treasure digging and his experience with Moroni that it becomes uncomfortable for many Latter-day Saints who are informed. There is so much nuance to these stories that you will simply have to do some reading (or listening)
#9 – HOW LDS LEADER’S RACISM IMPACTED THOSE OF COLOR REGARDING PRIESTHOOD AND THE TEMPLE
We recognize that prior to 1978 People of certain races were barred from the Temple and from Priesthood. In the past we deemed this ban to be from God. The Church seems hesitant to take this stance publicly today. They seem much more comfortable saying little to nothing and leaving room for the ban to be attributed to Brigham Young’s racism. But picture for a moment Prophets Seers and Revelators generation after generation unable to discern from God that the false teachings of Brigham implemented as Doctrine were actually false and the deep hurt this “policy” caused. Combine that with Past leaders who declared with fervor that Inter-racial marriage as sin was “Doctrine” and that Certain races being less valiant in the premortal life was “Doctrine” only to have current leaders disavow those past “Doctrines” as false theories that had more to do with those past leaders Racism, Prejudices, and Bigotry; then anything proceeding from the mouth of God. Once we see just how hard it has been for leaders to discern false ideas from the mind and will of God this gets a whole lot messier.
#10 – RETREATING FROM AND LOSING OUR MIRACLE HISTORY
We have grown up hearing about Crickets and Seagulls, the Transfiguration of Brigham Young, Jesus Birth on April 6th, and many more miracles that connect our belief in the restoration to spiritual manifestations that validate for us our belief. As the Church has become more transparent and information more available we as a community have had to lessen the magnitude of these stories or let them go completely. In the end we are left with very little that is miraculous and are forced into a shift in our narrative to more practical experiences.
We now know that Symonds Ryder didn’t leave over a mispelled name, Thomas Marsh didn’t leave over milk and strippings, Cain isn’t Bigfoot, Jesus wasn’t a polygamist, and 100’s of other stories we told ourselves are either inaccurate or completely untrue.
The reality is that we have embellished, falsified, sanitized, misrepresented, and simplified our history at every turn.