James F. Stoddard III and L. Hannah Stoddard
Read this first! Some have been confused regarding the position of LDS Answers and the Joseph Smith Foundation regarding the progressive historians quoted and their call for a “reconstructed narrative”. The Joseph Smith Foundation promotes the traditional teachings of ancient and Latter-day prophets. The purpose of this post is to raise awareness of where many LDS intellectuals would like to move the Church. Again, the Joseph Smith Foundation will be providing materials to counter the statements in this article. This is not a discussion of anyone “anti-Mormon”. The scholars quoted are also active members of the Church, although we disagree with their positions. Please see the end of the article for additional understanding.
As Latter-day Saint families gather this weekend to enjoy General Conference, many are unaware that there is a growing movement among members and scholars in the Church to change our history. Though this progressive effort has been proceeding for decades, in the last few years we have seen an ever increasing number of prominent LDS historians and scholars calling for a “reconstructed narrative.”
“. . . A Reconstructed Narrative.”
Richard Bushman is a prominent LDS historian and considered by some to be the “world’s foremost scholar on Joseph Smith and early Mormonism.”1 During a recent fireside, Bushman responded to a participant’s question regarding whether the traditional understanding of Church history is accurate.
Question: In your view do you see room in Mormonism for several narratives of a religious experience or do you think that in order for the Church to remain strong they would have to hold to that dominant narrative?
Richard Bushman: I think that for the Church to remain strong it has to reconstruct its narrative. The dominant narrative is not true; it can’t be sustained. The Church has to absorb all this new information or it will be on very shaky grounds and that’s what it is trying to do and it will be a strain for a lot of people, older people especially. But I think it has to change.2 (Watch full video)
The following month, Bushman elaborated on his meaning with the following statement:
I consider Rough Stone Rolling a reconstructed narrative. It was shocking to some people. They could not bear to have the old story disrupted in any way. What I was getting at in the quoted passage is that we must be willing to modify the account according to newly authenticated facts. If we don’t we will weaken our position. Unfortunately, not everyone can adjust to this new material. Many think they were deceived and the church was lying. That is not a fair judgment in my opinion. The whole church, from top to bottom, has had to adjust to the findings of our historians. We are all having to reconstruct.3
Bushman is not alone in calling for a new “Joseph Smith”, a new Church history and a new Mormon culture. In this post, we will hear from historians who are encouraging a “new era.” One scholar has even called for the “foundation” to be torn down and completely rebuilt.
Who is this new “Joseph Smith” and what constitutes this “reconstructed narrative”? For those who are unaware, Rough Stone Rolling presents a “Joseph Smith” that differs dramatically from the “Joseph Smith” taught by past Presidents of the Church. According to Rough Stone Rolling,
- Joseph Smith was “involved in magic” (page 53)
- The Prophet’s involvement in “magic . . . was a preparatory gospel” (page 53) and “Remnants of the magical culture stayed with him to the end.” (page 51)
- Joseph Smith suffered from “treasure-seeking greed.” (page 51)
- The Smith family were drawn to “treasure-seeking folklore” and saw astrology and magical “formulas and rituals” as connected to their spiritual well-being. (page 50-51)
- “Magic and religion melded in Smith family culture.” (page 51)
- Joseph Smith Sr. was an “oft-defeated, unmoored father” (pg. 26-27) who “partially abdicated family leadership” (page 42). His “life [was] blighted by shame” (page 42)
- The Smiths were a “struggling family.” (page 106)
The proposed “reconstructed narrative” of LDS Church History as well as the life and character of the Prophet Joseph Smith is admittedly a departure from the traditional or “dominant narrative” given to us by past Church historians including Willard Richards (present at the Carthage martyrdom), George A. Smith (cousin to the Prophet Joseph Smith), Presidents Wilford Woodruff and Joseph Fielding Smith.
What would the testimony of a member of the Church look like who holds to this new image of Joseph Smith and Church history? Many tout Rough Stone Rolling and Richard Bushman’s new history as an aid to faith in crisis. Could this new history lead to, rather than help, a crisis in faith? When describing the faith crisis Bushman experienced at Harvard, he explained, “[I am] not someone who has a ‘simple faith’ where just everything is absolutely true beyond any doubt.”4
Question: And so how did you, how did you become a believer again, or, or re find your “believingness”?
Answer: Well, ummm, I probably never recovered at all. Ummmm, I’m not someone who has a “simple faith” that where just everything is absolutely true beyond any doubt.”
“. . . we are in a new era.”
Is Bushman alone in his perspective? Ronald S. Barney was the Executive Director of the Mormon History Association and has previously served as an Associate Editor of the Joseph Smith Papers. He admires the work of Richard Bushman, including Rough Stone Rolling, and has likewise called for a “new era” in how we view Joseph Smith and Church history.
I think new Mormon history will serve for a period of time but I personally believe we’ve passed that. Ummm, I think we are in a new era. And I think this book that uhhh, Laura uhhh, conceived is something that will be representative of a way to think about this period of time that, uhhh, that we are in. I’m working on a, a book that I’ve been working on for many, many years on uhhh Joseph Smith and one of the, the tail end of it is going to be about the historical legacy of Joseph Smith. As I try to look at that and how Joseph Smith has been represented over time there is such a clear point of departure in what has happened in, in the last few years than what, than all that happened previous to this. I think we will see that uhhh distinctly in the future as uhhh, we cast our eyes uhhh back toward this period of time. (Laura Hales & Contributors (A Reason for Faith)–Benchmark Books, 5/11/16)
“Humanistic Trends in Church History”
President Ezra Taft Benson when commenting on similar approaches to LDS Church history stated:
This humanistic emphasis on history is not confined only to secular history; there has been and continues to be attempts being made to bring this philosophy into our own Church history. Again the emphasis is to underplay revelation and God’s intervention in significant events and to inordinately humanize the prophets of God so that their human frailties become more apparent than their spiritual qualities. It is a state of mind and spirit characterized by one history buff, who asked: “Do you believe the Church has arrived at a sufficient state of maturity where we can begin to tell our real story?”
Inferred in that question is the accusation that the Church has not been telling the truth.
Unfortunately, too many of those who have been intellectually gifted become so imbued with criticism that they become disaffected spiritually.
Some of these have attempted to reinterpret Joseph Smith and his revelations; they offer what they call a psychological interpretation of his motives and actions.5
Historicity of the Book of Mormon
Another popular LDS author and historian, Gregory A. Prince, has called for those who still believe in the historicity of the Book of Mormon to “grow up”. For those who are not familiar with the background on this issue, many LDS scholars including Greg Prince, believe that the Book of Mormon narrative is merely allegory. Mormon, Moroni, Nephi, Captain Moroni and other famous Book of Mormon characters never physically lived. They are likely figures of Joseph Smith’s imagination or perhaps the narrative should be considered a parable.
Many people act as if the Book of Mormon is the cornerstone of our religion only because we have placed in that position precariously and all that keeps it from toppling is our constant fussing. Quite to the contrary, it gained and maintains it’s position because over a period of nearly two centuries it has been the primary means by which people who have encountered Mormonism have converted to it. Not to the book itself, but through it to a better place of living. That position is independent of the book’s provenance and yet there are many who are willing to die on the hill of ancient historicity. To them I say, “grow up!” (laughter) Science has already informed greatly on the issue of historicity and will continue to inform many great and important things. Relax and don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. (Greg Prince, “Pillars of My Faith” speech, Sunstone Symposium, August 2, 2013)
Past Statements from Leaders of the Church
Margaret Young, a part-time faculty member at BYU-Provo, has not been bashful to announce her desire to see a new LDS Church in the near future. In a blog post entitled “The Future of Mormonism (the Next Five Years)”, she stated:
the future of Mormonism is bright. We are on a bridge. . . . Change comes slowly in the Church, but to those seeking to find miracles, the changes over the past fifty years have been monumental. . . . We will become a church known for exactly the opposite reasons it was known for in the nineteenth century.6
What would this new Church, which is precisely the opposite of what it was 150 years ago, look like? Has God changed or were the prophets of the past simply leading in the wrong direction? The following are excerpts from an audio interview with Margaret Young.
We have some awful statements from all of the leaders of the Church. So how can Darius and I do what we do and hold current temple recommends and know everything that was said in the past and still support The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? And basically it’s because we don’t believe in the infallibility of prophets. . . .
I’ve had to just kind of pinch my nose as I read through the terrible things that have been said by past leaders of the Church. Understanding the damage that they’ve done and the damage that they continue to do. . . .
The way I see it, it’s kind of like when the Salt Lake Temple was constructed on the foundation of sandstone that simply was not adequate to hold up. And the instructions came down, “tear it down! It’s got to come down. Tear it down so that you can build it on something that will last.” And so all of that work had to be completely torn apart and the temple started again. (Listen to full interview)
As we move into the 21st century, past positions of the Church and statements by our sustained leaders have come under heavy attack from within the Church. We believe this new history has gone unchecked long enough. FairMormon, in contrast, has the following statement published on their website:
We should be forgiving of past prophets who we today would perceive as being “racists,” or otherwise unsophisticated when compared to the present day. Lest we judge harshly, we ought to consider that even the Savior himself spoke of “outsiders” using language that we today would consider grossly offensive (Matthew 15:26). . . . Prophets in all dispensations have been “men of their times,” who were raised with certain beliefs and interacted all their lives with others who shared those beliefs. . . .
From our perspective as “enlightened” people of the early twenty-first century, virtually everyone in America up until the last few decades — prophets and other LDS leaders included — held beliefs that we could now consider racist. But that was the culture of the times, and we, like the rest of society, have progressed (line upon line, precept upon precept, see 2 Nephi 28:30) to become better people in this respect, more tolerant, more accepting.
Fifty years from now, people will probably look back at our time and say, “How could they have been so bigoted?” Or, “How could they have missed issue X, which seems so clear to us now, in retrospect?“
The key point here is that the Lord works with the people who are available.7
Was the Son of God racist? Are we sure we wish to cast the statements of Presidents of the Church behind our backs and . . . under our feet?
Are there answers?
The historians mentioned above are a small sampling of this new movement within the Church but they are prominent and well-respected. Bushman and Barney, for example, were two of the recent authors of the new book, A Reason for Faith. According to the editor, Laura Hales, A Reason for Faith was published as a companion to the recent Gospel Topic essays on LDS.org and features scholarship from some of the best experts within the Church on these topics.
Let people know, we don’t have definitive answers. We had a really hard time finding a title for this book. We had to have some help, but one thing that every single author was insistent on was that the words “truth” and “answers” did not appear in the title, because these chapters are open ended. They’re meant to summarize the best scholarship. It doesn’t, I mean, there’s countering scholarship and that’s sometimes listed in the extra resources. But it’s a good solid basis for someone like me who had nothing, not a drop of oil in their lamp. (Laura Hales & Contributors (A Reason for Faith)–Benchmark Books, 5/11/16)
We appreciate Laura Hales’ commentary because it is an honest statement regarding this new scholarship. The “reconstructed narrative” does not provide answers. The research and conclusions change dramatically over time. This will be the case with any committee of scholars defining history and doctrine. Contrast this new perspective with the Son of God’s declaration to Nicodemus.
Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. (John 3:11)
People who “do know” and “have seen” have answers. If we do not have answers today, have we really progressed? (2 Timothy 3:7) These are questions each person must answer for his or her self.
When held against primary sources, credible history and the scriptures, does the “reconstructed narrative” promoted by Bushman, Barney, Young, Prince and many other LDS scholars hold up? LDS Answers is determined to tackle the “tough questions” regarding LDS Church history and doctrine. However, our approach will differ from many of these historians. We will stand by the traditional perspective taught and advocated by the Prophet Joseph Smith, Presidents Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, Ezra Taft Benson and many others.
In the upcoming months, we will release articles, papers, videos and podcasts delving into the most troublesome issues in Church history and the difficult questions regarding Church doctrine. We do not believe the “reconstructed narrative”, promoted in books like Rough Stone Rolling, is the solution to instill faith and we’ll talk about why! We will not shy away from anything including the following questions:
- Did Joseph Smith marry a 14-year-old girl?
- Was Joseph Smith involved in the occult?
- Why did Joseph Smith engage in polyandry?
- Has the history of some of the most renowned miracles in Church history been exaggerated or even subject to fabrication?
- Does DNA prove the Book of Mormon is false?
- What about the Book of Abraham?
- Why was Joseph Smith a Freemason?
- What did President Brigham Young think about women?
- And so much more!
The exciting news is, there are REAL answers to all of the tough questions!
While LDS Answers is committed to the traditional perspective of LDS doctrine and history, we are also dedicated to discussing these issues in a civil, constructive manner. We are insistent that on this website, no one will be denounced or censured for holding an alternative viewpoint. Our desire is to engage in thoughtful dialogue with the focus of strengthening faith and building the Kingdom of God. These questions should be discussed! No one should be belittled or criticized for asking hard questions. Our desire is that LDS Answers will be a safe environment to discuss controversial issues. We believe the answers taught by the Presidents of the Church and the Revelations can withstand the test of time, but this does not mean that all sides should not be presented. We encourage anyone to comment as long as the discussion remains civil and considerate. We are excited to begin dialogue on these ideas in a respectful, constructive manner. Perhaps we can even set a precedent for it!
Are you willing to help us?
There are many thousands of men and women, returned missionaries, teens and even ecclesiastical leaders who are questioning.8 9 They are confused and looking for answers. Do you have a child who is struggling with his or her faith? Do you have a friend, a neighbor, a relative or co-worker who is abandoning the Church? We can reach them but we need your help. If you are willing to assist with research, verifying sources, engaging on social media, etc. please contact us. We want to flood the earth with the message of hope contained in the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Our desire is to strengthen faith and build the Kingdom of God.
Will you join us in this cause?
- John Dehlin and Richard Bushman, “047-051: Richard Bushman — Experiences as a Mormon Historian,” Mormon Stories, January 22, 2007, https://www.mormonstories.org/podcast/richard-bushman-and-rough-stone-rolling-part-1-experiences-as-a-mormon-historian/.
- Blake Bishop, “Richard and Claudia Bushman,” YouTube video, 00:44:40, June 12, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MA0YS8LWWX4.
- “Richard Bushman and the Fundamental Claims of Mormonism,” Sic Et Non, July 16, 2016, https://www.patheos.com/blogs/danpeterson/2016/07/richard-bushman-and-the-fundamental-claims-of-mormonism.html.
- “047: Richard Bushman Part 1 — Experiences as a Mormon Historian.” Mormon Stories. N.p., 06 June 2013. Web. 30 Sept. 2016. <http://www.mormonstories.org/richard-bushman-and-rough-stone-rolling-part-1-experiences-as-a-mormon-historian/>.
- Benson, Ezra Taft. “God’s Hand in Our Nation’s History.” BYU Speeches. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2016. <https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/ezra-taft-benson_gods-hand-nations-history/>.
- Young, Margaret. “The Future of Mormonism (the Next Five Years).” The Welcome Table. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/welcometable/2015/07/the-future-of-mormonism-the-next-five-years/>.
- “Mormonism and Racial Issues/Racial Statements by Church Leaders.” FairMormon. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2016. <http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_racial_issues/Racial_statements_by_Church_leaders>.
- Peggy Fletcher Stack, “’Trust Gap’ Hounds the Mormon Church, Research Shows,” The Salt Lake Tribune, 2017, https://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=5196148&itype=CMSID.
- Dehlin, John. “Understanding Mormon Disbelief Survey – Results and Analysis.” Mormon Stories. N.p., 12 June 2014. Web. 01 Oct. 2016. <http://www.mormonstories.org/understanding-mormon-disbelief-survey-results-and-analysis/>.
One is prompted to ask these historians, what makes the the dominant “orthodox narrative” recounted by numberless primary and firsthand sources, compiled by the above-mentioned prominent and devout Latter-Day Saints authorities (Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, Willard Richards, etc), men who were not only reporting from a research paper but who actually lived the history, false? Why are their accounts held suspect? Why is it in need of a reconstruction? Could it be that it does not line up with an alternate but preferred orthodox narrative? Namely, the orthodox anti-Mormon literature?
It’s not my intention to be critical, only to be transparent with all the perspectives. We need to know the worldview of the members of this neo-Mormon thrust who are reinterpreting history and in effect doctrine. Take Richard Bushman, he captures many of their positions pretty well. He’s made it clear that he believes Joseph Smith was flawed, possessed weak character and was flat-out wrong on many points, even the revelations. Of the translation of the Book of Abraham he stated “[Joseph Smith] was sincerely wrong about the contents of the scrolls”, the miraculous are dismissed as remnants of “black magic”, he describes the Prophet as “eclectic”, the entire message of the Restoration he insinuates was influenced by Sidney Rigdon, even supposed that the text in the Book of Mormon itself could have been gleaned from nineteenth-century Protestant material. Where do we draw the line on such reasoning? Where did he gain this perspective? In an interview, he stated, “These works [critical of Mormonism], plus this natural curiosity we, umm, about the Prophet obliged me to speculate a little bit about the inner Joseph Smith in my recent biography.”
Another way of putting it would be, that he began guessing about the “psych” and character of the Prophet Joseph Smith after being exposed to anti-Mormon tracts. Has the same old propaganda really been repeated long enough to have been given credence, repackaged and promulgated by members of the Church? Detractors of the Restored Gospel were accusing Joseph Smith of being a money-digger since he uncovered the plates and he gave us the simple undiluted facts. Why is it so hard to take him at his word?
Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, the words of all the Prophets of old have long been unpopular. That is not only often, but always the case. The laws of God do not swing on the pendulum of social whim. In the end, is it the early brethren, or us who are products of the times? I don’t see a reason to modify the account nor defraud the oracles of God to ameliorate our recently adopted societal norms. Joseph Smith certainly did not fit into his cultural mold and for standing with the Lord, not man, he was martyred. The Savior was crucified for establishing His Gospel. It was not politically correct then (Luke 12:51), it is not so now. That is not something to apologize for. The reality as I see it is, none of this “new” information is really new. The real answers behind such subjects as polyandry, the translation, masonry have all been available for those who do more than a surface investigation. All we lack in this “age of information” is people willing to offer real, truthful answers to hard questions. All the perspectives and I include these historians, need to have a voice. We’re not asking to be the solitary interpreters, in turn, we at least need to be able and willing to engage in constructive discussion. Thanks for being willing to offer all the facts that will fortify the faith!
Aaron – please tell me how you are being open to “constructive discussion” when you gas-light me with “none of this ‘new’ information is really new. The real answers behind such subjects as polyandry, the translation, masonry have all been available for those who do more than a surface investigation.” I am 42. Why am I just learning about this now? I went on a mission in ’95-’97. I didn’t know about seer stones, treasure digging or convicted of glass looking or polygamy/polyandry / 14-year-old girls/tapir’s / book of Abraham / should I go on. I was spoon feed a certain narrative – RIGHT? Can we agree on that? Please tell me this – how would I, while in seminary in early ’90’s, have known or clued into “I should research this more?” Next where would I have found that information pre-internet in small-ville Idaho. Or go back 25 years how and where would my dad have known to look deeper? In smaller-ville New Mexico. How about present day – My wife just 30 minutes ago asked me to join her and the missionaries to a neighbor for discussions. Do I say dig into mormon history – its messier than these to kids here in white shirts realize. Or what about next year when my 2nd turns 8. What do I say then? “hold on a tic bishop, lets ask my son some serious question. If this baptism thing is really important as we say and is a serious decision lets make sure this small child really understands the implications.” Do I discuss the messiness? Seems like an adult decision –
Can you really tell me the church has done well to share the full picture. They’ve never hid anything? They don’t obfuscate anything. They don’t still miss-lead. The church is the gold standard for transparency. News flash – the mormon church is not. As recent as 2005 the Deseret Morning News Church Almanac – on the cover is a picture of JS translating the BoM by candle light with the plates and his fingers tracing on them.
In short the church is anything but transparent. And you telling me and others move along there is nothing to see here is is simply copying Obi Won Kanobi.
I aslo demand that God re-write the 10 commandments. Thou shalt disrespect your Father and Mother if you want. Thou shalt go to church if you aren’t watching football or camping. Thou shalt Worship money if you want. A graven image is alright especially if it is in your skin. Thou can kill as long as it is a unborn baby. You can steal if it is from someone who has more than you and you are entitled to it. You can commit adultry especially if it is within your same gender (special rule here) and pattern your life after Hollywood. Bear false witness especially if your a politician. You can covet whatever you. This is of course a parity on the modern day depravity of our society. It is all CRAP! of course.
Positive feedback re a comment by Chuck David.
This pretend re-writing of the 10 commandments is very insightful. It shows how stupid some of the things that are now considered right and politically correct in the world are. It shows how ridiculous some of them are. For instance : Thou can kill as long as It is an unborn baby, shows how ridiculous the laws have become regards killing the unborn.
It really highlights them. It shouldn’t be needed yet through probably being conditioned and desensitised it feels almost as if it is needed.
It cuts through the rubbish the world has fed like a knife through butter.
The problem is that the church no longer REALLY has revelation at the head. And now it has been that way for a long time. So it is starting to act like all the other churches that do not have revelation.
In my faith the foreordained prophet for our time was simply cast from the church in 1972 or the promise for further revelation would have returned to the church.
I disagree that the Church no longer has revelation. Sherri Dew gave an incredible devotional talk called “Prophets Can See Around Corners.” She talks about her experiences with President Nelson. Wendy Watson Nelson wrote a book called, “The Heavens are Open.”
She shares a personal, frank, discussion with the reader about revelation in her life. Moroni 7 says, “saved.
35 And now, my beloved brethren, if this be the case that these things are true which I have spoken unto you, and God will show unto you, with power and great glory at the last bday, that they are true, and if they are true has the day of miracles ceased?
36 Or have angels ceased to appear unto the children of men? Or has he withheld the power of the Holy Ghost from them? Or will he, so long as time shall last, or the earth shall stand, or there shall be one man upon the face thereof to be saved?
37 Behold I say unto you, Nay; for it is by faith that miracles are wrought; and it is by faith that angels appear and minister unto men; wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain.
38 For no man can be saved, according to the words of Christ, save they shall have faith in his name; wherefore, if these things have ceased, then has faith ceased also; and awful is the state of man, for they are as though there had been no redemption made. I believe very strongly that we are being led by one who is very in tune and inspired of God.
“[I am] not someone who has a ‘simple faith’ where just everything is absolutely true beyond any doubt.”
Well I’m kinda left wondering about this statement. Is he saying that as far as over all truth their is none and sometimes we are wrong, or theirs no truth at all. If he goes with the latter that would be a total contradiction because he would be stating that as a truth, and if he be able to make that statement as a truth is their no chance or possibility for their to be more?
“foundation” to be torn down and completely rebuilt.
This also leaves me wondering to what kind of foundation she thinks it is that we are founded on and to what are we to be built back up on if not on such principles like Brigham Young stated which conincides with many he has stated “Our Father, the great God, is the author of the sciences, he is the great mechanic, he is the systematize of all things, he plans and devises all things, and every particle of knowledge which man has in his possession is the figt of God, whether they consider it divine, or whether it is the wisdom of man: it belongs to God, and he has bestowed it upon us, his children dwelling here upon the earth. 18:359”
I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea of Joseph being less than or just another man. It makes it sound like God just grabbed whomever he could and worked with that man clean or not clean. We learn by studying the principles in the Constituion and Declaration, and even more simplified in the 28 principles of sound government found in the 5000 Year Leap, that God works with righteousness, in being moral and virtuous and he expects his leaders likewise to be. Our Supreme Judge over this land is a God of order and this principles remain. Joseph was not just anyone, nor can we think of him just as anyone. To do would change our history and his mission would lessen in our eyes. Joseph is under attack because of who he was, what is coming, and still is our relationship with him. Why wouldn’t the adversary attack this man who has not finished his works.
President Brigham Young uttered this bold statement: “Joseph Smith holds the keys of this last dispensation, and is now engaged behind the vail in the great work of the last days. I can tell our beloved brother Christians … that no man or woman in this dispensation will ever enter into the celestial kingdom of God without the consent of Joseph Smith. From the day that the Priesthood was taken from the earth to the winding-up scene of all things, 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 with you and you with me. I cannot go there without his consent. He holds the keys of that kingdom for the last dispensation
Joseph wasn’t just another man. He had been prepared from the preexistance. Yet he was a man with all of the foibles. There has only been, and there will only be one perfect person on this earth: Jesus Christ.
Joseph Smith- prepared from the pre-existance – so says he. That is circular reasoning fallacy and appeal to authority fallacy – you know the bible is true because it says it is.
Remember the bible is not an eye witness account. It was written 2, 3, and 4 generations after the events.
This “new narrative” idea bothers me because of the extremism in the other direction. They are so motivated to reconstruct our history that they seem all too eager to discard what we have already. There is no need for that. New discoveries and interpretations needn’t supersede the old, but can add to it. I didn’t mind reading Rough Stone Rolling because it gave new insights into Joseph Smith and his family, culture, society, attitudes, and personality. It’s like getting to know him as a real person. Like living next door to President Monson. I have no problem with the fact that the prophets are also human beings, with faults and different ideas. As we explore these new things, we need to remember that the Church is true, it is led by Jesus Christ through prophets of God, the Book of Mormon is true, and that’s all that matters. Otherwise, God commands, and it is our duty to obey, and to remain true to the faith and valiant in the testimony of Christ. Too many people forgot those things and look beyond the mark.
Who’s discarding what? The only thing I see these scholars discarding is incorrect assumptions about Mormon history.
Telling those of us who believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God to “grow up” is discarding everthing. If it isn’t the word of God and the truth then the Church has no foundation no legitimate reason to exist. It is no better than the other made up religions. If the Book of Mormon is not truth but allegory the only premise left is that Joseph Mith made everything up. That would be the Book of Mormon, the revelations, John the Baptist restoring the Aaronic Priesthood, Even, and especially, the First Vision. If these things are allegorical i.e. figments of Joseph Smith’s imagination then Joseph Smith is not the Prophet of the Restoration he is one of the most vile frauds in human history. You cannot believe both.
“Telling those of us who believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God to ‘grow up’ is discarding ever[y]thing.” It’s not though. It’s unquestionably arrogant and not a view that I subscribe to, but let’s not be hyperbolic.
“If the Book of Mormon is not truth but allegory the only premise left is that Joseph [made] made everything up.” But that’s not the only premise left. The Good Samaritan didn’t “actually happen,” but that doesn’t change its power. And there are so many assumptions in your statement. Why does allegorical mean it has to be a fraud? Why does it mean that everything that followed was a fraud? Why does allegorical scripture mean that Joseph was not a prophet?
“You cannot believe both.” Except that there are people who do, and who will continue to do so even when others insist that they cannot.
Your analogy to comparing the historicity of the Book of Mormon with the parable of the Good Samaritan just doesn’t work. The Lord never said there was a “good Samaritan”, everyone there knew it was a parable. The Lord didn’t go on and on about how he had seen the Good Samaritan in vision, and he had the Good Samaritan appearing to him and this was the land where the Good Samaritan lived, and etc. etc. etc. Your position accuses Joseph Smith of perjury, falsification and deceitfulness. I’ve never read anyone, after reading the Book of Mormon, who came away with the initial perception that it was meant as a parable. Have you?
“The Lord never said there was a ‘good Samaritan,’ everyone there knew it was a parable.” Alright, how about Job and Jonah?
“Your position accuses Joseph Smith of perjury, falsification and deceitfulness.” It’s not my position. Did you read this thread? If you want an answer as to how someone fits an allegorical Book of Mormon with Joseph’s claims, you’ll have to ask someone who believes in an allegorical Book of Mormon.
“I’ve never read anyone, after reading the Book of Mormon, who came away with the initial perception that it was meant as a parable. Have you?” Not to my knowledge, but I don’t generally interrogate my fellow believers on their position on Book of Mormon historicity. Also, initial perceptions aren’t in general the greatest proof of something.
Emendation to my previous comment. You wrote, “Telling those of us who believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God to ‘grow up’ is discarding ever[y]thing.” Prince isn’t telling anybody that the Book of Mormon isn’t the word of God, he’s saying that historicity isn’t, in his opinion, a hill worth dying on. That’s his prerogative. As I said, it’s arrogant to talk the way he did and I don’t agree with his position, but to equate his position with somehow insisting the Book of Mormon is not the word of God is disingenuous.
Saying there never was a Nephi, there never was a Moroni, there never was a Mormon, there never was a Hill Cumorah, there never was a Zarahemla, is not an attack on the Book of Mormon being the word of God to you?
In other words, the following statements from the Title Page of the Book of Mormon are essentially, a misrepresentation?
Please remember that Joseph Smith taught that the title-page was part of the original text. (History of the Church 1:71)
You are saying it is not an attack on the Book of Mormon being the word of God to say that all of the genealogies and statements about history regarding the Book of Mormon are fabrications? I guess I can’t quite comprehend your viewpoint.
So, per your statement when Bushman tells those who believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God and was translated by the inspiration and authority of Go, to “groe up”. He says that Moroni, Mormon, Nephi et al are allegories. That means that 5 they are made up out of Joseph Smith’s imagination. In other words he lied. If Joseph Smith lied about the Book of Mormon then he lied. He lied about the First Vision, the restoration of both priesthoods, anout the revelations. If you state that the Book of Mormon is an allegory then you have to doubt anything else that Joseph Smith said.was from God. This isn’t a pick and choose situation. Either Joseph Smith has honedt or he was not.
Bushman hasn’t said what you’re accusing him of saying about the book of Mormon. Did you read the article?
NEVER FORGET THAT WHICH IN THE BEGINING YOU KNEW TO BE TRUE.
A word of advice True followers of Christ will one day come to a crossroad where following the letter of the LAW will violate the SPIRIT of the law. and you will have a choice to make should I be perfectly obedient to the LETTER. or should I TRUST the SPIRIT of the law which tells me to do otherwise (this is the HOLY GHOST aka your compass aka your Urim and thumim aka the right choice every time)
TRUST ME the commandments are designed this way on purpose. they are meant to get you on the path as soon as possible but doctrine is not spirituality. Doctrine is put in place to refine us, it is meant to lead us to love the lord first and to Develope Charity for our fellowmen. It is LIteraly the only reason we have commandments. As we apply the doctrine with real intent we develop Charity and a love of God because we feel Joy from doing it. his ways become our ways, HOWEVER following without real intent develops PRIDE / Self-righteousness and benefits us nothing
Don’t forget Christ himself came among his people and they KNEW HIM NOT. how can this be? think about this today? would you leave the church if overwhelming new facts came out that slandered the prophets or would you base your faith on the Fruits? can a evil tree produce good fruit ………NO can a good tree produce evil fruit …..NO? WHAT does your heart tell you? what does the HOLY GHOST TELL YOU?
Would we recognize the savior today if he came among us and condemned us for our SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS and judgment of others…. what if we held a temple recommend, wore our garments paid our tithing or held a high office in the church would we listen to his counsel or would we be offended, cast him out and crucify him.
Jesus did not go among the sinners and condemn them in their sins instead he blessed them, wiped away their tears, forgave them and healed them WHY? Isn’t it curious that he went among the members and was pretty harsh with them! surely did not they deserve the same amount of compassion that he showed the women taken in Adultery? Why?????
What lesson was he trying to teach us? why did he command us to forgive our enemies even to do good to those who seek to destroy us but he whipped the money exchangers out of the temple WHY??
Why do we worship GOD at all? Is it out of FEAR? is it because of the Proof or Facts you have seen? do we simply follow him blindly out of ignorance? OR DO WE follow him because we LOVE him. (is it even possible to love him without ever physically meeting him)
In order to truly LOVE GOD you will have to one-day question everything . even Peter denied the christ three times and wept bitterly. but he came back WHY did he come BACK?
For me personally, I Love the Lord because I know his capacity to love is greater than mine and I know he will never stop loving me even when at times I stop loving him. Let us be more Forgiving of those who gave there lives in the search of truth. and you might be surprised how well they endured the trials in there day and how pure in heart they were.
This is such an important subject. Interesting that Pres. Benson mentioned this happening many years ago, and hit the nail on the head about our present “scholars” in the church. It is well to review what Pres. Benson stated:
“This humanistic emphasis on history is not confined only to secular history; there has been and continues to be attempts being made to bring this philosophy into our own Church history. Again the emphasis is to underplay revelation and God’s intervention in significant events and to inordinately humanize the prophets of God so that their human frailties become more apparent than their spiritual qualities. It is a state of mind and spirit characterized by one history buff, who asked: “Do you believe the Church has arrived at a sufficient state of maturity where we can begin to tell our real story?”
Inferred in that question is the accusation that the Church has not been telling the truth.
Unfortunately, too many of those who have been intellectually gifted become so imbued with criticism that they become disaffected spiritually.
Some of these have attempted to reinterpret Joseph Smith and his revelations; they offer what they call a psychological interpretation of his motives and actions.”
These historians obviously do not have testimonies of the scriptures or the Prophets. As Pres. Benson notes, they have become “disaffected spiritually,” and they even admit to that!
Humanists have always sought to criticize admirable men in history, including the Founding Fathers, I believe, in order to justify their own failings. And now within the Church, historians are attempting to do the same as they “underplay revelation” and “humanize the prophets of God,” probably for the same reason. “But those who cry transgression do it because they are the servants of sin, and are the children of disobedience themselves.” (D&C 121:17)
These church historians who are trying to “reconstruct our church narrative” can only be described as “Ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:17)
It is my “simple faith” that the scriptures are the infallible word of God, as are the words of our Prophets when they speak for the Lord. I know these things, “…not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth…But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are folishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (! Cor. 2:13-14).
Amen and Amen to Margaret’s words.
“It is my ‘simple faith’ that the scriptures are the infallible word of God, as are the words of our Prophets when they speak for the Lord.” But that’s not what Mormons believe. Neither the scriptures nor the prophets are infallible. It’s not fair to accuse Mormon scholars of not being faithful when the standard you are holding them to doesn’t exist.
I agree that the prophets are fallible men. As to the scriptures: are you saying that when God gives scripture He is fallible? Any waffling about the scriptures is acvusing God of not knowing what he is talking about.
“As to the scriptures: are you saying that when God gives scripture He is fallible?” Absolutely not. But the prophets He reveals scripture through certainly are, and any who interpret scripture are as well. Hence, the scriptures are not infallible.
So for you, some of the statements by Presidents of the Church in regard to scripture are essentially in error? If so, please give a specific example. Two or three examples would be even better.
For example, the question of April 6th, 1 B.C., being Christ’s birth date. We now know that the first few verses in Section 20 was not part of the original revelation and was added later by John Whitmer, and that the verse’s expression of the date was a poetic phrasing common at the time (Whitmer used it in his journal, for example). This is further born out by a lack of identification of April 6th as Christ’s birth by the first two generation of Church leaders, as the first reference to the idea doesn’t appear until the very end of the 19th century. Opinions among the General Authorities have been divided as well. As every claim about this date has ultimately drawn on D&C 20:1 as proof, knowing the history of how the text was composed helps us assess the veracity of its use as proof for an April 6, 1 B.C. birthdate for Christ.
One of my favorite talks in General Conference was by Elder Ballard. He gave us great counsel to follow. He asks us “To whom shall we go”?
Who are we going to seek to learn the doctrine of Christ? Who are we going to seek to understand the restoration better? Are we going to seek the doctrine through the scriptures, through the words of the prophets of the restoration and through the Gift of the Holy Ghost? Are we going to read first hand accounts like Joseph Smith’s own mother? Will we seek to understand Church History through the first and second witnesses like Brigham Young and John Taylor both of whom knew and loved the Prophet Joseph Smith??
Or will we seek the learned man who is not a first hand witness to the life and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. Will we seek understanding from those who wish to alter the history of the church for the sake of appealing to the world’s standards? Will we seek men of worldly understanding who seek the praises of academics?
Elder Ballard said:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
“And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”4
In that moment, when others focused on what they could not accept, the Apostles chose to focus on what they did believe and know, and as a result, they remained with Christ.
Many would say I am of the majority of Latter-day Saints who believe blindly. I’ve never had a real desire to understand the “real narrative” of the LDS church. I’m comfortable relying on the many witnesses I’ve received from many sources that I trust as the foundation of my testimony of the truthfulness of the Gospel, especially those of the Holy Ghost.
With that said, it seems evident, listening to and reading from our current church leaders, that it may be important to understand the questions, concerns, and opposition, too. I’ve always believed that our prophets and apostles speak more for the day to come (the near future), rather than for our day. As I listen to them, I hear them say (in other words), to fortify our testimonies and strengthen our faith—even understand how to respond to these tough questions and concerns.
Are my experiences with the Spirit not enough? Must I understand the opposing view in order to safeguard my testimony? I don’t know. Perhaps yes. Perhaps for my children. I’m not sure, but I’m grateful for this resource and look forward to future posts and discussion to help me wade through, what I frankly do not have any desire to wad through. Gratefully, – Peter
Did you read and pray about the Book of Mormon and gotten an answer? Have you ever read and studied scripture prayerfully and felt the still small voice as confirmation? Have you ever taken any concern to God and received an answer of any kind? These are afgirmations from God that He exists, that he loves you, that you are important to Him. These are proofs of God. If he gives you proof in some things and then asks you to take his word in others that is not blind faith. That is reasoned faith in our God who has given us ways to prove him in some things.
I read Rough Stone Rolling and didn’t see much new history I wasn’t already familiar with, just knew interpretations of history according to one’s cultural viewpoint. Often, I feel scholars draw their own conclusions based off their own experience. Perhaps Bushman makes the statements he does because he is still looking at Joseph Smith’s history from a Harvard viewpoint. I already knew the facts he presented about Joseph Smith Sr. and never felt to believe he had anything that would be a cause for ‘a life of shame’.
With so much research, I conclude we can only know by testimony God gives us – not by our interpretations of history. Are there facts, yes. Were Joseph Smith and others perfect, no. Often history is studied hoping to vindicate one’s beliefs by their own perceptions of right and wrong shaped by a modern cultural viewpoint – which, is highly flawed.
We need not be threatened by ‘new’ history.
I’ve shared this article on Facebook, and seen several of my family members comment there and re-share it. We read it and then discuss how often we see the same sort of, I’ll call it “arrogance”, among many of our LDS friends and family.
One the one hand, it shouldn’t surprise us–it follows perfectly the pattern laid out in the Book of Mormon (which is truly a parallel for our own latter-day Promised Land), and it has been prophesied repeatedly. But on the other hand, we are baffled at the audacity of so many who are learned and “think they are wise”–wiser than God-inspired and revelation-led prophets of God, or even wiser than Jesus himself.
I must admit I’ve been tempted by the line of reasoning a time or two myself with some of the policies (NOT doctrine, just policies), so to some extent I can empathize (Is it REALLY such a big deal to have beards at BYU?), but ultimately it always comes back to me being bitter or selfish or arrogant, and as I let go of my own bias or anger and humble myself, I find peace in accepting the inspired counsel of prophets and apostles. Why continue to choose the path of anger and hate?
As David just pointed out, “We are baffled at the audacity of so many who are learned and ‘think they are wise” –that these intellectuals would want to re-write the inspired words of our prophets or the history of the Church, it would take real arrogance, in my way of thinking, to try to do either of these two things.
I must have missed something. No historian is “re-writ[ing] the inspired words of our prophets or the history of the Church.” No one has produced new scripture outside of the Church or corrected its current scripture. Assimilating the new documents and sources that have come in recent decades about early Church history is not an anti-Mormon scheme, though it certainly has been adopted by some anti-Mormons. Good thing we have faithful LDS scholars who can defend the Church if the need arises.
Yes, you did miss something. Please see my comment below to see what you missed in regard to the rewriting of history.
Just sift through the comments across the Internet. Any time, a prophet statement or a scripture is quoted on any controversial subject the reply consists of a logic chain.
1) We can dismiss that statement by that prophet because anything prophets say are merely their opinions and even more, have historically been found lacking. In other words, they were all just products of their time.
2) We know they are merely opinions and products of the time because the prophets and scriptures were all wrong on race.
3) Because the prophets and scriptures have been wrong on race, they have also been wrong on Darwinism, Feminism, LGBT rights, the historicity of the Book of Mormon, the founding of America and whatever else suits the agenda of the moment.
4) In other words, whatever is politically correct is true, whatever is prophetically correct is a mistake.
This is a logic chain I have seen employed, though your description is a caricature. And note that Bushman does not employ this logic. His work is limited to a cultural biography of Joseph Smith; I am unaware of his position on the other subjects you list. Furthermore, nothing in this logic train, however faulty, consists of “rewriting history.” Most of the time it’s knowledge of history that drives such concerns.
Bushman has actually elaborated on some of his positions.
Could perchance this logic train be the whole point of “reconstructed” history? Bringing obscure information to light does not cause people to take issue with Bushman and these scholars work. It is the narrative’s attempt to take Joseph Smith’s personal character off this imaginary “pedestal.” Apparently, he had not only a minor overabundance of joviality but serious drawbacks of character. Doesn’t that leave room to discard the doctrine we disagree with? While we should never follow blindly, we sustain honorable men do we not? God works through righteousness, doesn’t He? Are what we characterize as flaws really flaws? When we begin to refer to Joseph’s polygamy as “egregious transgression” and even hint at “The possibility of an imaginary revelation, erupting from his own heart and subconscious mind” where will we stop? Was he wrong on the Book of Abraham, the King Follet discourse and on and on? What happens if our foundational moorings were correct and we abandon them. What then?
All important questions, and one’s I don’t have answers to, at least on an institutional level (though I think priority should be given to the witness of the Spirit, obviously). However, it seems clear that the answer is not to resort to prophetic infallibility, whether called as such or functionally. After all, as the questioner asked, what do you do with things that Brigham Young taught that the Church has discarded? Someone can be honorable and still make mistakes. Someone can be righteous and still make mistakes.
I fall in with President Joseph Fielding Smith when he said, “President Brigham Young was thoroughly acquainted with the doctrine of the Church.” We should be cautious about what we dismiss outright as a mistake. Are we certain we really understand the whole picture here? The broad vista of eternity is yet to be opened to our understanding. As Hugh McKail has noted, we shouldn’t judge rashly, there is to much room to step back and say, “well since the Prophets were wrong on all the above, they were wrong about the Constitution or the consequences of adultery or perhaps abortion.” Where do we draw the line? If we keep stepping back and stepping back some will be led to conclude that since prophets must not really prophets and only have opinions, therefore my sins aren’t really sins either. Brigham holds the mantle as the second President of the Church in this dispensation, he is an essential link in a critical juncture. I believe you would agree with me that President Young does not merit any of the hostile labels that have been thrust upon him.We as Latter-Day Saints should extol and stand by the good character and teachings of Joseph, Brigham and all the great prophets down through the ages.
“We should be cautious about what we dismiss outright as a mistake.” Agreed. But that doesn’t mean we don’t dismiss mistakes. President Kimball and Elder McConkie were crystal clear on the status of Brigham Young’s Adam-God teachings.
“We shouldn’t judge rashly, there is to[o] much room to step back and say, ‘well since the Prophets were wrong on all the above, they were wrong about the Constitution or the consequences of adultery or perhaps abortion.’ Where do we draw the line?” As I said, I don’t have an answer for this question, at least not on an institutional level. This is where the guidance of the Spirit is requisite for every member. What I do know is that prophetic infallibility, whether explicitly called that or not, is not the answer to this question. Being cautious about where to draw the line doesn’t mean we simply accept that there was never a mistake. On the contrary, modern prophets and apostles have both implicitly and explicitly acknowledged that there have been mistakes.
“If we keep stepping back and stepping back some will be led to conclude that since prophets must not really [be] prophets and only have opinions, therefore my sins aren’t really sins either.” That may be a possibility. But an equal possibility that already happens is people say “Joseph Smith/Brigham Young/Orson Pratt/pick-your-early-Church-figure wasn’t as spotless as I was told they were in church, therefore prophets must not really be prophets and my sins aren’t really sins either.” We can acknowledge mistakes and flaws without succumbing to either extreme.
Contrast such a perception with Joseph’s words on the matter, “Any man may believe Jesus Christ is good & be happy in it & yet not obey his commands & at last be cut down by his righteous commandmends A man of God should be endowed with all wisdom knowledge & understanding in order to teach & lead people, The blind may lead the blind & both fall into the deatch together; (Joseph Smith)”
If I am understanding correctly, these scholars desire to tear down the foundation of the Church and rebuild it on a different foundation. But why seek to destroy, or change something that has brought so much truth, strength and peace to so many people? I have been blessed through my membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. There are blessings that we have all received through the truths that were given to us through Joseph Smith. God chose him to do this work. And our scriptures illustrate that God never chooses wicked men to do His work. It seems a little strange that we feel that we can change something that God ordained. I will continue to follow our living prophets and those who have gone before, especially Joseph Smith. We can see the fruits of their labors, and they are good.
My curiosity is that if these people wanr to completely change the LDS Church why havent they removed their names from the rolls and started a different church. Wouldn’t it be more honest to establish the type of church that they want instead of trying to destroy and remake, in their own image, the church that I believe in and love. Can you spell “wolves in sheep’s clothing?”
“My curiosity is that if these people wan[t] to completely change the LDS Church why haven[‘]t they removed their names from the rolls and started a different church[?]” Because they don’t want to “completely change the LDS Church.” Disagreeing with historically inaccurate aspects of a narrative is not apostasy.
It’s important to note, by posting this link my intent is to not say any more than I’m saying. My intentions are not to accuse any of these scholars or historians or anyone on these discussions. I just think it is important that we all have a correct understanding of apostasy is and what it really means. If a different interpretation of history encourages a new interpretation of doctrine all I’m saying is we should be extremely careful.
“If a different interpretation of history encourages a new interpretation of doctrine all I’m saying is we should be extremely careful.” Where is this happening, though? And if it is happening, what if the original interpretation of doctrine was incorrect because it was based on faulty historical knowledge? What then?
The progressives would like to see the view of Darwinism changed from what the Presidents of the Church and scriptures teach to what they now conceive of as “facts.” Progressives would also like to see the noble character of Joseph Smith taught by all the former leaders, which included the Prophet as next to Jesus Christ in station, honor and virtue changed to a Richard Bushman treasure seeking, magic dabbling, temper driven character effaced common Joe. Progressives aim to change the position of the Church on Socialism as well. Marxism was once considered anti-Gospel and now flaunted. Additionally, progressives question the scriptures on race, polygamy, feminism and the now becoming more popular LGBT issues. Every person needs to decide for his or her self whether the revelations are the word of God or the word of men. We have moved from what was viewed as heretical not many years ago to what “intellectuals” would like to be mainstream in the near future. In a few words the agenda is to turn darkness to light and light to darkness.
You talk about “the progressives,” but not with any specificity. I’m sure there are those out there who fit your characterization, but this conversation concerns the LDS scholars named in the article, not anyone you can find on the internet who has a bone to pick with the Church and its teachings.
“If I am understanding correctly, these scholars desire to tear down the foundation of the Church and rebuild it on a different foundation.” You’re not understanding correctly. That is not the intent of most LDS scholars. I’m sure you can find some, certainly, but brothers like Richard Bushman are not them.
“f I am understanding correctly, these scholars desire to tear down the foundation of the Church and rebuild it on a different foundation.” I’m not sure where this idea is in the scriptures. The Lord uses all kinds of people in His work. Cyrus, the Assyrians, Christopher Columbus, the Babylonians, the Lamanites, are just a few of the examples.
“It seems a little strange that we feel that we can change something that God ordained. ” Not sure what this is in reference to. Who is changing what God has ordained? In this context, what is it that God has ordained?
“We know the Apostasy occurred in part because the philosophies of men were elevated over Christ’s basic, essential doctrine. Instead of the simplicity of the Savior’s message being taught, many plain and precious truths were changed or lost. In fact, Christianity adopted some Greek philosophical traditions to reconcile people’s beliefs with their existing culture.”-Valiant in the Testimony of Jesus, By Elder Quentin L. Cook, October 2016 General Conference
This is what it sounds like is happening here with these LDS scholars. His (Christ’s) church cannot be changing according to whichever world view is happening at the time or place.
I must admit that I am at a loss as to what you are referencing when you say that these LDS scholars are “elevat[ing the philosophies of men] over Christ’s basic, essential doctrine.” None of the scholars in this post are disagreeing with faith, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, or enduring to the end. That accusation is a wildly unfair assessment of their spiritual state with no provided evidence.
I believe one of Christ’s essential doctrines Elizabeth is referring to includes what Christ called the first and great commandment, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.” (Luke 10:27) Therefore it follows, “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” (John 14:21) So what does this have to do with history? Take the character of Joseph Smith, how could God manifest Himself to the Prophet save by his love and credence to the commandments of the Savior? If he had flaws, he covered them in the first page of Church History. He believed he had been too jovial, the rest of his small count of mistakes are rehearsed by the Lord Himself in the Doctrine and Covenants. As for malignant sins, “A disposition to commit such was never in [his] nature.” So was he lying? The new interpretation of history seems to suggest so. However, this is likely because he did not coincide with the “philosophies of men” or modern political correctness.
Another example could be concerning revelation and the translation. What is considered “supernatural” isn’t very popular today. One theory to alleviate our feelings toward seerstones and angelic manifestations could be that God was melding His law with the primitive superstition of magic to grow Joseph into the Prophet he needed right? However, the scriptures are very clear on God’s view and the commandments He has given concerning the occult, diviners and mediums (Acts 8:9-13, Isaiah 8:19, Deuteronomy 18:9-14, Leviticus 19:31 to name only a few). The Lord’s words are very serious in this regard, why would He continue to work with such a rebellious figure if, “Remnants of the magical culture stayed with [Joseph] to the end.” Richard Bushman’s view in this regard is, “Magic should not be thought of as always demonic any more than many other ways of dealing with the supernatural… I see nothing inconsistent in the idea that magic was a step toward Joseph’s use of the seerstone.” That is his worldview and if it suits him so be it, I’m not going to make an estimate on the convictions of these historians, that is for them to announce.
As for myself, since nowhere can one deduce Biblically that magic is preparatory to revelation, I would submit that it is the counterfeit to God’s law on this point and thus condemned. To suggest Joseph Smith and his family, Christ-fearing humble farmers, were involved in such practices because his mother insisted they were not, to me, is a wildly unfair assessment with no evidence provided. If someone chooses to believe that, then so be it, but we need to be honest with all the history and our views in that regard. We as a people need to be shown all the accounts and be allowed to determine the truth behind them for ourselves, not just reconstruct it as matter-of-fact.
The book “Early Mormonism and the Magic World View” has the actual references and information about the early uses of magic and the treasure quest. It was written by a believing LDS scholar who was then excommunicated but still believes. Talk about a Galileo moment for the church. If a historian is wrong, show him where he’s wrong by pulling out actual sources to compete with his sources. Don’t ex him!
Actually, the grounds of apostasy Michael Quinn was excommunicated on was described as “very sensitive and highly confidential” but not so much anymore though, since he is now openly living as a homosexual. If we wanted to show where he was wrong we could merely pull out his own sources. Both Latter-Day Saint and non-Mormon scholars alike have criticized his book as relying too heavily on environmental folklore without a proven connection to the Prophet; the work accepts without question the contents of Philastus Hurlbut’s highly anti-Mormon affidavits published in Mormonism Unvailed by Eber D. Howe. You can read about the apostate Hurlburt’s conduct in Church History and he was excommunicated from a Methodist church later in life for the same immoral behavior. Howe was a self-proclaimed skeptic of religion in general who thought Mormonism a “delusion”. To compound that, Quinn’s core argument is unreasonable with the infamous “Salamander Letter” turning out to be (big surprise) a forgery by Mark Hoffman a counterfeiter and convicted murderer. Yet Early Mormonism and the Magic World View has prolifically filtered its way into Bushman’s book.
Defending the Prophet Joseph Smith is a huge battle-line in our day. One that we need to fight. The Savior said, “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” (Matt. 7:20)
So what are some of the fruits that we see from Richard Bushmans’s book, Rough Stone Rolling? Here is one example. This man read Bushman’s book and shares in his own words what he gathered from it:
Really? Was Joseph Smith really like that (i.e. a man who trusted the wrong people at times; was hotheaded, impulsive, and contentious; couldn’t abide personal criticism; was a lousy businessman–in short, a man with familiar human foibles)? If so, why would God choose him to bring to pass His Work? If Joseph Smith ever was like that, how completely he overcame it! If he was ever contentious and unable to abide personal criticism, how humble and submissive and patient he became in so short a time!
I’m eagerly watching for the next few articles on this site addressing the “tough questions” and am hopeful that they will be able to clear up the doubts of Joseph Smith’s character.
If any of you are interested or have doubts about Joseph Smith, please, please, PLEASE watch this BYUI Devotional by Jayson Kunzler:
“If so, why would God choose him to bring to pass His Work?” Because, in the words of Elder Holland, “Imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.” Jonah turned his back on the Lord. David committed adultery and murder. Lehi murmured. Both Almas lived riotously as youths. Judas betrayed the Savior, and the other apostles abandoned Him for a time. Peter and Paul disagreed sharply on church matters. Many of the first apostles and members of the First Presidency of this dispensation apostatized. I don’t see why Joseph Smith would be an exception to God’s pattern.
Jack of Hearts, you bring up a good argument. Let’s go through it and see what conclusions we come to.
Jonah- When he was righteous, had the power of God with him; when he fell, it left.Only repentance and strict obedience got it back.
David- When he was righteous, the power of God was with him; when he fell, it left.
Lehi- When he was righteous, the power of God was with him; when he murmured, it left. Only repentance and obedience got it back.
Alma- Was living a wicked life-style in the courts of King Noah. Because of Abinadi’s dying testimony, Alma turned his life 180 degrees and continued to have the power of God and live righteously to the end of his life.
Alma the Younger- When he was sinning, he did not have the Lord’s power. When he repented and laid down his all for the Lord, received God’s power.
It’s simple. when we sin, we don’t have God’s power; when we choose to forsake ourselves and “give everything to know Thee” we receive His power.
Purity is power.
What many see as wrongdoing in Joseph Smith was actually obedience to God. The Prophet taught that “the devil has great power to deceive; he will so transform things as to make one gape at those who are doing the will of God.” If any hope to find a particle of evil in one so pure as Joseph Smith, they will find, as the Lord said, that “their hope shall be blasted, and their prospects shall melt away as the hoar frost melteth before the burning rays of the rising sun.”(D&C 121:11.) Any evil they think they may find in Joseph Smith—no matter how widely believed—will be a lie, for he was righteous and pure.(quoted in Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Lengthened Shadow of the Hand of God,” Ensign, May 1987, 54. See also John Taylor, Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: John Taylor (2001) As President John Taylor testified:
Some are attracted to writings that point out some perceived character flaw in the Prophet Joseph Smith because they think it will make them feel better about their own flaws or sins. Brothers and sisters, it is Satan who wants us to feel at ease about our sins; God, on the other hand, wants us to repent of them. Dwelling on the faults of anyone—especially assumed faults of the Lord’s anointed—only leads to destruction. Remember, in the scriptures it is the devil, called a “liar from the beginning,” who is described as “the accuser of [the] brethren…which accused them before our God day and night.” But Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum “have overcome [their accuser] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; for they loved not their own lives, but kept the testimony even unto death.”
Alright then, but the quotation you highlighted isn’t about sin, it’s about personal flaws. We all have them. “Trust[ing] the wrong people at times” doesn’t make one unworthy of the Spirit or unrighteous. It’s just a mistake. I fail to see how someone can rationalize their adultery with the excuse that “Joseph Smith was a lousy businessman!” The foibles of the prophets are not comparable to intentional sinning, and discussing them doesn’t make that any less true.
Jack of Hearts,
If personal flaws are not sins, what are they? Isn’t this is life (& Plan of Salvation) all about overcoming “personal flaws” through the “Blood of the Lamb”? How can we become perfect as we are commanded to be (see 3 Nephi 12:48, Matthew 5:48) and still have “personal flaws”?
Yes Elsie! The purpose of the plan of salvation is to become perfect. To quote Ether 12:27: “if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”
To say that Joseph’s “foibles” (or anyone’s foibles) should be accepted and condoned is to contradict the purpose of the plan: making our weak things strong. I find it difficult to believe that a man like Joseph Smith failed to follow the plan he himself restored knowledge of: humbling himself before the Lord and allowing the Lord to make his “weak things strong.” We know that Joseph humbled himself and repented multiple times–such as repenting in his bedroom, which brought about the visitation by the Angel Moroni, or the lost 116 pages, where Joseph repented of trusting the arm of flesh more than the arm of God. Note that in the last case, Joseph lost his ability to be the Lord’s instrument for a time, due to merely asking the Lord three times if Martin Harris could take the manuscript. If Joseph was committing the sins that he is accused of in ‘Rough Stone Rolling’ (dabbling in magic, treasure-hunting, being hot-headed, contentious, etc.) he would have no longer been a clean instrument that the Lord could work through. If he is a prophet only when acting as such, then it follows that if Joseph didn’t act like a prophet he would not be a prophet. “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.”- D&C 133:5
I think today we are beginning to see the truth in D&C 122:1-4: “The ends of the earth shall inquire after thy name, and fools shall have thee in derision, and hell shall rage against thee; While the pure in heart, and the wise, and the noble, and the virtuous, shall seek counsel, and authority, and blessings constantly from under thy hand… thy voice shall be more terrible in the midst of thine enemies than the fierce lion, because of thy righteousness; and thy God shall stand by thee forever and ever.” The scripture Elsie shared earlier gives the Lord’s opinion on Joseph’s personal righteousness: D&C 121:11 “And they who do charge thee with transgression, their hope shall be blasted, and their prospects shall melt away as the hoar frost melteth before the burning rays of the rising sun.”
Here is the danger of ‘accepting’ Joseph’s ‘foibles’: why should the pure in heart, wise, noble, and virtuous seek counsel, authority, and blessings from under the hand of a man who was not pure, wise, noble, and virtuous?
This is not to say that Joseph was exempt from human foibles, weakness, and mistakes; this is to recognize what Joseph became: a pure, wise, noble, virtuous servant of the Lord that “God shall stand by forever and ever.” (D&C 122:4)
“If personal flaws are not sins, what are they?” Um, personal flaws? The Church defines sin as “to willfully disobey God’s commandments or to fail to act righteously despite a knowledge of the truth.” Trusting someone too much or being bad at business are thus not sins, they’re just, well, personal flaws. Or mistakes, I guess. I’m not really particular about the word used, so long as it’s not sin.
“Isn’t this life (& Plan of Salvation) all about overcoming personal flaws through the blood of the Lamb? How can we become perfect as we are commanded to be (see 3 Nephi 12:48, Matthew 5:48) and still have personal flaws?” Yep. And that’s something we’re all working toward with the help of the Savior. Personally, I don’t think personal flaws will persist when we are finally perfect. But they are a feature of our mortality, and Joseph Smith was no exception.
Some are attracted to writings that point out some perceived character flaw in the Prophet Joseph Smith because they think it will make them feel better about their own flaws or sins. Brothers and sisters, it is Satan who wants us to feel at ease about our sins; God, on the other hand, wants us to repent of them. Dwelling on the faults of anyone—especially assumed faults of the Lord’s anointed—only leads to destruction.
Elsie has pointed out the heart of the issue. I would like to add the testimony of Neil L. Anderson:
“To questions about Joseph’s character, we might share the words of thousands who knew him personally and who gave their lives for the work he helped establish. John Taylor, who was shot four times by the mob that killed Joseph, would later declare: “I testify before God, angels, and men, that [Joseph] was a good, honorable, [and] virtuous man— … [and] that his private and public character was unimpeachable—and that he lived and died as a man of God.”
Such a statement made in general conference should be the last word on the subject. We need to focus not on the mistakes Joseph made but on who he became–a “good, honorable, virtuous man [whose] private and public character was unimpeachable; a man of God”
Joseph Smith-Neil L. Anderson
As this article explains: “Many tout Rough Stone Rolling and Richard Bushman’s new history as an aid to faith in crisis. Could this new history lead to, rather than help, a crisis in faith?”
I had an experience recently that verifies this is happening. I was visiting a cousin when I noticed she had Richard Bushman’s book, Rough Stone Rolling, on her bookshelf. She explained that her returned missionary son, who has left the Church, gave her the book and wanted her to read it, so she would understand why he had left the Church. I wonder how many individuals have had Rough Stone Rolling affect them like this? The really sad part is that this “new reconstructed narrative,” which is causing many to have faith crises, does not hold up, “when held against primary sources, credible history and the scriptures.” I am looking forward to further explanations from LDS answers, so that each of us can learn and know for ourselves that the traditional
Church history “taught and advocated by the Prophet Joseph Smith, Presidents Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Lorenzo Snow, Joseph F. Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith, Ezra Taft Benson and many others,” is true. Then as it says in John 3:11, each of us can also state:
We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. (John 3:11)
One of the big issues I have is with the top church leaders. For one they keep saying, “there are not a lot of people leaving” and maybe if you look at the church as a whole with lots of African and Brazilian converts still coming in. But on the ground here in the US it is undeniable. Not all are resigning, but I see it all over the place. From some statements of top church leaders here and their they do hint that this is an issue and always say their are answers and they even have them, but why don’t they tell us? So where are the Apostles and the First Presidency on this? If this is such an issue, should they not be in the forefront? The have allegedly written essays that do touch on issues, but seem not to really answer the questions, but give enough information framed in the best possible way so that a believer can read them and think, “I know all about that subject and I am fine.” But they DON’T know the whole history or even some really key parts. Why don’t the top brethren have faith in what they are saying and sign their names on the essays or at least talk openly about them. Instead we have other groups that are not part of the church attempting to give the answers so that the top church leaders are seen as “above that”. I don’t buy it. An unattached 3rd party would almost surely look at this situation and say that the top leaders no longer are in control of the narrative for anybody that uses google and they are trying not to look like they are panicking, but they seem like they don’t know what to do and certainly don’t have the faith just to say, “Yes – we believe XYZ – world deal with that!”
In the days when Goliath defied Israel it was a simple, young, shepherd boy who stood up and defended the God of Israel in front of the nation. I believe it is the responsibility of each and every member of the Church to defend the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what we have all covenanted to do. In the past few decades, we have bred almost a welfare dependency model where we rely upon the Church instead of God for our faith. We may be seeing the fruits of this and they are not good.
If we understand right you have a “[issue] with the top church leaders” because they’re ignoring present issues and not answering questions regarding Joseph Smith’s life and character. Here’s what we understand about this:
On people leaving the church:
These are the last days. Times are starting to get tough for the righteous and it will only go downhill from here. The question for each of us is: will we stand with the Savior, His church, and His prophets, and be valiant for the testimony of Christ, or will we be deceived by the world.
On church leadership:
The church leadership is currently teaching principles rather than hashing over little issues. They are very aware of the problems. They have recognized the slander and attacks. To answer these questions on Joseph Smith they say “doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith” and “give Brother Joseph a break”. They tell us to do our research and gain a personal testimony. They have been very active in making sure information is available through the publication of the Joseph Smith papers, etc.
The purpose of the church leadership is not to present faith-challenging material or to argue about it. The church leadership is not there to “command in all things”. They “teach us true principles and let [us] govern [ourselves].” If the church leadership simply answered every question, we would have no agency or opportunity to find truth on our own.
We’re grateful for the opportunity to search out truth, grow our testimonies, and defend the Lord’s anointed. This gives us an opportunity to be “anxiously engaged” and “[agents] to act rather than [objects] to be acted upon”. If the church leadership ground our baby food and warmed up our bottle just because we needed it done right, we would never grow up.
Nothing here is new to me. Many of the issues here I already knew before I joined the Church. There’s answers to all these questions. The question is if you have a firm testimony of the Book of Mormon. If you do – you won’t fall!
As a life long member of the church I was brought up with the dominant narrative. Imagine my surprise when I realized through the new church essays and that the narrative was not true. One only needs to review the essays and they can judge for themselves that what the church has put forth is not the way many things were in its own history. It is one thing to say that Richard Bushman editorialized a bit, but it is quite another to deny the history he has uncovered in light of the essays acknowledging many of those truths. Church leaders go one step further by instituting an inoculation initiative to introduce the true history to our youth so they will not be unaware of the issues that earlier generations were denied in the narrative they were taught.
I just found this website a couple years past the posting and find this topic even more relevant. I’ve been on a journey over the past year to really get to know my Lord and Savior like never before. It has taken me down all sorts of scriptures (even apocryphal–gasp :), ancient writings, documents, scholarly lectures, books, study, and the most prized above all, prayer.
Something that is missing in almost all sides of this issue that I have seen so far–a rarity at best, and completely absent at worst–is the necessity to take all truth to the Lord. ALL OF IT. No intermediary. I can’t tell you how many scriptures testify of this.
Perhaps as a people we are so prone to believing the narrative, that we don’t check anything anymore. If it comes from an Ensign, from the pulpit, or from the Mormon Newsroom, it is automatically gospel. That is false doctrine. Joseph Smith would agree seeing how the whole restoration relied upon him asking God directly.
I’ve spent much time in the Book of Mormon, and am surprised I have missed all the patterns. Nephi has said it well:
1 Nephi 4:
34 O Lord, I have trusted in thee, and I will trust in thee forever. I will not put my trust in the arm of flesh; for I know that cursed is he that putteth his trust in the arm of flesh. Yea, cursed is he that putteth his trust in man or maketh flesh his arm.
35 Yea, I know that God will give liberally to him that asketh. Yea, my God will give me, if I ask not amiss; therefore I will lift up my voice unto thee; yea, I will cry unto thee, my God, the rock of my righteousness. Behold, my voice shall forever ascend up unto thee, my rock and mine everlasting God. Amen.
The arm of flesh is everyone. All humankind. Prophets can and should point you to Christ, but should never act as your intermediary. That is why Nephi asked for the Lord to confirm his father’s words. Even though he respected his father, he did not take his own father’s word for any of it. Personal revelation. A personal experience with the Lord. Tbe Book of Mormon is a handbook of how to receive the Savior.
Moses led a people to a mountain to prepare them to see the Lord. They didn’t want to. They wanted Moses to receive the revelation for them because they were afraid. Patterns. They are everywhere.
So, as flawed as men are…and yes, prophets are no exception…I choose to put my trust in someone higher. And I am having to unlearn a few things along the way. But oh how much more have I gained. That also includes learning that truth will prevail in the end, and it just may not be what you thought it was. The Lord is a patient and loving teacher. I have learned that I have to ask, though, and be specific. He answers. It is beautiful.
In the end, it is all about the Savior and learning how to love and forgive like He does. Men and women are really good at mingling their views with scriptures, and you can never prove anything with a smart dissertation, reason, logic, or scripture bashing. You can find ANYTHING to support any view if you want it bad enough and look hard enough or wait long enough. The question is, are you brave enough to ask God yourself?
Intellectuals IN THE CHURCH would have their opinions forced upon us by new books and materials, but it is well to remember history never was an exact science—not that science is that exact either, but at least scientists only say they promote their theories until something better arrives—- if they are used at all, let’s commit these historians into saying humbly … “well it’s only my theory or my perception …”).
One honest eye-witness is always better than all the ink and therorising of the following generations.
I believe the Lord when he says that the wisdom of the ‘wise men’ will perish … I believe we can become prideful and self-opinionated when we feel we know better than even the least of the Lord’s humble prophets——the prophets are always ahead of their time speaking from the experience given to them by the Lord and not their own experience. thus I say .. Long live “THUS SAYETH THE LORD!”—–because I for one will always listen with open ears.
I have witnessed over and over many mamas with tears rolling down their cheeks, them sharing their heartbreak in losing their children over this topic. They send their children to seminary, or church schools only for them to be taught NOT the truth and that all was a lie. The NEW narrative they are shoving down our children’s throat is wrong! It doesn’t align up with what God has said or Joseph Smith revealed. Thank you, Thank you, for writing this and having the guts to take on the historians and to defend the truth! Bravo for the integrity you have in writing this article, and I planting the seed of action that we may all not be bystanders, but jump in and help take down this narrative, or help share the truth to help us NOT lose our children to these lies anymore.
Thank You for clarity on this matter! It seems beyound reasonable belief that others are so quick to replace teaching of prophets of the past and present. As I was raised, we follow the prophet and not well lettered scholars. Yes, they were imperfect, but truth will prevail, eventually. It is my conviction,that with all their imperfections, the characters in the book of Mormon are real.! I can not buy into such tampering such matters where is their authority.?I also believe their were reasons for serious decisions they made. We were not there. Let God prevail, not limited human understanding. Thanks much