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How do we then approach this prophet?

December 11, 2009

At the heart of every belief system is a nucleus of certainty about something or someone. As a Christian, I have faced doubts and persecutions over my faith and have recalculated all of my assumptions only to realize that I have a certainty about a Person: Jesus Christ. I am convinced that He died for me and that I have received His grace and pardon. But in the world of faith thoughts clamber in my head, and I find myself evaluating other systems and comparing them to my own and assessing their own value. At this time in my life the issue of Mormonism has utterly captured me. I deeply love and care about the Mormons that I know and when I read Mormon literature the thought goes through my head, “What if this is true?” I’ve mulled it over and considered that possibility on many occasions. And yet when I think of the nucleus of that belief system I realize that, for me, it would have to rest upon the shoulders of a man called Joseph Smith. I’m fully aware that he may not be the center—the core of the core—for LDS. But, as a Christian, when I consider the faith claims of Mormonism in comparison to Biblical Christianity, I have to admit that, for me, he is the crux. Upon him the religion sinks or stands.

And how does a person approach Joseph Smith? Numerous biographers have attempted to categorize him. Some have tried to malign him. Some have lied about him. Some have lied for him. Has anyone really captured his personality? His motivations? His beliefs about Mormonism?

In some ways I see a parallel between him and other leaders whose lives have been dramatically cut short by an early death. Abraham Lincoln and JFK were popular leaders, but would they really hold the same place of honor and admiration that they do had they not been murdered in the middle of their careers? We will never know what they might have accomplished had they lived. And in a similar way we will never know what decisions Joseph Smith would have made had he lived. How would he have approached the emigration to Utah? Would he have continued translating ancient documents? What revelations might he have had? How would he have handled his increasingly exigent personal life?

As an outsider looking in, I don’t feel wrong to have a deeply held opinion of Joseph Smith. I feel that I am honest in my conviction and have made a thorough and complete assessment of his character to the best of my ability based upon the information that I have. But I’m an outsider, and I realize that taints my perspective. I didn’t grow up in a church that reveres and loves their leader in the way that LDS do. I never sang “Praise to the Man.” I never heard stories about him in Sunday school or church. I never watched the inspirational re-makes of his First Vision. In short, I just didn’t have “good feelings” about Joseph Smith. And my distrust of Joseph Smith contaminates my perspective on him today—even if I attempt to be completely neutral in my approach to him. Absolute neutrality is an impossibility. But I also recognize that if I am unable to approach Joseph Smith in an impartial manner, surely LDS are unable to either. Certainly for the LDS who have been born into the church and have been raised upon its doctrines, the person of Joseph is very close to their hearts. Instead of the contamination of inherent distrust, they may have the contamination of inborn love and trust.

How do we then view Joseph Smith? Coming from such completely opposed thought schemas, is there anyway to have a dialogue about the man without posturing and defending, without slandering and misrepresenting? How can we candidly weigh his vices against his virtues? How many foibles is a true prophet allowed? Is it fair to compare his sins to our own? And is there a line of distrust that Mormon believers can cross which makes them no longer believers? And what happens to the nucleus of a Mormon’s belief if it were indeed resting upon the shoulders of a man? Would the core of the core remain: the hope of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world?

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40 Comments leave one →
  1. December 11, 2009 6:47 am

    Bad comparison.

    At the heart of the Evangelical’s faith is Jesus AS REVEALED via interpretation of the Bible.

    At the heart of the Mormon’s faith is Jesus AS REVEALED by Joseph Smith and modern prophets and scripture.

    But Jesus is at the center for both.

    So none of this “I worship Jesus, but YOU worship Joseph” stuff.

    It’s not Jesus vs. Joseph Smith.

    It’s traditional Bible interpretation vs. modern revelation.

    All clear now?

  2. December 11, 2009 8:37 am

    I appreciate Seth’s sentiments here. I don’t think the comparison is about Jesus vs. Joseph; rather New Testament writers vs. Joseph. If I were to take just the one writer, I’d choose, Paul maybe? How does the Jesus that Paul reveals compare with the Jesus that Joseph Smith reveals?

  3. December 11, 2009 1:59 pm

    Pretty good actually.

    See “the New Perspective on Paul.”

  4. Stephanie permalink
    December 11, 2009 3:15 pm

    Seth,

    This post didn’t have anything to do with comparing Joseph to Jesus. Personally, I think that is one of the worst comparisons possible. Joseph claimed to be a prophet, Jesus claimed to be God. Big difference there. Comparing Joseph to an Old Testament prophet would be a more accurate comparison.

    When I said that Joseph Smith was at the center of Mormonism I meant that would be how I see it. Obviously other people have a different perspective. If I became a Mormon it would have to be in the case that I was convinced that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. So the issue of Joseph Smith is vastly important to me and has nothing to do with comparing him to Jesus.

    But Jesus is at the center for both.

    I can completely understand what you are saying and it is a sentiment I have heard frequently from LDS. However, since Joseph Smith revealed certain other details about Jesus (coming to the New World, for example) I have to evaluate Smith and assess whether or not he tells the truth. I can’t claim to be impartial in my view towards Smith but neither can you or anyone else. We all have a way of viewing him and probably none of us is accurate.

  5. December 11, 2009 4:52 pm

    I would recommend reviewing the content Joseph Smith provided. The Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenents are objective products to evaluate. Trying to sort out personal righteousness is trickier.

  6. faithoffathers permalink
    December 11, 2009 5:58 pm

    I discovered the BOM at age 18 and read it with what I believe was a pretty objective viewpoint. I really had no knowledge of nor biases about Joseph Smith. I had no financial, emotional, social interests that would have made me lean one way or the other. I read it in secret, not telling another person about my venture. After reading the BOM 8 times in 6 months, I was convinced that it was true and exactly what it claimed to be. It changed everything about me and brought me to Christ. This is how I approached the issue of Joseph Smith. I am very fortunate to have had that experience without input from the chronic fault-finding critics nor the uninformed rose-glass view.

    I think it must be very difficult to complete rid one’s self of the demeaning and costic impressions that result from the typical anti-mormon material about Joseph. I have found that there are JS critics who really cannot accept anything but what they are first exposed to about him. I think it very unfortunate.

    fof

  7. December 12, 2009 12:42 am

    This ‘New Perspective on Paul’ is so last week…

    😉

  8. December 12, 2009 12:46 am

    What does that make the New Testament?

  9. Stephanie permalink
    December 12, 2009 3:53 am

    After reading the BOM 8 times in 6 months, I was convinced that it was true and exactly what it claimed to be. It changed everything about me and brought me to Christ.

    Wow, that is impressive. For some reason, FOF, I just pictured that you were born into a Mormon family. I don’t know why I was thought that. Did you get a copy of the BoM from missionaries?

    I’m not taking away from your experience, but I just wanted to comment on one aspect of your story. I went to college a year early and decided upon my career path my second semester. Sometimes I ruefully think back to that semester and laugh that I let a 17-year-old pick my major. This happens every day! High schoolers make life-altering choices about their future that will forever have an impact upon their career. I know that religion and scholastics are miles apart but I do see a similarity. People often enter the wrong career field. What they were convinced was going to be an ideal fit for them turned out to be a terrible match. This happens even when people have researched their chosen profession, spoken with academic counselors, participated in a job shadow, etc. I think I know why this happens. I think people often don’t know all the facts. For example, they may have researched pay scales, demand for the profession and potential for growth. But if a high school student doesn’t also know about the potential for stress, lay-offs, working short-staffed, workplace politics and working conditions they are unable to truly make a wise decision about the career that they decide upon. And I think that this is one of the reasons that so many people change careers. They just don’t know all of the details before signing on.

    In many ways I think it is similar with Joseph Smith. You read the BoM in a vacuum, so to say. You had nothing negative or positive to go and so you were a fairly objective reader. In many ways this is like the student who reads the college placement guides for a career in respiratory therapy. Phrases like “making a difference” and “exciting job opportunities” don’t paint the full picture of being coughed on all day, having to suction copious amounts of green crap out of ventilated patients, having to work long 12-hour shifts, etc. Is it really an “objective” perspective if all the facts are not known.

    Imagine for a moment that I knew nothing about Jim Bakker but one day I ran across a re-run of his old Praise the Lord! television show. Not having been tainted by his critics I would be very unbiased in assessing him. His show focused on Jesus Christ and offered words of encouragement and hope to people. I may be objective if I reacted positively to Jim Bakker, but I wouldn’t be informed and there is a big difference. An informed viewer would be aware of certain details — like Bakker’s confession of adultery and his pay-off to a secretary he had an affair with. They would be informed about the financial scandal that caused a shut-down of an entire “Christian” theme park / retreat. (“Christian theme park” just makes me shudder, BTW). They would have known nothing about his jail time and divorce from his wife.

    I don’t mean to try to attack your experience that you had as a young man reading the book of Mormon, but I do think that it is never wrong to re-examine one’s beliefs and to re-assess whether or not those beliefs are founded upon the whole truth.

    Stephanie

  10. faithoffathers permalink
    December 12, 2009 4:14 pm

    Stephanie,

    A distant relative sent me a copy of the BOM. It sat in my pile of things for a long time.

    I think I have told this story here before, but you ask. My life was filled with riotous living to say the least- promiscuity, crime, drug abuse. I ran away and lived separate from my family for about half of my high school years. I finished high school with a 1.92 GPA- technically I should not have graduated, but lied and slipped through. It is hard to describe the condition of my life and the depravity of my desires and priorities.

    Then I see the BOM in my room and decide to read it for some strange reason- I really had not read a book through all of high school. As I read the book, I experienced a clarity of thought and mind I had never experienced. I experienced an overwhelmingly clear impression and feeling along with this clarity that God loved me- that there was hope for me because of the atonement of Jesus Christ. I knew God was communicating to me, and I knew He knew that I understood His message to me.

    I understood with undeniable intellectual and spiritual clarity that what I was reading in this record was true- that Nephi actually existed and his testimony was true. I loved what I experienced as I read, and I continued as I said before- reading it every 3 weeks for about 6 months.

    My priorities and desires could not have changed more dramatically. I broke away from the criminals I called friends. I quit the alcoholism and drug abuse I had grown so accustomed to. I broke off all inappropriate relationships with girls. I followed the books teachings and prayed for forgiveness and tried with all my heart to live as the book taught. I experienced a joy and peace I had never had. More than anything I wanted to share what I had experienced with other people. I found the church and joined. Within two years I was on a mission- an epic experience for me!

    After returning home from the mission, I married a beautiful LDS girl, and we have 4 kids. I attended college and medical school, finishing first in my class for both. I spent 6 years in surgical residency and practice as a surgical oncologist at a major cancer center.

    I can very clearly trace everything that is good in my life to reading the Book of Mormon. I know you will dismiss this association and my testimony. But it is the most true and meaningful thing I have ever experienced. I love that book and the truth it contains. It saddens me when people buy into the criticism of the book and its manner of coming about before giving it a chance.

    I have since read it consistently over these subsequent years. I have studied extensively the arguments against it and for it over and over and over. I am absolutely convinced that it is an endless fountain of truth and priceless treasure that the predjudiced, proud, and doubtful really cannot see. I see that God literally prepared this book for our day. It has been the greatest source of peace and goodness in my life. Every time I read, I am reminded of my desperate need for the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, and reading it increases my desire to come unto Him. Reading it increases my desire to forget about myself and serve other people. It increases my love for God.

    My testimony is independent of any other person or influence on the planet. You say I read it in a “vacuum.” Wasn’t that sort of your point in this article- that it is very difficult to approach Joseph Smith objectively? I can hardly imagine a more objective approach than my experience.

    I think I have read every argument against Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon- so mine is not a poorly informed position. Yet I know as clearly and deeply that it is true as I think it is possible to know anything.

    fof

  11. Stephanie permalink
    December 12, 2009 5:06 pm

    fof,

    Thank you for sharing your testimony. It really does help me to understand your perspective better and I appreciate that. There is no doubt in my mind that an encounter with Jesus changes lives. This is the testimony of millions of Christians all over the world.

    I noticed that when you responded to this question, “how do we then approach this prophet?” you associate Joseph Smith with the BoM. I suppose everyone has their own perspective on the major works of a person’s life, but would you say that this is his crowning achievement? What about the other books that Joseph claimed to have translated, such as the Book of Abraham? What about his personal life? How do you reconcile his extensive religious practice with his marital life?

    Stephanie

  12. faithoffathers permalink
    December 12, 2009 7:42 pm

    Stephanie,

    How can we not associate Joseph with the Book of Mormon. If the BOM is what it claims to be, Joseph Smith was a prophet. There really is no other option. Would you agree?

    I would say that the greatest test or determinant as to whether Joseph was a prophet is the BOM. That is why I responded with my story.

    As far as the Book of Abraham- I am convinced it is exactly what it claims to be. There are things that can be spun to make it all look like a fraud. And there are plenty of people willing to sell those stories and angles. But the whole BOA story has sides and elements that the critics and spinsters never allude to or in 99% of the cases probably don’t even understand. The cynics’ spin is very effective, and can keep a person from knowing anything substantive about the book (sound familiar).

    As far as Joseph’s personal life and marriage- I take it you are alluding to plural marriage, etc. While I do not claim to understand everything, I do know enough to balance it all out. I know God does not spell everything out for us- following Him will always requires faith.

    Anything of a intimate nature- like plural marriage is easy to caricaturize. It is easy to make a guy like Joseph Smith look bad if you focus on only certain facts or perceptions. I believe he was a virtuous man. I believe he was commanded of God to practice plural marriage. While I don’t necessarily understand completely why God would command such a thing, I truly believe it was required of Joseph. I think it created challenges for him that those of us who never practice such a thing can hardly imagine.

    Think about some of the Old Testament prophets and things they were commanded to do- like destroy all the canaanite people including woman and children. From our “enlightened” perspective, those who followed a prophet who would reveal such commands from God should have categorically rejected that prophet.

    I am not excusing Joseph with my biblical example. I am pointing something out about the God we worship and what He expects of those who follow Him. He enlightens the minds and spirits of those who are willing to follow Him in faith so that they are able to make enough sense of things as a result of their obedience and faith. A cynic who rejects the prophet or commandment in the first place cannot receive the spiritual confirmation or perspective in the same way- it is impossible.

    fof

  13. December 12, 2009 9:30 pm

    For me, the Book of Abraham is actually one of the most compelling exhibits out there that Joseph actually was channeling the divine.

    Most of the Egyptological arguments against the book are utterly irrelevant to the issue.

  14. Stephanie permalink
    December 13, 2009 4:16 am

    FOF,

    I do agree with you about the BoM. If the BoM is true, Joseph Smith is a prophet. And I can see how you so closely associate Joseph Smith with the Book of Mormon.

    I mentioned Jim Bakker earlier and I really think that he can be used as an example of what I am trying to point out. Jim Bakker’s PTL Club television show was very popular among Christians and Bakker was revered as a leader among charismatic Evangelicals. He was one of the first “televangelists” — a name now almost synonymous with “Charlatan.” During the 70s and 80s, however, the depravity of some of these “evangelists” was not known. Did Jim Bakker talk about Jesus? Absolutely! And I’m sure he was an encouragement to the downtrodden and discouraged. But did he also preach another gospel? Yes he did. He was among the first to preach the prosperity gospel. This is the teaching that God will bless you if you give generously to whichever evangelist is asking for money. The health / wealth theology is extremely damaging and untruthful. Ask Job about the prosperity gospel and I’m sure he would have something to say on the matter. The Bible doesn’t teach that you can “name it and claim it.” God doesn’t usually reward people monetarily for their tithes and offerings! 🙂

    Here is the comparison I would like to make. Imagine that you sat down on your couch with your child and flipped to a re-run of Jim and Tammy Bakker. As Jim gave his message your child began to react very positively towards Jim. He went to his room after the show was over and began studying the Bible faithfully and watching more re-runs of Jim Bakker. He found that Mormonism didn’t jive with the teachings of Bakker’s gospel. In fact, Jim Bakker taught that giving money to his cause would result in your son being blessed beyond belief. Your child excitedly tells you about his new faith in Jesus based upon the teachings of Jim Bakker. Now, think for a minute, are you seriously not going to research Jim Bakker’s life? His multiple affairs? His prison sentence? His embezzlement of investors? I find it hard to believe that you would assess Jim Bakker upon his message alone. Since you deeply care for your child you would not want him to follow a Charlatan.

    Do you see any disconnect between how you would assess a religious leader now and how you assessed the truthfulness of a religious system in the past?

    Stephanie

    P.S. Just so you know, FOF, I always enjoy having conversations with you. 🙂

  15. December 13, 2009 7:53 am

    If it kept the kid out of jail, and teen sex relationships, and a generally crappy life, wouldn’t it be an improvement Stephanie?

  16. Stephanie permalink
    December 13, 2009 4:36 pm

    If it kept the kid out of jail, and teen sex relationships, and a generally crappy life, wouldn’t it be an improvement Stephanie?

    Yes it would be for a while. Then lets say that later on the kid finds out about all of the things that Bakker was involved in and becomes completely disillusioned. Unfortunately people who have a crisis of faith in one religion often completely abandon faith altogether. I can’t tell you how many former LDS I know that have completely left faith altogether! These are the people that hear anything negative about any faith system and will grumble, “Thats why I hate organized religion.”

  17. Stephanie permalink
    December 13, 2009 4:39 pm

    Seth,

    Are you telling me that you would not try to dissuade your child if they began following a religious leader like Jim Bakker? You would accept the position that “whatever makes him happy” must be true for him?

  18. December 13, 2009 5:44 pm

    You’re shifting the target Stephanie. Now you’re talking about “dissuading”.

    That’s not what you were talking about before.

    What you were talking about before was digging up dirt on the religious leader.

    And no, I wouldn’t be interested in doing that with Bakker.

    Because it’s flipping irrelevant to the issue at hand! And my teenager would know it. What matters is the teachings and how they impact my son or daughter. That’s where the argument should be. Trying to argue my son out of a religion based on the flaws of leadership would be an utterly misguided tactic, and would convince my son that I ultimately care less about his spiritual life than I do in forcing him to comply with a behavioral standard.

  19. Stephanie permalink
    December 13, 2009 7:50 pm

    Because it’s flipping irrelevant to the issue at hand!

    How is it irrelevant? Your son starts sending Jim Bakker money in response to his teaching on the prosperity gospel and you don’t tell him where the money is being spent? Jim Bakker preached a self-serving doctrine of prosperity teaching. Have you ever read about Tammy Faye Bakker’s shoes? The woman had a closet full of shoes. They had an air-conditioned dog house for their dog. The ministry was built upon the health / wealth dogma.

    The similarity that I see between Joseph Smith and Jim Bakker is that you could accuse both of preaching a self-serving theology. Jim Bakker was eventually exposed and jailed for his activities. Yet there are many in the LDS church that are not even aware of Joseph Smith’s plural wives. They know about Brigham Young having multiple wives, but Smith’s are rarely, if ever, talked about. Examine lds.org for yourself and try to find any mention of his polygamy. Josephsmith.net is a biographical website owned by the church and there is no information about his wives. Why does it matter? Because just as we can accuse Bakker of teaching self-serving doctrines we can also accuse Smith of doing the exact same thing. His affairs and marriages took place prior to his revelation on celestial marriage.

  20. faithoffathers permalink
    December 13, 2009 8:35 pm

    Stephanie,

    It could be said of any true prophet that they preached what, in the eyes of some, was a “self-serving gospel.” Isn’t every true prophet claiming authority from God? Doesn’t that lift them up above others from a certain perspective? I think it does from a purely worldy, cynical viewpoint.

    The issue at hand is sources. You seem to rely primarily upon the sources that are critical of Joseph Smith- at least those sources that sensationalize certain elements of his life and neglect others. The problem is that absolutely every historical source that relates the story of Joseph Smith is biased and imperfect. I do no mean to say they have no value, but that they come from mortals with biases. The most outrageous criticisms come from tertiary and quatenary sources.

    The Book of Mormon is different- it came from his pen (actually the pens of his scribes). In my opinion, it is the most objective fruit of his life. And it was intended to be a fruit- something that is testable and experimented with.

    You and I simply see the process in opposite directions. You primarily look at your available historical information about a man and conclude the fruit that came from him could not have been true and God-inspired.

    I see it the other way around. If the BOM is what it claims, there is no other explanation but that Joseph was a prophet of God. (By the way- if that is true, it makes completely perfect sense that there would be elements in the world seeking to undermine, defame, and discredit the man- such has always been the case with God’s prophets. In saying that, I do not mean to suggest I overlook or excuse any of Joseph’s history. I am very aware of and comfortable with Joseph’s life and history).

    But I see a big problem for the opposite approach to Joseph and explaining the BOM. In other words, if the BOM is true, all the fuss raised about Joseph makes sense in the context of God’s prophets and persecution. On the other hand, if Joseph were a charlatan like Baker, it is extremely hard to account for the BOM.

    fof

  21. December 13, 2009 9:22 pm

    Yeah, Joseph profited personally so much from the church he started…

    Are we even on the same planet Stephanie?

  22. Stephanie permalink
    December 13, 2009 9:46 pm

    I don’t know Seth. Men are from Mars, after all.

    I’m talking about his marriages. He profited in the sense of having the opportunity to take other men’s wives, take teenagers working for his wife, take single young women as his plural wives — without any repercussions because it was a revelation from God. Why was the revelation not recorded until after he began this series of marriages?

  23. Stephanie permalink
    December 13, 2009 10:04 pm

    It could be said of any true prophet that they preached what, in the eyes of some, was a “self-serving gospel.”

    What were the “benefits” of being Isaiah? Ezekiel? Daniel? Hosea? How could you accuse them of having a “self-serving gospel?”

    The issue at hand is sources. You seem to rely primarily upon the sources that are critical of Joseph Smith- at least those sources that sensationalize certain elements of his life and neglect others.

    FOF, I would very much like to rely upon LDS sources but unfortunately lds.org does not even acknowledge that there were other wives. This in itself speaks to a major problem. If there is nothing to be ashamed of why is there such a deep layer of secrecy? One of my friends was LDS for 17 years. This last summer I mentioned something about Joseph Smith’s wives. She acted all funny and said, “You mean Brigham Young’s wives?” Then I realized maybe she hadn’t been taught about Smith’s wives. Or had even heard of them. She recently told me that it was the first time she had ever heard about any other wife but Emma. My friend taught Gospel Doctrine, Sunday school, was a member of the relief society, had a temple recommend, attended the Institute, etc. How can people come to an informed decision about Joseph Smith if they don’t receive the information about his wives from the “horse’s mouth.” Maybe his affairs and marriages are no big deal to you, but they may be to other people. I think it is completely unfair to accuse me of “relying on other sources” for information about Joseph Smith when the LDS church has no information about a huge aspect of his life!

    By the way- if that is true, it makes completely perfect sense that there would be elements in the world seeking to undermine, defame, and discredit the man- such has always been the case with God’s prophets.

    I think this is a very bad test of whether or not someone is a true prophet. Think of the danger of this statement. So many dangerous cult leaders would fit into this category–Jim Jones, David Koresh, Sun Myung Moon, etc. All of these men could have a “persecution complex” but that certainly doesn’t mean they are right. [BTW, I am not comparing Smith to these leaders, so please don’t accuse me of that! :-)]

    On the other hand, if Joseph were a charlatan like Baker, it is extremely hard to account for the BOM.

    Why are you calling Bakker a charlatan? What proof do you have of this? Have you been reading anti-Bakker literature? You really need to just stick with what Bakker himself has written and assess that by itself. That alone will tell you all you need to know about whether or not Bakker is truly ordained of God.

    Stephanie

  24. faithoffathers permalink
    December 13, 2009 10:26 pm

    Stephanie,

    Isaiah, Ezekial, Daniel, and Hosea all claimed authority from God that was superior to that of other people. In that sense, they were to be taken more seriously than others. They were set above the crowd as prophets. From a cynic’s perspective- they were self serving in that respect. (Of course, neither you nor I subscribe to that angle, but others do).

    My point about sources is the BOM vs. historical narratives, not necessarily LDS vs. non-LDS sources. I choose the BOM as primary evidence. You choose peoples’ accounts of the prophet. I am not saying one is to be shunned. But in my opinion, the BOM is the more objective and reliable source and test when considering that much of the negative “history” of Joseph comes from people who were removed 3-4 times from the man.

    By the way, to refer to Joseph’s “affairs” does show a bias. It does demonstrate definite conclusions about the man. There is another side to the polygamy issue, which is really beyond the scope of this thread.

    My mention of Joseph’s persecutions was not a suggestion of proof. I was merely explaining a possible context for that persecution if he indeed was a prophet. Millions of people receive persecution without being prophets.

    I refer to Bakker as a charlatan because you used him as a reference for such.

    fof

  25. Stephanie permalink
    December 13, 2009 11:45 pm

    I guess I don’t totally understand your approach, FOF. I feel like I am at least being consistent. I judge Jim Bakker and Joseph Smith in the same way — weighing their personal life with their ministry. If I feel that their personal life doesn’t match with Scripture then I have to discount their ministry. I don’t mean to be accusatory, but it sounds to me like you have completely dismissed Jim Bakker — perhaps without even watching his television shows or reading his literature. It seems as though you have a different standard for Joseph Smith than you do other religious leaders.

    But in my opinion, the BOM is the more objective and reliable source and test when considering that much of the negative “history” of Joseph comes from people who were removed 3-4 times from the man.

    Let me ask you then what “negative history” you accept about Joseph Smith. It would be helpful if we could both work with an accepted set of facts. How many marriages do you accept? Do you accept that he was married to married women? Which “negative history” do you deny? I’m confused how the sources could be removed 3-4 times from Joseph Smith. Many of the sources are the plural wives’ own diaries and letters. That seems pretty close to the source to me.

    By the way, to refer to Joseph’s “affairs” does show a bias.

    I agree but I think you thought I was referring to all his marriages as “affairs.” I don’t confuse the two. I personally believe that his relationship with Fanny Alger can be deemed an “affair” because it occurred much earlier than his other plural marriages and there is no indication that he ever married her, in secret or otherwise. One of the reasons that people categorize Alger as a “wife” is based upon the statement by his accusers that they had seen Joseph “take Fanny Alger as a wife.” This is considered by some historians to be a euphemism for an illicit affair, but not a marriage. But I agree, it is all pure speculation. No one but Joseph Smith and God really know what the relationships were. My bias persuades me to believe that this was an affair, your bias causes you to accept it as a legitimate marriage.

  26. faithoffathers permalink
    December 14, 2009 1:39 am

    Stephanie,

    Your comments demonstrate my point.

    You said:

    “One of the reasons that people categorize Alger as a “wife” is based upon the statement by his accusers that they had seen Joseph “take Fanny Alger as a wife.” This is considered by some historians to be a euphemism for an illicit affair, but not a marriage. But I agree, it is all pure speculation. No one but Joseph Smith and God really know what the relationships were.”

    Your last sentence holds the most weight. We were not there. We are dependent upon statements of those who accuse Joseph of wrongdoing and those who defend him as virtuous.

    The BOM is open for us to examine and experiment upon. If it is what it claims to be, the only real way to determine if it is true is the method outlined within the book. And that is the ultimate test of whether Joseph was a prophet. It is very linear and clear. The other approach is fraught with bias, unsurity, and reliance upon many a “middle-man.”

    fof

  27. December 14, 2009 1:44 am

    I find it interesting that you automatically assume that taking additional wives is a benefit Stephanie.

    Having sex with multiple women is arguably a benefit. Marrying them isn’t. If sex was what Joseph was after, he would have pulled a Jim Jones and simply slept with them and commanded them to shut up later. The only people he would have told were people he could have controlled.

    By contrast, Joseph took every opportunity possible to disclose his practice of plural marriage, and to bring every single powerful and influential man in the community in on the practice! Think about it a second – if he was really hiding this stuff, would he have told someone like Brigham Young (if you have even a passing familiarity with Brigham Young’s character and disposition, that answer is going to be obvious).

    Let’s be clear here. This is one of those issues where there is zero proof one way or the other. You either believe he was taking advantage of the situation, or you don’t.

    I don’t. But I think that the fact that the moment you mention plural marriage, everyone else immediately starts thinking “sex!” says more about how screwed up modern American culture is than anything else.

    As for the rest, the guy never – not once – in his entire life, got a break. He was never rich – ever. He was constantly impoverished and relied on the charity of others. And on that charity, he never lived well. He lost half a dozen kids in childbirth or infancy. He was repeatedly beaten, tormented, financially ruined repeatedly, harassed by lawsuits, and eventually murdered.

    It’s utterly ridiculous beyond belief that some Evangelicals like to pretend he was “living large” or something.

  28. faithoffathers permalink
    December 14, 2009 2:23 am

    Seth,

    I strongly believe that we have a very warped view of polygamy today. Our society is so sexually liberated. Everything is about sex. Sex is the currency that sells everything. And our culture, absolutely flooded with feminist thought, looks upon polygamy from an extremely unrealistic viewpoint.

    We immediately assume sex is the primary motive whenever polygamy is mentioned.

    The greatest accomplishment of my life is my marriage to my wife. We have had some long, long years of struggle, difficulty, and doubt in our marriage. In the end, it has made us closer, more humble, and more united. But the thought of doing the same thing with more than one woman scares me to no end. No amount of sexual pleasure could come close to compensating for the emotional, spiritual, and financial struggles associated with polygamy.

    P.S. I think the Jeffs types are a horrible and unfortunate corruption of the principle, adding to the perverted modern perception that prevails.

    fof

  29. December 14, 2009 2:39 am

    Nauvoo polygamy wasn’t about sex, it was about power. Sex was just incidental to the system.

    At least, that is my opinion of the matter.

  30. December 14, 2009 2:47 am

    You might as well say that being ordained a minister is “about power.”

    Sure, for a lot of people, it might be. And the temptation to make it about that is always there.

    But that really misses the point of what ordination is about.

  31. December 14, 2009 3:02 am

    Depending on what the ordained minister does with his or her position, it may very well be about power.

  32. Stephanie permalink
    December 14, 2009 3:22 am

    How then can we possibly explain the “wife stealing?” It is possible to find precedent for polygamy in the Bible and I don’t consider it the worst possible marriage scenario. I think there are a lot worse things in life than polygamy. But taking other men’s wives? How is this justifiable?

    I completely understand what you are saying about confusing marriage with sex. And I agree, we have no idea what Joseph’s motives were. But should Joseph be placed upon a pedestal where we cannot even consider the possibility that he may have been motivated by lust? Why is this not an option?

    It’s utterly ridiculous beyond belief that some Evangelicals like to pretend he was “living large” or something.

    I never said he was living large. That would be Jim Bakker and all his wife’s shoes. But it could be argued that few religious leaders were as powerful during the 1830s and 1840s as Joseph Smith. Do you know of any other religious leader at the time who claimed that he could translate “Reformed Egyptian,” knew the real history of America, received divine inspiration from God, saw Jesus Christ and God the Father, received ancient plates from an angel, etc. He was extremely influential and powerful. His titles were President, Seer, Prophet, and Revelator.

    Seth you said, If sex was what Joseph was after, he would have pulled a Jim Jones and simply slept with them and commanded them to shut up later.

    Why is this the only possible scenario for knowing whether or not someone is after sex? What if Joseph Smith was a more moral man than Jim Jones and wanted “legitimate,” guilt free sex?

  33. December 14, 2009 4:26 am

    Or what if he really was commanded by God to practice polygamy, but was left to his own devices on how to carry it out and made a clumsy mess of it on a few occasions?

    The thing with other men’s wives is much more complex than our critics give credit for. In some cases, Joseph merely had the sealing performed and then sent the woman back to live with here husband – suggesting more of a ceremonial binding of people together more than anything we’d think of as a traditional marriage.

    I think the following article excerpt is required reading on the subject:

    http://en.fairmormon.org/Joseph_Smith_and_polyandry/Book_chapter

  34. Stephanie permalink
    December 14, 2009 6:21 am

    Seth,

    I make it a regular practice to read FAIR materials and watch their conference videos. I’ve purchased and read books from them as well as from Deseret Book. Of the other books on Mormonism that I read, most of them are secular / biographical . I’m curious how many “anti-Mormon books” you have read.

    Stephanie

  35. December 14, 2009 7:02 am

    FAIR’s wiki is updated on a regular basis.

    I don’t go in much for reading full anti-Mormon books.

    Should I be particularly interested?

  36. Stephanie permalink
    December 14, 2009 3:09 pm

    Should I be particularly interested?

    IDK. I just kind of seemed like you were suggesting for me to read more pro-Joseph literature because I seemed biased to you. I was just trying to point out that I have read quite a bit of pro-Joseph material. And I wondered if you had read much anti-Joseph material. It seems a little contradictory to ask me to read materials from the LDS side if you haven’t read materials from the “anti-Mormon” side. And, no, I’m not suggesting watching the Godmakers. 🙂 I think a really good place to start would be In Sacred Loneliness or Nauvoo Polygamy. Both books seek to be objective when they deal with historical “fact” but, like FAIR, I’m sure their bias shows through.

  37. Stephanie permalink
    December 14, 2009 3:13 pm

    Also, another book that deals with some aspects of Joseph’s polygamy is Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith. Both authors of this book are LDS and I think they have a gentle approach to him while also still trying to deal fairly with the facts.

  38. December 14, 2009 3:52 pm

    A couple of those are on my to-do list. But I’ve got some stuff by BH Roberts and Hugh Nibley on my list that ranks a bit higher at the moment.

    I don’t link to these articles to suggest bias. When I think you’re biased, I simply tell you so. I link to the articles because you are presenting an argument.

    So I present a counter-argument.

    There really isn’t much to it beyond that.

  39. December 14, 2009 6:20 pm

    Stephanie ~ I ordered a copy of In Sacred Loneliness and read it when I was in high school. It was one of two books that created the most questions for me about the LDS church, which I found to be deeply ironic because I had read tons of evangelical counter-cult literature, most of which I had come to believe was fairly bad. ISL wasn’t even an anti-Mormon book, it was written by an active and believing (if liberal) Latter-day Saint. I was impressed by Compton’s cautious treatment of primary source documents. It won the best book of the year award from both the Mormon History Association and the John Whitmer Historical Association, and it deserved it.

    My two big complaints about Compton were: (1) he’s a little over-eager to assume a sexual relationship between Smith and some of the wives, and (2) his annotation system is straight from the depths of hell. I don’t know that I have ever seen such a terrible system; tracking down his sources for some of his statements is quite the chore. I expect a fellow classicist to know better.

    I also recall Lawrence Foster criticizing him for classifying Fanny Alger as a wife and never questioning that maybe Alger was just an affair. I think that’s a fair complaint.

    Anyways, I have Mormon Enigma and Rough Stone Rolling in dock for the winter break. Looking forward to reading them.

  40. Stephanie permalink
    December 15, 2009 1:36 am

    Seth

    You said:
    I don’t link to these articles to suggest bias. When I think you’re biased, I simply tell you so. I link to the articles because you are presenting an argument.

    I get that and I appreciate your forthrightness.

    Jack

    I shouldn’t have labeled those books as “anti-Mormon.” Partially I was just joking because the expression “anti-Mormon” is funny to me. It would be akin to me referring to people who question my faith as “anti-Non-Denominationals.” Too bad I’m not Catholic, then I could accuse people of being “anti-transubstantiationalists.” I really haven’t read books that could be categorized as “anti-Mormon” but I have read many that are of a biographical nature and do not cast LDS historical figures in a very good light. That is why I described the books above as “anti-Mormon.” I have read No Man Knows My History and that is considered pretty bad by most LDS.

    Rough Stone Rolling is supposed to be pretty good. I haven’t read it yet but I did watch the FAIR conference talk by Bushman on the topic. He basically summarized his book’s content in one hour. Very nice for people like me with a short attention span. You can watch it here.

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