Conservative Mormon Bloggers Under Scrutiny


RockWatermanOne of my greatest desires as a blogger is to help people of differing beliefs and political ideologies come together in a unified search for peace that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. Thus I was delighted today to be able to express and expound upon those sentiments to Kristen Moulton of the Salt Lake Tribune, substituting for the vacationing Peggy Fletcher Stack.

Disciplined for Following a Prophet

The focus of the piece is that conservative Mormons, as well as progressives, are being called in and disciplined by their local leaders for their blogging activities. I don’t fall into that category, since I’m under no disciplinary restrictions, but because I’ve written much on the subject, I was honored to be asked my opinion. The piece was well done. My contribution was two small ideas.

Asking Questions is not the Same as Doubt

I’d like to elaborate on those ideas for a minute to illustrate an observation that is now becoming clearer to me each day as this drama unfolds, a drama which many people hope will blow over soon, and which the majority of the church outside Utah has very little idea even exists. First, the idea of asking questions seems to be misinterpreted by many conservatives as expressing doubt.

Some Think it Not Acceptable to Ask Questions

I can’t tell you how many of my conservative friends have written me privately, as well as on the blog, expressing grave concerns for the welfare of my soul. I know they love me. I know their concern is genuine. We’ve served together in past leadership positions or have worshiped in the same wards and stakes over the past fifty plus years I have been a member of the LDS Church.

Some Seem to be Afraid of Asking Questions

For some reason, it just strikes them wrong to ask a question that may or may not be answered in the official curriculum of the church. And if I dare to suggest the answers provided in the official material may not be exactly truthful, meaning they leave out parts of the story or the narrative is perhaps slightly embellished to make the church look better, why, I’m sowing seeds of doubt.

Church Encourages Us to Ask Hard Questions

Nothing could be further from the truth. I love to ask questions. It’s how I learn. It’s part of my nature. I ask questions, then I answer them. I’m confident I can find quotes from at least a half dozen General Authorities endorsing this manner of learning as being superior to simply reading the scriptures every day. We are to search the scriptures and be ready to defend church doctrines.

Elder Ballard Encouraged us to Be Active on Blogs

Second is the idea that blogging is somehow a rebellious activity in the church – something only progressive activists do. Neither idea is anywhere remotely close to the truth but I encounter both every day on this blog. Misunderstanding goes with the territory. I openly invite participation and encourage comments. I do not censor anything, no matter what kind of comment they leave – unless they are obvious trolls.

Trolls Should be Banned for Contention

I get trolls just like every other blogger. In case you don’t know, a troll is someone who will do everything they can to stir up contention. They will be personally abusive with ad hominem attacks and will purposefully misrepresent the facts. I suppose trolls have their place. They can sure get the conversation going, but they don’t contribute anything intellectually constructive.

Blogging Can and Does Make a Difference

I started my blog just before Elder Ballard invited all members of the church to be involved in the Internet conversations taking place with or without us. He said we could make a difference. He was right. I’ve seen that evidenced time after time as friendships are created, ideas are then discussed with passion, and conclusions are reached with agreement or a better sense of unity.

Open a Dialog, Have a Conversation, Let’s Talk

HannahWheelwrightDo all bloggers and their readers agree on the ideas expressed? Of course not, there are too many divergent views based on differing experiences in life. But just the fact we are having a dialog to discuss the doctrine, a policy or practice is constructive and allows us to exercise kindness in the way we respond to each other. It’s especially helpful if we pray before we write responses. I do.

Most LDS Leaders are Ideologically Conservative

Because many if not most of the local leaders in LDS congregations are conservative by nature, and usually very successful in business, law or medicine, they tend to be authoritative and, well, controlling to a degree. I hate to say it but it’s true. They seem to see it as their most important duty to make sure the meetings run smoothly, emotions are under control and all is peaceful.

Seems Not Okay to Ask Questions in Church Classes

While it is a commendable practice, I have to wonder how much ministering is done when the members feel it is NOT okay to bring up their questions in the classrooms. There seems to be an immense amount of pressure to project “all is well in Zion, yea, Zion prospereth” that nobody wants to get down to the raw nitty-gritty of problems they may be experiencing with doctrine.

Church History Narrative Not Always Accurate

It is especially manifest in discussions of church history. For the longest time, we have been spoon-fed the same standard narrative of “this is how it was” and there is no other interpretation. Unfortunately, there are some who know otherwise. They have done as the prophets have asked us to do and have discovered some things were not exactly as they have always been presented.

Bloggers are an Inquisitive, Questioning Bunch

This is common to both progressive activists and conservative bloggers. President Boyd K. Packer one time proclaimed that three of the greatest threats to the church are intellectuals, gays and feminists. I used to wonder why he would call such members threats. Why should we limit the participation and acceptance of members of our faith because they fall into these categories?

Should be Room for Everybody in This Church

What about John Dehlin’s argument that he is happy as a cultural Mormon and just wants to be left alone? What’s wrong with that? Isn’t there a place for him in this church? So what if he doesn’t believe a lot of the truth claims of the church. Must you believe everything the church teaches in order to be a member? Isn’t any other behavior a controlling and thus forbidden act?

Cultural Mormons Want a Place in the Church

In other words, why are we excommunicating members for what they believe, especially if they are NOT encouraging others to doubt or to leave the church? I have read or listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts from Mormon Stories and have not lost my belief or faith in Jesus Christ or the role this Church has to play in these Latter-days. Why are so many conservatives so fearful?

Excommunicated for Endorsing a New Book

But what really gets me upset is the way some conservative LDS leaders have forced their members to “shut up” and not share their appreciation for the words or writings of individuals who have helped them come closer to Christ. In particular, I am extremely disappointed that stake presidents have excommunicated members for simply telling their friends about a book.

Amen to the Priesthood of that Leader

Seriously. We’ll never hear the other side of the story, but when the excommunicant explains they were cast off for simply recommended a book and wanting to discuss it with friends, I say the leaders have abused their priesthood or worse, have lost it because they exercised control, compulsion, and unrighteous dominion. That is not the purpose of the Melchizedek Priesthood.

The Internet Changed Everything for Research

Now back to the story for some concluding thoughts. From Jan Shipps: “The fact they are going in both directions [against conservatives and progressives],” Shipps said, “makes me think the church is finally coming to grips with the fact the Internet is changing the situation.” Oh, how I hope that is true. I’ve made a living with the power of the Internet for the last twenty-five years.

Every Member Should be an Amateur Historian

I have watched it bring people together like nothing else ever has. One of the best uses of the Internet, in my opinion, is the sharing of gospel doctrine and newly discovered LDS historical evidence. The fact should be obvious to all by now our history has been whitewashed, covered-up or embellished, especially in the earliest 1820-1840 developments in some very key areas.

We Lost an Opportunity With the Death of Joseph

Here’s my concluding point. I love to research church history. It makes a difference in my faith. It helps me to understand what Joseph Smith was trying to do. He wanted to establish Zion much more than to simply start a new church. The Lord intended to perform a marvelous work and a wonder through him that simply did not get completed. He died before it could be brought about.

It’s Time to Prepare Ourselves Individually for Zion

Enough time has passed – four generations according to the scriptures – that we now have an opportunity to establish Zion again. But we must individually become a Zion people. We must come unto Christ, receive Him in this life. That’s the entire purpose of the temple, to receive the Savior and have Him confer the power of the priesthood upon us – both upon men and women.

Just Expressing my Thoughts – Don’t Crucify me

False doctrine, you say? Not from what I’ve read and not from what the scriptures teach. Yet every time I try to provide the evidence from our scriptures and our historical records I am lambasted for heresy. I know I don’t have all the answers yet. I wonder if anyone in this church understands what the Lord was trying to do through the Prophet Joseph Smith. What say ye?

Comments are Still Welcome – Trolls are Warned

New policy: Trolls and Haters are subject to banning. The policy against no ad-hominem attacks will be enforced. Your comments are welcome, but only if you can provide a sound and logical argument, devoid of contention. Passionate expression of opinion is allowed and concern for the welfare of others is always appreciated. But please, no knee-jerk “you’re a fool” crap anymore.

God bless and thanks for reading and sharing.

Update: I felt the church’s response was important enough to include a link in the post:

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765655450/LDS-Church-responds-to-concerns-over-member-questions.html

Yet, members who leave comments or questions on blogs are still being called in and questioned by their bishops:

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/58088940-78/church-bishop-leaders-mormons.html.csp

 

Understanding the Historical Record of Priesthood


TheHighPriesthoodOne of the things that always bothered me is the lack of a historical record for the ordination of Joseph and Oliver to the Melchizedek Priesthood. At one time, probably in my seminary days, someone mentioned John Whitmer had the record. He was the first “official” church historian. When he left the church in 1838, he took the record with him. That satisfied me for a long time.

No Doubt About Aaronic Priesthood

Oliver was an unofficial church historian before John Whitmer in that he recorded, as Joseph’s scribe, many of the events of the early days of the church from 1829 until 1838 when he also left. Of course we have section thirteen of the D&C which records the ordinations of Joseph and Oliver under the hands of John the Baptist. It is clear the Aaronic Priesthood was restored to the earth. But what of the Melchizedek? We find these words in the heading of section thirteen:

Interpretive Doctrine in Section Heading

“The angel explained that he was acting under the direction of Peter, James, and John, the ancient Apostles, who held the keys of the higher priesthood, which was called the Priesthood of Melchizedek. The promise was given to Joseph and Oliver that in due time this higher priesthood would be conferred upon them. (See section 27:7–8, 12.)”

Ancient Apostles Visit Joseph and Oliver

We know Peter, James and John also came, but what transpired is not recorded. Oliver said he and Joseph went into the forest and prayed “until a glorious light encircled us, and as we arose on account of the light, three persons stood before us dressed in white, their faces beaming with glory.” The Apostle Peter introduced himself along with James and John. But what did they do?

No Recorded Account of Higher Priesthood

There is no recorded account of Peter, James and John conferring Melchizedek Priesthood. There is passing mention of the event that was added to section 27 by Oliver Cowdery. It was not there when Joseph first received the revelation on 28 August 1830. It is also mentioned in Section 128, a letter Joseph wrote to the Saints while in hiding, on the subject of Baptism for the Dead.

Section 27 Added to by Oliver Cowdery

In the words added by Oliver to section 27, we read the Lord will drink of the fruit of the vine…

“…with Peter, and James, and John, whom I have sent unto you, by whom I have ordained you and confirmed you to be apostles and especial witnesses of my name, and bear the keys of your ministry; and of the same things which I revealed unto them, unto whom I have committed the keys of my kingdom, and a dispensation of the gospel for the last time; and for the fulness of times…”

Keys of the Kingdom Held by Apostles

Parsing Oliver’s words, we should ask ourselves who it is that possesses the keys of the Lord’s kingdom. To whom were they committed: Joseph & Oliver or Peter, James and John? We might also profit by asking who it is that possesses the dispensation of the gospel referred to in Oliver’s words, added in September. Who is identified as “them?” The words refer to the ancient apostles.

Keys of Their Ministry are Different

If we accept Oliver’s September addition to be authorized by Joseph as accurate and binding, what we can surmise is the following:

  1. Peter, James and John were sent by the Lord to Joseph and Oliver. We don’t know the date.
  2. Peter, James and John ordained Joseph and Oliver to something, but we don’t know what.
  3. Peter, James and John confirmed Joseph and Oliver to be apostles.
  4. Joseph and Oliver were also confirmed to be especial witnesses of the Lord.
  5. They were also confirmed to bear the keys of their ministry.
  6. They were to bear witness of the same things the Lord revealed to Peter, James and John.
  7. The Lord committed the keys of his kingdom to Peter, James and John.
  8. The Lord committed a dispensation of the gospel to Peter, James and John.

It does NOT say:

  1. The keys of the Lord’s kingdom were conferred upon Joseph and Oliver.
  2. Anything about the Melchizedek priesthood being conferred.

Scriptural and Historical Evidence Missing

Let’s parse the words in section 128, where we read, “…Peter, James and John … [declared] themselves as possessing the keys of the kingdom, and of the dispensation of the fullness of times.” Where in our scriptures or historical record can we read that Peter, James and John conferred upon Joseph or Oliver the Melchizedek Priesthood or the keys of the kingdom?

By the way, in D&C 128:14, we learn another definition of keys is simply knowledge. Think about it.

Keys Exercised by Peter, James and John

The wording is clear in section 128 the three ancient apostles possessed the keys of the kingdom. This we already knew from Matthew 17 – the Mount of Transfiguration, although it’s not very clear there. In Matthew 18:18 the Lord declares the apostles possess the sealing power. But what keys did Peter, James and John give to Joseph and Oliver, if any, or did they only exercise them?

Just Asking Questions, Looking for Evidence

What does seem clear is the historical record does not shed a lot of light on the conferral of the priesthood in these latter days other than the Aaronic. That conferral seems certain and verified with scripture. But the conferral of the Melchizedek priesthood is a different story. It is simply not as cut and dried as we set it out to be in our doctrine, our lessons and our official curriculum.

There is Only One Priesthood of God

In section 84 of the D&C, also known as The Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, we read in verse 33: “For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining of these two priesthoods…” Didn’t Joseph say there was only one priesthood, and that all priesthood was Melchizedek? What about the patriarchal priesthood, does that make three priesthoods, or are they all still one priesthood?

Expected to Receive God in the Flesh

Back to verse 21 of Section 84, note the words, “in the flesh.” I am convinced the whole reason we have that phrase in the revelation is to encourage us to understand and believe we can and should receive the Lord in this mortal life. That’s one of the purposes of priesthood, and I’m not talking about ordination in the church. Priesthood power is only received directly from the Lord.

Priesthood is an Association with God

This is not new doctrine. It is clearly taught in section 84 but we haven’t understood it. Would to God we had a record of Joseph’s teachings on the subject in greater detail – perhaps a few of the lectures in the School of the Prophets. We have records of prayers offered with hands uplifted in that school when witnesses record Joseph reporting God the Father had passed between them.

Power of God Cannot Be Passed on

Not all that we call priesthood is what God calls priesthood. We pass an ordination between us, but the doctrine is clear. God’s power is only received directly from the Lord, not by the laying on of hands. When a man dies, he takes his priesthood power with him. Joseph taught that all prophets who have held the Melchizedek Priesthood were ordained directly by the hand of God.

All Priesthood is Perishable – D&C 121:37

Even if you receive priesthood power from the voice of God, you can lose it if you are unwilling to restrain and to contain yourself within the bounds the Lord has prescribed. Even the fullness of the priesthood with sealing power, can be lost (see D&C section 124, verse 28). Otherwise, why would the Lord say he needed the temple to be completed so he could come and restore it?

Would God That All Men Were Prophets

Joseph taught on page 322 in TPJS, “The Israelites prayed that God would speak to Moses and not to them; in consequence of which he cursed them with a carnal law.” Can you imagine what kind of church we would be if we taught that today – that all communication from God must only come from one man we uphold by common consent as our Prophet, Seer and Revelator?

Melchizedek Priesthood is to Bless, not Curse

If someone claims to hold Melchizedek priesthood but uses it to offer up condemnation, control, judgment, compulsion and authority over the souls of men, you can mark it as a sign they hold no such authority. The purpose of the higher priesthood is to bless, to uplift and to raise you up by bringing you light and truth, which is the glory of God, or intelligence (see D&C 93:36).

End of Part One – More to Come

I’ve gone on way too long. These are my study notes for today. My original desire was to trace the historical record for evidence of the Melchizedek Priesthood being conferred upon Joseph and Oliver. I have no intention of introducing doubts. These are simply questions I have. I invite and welcome your instruction and correction. Thank you my friends for taking the time to share.

Study the Gospel, Blog About it, Share it

I’m glad the church has encouraged us to a) Study the gospel on a regular basis, b) Get involved in the Internet conversations, perhaps even starting blogs and c) Share the gospel with our friends and neighbors. I’m grateful for Facebook and for WordPress which allows me to do all three at the same time. I have renewed friendships and made literally thousands of new friends online.

Learn the Doctrine, Be Ready With Answers

I’m also grateful for Peter’s advice to “…be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you…” I’m especially grateful my church encourages me to ask questions.  I love to ask questions, including difficult ones. I then feel more prepared to answer others.

Study Things Out, Don’t Rush to Judgment

It’s good to know we can’t be saved in ignorance, nor can we judge a matter if we do not hear it out completely. Only a fool would judge another without trying to understand them first. God bless us all to take the time and trouble to build bridges and understand those in our midst who don’t think like we do. It’s good to be true and faithful and just as good to have an open mind.

Go to lds.org for Official Church Doctrine

Disclaimer: Because many have misunderstood my intent in publishing these study notes on a semi-regular basis, let me reiterate here: I am not declaring doctrine. I am not trying to teach you anything contrary to what should be provable in the scriptures and by the whisperings of the spirit. It is not my intention to destroy faith in Jesus Christ but to build it up and strengthen it.

Sources for This Summarized Material

Email me privately if you want a copy of my sources besides the ones I’ve shared in this post. A lot of this is not my original material or thinking, but I learn by writing. Many of you will recognize the source. I’m not plagiarizing. It’s just my style. I write my questions out. I answer them. It’s how I study the gospel every day. Some days I publish my thoughts.

This Material May Not Support Official Doctrine

Usually my study notes are supportive and in agreement with the official narrative of the church. Sometimes they aren’t. For example, today, in this continuing series on priesthood, I have asked some hard questions and not bothered to share the official LDS view. Some people will find it distressing and perhaps blasphemous because it does not agree with the standard narrative.

A Final Question About Blogging

Here’s my question: Should I refrain from posting this because it has controversial elements? Should I make sure I especially do not link to it from Facebook for fear of offending all the members of my current and previous stakes who might not understand why I blog? Is it worthy of discipline? Should I not share and ask the difficult questions because they take some thought?

I Have Been Visited By An Angel


AngelsInThirdNephiMoroni Upbraids our Lack of Faith

I’ve written about Moroni chapter seven previously, but it’s been on my mind lately, especially verses 27 through 37. I’m sure you know the verses. They have to do with angels. Moroni shares the words of his father about the importance of angels in our lives. This is not a subject we talk about much in church these days. I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps we no longer believe in them.

Angels were Abundant in the Restoration

I hope that’s not the case. More likely, we have accepted the common teaching that the visits of angels were meant for the restoration, the beginnings of this church, but not necessarily for our day. There are quite a few writers bucking this false belief. I applaud their efforts. I mentioned the work of Marlene Bateman Sullivan in my January NDE post. She has three books on angels.

We Don’t Talk About Modern Visits

We seem to have no problem with the idea angels were needed to deliver messages and restore authority in the early days of the church. Have you ever noticed how uncomfortable people get if someone stands up in Fast and Testimony meeting to talk about a visit from an angel? I have – in a previous stake. They usually get talked to after the meeting by a member of the bishopric.

Angels Prepare Us to Receive Christ

Well, what if you not only had a visit from an angel, but this angel then took you to meet the Savior and eventually brought you into the presence of the Father? “Yes, that’s all fine and good,” we say, “as long as we’re talking about Joseph Smith or some of the early Brethren.” That’s the beauty of our church. We believe angels came to restore the gospel to the earth.

This is Not About Denver Snuffer

I’ve written dozens of posts about Denver Snuffer who claims to have seen the Savior. One of my readers told me he was tired of seeing me write about the man’s books. OK, I’ll move on to someone else who has gone public. If someone declares on a web page they have been visited by an angel, how do you and I respond? Do you take the time to read it seriously or do you scoff?

Breaking the Unwritten Rule

Daniel Rogers has declared he has been visited by an angel within the last year who took him into the presence of the Savior and the Father. He put up a web page to declare this. What if you were this man’s bishop or stake president – what would you do? Would you ask him to remove his site? Has he broken some rule in our church that we don’t talk or write about sacred things?

Don’t Cast Pearls Before Swine

For those who aren’t aware of the unwritten rule when talking about sacred experiences, it goes like this: “Those that don’t know speak….. while those that know don’t.” In other words, it is implied that if someone talks or writes openly about a sacred experience, such as conversing with an angel or being visited by the Savior, they must be lying. Seriously – I’ve heard it many times.

Scriptural Support for Keeping Silent

If you want something written to support this rule, you are usually referred to Matthew 7:6 – “Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine…” (They forget to read the next two verses). D&C 63:64 is also used often – “Remember that that which cometh from above is sacred, and must be spoken with care, and by constraint of the spirit.”

Don’t Tell Others What to do

OK, I get it. Don’t go around telling people you’ve had a vision, especially in the LDS Church. It’s ingrained in our culture now. Visions, dream or visits from angels are to be kept to ourselves. This goes way back to Hiram Page and the peep stone incident (section 28) in which we read in verse 6, “And thou shalt not command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church.”

Only Share Approved Statements

Fine, like I say, I get that. I think most people in the church get that too. But at the same time we are commanded to open our mouths to declare our witnesses of the truth of the gospel and of the things the Lord puts into our hearts and minds to declare. That is, as long as what we say is in line with what the current prophets and apostles are teaching. We call that a correlated testimony.

Seek Spiritual Experiences Within Guidelines

The Church has no problem with the members having spiritual experiences. We are encouraged to seek after them, not for the sake of “consuming them upon our lusts,” (James 4:3) but to both strengthen our faith and to assist us in doing the work of the Lord – teaching the gospel. We are especially encouraged to get that initial spiritual witness for ourselves that Joseph was a Prophet.

Specifically Limit Your Public Testimonies

We have been asked to limit our public testimonies to these five key points: 1) God lives and is our Heavenly Father, 2) Jesus is the Christ, the Savior of the world and was resurrected, 3) Joseph was called as a prophet, 4) The Book of Mormon contains scripture, the word of God, and 5) The current prophet is authorized of God to lead and guide this church and its members.

An Apparently Inappropriate Testimony

So what Daniel Rogers has done is apparently out of the norm. He has ostensibly been asked to remove his web page. You look it over and see if you can find inappropriate material in it. Is it because he referred to Denver Snuffer, a now excommunicated / former member of the church? Or is it because he was very specific that he was visited by an angel, the Savior and the Father?

I Applaud Daniel’s Testimony

As I wrote in the comments on his page: “Thanks for your courage in sharing. Would that more people who have had this sort of experience would be as open about it. Testimonies like this help those of us who are still seeking to know the Savior and come unto him as he commanded us. God bless you in your continued efforts to follow the promptings of the spirit in spite of the fears and doubts others may cast in your face. Moroni 7:37 came to mind as I read your wonderful testimony and felt the need to strive harder to remove my own doubts and fears.”

Denver and Daniel Are Not Alone

I think we’re going to see more and more testimonies like this coming forth. Isn’t it prophesied in Joel? Here’s another. I’m aware of at least a half dozen others who have claimed on private forums to have been visited by angels or by the Savior. To me, this is exciting. I hope we will be wise as a people and not castigate each other for sharing these spiritual experiences among ourselves. Pray for your own witness.

God Bless us to Come Unto Christ

I want to keep this post short. I tend to be very wordy. It’s the writer in me. I pray for the editor in me to become stronger. In case you didn’t get it, I was not referring to myself in the headline. Most writers know headlines are important to grab your attention in this fast-paced world. I have not yet seen an angel (of which I’m aware). I continue to seek to come unto Christ. As always, I appreciate those who feel impressed to add comments and pray we’ll all do so with kindness.

Loss of the Sealing Power


While in a sacred place a month ago a friend asked what I thought about “Passing the Heavenly Gift.” I confess that I had not heard of the book or the author, Denver Snuffer. I assume he asked my opinion because he knows that I have reviewed similar books on my blog that focus on controversial issues facing the LDS Church. Denver’s books are not advertised. People learn about them only by word of mouth or through online reviews on sites like mine.

I purchased the book and posted on Facebook that I had done so. Several of my blogging buddies noted it and expressed interest in what I thought. A few days later after my first quick read-through, I wrote “I speed read the first half. Finding no major faults, I devoured the second half (pages 240 to 499) in about four hours. I haven’t stayed up until 2:30 in the morning to read a book in years.” There is something dramatically different about this book.

Don’t leave the church

I also reported that “My focus in reading was to find anything smacking of disloyalty to the brethren or encouraging the members to leave. He came close on the first point but completely negated my concern on the second.” Before I write anything else I want to focus on that second point. I am convinced that Denver Snuffer has his reader’s best interest at heart. I cannot say that about the authors of any other recent book of LDS History I have read. Denver wants us to stay in the Church.

However, Denver Snuffer has caused me to do something no other recent writer of Mormon history has been able to do. He has produced in me a desire to read his book again and again. I want to study it, to research it, to look up many of the quotes, to read what others have said about those quotes. In other words, I am taking seriously Denver’s claims which, although not all unique to his book, are argued more precisely and effectively than any other author I have encountered.

Receive the Second Comforter

I have just completed the second reading of the book and am starting on the third, this time with pen and highlighter in hand. I have read his first book, “The Second Comforter” twice and have purchased each of the intervening six books. I have invested hours reading Denver’s blog from start to finish and have contemplated each of the points he has made there over the years. Other than the scriptures, I have never invested this much time in trying to understand an author’s message.

Everything I have learned about Denver has caused me to contemplate his message more and more. He has asked that we not focus on him, his life or his background. He has asked that we pay attention more to the process he is trying to get us to pass through – a process that if we follow through to completion will have us receive The Second Comforter for ourselves. I like that. I want that. I endorse that. How can you fault a man for wanting to help you come unto Christ? I don’t.

Details lacking in faith-promoting history

In the meantime, you are going to have to pass through some very difficult realizations that, depending on the strength of your relationship with the things of the spirit, may leave you gasping and reaching for help and understanding. If you are not already familiar with things our detractors have written about us you will have a challenging time reading this book. It will make you angry. It will cause you to think of Mr. Snuffer as an apostate and wonder why he hasn’t been excommunicated.

This book is not for everybody. If you are a casual member of the church you will not be interested. If you are not familiar with some of the controversies about our history being discussed on the Internet today, you will be a little shocked at what you read. You may not understand why some of the issues are problems at all if all you have ever learned about our history is what you were taught in Sunday school, Primary, Seminary or even Institute. This is an alternative view of our history.

Sealing power has been lost

I wish I was at the point where I could say that I can vouch for Denver’s accuracy or that I agree with his interpretations. I am not there yet. I suspect it will take me years to arrive at that level. In the meantime, if you have already read Denver’s works, I want to hear from you. I am especially interested in discussion about the two most controversial arguments in his book – the idea that the sealing power is not on the earth at this time and Denver’s interpretation of the fullness of the priesthood.

<Update 4-29-12> Denver has posted on his blog that “I have never said the church does not have the sealing power.” This obviously is in direct conflict with the thesis of this essay and my (and my wife’s) interpretation of the first chapter of his book, especially this line: “The church and its ordinations and ordinances does not confer power.” (p 36) He’s right. He did not say the church does not have the sealing power. Carol and I did not clearly understand the message of his first chapter. <end of update>

I kept looking for Denver to address the implications of the position he is advocating in regards to the work we are doing in the temples. I confess I have so far been disappointed by the lack of a sympathetic discussion of what this means to the thousands, if not millions of members who have spent so much of their time and energy over the years in researching and performing proxy ordinances in the temples for their ancestors. I am one of those individuals and want to know his response.

The work in the temples

In other words, if the sealing power is not on the earth then what hope do my wife and I have that we will be united in the eternities? If the sealing power is not on the earth, then what in the world have I and my mother and sisters been doing for these past forty years in digging and corresponding and compiling the thousands and thousands of family names ensuring that their work was done in the temples? I see this as the single most important issue to be answered.

Because I am so intrigued by what I have learned so far, I am going to give Denver the benefit of the doubt that he has already answered this question satisfactorily and I have simply not yet found it. I am not like some of my online friends who have become disaffected and left the church then complain about how much they resented the loss of their tithing money or that they felt duped when they learned they had been teaching a “sanitized” version of our history.

Section 110 misinterpreted

This idea of the sealing power is central to my feelings about the church and core to the reason why I have spent so many thousands of hours in the temple over the past thirty-five years. No, I don’t feel that my time was wasted if what Denver claims about section 110 is true. Of all the things that could strike at the heart and soul of Mormonism this is it. If you want to hurt a whole lot of good people, tell them that the the work they have been doing in the temples is not valid.

There is one question I would like to ask Denver, but I won’t because I don’t know him and he has made it clear that he gets far too many requests to answer directly. Because I felt strongly about sharing what I was learning from Denver’s books, I asked Carol to read the fist chapter of “Passing the Heavenly Gift” to me as we drove to Southern Utah for a family vacation this weekend. We had one of the most deep and enjoyable gospel discussions we have ever had over the course of several hours.

Exaltation is a family affair

Carol came away from the reading with the distinct impression that Denver was saying that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is today no different than any other good Christian church. She read that Brigham Young was only elected to be the President of the Church and that there was no ordination that passed the keys of the kingdom to him or to any of the rest of the twelve. She related her feelings while as a missionary she was taught by her mission president that Joseph ordained and passed the keys of the kingdom on to the twelve before they left on their missions.

Denver, what would you say to my wife, who related while she stood at the Far West temple site with dozens of other missionaries how she felt the spirit bear witness to her soul that Joseph successfully passed the keys of the kingdom on to the apostles before he sent them away on their missions and went on to Carthage jail to seal his testimony with his blood? Would you say that Joseph wasn’t referring to the council of the twelve, but to the council of fifty?

An incomplete ordination

What Denver is writing about is serious business. He is apparently all about getting people to question what they have been taught and what they believe about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He says he wants to bring us to Christ but in the process he wants us to rethink what we have been taught and what we believe about the power of priesthood and how it is manifested in our lives. He says the temple will point us to Christ yet says the sealing power is not there.

Am I the first to see the implications of what he is teaching? I don’t think so. Tell me I’m wrong or that I’ve missed the point completely. Tell me that all the thousands of temple workers, so many of them my good friends, are not wasting their time laboring in temples that have been rejected. Tell me that the blessings I have given to my wife and so many others over the years are efficacious even though I have not had my ordination completed by having the Lord lay his hands upon my head.

Receiving the Heavenly Gift

I am not a lawyer, so I can never argue as well as Denver has done. I am a simple member of the church, happy in my faith and grateful to have lived my life in the orthodox manner as taught by my leaders. I have served a mission, been married in the temple, served in bishoprics and high councils for the past twenty-five years and generally loved my time associating with saints of the Lord, who Denver is now calling a fallen and proud people, members of an apostate gentile church.

What do you think? Has Denver taught the truth in his book, “Passing the Heavenly Gift” or is he an apostate like some have declared him to be? Is it worth my time to read the rest of his books? Is there a whole lot more that I don’t see yet that will prove Denver to be right? Perhaps I need to re-read his first book again and put the process to the test as he is asking us to do. Is Denver teaching that we need to do in our homes what we are taught in the temple to converse with the Lord through the veil?

I would love to read your opinions.

An Evening with Richard Bushman


About a thousand other people and I enjoyed an evening with Richard Bushman last night. He spoke about Joseph and Emma for about 40 minutes and then entertained questions from the audience for another 40 minutes. While his insights on Joseph and Emma were interesting, I found the questions more fascinating, because they reflected a lot of the issues I blog about.

For those who don’t know, Richard Bushman is the author of Rough Stone Rolling, the 2005 biography of Joseph Smith that has become the definitive account of the prophet’s life as told from the viewpoint of a faithful historian. I took advantage of the opportunity to have him autograph my copy and was not the only one in the audience who waited in line to do so.

Open and honest discussion

It was wonderful to see so many people interested in learning more about this great man and the beginnings of the Mormon Church. Every time he finished answering a question a dozen more hands shot up. We could have been there for several more hours. I think that goes to show you how much we as a people appreciate someone who has studied the prophet’s life in such detail.

There were many questions that focused on the process of translating, the Urim and Thummim, the seer stone in the hat, polygamy, the three witnesses and the eight witnesses, Oliver Cowdery, the martyrdom, succession, Book of Abraham translation, Mountain Meadows massacre and folk magic. He welcomed every question and encouraged us to ask even the most difficult ones.

A well-qualified historian

One of the most refreshing comments I heard was his expression of appreciation to the church, specifically to the church historian’s office, Marlin K. Jensen and Richard E. Turley for the recent publication of Massacre at Mountain Meadows. He then said that he hoped that the church would do the same with the issue of polygamy, treating it openly and with historical accuracy.

Burt what impressed me most about the evening was the obvious fact that Richard Bushman is a highly respected historian who probably understands the beginnings of Mormonism as well as or better than anyone else. Besides being the co-general editor of the Joseph Smith Papers, he chairs the board of directors of the Mormon Scholars Foundation.  He knows early church history.

Serving faithfully in the church

And yet, Richard Bushman has served as a bishop, a stake president, a patriarch and is currently a sealer in the Los Angeles temple.  I would say that he is a faithful, believing Latter-day Saint, in spite of everything he knows about early church history.  I bring this up specifically to make a point about a common response to my essays and how I can still believe when I know this stuff.

I recently had someone ask me how I was able to do what I do – serve faithfully in the church – in spite of all that I know about, as he called it, “the more disturbing facts of the origins of Mormonism.”  I think maybe he might want to redirect that question to someone like Richard Bushman who knows so much more than I do and yet has been a faithful believer all his life.

Believing in spite of knowing

This individual asked, “How do you reconcile your belief and what the church teaches, with the history of things like the origins of the temple ceremony, polygamy, first vision contradictions, development of the story of the restoration of the priesthood, and other issues?”  I answered him privately in an email but have been pondering this whole idea of believing in spite of knowing.

Frankly, it perplexes me. I think I have expressed this same sentiment several times in previous essays every time it comes up. What is so hard about studying and understanding our very early church history, warts and all, and then continuing to believe that Joseph Smith was an instrument in the hands of God to bring about the restoration of the gospel and his church in the latter days?

Shocked by our history

Are we supposed to be shocked, dismayed and overwhelmed with doubt every time we discover some new fact about the early days of the church?  For example, last night we were reminded that beer and wine were used by the early saints, and sometimes even whiskey.  Today, we would be shocked if we learned that the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles drank a glass of wine.

Yet in volume IV, page 120 of the History of the Church on the date of April 17 1840 we read, “This day the Twelve blessed and drank a bottle of wine at Penworthan, made by Mother Moon forty years before.”  Things were different back then, weren’t they?  The Word of Wisdom had been received in 1833 but was not binding upon the saints as a commandment like it is today.

History not being hidden

When Fanny Alger was brought up by Brother Bushman last night as an example of an early failed attempt by Joseph to obey the law of plural marriage, I’ll bet there were a few people in the audience who did not know that Joseph had married this sixteen year old girl in 1833. The revelation on celestial marriage had been received in 1831 but Joseph was hesitant to obey.

For some reason, the idea that Joseph participated in plural marriage is supposed to be shocking to us. This continues to be one of the most common tactics of our critics – to try to shock us with facts that are supposedly being hidden from us by our modern church leaders.  Nothing could be further from the truth. We are always being encouraged to study our history and learn the facts.

Selling the Book of Mormon Copyright

Another example that our critics like to throw at us is the failed attempt to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon in Canada. Until recently, the only source for this event was the memory of David Whitmer who was not present when Joseph sent the brethren on their mission.  Joseph never said that it must have been a false revelation as Whitmer claimed he said upon their return.

We’re then supposed to conclude that if we can’t trust a revelation from Joseph then how are we supposed to know what is revelation from God. I’m not an apologist but I’m grateful that there are people who dig into these things to get the facts and present them for our review.  Of course, the same facts can be presented in favorable or unfavorable light, depending on where you go.

Consider carefully the source

For example, you can read the story of the copyright mission to Canada on MormonThink as supposed evidence that even Joseph Smith didn’t know when revelations were from God and when they were from the devil.  Yet you can read the same account in greater clarity and detail from a more trustworthy and reliable source like FAIR and come away strengthened in faith.

We could go on and on with hundreds of things that are supposed to be shocking to us modern believers of the faith because they seem so out of character with what we’ve been taught about Joseph or other leaders of the early LDS church. If we are bothered by something, then we need to do our homework and get all the facts as part of the process of confirming truth for ourselves.

Get the facts straight

If I were concerned upon reading that Joseph Smith was supposed to have said that even he didn’t know when a prophecy came from the Lord or that he is supposed to have said that a revelation he received must have come from the devil, as David Whitmer said he did, then I would want to read more about this and would be very careful about the source that I study.

Because if I believed that Joseph really said this, then that might lead me to conclude that if even prophets have a hard time understanding revelation, how can I really be expected to understand or know the truth of revelations that come to me, especially revelation that I think is telling me that the church itself is true? Do you see how important it is to get the facts of certain matters?

The Joseph Smith Papers

Of course Joseph never said that he must have received a false revelation.  In fact, according to more recent information discovered, the brethren who went on the mission to Canada in an attempt to sell the copyright to the Book of Mormon felt that they were successful on their mission and that the Lord was pleased with their efforts. The promised sale was conditional.

I’m grateful for brethren like Richard Bushman, who are helping to bring us the Joseph Smith papers. In volume 1 of the Manuscript Revelation Books, we have the full copy of the mission to Canada revelation. It can be read there. The criticism that Joseph later claimed that the revelation had not come from God is in all likelihood the product of a false memory by David Whitmer.

We can believe the prophet

As I wrote in a previous essay, I believe it is our lifelong pursuit to understand revelation and to come to know how the Lord communicates with each of us. We can rely on the promises of the Lord to lead us, guide us and walk beside us because we have the gift of the Holy Ghost. I hope we cherish this gift and live worthy of the constant companionship of this promised revelator.

Joseph Smith knew when the Lord was inspiring him and so did most of the brethren who were with him at the time when he received revelation. We can trust that the Lord will help us to have the assurances we need to believe in the mission of the prophet Joseph Smith. Someday, we will meet Brother Joseph and if we still have questions about his life we can ask them to him directly.

Mormon visitors from outer space


I was looking for a quote today that goes something like this: “The only beings to visit our planet are those who were once inhabitants here”  (Update: Jeremy at the Seerstone provided the scripture as D&C 130:5). My search landed me on an article in the New Era from 1971 by Kent Nielsen.  Like Truman Madsen who just passed away, Dr. Nielsen is an emeritus professor of philosophy from BYU.  The article is entitled, “People on other worlds,” and is still fascinating although it was written almost forty years ago.

After a brief review of the basic cosmological configuration of our planetary neighbors, we are introduced to the simple math calculations used to deduce that we are not alone in our universe.  There are uncountable billions and billions of stars and galaxies throughout space.  If only one star in a million should have inhabitable planets, that would give us over 100,000 systems in our galaxy alone.  Galaxies like ours exist in the billions.  We are not the only life in this universe.

People on other worlds

Even with the advances of science in discovering planets around other suns that conceivably could harbor conditions favorable to human life, we simply have no way of knowing that there are any people out there besides us.  Or do we?  Latter-day Saints have known for over 170 years about the existence of people on other worlds.  In fact, we also know that people from other worlds visit the earth and have been doing so for many years to deliver important messages.

Can you imagine the impact it would have upon civilization if our scientists announced that they have detected an approaching spacecraft from outer space?  How would we be prepared for the visit of extra-terrestrial beings?  I suspect that Latter-day Saints would take it all in stride.  After all, we claim to have been the recipients of such visits for a long time.  No, the visitors did not require the use of a spacecraft to reach our planet.  Their method of travel is currently beyond us.

Prophets taught of other worlds

Brigham Young said, “…there never was a time when there were not Gods and worlds, and men were not passing through the same ordeals that we are now passing through. That course has been from all eternity, and it is and will be to all eternity.”  The Apostle Paul knew that God had created other worlds.  He wrote, “God…hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son…by whom also he made the worlds.”  Moses and Enoch revealed more in the Pearl of Great Price:

The Lord said to Moses, “The heavens, they are many, and they cannot be numbered unto man; but they are numbered unto me, for they are mine. And as one earth shall pass away, and the heavens thereof even so shall another come; and there is no end to my works.”  Enoch said, “And were it possible that man could number the particles of the earth, yea, millions of earths like this, it would not be a beginning to the number of thy creations…”  Joseph Smith’s witness is similar.

God created countless worlds

“And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives! For we saw him, even on the right hand of God; and we heard the voice bearing record that he is the Only Begotten of the Father— That by him, and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.”  What an amazing testimony!  But wait, there’s more.

The Prophet Joseph Smith taught: “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man. … he was once a man like us … God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth. …If Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and … God the Father of Jesus Christ had a Father, you may suppose that He had a Father also. … And where was there ever a father without first being a son? … If Jesus had a Father, can we not believe that He had a Father also?”  Now that is deep doctrine!

Purpose of all these worlds

We don’t seem to talk much about this doctrine any more – that God was once a man as we are now.  We tend to focus more on the idea that man can become like God.  We are not alone in this teaching as it gives hope and motivation to many people besides Latter-day Saints who believe it.  But the idea that God was once like us and passed through a period of mortality and testing is a bit much for some people to accept.  President Hinckley even downplayed it in a news interview.

Nevertheless, as far as I know, it remains a basic fundamental doctrine of our church that helps to explain the purpose of life and all the potential inhabitable worlds that have been created.  The worlds were created specifically to provide a home on which the posterity of the Gods could be tested and proven.  Yes, we believe in multiple Gods, but limit our worship to our own Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ his son.  We just do not teach about other Gods in our curriculum today.

Believed but not taught

I have often wondered about this unique way we have of doing things in our church.  There are many things which we believe and are written about in historical sermons of former priesthood leaders.  And yet, we do not include them in what we teach to investigators, new members, or even long-time members for that matter.  However, just like the idea of a mother in heaven we do occasionally sing about our distinctive beliefs.  A favorite hymn contains these words:

“If you could hie to Kolob
In the twinkling of an eye,
And then continue onward
With that same speed to fly,
D’ye think that you could ever,
Through all eternity,
Find out the generation
Where Gods began to be?”

We are Gods in embryo

We are of the race of Gods.  We are of his species.  God looks likes us.  We look like him.  He has two arms, two legs and a head with two eyes, two ears, a nose and a mouth.  As Jesus said, “If ye have seen me, ye have seen the Father.”  We are his sons and daughters and he loves us.  The people who populate the other worlds out there are also his sons and daughters and look just like you and me.  There are no green, bug-eyed monsters.  They are also of the race of Gods.

The people who are out there are in different stages of their existence.  Like us, some are passing through a temporal period.  Others are living in worlds that have been celestialized and yet others inhabit a lower kingdom of glory.  This process of living and dying and being resurrected has been going on forever.  I can’t fathom that with my limited mortal brain but I know it is true.  You and I are a part of that process of seeking to be like God and to inherit a glorious exaltation.

Space travel to the earth

Could a person from outer space ever come to visit the earth?  Any Latter-day Saint knows the answer.  Of course, visitors from outer space can come to earth!  They’ve been doing it for many thousands of years.  God and angels visited Adam.  They visited prophets in the Old Testament and Apostles in the New Testament.  The Book of Mormon has numerous accounts of angelic visitations and of the visit of Jesus Christ to the ancient American people.  It is quite common!

In the spring of 1820, God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ visited the boy prophet Joseph Smith in upstate New York.  Angels came to deliver keys of the priesthoodto Joseph and Oliver in the Kirtland temple in 1836.  In our temporal existence we may not be able to travel to worlds beyond out own solar system but other beings in advanced phases of existence are not so limited.  When Moroni appeared to Joseph, he saw “a conduit open right up into heaven.”  Awesome!

Communication from space

Scientists have been listening for communication from space for years but they have yet to hear anything to indicate intelligent life.  On the other hand, Latter-day Saints are very familiar with the process of receiving messages from outer space, transmitted by means that transcend beyond the normal method of communication.  This is more than a future possibility.  It is a present fact!  Beings from outer space have been making great efforts to communicate with us every day.

They have been sending messages that are filled with wisdom and great intelligence.  These are messages that come from superior beings, who have evolved way beyond our limited mortal capacities to think and to understand. They live in dimensions that we cannot begin to fathom.  But they are willing to share with us knowledge that will transform our lives if we will just listen and apply what they say.  Their intelligence is far beyond ours and yet is beneficent and kind.

They are coming to visit us

What’s even more astounding to realize is that these same intelligent beings will be visiting us very soon.  The millennium is simply a period of time when earthly civilization will be brought under the government of superior beings from another world who will visit earth frequently to direct our affairs.  “Christ and the resurrected Saints will reign over the earth during the thousand year period.  They will not probably dwell upon the earth but will visit it when they please…”

But these beings who come from outer space, or another world, will not be aliens.  They will be our brethren, who have lived upon this earth in mortality.  What’s more, we expect a return of portions of this earth that have been broken off in times past when cataclysmic events sheared off that portion of the earth on which they resided.  First the Ten Tribes, then the City of Enoch and last the portion that contains the Garden of Eden.  Don’t believe it?  Look it up in our history!

Summary and conclusion

The earth has received many visitors from outer space over the years.  They do not come in spaceships and they do not wear spacesuits.  They come from a plane of existence that we can only dream about and not yet comprehend.  These are intelligent and magnificent beings that are glorified and exalted in their appearance and in their character.  They love us.  We are their children and their brethren.  They have come to bring us messages of great joy if we but listen.

Visions of angels and Gods from other worlds are not something that I have experienced but I know such things have occurred.  The influence of these beneficent beings fills the immensity of space and dwells here among us.  These Gods have given us gifts that help us communicate with them.  One of these gifts is the gift of the Holy Ghost.  It is real and is the means by which God reveals truth to the mind and heart of man.  Of this I and millions of others are unique witnesses.

Smoothing down that Rough Stone Rolling


I have been listening again to John Dehlin’s interviews with Richard Bushman on my iPod on the days that I travel to the office. Thanks again John, for bringing the archives back. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: those podcasts are now an invaluable part of history. I’ve enjoyed each one and have listened to some of them multiple times, including the Bushman interviews.

I have also been re-reading Rough Stone Rolling, especially the early chapters dealing with the First Vision, the visit of the angel Moroni and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon. I have thought deeply about this fascinating part of our early LDS history but John’s probing questions to Richard Bushman have got me thinking again about several of these rather complex issues.

The difficult questions of history

If you’re a student of our history then you know what the questions are and have most likely formulated your own answers long ago. I know I have. Through my blogging activities of the past couple of years I have been able to present my own answers to many of those more difficult questions. I have also been called on to defend my answers by those who don’t agree with them.

Here are just a few of those issues I have blogged about: multiple versions of the First Vision, God is an exalted man, God has a body of flesh and bone, the seer stone in the hat, objections to the Book of Abraham, the burning of the bosom, Joseph Smith was a Mason, plural wives of Joseph Smith, the new Mormon history, the only true and living church and Mountain Meadows.

Not taught in the classroom

As I’ve written in several of my blog posts of the past, I feel very blessed and grateful that I had an advantage that many who have studied our history did not have. I was exposed to almost all of the troublesome issues early in life and had come to understand even in High School that what is taught in the LDS classroom does not always tell the whole story of what really happened.

From the time I was fifteen I realized that there are some issues that are not taught in depth in our Sunday Schools, Seminaries and Institutes and certainly are not brought up from the pulpit. This was not a problem for me. I learned about the rest of the story by reading books that my mother provided for us in the family library. Although a convert, mother loved our unique LDS history.

Information from other sources

I hope John doesn’t mind, but I think his story is illustrative of what has happened to many of our young people in the church who have discovered at a later point in their lives things they didn’t know about our history. After the shock wore off, a feeling of betrayal replaced it. As John said, this feeling came because they loved and trusted the church too much, not too little.

In John’s case, he discovered many of these troublesome issues when he was called on to teach seminary. He studied the material in great depth in order to be prepared as he taught. He also supplemented his study of the official CES material with what he discovered on the Internet. And there is the big difference between my experience with this difficult material and John’s.

Learning Mormon history

You can learn more about the issues that trouble some of our members and investigators through a simple Google search than I could through many years of reading selected books provided by my mother. However, what you usually find on the Internet is someone’s interpretation of what they read and very little original research. That can taint the way you learn Mormon history

From mother’s library, I read books like No Man Knows my History by Fawn Brodie, Family Kingdom and the Kingdom or Nothing by Samuel Taylor, Great Basin Kingdom by Leonard Arrington and Joseph Smith, the First Mormon by Donna Hill. We also had the History of the Church and the Journal of Discourses in our home library in which I looked things up.

Learn details of history in personal study

My point is that I had the luxury of slowly reading one of these historical books, discussing what I had learned with my mother and then pondering why I had not learned these kind of details in my seminary classes. I came to the conclusion that there just wasn’t enough time to bring up in that 50 minute early morning Seminary class some of the more interesting stuff that I had read.

Having taught Seminary later in life, I have been impressed with the clear direction from CES that we are not to teach some of the more complex and difficult parts of our history. I think I can understand why and in fact, agree with this direction to teach our history in a manner that is both uplifting and faith-promoting. But leaving major parts of it out can cause problems for some.

It is human nature to discuss

One of the methods of those who are opposed to the work of the LDS Church is to present us with shocking statements about our faith, our beliefs or our history and then to accuse us of not wanting to accept the truth. It doesn’t matter how we respond – shock, indignation, dismay, anger, or even kindness, their desire is not to help us understand the truth but to destroy our faith.

That’s the problem with researching the church on the Internet. It’s common to want to discuss our new discoveries with others. That’s how we solidify our understanding – by sharing things with others and evaluating their response. Our young people turn to online discussion groups or forums because many of the older members of the church have never learned about these things.

True believing Mormons who know

Unfortunately, it is rare to find someone online who knows our history well and has no problem with the more difficult parts of that history. In fact, it is rare to find someone in your own circle of contacts who really knows our history. We are a church of lay leadership. There is simply no requirement that you know the history, only that you believe, are worthy and want to help others.

That’s why John’s interview with Dr. Bushman is so helpful to those who are struggling with understanding and accepting all the warts and imperfections of our history. Rough Stone Rolling is a great resource that tells our story without trying to whitewash it or cover anything up. Dr. Bushman is careful to provide the complete story with contemporary sources from that time.

A safe place to discuss our history

I don’t know if John has found the answer to what I feel was his best question. He asked, “Where can we go to find a safe forum in which to discuss our history?” In my experience, Sunstone is not the place. I think they tried forums but they didn’t take off. And the Mormon History Association has wonderful conferences and publications, but no online forums.

There are a plethora of online forums to which we can turn to discuss the church. I have listed them in a previous essay. You just have to choose what level of moderation you are going to accept. Some strive to keep the disaffected Mormons out, but what if you are simply going through a temporary crisis of faith? Who can you trust to guide you through your explorations?

Summary and conclusion

The Internet has done amazing things for the church. It has helped us share the message of the restoration in a way that allows us to reach millions, even billions with the story of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. It allows us to present our faith, our doctrine and our history in a manner that is faith-promoting and uplifting. That has been my objective in the essays I write.

John prepared and shared a wonderful presentation on how to stay in the church in spite of the loss of faith. I highly recommend it to all, no matter what your current level of belief. An updated version is available at the staylds forums, which I missed when I compiled my list of LDS-related forums. Thanks to John Dehlin for his work in helping those with a crisis of faith.

The plural wives of Joseph Smith


I’ve thought long and hard about the propriety of this essay. It is a sensitive subject and one that is so easy to misunderstand. It is also a sacred subject that I have seen dragged through the dregs of the ex-Mormon sites, and yet presented well on some Internet resources. Although some may claim otherwise, it is not a secret subject. It is just not taught in your basic church curriculum.

In today’s Internet age, this information is readily available. It was readily available when I was growing up but you just had to know where to look. The best official source for this information is on the Church’s Family Search site. Just enter Joseph Smith and his birth date of 1805 in the state of Vermont, click on search and then click on his ancestral file entry. There are his wives.

The list is not complete and includes a few wives who were sealed to him after his death. A more complete list can be found at the website appropriately titled, wivesofjosephsmith.org. The summaries presented of the wives are well done and quick, easy reading. If you want a more detailed treatise, read the book, In Sacred Loneliness, published by Signature Books in 1997.

The doctrine of celestial marriage

There is no way you can understand this unique aspect of the beginnings of the LDS Church without considering this a doctrine of the restoration. That’s an important concept to us and puts everything into perspective. Without this understanding, it is easy to think of Joseph Smith as a libertine and an adulterer. In fact, that is how the anti and ex-Mormons want you to view him.

It has always been the claim of the LDS Church that we are a restored religion. We believe that our doctrines and practices are a restoration of things known, taught, believed and performed by the patriarchs of the Old Testament. One of those beliefs and practices is what we call celestial marriage. It is also referred to as plural marriage by some but as polygamy by most people.

Although the revelation on celestial marriage, also called the new and everlasting covenant was recorded in 1843 as section 132, it is evident from the historical records that the doctrines and principles involved in this revelation had been known by the Prophet since 1831. We believe in the restoration of all things, and the practice of celestial marriage is just one of those things.

It is not viewed as adultery

A close reading of section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which is still very much a part of the canon of the LDS Church reveals that the Lord appointed Joseph to restore all things (v 40) and was commanded to go and do the works of Abraham (v 32). The Lord affirmed that Joseph had the sealing power (v 46 & 48) and that the Lord had already given him plural wives (v 52).

Verses 61 and 64 point out that the first wife holds the keys of this power and therefore, she is the one who administers or allows her husband to enter into additional marriages. It is she that gives them to him. However, verse 65 makes it clear that if she doesn’t believe and accept the doctrine when taught, that he is justified to receive any additional wives the Lord gives him.

And that is exactly the situation Joseph was in. Emma didn’t like plural marriage although she did try to make it work on a couple of occasions. She accepted Eliza and Emily Partridge for a short season as well as Maria and Sarah Lawrence. Joseph and Emma were sealed during one of her periods of acceptance. However, it was short-lived and she then threw his other wives out.

Not practiced openly, denied publicly

Joseph taught this doctrine to his counselors in the First Presidency and to the Twelve Apostles. It was difficult for most to accept at first, but just as he did with the additional wives to whom he proposed, he invited his trusted associates to obtain a revelation and witness for themselves that the doctrine was true, ennobling and exalting. Most did and many of them followed his example.

However, the doctrine was not taught openly, and was, in fact, denied when it came up as it did quite often during the later Nauvoo period. Now that is a difficult thing for many of our critics to accept. It is bad enough that Joseph and a few other leaders participated in the practice of plural marriage clandestinely, but to then deny it and to publicly preach against it is just hypocritical.

The problem was that there were some who took license with this practice and then turned it into something that it was not meant to be. They called it “spiritual wifery,” and enticed women into adulterous relationships claiming that Joseph approved and sanctioned it. Joseph was forced to preach against it publicly because John C. Bennett was teaching and practicing it unlawfully.

Our critics are shocked

When people investigate the church and the subject of plural marriage comes up, most are familiar with Brigham Young as being the primary example of the practice among the early Latter-day Saint church. However, many are surprised when they learn that the Prophet Joseph Smith was the originator of the doctrine and the practice. Joseph had at least thirty wives.

I suppose that is shocking to learn because Joseph figures so prominently in the story of the restoration. The missionaries teach of the sacred experiences of Joseph in the First Vision, the visits of the angel Moroni, the appearances of old testament prophets in the Kirtland temple and of Joseph’s vision of the three degrees of glory, including his glorious testimony of the Savior.

Our critics have capitalized on this and delight to point it out with fervent zeal and language that makes it obvious that there is no acceptance or desire to understand that this could possibly be something that really was revealed by the Lord as a part of the restoration of all things in the last days. They do not want you to see celestial marriage as anything other than base carnal desire.

Not practiced today

I have written in a previous essay that I hold strongly to the idea of plural marriage still being an eternal doctrine. Latter-day Saints no longer practice it, and have not for over a hundred years. Of course there are those who claim to be Fundamentalist Mormons who live in polygamy, and are mostly in Utah, but they are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This topic will continue to be of interest to those who learn about the LDS Church, and will be for a long time to come. It is a curiosity because it is not the social norm in the United States or in most of the Christian world. It has been in the news a lot lately with the FLDS raids in Texas and with the show Big Love on HBO portraying polygamy as a big part of Utah life. It’s not.

The church goes to great lengths to point out that Mormons do not practice polygamy. There are numerous entries on the subject in the Newsroom and even a one page website that gives a great summary of the message that we want to get out to the world. You can find it on my sidebar. The doctrine may still be in our scriptures, but we do not practice it. Those who do are cut off.

Summary and conclusion

As I noted at the beginning, I have been hesitant to write this essay but have had it on my list to do for a long time. I want to have it available on my blog to refer readers to it as it comes up in dialog. I do not like the language our critics use to describe Joseph’s difficulties because he was the first to begin this practice in the last dispensation. Brigham Young had it much easier.

Yes, Joseph Smith had many plural wives. He entered into the law of celestial marriage by way of commandment from God. No, it was not easy for him to obey this commandment. His wife, Emma, who loved him dearly and believed in him as a prophet, nevertheless had a very difficult time accepting this revelation and did not want to share Joseph with the other women in his life.

You can read a lot more about this on various Internet sites listed below, and even the Wikipedia articles about each of his wives are presented fairly accurately. The church is not trying to hide this information and has not for many years. It is a part of our heritage and history. It is a sacred part of our religion that was restored through the prophet Joseph Smith in these, the latter days.

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For additional information:

01. Remembering the Wives of Joseph Smith website
02. Origin of Latter-day Saint Polygamy – Wikipedia
03. In Sacred Loneliness by Todd Compton – Signature Books
04. Review of In Sacred Loneliness from FARMS
05. SHIELDS review of In Sacred Loneliness
06. FAIR – Joseph’s marriages to young women
07. FAIR – Joseph Smith and polyandry
08. FAIR – How Emma felt about plural marriage
09. FAIR – Charges against Joseph of lustful motives
10. FAIR – Resources – Joseph Smith and polygamy

The Visions of Joseph Smith


“The Mormons base their religion on the visions of Joseph Smith.” This passing remark I read the other day from a writer who was not familiar with our church struck me as a profoundly simple summary of our religion. Take away the visions of Joseph Smith and what have we got? Nothing – much of our religion is found in the Book of Mormon and yet much of it is not.

Some have compared the LDS Church with the Jehovah’s Witnesses because they are both religions that started in America in the 19th Century. But you can search in vain for claims to visions or revelation in the history of Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. His organization was formed as a Bible study group with no special claims of divine authority.

Another American religious group that formed in the 19th century, the Seventh-day Adventists, followed the same path of establishment by the Bible studies of William Miller. Joseph Smith, on the other hand, made no secret to his claims that he had been visited first by God and Jesus and then by angels – lots of them. Now, that’s something that you don’t hear about every day.

Visits from celestial beings

I would say that our claim to visits from celestial beings is very remarkable. In fact, perhaps this claim is one of the most unique things about our church. Sure, other churches teach that you can receive the Holy Spirit and be influenced by angels, but not many teach that angels have come to visit their founder multiple times, providing direction and instructions on how to set up a church.

Since visits by angels are not common occurrences in most people’s lives, it stands to reason that this is both a curiosity and a point of some ridicule or scorn. When it comes right down to it, if a friend were to ask you about angelic visitations and how they work, what would you say? I have never been visited by an angel, at least not that I am aware of, so I can’t say just how this works.

And yet I believe that Joseph Smith told the truth when he said he was visited by God, Jesus, and a multitude of angels. We also believe that Joseph Smith was very much a visionary man who received literally hundreds of visions and other revelations, all inspired or given of God. How many visions have you received? How many people do you know who profess divine visions?

Claims of mental illness

In an attempt to explain away Joseph’s claims to visions, some have suggested that he suffered from seizures of some kind, perhaps epileptic. Others have said that he had a vivid imagination or was just a really good liar. If someone were to present themselves to the world today with claims of receiving visits from angels and visions from God, most of us would say he is crazy.

I know I would be very skeptical if a friend, neighbor or work associate were to share with me that he had seen visions. People just don’t do that today for fear of being placed in the local mental hospital for observation. We would say someone like this is delusional, suffering from some form of mental illness such as psychosis or schizophrenia, causing fantastic hallucinations.

Most people who hear voices in their head don’t like this experience and seek help to deal with it. Yet Joseph Smith claimed that God spoke to him over and over again for years and years as He told him how to set up the church that he formed. I don’t hear voices in my head on a regular basis, but I can say that there are times I think I have felt inspired with ideas, words and phrases.

Joseph Smith spoke for God

So I guess a big part of accepting the claims of Joseph Smith is deciding for yourself if he was crazy, delusional or just an incredibly talented manipulator of the people around him. Most people in the world who are religious believe in some sort of supernatural communications from Deity to man. Most religious people look for ways to understand divine messages in their life.

How much do you agree with the following statement? “Yes, I believe the leaders of my church receive regular communication from God.” How about these? “I know that God has revealed Himself to the founder of my church. I am certain that He continues to guide the leaders who have followed him. I believe that most, if not all of them have been visited by God as well.”

A prophet is someone who lived way back in ancient history, in Old Testament times, right? I can’t imagine someone today claiming to be a prophet. If they did, we would think they were crazy. And yet, so many people are searching for divine guidance that they listen to all kinds of crazy people who claim to be prophets. Wait, the Mormons claim to have prophets, don’t they?

Joseph Smith was a prophet

If someone is going to claim to be a prophet – one who speaks for God – then they had better provide a way for me to know for myself that his claim is true. I’m not going to believe anyone who comes to me and says he has a message for me from God unless I have some evidence that God really did send him to me. What evidence or proof did Joseph Smith provide for his claims?

We teach that the Book of Mormon is the work of a prophet. It is something that we can read and judge for ourselves as a witness of the claim of Joseph Smith that he was called of God to restore the Church of Jesus Christ in our day. Joseph claimed to have translated the Book of Mormon from gold plates, and that it contains the words of God to ancient American prophets.

Now that is a fantastic claim. If this man was delusional, then he had some of the most elaborate delusions known to man. Visions of God, visits from angels, gold plates and revelations that proclaim what God is going to do in the last days – these are all things that are simply unheard of. Yet that is what we are proclaiming to the world – so all can learn and judge for themselves.

Summary and conclusion

Visions into the spirit world, receiving visits by divine celestial beings and producing new scripture are all things that a prophet would do. In fact, we read in the Old Testament that God speaks to prophets face to face. That’s an astonishing claim for any man to make in our day and age and yet, that is exactly what Joseph Smith claimed as he organized a new church in 1830.

You can read more about the visions of Joseph Smith, not in the Book of Mormon, but in the Doctrine and Covenants, a record of selected revelations that Joseph Smith received during a period of about twenty years. As a church we are studying the Doctrine and Covenants this year in our Sunday school classes. So much of what we believe can be found in these scriptures.

I love reading the Doctrine and Covenants. I often read it aloud in my personal studies just to get the effect of hearing the voice of the Lord. It is powerful and brings a spirit of revelation as I do. Several of Joseph’s visions are recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, but certainly not all. He was a visionary man and made no secret of the fact that God spoke to him through these visions.

For they were all wrong


In our Pearl of Great Price Summer Institute class this evening we studied Joseph Smith History verses one through twenty. You know the story. It’s the First Vision. We had a substitute teacher this evening, a judge from the local divorce court. He’s funny and shoots from the hip so he invited discussion. There were a lot of First Vision stories shared both from the first time hearing and the first time sharing, as a missionary.

There has been much discussion on the Bloggernacle about “The One True Church.” When we got to verse nineteen, I eagerly anticipated some discussion about The Lord’s response to Joseph when he asked which church he should join. I thought someone would bring up, as I have read in so many comments on various LDS blogs, why it is so offensive to claim that we are “The One True Church,” and that all others are wrong.

Nothing. Nobody said anything. So I raised my hand and volunteered that there was a lot of truth in other churches and a lot of good people in other churches. I wondered aloud if anybody had run across this argument before that we are considered arrogant and perhaps downright insulting to others when we make this claim. Nope. Nobody. These are all young adults, most born and raised in the church but a few converts, some recent.

Perhaps it’s just a Bloggernacle thing

I have written about this subject before. Several others have written about it lately and have been taken to task for making such a claim. I am a little puzzled. Is it or is it not an issue to others who consider what we have to offer? I think of the sister in Sacrament meeting sitting next to her husband, who is not a member of our faith, when the speaker bears testimony, “I know that we are the only true and living church on the earth today.”

We discussed the Lord’s response: “…all their creeds were an abomination in his sight.” Creeds of course are statements or professions of belief, in this case religious beliefs. The most well-known are the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed and the Apostles Creed. Many religious groups have and use creeds. Labeling them as abominations is certainly harsh. It means exceptionally detestable, loathsome, hateful, wicked or vile.

The Lord also said that the professors of these creeds were all corrupt; that “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.” I wonder if the Lord meant the preachers or the believers when he referred to professors. Either way, it is quite a condemnation to be called corrupt by the Lord, isn’t it?

They were all wrong

But the part of the Lord’s response that seems to have sparked the most debate over the years, and it continues today on the LDS blogs and discussion forums, is the instruction to Joseph that he “must join none of them for they were all wrong…” I think it is the idea of rightness and wrongness that some people find offensive. I can only imagine that they must say to themselves that Joseph made this whole thing up, for how could the Lord say such a thing? All churches are good that teach of God, right?

Why is the concept of rightness and wrongness so important in a religion? This is the thing that bothered Joseph so much as he considered which church to join. He wrote that the people argued with each other about points of doctrine and each claimed to be right. He also pointed out that they lost all good feelings one for another because of their arguments. I see the same thing happening today right here in many of our LDS blogs.

Intelligent discussion on a group blog is one thing but it so often descends to personal attacks that you are right and they are wrong. Yet when I visit the blogs of some of these individuals I note that the contents of their blogs are mostly uplifting and contain essays that are right in line with the “orthodox” views of most members of the church. I really had to laugh the other day when one blogger wrote, “My opinions are orthodox. The rest of you are nuts.”

Religious discussions are healthy

I guess it all depends on what you seek in your religion and in your discussions on the subject. Some are looking for intellectual stimulation and want to explore viewpoints that are perhaps not basic to our revealed theology. Others want to engage in dialog on a subject that has bothered them and are looking for clarification or justification from others. There are probably as many reasons why people discuss religion as there are people who discuss religion. I personally am looking for understanding of the views of others.

I hate arguments. I don’t care to prove my points right or wrong. I believe that truth can stand on its own. There have been so many defenders of the faith before me who have done a masterful job of explaining what we believe. We have a wealth of history and religious discourse over the years. We can draw upon our heritage of published writings to keep us busy for a lifetime if we could find the time to digest and summarize it.

I love most of the blogs I read that are listed on my sidebar. I don’t have the time to comment on all of them but enjoy reading the comments of those who do. There are some incredibly smart and faithful people out there. Thank you all for your lively discussions and for making your points of view understood. Your dialog helps me in my personal efforts to study the gospel. I am drawn to the scriptures over and over again through your remarks.

Summary and conclusion

The claim that we are right has been a central part of our religion from even before the church was organized. It’s not going to go away. It’s also something for which we do not need to apologize. It is based on scripture. This church is “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth.” Yes, the Lord’s statement that all the other churches are all wrong is a bold statement, but it is fundamental to Mormonism.

There is much good in other churches. There are so many good people who do so much good as part of their faith and belief. We do not force people to accept our claim to be the only true church. We simply present the evidence of the revealed word to the prophet Joseph and invite them to decide for themselves if it has credence or not. We can simply add our testimony and witness that we have found it to be true by our own study and prayer. Without arguing, we can discuss the doctrine and enjoy the spirit in our work.

I enjoy the confidence and surety that comes from this personal testimony that I belong to the only true church. I hope that it never becomes a stumbling block to anyone else. It is not something that we wave in the face or rub in the noses of others. I know that others do not enjoy this confidence. In fact, there are some who do not believe the doctrine and yet still associate with our church. They are welcome. I hope they feel that welcome.

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