Dear 100 Hour Board,
Dear 100 Hour Board,
Hi, This not my first question, but I will still Include a bit of background before asking my question. I was raised in the church, I got no answer when I prayed about the BoM at age 20, and I have been researching ever since to try and figure out the truth about Joseph Smith. I am now 47. I recently accepted the challenge to give the BoM one more read, but God still has not revealed to me that it is true. He did bless me with a testimony of Christ about 12 years ago and my life was competely transformed at that time. I began going through a process of eliminating sin in my life because I do agree that living in sin invites deception, and I have perservered knowing that someday Christ will lead me to an understanding regarding Joseph Smith and the LDS religion. I know I am still far from perfect, but I work hard to be obedient and have repented for past sin that God has made me aware of. I am saying that because I know some assume I must be living in outright sin of some kind. Also, I am as sincere as I know how to be when I pray about JS and the BoM. I sincerely want the truth. I do consider the possibility that God is not ignoring me, but rather telling me "no", but still I often find myself drawn back to the search for a clearer answer. Anyway, I appreciate the church's decision in recent years to expand LDS.org to include so many resources such as the JS papers, and I have been taking advantage of the new access to historical documents. My question is about something I've learned on LDS.org regarding JS's practice of polygamy. I just want to say up front that this is NOT a question about whether or not polygamy is right or wrong. That is another topic entirely, so please avoid any justification of polygamy itself as it does not answer this specific question. Thanks. My question comes from the Gospel Topic Essay about polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo and the 1835 D&C which are both available on LDS.org. From them I have learned that JS (and the early church)'s practice of polygamy was surrounded by massive dishonesty. JS lied to his wife, the majority of his congregation, and to the public about it. He went so far as to publish a denial of polygamy in the 1835 D&C (101:4), and it remained in the D&C for the next 41 years. It was not taken out until 1876 which is when section 132 was put it. But, the church was practicing polygmay the entire 41 years. Numerous statements were made by Joseph and others in church publications to the effect of 'this church practices no other system of marriage than the one declared in the D&C' and then the verse would be quoted. This was blantably unture, and given that JS claimed to believe in being "honest and true" and in "honoring, obeying, and sustaining the law" it seems like complete hypocrisy for him to lie in order to protect himself from the laws against polygamy which the essay admits were in place every where he practiced it. Jesus spoke very harshly against hypocrisy, and knowing that I am to judge a prophet (true or false) by his fruits, I'm looking at the scale of dishonesty, especially the lying in 'Scripture' and I can't help but I wonder if the devil's in the details here. Isn't Satan the father of lies? But, my bottom line question is this, "If he was willing to lie to this degree to practice polygamy, what else was he willing to lie about? Can I trust him about the first vision, etc? A very related question I have is since both the BoM and the Bible say that God cannot lie, that it is impossible for for God to lie, I can KNOW that D&C 101:4 (1835 version) did not come from God, so if even one thing JS wrote in the D&C did NOT come from God, how many other things in there also did not come from God? Any thoughts on any of this? Thanks for being available, Adrian King
First of all, I want to say that I genuinely think it's really impressive and cool that you're putting so much effort into finding answers. It's easy to just go with the flow, but the fact that you're still here plugging away looking for answers, wherever they take you, is commendable. Sunday Night Banter and guppy of doom address some of your specific questions below, so I'll focus more on your general experience.
I wanted to share with you an experience I had a couple years ago. I took a Utah history class that focused on the early Church, and one of the things I learned a lot about was the relationship that Brigham Young had with the Native Americans in Utah. While he was sometimes tolerant and accepting of them, he also condoned their mass murders, and turning them out of their own homes so the pioneers could use the land, and all sorts of other morally reprehensible things. I don't know if I can express to you how much this shook me, but it did. I was completely horrified that a church leader, a prophet, could do things that were so clearly wrong. Why would God choose someone so clearly wrong about so many really big, really important things to lead His church? What if God didn't choose Brigham Young at all? I was so scared that the Church I grew up in, and loved and believed in, could be wrong. Not just wrong about a certain aspect, but wrong entirely. I grappled with this for months, and finally came to the realization that nobody exists in a vacuum. Brigham Young was a product of his times, and while what those times produced was definitely not good when it comes to treatment of Native Americans, God's only choices for prophets at that time were also products of that same time. I really don't want to come off as callous about this, or say that what he did doesn't matter, because it does. While my realization about people being products of their times doesn't excuse the terrible treatment of Native Americans, it at least helped me make sense of it from a historical perspective. I reject the idea that Brigham Young's poor treatment of Native Americans was inspired or desired by God, or that it was okay, but just thinking of him as a man in the 1800s, it makes sense why he would treat them that way.
However, that realization led to other questions. If Brigham Young was a product of his times, what does that mean about modern day prophets? Are they also just products of this day and age, doing whatever they've been conditioned to do? If they're willing to follow culture rather than God on some things, what else are they simply following culture on? Can I trust whatever they say? While I didn't have the exact same questions as you, I had similar ones, and they really challenged my faith in the Church. And if I'm going to be totally honest with you, I still don't have perfect answers for when prophets are acting as prophets and when they're just acting as people. I wish I did, but I don't currently, and one day in heaven I plan on sitting down and talking with Jesus about it. But in the meantime, I've realized that there are things I've felt about the gospel that I cannot deny. I can't deny that I've felt Christ's love for me, or that I've felt the power of His atonement in my life. I can't deny that I've felt peace when I read the Book of Mormon, and believe it to be the word of God. I can't deny that I've felt that God has a purpose for me, and has answered my prayers throughout my life. I can't deny that I've received a testimony of living prophets, and their role and teachings. So until I can talk with Jesus about my specific questions, I've learned to be okay with what I do have. I can live with my questions, because for me personally, living without all the other wonderful, good things the Church has given me would be worse. Until I get everything else figured out, I stand with Nephi in saying, "I know that [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things."
(Also, this is my plug for when I say that because Jesus Christ is the only perfect person who has ever walked this earth, it follows that every single prophet ever has been imperfect. I once heard someone quip, "Doctrinally, Catholics believe the Pope is perfect, but no one really expects him to be. Doctrinally, Mormons believe prophets are not perfect, but everyone expects them to be." Sometimes their imperfections can be hard to deal with, but God absolutely can and does use imperfect people to guide His church on earth. As Elder Holland said, "Be kind regarding human frailty—your own as well as that of those who serve with you in a Church led by volunteer, mortal men and women. Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we." So when you have questions or doubts about what prophets have done in church history, just try to remember that Heavenly Father's only options for prophets have been imperfect people, but that doesn't negate the good they've done, just like my questions don't negate the testimony I do have.)
I realize that our experiences aren't identical, and you don't need to follow the same exact path I took, but hopefully it was helpful for you to hear about it. I would also invite you to ask yourself, what have you felt that you can't deny? Only you can answer that question for yourself (with God's help, of course), and only you can decide how to move forward with it, but it might be helpful. I'm not asking you to simply forget about your questions, or ignore the fact that you have them, but to determine for yourself if those questions are more overpowering than your faith in other aspects of the gospel. If your questions are more overpowering, what are you going to do? If they aren't more overpowering than your faith in other parts of the gospel, what are you going to do? Your intrinsic worth as a child of God doesn't change either way, but hopefully examining the things you're not willing to give up, regardless of questions, or the things that actually are outweighed by your questions, gives you an idea of where to go from here.
Recently one of my professors was talking about Fowler's Stages of Faith. This is a model used to examine religious faith throughout life, and I think it has a helpful way of conceptualizing faith. A lot of people stay in stage 3 all their lives, where they believe, almost dogmatically, whatever their church tells them. Questioning it, or looking for answers elsewhere, is discouraged in this stage. However, in stage 4, the person starts to question what their church is telling them, and it sounds like that may be where you're at, at least in regards to Joseph Smith. And you know what? It's hard to be in stage 4. There's so much cognitive dissonance as you fight between your feelings and what you've been taught and what you have questions about, and it's not a fun place to be. But it's also a really valuable, important place to be, because you have a choice to make about where to go from here. Are you going to regress back to stage 3, and pretend you never had questions? Are you going to completely abandon the faith model you've had up to this point, and look for something else entirely, to go start a new stage 3 with them? Are you going to stay in stage 4 forever, constantly plagued by doubts and questions? Or are you going to push forward toward stage 5, which Fowler defines as a place where you learn to live with the paradoxes in life? You might have to stay in stage 4 for a while, and it probably won't be awesome, but just know that you have options, and there's a light at the end of the tunnel.
Finally, Jeffrey S. McClellan, the director of BYU publications and graphics, gave a very moving devotional address on July 10th of this year. He talks about a lot of things, and I would recommend either viewing the whole thing, or reading it, because it's fantastic. But at one point he said, "Imperfect faith is still faith. By very definition, faith is incomplete, so if you feel you lack clarity and a sure knowledge, that is okay. That is faith. Be patient with the imperfection of your faith. The incompleteness gives faith its power." It's okay that you have questions, and according to Fowler, it's actually a faith progression from not having any questions at all. Keep being patient with yourself, keep seeking answers, and most of all, rely on prayer to ask Heavenly Father Himself about the things you have questions about. Ultimately He's the only one who can answer your questions. Joseph Smith can lie, but as you pointed out, God can't, and if you turn to Him with your questions, I believe He'll give you answers.
Reading over this answer it seems sort of jumbled, but I sincerely hope that at least something I said was helpful and applicable to you. I truly wish you the best as you search for answers.
I certainly don't know all the answers to your questions. However, there have been multiple prophets in the Bible that have lied about certain things (e.g. Moses and Peter). That's not to say that Joseph Smith was justified because other prophets have lied. I'm just saying that faith can't be in a prophet, it has to be in a perfect being (Jesus and Heavenly Father).
I think Joseph Smith made mistakes, plenty of them. Joseph Smith was not perfect, which he admitted himself. However, I still believe that he was a prophet and the Lord used him to restore the Church of Jesus Christ. It might be worthwhile to read the new edition of church history that the Church is publishing in September.
But, my bottom line question is this, "If he was willing to lie to this degree to practice polygamy, what else was he willing to lie about? Can I trust him about the first vision, etc?
- I would say don't trust Joseph Smith about the First Vision or anything else. Ask God and let God reveal truth to you. I would put my trust in what God says is true, regardless of what Joseph Smith or others may say is true.
-Sunday Night Banter
I love Sunday Night Banter's answer. I think that is the way to knowledge: asking and trusting what God tells you.
When it comes to Joseph actually lying, the response I've heard most often is that Joseph Smith was "lying for the Lord." Those who support this theory typically use the example of Peter, James, and John after the Mount of Transfiguration. If you'll remember, Christ told those three not to share anything that happened during that event. So what would they say if another apostle or another person later asked them what exactly happened when they were up on that mountain? They would, as some argue, be justified in lying, or "lying for the Lord."
Another theory is that Joseph may not have been quite the same person towards the end of his life as he was at the beginning. Moses, Saul, David, and Solomon were all amazing people who were called of God and did incredible things, but ultimately made choices which led them astray. Does that mean that what they accomplished is suddenly invalidated because they messed up near the end? Of course not! Just because Joseph took certain actions doesn't mean everything he did then was wrong, and certainly does not invalidate everything he did previously. The various leaders from the Old Testament illustrate that.
But again, ultimately it comes down to what God tells you is true. This may require you praying about individual teachings, or individual sections from D&C, or individual actions from Joseph's life to know if they're true. It's a lot easier to lump it into one prayer to know if Joseph Smith was a prophet and everything he taught was perfect, but we know from all our books of scriptures that prophets aren't infallible, and God doesn't expect any human, no matter how great, to be perfect. If we look at David and say, "He raped a woman, killed her husband, and forced her to marry him, so everything he did in life must have been horrible and against the Lord," then we're missing out on David's complexities and greatness he once had. We should never excuse David for his actions, but we should be able to recognize that he was once an amazing spiritual giant who would do anything for God. The same applies to Joseph. Regardless of how you view his actions later in life, they shouldn't taint his earlier actions. And again, it ultimately comes down to what God tells you is true.
-guppy of doom