Before Political Neutrality

The February issue of the Ensign has an article on Joseph Smith's Campaign for President of the United States. It is a pretty interesting read. After Joseph Smith appealed to President Van Buren and the candidates running against Van Buren for office for redress for the persecutions of the Saints in Missouri (and received little sympathy), he decided to run for President of the United States himself. This is why (in his own words):

I would not have suffered my name to have been used by my friends on anywise as President of the United States, or candidate for that office, if I and my friends could have had the privilege of enjoying our religious and civil rights as American citizens, even those rights which the Constitution guarantees unto all her citizens alike. But this as a people we have been denied from the beginning. Persecution has rolled upon our heads from time to time, from portions of the United States, like peals of thunder, because of our religion; and no portion of the Government as yet has stepped forward for our relief. And in view of these things, I feel it to be my right and privilege to obtain what influence and power I can, lawfully, in the United States, for the protection of injured innocence.
Do you think it is a call to action?

Joseph Smith, running as an Independent, wrote his platform, titled General Smith's Views of the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States and sent it out. His platform included more power for the President to suppress mobs, eliminating slavery, reducing congressional pay, prison reform, forming a national bank, annexing Oregon and Texas, and extending the United States to the east coast (if Native Americans gave their consent). Many of his proposals eventually came to pass (although expansion of the U.S. obviously occurred without the consent of Native Americans). Elder John A. Widtsoe called Joseph Smith's platform "an intelligent, comprehensive, forward-looking statement of policies, worthy of a trained statesman."


Here is a quote from Joseph Smith's platform:

In the United States the people are the government; and their united voice is the only sovereign that should rule; the only power that should be obeyed; and the only gentleman that should be honored; at home and abroad; on the land and on the sea; Wherefore, were I the president of the United States, by the voice of a virtuous people, I would honor the old paths of the venerated fathers of freedom: I would walk in the tracks of the illustaious patriots, who carried the ark of the government upon their shoulders with an eye single to the glory of the people.

For the campaign, missionaries were called to both "preach the Gospel and electioneer". Yes, you read that right. There were a total of 337 electioneering missionaries, including Brigham Young and 9 other members of the Quorum of the Twelve. They kept their religious sermons and political speeches separate (usually doing the political gathering the night before a church conference), but they did do both.

Some of the enemies of Joseph Smith in Illinois were concerned that Joseph's "views on government were widely circulated and took like wildfire". According to a Dr. Wall Southwick, who attended a meeting where enemies were plotting to assassinate Joseph, they believed that if the Prophet "did not get into the Presidential chair this election, he would be sure to the next time; and if Illinois and Missouri would join together and kill him, they would not be brought to justice for it" (suggesting that Joseph Smith's assassination may have party been due to his Presidential campaign).

Joseph Smith was martyred on June 27, 1844. The electioneering missionaries did not get word until July 9.

The conclusion of the article says

Joseph Smith's presidential campaign had sought to make the United States a better place, not only for the Latter-Day Saints, but for all Americans.

My question is this: What do you think our church leaders today want us to learn from reading this article? Is it just an interesting piece of history, or is there more to it? Although the position on political neutrality is clearly present at the end of the article (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not endorse, promote, or oppose political parties, candidates, or platforms), I personally take it as a call to "obtain what power and influence" we can to "protect innocence" or preserve liberty (particularly religious liberties). I was just wondering what your opinion is.

37 comments:

Anonymous said...

Would "those rights which the Constitution guarantees unto all her citizens alike" include the freedom of the press? Given the way Smith failed to respect the First Amendment rights of the Nauvoo Expositor, I can only conclude that he had a real double standard. He strongly supported his rights and those of Mormons generally, but blatantly denied the rights of his critics (even when those critics were themselves LDS). In that sense, I guess he was pretty much the same as most other politicians, then and now--a pity, since one might have expected better from a prophet of God.

Stephanie said...

Anonymous, (from your link):

At the time, the United States Constitution did not prohibit states and local governments from infringing the freedom of the press. This First Amendment protection only applied to the federal government until the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution was enacted in 1868.

Does the freedom of the press ("the rights of his critics") include slander and libel? I don't believe that even the founding fathers' intended that. Quote from Thomas Jefferson:

Printing presses shall be free except as to false facts published maliciously either to injure the reputation of another (whether followed by pecuniary damages or not) or to expose him to the punishment of the law.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough, Stephanie. Problem is, the Expositor told the truth. And even if the paper HAD printed a libel, the proper response--the response to a man of good character--would have been to sue in court, not to wreck a printing press, which means the incident--a clear instance of illegal vigilantism--would still call Smith's character into question. (In particular his devotion to the rule of law. If you want to get technical, you would want to ask this: on the authority of what statute did the Nauvoo government wreck the Expositor's press?)

Anyway, I'm rather amazed to see a conservative excusing such an action on grounds of a technicality. A man who would authorize such an act is a man whose judgment has been corrupted.

I would suggest that the Expositor's exposure of plural marriage would not have presented such a problem for Smith were he not running for president, that is, seeking a secular rather than a spiritual kind of power. I would suggest that we are looking here at a concrete example of how power corrupts--perhaps even a warning against the idea of the Church as a whole pursuing greater secular power.

FWIW, the Church is not "politically neutral." That term is inaccurate, because while the Church does not endorse candidates for political office, it does occasionally take sides on political issues--most obviously the Equal Rights Amendment and Proposition 8.

Stephanie said...

Anonymous, it appears that the destruction of the printing press was illegal, according to Illinois' own law. Even Elder Oaks (in his legal opinion) admitted some wrongdoing. I think his opinion is fair:

Oaks opined that while the destruction of the Expositor's printing press was legally questionable, under the law of the time the newspaper certainly could have been declared libelous and therefore a public nuisance by the Nauvoo City Council. As a result, Oaks concludes that while under contemporaneous law it would have been legally permissible for city officials to destroy, or "abate," the actual printed newspapers, the destruction of the printing press itself was probably outside of the council's legal authority, and its owners could have sued for damages.

If you would like to read an explanation on the church's position on neutrality, see this. You are correct that the church Reserves the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church. It only claims to be neutral in terms of partisan politics.

You don't appear to have a high opinion of Joseph Smith. Would you care to expound?

Amy said...

Anonymous David are you back?

Stephanie said...

I was actually wondering the same thing . . .

The Faithful Dissident said...

"Although the position on political neutrality is clearly present at the end of the article... I personally take it as a call to "obtain what power and influence" we can to "protect innocence" or preserve liberty (particularly religious liberties)."

I don't see how these two things can be separated. You can't be "politically neutral" and then tell your followers to vote a certain way. We already discussed this in all the Prop 8 threads. The Church can discuss issues and still be technically politically neutral (i.e. preach that homosexuality is a sin, define what it deems to be the correct role of women, etc, then let members vote how they see fit), but once it says "vote yes on 8" or "vote down the ERA," it's no longer political neutrality.

From the link:

The Church does not:

-Endorse, promote or oppose political parties, candidates or platforms.
(I guess it depends on how you define "platform.")

-Allow its church buildings, membership lists or other resources to be used for partisan political purposes. ("Partisan" being the key word there. We all know that church buildings were used for political purposes during Prop 8, although not technically for "partisan" politics.)

-Attempt to direct its members as to which candidate or party they should give their votes to. This policy applies whether or not a candidate for office is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Technicalities once again. If Prop 8 had been attributed to a particular candidate or party, then this is saying that the Church would have stayed quiet.)

-Attempt to direct or dictate to a government leader. (No, just voters. And I know that the George Romney letter can't be labelled as an official "church" admonition against black civil rights, but Stapley did a pretty good job of making it look/sound otherwise.)

The Church does:

-Encourage its members to play a role as responsible citizens in their communities, including becoming informed about issues and voting in elections.
(Did the Church say to "get informed" about Prop 8? No, it told members explicitly how to vote, which means a lot of those people were voting on something that they were ignorant about. But I suppose many would say that that doesn't matter.)

-Expect its members to engage in the political process in an informed and civil manner, respecting the fact that members of the Church come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences and may have differences of opinion in partisan political matters. (This sounds nice, but we all know that a lot of Mormons aren't getting the message, whether it's about Prop 8, ERA, socialism, being a Democract, or women's rights. There's still the unofficial belief that Mormons have to be conservative Republicans.)

-Request candidates for office not to imply that their candidacy or platforms are endorsed by the Church. (I think Mitt Romney did a lot better job with this than, for instance, Ezra Taft Benson.)

-Reserve the right as an institution to address, in a nonpartisan way, issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church. (Once again, there's a very fine line between issues and politics. To put a spin on Joseph Smith's quote: "We teach them correct principles (or issues) and let them govern (or vote) themselves." Members should definitely inform themselves as best they can about everything they cast a vote for. But how many bother to do so when the Church tells them how to vote?

Stephanie said...

FD, you're right, but you're also using your definition of politically neutral. The church's definition is simply The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in matters of party politics.

Stephanie said...

You can disagree with that definition and the church's position, but I don't think the church has been inconsistent with that position regarding prop 8, ERA, etc.

matt said...

sorry, that's my hot wife Amy. It was me that asked that.

The Faithful Dissident said...

I think that both sides are at fault here.

Yes, I agree Stephanie, the Church is not really being inconsistent when it uses the clause of its own definition of political neutrality, key word being "partisan".

It's true that I've never heard or seen of any political candidates being endorsed by the Church, unless you want to count Joseph Smith's presidential run. I realize that the Church as an organization has never said "members of the Church should vote Republican party," even though we all know that members are doing a good job of spreading that false message.

But perhaps the Church throws around the term "politically neutral" a little too loosely. I agree that the Church is officially party and candidate neutral. But it's certainly not "politically neutral" and I guess once people read the "fine print," they realize that it's not really claiming to be, so maybe both sides need to get it out of their head. Those who oppose the Church need to read the fine print (realizing that the Church is ONLY claiming party and candidate neutrality, not political neutrality in general) and Mormons need to stop using the term "political neutral" so loosely because it's giving an inaccurate picture that only makes us look hypocritical.

So, now that we've established that the Church is free to get involved in political "issues" that are non-partisan, even using Church property and members to do so, why not do the same for other "issues that it believes have significant community or moral consequences or that directly affect the interests of the Church?" Surely there are loads of important issues that impact the community, as well as members, that could benefit from the Church's influence just like with Prop 8. Then the Church would actually look like it cares about issues other than sex and gender roles.

Anonymous said...

F.D. has pretty much nailed it. The Church is using "politically neutral" where it would be more precise to use "nonpartisan." The ordinary person's understanding of "politically neutral" would rule out much of the Church's political activity. Using the less accurate term misleads much of the public and thus helps with PR, and I suspect the Church knows it.

There's nothing dishonest going on, exactly, but probably a bit of disingenuousness and spin. Again, there's nothing wrong with that, exactly--at least, the Church's lack of semantic precision seems to be acceptable in our society--but at the same time one might expect a church to adhere to a higher standard of honesty than the society as a whole. The Church could simply say, "We do not endorse individual candidates or political party platforms, but beyond that we are not politically neutral. We do take sides in other political contests."

Of course, once one reads the fine print (to use F.D.'s inspired term) one understands the Church position clearly enough. But you'd like to think that a church would not have to rely on fine print.

And yes, as the length of this reply no doubt suggests, I am "Anonymous David."

re Dallin Oaks on the Expositor: There's more than just the question of strict legality. The incident evinces a dictatorial attitude (smashing one's opponent) and an intellectual cowardice (silencing rather than engaging one's opponent). You'll recall that Smith did not respond to Law by explaining and defending his doctrine of plural marriage, but rather by denying it. Legalism aside, there's just no way Smith comes out of this incident looking good.

Shutting down the Expositor was stupid, cowardly, and immoral. And it's funny--when someone's character, morality, and judgement are called into question as Smith's are here--how easy it is to focus on narrow legalisms. IIRC, there's a lesson on that sort of thing somewhere in the career of Jesus. Let me rack my memory a bit...

...Oh yes. Wasn't there once a group known as the Pharisees, who were known for mixing religion and politics? Didn't part of the criticism of this group concern the way they zealously observed legal punctilio while missing the larger moral point? Beams and motes and all that? And didn't they habitually retreat into legalism as a way of covering up their self-serving corruption?

Now that I think about it, didn't this group once convene an emergency meeting in order to look for a legal excuse to shut down a troublesome opponent? A guy who had recently publicized their corruption?

Kinda like the Expositor episode, where William Law was basically Jesus, Smith was basically Caiaphas, and the Nauvoo council was basically the Sanhedrin. (I can read the New Testament as well as the next guy, and I can even heed the Christian call to use what I read there to help me understand questions of morality. I'm just trying to go about this the Christian way!)

As for my feelings toward Smith himself--I think that like all of us he was a mixed bag. There's a lot I admire about him. He was smart, creative, hard-working, a great organizer and leader, forthright, courageous. I don't agree with most of what he said, but I admire the boldness with which he said it, and the way he (usually) took on his opponents openly and directly. Yet at times he could be petty (e.g., that bit in D&C directed at Emma) and self-serving and tyrannical. The Expositor episode was tyrannical in spirit, in the sense that Smith and his council met to find a way to make the law serve the leader's interest rather than to serve justice.

I actually admire Smith, but without harboring any illusions about his flaws. At his best he was a prophet, but at his worst, yes, he could be like Caiaphas and misuse his religious authority. Part of the problem with Smith's legacy is that, unlike earlier prophets, he lived and worked in the age of print, so that his flaws will not be allowed to fade away in the haze of myth and time. My beef is not with the flaws, but with the subsequent whitewashing, of which there's been plenty. I actually think the Church sometimes whitewashes him to the point of dishonoring him.

One of the things I admire about Smith is his forthrightness. Can you really see him weighing in with his usual vigor on political questions yet coyly insisting he was being "politically neutral"? Such euphemism was definitely not his style--but it's the style of the current leadership. Feh.

I would say that Smith engineered his own demise the one time his forthrightness failed him: when he failed to be up front about plural marriage.

Anyway, the original point is that if there's a lesson in Smith's run for the presidency, it's that it contributed to Smith's overreaction to the Expositor, and therefore to his arrest and assassination, and therefore was a disaster for the Church. If the question is "Does Smith's presidential run suggest the Church should become more involved in politics?" the answer is "No." It suggests just the opposite.

Stephanie said...

Anon David, please add "--David" or another handle to the end of your comments.

The Faithful Dissident said...

"My beef is not with the flaws, but with the subsequent whitewashing, of which there's been plenty. I actually think the Church sometimes whitewashes him to the point of dishonoring him."

I totally agree with this.

The thing I loved about Rough Stone Rolling was that it gave an excellent portrayal of the gifted, enigmatic, inspirational, motivational man that so many regard as a prophet of God, as well as the very flawed Joseph Smith. Although finding out more about polygamy and his troubling dealings with Emma forced me to see him in a new light, I still believe he was inspired and I still have faith in the Gospel he preached, which is why I'm still here. But I think David is right that whitewashing him is, in a way, dishonouring him. I've often wondered what Joseph would think about his "image" in the Church today. Would he be happy about it?

IMO, the reasoning behind the "whitewashing," to use David's term, is because of the problem posed by prophetic infallibility, which I mentioned on another thread. As I said, it appears to me that Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility and the Mormon belief that the prophet will never lead the Church astray when he is acting as prophet or else he will be removed are, essentially, the same thing. Much of what Joseph Smith said/did -- particularly in regards to polygamy -- make it very difficult to reconcile it all with the notion that he couldn't make mistakes in his office as prophet (not as simply a man) and therefore never let the Church stray an inch off the straight and narrow path. So, because these things are so troublesome, the Church can't be open about them to the general membership, hence the "whitewashing." Too many people will lose faith in the prophet. However, if the Church was not preaching prophetic infallibility under a different name (i.e. the prophet will never lead you astray), then it wouldn't be so problematic. We could all acknowledge that the prophet can make mistakes, even as prophet, and then then look forward without dwelling on those past mistakes.

Delving more into the past has forced me to redefine my Mormonism. There are certain things in our history that make it impossible for me to reconcile it all with the belief that the prophet never makes mistakes. Many who get to this stage leave the Church because it becomes irreconcilable for them, and so they conclude that it's all a fraud. Personally, I don't believe that it's all a fraud and I still believe in inspiration and revelation -- just not in the "infallible" way that I used to.

mfranti said...

we could learn a lot from conservatives...

how to ignore cognitive dissonance.

Stephanie said...

mfranti, you might try taking some of your own advice.

I don't claim Joseph Smith was infallible. I think he made a lot of mistakes (particularly regarding polgamy), but I am willing to grant him a lot of latitude because of the difficult circumstances he was laboring under. His people had already been driven out of Ohio and Missouri, the Haun's Mill Massacre had occurred, he'd already spent time in Liberty Jail, he was in constant fear and hiding for his life. His rights and the rights of the Mormons HAD been trampled all over. So, I'm willing to grant him some latitude for not acting perfectly.

I just don't think that the Expositor situation Anon David outlines is a big enough deal to render all of Joseph Smith's opinions regarding politics irrelevent, particularly since he didn't make that decision alone. The entire city council of Nauvoo deliberated for TWO DAYS and ordered him (as mayor) to execute the order to destroy the printing press. Was it the right thing to do? No. But, I still don't think it means all the claims that Anon David says it means. To me, it means that they were tired of being persecuted and driven out and were trying to prevent it from happening again.

Plus, I am more interested in what our First Presidency NOW wants us to learn from this article. By printing it, they are endorsing what it says and what Joseph Smith said.

Stephanie said...

And I don't agree that the church is somehow being "dishonest" in its political neutrality policy. It is clearly stated on the website and on the article, not in "fine print" - just not in the title. I can see an argument for calling it a "Non-partisan" policy, and I wouldn't object to that, but I don't agree that the church is being underhanded.

Stephanie said...

In particular, I disagree with Anon David's assassination of Joseph Smith's character over the Expositer issue. I can see an argument for why that is a black mark on a politician's record (of course, this really isn't much compared to some of the black marks on Obama's cabinet nominations). I can see an argument over why he shouldn't have run for president. But calling his "character, morality, and judgement" into question - no, I don't think that is necessary over this issue. And, honestly, over most issues. I believe he was Prophet, I believe he was a good man - not perfect, but I believe he did the best he could and tried to do what God asked. I won't take any of the things he said in running for office as "scripture" - I don't know if he was told by God to run for President or if he was just so fed up with the Mormons being mistreated that he wanted to do something about it. But, not for a minute, am I going to agree with assassinations on his character.

Anonymous said...

Was it [the order to destroy the printing press] the right thing to do? No. But, I still don't think it means all the claims that Anon David says it means. To me, it means that they were tired of being persecuted and driven out and were trying to prevent it from happening again.

Absolutely the Mormons were justifiably tired of being persecuted. But William Law (publisher of the Expositor) was not a persecutor of Mormons--he was himself a devout Mormon. To respond to persecution by persecuting one of one's own, instead of conceding that the dissident has a point--is more than just colossally bad judgment. You don't have to buy into the theory that Smith was incipiently megalomaniac to at least see the reasonableness of the idea that he did not have the right kind of temperament to be president of a liberal democracy.

But again the point is that Smith and the Church were subjected to extra scrutiny because of Smith's involvement in secular politics. That extra scrutiny was bad for the Church. It's reasonable to think that it contributed to the clampdown on Law and the Expositor. If involvement in secular politics thus clouded the leadership's judgment then, isn't there a similar risk it would cloud the leadership's judgment today?

Again, I'm not really even arguing against Church involvement in secular politics. I'm simply arguing that Smith's run for the presidency cannot be seen as an argument in favor of such involvement. If anything, it argues against such involvement, though for all I know it might be outweighed by other considerations.

--David

Stephanie said...

Anon David, I get your point. It's a valid opinion, and you might be right. (Interestingly, some of William Law's complaints about Joseph Smith were that He also thought Smith used his church authority to sway political outcomes. Also, Joseph Smith was arrested on charges relating to the destruction of the Expositor.

Considering that we are told that the prophet will never lead us astray, I think it is entirely possible that the Lord took Joseph Smith before he could lead the church astray. From what I've read on Joseph Smith and polygamy, I believe that he was commanded by the Lord to do it a little as an Abrahamic trial. I believe he may have taken it a bit too far (there is evidence that he expressed that to others - that he felt he had sinned regarding polygamy). And, yes, I'll even agree with Anon David that Joseph Smith's forays into politics may have distracted him and clouded his judgement. Maybe that wasn't what the Lord wanted him to do. He'd been openly chastised in D&C for not doing exactly the Lord's will before.

But, I don't believe he was a "fallen prophet" - that mistakes made at the end invalidated his work as a prophet. I still revere him as a prophet, and respect him greatly. Maybe that's the same thing FD is getting at, too.

matt said...

Wasn't it Paul in the New testament that had several shortcomings but still was a great man of great faith. It was pointed out in one of my meetings the other day that the early church in the New Testament had several "problems" as did the early church of Smiths time. Im not excusing Smiths wrong doings but I think his good far outweighed the bad.

matt said...

...and wasn't Noah a drunk, but still a prophet of God?

Stephanie said...

The only perfect man who ever walked the earth was Jesus.

Stephanie said...

I think the Lord works with what he's got. Noah may have been a drunk (I don't know - this is the first I've heard that), but he was also the only man on the earth who listened to and obeyed God at that time. Joseph Smith may not have been perfect, but he's probably the only one who would have withstood so much persecution and been so faithful. I think my job is not to judge the prophets, but to obey. I'll leave the judgements to God.

The Faithful Dissident said...

"But, I don't believe he was a "fallen prophet" - that mistakes made at the end invalidated his work as a prophet. I still revere him as a prophet, and respect him greatly. Maybe that's the same thing FD is getting at, too."

That's exactly what I'm getting at. I don't think Joseph was a fallen prophet. A fallen prophet, to me, is one who knowingly and willingly does something that he full well knows is contrary to what God wants him to do. I think that for the most part, Joseph did what he thought he was supposed to do. However, it's not difficult to see why many did think he was a fallen prophet. Had I lived at that time and seen things unfolding live, I may very well have believed he was a fallen prophet. The early Church was so chaotic in so many ways, it's hard to blame those who did fall away. And of all of those, I think Emma had it the roughest.

Matt, you bring up a very good point about Paul (aka Saul), who seems to be guilty even of murder in the case of Stephen. Even though he may not have personally cast any stones, he was "consenting unto his death." (Acts 8:1-3) Pre-meditated murder. It doesn't get much worse than that. And yet Paul went on to become a revered apostle.

And then there was the prophet Jonah, who disobeyed God repeatedly and harboured racist views of the Ninevites he was supposed to preach to. He's still considered a prophet today.

I think it's easier for us to accept that prophets of old were guilty of pretty serious stuff than it is for us to accept the same with modern-day prophets. Maybe it hits closer to home with modern day and present day leaders. It's also harder to imagine it when all we hear or read are sugar-coated versions of stories that often make the prophets look like virtual superheroes.

"I think my job is not to judge the prophets, but to obey. I'll leave the judgements to God."

I feel torn about this, Stephanie. Part of me really admires such humility, while another part thinks it's dangerous to obey no matter what. I agree that the ultimate judgments have to be left up to God. But I also think that God gave us all an inner conscience that is what we all have to ultimately answer to. If members of the Church remain humble and totally honest with themselves and still find themselves disagreeing with the prophet on a certain issue, which some have done in the past only to see things change later, I think that they have to follow their conscience and whatever personal revelation they may have received for themselves.

Anonymous said...

re "I think my job is not to judge the prophets, but to obey. I'll leave the judgements to God."

Sure, one need not judge a prophet (or anyone) in any larger sense. (Else it would be pretty hard to respect King David.) But before one obeys a prophet, I mean a prophet acknowledged to be fallible, one first has to figure out which of the prophet's words to obey--which requires one to judge the prophet's words if not the prophet himself. To do otherwise would seem to make a hash of the idea of agency.

If like Stephanie (presumably) you accept the scripture as infallible, as essentially a collection that by definition excludes anything the prophet might have gotten wrong, then the problem is solved: you obey the canonized words of the prophet but not necessarily anything else the prophet might have said. You only heed what the prophet said qua the prophet.

If like F.D. you have your doubts about even the scripture, you've got a problem. Or, depending on your POV, you've been liberated from a kind of fundamentalism.

As for the contention that "Joseph Smith may not have been perfect, but he's probably the only one who would have withstood so much persecution and been so faithful," I can only say that there's been an awful lot of religious persecution. I suspect there are Jews (and probably many others) out there who would make the same claim about one of their own favorite martyrs (that is, they'd celebrate that person as "probably the only one who would have withstood so much persecution and been so faithful").

Actually, people like Law might have passed an even greater test of their faith. Imagine how Law must have felt upon learning about Smith's plural marriages. He might have lost his faith in the prophet's infallibility, but I believe he never lost his faith in the religion itself.

FWIW, I rather like Stephanie's idea "that the Lord took Joseph Smith before he could lead the church astray." Not that I believe it--I just like the image it brings to my mind of God rolling his eyes as Smith brings him to the limit of his patience....

--David

Stephanie said...

If members of the Church remain humble and totally honest with themselves and still find themselves disagreeing with the prophet on a certain issue, which some have done in the past only to see things change later, I think that they have to follow their conscience and whatever personal revelation they may have received for themselves.

I agree, but I think we really have to be careful to make sure it really is personal revelation and not just us wanting it so bac we convince ourselves we are hearing the Lord. But, I do agree it is possible. I thought of an example from my own life about this. The other night my brother said, "Steph, did you know that you aren't supposed to put off having kids to finish college?" (He's going on a mission in a month and has been reading a bunch of church books to get ready) He said that because he knew that I waited to get pregnant to make sure that I could finish my MBA. I didn't wait that long - I graduated 7 months pregnant and had our first right before our 2nd anniversary, but I technically did "put off having kids" to finish my degree. But, I know it was the Lord's plan for me. I feel that I did exactly what the Lord wanted me to, and I don't feel that I "disobeyed" the prophet. (We had a total of 3 kids while my husband was in graduate school) So, I think I would have to be a hypocrite to NOT agree with FD. But, I still think we need to be very careful if we find ourselves in that situation.

Plus, I don't see it as likely for a prophet to lead us astray today just because there seem to be more "checks and balances" in how the church runs. From what I understand, the First Presidency and Quorom of the 12 make decisions unanimously. I think that if one of them were "out of line", it would be corrected before commandments came down to the rest of us. That's probably the main reason why I don't think the letter from the First Presidency asking CA members to support prop 8 was a "mistake". I just don't think it would be possible for all 3 to get it wrong. That's my opinion.

Stephanie said...

Anon David, I was actually wondering the opposite - if William Law failed a test. Have you heard the story of the married couple that Joseph called in and said he had been commanded to marry the wife? He told them to pray about it and come back (I can't remember their names). They prayed about it and hated it but ultimately decided to be obedient. When they went back to Joseph Smith, the husband handed the wife's hand to him, and Joseph said that it had all been a test form the Lord to test their faithfulness. Joseph didn't really marry her. I wonder if William Law was tested in the same way and failed the test.

The Faithful Dissident said...

"If like Stephanie (presumably) you accept the scripture as infallible, as essentially a collection that by definition excludes anything the prophet might have gotten wrong, then the problem is solved: you obey the canonized words of the prophet but not necessarily anything else the prophet might have said. You only heed what the prophet said qua the prophet. If like F.D. you have your doubts about even the scripture, you've got a problem. Or, depending on your POV, you've been liberated from a kind of fundamentalism."

The problem is that Mormons can never agree on what is really doctrine and what is just personal opinion. IMO, the Church has very little "official doctrine" that I feel bound to accept in order to classify myself as a believing Mormon. I know I've posted the FARMS essay before about what constitutes "official doctrine" in the LDS Church, which is surprisingly little. But there is a tremendous pressure to accept everything that prophets ever commented on in General Conference, manuals, firesides, books as "doctrine" or at the very least, "inspired." I've often heard members equate talks in General Conference with scripture, or refer to the First Presidency message in the Ensign each month as "revelation." It doesn't mean it's not inspired or correct. I just don't consider any of it to be "official doctrine" and there are plenty of statements from prophets that are in our many official manuals that I don't even consider to be "inspired." That's why we have cases like Stephanie's brother pointing out that you're "not supposed to" postpone having kids for the sake of college. Since the prophet said so, it must be "doctrine." (I'm not saying your brother said that, I'm just giving an example.) I know another person who took that advice, met someone and quickly got married right after his mission, had 2 kids with his wife while going to college and had to rely on his parents to support them. Did the prophets ever say to move into your parents' basement with your family while you're an unemployed full time student? People have to think before they act. The prophet doesn't do our thinking for us.

As far as the scriptures are concerned, I don't think they're infallible either. In fact, most Mormons probably think that the scriptures are more fallible than the prophets, at least where the Bible is concerned. The 8th article of faith pretty much sums up our view of the scriptures. I definitely don't think that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and I have a hard time believing some of the accounts in it as being inspired, Joshua's supposed God-inspired genocide being one example. As far as the Book of Mormon is concerned, I think that it's probably more accurate than the Bible, not having been subject to being translated and edited so many times, but I wouldn't say it's "infallible" either. Any time anything is translated from one language to another, something is going to be lost or altered, even if it's unintentional. That's just the way it is with linguistics.

"I don't see it as likely for a prophet to lead us astray today just because there seem to be more "checks and balances" in how the church runs. From what I understand, the First Presidency and Quorom of the 12 make decisions unanimously. I think that if one of them were "out of line", it would be corrected before commandments came down to the rest of us."

Could the need for all 12 being unanimous be a con just as much as it's a pro?

For example, there is some speculation that in 1969, Hugh B. Brown proposed that the church’s policy on blacks and the priesthood be reversed, with support from the Quorum of the 12. However, Pres. McKay was away due to illness, and Harold B. Lee was out travelling on church business when the vote was taken. A re-vote took place, and the measure to allow blacks to hold the priesthood was defeated.

From Wikipedia:

"Hugh B. Brown favored rescinding the Negro doctrine and expected this change to take place in 1969, but this move was blocked by Harold B. Lee.

After David O. McKay died on January 8, 1970, Brown was not called by new Church President Joseph Fielding Smith to be a member of the First Presidency. Never before in the twentieth century had a new president of the church failed to call a surviving member of the previous First Presidency as a counselor. Rather, Brown returned as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, where he remained until his death."


You could say that Hugh B. Brown was out of line for what he did, or you could say he was inspired put an end to a shameful policy. I don't know, but I'd like to think it was the latter. I'd like to think that the majority of the Q of the 12 wanted the ban lifted, but lost because of the need for unanimity. And sadly, it took another 9 years for the ban to finally be lifted.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Makes me wonder if sometimes the Q of the 12 works like a jury in deliberation. I think most assume that they all get the exact same revelation or inspiration and then they all just happily vote on things, in perfect harmony and unanimity. But maybe they've had cases of a "hung jury," where some of them perhaps disagree but just go with the flow because they have to be unanimous.

Stephanie said...

People have to think before they act. The prophet doesn't do our thinking for us.

True, true.

I personally believe the BofM to be pretty close to "infallible". Maybe not perfectly because one of the prophets in there says that if there are weaknesses, they are on the part of the writer. But, I have to admit I find it pretty close.

Based on my understanding of how a new apostle is picked, I don't think that all the 12 (and 3) come to the table with the exact same name in mind. But, by the time they are done, the answer is confirmed to all of them by the Spirit. I suspect that is how it works for other decisions.

mfranti said...

steph, there were a few couples like that but the one i think you are thinking of are heber c. and vilate kimball.

mfranti said...

"I personally believe the BofM to be pretty close to "infallible"."

didn't js say it was the "most correct"

that's a pretty good margin for error, no?

Steve M. said...

prison reform

I think I read somewhere that Joseph's plan for "prison reform" was to basically let the prisoners free, with the parting message, "Go, and sin no more."

Stephanie said...

FD, I think you are right about General Conference and the Ensign not being "doctrine". Not even the Family Proclamation is "officially" scripture.

But, I do think all the above are inspired counsel and good advice. Take emergency preparedness, for example. If we don't get food storage and 72 hour kits and out of debt, etc, it likely won't affect our place in heaven. But, it may affect the quality of our lives on earth if a disaster happens and we aren't prepared. So, it's up to each of us to decide what good advice we want to take.

Stephanie said...

Steven M, in his platform, Joseph Smith writes

hundreds of our own kindred, for an infraction, or supposed infraction of some over-wise statute, have to be incarcerated in dungeon glooms, or suffer the more moral penitentiary gravitation of mercy in a nutshell, while the duelist, the debauchee, and the defaultor of millions, and other criminals, take the uppermost rooms at feasts, or like the bird of passage, find a more congenial clime by flight . . .

Abolish the cruel custom of prisons, (except certain cases) penetentiaries, court-martials for desertion; and let reason and friendship reign over the [something] of of ignorance and barbarity; yea, I would, as the universal friend of man, open the prisons, open the eyes; open the ears and open the hearts of all people, to be [something] and enjoy freedom, unadulterated freedom . . .


(Sorry, there is a picture in front of some of the text) The article says, "the penal system improved, although not to the extent that Joseph prescribed".

I don't necessarily know what all of that means exactly, but I do admit that the idea of turning prisoners loose doesn't sound all that appealing. Perhaps Joseph Smith was specifically thinking about his incarceration and wanting to prevent injustices like that from happening again.

Stephanie said...

mfranti, "most correct" and "pretty close to infallible" are pretty much synonymous to me. Both acknowledge a slight chance of error. But, I am hesitant to be too critical because we are warned against that. Mormon 8:

17 And if there be faults they be the faults of a man. But behold, we know no fault; nevertheless God knoweth all things; therefore, he that condemneth, let him be aware lest he shall be in danger of hell fire . . .

20 Behold what the scripture says—man shall not smite, neither shall he judge; for judgment is mine, saith the Lord . . .