In an email discussion with someone I respect, the following exchange occurred. This is his criticism of my views and his attempt to persuade me I am in error. His emails are italicized and quoted below, followed by my responses.
I believe in a God who is stronger than the God you believe in. My God was able to restore everything that He wanted through Joseph Smith before Joseph was killed. And He was able to control (through birth and death) those that led the Church thereafter so that it was (and is) always led by a righteous and worthy prophet. In contrast, it appears that your God wasn’t able to get everything revealed before Joseph was killed and has let Church leaders be chosen and to ascend to influential positions even though they are not completely inspired.
Second, it seems that I have more faith in the Latter-day Saints than you do. I believe that righteous men have been consistently available to serve with inspiration in Church callings. In addition, I believe the righteousness of a portion of Church members has always been sufficient to make them worthy of inspired leaders.
Consequently, I believe that if the Church, its leadership and members, ever begin to apostatize, my God is strong enough to call the erring leaders home (through death) and install new inspired ones. And such men have always been available and a portion of the Saints have been righteous enough to deserve it. The Mormon fundamentalists and others who want to claim God’s pure grace and authority, saying the mother Church has gone astray, have adopted a very narrow view that is quite self-serving. Yet, I believe God is powerful enough and a portion of Church members have always been righteous enough to have allowed the continued fulfillment of D&C 65:1: “The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth.”
My reaction to this bundle of false ideas is as follows: (I did not include the scripture references in my email to him)
I do not disbelieve in God’s strength, but know I can trust in His great restraint. (See, e.g., Matt. 26: 39; Matt. 26: 51-54; John 2: 4; John 7: 3-8; Alma 14: 10-11; 3 Ne. 11: 11; and many others.) He honors us by giving us agency to choose (Moses 4: 3; Helaman 14: 30; D&C 93: 30; and many others), He even gave Lucifer the right to choose and rebel (D&C 29: 36; D&C 76: 25; 2 Ne. 2: 17-18; and many others), and then He shows the wisdom to allow us to reap the consequences of our choices (Alma 10: 25-27; Helaman 14: 30-31; 2 Ne. 2: 14-16; Jacob 3: 11-12; Alma 41: 3; D&C 121: 25; and many others).
I believe He is the same yesterday, today and forever (1 Ne. 10: 18-19; 2 Ne. 27: 23; 2 Ne. 29: 9; Heb. 13: 8; and many others) .That He cannot limit one generation’s right to choose any more than He has done so with another (Mosiah 27: 25-26; 2 Ne. 28: 1-32; D&C 18: 42-46; D&C 84: 54-58; and many others). That if God intended to accomplish what you suggest He has underway with the Latter-day Saints, He could have interrupted man’s agency in the Garden and saved us all.
Come to think of it, you are proposing a God of such strength and determination to prevent mankind’s failure that this God of strength reminds me of Satan’s proposal so that not one soul could be lost (Moses 4: 1).
I believe we are in jeopardy. All of us. From the moment we enter this life we are in peril. (1 Cor. 15: 30.) We become accountable at age 8. Then we are judged on the basis of the choices we make. God doesn’t interrupt our mistakes. He permits them. He does this for a wise purpose. For underlying it all is the patient plan to “prove” us by what we do. (Abr. 3: 24-26.)
I think your proposed God is not a God of “strength” so much as He is a fearful dictator who will not allow man’s agency to survive. This, to me, is not only an error, but it is Satanic.
I believe we have exactly the same situation in our day as in the days of Adam. Exactly as in the days of Noah. (Matt. 24: 37-38; Luke 17: 26-30; JS-Matt. 1: 40-48.) Exactly as in the days of Abraham. (Abr. 1: 5.) Exactly as in the days of Moses. Exactly as in the days of Peter and Paul. That is, I believe we also must find our way back through the fog of a true religion administered in a false and vain way, in which man cannot save man, but can only assist one another or interfere with one another in the quest to find God.
I believe it is more than foolish to stake the outcome of your life on the bet that God owns, personally, everything about the present situation of the church. I think God is as dismayed and alarmed by our present choices and predicament as any prophet proclaimed Him to be about ancient Israel. I think we are no better than the Jews who slew Isaiah, or the righteous pretenders who denounced and rejected Christ’s Apostles, or the brothers of Nephi who refused to accept his leadership once Lehi died. I think our dilemma is exactly like all others. We proceed with the exact same test. Few will pass it. Few will find it. But those with the eyes to see and ears to hear will listen to the Master’s voice and follow. No amount of criticism or doubt from man will deter them from following the Master. No offering from an organization or institution will substitute for the Master.
I distrust all men. I am a man. Therefore, I distrust myself. It is the Lord and the Lord alone upon whom I stake my eternal outcome. Grateful for what I know, humbled by what He has shown me, and always keenly aware of many weaknesses which beset me at every turn, I hope to endure the course He has shown me and to finish with my trust in Him intact. I fear my failure. I do not believe myself at all equal to the privileges He has granted to me, nor qualified to accomplish what He has asked of me. I do what I am asked, trusting in the Lord’s wisdom, not mine.
I believe in Him. Only in Him. And I cannot allow that trust to be displaced by anyone making any claim to speak for Him, because He speaks with me. Therefore, I do not need anyone to stand between Him and me.
In my view, it is not the “strength” of God at issue. It is man’s weakness and God’s respect for man’s agency that is at issue. These two combine to allow us to fail. Likewise some few, with His help, will succeed.
The keeper of the gate is the Holy One of Israel and He employs no servant there. (2 Ne. 9: 41.) Therefore, it is only that gate which I seek.
I am certain of very few things. But I know God, and have reasoned with Him as one man reasons with another. I have questioned His counsel to me. I have used scriptures and testimonies of those who knew Him before to persuade Him to my view. His wisdom is greater than mine, His comprehension of the scriptures is greater than mine, and His will is more benign, placid and love filled than mine. Because of my own weakness, I expect to fail. However, He knows the end from the beginning and I do not expect Him or His purposes to fail, even if it involves my weak contribution to His plan.
In reply, I received the following:
I have not represented my beliefs very well. I agree with you that God would never intervene so as to control us (and take away our agency). However, I believe God is not impotent regarding His believers and leaders on earth.
God controls when and where we are born and “hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of [our] habitation” (Acts ; see also D&C 122:9). He “holds the destinies of all the armies of the nations of the earth” (D&C 117:6) and can determine when we die. Joseph explained: “I understand my mission and business. God Almighty is my shield; and what can man do if God is my friend? I shall not be sacrificed until my time comes; then I shall be offered freely. . . . I thank God for preserving me from my enemies” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 274). I do not believe God let Joseph Smith die before he had restored everything that was necessary. If God had not preserved him, the Prophet might have been killed years earlier (I’m sure you know the stories, but see D&C 38:13).
As you know, Joseph Smith’s God knows “the end from the beginning” (Abraham 2:8). He assures us that “all things are present before mine eyes” (D&C 38:2). Nephi explained: “the Lord knoweth all things from the beginning; wherefore, he prepareth a way to accomplish all his works among the children of men; for behold, he hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words” (1 Nephi 9:6).
I believe God’s power over life and death and his foreknowledge allow Him to have leaders and believers here today to perpetuate His work. We are told that “The Prophet Joseph Smith, and … Hyrum Smith, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and other choice spirits… were reserved to come forth in the fulness of times to take part in laying the foundations of the great latter-day work” (D&C 138:53). Why not Thomas Monson and Gordon B. Hinckley as well?
You wrote: “I believe we have exactly the same situation in our day as in the days of Adam. Exactly as in the days of Noah. Exactly as in the days of Abraham. Exactly as in the days of Moses. Exactly as in the days of Peter and Paul.” Forgive me if I disagree. You don’t seem to believe it because you say there is no Adam, no Noah, no Abraham, Moses, Peter, or Paul here to guide us today. In those days, people rejected the prophets, but there were prophets to reject.
The reason I wrote to you in the first place is that I have studied Mormon fundamentalism for many years. Fundamentalists universally condemn the Latter-day Saints in the 1890s because they accepted the 1890 Manifesto. Lorin Woolley wrote:
[Church members were writing letters] asking the leaders to do something, as the Gentiles were talking of confiscating their property in connection with the property of the Church. These letters not only came from those who were living in the Plural Marriage relation, but also from prominent men who were presiding in various offices of the Church who were not living in that relation. They all urged that something be done to satisfy the Gentiles so that their property would not be confiscated. (1929 Account.)
The problem I encountered was that as I studied the Saints of the 1890s, I discovered many devout believers who were willing to do anything their God required. Most didn’t know what to do with the Manifesto and were willing to continue sacrificing for plural marriage. Then it dawned on me that the fundamentalists today needed to believe they were more righteous than the 1890 Saints so to support that belief, they simply misrepresent them in their literature.
It is easy to say the Saints are not righteous enough, but many are very righteous, even holy. You seem to say our leaders have led us astray, but I believe God would have called them home before they would have been able to do so. It isn’t a question of respecting agency, it is God’s foreknowledge and His control over when and where we live on earth that allows His Church to continue to fulfill the prophesy: “The keys of the kingdom of God are committed unto man on the earth, and from thence shall the gospel roll forth unto the ends of the earth, as the stone which is cut out of the mountain without hands shall roll forth, until it has filled the whole earth” (D&C 65:2).
In response I state:
I do not disagree with the scriptures you quote. They are as you say. But they are not, of course, the entire story.
I am not “rooting” for or against our success or failure. No matter how flattering or condemning the truth may be, I’m only trying to understand our condition. I’m not interested in skewing the decision, only trying to make it correctly. However delightful or painful the truth about our day may be, I want to understand it.
I have made no judgment of the saints. But the Lord, who does know the end from the beginning, has revealed His own judgment of us. He said: “And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, i will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.” (3 Ne. 16: 10.) This prophecy of Christ, recorded in the Book of Mormon, at least raises the possibility of our rejection of the fullness of His gospel.
This possibility turns into a probability with this revelation from the Lord through Joseph: “And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things which you have received- Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation. And this condemnation restesth upon the children of Zion, even all. And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which is written- That they may bring forth fruit meet for their Father’s kingdom; otherwise there remaineth a scourge and judgment to be poured out upon the children of Zion.” (D&C 84: 54-58.) This was a revelation given about eighteen months after the church was organized under the laws of New York. We’ve never remembered the Book of Mormon, as Daymon Smith’s series currently coming into print demonstrates. Nor are “the children of Zion” closer to Zion now than in 1832.
Then there is the last great revelation given to Joseph Smith in January 1841 where the Lord reminded Joseph that the fullness of the priesthood had been lost to the church. (D&C 124: 28.) The Lord offered to restore it again as long as the conditions were met. Those conditions were possible in a time frame known only to the Lord. For us, it was merely described as “sufficient time” for the demanded work to be finished. (D&C 124: 31.) Whether or not we succeeded or failed, the Lord gave us an objective way to decide. If we succeeded we would not be moved out of Nauvoo, but the Lord would fight our battles. If we failed, we would be driven out, cursed, and put through hardships. As the revelation states: “If ye labor with all your might, I will consecrate that spot that it shall be made holy. And if my people will hearken unto my voice, and unto the voice of my servants whom I shall have appointed to lead my people, behold, verily I say unto you, they shall not be moved out of their place. But if they will not hearken to my voice, nor unto the voice of these men whom I have appointed, they shall not be blest, because they pollute mine holy grounds, and mine holy ordinances, and charters, and my holy words which I give unto them. And it shall come to pass that if you build a house unto my name, and do not do the things that I say, I will not perform the oath which I make unto you, neither fulfil the promises which ye expect at my hands, saith the Lord. for instead of blessings, ye, by your own works, bring cursings, wrath, indignation, and judgments upon your own heads, by your follies, and by all your abominations, which you practice before me, saith the Lord.” (D&C 124: 44-48.)
The martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith was accomplished through a conspiracy involving William and Wilson Law, among others. William Law was a counselor in the First Presidency. Nauvoo was wallowing in sin, including adultery and fornication initiated by men with evil designs. The seducing of women in Nauvoo was perpetuated by many evil men, including John C. Bennett while he was also a counselor in the First Presidency. Reading the High Council minutes for Nauvoo you can see how widespread this adulterous conspiracy spread inside the community. I do not mention this to judge or condemn anyone. Only to suggest that the Lord’s description of the latter-day gentile condition in His prophecy (“filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and of mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations”) can be taken as a description of events at the end of Joseph’s life. If so, then it was merciful for the Lord to pour out “wrath, indignation, and judgments” upon the saints to end those things and prepare for something better to come of Joseph’s ministry.
I do not think the restoration through Joseph accomplished Zion. That remains undone; future. The time Joseph had was very short. He restored much, and did what he was required to do in that period of time. He left us a foundation to build upon. More is necessarily coming.
Brigham Young did a great work in preserving the church as a body and keeping Joseph’s work alive. But he never claimed to be Joseph’s equal, nor to be a prophet like Joseph. He repudiated that idea.
I am converted to the Book of Mormon, and to Joseph Smith as a prophet, and to the revelations we received through him. But we remain under condemnation. I’m not interested in judging anyone, condemning anyone, or belittling anyone; far from it. I am grateful to all those who went before and acknowledge a debt of gratitude to them for keeping the revelations of Joseph in print and maintaining an organization that at least tries to remember Joseph and the work God did through him. But I want to know the truth of our awful state, even if if breaks my heart.