The Missouri persecutions would not have happened without betrayal among the leading church authorities. The editors of the Times and Seasons took the extraordinary step of naming some of the leaders responsible for the Missouri outrages in the April 1840 edition.
These characters were busy in striving to stir up strife and turmoil among the brethren, and urging on mean and vexatious lawsuits; they were also, studiously engaged in circulating false and slanderous reports against the saints, to stir up our enemies to anger against us, that they might again drive us from our homes, and enjoy the spoils together, we are disposed here, to give the names of some of those characters, believing that justice to an injured people, requires it at our hands. They are as follows, viz: Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmore [Whitmer], W.W. Phelps, John Whitmore [Whitmer], and Lyman E. Johnson.
Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer were two the the Three Witnesses to the Book of Mormon who testified they saw the plates, beheld the angel, and heard the voice of God testifying to them.
John Whitmer was the Church Historian who left and took with him all the church’s history composed to that date.
Lyman E. Johnson was one of the original Twelve Apostles.
W.W. Phelps was an assistant-president of the church in Missouri and had been a scribe to Joseph Smith.
All these men had credibility because of their status as knowledgeable, respected and well informed leaders within the Mormon community. When they turned on Joseph and the church, the Missourians reasonably believed them.
The mobs who attacked the saints were inspired in large part by the testimony and affidavits signed by former insiders. Their testimony led to the conclusion that the Mormon community was a threat to law abiding citizens. The “Salt Sermon” delivered on July 4, 1838 by Sidney Rigdon threatened a “war of extermination” against the Missourians if they ever troubled the saints again. This phrase was repeated by Governor Boggs in his “Extermination Decree”–but “extermination” was coined originally by Sidney Rigdon. The Salt Sermon was widely circulated at the time. The idea of extermination was turned by the former insiders into a threat against all non-Mormons living in Missouri, as if the Mormons intended to become the aggressors.
The many accusations against Joseph Smith included Oliver Cowdery’s false claim that Joseph was an adulterer. The Missourians believed the Mormons were a menace, were led by hypocrites, and intended to violently overthrow the local communities. These conclusions were based on what the above identified Mormon leaders (and other leaders including church apostles) were claiming. The Missourians thought they were getting the truth from believable sources.
In the May 1840 edition of the Times and Seasons a letter which had been written by Joseph Smith while he was imprisoned in Missouri during the Mormon War was published which included, in part, the following:
…saith the Lord. Those who cry transgression, do it because they are the servants of sin, and are the children of disobedience themselves, and swear falsely against my servants, that they may bring them into bondage, and death–
…Wo unto all those who drive, and murder, and testify against my people, saith the Lord of hosts, for they shall not escape the damnation of hell…
That same letter seems to indict Sidney Rigdon for the intemperate language of his Salt Sermon:
We would respectfully advise the brethren, to be aware of an aspiring spirit, which has frequently urged men forward to make foul speeches and beget an undue influence in the minds of the saints and bring much sorrow and distress in the church; we would likewise say be aware of pride, for truly hath the wise man said “pride goeth before destruction and an haughty spirit before a fall;” outward appearance is not always a criterion for us to judge our fellow man by, but the lips frequently betray the haughty and overbearing mind, flattery also, is a deadly poison; a frank and open rebuke, provoketh a good man to emulation, and in the hour of trouble he will be your best friend, but rebuke a wicked man and you will soon see manifest, all the corruption of a wicked heart, the poison of asps is under their tongue, and they cast the saints in prison that their deeds be not reproved.
Although W.W. Phelps and Oliver Cowdery later returned to the church, and Phelps was forgiven by Joseph Smith, the condemnation was not withdrawn by the Lord.
Whether it was in Kirtland, Missouri or Nauvoo, the greatest source of trouble came from current or former Mormon church leaders. The list of “persecutors” who had the greatest effect on killing other Mormons were the then-current or former Mormon leaders.
WE should study the past to avoid repeating the errors. The people we have trusted to lead have condemned the innocent of being wicked in the past. They have brought condemnation on themselves and trouble for others when they have cried “transgression” although there is none.