Though practically endless fodder exists for comment about the disparity between the historical texts published in the Joseph Smith Papers project and the LDS Historian’s Office commentaries and footnotes, I plan to make this last observation and leave the topic alone. Readers should be aware the Historian’s Office is blinded by an LDS tradition which they defend, even when it is contradicted by the documents they are publishing. Readers should make their own careful assessment of both the documents and the Historian Office’s running commentaries.
A number of people have already pointed out that the latest publication of the record of the Council of Fifty meeting does not support what is called in the LDS tradition “Joseph Smith’s last charge” to the twelve. Briefly the issue is this:
The twelve claim they were given a mantle by Joseph Smith that put them in control of all things LDS. This event purportedly happened 26 March 1844, because this is the only possible date that fits all the various claims about the event. The Historian’s Office editorializes about the 26 March 1844 meeting of the Council of Fifty:
A significant event likely occurred in this meeting, probably in the morning session, about which the minutes are silent but which council members discussed a year later in connection with a written summary prepared by Orson Hyde. Clayton’s brief note that JS spoke “on heavenly things and many other important subjects” likely marks what was later referred to as JS’s “last charge.” This may have been an extension of the charge relating the history, purpose, and rules of the council that was typically given to new members and that JS may have delivered in this meeting. The most complete recorded version of this charge was written down by Thomas Bullock in December 1846. (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. 63.)
Did you get that? An event “likely” happened “probably” in the morning, but the records do NOT mention it. But this missing information “likely marks” something (that later got manufactured to defend claims by the twelve) and “may have” happened even though nothing in the record supports the claim. Then 33 months later Thomas Bullock wrote the “most complete recorded version” of what may likely have possibly happened.
Checking Joseph’s journal, we get this report of the day on which the possible event may have happened:
Tuesday Ma[r]ch 26–1844 fr[o]m 9 to 12. in council from 2 to 5 P.M. in coun[c]il– [9 lines blank] warm some wet (JS Papers Journals Vol. 3, pp. 208-209.
The Historian’s Office adds footnotes to the record in order to insert other retrospective accounts that put Joseph’s “last charge” (as it is called) into the footnotes. Presumably so the reader is reassured the LDS traditions are supported–just not by anything that Joseph Smith was connected with recorded contemporaneously.
This fuss to support the twelve’s claim to have the right to control all things LDS ignores an obvious problem. Even if one believes the retrospective accounts, and supposes that what “might probably” have happened, really did, it doesn’t amount to anything. Traditions not only blind the Historian’s Office, they defy common sense.
The “kingdom of God” is not the LDS Church and the LDS Church is not the “kingdom of God.” They are separate:
Joseph Smith stated that the “literal kingdom of God [that is, the Council of Fifty], and the church of God are two distinct things” as “the laws of the kingdom are not designed to affect our salvation hereafter.” (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. xxiii.)
So if Joseph rolled the “kingdom of God” off his shoulders and onto the twelve, it has nothing to do with the giving the twelve jurisdiction to assume complete autocratic control over the church. There was already a revelation in place (D&C 107) that confirmed the role of the twelve in the church to co-equality with the seventy, stake high councils, and gave them no jurisdiction within an organized stake. So the assertion that the charge allowed them expanded jurisdiction contrary to and in violation of, Section 107 is not justified when the “kingdom of God” and the church are two separate things. The “kingdom of God” is “not designed to affect our salvation” and therefore did not, indeed cannot, subjugate the church.
Further, even if you accept the charge given to the twelve, rolled to them the “kingdom of God,” they abandoned it.
The final meetings of the council were held in the mid-1880s. Thereafter the council’s records appear to have remained in the custody of the Office of the First Presidency. In 1922 church president Heber J. Grant reportedly entrusted Joseph Anderson, who served as secretary to Grant and the First Presidency, to safeguard the records. In 1932 Grant and Franklin S. Richards–the last two living members of the council–met together and read through some of the Council of Fifty records. The minutes were also accessed in the late twentieth century. In 2010 the First Presidency transferred the Nauvoo-era record to the Church History Library. (JS Papers Administrative Records, p. 6.)
Thus died the “kingdom of God” which, Joseph Smith probably may have charged the twelve to possess. They neglected the “kingdom of God” because they were preoccupied with acquiring complete, unfettered control to dictate over the church and hold at defiance any who dared to challenge them. They reign over the seventies and high councils with impunity. Their autocratic control holds the approximate 30% of those who remain nominally active in the church in complete submission. They have the “keys of the kingdom”–which kingdom has lapsed into complete oblivion. But they’ve parlayed that into dictatorship over the other organization, the church.
Ask yourself: Why would Joseph, knowing the “kingdom” and the “church” were entirely separate, choose to have himself anointed a “king and priest” in the Council of Fifty, and NOT in the church? There is something important to be found in the answer. An answer you will have to find for yourself because very few LDS know much about this. Unfortunately, they are too busy “not being led astray” by men who claim to probably have the “keys of the kingdom,” (at least most likely may have–probably from the morning of March 26, 1844).