Sorting Things Out, Part 5

The reason this whole topic of plural marriage has assumed cosmic meaning in the minds of our Fundamentalist brothers and sisters is because of Brigham Young’s advocacy of this while leading the church. Brigham Young is a pretty thin reed to lean upon when it comes to doctrine, and I mean any doctrine. His utility to the Lord did not include his ability to teach, but his ability to lead, colonize and organize. He was a genius in these areas. Doctrinally, however, he has proven to be problematic.

Inside the church, he has been referred to as a man whose statements were “made in the absence of revelation.” His position on priesthood ban for those of African blood has been denounced and abandoned. His teachings on plural marriage have been abandoned. His doctrine of Adam-God has been called a “false theory.” His doctrine of annihilation of the spirits of evil beings has been renounced. However, Fundamentalists do not respect the same tradition as those who are faithful LDS members. Therefore, for those who stake their salvation on his teachings, I want to use Brigham Young’s own words to help them see how thin a reed they lean on for establishing the central importance of plural marriage for exaltation.

Brigham Young’s ordination to the apostleship was “not complete” according to those who ordained him, “till God has laid His hands upon [him]. We require as much to qualify us as did those who have gone before us; God is the same. If the Savior in former days laid His hands upon His disciples, why not in the latter days?” (DHC 2: 196.) Twenty-four years later he informed the saints this had not happened. He thought that perhaps “when [he] had lived to be as old as was Moses when the Lord appeared to him, that perhaps I then may hold communion with the Lord.” (JD 7: 243.) In 1863 he reaffirmed that no such visit had taken place, but he still hoped if he lived to be eighty it might. (JD 10: 23.) So, although he held the apostleship as an office in the church, his ordination to that office was conditioned on an event he explained had not been consummated by the Lord’s confirming ordination. How much confidence should that give you when considering his teachings?

He hesitated to call himself a “prophet, seer and revelator,” but allowed others to associate those titles with him: “[After putting the motion for himself to be sustained as ‘Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,’ the President remarked:] I will say that I never dictated the latter part of that sentence. I will make the remark, because those words in that connection always made feel as though I am called more than I am deserving of. I am Brigham Young, an Apostle of Joseph Smith, and also of Jesus Christ. If I have been profitable to these people, I am glad of it. The brethren call me so; and if it be so, I am glad.” (The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, Vol. 3, p. 1347.)

He explained he was not a visionary man: ” I am not going to interpret dreams; for I don’t profess to be such a Prophet as were Joseph Smith and Daniel; but I am a Yankee guesser[.]” (The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, Vol. 3, p. 1306.) He considered himself “called of Joseph” and not of the Lord: “I do not want to skip Joseph, Peter, Jesus, Moses and go to my Father in Heaven. All I ask for is to be guided by the spirit of Joseph, then let others be governed by their head, or priesthood. Joseph enjoyed the priviliges which I never thought I had. Joseph was called of God. I was called of Joseph.” (The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, Vol. 2, p. 1108.) Is being “called of Joseph” a sufficient basis for you to trust the man with your eternal salvation?

Even when Joseph gave him the assignment to finish the Temple rites, he remained uncertain about how this would be accomplished. Ultimately, he concluded that whatever he did would be fixed by the resurrected Joseph Smith during the Millennium: “AfterJoseph comes to us in his resurrected body he will more fully instruct us concerning the Baptism for the dead and the sealing ordinances. He will say be baptized for this man and that man and that man be sealed to that man and such a man to such a man, and connect the Priesthood together. I tell you their [sic] will not be much of this done until Joseph comes. He is our spiritual Father. Our hearts are already turned to him and his to us. This [is] the order of the Holy Priesthood and we shall continue to administer in the ordinances of the kingdom of God here on Earth.” (The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, Vol. 2, p. 1034.) Temple rites would require Joseph, not President Young, to fix the seals.

On matters affecting eternal salvation, I would not rely on a “Yankee guesser” who considered himself “called of Joseph” and not called of Christ, to give you what you need for salvation. As I have explained in Passing the Heavenly Gift and this blog, his insistence on plural marriage as a condition of being saved is not warranted by the language of Section 132.

Brigham Young explained how church leadership was not affected by who held office. His theory was that anyone could be elected, and as long as the followers prayed for them things would go perfectly: “Take any man in this kingdom, and if the people say that they will make him a President, or a Bishop, or elect him to fill any other office, and the faith of the people is concentrated to receive light through that officer or pipe laid by the power of the Priesthood from the throne of God, you might as well try to move the heavens as to receive anything wrong through that conductor. No matter whom you elect for an officer, if your faith is concentrated in him through whom to receive the things which he is appointed to administer in, light will come to you. Let a presiding officer or a Bishop turn away from righteousness, and the Lord Almighty would give him the lock-jaw, if he could not stop his mouth in any other way, or send a fit of numb palsy on him, so that he could not act, as sure as the people over whom he presided were right, that they might not be led astray.” (Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, Vol. 3, p. 1379, November 29, 1857; the talk can also found at JD Vol. 6 beginning on p. 93.) Of course, this theory did not work. As an example, Bishop Warren Snow was elected to be Bishop in Manti, but was involved in stealing tithing. Brigham Young sent traveling Bishop A. Milton Musser, then also Orson Hyde, to review records. They found between $5,000 and $8,000 of tithing missing, a substantial sum in those times.

Though he explained this theory, I do not think Brigham Young believed it at all. Had he believed it, he would not have challenged Sidney Rigdon’s claims to lead following the deaths of Joseph and Hyrum. If “any man in this kingdom” could lead, then why not Sidney? If “light will come to you” through any such man, then why not Sidney? The argument was between Sidney (who claimed revelation) and Brigham Young (who claimed to have “keys”). As a result, the debate required the church to choose between Sidney’s claims based on revelation and accept Brigham Young’s administrative “keys” as the source. Brigham Young’s leadership theory (that anyone could lead if prayed for by the membership) would have allowed the church to have both if Sidney were sustained. But Brigham Young’s insistence on having control in his quorum forced a vote by the Nauvoo Saints. The vote resulted in abandoning revelation in favor of administrative “keys” –a choice which has affected church history ever since.

This initial vote established power in the Twelve, but within three years Brigham Young found it cumbersome. He had trouble getting consensus, and John Taylor and Parley Pratt opposed him on many issues. On December 1849 he got another vote making him church president and allowing him to organize the First Presidency, an easier administrative group to control.

Once Hyrum and Joseph died, and Brigham Young succeeded in getting elected as church President, the church operated under his leadership for nearly three decades. President Taylor’s entire presidency was in exile, avoiding Federal prosecution. Wilford Woodruff compromised on the plural marriage teaching for statehood, and his presidency was thereafter affected by debate about the propriety of that decision and what it meant for the church.

It was not until the 1900’s that the church was not in the grip of a conflict brought about by Brigham Young’s presidency and teachings. By that time the mold had been set, and the form put into that mold had hardened. It doesn’t matter whether you consider yourself “Fundamentalist” or mainstream, we are all caught inside the pattern established by the Yankee guesser and the immediate aftermath. Do you want to trust your eternal welfare to him? Do you trust that man so much that you will allow his pattern to control your belief in the restoration?

I think the church has reacted poorly to the dilemma created by this man’s teachings. They have denounced his major contributions, and have cast aside many other of his teachings and practices. Those who have remained devoted to these doctrines believe what they hold dear came from a reliable source. But remember, even he rejected the idea he was a “Prophet, Seer and Revelator” because he was only an apostle of Joseph’s. The church was right to say recently that he spoke “in the absence of revelation” because that is what he did.

The mistake Fundamentalists have made is not in believing in the system, but in trusting a man. He is no more worthy of your confidence than Lorin C. Woolley. The revelation you trust is carefully composed, and defines “the eternal marriage covenant” as between one man and one wife. That is all you need for exaltation. Brigham Young’s excesses on this matter are no more trustworthy than the value of another Yankee guesser. He did what he understood. But his understanding is and was flawed. This is why the church has rejected his teachings on the core of his beliefs: plural marriage, Adam-God, priesthood ban, potential annihilation of damned souls, blood atonement, kingdom of God as earthly institution, etc. There are good reasons for the doctrinal disfavor between him and the same church he led for three decades. Turning to Lorin C. Woolley to preserve Brigham Young’s legacy is not improving your state. It is modeling a flawed model.

Despite this, to his credit, Brigham Young never invented visitations, claimed more for himself than that he was a “good hand to have around” and denied he was visited by the Lord. These statements reflect a great deal more credit on Brigham Young than the embellishments made by Brother Woolley reflect on him.

I do not fault Fundamentalists for these problems. They were created by the elected President successor to Joseph and Hyrum. He held the office, and he taught what he taught. But that does not make him right before God. Members of the LDS church should be the first to have charity for this circumstance. We should be willing to forgive this devotion to Brigham Young’s teachings because they originated with a man who was, after all, elected to lead the church for three decades. The church refused to abandon wives when it abandoned plural marriage, and Fundamentalists who would return should not be required to tear apart their families. They should reject the doctrine, and stop teaching it to their children. But the church is so very sensitive about this issue that we don’t share the same attitude.

I personally believe this problem is cured by ceasing the practice, but leaving existing families intact. I believe those who do this will be welcomed in Zion., but those who continue to advocate and insist this is fundamental to salvation itself, I don’t think will be welcomed. The conditions that are required to allow it are not met, and cannot be met by the Fundamentalists. They should recognize this and repent.

Sorting Things Out, Part 3

In addition to the “light” there is the problem of the “three voices.” The fact is that angels do not vibrate the air with vocal chords in order to communicate. They “speak” into the mind of the person they address. This is why there are two different quotes of the John the Baptist by Joseph and Oliver. Both of them “heard” him speak. But the “speaking” was into the mind of these two individuals. The communication “spoken” by John the Baptist was of intelligence, conveyed from the mind to the mind.

Joseph quoted John the Baptist as saying: “Upon you my fellow servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer the Priesthood of Aaron, which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; and this shall never be taken from the earth until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.” (JS-H 1: 69.)

Oliver quoted John the Baptist as saying: “Upon you my fellow-servants, in the name of Messiah, I confer this Priesthood and this authority, which shall remain upon the earth, that the Sons of Levi may yet offer an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.” (JS-H footnote.)

For Joseph it was “the Priesthood of Aaron” and for Oliver it was “this Priesthood.” The concept is identical, the words, however, are not.

For Joseph it was “which holds the keys of the ministering of angels, and the gospel of repentance, and of baptism by immersion for remission of sins” and for Oliver it was “this authority.” Again, these are the words they used to convey the communication which came into their minds. Identical in substance, different in language. It is one of the evidences they were telling about an authentic event.

For Joseph it was “this shall never be taken from the earth until the sons of Levi do offer again an offering unto the Lord in righteousness” and for Oliver it was “which shall remain on the earth, that the Sons of Levi may yet offer an offering unto the Lord in righteousness.”

These differences are the result of each converting into our language the thoughts or intelligence which came from the angel. Angels do not vibrate the air. They “speak” otherwise, in thought – mind to mind.
Similarly, none of those who occupied the same room, even the same bed as Joseph the night of the Angel Moroni’s visit heard anything. No one was awakened during the all-night repetitious lectures to Joseph by the  Angel. No one else in the room heard anything. Only silence.

So in the embellished and untrue account of Lorin Woolley he adds a detail about the “voices of three men” coming from inside the room in an attempt to add credibility to the account. It doesn’t. It shows something has been added that did not happen. Details matter. From this I can say he lacks knowledge and experience in contact with angelic ministers.

Putting Joseph Smith into this setting as one of the “three voices” is additionally problematic.

It is also a questionable detail that the guard placed for the inside door would abandon his post and go outside to inspect the window screens. I assume he added this detail to insure the “credibility” of the appearance inside the room through miraculous means. Apparently the creator(s) of the account did not want to trust the lighting effect alone, but wanted to add a miraculous component to the arrival of Christ and Joseph Smith as well. Because as any skeptic would conclude, if they had broken open the exterior window screens to enter, I suppose we would not believe it was Christ or Joseph Smith.

I also note the morning-time glow of president Taylor in the account. This brightness which was difficult to look upon is akin to Moses’ descent from the mount, and designed to furnish that same sense of awe and holiness to the affair. I would think if that were the case, we would have something in the George Q. Cannon or L. John Nuttal diaries about the incident.

Sorting Things Out, Part 2

This incident was to have occurred on September 27th of 1886, and L. John Nuttal was in attendance. He was the Secretary to the First Presidency at the time. His journal records the following for that date:

President Cannon still improving in his health. The rest of the party all well.
President Taylor signed several recommends. A letter was received from Elder F. D. Richards, enclosing one from Bro. E. W. Davis of the 17th Ward, in regard to his call as a missionary and needing help.
A letter was received from Bro. A. Miner dated Sept. 20th stating that he had perfected the reincorporation of Toole Stake Corporation.
A letter was received from Bro. Wm. M. Palmer at Council Bluffs September 22, 1886, giving an account of his labors to that time.
A letter was received from Sister Ellen Norwood Billingsley of Orderville.
A letter was written to Elder Enoch Farr, President, Sandwich Islands Mission, in answer to his letter received September 7th.
A letter was also sent to Bro. Thos. G. Webber of Z.C.M.I.
A leter was written to President W. Woodruff in reply to his letter received September 25th.
President Taylor pitched quoits a while this morning, also in the afternoon.
President Cannon in the home most all day; he sat out of doors awhile in the after part of the day.
Brother S. Bateman carried in our mail matter.

The reference to “pitching quoits” means a game. The game was much like horseshoes, where you throw a ring made of rope or metal trying to ring it around a stake. In other words, the purported meeting on this day, if it happened at the times reported in the Woolley interview, would have been outdoors, and would have included both morning and afternoon games played by president Taylor. There is no real harmony between the account retold in the Woolley interview and the Nuttal record for that date. The hours’ long meeting in the one and the morning and afternoon games in the other are not describing the same day.

George Q. Cannon’s diary for the same day likewise makes no mention of the purported meeting which Lorin Woolley describes.

On the chance the meeting occurred the day before and was misremembered, again, the diary of L. John Nuttal is void of any reference. The meeting that day is referred to as “our usual meeting” and did not begin until 2:30 in the afternoon. Thus the dating cannot be correct. Both George Q. Cannon and L. John Nuttal were faithful reporters, and would have taken note of anything like the incident which is described by Lorin Woolley.

What that means is the account in the interview has at least one error. When relying on something for so important a matter as holding “authority” to proceed with plural marriages, these details matter a great deal. So, it appears to me the memory of Lorin Woolley is not altogether reliable, but that is a small matter. An event absent from the records of the faithful recorders (First Presidency Secretary and Councilor) does not prove that nothing happened. To be clear, I do think something happened, but what happened was far less than the event as reported by Lorin C. Woolley.

The next matter I think inaccurate in the account is the “light appearing under the door leading to president Taylor’s room.” This is contrary to the way these things happen.

First, from scripture, the presence of a heavenly light is not visible to unintended third-parties. An audience with one man will leave another man standing right next to him without any notice or visible exposure to the heavenly light. This is true of Daniel, who alone saw the vision and his companions did not: Daniel 10: 7. It is true of the vision in Joseph Smith’s childhood bedroom, where others were also sleeping when the angel Moroni appeared. See JS-H 1: 30.

Second, this is not how the Vision of the Three Degrees of Glory was received. Section 76 was an open vision to Joseph and Sidney Rigdon, seen in the same room where about a dozen visitors were present. They did not see any light, or any portion of what Joseph and Sidney saw. The best account was given by Philo Dibble, reproduced in the Juvenile Instructor 27 (May 15, 1892) 303-04, which states in relevant part:

The vision which is recorded in the Book of Doctrine and Covenants [D&C 76] was given at the house of “Father Johnson,” in Hiram, Ohio, and during the time that Joseph and Sidney were in the spirit and saw the heavens open, there were other men in the room, perhaps twelve, among whom I was one during a part of the time– probably two-thirds of the time,–I saw the glory and felt the power, but did not see the vision.
The events and conversation, while they were seeing what is written (and many things were seen and related that are not written,) I will relate as minutely as is necessary.
Joseph would, at intervals, say: “What do I see?” as one might say while looking out the window and beholding what all in the room could not see. Then he would relate what he had seen or what he was looking at. Then Sidney replied, “I see the same.” Presently Sidney would say “what do I see?” and would repeat what he had seen or was seeing, and Joseph would reply, “I see the same.”
This manner of conversation was repeated at short intervals to the end of the vision, and during the whole time not a word was spoken by any other person. Not a sound nor motion made by anyone but Joseph and Sidney, and it seemed to me that they never moved a joint or limb during the time I was there, which I think was over an hour, and to the end of the vision.

Joseph sat firmly and calmly all the time in the midst of a magnificent glory, but Sidney sat limp and pale, apparently as limber as a rag, observing which, Joseph remarked, smilingly, “Sidney is not used to it as I am.”

If Woolley was not invited into the vision (and his account makes clear he was not invited to participate), then this detail of seeing the heavenly light does not belong in an authentic narrative. It is a detail that, in my view, has been added to embellish the account and make it seem more believable. However, to me it makes the account less believable.

My own experience also tells me it is not trustworthy. The Lord was with me in the Draper Temple recently, and no one present had any idea what transpired nor beheld a thing of what happened there. An interloper does not behold glory, nor participate in such things. The retelling by Woolley, however, makes the mistake of embellishing with the very kind of detail that is incorrect.

This detail, therefore, makes the account less authentic to me, not more. Whatever happened with president Taylor involving the claim he gave the power to seal plural marriages to the “five men” did not, could not, have involved an interloper beholding a heavenly light shining under a closed door. The light of heaven is not natural, coarse or physical. To behold it you must be invited in, and if not invited in you are left without any vision, or knowledge of its presence.

Be careful what tales you trust. There are more problems with Lorin Woolley’s account, which we will continue to discuss…

Sorting Things Out

We should be more interested in the truth than in just inspiring one another with stories that flatter us, or make us feel we are better than others. We cannot afford the luxury of thinking ourselves right when we believe an error. Promoting “faith” in errors is what the Book of Mormon calls “unbelief.” When we prize our errors and hold them as true when they are not, we dwindle in unbelief. This is a frequent occurance throughout the Book of Mormon, and results in the inability to understand God’s word. (Mosiah 26: 1-3.)

We cannot afford to be popular. The price is too high. We cannot turn away from truth even when it causes us painful and difficult repentance. We must not shrink away from what is required to remove the scales from our eyes.

I thought I had said all I needed on the topic of plural marriage, but a friend has loaned me a copy of the multi-volume work of Arnold Boss on the history of plural marriage. It is apparent more needs to be said to make the matter clear. Therefore, I am going to return to the subject and history to clarify some things.

As far as I can determine, Arnold Boss is an honest man. I do not question his ability to record and report what he has recorded in his account. I accept his account of the interview in 1929 of Lorin C. Woolley, meaning that I trust the interview took place and that Arnold Boss accurately reported the contents of that interview. The defect does not lie with Arnold Boss, but in the account told by Lorin C. Woolley.

Assuming they are interested in the truth, I will lay this matter out in a series of posts that I think will be helpful to the Fundamentalist community. I have been acquainted with this event for over twenty years. 


Here is the account given by Woolley in the interview recorded by Arnold Boss on September 22, 1929. I leave the punctuation and spellings as in the original. The “guard” speaking in the narrative is Lorin C. Woolley. He is relating to Arnold Boss the events that took place on the night of September 26-27, 1886 involving church president John Taylor. This is what purportedly occurred during the night of September 26-27, 1886:

That evening I was called to act as guard during the first part of the night, notwithstanding the fact that I was greatly fatigued on account of the three days trip I had just completed.
The brethren retired to bed soon after nine o’clock. The sleeping rooms were inspected by the guard as was the custom. President Taylor’s room had no outside door. The windows were heavily screened.
Sometime after the brethren retired and while I was reading the Doctrine and Covenants, I was suddenly attracted to a light appearing under the door leading to President Taylor’s room, and was at once startled to hear the voices of men talking there. There were three distince voices. I was bewildered because it was my duty to keep people out of that room and evidently some one had entered without my knowing it. I made a hasty examination and found the door leading to the room bolted as usual. I then examined the outside of the house and found all the window screens were intact. While examining the last window, and feeling greatly agitated, a voice spoke to me, saying, “Can’t you feel the spirit? Why should you worry?”
At this I returned to my post and continued to hear the voices in the room. They were so audible that although I did not see the parties I could place their positions in the room from the sound of the voices. The three voices continued until about midnight, when one of them left, and the other two continued. One of them I recognized as President Taylor’s voice. I called Charles Birrell and we both sat up until eight o’clock the next morning.
When President Taylor came out of his room about eight o’clock of the morning of September 27, 1886, we could scarcely look at him on account of the brightness of his appearance.
He stated, “brethren, I have had a very pleasant conversation all night with brother Joseph.” (Joseph Smith) I said, “Boss, who is the man that was there until midnight?” He asked, “what do you know about it Lorin?” I told him all about my experience. He said, Brother Lorin, that was your Lord.”
We had no breakfast, but assembled ourselves in a meeting. I forgot who opened the meeting. I was called to offer benediction. I think, my father John W. Woolley, offered the opening prayer. There were present at this meeting, In addition to President Taylor, George Q. Cannon, L. John Nuttal, John W. Wooley, Samuel Bateman, Charles H. Wilkins, Charles Birrell, Daniel R. Bateman, bishop Samual Sedden, George Earl, My mother Julia E. Woolley, my sister, Amy Woolley, and myself. The meeting was held from about nine o’clock in the morning until five in the afternoon without intermission, being about eight hours in all.
President Taylor called the meeting to order. He had the manifesto, that had been prepared under direction of George Q. Cannon, read again. Then he put each person under covenant that he or she would defend the principle of Celestial or Plural marriage, and that they would consecrate their lives, liberty and property to this end, and that they personally would sustain and uphold that principle.

[I skip several pages to get to the part most important to the Fundamentalist movement:]

John Taylor set five apart and gave them authority to perform marriage ceremonies, and also to set others apart to do the same thing as long as they remeined on earth; and while doing so the prophet Joseph Smith stoood by directing the proceedings. Two of us had not met the prophet Joseph Smith in theis mortal life, and we, Charles H. Wilkins and myself, were introduce to him and shook hands with him.

Because of what I know and what the scriptures relate, this account, though I believe faithfully recorded by Arnold Boss, is riddled with errors. Lorin C. Woolley has embellished the account, and his additions reveal the fraud. We will go through some of the many errors in a series of posts to show why it is false.

There is a principle important and binding on all of us: The things given us by the Lord should never be overstated. They should be given without embellishment, additions, or interpolations. They are not ours, but the Lord’s. When He entrusts us with something (or anything), then it is our duty to faithfully perform and to keep everything within the bounds the Lord set. Our additions detract from the Lord’s work. Joseph constantly understated his experiences. This is one of the signs he is telling us truth.
It is in the embellishment that Lorin C. Woolley reveals this is a dishonest account. And this event is critical for those who want to claim they can still practice plural marriage, because the authority has remained in the Fundamentalist groups.