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Interpreting History, Part 6

There will always be those who are skeptical about our history. Converting someone to believe (a process I underwent to become LDS), cannot proceed without facing critical examination of the stories. On occasion I think about what would have happened if I were investigating the church’s claims today for the first time. Without question I would use the Internet to check what the missionaries were telling me. Given the fact that I would have to decide whether to believe this new faith, and the troubling perception our critics urge that it is being offered by a Fortune 500 corporation, I do not think I would trust anything on the church’s own website. I think I would avoid considering that until I had first been convinced of the missionaries’ message.

I think my approach would be typical. There’s nothing more troubling to someone thinking about changing their religion than the risk of being duped by foolish believers in some nonsensical cult. And like it or not, Mormonism is thought of in those terms. I know. I’ve been there, but I came aboard in the days of flannel board missionary lessons and computers driven by punch cards. There was no Wikipedia or Google. The world changed. So Mormonism must face down the challenges of widespread information. This information challenges the traditional stories and presents very different views of the events. Missionaries must be able to overcome these many honest questions. I’m certain today I would ask a good deal more than what I asked in 1973. Church members also must become part of the solution.

When a prospective convert comes to hear our lessons, observe our meetings, and talk with our members they come equipped with a body of questions arising from the acidic environment of the Internet. Every omission in our story can become the stumbling block to accepting the challenge to convert. I would never have prayed and asked God if Mormonism was true until after first inspecting enough of the Mormons to determine they were sound people. Sound in their lives, marriages and teaching. The “weirdness gauge” was employed. Any strange, aberrant behavior would have sent the alarm sounding and I would have been unwilling to proceed further; but I found the church quite likable. Understand I did NOT want the Mormons to be likable. I wanted to dismiss them, and continue on with my happy life. However, they satisfied the initial concerns enough that I was willing to consider it seriously.

Today, when asked about troubling matters, every Mormon should to be able to show the faith in a positive light. In a very real way the only progress we can hope to make in today’s environment will come through an educated population of believers. Myths and half-truths may be “inspirational” and keep immature faith around for a while, but sooner or later the acid of today’s information age will burn away anything that is not gold. We have tens-of-thousands of adults now leaving the church after having spent their lives believing Mormonism. They are discovering the information exists to challenge every step of our faith, from Joseph Smith’s youth to the 1978 revelation on priesthood. Members are vulnerable and they are leaving. The problem is already well underway. What we’ve been doing with our history has not prepared us for what is now happening.

Confining the church’s educational efforts to “faith promoting” stories may have been enough in the 1950’s through the year 2000, but it is absolutely not enough now. If the church insists that this must continue, then the church will become a tiny organization of myth believers who cloister together and repeat endlessly a litany of imaginative stories. That is the course we are on at the moment. The great apostasy underway is because the environment changed. The church’s opinion polling and focus group testing is not adequate to adapt to the real challenges. The real challenges are to undergo the rigors of opening the history up to deal forthrightly with our past. The church needs to undergo a metamorphosis into the most open, most candid, most self-critical and inviting faith on earth. We must allow ideas to be expressed in an environment of tolerance and learning. Militant insistence on following a centrally produced lesson manual as an unyielding standard will not be enough. People are walking out of those classes. Either they are turned off and mentally checking out, or they are physically leaving. This is not their fault. They cannot control the fact they are bored.

What is almost impossible to accomplish has been accomplished by the central planners of Mormonism. The most exciting thing in the world is to learn new truth. Nothing is quite as delightful as finding new truths. The Gospel contains all truth. Our lessons and meetings should be celebrations of truth. Instead they have become wary gatherings of fearful people who are on the lookout for unorthodox comments. Some feel  Mormon meetings are held inside a police-state. The central planners are fearful of new ideas. They guard against freedom of thought precisely because they are living in a bunker, trying to uphold a dishonest or incomplete history. It will not work. We must openly discuss our history. We must return to delighting in the doctrine. The Gospel is wonderful, not oppressive. It is not mere tradition to be guarded or defended. It is Christ’s message of love and hope for all mankind.

Our history has influenced who we call to leadership positions because it has affected what the leaders responsibilities are. They MUST administer a far-flung corporate empire with almost unmanageable human resources challenges. Budgets, staffing, property management, liability management, accounting, banking and legal concerns are overwhelming. These are the realities of the top leadership’s job. It is the result of the events in phase 2 and 3, and the explosive growth in phase 4. There aren’t many mystics available in our ranks who have enough banking, accounting, legal, business management or personnel competence to occupy the present leadership responsibilities. That is a product of the church’s history. But it is also the church’s present reality.

The church itself has a great challenge now directly bearing down on it. I sympathize and lend my prayers to its success. The struggle will require perhaps more from it than the church is willing to change. One great advantage grows out of one of the church’s apparent weaknesses. We elevate to the highest position a man who is almost always elderly, frail and beyond the age of most unhealthy appetites. Such a man will consider carefully his proximity to the judgments of God, and likely will be willing to do what is right, even if painful.

Interpreting History, Part 5

In the search through our history, at some point you must reach conclusions on events. The weight of the evidence accumulates and you reach a conclusion. Your conclusion may be different than mine. Each of us is free to find something persuasive and believe it. But we all must make our minds up about the events.

The evidence you find convincing may be based on what a single person had to say. Even if there are fourteen witnesses saying something else, you may choose to believe a single witness telling a story you are willing to accept as the truth. The reasons for that are personal. For example, your own great-grandmother may have told a story that was handed down within the family and now you cherish that version of the events because it was told to you when you were a child by people you love. Other proof may never convince you otherwise because you have an emotional need to believe that story. For you to think otherwise would feel tantamount to rejection of your own family.

However, suppose you learn that the great-grandmother’s story originated with the popular retelling of an earlier event. The actual event was in the 1840’s but it was popular to retell it in a much more inspirational way some twenty years after the event, in the 1860’s. The push to belong among the saints was so compelling they began to compete with one another to embellish the retelling. As a result the story grew well beyond anything that was recorded contemporaneous with the actual event. Even after learning this, you may still resist changing your view because you worry it makes your great-grandmother a liar. It really does no such thing. Her faith produced a culture. She lived inside that culture. The culture encouraged her to say faith-promoting things like others in the culture. She succumbed to the temptation, joined in the recasting of the event, and it helped secure both her own faith and the beliefs of her children. Your life and your parents’ were all enriched by the story.

But when it comes to your understanding of history, something more than traditions ought to at least be considered. If that is impossible for you, then at a minimum you must allow others who do not share your great-grandmother in their genealogy to explore the question and reach their own conclusion. You can believe as you do for the reasons you find convincing, but others should not be required to join you. They do not share your emotional need to believe the retelling, and therefore ought to be free to consider other sources. What we all share, however, is faith in the religion. We all believe this is a true faith restored by God through the Prophet Joseph Smith. I can have tolerance for your view and your needs, but you should permit me to believe as I do. My beliefs should not threaten you. Yours do not threaten me. I freely allow you to hold onto the family tradition, and respect the value that has provided your family. I am a convert. There are no family traditions I need to honor when it comes to Latter-day Saint history. I am not being negative when I think differently than you. Instead I am honestly trying to grapple with the events to reach my own conclusion about the truth. When I read the fourteen other witnesses I may disregard the one you believe.

As people of good faith attempt to retell Mormon history, there will always be events some people view differently than others. For example in Richard Van Wagoner’s book Sidney Rigdon: A Portrait of Religious Excess, he puts Joseph and Sidney into the underground Danite movement in Missouri. I was surprised he did that. I don’t agree and thought he was wrong, but I don’t for a minute doubt he believed his conclusion.

Since Sampson Avard’s testimony before the Court of Inquiry was not believed by even the hostile anti-Mormon crowd, I discount him as a reliable source. He was trying to save his own skin. He was like a jailhouse snitch who got free for telling a lurid tale about another prisoner. Motivation, background, overall credibility and inconsistency make him an unreliable source to me. Sampson Avard was the primary mover behind the Danite group. He had a great interest in pushing Joseph and Sidney forward and retreating into the shadows. His story did that. I don’t believe him.

This issue illustrates how difficult it is to weigh the evidence and reach the right conclusion. When someone as good as Van Wagoner reaches this conclusion, any fair-minded person needs to consider his evidence. I checked his footnotes, considered his arguments, re-thought the matter and found I was not persuaded. I kept my view that Joseph Smith was not involved and was the victim of a perjured witness in the Missouri court proceedings. If someone else chooses to believe it, that is up to them. It certainly complicates Joseph Smith’s story. It does not utterly compromise it. The primary effect it would have, in my view, is that Joseph learned from the Missouri disaster that a violent response to the church’s enemies was a very bad idea. He never did it again. When the next crisis arose in Nauvoo, he surrendered the Nauvoo Legion state arms and surrendered to the authorities. He did not use his army to protect his followers.

So the choice is between what I believe (i.e., that Joseph was already pre-disposed to avoid violent reactions) and Van Wagoner’s view (i.e., that Joseph attempted violence through the Danites before learning that violence was not useful). Either way the final lesson is the same. I believe mine is more consistent with Joseph’s overall behavior and character, both during Zion’s Camp and later in Nauvoo. Van Wagoner has Joseph fluctuating in between. But there is no real meaningful difference to the alternatives.

What this issue illustrates, however, is that the matter has been out there since 1838 and remains unsettled and open for debate and discussion today. The discussion is very interesting. More information will undoubtedly arise as more of the church’s archives are made available to read. Hiding the information does not alter the truth, it only temporarily hides it. Those who distrust our leaders, resolve all questions by claiming the failure to open the complete historical records to public view is evidence there will be incriminating things found there. That argument no doubt has some weight to it, but on this point of Joseph Smith’s Danite involvement I very much doubt there’s a hidden “smoking gun” to be found in unopened archival material.

The Jensen interview ended on a troubling note to me. He explained the Church History Department was a tool for the “fifteen men” and ultimately “the Prophet” to direct. The Department was going to act in conformity with their desires, and would not proceed as an independent source of historical information. That aside puts the problem of candor and motivation back to the fore. It makes absolute sense the Church History Department supports the church’s leadership. However, for anyone interested in a full disclosure, you must remember that the Church History Department acts as an agent controlled by a group whose agenda is not always to let history be told in less than a “faith promoting” way. They feel the responsibility of promoting faith. That is natural. They don’t want to challenge people’s faith by letting out any ugliness. It risks turning the Department into the purveyor of propaganda, rather than history.

This may have worked well in the past, but in the age of the Internet there are leaks. It is all coming out. It will be better for the church to take the initiative than to let it just slip out through inadvertence. If Mitt Romney is the candidate, and even more so if he becomes the President, there will be pressure from the media, perhaps even efforts to pay church employees for copies of previously undisclosed documents. Who knows what will occur in the future to empty the vaults of the hidden materials. The recent dust-up over the Joseph Smith Papers draft volume on plural marriage between an apostle and the staff working on the project is now known by a wide group. To their credit both Dallin Oaks and Jeffrey Holland were supportive of the effort. Another member of the twelve was scandalized by it, thinking the church membership was unprepared to read the material. It will all be out there eventually. Those who advocate candor will be respected in the future, and those who insist on secrecy will be less so.

Nothing will remain hidden. Even if the Lord is the one who does it, the day will come when it will all be “shouted from the rooftops” and every hidden thing will be revealed. It will be too late to acquit yourself if you’ve been one hiding the truth. Better to do it now, before the coming forced confession.

Interpreting History, Part 4

Two great obstacles in Mormon history are institutional lying and inner secrets. Both have been built into our faith. When Joseph Smith was confronted with plural marriage in a society that would be scandalized by such a practice, he hid it from public view. We all know the public statements and even scriptural declarations about marriage between a man and one wife were belied by the private practice of Joseph Smith. Therefore, our religion’s history starts with a gap in telling the truth. We accept the fact that church leaders, beginning with Joseph Smith, lied to the public. There was an “inside” story and a “public” story. This is a problem for Mormon history.

Second, any Latter-day Saint who has been through the temple is aware there are things we regard as sacred that we just don’t talk about. We keep secrets. Our faith reaches its deepest meaning in an atmosphere of secrecy and hidden knowledge.

When these two parts of the faith are present, it creates a challenge to telling our history in a frank, forthright and true manner. You must create filters in your analysis to account for the presence of these two skewing factors. One of the most significant historic disputes between the RLDS (Community of Christ) and the LDS church arises from this very problem. Emma taught Joseph Smith III (and her other children) that their father never practiced plural marriage. So when “young Joseph” came west, he was shocked by the stories and thought (at least initially) that the Utah Mormons were lying. Emma used well known public statements of Joseph denouncing “polygamy” as well as several canonized statements on the subject to support her claim that Joseph never took other wives. To reconcile it all a person must come to grips with the fact that Joseph Smith was not telling the truth to the public. There are echoes of this disparity still today.

Plural marriage caused the hierarchy to lie to the public. They did it when plural marriage was both coming and going. It was practiced in private, shielded from public view and shrouded in lies, both before it was acknowledged in 1853 and after it was publicly abandoned by the Manifesto in 1890. The Manifesto was a public relations document intended to hide the fact the church was continuing the practice. There are too many available sources now in public to claim otherwise. But the adoption of Official Declaration 1 makes it awkward to admit the practice continued. So most church members are unaware that it continued in secret even after the Manifesto.

Oddly, neither Joseph Smith nor the church itself could pass a temple recommend interview. (“Are you honest in your dealings with your fellow man?”) Any faithful Latter-day Saint with just a small amount of knowledge about our history knows the church and its leaders have been less than honest in the past to prevent the public from knowing what they were doing.

In saying that I want to be clear. I am not condemning the church. There were sufficient reasons for these public dis-information campaigns, and there has been a theological justification used to defend the practice. The church has pointed out that Abraham said Sarah was his “sister” rather than to candidly acknowledge she was his wife. But the theological implications are not what this line of discussion is about. So I’m leaving that topic unaddressed.

The bottom line is that when you attempt to unravel the church’s history, you must contend with the fact that the church has a history of dissembling. They publish lies to prevent embarrassment or prosecution. You must include a filter, or detector, or whatever you want to describe it as, in order to arrive at the underlying truth.

The idea something is “sacred” is also important in understanding our history. It has been used to compensate for missing revelation. At one extreme the leaders are thought to meet regularly (every Thursday) with Jesus Christ in the Temple. Under this happy view, the leaders are never wrong because they’re just doing what Jesus says each Thursday. To suggest this may not be the case is so foreign a concept to these people that anyone who does so is weak in the faith and on the road to apostasy. Therefore, you must also account for the mythical elevation of leadership through the “too sacred to discuss” veil which makes honest analysis difficult and emotionally charged.

These are two great challenges to anyone trying to know the truth. Any person seeking to understand our history must account for both as they evaluate the events.

Interpreting History, Part 3

I believe in Mormonism and want it to succeed. I am cheering for our success. I evaluated it as an investigator while taught by missionaries, and received a spiritual impression sufficient to believe in the religion. So I joined. After joining I studied the faith. A spiritual impression was not enough for me. The impression was the beginning, not the end, of the inquiry. Then the new found faith needed to be scoured to find what it offered, what great truths it held, and what mysteries were now available. Therefore, its history needed to become part of my study and inquiry.

Mormonism has an important history that has been little explored even now. Its history should be celebrated,  not cautiously guarded. The history contains wonderful lessons that will aid in moving the faith forward. But to do so it must be based on a truthful telling. You cannot create the kingdom of heaven from a foundation of lies. So history must be faced, even if it proves temporarily painful and disorienting while sorting through the errors.

Toward the end of the Jensen interview someone asked him about problems of history and mentioned his own struggle. He explained that new data-points had been disorienting to him. He had to work his way through them to emerge with faith once again. The question was more than illuminating. It was an honest Latter-day Saint who had triumphed in retaining faith in the face of troubling historic truths. This is an issue at two levels.

First, when mistakes are discovered, they require you to adjust what you believe to take into account the new information. This is work. It requires effort to sort out incorrect or false information from the information that is correct. Some ideas about your religion must now be adjusted, adapted or abandoned. It can be painful. But what emerges from the experience is better than what you started with.

Second, and perhaps much more formidable an issue is that you discover the church is not reliable on some important details of its history. You are forced to grapple with the realization that some of the people you’ve respected, even admired, either did not tell the truth or were ignorant of the truth. Whether they were dishonest or just mistaken, it is painful. No one wants a hero to fall. When the heroes are thought to be God’s agents, true prophets, bona-fide revelators, and you discover they didn’t know what they were doing the fall leaves a choking cloud of dust behind. You have to emerge from that cloud with your faith in God intact.

When stripping truth from error, we all need to be careful not to throw away perfectly sound truths because of our disgust at the errors. It is better still if you can be compassionate about the errors rather than disgusted. Unfortunately, human nature is such that we tend to start with disgust and only proceed to compassion after we’ve lived long enough to have failed repeatedly ourselves. Our own humiliating defeats permit us to gain a sense of perspective regarding other people’s failings. Compassion grows from our injuries.

Marlin Jensen’s questioner was stating his faith while asking about the possibility of broader acceptance of more accurate history by the church itself. The question is now before us all. Whether you study church history or you just see a spreading crisis of faith among your fellow ward members, it is now before you. We are all in the same dreadful mix.

What is to be done? Are we going to adopt an increasingly militant and cloistered defense of our myths? Are we going to purge our ranks so we are left only with a small handful of intensely devoted believers in faith-promoting errors? Will we become the church of Paul Dunn? Or will we allow some to search deeply into the history and reach new conclusions? Will we allow those who have different, and perhaps more well informed conclusions to teach? To defend their understanding? To speak in sacrament meetings and present new ideas to the rest of us? Will we open up general conference to allow discussion openly of the many problems of inaccurate church history? Will we break apart?

Our history is too central a matter for it to be co-opted by a central hierarchy intent on limiting, packaging and controlling the truth rather than revealing the truth. We will save the church and our own souls if we are only interested in knowing truth. There should be an eager openness about it all. The restoration of the Gospel is too wonderful a matter to be reduced to lies. We should all fight against that. It will survive. It will be vindicated. God did originate this process. It is His work, and fear does not change that.

I’ll return to two great problems with Mormons and our history in Part 4.

Interpreting History, Part 2

Everyone who contributes to the documentation of history must be evaluated to decide if they are a believable source or a source to be discounted. Even an otherwise unreliable source may be believable on a point. Deciding whether to accept or reject their information is part of your responsibility in interpreting history for yourself. You can’t put that responsibility on others. We are each one accountable for what we believe about life’s most important topic.

Another standard I use to evaluate a someone’s story is also drawn from the law. When a witness admits something contrary to their own position, or contradicts the position they are trying to advance, that should attract your notice. Admissions against personal interests are almost inherently credible. When someone is saying something self-deprecating they are almost always telling the truth, both in the courtroom and in life. For example, throughout John D. Lee’s final Confessions, he makes a number of admissions of his own failings. He acknowledges his guilt and attempts to set the record straight with members of his family and close friends. These admissions expose his failures. It is not likely he is lying when making such personal admissions of guilt. Therefore, I do not dismiss his material out of hand. Instead, it becomes something to weigh and consider piece by piece. As I do that, I also consider that there are a number of incidents which are distant in time and location that would tax the memory of anyone trying to retell the events. For such things his accounts become useful only in a big-picture. The details are likely to be the product of his imagination rather than his actual memory. So there needs to be other sources consulted before reaching a conclusion about such details.

When Brigham Young makes the same admission multiple times, using almost the same words over a period of decades, I think he is telling the truth. Particularly when the admission is contrary to his own best interests, or they reduce his stature as a religious figure. That is why in Passing the Heavenly Gift I quote his repeated admission about never seeing an angel or having contact with heavenly beings. It is an important and believable factor in understanding Brigham Young. When he goes on to explain that God is “duty bound” to support his best decision, we can then know and understand how he led the church. He used his best judgment. He proceeded without angelic guidance and fully expected that the Lord would uphold his decisions.

Put yourself in his shoes and try to understand what pressures that would exert on a normal person. When there were serious mistakes made, like the incident at Battle Creek near Pleasant Grove, there is no time to second-guess the slaughter of the Indians. You just move on. When Blackhawk (a survivor of the slaughter) later leads a war against the saints in retaliation for the event, Brigham Young knew he had created the mess. I read in his reactions a detectable crisis. It was a deep personal loss of confidence. There was a breakdown. For all the bombast we are used to in reading Brigham Young, he was very troubled by some of the things that resulted from decisions he made.

The Reformation he led in the 1850’s grew out of his frustration with the hardships and overall failing of the early western movement. He reacted by blaming the saints for their personal impurity and lack of faith. The Reformation was an attempt to have the saints to take their religion more seriously. He thought they needed to repent. God would not be visiting all these troubles on the church if the saints were living their religion. So he started the Reformation, with all its excesses and threats. The Reformation, a terrible moment, now all but forgotten, confirms several things: first, the saints were not doing well as a people; second, Brigham did not think the problem came from the top; third, the members were blamed and then punished because Brigham believed they were not living the religion well enough. (He even cut off the entire church from receiving the sacrament for a period of time.)

Interesting that throughout Brigham Young’s Reformation there was never a thought given to the failures in Nauvoo discussed in Passing the Heavenly Gift. Instead, the leaders presumed they were right, and God was punishing the unfaithful membership. This approach led to mistakes.

Today, as Elder Jensen discussed, there is a view that the church is undergoing an apostasy comparable to Kirtland. But no thought is being entertained that the church itself has created these problems through leadership decisions at the top. The presumption is that God has been behind all that they’ve decided in their counsels, and therefore, the problem lies in the membership.

I’ve already posted about the unfolding disaster of the “raising the bar” program that resulted in preventing many young men from serving who wanted to serve. Eighty percent of the results in the mission field were being produced by 20% of the missionaries. So the church cut back the missionary rolls to purge the ineffective few who required babysitting from the mission presidents. We now have thousands of young men who feel rejected, judged and found unworthy by the church. They bear deep inward resentments as a result of this rejection. They all knew older brothers, or friends of their older brothers, who did as much wrong, or worse things than they had done. But these older brothers and their friends were allowed to serve. Some of them were noble missionaries. Their lives changed while serving. But the “raised bar” kept these younger brothers out of service and stigmatized them. Now we have earnest young men who wanted to serve, were told they weren’t good enough who now have to reconcile that rejection by the church.

The missionary who baptized me would not have qualified under the “raised bar.” [I hesitate to confess another’s sins, but I do not view that acknowledgement as a criticism of him. It reflected his true intent to repent and serve. For that I am eternally grateful.] He was a gift from heaven and a servant of God when I met him. He taught and testified of the truth, and baptized me with authority. He is active and faithful still today. Some of his own conversion happened while serving. I thank God there was no administratively imposed “bar” to his service.

The point is that some, perhaps much, of the church’s present malaise is driven by mistakes made at the top. But those mistakes become very difficult to discuss in an atmosphere where every subordinate is expected to testify that God is making the decisions and never question the mistakes as they are made. “It’s good Bart did that” is the mantra. [You’d need to have seen the Treehouse of Horrors episodes of The Simpsons to understand that remark. Get one of your kids to explain it to you.]

At the risk of having some think it is blasphemy, I think the current problems stem largely from top-down mistakes more so than the members being disobedient and unfaithful. I think the people at the bottom want to please God. But they’re led that in many instances they err. Not for any lack of good faith on their part, but because there are not enough true principles taught to permit them to govern themselves correctly. There is at a minimum some shared responsibility. Our history prevents leadership from sharing any responsibility because of the fundamentals established in fourth phase Mormonism. The adoration of the president has been co-opted by Correlation to spread a veil of implied inspiration across everything done at the top. This problematic historical issue leaves us with little choice now but to blame the members for current problems. All the leaders need to do is what Marlin Jensen says they’re presently attempting. Just optimize search engine results, direct the public to the church’s website where the faith promoting stories are found, and everything will turn out just fine.

All of this arises from our history. All of this fits seamlessly into a continuation of steps begun more than a century ago. The issues run into our past and cannot be adequately understood apart from our history. But a corrollary to our history also arises from the present difficulties. History brought us to this moment. There must be answers to be found there. But the ‘only-faith-promoting’ account of our past does not give an adequate answer. Therefore something is missing. We need to let other views help explain how we arrived here. Passing the Heavenly Gift provides a better answer to the questions than the traditional narrative. Even if you decide it is not persuasive, it offers another view to be considered to explain how we got where we are now.

Book of Mormon as Fiction

I got another email asking:  “If Job is pious fiction, I’ve read about other folks who think the Book of Mormon is too. What do you think of that?”

I responded:  Since Moroni came to and was seen by Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer and Martin Harris we know at least one of the book’s characters was a real person.  Which implies the others were also. Personally, I think they were all real people.


I got an email stating: “Job is not pious fiction. D&C 121:10 reads,  ‘Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job.'”

I responded:

I understand your point. But could it also mean “you are not yet like Little Orphan Annie, you still have a family,” or another similar analogy?  That is, the Lord refers to the character to illustrate a circumstance. That would be akin to His use of parables to communicate truth.


The reference in Section 121 does not settle the question of historicity. It merely employs Job as a reference point to console the imprisoned Joseph Smith. That leaves whether or not Job is a real person unresolved.

Job, like many of the Psalms, was borrowed from other surrounding cultures and adopted as part of the Jewish religious text. This has resulted in many scholars concluding that he wasn’t a real person, but a character developed to tell a morality tale. I’m not challenging that view, I’m accepting it. If he was a real person, then I suppose one day we will all meet him. In the meantime, his story does help us understand truths about this life.

Interpreting History

There is an art to interpreting history. No matter what the schools teach, in the end there are judgment calls that are always made in arriving at a final interpretation.

The problems of church history are not evidence that some people are acting in bad faith and others are not. Everyone should be motivated to seek and know the truth. However, even when claiming to seek the truth, various motivations color the results of our interpretation.

When a court case is presented to a jury, both sides are duty bound to tell the truth. All the witnesses are sworn in before they are allowed to tell the jury anything. Then whatever they say is supposed to be the truth. If they lie, they do so under the condition they will be charged with perjury. Despite this, in almost every case the story told by the Plaintiff is completely at odds with the story told by the Defendant. If you believe the Plaintiff’s witnesses and arguments, the Plaintiff will win. If you believe the Defendant’s witnesses and arguments, the Defendant will win. The jury’s responsibility is to decide who to believe.

Sometimes a witness is believable because of their demeanor. Sometimes it is the content of their statements, sometimes the way they appear. Their age, opportunity to observe, self-interest, relationship with the parties, clarity of explanation and other things all play a part. There are intangibles that affect credibility, some so difficult to explain they are reduced to “impressions” or “feelings” about the witness. Their reputation for honesty, or personal history matters. When the case ends the jury deliberates all they’ve heard and seen, consult their common sense, talk the matter over and reach a consensus. That consensus becomes the verdict. The case is then concluded.

History is no different. The witnesses are evaluated, and what they have to say is considered. But in the end, they are weighed and either believed or not. Orson Hyde arrived back in Nauvoo on August 13th. He was not present on August 8th. Therefore, his two lengthy reminiscenses of the transfiguration of Brigham Young on August 8th cannot be believed by me. I suppose you could decide to believe Orson Hyde, despite the fact that his story could not possibly be based on what he saw August 8, 1844. But if you decide to believe him, you must show me the courtesy of allowing me to disbelieve him.

The daily diaries of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards and Wilford Woodruff all had entries on August 8, 1844. None of them mention the “transfiguration” of Brigham Young. Nauvoo newspapers, Times and Seasons and Nauvoo Neighbor both covered the debates on August 8, 1844 and neither one mention the transfiguration. Even Orson Hyde’s accounts written in 1844 and 1845 fail to mention the transfiguration. He did not begin to provide his elaborate account of the event until 1869, when he claimed Brigham Young’s “words went through [him] like electricity. It was not only the voice of Joseph Smith but there were the features, the gestures and even the stature of Joseph before us in the person of Brigham.(JD 13: 181, 6 Oct 1869.) So, when I weigh the evidence, I conclude the story is merely faith-promoting, and much like Paul Dunn, bearing something less than an accurate retelling of the truth.

The truth of the restoration does not depend merely upon men’s imagination to support it. After all, Joseph produced the Book of Mormon, revelations found in the Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, and other unpublished revelations. He left a body of letters, talks and ordinances. What Joseph did accomplish is more than enough proof of his stature as a prophet of God.

I am interested in the truth of the restoration. It is not important for me to justify succession, or to defend any office or friends. I do not want to be popular or to have anyone follow me. I hope only to please God and defend the truth. If it causes anyone, including myself, embarrassment I couldn’t care less. We have a duty to our Maker to act our part in helping one another to find our way back to Him.

I also don’t care if someone chooses to believe otherwise and to weep like a child while retelling the story of Brigham Young being transfigured into Joseph Smith as he pleaded for votes following Joseph’s death. I can endure that without insulting them or arguing the point. They are free to believe what I regard as false. But what should not happen is for someone who holds this view to forbid or condemn me for thinking them wrong. I enjoyed Paul Dunn’s stories. They were inspiring. If you accept them as inspirational fiction, you can enjoy them too. The likelihood is that Job is pious fiction also. It is part of a category of “Wisdom Literature” written to explain a true principle, but probably not based on an actual person named Job. It is “true” in the sense of teaching principles of truth, not in the sense the characters existed.

I’ve weighed the evidence in our history, sorted through what I accept and find persuasive, and what I find less than believable. It has involved considerable effort. It is fine with me for others to disagree. When a disagreement is based on a superficial review of the available record, or on bombast without ever studying the history, then I’d appreciate the courtesy of allowing me to continue in my honest, good faith delusion.

The Lord’s Witnesses

When the Lord returned from the grave, the first witness He showed Himself to was not one of His apostles. It was Mary. (John 20: 11-16.) He appeared to several others throughout the day (which I discuss in detail in Come, Let Us Adore Him) before finally appearing to some of His apostles in the evening of the first day of His return to life. When He met with the apostles, He rebuked them for not believing the reports of those with whom He visited earlier in the day. (Mark 16: 14.)

It is interesting the first witness was a woman. It is interesting the Lord spent hours walking and talking with two disciples, Cleopas and an unnamed second companion, on a journey to Emmaus. [In Come, Let Us Adore Him, I explain why I believe the companion was Luke.] As He walked with them, He spent the time expounding the scriptures and prophets, showing how they testified of His death. He “opened the scriptures unto them.” (See Luke 24: 13-32.) This is how the risen Lord chose to spend the afternoon of the first day of His return to life. (The talk I gave on this walk appears as an appendix to Eighteen Verses.)

Again, it is interesting that, after first showing Himself to a woman, He then spent hours walking and talking with two disciples, neither of whom were apostles, expounding doctrine and the scriptures to them.

I’ve searched the scriptures diligently to try and discover where the Lord ever commanded that we follow a man. I’ve not found it. Instead, I’ve found Him warning us to “Follow [Him]” (see Matt. 4: 19; John 10: 27; 21: 22; Luke 5: 27; 9: 59; Mark 2: 14; among many others.) The phrase “follow the prophet” does not appear anywhere in scripture. It does not appear there because it is an institutional invention designed to reduce resistance to centralized church decision-making. It was implemented deliberately during the administration of David O. McKay in the fourth phase of Mormon history. It is an idea which is altogether alien to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Instead, what appears in the scriptures is a curse pronounced on those who follow man or put their trust in man’s arm. (See 2 Ne. 4: 34; 2 Ne. 28: 31; D&C 1: 19.) Nephi’s final address warns the gentiles how vulnerable they are to this mistake, and how they will be cursed as a consequence. He offers hope, however, conditioned on repentance and return to following the Lord. (See 2 Ne. 28: 31-32.)

I am grateful for all who serve in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From my own Home Teacher to the President. They all have my gratitude, my prayers, my support. I do not challenge the right of any who preside in the church to conduct and to manage the church’s affairs.I do not envy them in assuming the burdens they bear. It is an almost impossible responsibility for any man. I am confident they do a better job than I would.

Despite my gratitude to them, I trust my salvation to no man or set of men. For that I rely entirely on my understanding of, acquaintance with, covenants and promises from the Lord. If I can encourage anyone else to pursue the path to know Him, I want to do so. The difference between truth which can save and error which will damn is so fine a line it is sometimes compared to a two-edged sword, cutting both ways. Encouraging people to find that edge and to rightly divide between truth and error oftentimes will offend. It is still the truth. We really ought to fear God and not man. (D&C 3: 7.) The One who keeps the gate of salvation is not a man or men, for He alone will open or shut that gate. There is “no servant” employed there. (2 Ne. 9: 41.) If you arrive at that gate having been misled regarding your obligation to Him, having “followed the prophets” you will be among those whose eternal opportunities have been curtailed, no better off than liars and whoremongers. (D&C 76: 98-105.) [If you read those verses from Section 76, you should ponder the difference between “following” and “receiving” a prophet. If you “follow” him, what are you substituting? If you “receive” him, what are you doing? Therein lies a distinction worth pondering.]