Monday, April 13, 2015

Polygamy was not, is not, and never will be of God

My personal sense is that the LDS Church has paid (and will continue to pay) a high price by electing to present its history in the duplicitous way that it has in the past. However, better late than never! The good news is that it's easier to show mercy for past mistakes when good faith attempts are being made to overcome those mistakes by doing better in the present. Mercifully the LDS Church has begun presenting its history in a more honest and accurate way, evidence of which can be found with the online "Gospel Topics" essays that have been commissioned, vetted, and approved by the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 Apostles and posted on the website under "Teachings".

Still, it's going to take a lot more time and a lot of uncomfortable conversations to undo all the years worth of collectively allowing the myth of prophetic infallibility to spread like a cancer among the church. While the gospel topics essays provide more honest and accurate historical context, I imagine that in order to get unanimous approval, compromises had to be made regarding just how candid or explicit to be. Compromises are necessary at times for progress to be made, so while on the one hand it's wonderful the essays went as far as they did, it's also clear that they stopped short in some areas.

One of the areas where they stopped short was definitively slamming down once and for all the myth of prophetic infallibility. Perhaps our leaders fear for the countless Saints whose fragile testimonies are built upon the sandy foundation of "practically perfect" prophets rather than the solid "rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God" and upon which we "must build [our] foundation" (Helamen 5:12.) The new modern church essays take incremental steps forward in the right direction without risking any radical rush to shake things up, as was so common during the early days of the Restoration.

And yet I have some concerns with some of the essays. My biggest concern was not the lack of a definitive "nail in the coffin" on the myth that God commanded the priesthood/temple ban in the first place, allowing some to read it and come away feeling that the explanations for the ban were wrong, but not the ban itself. No, there is enough evidence made clear by the history that we no longer need to continue to disgrace God in order to save the reputation of past prophets and presidents of the church who were clearly wrong when it came to race and the priesthood. No, that's not my concern, especially because that particular essay did "unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form." That alone is enough for me to justify equally and unequivocally condemning "the policy/practice/doctrine" itself that denied black men the priesthood and kept black men and women from the blessings of the temple because it was itself "profoundly, irreducibly, and irredeemably racist."

My biggest concern was with the plural marriage essays leaving no room for me as a reader to conclude on my own that polygamy was likewise not commanded by God. Apparently they think we're all supposed to pretend to be perfectly comfortable disgracing God to save the reputation of a prophet. Surprisingly, the plural marriage essays maintain that polygamy was commanded by God despite the "historical and scriptural evidences which show the practice as being actually contrary to Heaven’s intent. The Information Age now unravels over one hundred and eighty years of the tenacious, simplistic and presumptive claim that Deity merely commanded this practice and later commanded that it stop. Today’s available information leaves little credibility, integrity or reason for continued neutrality, duplicity or reticence on this question." (Quote by Curtis Henderson in his preface below.)

I dream of a more robust church culture/environment that allows faithful people of conscience to conclude for themselves that polygamy was never commanded by God--an enviornment that allows one to follow the truth no matter where the evidence may lead. I can still appreciate the prophetic gift regardless of a prophet's character. I can handle prophets who do amazing things and also disgraceful things. I can accept that kind of reputation. (It fits with the reality of prophets, whether we’re talking about Moses, Martin Luther King Jr., or Joseph Smith.) Would that the Church collectively could embrace that instead of trying to make Joseph Smith out to have impeccable character, which is a thing Joseph never claimed for himself.

We don't have to discount the good that came from the restoration even if we reject polygamy as a true part of that restoration. I'll be even more blunt. Even if it were true that Joseph Smith committed adultery (and there are reasons to be ambivalent about that) we don't need to reject that which came forth when he actually was acting as a prophet. The instrument doesn't have to be spotless to still produce good music.

A lot of research has been done to help us to indeed hear the beautiful music of the gospel and the restoration without having to embrace the discordant and awful notes of polygamy. Curtis Henderson is an active and believing Latter-day Saint whose "thesis concludes that LDS polygamy came into the Church through errant mortal influences more than through purely divine revelation, and that the long supposed benefits or authenticity of this practice will not be realized by practitioners or anticipators." He concludes: "There is now ample information for outright rejecting the propriety of polygamy. This work does so from the standpoint of believing and embracing the latter-day restoration without having to accept polygamy as a true part of that restoration."

You can view his full article online here or download a PDF and other work of his from the "A Thoughtful Faith" podcast episode 82: Curtis Henderson – The Errant Nature of Polygamy, Fallible Prophets, and Seeking for Truth. I highly recommend downloading and listening to the podcast interview and the rest of his work. What now follows is the complete text from just the preface to his article:

"Interpreting and Interrupting Polygamy: A Way For Your Escape"


After eleven years of study and writing, this modern documentation on LDS polygamy can enlighten believers to embrace the latter-day restoration without having to accept polygamy as a true part of that restoration.

I began this project in 2000 upon word of the turmoil, separation and later divorce of a family member whose marriage had been undermined with notions of LDS polygamy. In all my adult years (beginning during my LDS mission) I functioned under misgivings and a reserved conclusion that something was wrong with LDS polygamy—that it did not come purely from God. Firm expressions in this direction started discussions, and in 2000 I concluded to thoroughly research this question once and for all. This task was embarked with a determination as never felt before. I recall how I had expressed myself as a bishop (1990s) with two high priests on an occasion where polygamy was discussed in a matter-of-fact way as being a command from God and a necessary part of “the restoration of all things.” I bluntly responded how I did not believe that—that surely polygamy could and should be explained in different terms. While both were surprised at my opposite candor, one responded especially aghast: “Oh!—really?” The look on his face clearly announced he had just discovered his bishop to be “anti-Mormon” (while I felt I was just “anti-fundamentalist”). Yet I continued to prayerfully search why God might “command” Joseph to live polygamy, until an occasion where I deemed a firm answer came in the form of a question: “Why do you keep suggesting that I did?” I tried to more thoroughly drop that supposition and further my studies. The reader is free to judge whether my early suspicions disqualify me to be heard on this subject.

Though I was aware that I came through polygamist ancestors, my mother confided that her parents displayed disdain against the practice. Conversely, I would learn that the family doctor, who helped deliver me at birth, wrote a book celebrating the doctor’s courageous polygamist ancestors for their praiseworthy living of the principle having futuristic promise, and claiming that practice to be “for heaven’s sake.” I wanted to send the doctor a manuscript of my early research findings and title it, “For Hell’s Sake, Doctor: Grow Up” (1 Cor. 13). But I didn’t. The doctor recounted enough community history with polygamy to contribute to my understanding. One small town in the community, Freedom, got its name because the main street was exactly on the State border. If the sheriff from one State came after an illegal polygamist, the fugitive simply crossed the street to a different State to avoid arrest. This home town historical reality not only symbolizes the prolonged dance the LDS institution had with this practice and the law as determined by the “School of Hard Knocks,” but perhaps also symbolizes my lot in life as being one of a transitional generation between opposite views and understandings of a peculiar practice.

As a relatively new religion, the LDS archives started opening to scholars only in the mid 1970s. Thereafter a wave of articles and books on this subject, escalated by the Information Age and the World Wide Web, is still rewriting and sweeping away the simplistic folklore long used to explain LDS polygamy. I would later see that I had joined a swelling wave already well in progress. Naturally, many will see those on the crest of this wave as deserters rather than reformers toward vital and overdue course corrections. 

One can notice the publishing dates of the articles and books in the reference notes and realize that most works with substantial information to offer on this topic came within the years of 1977 to the present, with only a few in the 70s and 80s, the vast majority coming after 1991— the bulk of these since 2000. The first major work studied was Van Wagoner’s Mormon Polygamy (1989) which shocks the orthodox perspective into contrary realizations and awakenings. Van Wagoner’s work shows a volume of evidences exposing LDS polygamy of its clumsy mortal and errant characteristics. I would have never guessed that my early suspicions against the validity or purity of the practice would be historically supported in so many detailed ways. I had expected little evidence contrary to the orthodox view. Soon the biggest puzzle to me was how the LDS institution could continue explaining this practice with the oversimplified and superfluous claim that heaven commanded or required it, and that later heaven commanded or required that it stop. I can no longer believe that portrayal, now certain it will not survive the scrutiny of history or scripture. The explanation for LDS polygamy follows a lengthier, more complex and tragic trail. How could God be “the same yesterday, today, and forever” while directing His Church to spend many years pursing opposite directions of a given question? “How long halt ye between two opinions?” (1 Kings 18:21).

Nearly all these research works come from qualified and believing LDS scholars who maintain testimonies of the Latter-day Church while, contrary to the orthodox view in one degree or another, choosing to exclude some details or beliefs as being outside rather than inside the perimeter of gospel validity or truth. Many have inescapably abandoned the “all or nothing” notion that everything Joseph Smith or the Church teaches or embraces must endure and be defended as being correct or pure.

In approximately 2005 I discovered and studied Donna Hill’s biography on Joseph Smith (Joseph Smith: The First Mormon, [1977]—“the first major biography of the founder of the Mormon Church since 1945”) and was surprised at some of her bold statements, at such an early date, acknowledging potentially grave errors in Smith’s life and leadership—certainly far different than institutional portrayals. As volumes continued to surface, the contradictions only became more pronounced. By 1984 Richard Bushman would say:
I am a practicing Mormon who considers himself believing but who rejects absolutist elements of the fundamentalist world view, e.g., the view of Joseph Smith as omniscient or morally perfect or receiving revelation unmixed with human and cultural limitations. However, I do accept non-absolutist incursions of the supernatural into human experience (Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 629).
Later Bushman’s 2005 book would hit the streets as a “warts-and-all biography” by “the preeminent Smith scholar.” News reported: “Rough Stone Rolling also acknowledges contradictions between historical records and ‘official’ records of the LDS Church. ‘We should just admit we have a problem,’ Bushman said. ‘And don’t look for a quick fix solution’” (4:53).

A 19 November 2009 KUTV special on Mormons and Masons included an interview with LDS historian Kenneth W. Godfrey who acknowledged that some forty “words and phrases” in our temple endowment ceremony are identical to what Masons use, requiring us to now conclude that Smith “borrowed” them from his personal Masonic experience (many have long known this). Other recent productions and publications tracing the blacks and priesthood issue of the Church, in similarity to the polygamy issue, clearly manifest how prohibiting blacks from the priesthood was not the initial practice, then became the practice (through some mortal and questionable means and influences), and then became again no longer the practice. Monogamy, then polygamy, then back to monogamy followed this same meandering chronology. Even temple practices and policies qualifying patrons for certain rites are ever changing, added or removed. We need to keep our eye on the North Star (Christ) more than on generational understandings or mortals (even true prophets). We need to test all ideas with all scripture, realizing, as warned by the Book of Mormon and other sources, that even scripture has been dangerously infiltrated. I can not imagine some practices within temple policies being anything more than unfortunate remnants of incorrect polygamy notions which will eventually be eradicated from the Church and its temples. Anything that contradicts God’s character or treats genders unequally will not endure, despite the fact that some such practices still do.

I realize that the study of LDS polygamy is only one subject of many. During this research I certainly studied numerous other subjects and historical detail (some of these works are broad biographies or histories well beyond polygamy). At one point (approximately 2008), Michael R. Ash’s Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith caught my eye and I took a break designed to remind myself of the inexplicable ways the unlearned Joseph got so many things right (by analysis of modern scholars who now have immeasurably more pieces of relevant information to add to what Joseph gathered in his day). I also read through all the standard works with the polygamy question especially in mind, repeatedly scrutinizing sections, verses and areas which substantially applied.

But the LDS culture has a predominant emphasis on the infallibility of prophets (especially Joseph Smith). Any periodic insistence that we do not believe in the infallibility of true prophets is followed by many implications, assurances and fanatical portrayals that we indeed do. Besides all the scriptural stories divulging repeated fallibility among the prophets, I collected some of the bold scriptural warnings which teach that individuals must guard against prophetic error. Since we are predisposed to emphasize otherwise, these scriptures are seldom if ever used in LDS culture. For example: “For thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel; Let not your prophets and your diviners, that be in the midst of you, deceive you, neither hearken to your dreams which ye cause to be dreamed” (Jer. 29:8). Other scriptures boldly warn that prophets may errantly presume to speak His will or word, may see vain visions, may misinterpret in their divination duties, or may declare something as being the certain word of the Lord which is not from Him (Deut. 18:18-22; Ezek. 13:2-3, 7). This inescapable mortal condition was probably forewarned by Moroni who announced that “God had a work for me [Joseph Smith] to do; and that my name should [not just would but should] be had for good and evil among all nations, kindreds, and tongues, or that it should be both good and evil spoken of among all people” (JS-H 1:33).

The question is not over motives or intentions of Joseph, Brigham or others. The wrestle is not with any mortal but with “principalities,” “powers,” “…darkness,” and “spiritual wickedness” on their way to penetrating our own lives (Eph. 6:12).

One of my sons coincidently met a well-known actor at a ski resort (2004) and conversed with him about the actor’s enthusiastic interest in producing a movie about LDS polygamy. The actor had joined the Church (married an LDS girl) and was considering making the movie. Typical of the ongoing confusion with this subject, a California bishop had spent some ten years writing and pursuing the script. The actor’s LDS father-in-law was also supportive and expected polygamy in the afterlife. The actor was anxious to talk with someone in the western United States who might have LDS tenure and experience on the topic. My son, upon the encouragement of a co-worker who was aware of this research, connected the actor with me. An hour-long phone discussion ensued, followed by a more detailed letter. Ultimately, the California bishop was upset with me for introducing the actor to an opposite view of LDS polygamy. The actor learned how a member got excommunicated for writing a recent book (Whelan, More Than One; 2001) defending LDS polygamy with a tone for its inevitable coming future (in this life or the next). The actor was shocked to learn of a view different than the one he had been exposed to.

Van Wagoner made a bold historical analysis for his 1989 book that, “there has been no comprehensive study of polygamy from its earliest stirrings in the 1830s to its current practice among Mormon Fundamentalists.” This was the case for many reasons, among them being unquestioned loyalty, the popularized assumption that everything done by Joseph Smith was purely from heaven, and the long unopened archives of the Church. Van Wagoner then states that his book “is intended to be a reliable introduction to a complex subject for both Mormons and non-Mormons alike” (MP, xi-xii). Since then, as shown above, volumes of works have surfaced. Those who have not studied the recent information that became available during the 90s and after 2000 have not taken the first step toward understanding this subject. The Church as an institution has not supposed, portrayed, or hardly left room for the errant nature history is now exposing concerning this practice and its entrance into the Church. We can now see substantial evidence that, despite our schooling to the contrary, Joseph Smith’s exuberance for fulfilling his role in reforming apostate Christianity got him swept up in some radical notions, also prevalent in his culture, for the “rejection of civil, secular, sectarian, non-Mormon marriage” (Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 17) to the point that, for a season, he began to see marital fidelity between one man and one woman as a prudish superstition (despite deep scriptural and historical support for strict one-with-one marriage). This trend for abandoning monogamous marriage could have happened partly because he was unlearned, young and inexperienced, took in converts who believed these things, and entertained and incorporated these notions from other religious movements of his day. 

Fortunately, some key documents expressing his thoughts and reasoning, though he had commonly instructed that they be destroyed, in fact were preserved. His letter to Nancy Rigdon, imploring her to be his plural wife, exposes Joseph’s reasoning which Bushman labels “terrifying” and “unnerving” (Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 441). Despite extreme efforts to hide this practice by using code words, secrecy and inordinate denial, enough pieces of the jigsaw puzzle have now been reset to portray an identifiable picture. Within eleven days of Joseph’s marriage to Zina Jacobs (and Zina and her husband continued to live and bear children together) Joseph publicly seems to defend his odd actions which would likely cause stirrings since multiple people (including Zina’s husband Henry) were certainly involved in the ceremony: “What many people call sin is not sin;; I do many things to break down superstition, and I will break it down” (NP, 76, 523). This precise perspective against traditional marriage endured and was promoted among sincerely religious people of Joseph’s day; and he clearly began to ignore and reject civil marriages (MP, 7-11, 24, 42-49; Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 17, 20-21; NP, ix-xvi, 479-550). For a season Joseph challenged the longtime proven directives for devoted marital fidelity between one man and only one woman (along with the meanings to several of the ten commandments) and held them at bay during some shocking experimentations before the pendulum would swing back toward a semblance of decorum. Eleven of Joseph’s plural wives were married to other men, seven of these being stalwart Latter-day Saint men (Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 4-9, 15, 43-54; Bushman, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, 437, 439). But his practice of marrying women who were already married gradually decreased— his last such marriage being more than a year prior to the martyrdom. And “the eight-month cessation of [any more] marriages at the end of his life is a notable phenomenon” (Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 3). Joseph significantly experimented with some forms of religious anarchy before settling back toward vital basics; at times he attempted “to adapt religion to human nature,” rather than the reverse (NP, xvi, 407).

Indeed, even today, “Some members [and policies] of the mainstream Mormon Church are also closeted polygamists” (Moore-Emmett, God’s Brothel, 25-26; NP, 546-548). And, as if Joseph did not possess enough weakness in himself, many researchers on this subject declare that (in one degree or another) Brigham Young took some of Joseph’s most questionable teachings to even more radical levels (ex.: NP, 299). Hill (and others) identify Joseph’s risky and inexperienced tendency to overconfidently trust what came into his mind, presuming heaven must be putting it there as a “command” (page 42).

In retrospect perhaps some naivety allowed Joseph’s confidence in seeing himself as being “void of offense towards God, and towards all men” (D&C 135:4). At least one account reports him fainting during his awful personal experience of facing his angry mob while approaching his martyrdom (Hill, Joseph Smith, 407-408). Somehow, no matter how inadvertent or pure his intent, many had become deeply injured and threatened by him. While some unwavering loyalists inside the Church willingly gave themselves, their wives or daughters to his plurality, others were offended and injured. Some stalwartly followed only to realize their trauma later. Others promptly stood and remained in opposition to the practice while obeying their conscience through their enormous pains of leaving the Church and prophet they loved— some being compelled, others at will. Some of these names are still being castigated by the mainstream Church as though we have all the answers. A careful analysis of the following quote manifests the evolutionary, mortal and experimental characteristics of LDS polygamy.
In other words, for over a decade prior to Smith’s first plural marriages, he met and established relationships with those who would later become his wives. …Polygamy was not the exclusive prerogative of Joseph Smith. In his letters and other documents of the period, from his wedding to Emma in 1827 to his first recorded plural marriage in 1841, he committed himself to allow other men this form of concurrent matrimony. But at first, Joseph did not seek a formal wedding. (NP, 35, 38)
In some respects Joseph Smith seemed to embark his mission as reformer or restorer by wiping the slate clean and starting over. Then, in harmony with the reality that revelation must follow a line upon line process, he started some archaic things on a level near anarchy which desperately needed to be buried and replaced with higher levels through the natural revelatory process. But mortals too often cling to errant lines rather than only the better lines meant to supersede them. It potentially becomes a major tragedy if we fail to be aware of or acknowledge the substantial historical evidence that prior to his martyrdom Joseph Smith came to a deep fear that we had been deceived in our pursuit of polygamy. Although we are left without an official terminal document direct from the martyred prophet proving he “came to believe polygamy was wrong,” the best investigative evidence is not always what comes from one’s mouth or pen, but from the chronology and details of one’s behavior. Todd Compton’s research shows that for over a year before his martyrdom Smith never again married a woman who had a living husband. Added to testimonies that “Smith came to have doubts about polygamy before his death” is the “striking fact” and “notable phenomenon” that he “took no wives during the last eight months of his life” (Compton, In Sacred Loneliness, 3-9). Followers should pay more careful attention to the improved directions of Joseph’s marital practices over his earlier declaratives and experimentations. Peter first taught (before further revelation) that the gentiles should not be given the gospel. To which of opposite teachings will you cling?

Through this research the reader has the freedom and the burden to question and explore the origins of LDS polygamy and to examine both historical and scriptural evidences which show the practice as being actually contrary to Heaven’s intent. The Information Age now unravels over one hundred and eighty years of the tenacious, simplistic and presumptive claim that Deity merely commanded this practice and later commanded that it stop. Today’s available information leaves little credibility, integrity or reason for continued neutrality, duplicity or reticence on this question. The reader bears the opportunity and sobering burden to discern any social or religious validity in polygamy or its notions.

This thesis concludes that LDS polygamy came into the Church through errant mortal influences more than through purely divine revelation, and that the long supposed benefits or authenticity of this practice will not be realized by practitioners or anticipators. Unlike this work, other writers have increasingly acknowledged many dichotomies and contradictions in polygamy while leaving readers stranded without sufficiently justifying the option of rejecting the practice if it is not proven to be a legitimate part of the restored gospel. Even some critical LDS historians have seemed determined to preserve space within their repertoire for the ongoing reverencing and sanctifying of past LDS polygamy—as if we cannot or must not make a definitive decision on this question. There is now ample information for outright rejecting the propriety of polygamy. This work does so from the standpoint of believing and embracing the latter-day restoration without having to accept polygamy as a true part of that restoration."

Inevitably, the question arises about testimony. I defend my mortal testimony of Christ, His patient work for His restored Church in this “last dispensation,” and of Joseph Smith’s contributions to heaven’s vast plan. While this study could be feared as undermining testimony, it ultimately unravels mere folklore and misunderstandings—providing doubt where faith shouldn’t exist. We have solemn obligations to gather, separate, and throw away (Matt. 13:47- 48). We each function from our own conscience in our duty to not misunderstand Joseph Smith, one another, or the truth. And “the Holy Ghost not only helps us to recognize plain truth but also plain nonsense!”—Neal A. Maxwell, Ensign, May 1993, 78. “[T]he work of the Church and the work in our homes is all done by imperfect people. Elder Richard L. Evans once said those who will only work with perfect people will soon be all alone” (Bruce C. Hafen, The Broken Heart, 182). Likewise, those who will only hear perfect prophets will soon have no prophets to hear. I find the Lord very patient and helpful in our solemn duty to discard certain things (“God desires that we learn and continue to learn, but this involves some unlearning. As Uncle Zeke said, ‘It ain’t my ignorance that done me up but what I know’d that wasn’t so’”—Faust quoting Hugh B. Brown, Ensign, July 2000, 2). Differences are certain since the burden falls on imperfect mortals to distinguish wheat from the tares and the chaff.

Curtis Henderson


Anonymous said...

I agree that polygamy was not, is not and never will be of God.

The problem is, that means the LDS Church could never have been a true church started or continued by true prophets.

For Christ taught that true prophets can't lie, commit adultery, commit murder (Nephi), abuse women, get paid, ask for tithing from people, be racist, disrespect women's full equality or teach anything contrary to Christ's teachings, etc.

Christ was very clear that such thing are only done by false prophets and those who are not true followers of Christ. That's how we tell he said. For true prophets will keep 'all' of his commandments.

So that eliminates every LDS leader from the beginning.

So we are back to square one where Joseph Smith was, seeking to know which church is true, but his 1st answer was the most correct, 'they are all wrong', still.

Thus we are on our own like everyone else to just study & live the Gospel of Jesus Christ on our own, as is found in the 4 Gospels. And that is the way God intended it. For Christ didn't say to start or build a church or temple, or to follow or rely on prophets, but to only follow him & his words if we want to be safe.

It has been men who thought up the idea of starting 'churches', asking for our money meant for the poor and wanting to be our middleman with God.

Clean Cut said...

Well, at least we agree on some things. :)

Look, if you think prophets have to perfectly keep all the commandments of God then there's never been such thing as a true prophet--ever.

As Curtis Henderson put it above: "Those who will only hear perfect prophets will soon have no prophets to hear."

I do agree, however, that those who expect prophets to be middlemen between us and God have bad expectations indeed. That's not their role. Some LDS do indeed think this and thus have unrealistic expectations for prophets.

But just because they're not perfect and not middlemen between us and God doesn't mean they don't still serve an important function, nor does it mean that we must automatically reject them all together. Rather, perhaps it means we need to re-evaluate our paradigm of prophets:

Terryl Givens:

"Abraham deceived Abimelech about his relationship with Sarah. Isaac deceived Esau and stole both his birthright and his blessing (but maybe that’s okay because he is a patriarch and not a prophet, strictly speaking). Moses took glory unto himself at the waters of Meribah and lost his ticket to the promised land as a result. He was also guilty of manslaughter and covered up his crime. Jonah ignored the Lord’s call, then later whined and complained because God didn’t burn Nineveh to the ground as He had threatened. It doesn’t get a lot better in the New Testament. Paul rebuked Peter sharply for what he called cowardice and hypocrisy in his refusal to embrace the gentiles as equals. Then Paul got into a sharp argument with fellow apostle Barnabas, and they parted company.

"So where on earth do we get the notion that modern-day prophets are infallible specimens of virtue and perfection? Joseph said emphatically, “I don’t want you to think I am very righteous, for I am not very righteous.” To remove any possibility of doubts, he canonized those scriptures in which he is rebuked for his inconstancy and weakness. Most telling of all is section 124:1, in which this pervasive pattern is acknowledged and explained: “for unto this end have I raised you up, that I might show forth my wisdom through the *weak* things of the earth” (D&C 124:1; emphasis added).

"Air-brushing our prophets, past or present, is a wrenching of the scriptural record and a form of idolatry. God specifically said he called weak vessels so that we wouldn’t place our faith in their strength or power, but in God’s. Most crippling, however, are the false expectations this paradigm sets up: When Pres. Woodruff said the Lord would never suffer his servants to lead the people astray, we can only reasonably interpret that statement to mean that the prophets will not teach us any soul-destroying doctrine—not that they will never err. President Kimball himself condemned Brigham Young’s Adam-God teachings as heresy; and as an apostle he referred as early as 1963 to the priesthood ban as a “possible error” for which he asked forgiveness.

"The mantle represents priesthood keys, not a level of holiness or infallibility. God would not have enjoined us to hear what prophets, seers, and revelators have to say “in all patience and faith” if their words were always sage and inspired (D&C 21:5)."

Anonymous said...

I don't believe prophets are infallible, but I have difficulty believing we'd have 4 or 5 prophets (along with many apostles), all of whom would be deemed "fallible" for allowing polygamy to be practiced. I'm okay with you taking the position it was not, is not, nor ever will be of God. That's your choice. I'm not convinced of that position, and believe that pronouncement would be better coming from one in authority.

Anonymous said...

And, FWIW, what makes Curtis Henderson an expert on the subject any more so that Brian and Laura Hales, or any other number of LDS faithful who have thoroughly researched plural marriage, and come to differing conclusions?

Clean Cut said...

Hahaha--"expert" makes me laugh. I'd be weary of anyone claiming to be an "expert" on polygamy!

Having said that, I acknowledge that many who have done plenty of research can come to differing conclusions. That's quite alright with me. I also think it's wise not to come to any rash judgements or conclusive decisions wherever equally reliable authorities disagree.

For a long time I only had only enough information to comfortably say that polygamy "may" have been a mistake. I've since gained enough confidence and knowledge to make a definitive judgement call. But I recognize it is MY call, and I don't expect everyone to agree with me.

There is room for all of us in this church.

You seem to prefer someone in "authority" tell you what to think. I reserve the right to think for myself.

I've learned that those who gain a little more knowledge in various subjects aren't necessarily those in ecclesiastical leadership/authority positions. Think of the marvelous letters between Joseph Fielding Smith (President of the Quorum of the 12) and Henry Eyring Sr. (a world class scientist, and father of President Henry B. Eyring.)

President Smith was as dogmatic as they come and generally expected the Saints to accept his literalist views on scriptural interpretations on such things as the age of the earth and evolution. He was, after all, an "authority." I love Dr. Eyring's response to Smith's heavy handed letter. I think we can learn many lessons from it today:

Dear President Smith:

Thanks for your letter of April 15, 1955. I am happy that you read my letter, which you refer to, as it expresses accurately my point of view. Considering the difference in training of the members of the Church, I never cease to marvel at the degree of agreement found among believing Latter-Day-Saints. So far from being disturbed to find that Brother Talmage, Brother Widtsoe and yourself didn't always see scientific matters alike, this situation seems natural and as it should be. It will be a sad day for the Church and its members when the degree of disagreement you brethren expressed is not allowed.

I am convinced that if the Lord required that His children understand His works before they could be saved that no one would be saved. It seems to me that to struggle for agreement on scientific matters in view of the disparity in background which the members of the Church have is to put emphasis in the wrong place. In my judgment there is room in the Church for people who think that the periods of creation were (a) 24 hours, (b) 1000 years, or (c) millions of years. I think it is fine to discuss these questions and for each individual to try to convert the other to what he thinks is right, but in matters where apparently equally reliable authorities disagree, I prefer to make haste slowly.

Since we agree on so many things, I trust we can amicably disagree on a few. I have never liked, for example, the idea that many of the horizontally lying layers with their fossils are wreckage from earlier worlds. In any case, the Lord created the world and my faith does not hinge on the detailed procedures. Thanks again for your kindly, thoughtful letter.

Clean Cut said...

By the way, while I know it's not pleasant to come to the realization that the Brethren can be wrong on really big things, the historical record speaks for itself. See, for example:

"An Inconvenient Truth: Lowry Nelson was right; The First Presidency was wrong"

I recognize that many Saints can't bring themselves to believe that so many prophets and apostles could have been so wrong about the priesthood/temple ban, and yet that's what the historical record (combined with my conscience) tells me. So I don't mistake the keys for any degree of holiness or infallibility.

Do all need to see things my way? Heavens no. I love the quote from Joseph Smith:

“If I esteem mankind to be in error, shall I bear them down? No. I will lift them up, and in their own way too, if I cannot persuade them my way is better; and I will not seek to compel any man to believe as I do, only by the force of reasoning, for truth will cut its own way.”

1st Anonymous said...

Clean Cut,

Thank you for your reply.

I am glad we agree on some things, but it wasn't me who said that prophets have to be nearly perfect & keep 'all' the commandments to be considered 'true' prophets, it was Christ.

He warned us over & over to watch for 'false' prophets who claim to be 'true' prophets & who say all the right things yet 'don't' keep all his commandments.

It's very simple to see if someone is a prophet or not, yet not easy to admit for most of us do not want to be on our own to discern truth from error ourselves, it makes us feel better if we have a 'leader' or someone we can follow & better yet if we have prophets who don't keep all the commandments for then it gives us a pass & makes us feel better about our own sins.

If we believe in prophets who break the 10 commandments & don't live Christ's teachings, then that means anything goes for us. I can see why that sounds appealing, but with prophets like that who needs false prophets?

You seem to be fond of quoting Joseph as if his words were all truth, but I would like to see people start quoting Christ, for only he was perfect & He said only his words are safe to go by.

You even assume that D&C 21 came from 'God', when the most you can say is Joseph said it & claimed it was from God. Then we have to take the idea & test it, to see if it's true, which Christ said we test it by comparing it with His words and I don't find anywhere where Christ said to follow or even listen to 'prophets', but to only listen to 'his' words. Even his Apostles were told to not add anything to Christ's words but to only teach them to the people, for Christ knew how fallible & probably even unrighteous his own Apostles could be. For it's clear even they had problems accepting & living his teachings.

But even by the words of Joseph Smith in D&C 121 Joseph himself says anyone who uses 'unrighteous dominion' loses their station & so called 'authority', which I agree with, Joseph just didn't realize that eliminated him too, as well as any LDS leader who followed him.

You don't seem to realize yet just how unrighteous, if not evil, most LDS prophets were.

You mention 'authority', but again, where did Christ say anything about authority or Priesthood? If we do need such a thing then it will be bestowed by God if we keep Christ's commandments enough, not by any man or prophet who isn't even worthy of that power himself.

It is true that 'true' prophets have always been rare and that even those anciently who have claimed to be prophets have either not really been or have fallen later in life for the vilest of evils.

1st Anonymous said...

Clean Cut, Continued -

Do you know how to tell if a true prophet falls from grace? Or how to tell true prophets from false ones?

Why would I follow, listen to or trust a man who wasn't near perfect & who didn't keep all the commandments of Christ? I have realized how deceived I have been throughout my life by listening to men who call themselves prophets yet who prove they really aren't when you look to see if they keep Christ's commandments or not, which again, 'Christ' commanded us to do, it wasn't my idea, but it definitely works.

You say prophets don't have to be perfect or keep all the commandments, yet the one's you hold up (any LDS Prophet) aren't even close, they are some of the most unrighteous men I have heard of.

I personally know many men who are humble & very good kind men, who would never do the things all LDS leaders have done. They don't keep all the commandments either, so they are not prophets, but they are at least far more righteous then any LDS leader I know of, so why would I think an LDS leader is a prophet when these more humble & righteous men around me aren't? The answer is none of them are.

I realize it's hard to be back at 'square one' & be on our own to follow Christ ourselves & not have any 'prophets' around to follow or give us assurance it can be done. But it's even harder to realize that Christ was serious and we actually do have to keep 'all' of His commandments if we want to gain Eternal Life, or be a prophet and a true disciple of his.

Really believing Christ's words is not easy, it's much easier to believe the Gospel of Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or Monson, for they give us alot more leeway & preach things that sound alot better to our carnal minds then the far more difficult real Gospel of Christ does.

Clean Cut said...

1st Anonymous, thank you for engaging in the conversation. Once again, I see that we agree on some things and yet disagree on others. (And that's okay, by the way.)

First, I'd like to state where I agree with you. You said:

"Most of us do not want to be on our own to discern truth from error ourselves, it makes us feel better if we have a 'leader' or someone we can follow"

I completely agree with this. I would LOVE for more of my fellow Mormons to understand this. Instead, I constantly face serious issues with the "follow the leader" or "just follow the prophet" mentality.

Terryl Givens put it this way: “We want a standard that is infallible because it relieves us of the burden of continually exerting ourselves to use discernment. The way that Dostoyevsky put it so beautifully is that 'We want some person to be a keeper of our conscience'. The hard lesson is that there is never a moment when you can delegate your own volition to another individual.”

Where I disagree with you is your continued insistence that prophets must be "practically perfect". This "all or nothing", "black or white", "either/or mentality" is one I completely and emphatically reject, whether it comes from inside or outside of Mormonism.

Christ never said such a thing. And while, yes, I prefer to put more emphasis on the words of Christ directly, we still have a problem. All the words of Christ that we have in scripture have come to us through a human filter. They are words other people wrote down and attributed to Christ.

I don't believe in scriptural inerrancy, nor do I believe all scripture is equally inspired. I *do* believe we each have the responsibility to discern the most inspired words for ourselves.

I should just like to remind you that Joseph Smith himself was not a scriptural inerrantist and he also did not believe all scripture was equally inspired. I know it is so easy to want to have some infallible standard to rely on, whether in scripture or in modern prophets, but it simply doesn't exist.

As Terryl Givens put it, "Scripture is a human manifestation of an impulse toward and from the divine. One can't expect textual flawlessness."

I recognize it can be a bit frightening to realize that all of God's most objective truths are *always* evaluated subjectively. It's initially jarring to realize that there is no such thing as unmediated revelation--that it always comes through a human filter.

So while I continue to choose faith and to trust God, I no longer equate all scripture or even "LDS priesthood authorities" with God. I trust mortal leaders to do their best to seek inspiration, but I'm not trusting them to give us unfiltered or unmediated revelation. Everything that comes to us comes through our human experience, our human language, and human culture. And we "see through a glass darkly".

To quote the late great BYU historian Richard Poll:

"James Madison cautioned: 'When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, his meaning, luminous as it must be, is rendered dim and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated.' Because I believe with Madison that everyone, including Paul and other prophets, sees eternity "through a glass darkly" (1 Cor. 13:12), prophetic infallibility, scriptural inerrancy, and unquestioning obedience are not elements of my faith."

I believe the answer is to focus more on Christ's grace than on our obedience to Christ's commandments. Because who, besides Christ, has ever lived or lives on this earth that perfectly keeps all the commandments?

This is why I rejoice in the real message of the gospel of Jesus Christ: the gift of grace

Lindsey said...

I've recently come across your blog. I have enjoyed and appreciated it as I have recently gone through my own faith crisis and stepped away from the LDS religion.
today I listened to NPRs radio west broadcast 'the ghost of eternal polygamy'. so so interesting. my conclusion, without a doubt, is that soon the prophet will have 'revelation' that will do away with this practice all together...
can I just say how fascinating it's been for me to now be on the outside of the box looking in, allowing myself to actually think about stuff. it's a whole new world! so refreshing and renewing!