Born & raised in the Mormon Church, I was taught that Joseph Smith has done more for the salvation of mankind, except for Jesus Christ. Joseph was highly respected and revered. Sixty-two years of my life transpired before I heard the proverbial “rest of the story.”
Over the past 2 years, I have studied, pondered, discussed & prayed……a ton. Joseph Smith had big problems. The narrative taught in the church has huge holes. At this point, I DO NOT dismiss the historical and doctrinal issues. However, the topic of this blog posting is not the challenges. Rather, the subject is just one quote from Joseph. One that I love. I wish it were taught in the LDS Church, the very church that he founded.
My Favorite Scripture
We are taught that words from the prophets that are spoken under the direction of the Holy Spirit are scripture. To me, the following paragraph is so gorgeous that I’m taking it as inspired by the Spirit. That makes it scripture.
“We have heard men who hold the priesthood remark that they would do anything they were told to do by those who preside over them — even if they knew it was wrong. But such obedience as this is worse than folly to us. It is slavery in the extreme. The man who would thus willingly degrade himself should not claim a rank among intelligent beings until he turns from his folly. A man of God would despise this idea. Others, in the extreme exercise of their almighty authority have taught that such obedience was necessary, and that no matter what the Saints were told to do by their presidents, they should do it without any questions. When Elders of Israel will so far indulge in these extreme notions of obedience as to teach them to the people, it is generally because they have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves.” — Joseph Smith, Jr. in the Millennial Star, volume 14, number 38, pages 593-595.*
Why Do I Like This So Much?
Let me count the ways.
- LDS culture–follow the prophets, even when they are wrong. JS–that is “slavery in the extreme.”
- If we follow leaders even when they are wrong–JS: We “should not claim a rank among intelligent beings.”
- When LDS leaders say follow “no matter what” and “without any questions” they (the leaders) generally “have it in their hearts to do wrong themselves.”
Wow! Just Wow! Joseph Smith, you are my hero!!! Can we print those words in the sacrament meeting program? Every week? Can we discuss this prophetic pronouncement out in the open in priesthood meeting?
It appears that Joseph was warning of and condemning the very culture that seems to be prevalent, today. No wishy-washy words. Spoken with perfect clarity. I embrace them. So special are these words that I’ve decided to go even further. To obey when I know it’s wrong or to obey without question….I now classify as an unholy practice…for me. I won’t “willingly degrade” myself. My desire is to claim a “rank among intelligent beings.”
Of course, this is only my interpretation. I recognize that many of my friends and family believe in following without question, even if it’s wrong. That’s OK. It’s a path that I followed for 62 years. It’s a fine approach and consistent with our culture. I hope my friends and family will be equally non-judgmental of my approach.
Even with all your problems, thank you, Joseph. You are my hero.
* There are questions about the authorship of the quote. Some have attributed it to Joseph Smith. Some, say it was likely composed by someone else. All questions aside, there are 2 things that I “know.” 1) It was printed in a church publication, sanctioned by church authorities. 2) This quote has huge appeal to me. So, I’ve embraced an official view straight from an official church journal. I’m glad to err on the side of Joseph Smith and refer to him as my hero.
This is somewhat of a pattern for me. For example, there are some who say Jesus didn’t really exist. That the gospels were written decades after Christ’s death. That they don’t contain first hand accounts. Contradictions and other problems are easy to identify. To me, if He is real or not doesn’t much matter. I love the teachings and example that are attributed to Jesus. So, I’ve embraced His gospel. I’m glad to err on the side of Christ and refer to him as my Savior.
14 thoughts on “Joseph Smith IS My Hero”
Well, the quote is heroic! But the man himself… his life when put under the microscope?
Not so heroic!
In fact, downright disgusting is more accurate, from my research of the accurate history.
However Sam, I get your point in this blog post -loud and clear.
And Sam, you are one of my modern day heroes!
Amy, thanks for reading my blog. Everytime I write one I wonder, is this really going to be of interest to anybody else? Then somebody goes and calls me a hero! Wow, I think I’ll write another one.
And, you Amy, are truly a hero. Thanks for having the courage to share your story.
Is this like finding something good in everyone? It worked!
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Sam, I also love the quote and wish the modern day church would look at the gospel in this way. I also believe that they are just doing what has always been taught, because even as Joseph was saying one thing, he was doing and expecting another. I look at the way he coerced many of his wives, especially the young ones. He often gave them the “doctrine” and gave them little or no time to think about it, and caused them to feel shame in not following him without question. The culture of Follow The Prophet has been perpetuated since the beginning, and will not change in the near future, if at all. You’re the man Sam, and thanks for provoking thought.
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Thanks for reading my blog. The Talkerias continue. Just not with the presence of your brilliant and awesome spirit.
There’s only one problem with this entire blog post. Joseph Smith never said that. It was originally published in 1852 in the Millennial Star, a British publication. At the time, apostle Samuel W. Richards was editor. No additional attribution was given–this was in the lead editorial of that edition. So the most likely author is Richards, but it could have been anyone working with the Star at the time. It most certain wasn’t Joseph Smith, who was already dead for a while by then.
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Carl, thanks for bringing this up. I’m aware that there is some question about the authorship of the quote. Some have attributed it to Joseph Smith. Some, like you, say it was likely someone else. All questions aside, there are 2 things that I “know.” 1) It was printed in a church publication, sanctioned by church authorities. 2). This quote has huge appeal to me. So, I’ve embraced an official view straight from an official church journal. I’m glad to err on the side of Joseph Smith and refer to him as my hero.
This is a pattern for me. For example, there are some who say Jesus didn’t really exist. That the gospels were written decades after Christ’s death. That they don’t contain first hand accounts. That contradictions and other problems are easy to identify. To me, if He is real or not doesn’t much matter. I love the teachings and example that are attributed to Jesus. So, I’ve embraced His gospel. I’m glad to err on the side of Christ and refer to him as my Savior.
By the way, I certainly applaud this vein of thinking and have collected many similar quotes, which I use to combat neo-orthodox phariseeism in today’s church. But it’s important to check your sources.
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Sam, although I agree in principle with what you said, I do question one thing. In deciding whether to follow or not to follow , who decides who is wrong. Is it a personal decision by each individual.? if the prophet says that a particular thing is wrong and he says it from the pulpit in conference to the worldwide church. And I / you don’t feel that this is right for me for whatever reason at that time. Who determines right/ wrong and is this not the same thing as AGENCY. I am confused as to whether this would not lead to chaos in the church. Where do we draw the line as to what we accept as phophetic leadership and a suggestion.
Janice, this is a really important point to address because it is where the tyre hits the road when we each personally try to balance the big ideas about deciding what is true in Mormonism which are both exciting and important but can easily cancel each other out or clash, which makes life awkward and leads to a lot of conflict between members. The big ideas are:
1 – That we have to use our own minds to think things through and ‘study them out’ and then receive personal revelation or witnesses from the Spirit before concluding that some thing is true or that we are personally obliged to believe or follow it.
2 – That we believe that our unique selling point is we have ‘prophets, seers and revelators’ who can give the whole Church or world clear guidance about what is true (with the caveat that they must claim it is a revelation from God – ‘thus saith the Lord’ – that we are obliged to take that seriously that was asserted more forcefully since Joseph F Smith was President. He was Church Historian for many years and realised that his predecessors had said thousands of things that were not compatible with each other and were clearly personal opinion but had not been careful to differentiate which was which when preaching, and the church members were tying themselves up in knots trying to make every statement in the Journals of Discourses work together as a compatible whole, so he introduced a policy of being clear about what was revelation and what was opinion that eventually led to the correlation apporach to try and end the wilder speculative stuff that had become a serious problem for the Church, and Bruce R McConkey’s controversial but much needed attempt to achieve clarity about core principles and doctrines in his ‘Mormon Doctrine’ book.)
Both of these approaches have been taught thoroughly by our leaders but too often members who readily acknowledge and teach point 1 seem to come down heavily on option 2 – complete trust and obedience to anything said in General Conference, because they are strongly encouraged to by the current GA’s themselves and all the rhetoric around Conference time urging members to listen to all the talks and hear what the Lord Himself is saying to us today. (Personally I’m pretty convinced that the Lord Himself would be far less tedious and repetative than most Conference talks are, but maybe that’s just me…) We find it incredibly hard to apply the same process of considering and seeking spiritual witnesses about what gold to sift out of what is said in Conference as we are encouraged to apply to scriptures and all the ideas in the world when first gaining a testimony of the Gospel and when defending our faith from challenges. We have an Article of Faith that warns us the Bible needs sifting as it isn’t completely reliable, but bwe only say that about general Conference talks long after they have been given when we look back and see that those GA’s were taliking absolute rubish or preaching pure racism or sexism or whatever else that we have later decided was frankly false doctrine, but surely if that is always a possibility we should be just as cautious about what they are saying today. Our leaders have a clear, demonstrale track record of preaching actual evil in General Conference at times. It would be naive to assume that can’t happen now. We are very quick to reach for the ‘well, they aren’t perfect and humans make mistakes’ excuse when there is a comfortable historical distance. This reminds me of Jesus telling the pharisees off for being very happy to extol long dead prophets, but not being at all comfortable with thinking of the living ones as being in the same category.
All I can say is my opinion, backed up by many great quotes from prophets, that we should be as fearless in applying those filters to what our living apostles and prophets say (and there are 15 of them!) as we are to anything else, and if some of what they say is true and God’s will for us that will be very clear – it should easily pass the thinkiing and praying test. It is not being faithless to approach General Conference assuming that Jesus did not dictate every talk word for word – the speakers do not claim that, so nor should we. It is a big problem in the Church that members keep ratcheting up and exaggerating claims and assumptions about the level of ‘scriptureness’ in General Conference talks that the speakers are generally not claiming themselves, which if you think about it is a contradiction if we are meant to be guided by them and what they say as a higher authority than our own. I pften hear members and missionaries say to investigators that our prophet walks and talks with Jesus – but he has never claimed to do that! He has never claimed to have seen Jesus and nor have most of his predecessors, yet we perpetuate this idea that they have an 11 o’clock meeting in the Temple every week.
We also need to be careful about who we mean by ‘the prophet’ – do we mean the President, or the other 14 ordained apostles? There is a hierarchy of revelation or authority as it were when making judgements about how much a statement is the will of the Lord that we should feel strongly obliged to obey. I’ve mentioned the idea that it should be presented to the membership as a specific revelation if we are to treat it as scriptural or potentially binding, and that is further ring-fenced by the concept of ‘common consent’ where before something is accepted as scriptural it also has to receive a sustaining vote by the general membership, which seems to have been done a lot more in the early generations of the LDS Church than today, but has certainly been done when making any additions to the Doctrine and Covenants for example, like when they put the 1978 proclamation to a sustaining vote of the membership if I remember my church history correctly. So personally I think there is quite a high threshold that has to be reached before I feel obliged to seriously consider something I am not comfortable with to be binding on me like scripture. The Lord put a lot of safety nets into the leadership structure to minimise the ability of one leader to to go rogue with their own opinions – technically for something to be considered a binding revelation it has to be sustained by the first presidency, the Quorum of 12 Apostles, the First Quorum of Seventy and then a sustaining vote by the whole membership. How often does that happen? These days we only get to do the generic sustaining vote at conferences and increasing numbers are asserting their right to vote opposed at those, which is an intereting development.
There are some great quotes by various prophets and apostles in this article about this:
Personally I approach each General Conference very skeptically – my view is that it is their job to convince me, backed up by the Holy Ghost of God wants me to really take what they are saying on board.
I’m absolutely furious about some of the things the General Authorities have done recently, for example throwing a spanner in the works of almost every Christian and Mormon principle I hold dear by deciding to withhold saving ordinances and priesthood from children and teenagers if they mainly live with a gay parent. After making some positive steps towards empathy and inclusion in the last 10 years, they are currently making it almost impossible for the 15 gay Mormons I have known or served a mission with so far who have felt unable to continue being active members to feel understood and hopeful and loved enough to return.
But mostly in General Conference they win me over and I find some things that the Spirit confirms to me are wise principles and challenges to help me be a better Latter-Day Saint. Personally I’m a fan of President Uchtdorf who for years has shown a profound understanding of the challenges we face and the the things we need to reform in the Church to survive and thrive that frankly seems to be missing from what several of his colleagues say, but even he messes up sometimes. So I will offer this talk by him as a case study of the need for selective filtering:
October 2015 ‘It Works Wonderfully’ – this has what I have found to be the absolute best bit of the whole Conference and the absolute worse, in the same talk. He begins with a stupid fear-mongering about the internet analogy about how if we are going to the doctor we shouldn’t research on the internet about our medical condition but only listen to what the doctor says because he knows best, implying that that is how we should treat General Authorities too instead of finding out those inconvenient truths about Church history on the dreaded internet which has caused thousands of members to get disillusioned and leave.
Well, that was completely ridiculous because anyone with any sense will research the internet thoroughly to get educated about medical conditions – your doctor doesn’t have time to explain it all to you – and doctors get THEIR information from the internet, and many lives have been saved by getting second opinions about things from other doctors or websites. The internet is a library, not a conspiracy. He lost a lot of credibility with that clumsy analogy because the conclusion of anyone with experience using the internet properly wll be that he doesn’t know what he is talking about and actually coming across as less reliable than the internet as a source of reliable information! Or that he doesn’t actually use the internet because it it has been many years since one could say the medical information online is mostly inaccurate quackery – every healthcare system in the world now seems to have its own website to which patients are encouraged to turn for information before approaching a doctor.
Yet he also addresses directly your question – ‘When it comes to spiritual truth, how can we know that we are on the right path?” in the same talk and says what in my opinion is the most important thing our Church needs to hear and address as a matter of urgency because our tendency towards pharisaism is killing us internally and making us less and less atrractive to sincere souls who have not yet found Christ:
“This beautiful gospel is so simple a child can grasp it, yet so profound and complex that it will take a lifetime—even an eternity—of study and discovery to fully understand it.
But sometimes we take the beautiful lily of God’s truth and gild it with layer upon layer of man-made good ideas, programs, and expectations. Each one, by itself, might be helpful and appropriate for a certain time and circumstance, but when they are laid on top of each other, they can create a mountain of sediment that becomes so thick and heavy that we risk losing sight of that precious flower we once loved so dearly.
Therefore, as leaders we must strictly protect the Church and the gospel in its purity and plainness and avoid putting unnecessary burdens on our members.”
3 paragraphs that if I was in charge I would urge all the membership to memorise – succinctly encompassing both the simplicity, and the complexity that will take more than a lifetime for us to fully understand of our doctrine without saying we have to choose one or the other, which is so important for reconciling the ‘simple faith’ and ‘intellectual’ wings among our membership who often clash and frustrate each other. And then absolutely nailing it by pointing out that like the pharisees, with good intentions, we, the Mormons, have smothered the real gospel with too many extra rules and cultural traditions and expectations that should have no place in the Gospel.
So I’m with the GA’s in the quotes who urge us to be fearless about intellectually and spiritually scrutinising averything our Church and leaders teach us because anything that does not stand up to that scrutiny and that approach is not worth hanging on to anyway – it becomes a corrupting distraction that eventually compromises our truths and practices to the point of serious harm like the crushing sediments or the asphyxiating gilding on the lily that Uchtdorf describes.
You really can and should have the best of both worlds – be as uncompromisingly intellectual and logical as you can while at the same time being uncompromisingly spiritual and compassionate. They make each other stronger rather than weaker, but they do mean you have to drop the childish rose tinted glasses approach to the Church and its leaders and what they say. At first this seems scary, but we all need to grow up and that is a core Mormon principle – eternal progression from milk to meat. I can testify that so far having that approach has made me perhaps more skeptical and cautious about what our leaders say than many find comfortable, but so far the meat has been very nourishing and I am fiercely loyal to the Church while very clear about it needing to make some radical reforms to better reflect the real gospel of Jesus Christ, but that has always been the case. It is an ongoing struggle throughout history.
And I would contend that when the storms really hit the membership as they are starting to, it is the members who have already learnt to carefully filter and consider and make discerning judgements about what our leaders say who will have the core strength to survive while those who have avoided difficult choices and only drunk the milk won’t last 5 minutes when their rose tinted glasses get knocked off and they are completely unprepared for reality. So it is better to be a bit brave and take the rose tinted glasses off now and start getting used to meat because the dairy cows are dying and that’s the only way we will get any food from them, to take my agricultural analogy to it’s extreme carnivorous outcome!
This maturing process is already well under way in the Church with radical reforms to the official history and curriculum with the Gospel Topics essays, the Joseph Smith Papers project, the new displays at the Church History Museum, the October Ensign article about the seer stone translation of the Book of Mormon, the reform of seminary from memorising scriptures to discussing and explaining and defending them in challenging dialogue and so on. It can’t be avoided by ignoring it, so join in!
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Peter, thank you for your reply. It was most helpful and seems to go along with my way of thinking. I, too had your same reaction to the latest policy change by the church, but have since made peace with the decision of the brethren. After a rather lengthy discussion with a friend who left his wife of 30 years and six grown children, to pursue his gay lifestyle, and I saw the anger and hatred he now has for the church. I thought felt that if that would be the atmosphere that same sex couples exude, this is not good for children to be placed into while going to church and knowing what the church’s stance is. This is a decision to be made by an adult and not a child. To me, that would be emotional child abuse. And, if two gay people marry and are excommunicated, why would they want their child blessed by a member of the Priesthood they no longer support. I don’t see where this is a huge problem. This is all my opinion.
I enjoyed the Pres. Uchdorf talk and agree that he is a breath of fresh air. However, I think the Brethren have done a pretty good job as of late talking about the basic gospel principles and the love of Christ and what he taught. Only time will tell whether we get more information revealed to us regarding church history misunderstandings. I will continue to evaluate , search, ponder, and pray on my own . I haven’t had any major differences with the Brethren and don’t expect to. Thank you for replying and sharing your incite. Like Sam has said, it is difficult to have this kind of conversation with a Bishop. They aren’t , in my opinion, able to discuss the real questions people have that aren’t within the strict guidelines of the handbook. Missionaries hands are tied as well.
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Sam. I just found your blog and read enough to know that I am fairly sure you are the Sam Young that I know. The the super-scouter and previous bishop, and what I remember most was what a warm person. I even remember your wife giving a talk on fathers day in church about 35 years ago. I remember your wife painted such a glowing picture of you as a husband (probably fairly accurate) that got a lot of fellow husbands in hot water with their wives for not being as good of a husband as you.
We need to chat. Send an email to the email (I assume you can see it being the blog owner) so we can get connected again.
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