Defending the restored church of Christ - I created this blog several years ago to provide an alternative to what I saw at the time as a lot of bad "Mormon blogs" that were floating around the web. Also, it was my goal to collect and share a plethora of positive and useful information about what I steadfastly believe to be Christ's restored church. It has been incredibly enjoyable and I hope you find the information worthwhile.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Mormon Options on 'Church and State'

(by Martin Marty 10-26-15)

"I hate war!" was a clear denunciation voiced by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on August 14, 1936. He was talking about real war five years before he had to lead the United States in the most destructive war in history.

There are lesser wars in respect to which citizens are called to take sides. In recent decades some of the most popular chosen examples are the "culture wars," which are so attractive among some religious factions. They have proven to be productive of not much more than unproductive polarization and civil chaos.

Now and then, over against them, an informed and articulate citizen is found to utter a meaningful "I hate war!" in respect to culture wars.

Among them in the recent past and, specifically, this October, is a speaker who has the credentials to participate in the noisiest domestic contretemps this season. He is Dallin H. Oaks, who could have been expected to wage war on one side as factions agitate about the loss of religious liberty, thanks to Supreme Court and other court actions. The warriors have been urging us all to take up rhetorical arms against such courts.

Oaks is well credentialed to represent Mormons, who generally occupy main fronts in the culture wars. A "member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints," he is the third most senior apostle among the twelve apostles in his church.

Oaks has been president of the LDS academic flagship, Brigham Young University. We knew him in his University of Chicago Law School faculty days as a superior legal scholar and a staunch, articulate loyalist in the LDS ranks. No one we knew then or since would have thought of him as a compromiser, a wishy-washy sort.

So we paid attention when Oaks showed how he hated culture wars and spoke up for an alternative in the particular instance of a "church and state" issue. The conflict was a prime time, front-page subject, thanks to Kim Davis, a conservative Christian. Davis refused to obey laws and courts mandating the issuance of marriage licenses for gay marriages, which she, in her version of Christianity, in conscience opposes.

For full article, see this link;

Friday, October 23, 2015

LDS Church releases new essays about women and the priesthood and Heavenly Mother

(by Tad Walch 10-23-15)

LDS leaders continued their recent effort to address challenging contemporary questions about Mormon practice and doctrine by publishing two new scholarly essays Friday that address the roles and authority of women in the church.

The first, "Joseph Smith's Teachings about Priesthood, Temple and Women," is longer, complex and nuanced. The other is about the longstanding belief in a Mother in Heaven, a distinctive teaching in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Approved by the First Presidency, the essays describe the enormous contributions women have made to gospel ministry since the earliest days of the church. Many LDS women and scholars were encouraged by their publication, calling them important contributions and a step forward.

"First, I was overjoyed to see that essays had been penned on these topics," said Valerie Hudson, co-author of "Women in Eternity, Women in Zion" and the George H.W. Bush Chair of International Affairs at Texas A&M. "Latter-day Saints have needed these topics addressed. ... Second, I was very happy to see that belief in Heavenly Mother has been 'certified' as being doctrinal through the imprimatur of the essay on"

The priesthood essay stated that both Mormons and others often "mistakenly equate priesthood with religious office and the men who hold it, which obscures the broader Latter-day Saint concept of priesthood."

That concept requires a full understanding of the use of priesthood authority by women in the church, according to the essay, especially in LDS temples, the ultimate form of Mormon worship.

Women and priesthood

The priesthood essay provided historical context for current dialogue about what the essay called "women's ministry." It pointed out that in 1842 — when American women could not vote, own property or earn money without turning it over to their husbands — LDS founder Joseph Smith created the Female Relief Society "in the Order of the Priesthood after the pattern of the church."

While it said that neither he nor any other church leader ordained women to the priesthood, it clearly stated that women do exercise priesthood authority without ordination.

"I think the essays are a tremendous step forward in clarifying the diverse and nuanced definition of what priesthood really is," said Neylan McBaine, author of "Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact." "Not all of our priesthood is gendered, and I think this essay is remarkable in how broadly it defines priesthood."

The idea of a broader concept of priesthood was one of the two most important sentences in the essay, Hudson and McBaine said.

To them, the other vital statement was that "the priesthood authority exercised by Latter-day Saint women in the temple and elsewhere remains largely unrecognized by people outside the church and is sometimes misunderstood or overlooked by those within."

"That's the most remarkable part of the essay," McBaine said. "It's incredible for them to actually draw attention to that. And then to add, 'Women exercise priesthood authority even though they are not ordained to priesthood office' — a reference to a talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks last year — to have that appear in an official church statement, that women exercise priesthood authority? That's very exciting."

The essay said Joseph Smith taught the temple ordinances to men and women in the final years before his death and promised that they would endow men and women with "power from on high."

"These revelations and ordinances," the essay said, "imparted new understanding of the interdependent relationship of women and men."

Women and authority

LDS women serve in ways that would require ordination in many other religious traditions, the essay stated, such as when they lead Relief Society, Young Women and Primary organizations; preach and pray in congregations; participate in priesthood councils; and serve as missionaries around the world.
In each case, as Oaks said, they are acting with the authority of the priesthood.

"It would be impossible to quantify the impact women have in and on the church," said Sheri Dew, author of "Women and the Priesthood: What One Mormon Woman Believes." "Right now in more than 180 nations, there are literally hundreds of thousands of women serving in presidencies on both local and general levels of church government who provide leadership for the millions of women, young women and children of the church and who sit as standing members of major councils that direct the affairs of the church.

"And that doesn't count all of those who teach, proselytize as full-time missionaries, officiate in priesthood ordinances in the temple, pray in public meetings and expound doctrine. I have been unable to find any other organization, let alone any other church, where as many women have as much bona fide leadership opportunity and influence as in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints."

Every Mormon woman who has been to the temple knows that women perform ordinances there, McBaine said, adding that this essay will open up discussion about the meaning of that practice.

A beginning

The essay provided important factual, historical context to the conversation about women and the priesthood in the church, but while it goes into depth with its 58 footnotes, it isn't exhaustive, Hudson and McBaine said.

Both felt more could have been shared about the 19th-century LDS practice of women giving healing blessings. The essay acknowledged the history but stated that women were seen to have a gift of the spirit without the priesthood. The practice was discontinued by LDS Church President Heber J. Grant in 1926 based on the Biblical directive to "call for the elders."

That explanation didn't satisfy Hudson.

"In short, this is not, and cannot be, the final word on the subject, as the essay seems as conflicted as the present-day membership on these issues," she said.

The church does plan to provide additional scholarly information about the early roles and ministries of Mormon women.

In March 2016, the faith's official Church Historian's Press will publish "The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women's History," by Jill Mulvay Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook and Matthew J. Grow.

LDS historians say that's a big deal because it's the first book the press will publish other than those from the multi-volume Joseph Smith Papers project. Known colloquially in the church history department as the Relief Society documents project, it will provide a major resource for learning about the way women preached, taught, worked and acted in their roles and responsibilities in the early church.

The essay on Heavenly Mother added little that was new, experts said, but it was welcomed particularly on the heels of the mention of her in a talk at the faith's general conference earlier this month by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve.

The essay surveyed 171 years of statements about a Mother in Heaven and reiterated that Mormons follow Jesus Christ's teaching to "always pray unto the Father in my name."

13 essays

The two new pieces are the 12th and 13th in-depth essays about topics of special public interest in church history and doctrine published by the church in The Gospel Topics section of in the past two years.

The Heavenly Mother essay first appeared online Thursday night after it was leaked to Reddit. The essays had been ready for weeks, church spokeswoman Kristen Howey said, but officials were waiting to post them until they could be translated into other languages.

The church chose to move forward Friday after the leak.

The 13 essays are an effort to provide the most historically accurate information about subjects like polygamy and the past restriction on blacks and the priesthood, according to church officials. They are designed to counter questionable and inaccurate sources with academically rich essays, many of which have dozens of footnotes and are written by historians and scholars.

Each Gospel Topics essay was approved by the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

"I think the church history department and the church really have to be commended," said Patrick Mason, the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University. "These essays represent a really significant step forward in terms of transparency, honesty and reckoning with hard questions and contribute a level of confidence and maturity to the discussion."

Gospel Topics pages enhanced or added at since November 2013 include "Race and the Priesthood," "Becoming like God," "First Vision Accounts," "Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo," "Plural Marriage and Families in Early Utah" and "The Manifesto and the End of Plural Marriage."

The other essays are "Are Mormons Christians?" "Peace and Violence among 19th-century Latter-day Saints," "Book of Mormon and DNA Studies," "Book of Mormon Translation" and "Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham."


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

On the Folly of Demanding Demographic Diversity among the LDS Apostles

(by J. Max Wilson 10-12-15)

As you probably already know, three new apostles were called during the recent October 2015 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Apostles serve as special witnesses of Jesus Christ and hold priesthood authority and keys to direct the work of God on the earth. Jesus directs his church through these living apostles and prophets. And as members of the church we believe these men are called by God through inspiration to the living prophet and president of the church.

Some members of the church, and not a few dissidents and former members, have expressed disappointment and feelings of hurt because the three new apostles do not come from diverse enough backgrounds to meet their contemporary concepts of Diversity. All three new apostles are white men, born in Utah. These disappointed members and critics wanted new apostles with backgrounds more representative of the diversity in church membership, which now has more members outside of the United States than in.

There has been plenty of commentary about this criticism, and I don’t want to rehash what has already been said. But I do want to step back and take a more abstract look at some of the problems with wanting the Lord to call apostles based on demographic diversity.

Diversity is a good thing. Each individual brings a unique package of experience, background, talents, and ideas that can contribute to building the Kingdom of God.

However, when considering diversity, it is important to recognize that we, as human beings, tend to draw arbitrary lines and to group people based on simplistic similarities. However we draw those lines, we unavoidably generalize, oversimplify, and reduce people from complex individuals into artificially uniform groups.

Some people have suggested they would be happy if new apostles were European, South American, African, or Asian instead of from Utah. But do these broad categories represent any kind of real cohesive group or identity?

Let’s take South America as an example.

Say an individual from South America is called to be an apostle. All of the South Americans rejoice! “Finally, an apostle who is like us, who shares our background, and knows our needs!”

Or do they?

Of course, you can’t really call a generic South American to the apostleship. Only real individuals can be called. And that individual comes from a specific country, was raised in a specific culture, and speaks a specific language. This specific apostle is from Brazil. He speaks Portuguese.

Do you really think that the Spanish speaking members in South America feel he is like them, shares their background, and knows their needs? Not really.

So now we have to call a Spanish-speaking apostle in addition to our Portuguese speaking apostle. And we do. And all the Spanish-speaking South Americans rejoice! “Finally, an apostle who is like us, who shares our background, and knows our needs!”

Except they don’t. You can’t call a generic Spanish Speaking apostle. This time the apostle is from Lima Peru. The Chileans, who have historically had long-time conflicts with the Peruvians, don’t feel any real connection to this apostle.

So now we call an apostle from Chile. But this individual is from the capital city, Santiago. But the Chileans from the south of Chile, in ConcepciĆ³n, feel little similarity to the urban Santiaguinos.

So we call an apostle from southern Chile. But even though he was born and raised there, he comes from a wealthy family, originally immigrated from Europe, and went to college in Spain. He has little in common with the native Mapuche campesinos.

And so on. You understand what I’m saying. You got it early on. The same thing is true of Europe, Asia, Africa, or anywhere else.

There will always be a way to draw a line that emphasizes differences and to feel excluded.
It works the other way around as well. It is a mistake to think that just because someone has sufficiently similar appearance, or comes from a similar place, or speaks the same language, or seems to have similar background, that they are like you, think like you, and share your concerns.

There will always be a way to draw a line that emphasizes similarities and to feel included.

The point at which we decide that someone is sufficiently like us to matter is subjective and arbitrary.

And it is a choice.

In the governing councils of the church, there are only 15 individuals (3 in the First Presidency and 12 Apostles). It is literally impossible for 15 individuals to be sufficiently diverse that everyone in the world feels validated that people “like me” can be an apostle. The choice of any individual will always be the exclusion of some other individual that could have been chosen. That is the nature of choice.

This is the folly of demanding diversity. It is a diabolic trap that can only ever result in hurt and disaffection. Once you adopt this frame of thinking there is no winning. Someone will always feel hurt. And only the devil wins.

The Lord calls individuals, not demographics. He calls individuals that have the unique individual skills, experiences, and backgrounds that He needs. It is not a statement about what kind of people are not acceptable to Him. It is not a statement that certain demographics are more “worthy” than others. It is not a statement that these individuals or their backgrounds are superior to all others in the church. It is not even an indication that they are more righteous than others.

Every member of the church should be striving to live such that they could be an apostle, should the Lord so call them. And whether He ever does is irrelevant.

Do the apostles know what it is like to be you? Probably not. And they probably never will. But they have the Spirit of God and He knows. God guides His church. And He hears your prayers and knows your hearts. It is the Holy Spirit that unites us and helps us to understand one another even with our mismatched backgrounds, experiences, and needs.

And even though they are not like you, the men who have been called as apostles have made the same covenants that you have made. They repent of their sins, just like you. They have faith in Jesus Christ and His atonement, the same as you do. They make sacrifices and follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit, just like you. And God can use them to carry out His holy purposes. Just like you.

So don’t succumb to this mental trap meant to undermine your faith. Trust in the Lord to know you and to guide His church and His chosen apostles according to His superior wisdom and love. He is capable of communicating His will to His authorized representatives, even in their weakness. And you can sustain and support them without hesitation.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Leo Tolstoy's view of Mormons as teaching 'The American Religion'

(by Susan McCloud 9-21-14)

In his diary, Leo Tolstoy wrote: “God is that infinite All of which man knows himself to be a finite part.”

Enigmatic, moved by great passions and inconsistencies, this man is considered a creative genius; perhaps as significant in the literature of the world as Shakespeare is.

Born on Sept. 9, 1828, he was the fourth child in a family of old, respected nobility. But his mother, and then his father, Count Nicolai Tolstoy, died while he was still young, and he and his siblings were raised by two aunts, in succession.

In 1844, around 16 years of age, Tolstoy began the study of law and the pursuit of Asian languages. As seems often the case with extraordinary people, a teacher described him as “both unable and unwilling to learn!”

In 1857, when nearing 30, Tolstoy visited Paris and happened to be witness to a public execution. Greatly moved, he wrote in a letter to his friend, Vasily Botkin: “The truth is that the State is a conspiracy designed not only to exploit, but above all to corrupt its citizens. ... Henceforth, I shall never serve any government anywhere.”

Politics he endured, but religion had its own hold upon him. He married Sophia Tolstaya — 16 years his junior — in 1862. Thirteen children were born to them, and there were many challenges in this tumultuous relationship. Yet, interestingly, Tolstoy said and wrote things such as the following: “Seize the moments of happiness, love and be loved! That is the only reality in the world; all else is folly” (see "War and Peace"). And again, “And all people live, not by reason of any care they have for themselves, but by the love for them that is in other people” (see "Tales from Tolstoy").

Tolstoy was a free, forward-looking thinker. In 1861, after visiting the anarchist Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, who was living in Brussels, Belguim, under an assumed name, he was so impressed by some of the ideas and possibilities discussed between them that he went home and arranged for the building of 13 schools for the children of his serfs.

Tolstoy believed that worship of God and our approach to God can be varied, but that God is there — and accessible to all men of all classes and conditions. He was curious, and sought for religious truths wherever he went, with whatever group or nationality of people he encountered. Rejecting organized religion himself, he was known for his support of and concern for those who did strive to practice their religion — especially for religious minorities who were struggling or suffering persecution.

Thus Mormonism. He first mentions this little-known religion in his diary while he is traveling in Western Europe. He is young, and relatively unknown except in Russia. But 30 years later, in an unusual way, Mormonism was again brought to his attention. He received an unexpected letter from an American woman, who happened to be Brigham Young’s daughter, Susa Young Gates. She was sending him a copy of the Book of Mormon, compelled by an article she had read the year before (in June of 1887), in “Century,” a leading magazine of the time. Tolstoy had spoken in an interview of the U.S. government’s measures to crush polygamy, and Susa was astonished that “extensive as your reading and knowledge is, it should still reach so far, and compass so seemingly small a factor in the world’s present history," according to the article "Tolstoy and Mormonism," by Leland A. Fetzer.

This impassioned young woman could not resist telling the history of her people from their own point of view. Her letter was well-written and both sweet and persuasive. She sent three letters in all to the great writer, and these were apparently answered, as was his habit, by his daughter, Tatyana. Tolstoy had scrawled the one word "answer" in Russian on the last page of Susa’s letter. So he was definitely, to some extent, drawn to this daughter of the famous Mormon leader and to what she was saying. In his journal Tolstoy referred to the “beautiful letter of the American woman,” according to "Tolstoy and Mormonism."

It was five years later when a notable reference to Mormonism came up in Tolstoy’s life. But before this time Tolstoy had obviously spoken of Mormons in interviews, perhaps read more, asked questions — even of himself. Quakers, Russian Old Believers, Buddhists — many groups which may be considered exotic sects — were of interest to him. When he read the book Susa sent on Joseph Smith he found what he called deception in it, as he did in all organized religion. He disliked the trappings of churches which he believed got in the way of the personal experience, rather than facilitating it. Dogma and ritual raised red flags for him. He deeply distrusted institutions, and the concept of being told what he had to do and how he had to do it in order to express religion — or even to feel it within. He found particularly repulsive churches associated with and supported by the state.

When Tolstoy met with Andrew D. White in March of 1894, White was President of Cornell University and had been a minister to both Germany and Russia, and also the American delegate to the Hague Conference of 1899. He was independently wealthy, a man of power, sure of his position and confident of himself.

When their general discussion came around to Mormonism, Tolstoy was interested that White had visited Salt Lake City two years before, and expressed some positive opinions about the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and about what he had read of them. In White’s words, which were published in McClure's Magazine (April 1901) and quoted in Tolstoy and Mormonism”: “He thought two thirds of their religion deception, but said that on the whole he preferred a religion which professed to have dug its sacred books out of the earth to one that pretended that they were let down from heaven ... he spoke of the good reputation of the Mormons for chastity, and asked me to explain the hold of their religion upon women.”

Much was obviously going on in Tolstoy’s mind. He was an insightful thinker, in many ways he was a realist, but he could feel as deeply and passionately as he could think. These interviews between the two men took place over several days. And White’s responses were as astute and in many ways as enlightened in thought and perception as were Tolstoy’s.

An additional, albeit third-hand, account of the meeting comes from one-time Cornell student Thomas J. Yates. It was published by the Improvement Era in February 1939. According to Yates, White shared the story with him after learning that Yates was Mormon.

What brought Tolstoy to this final statement, if accurate, will, of course, never be known. The absoluteness, the definitive nature of his words, imbues them with a ringing power that sends a thrill through the reader’s mind. Given all that Tolstoy was, all that struggled within himself that was unknown to others, his statement on Mormonism can be considered nothing less than remarkable.
According to Yates' account, Tolstoy began by asking White to tell him of his American religion. White explained that there was no such thing, but Tolstoy persisted, saying, “ 'I know all of this, but I want to know about the American religion. Catholicism originated in Rome; the Episcopal Church originated in England; the Lutheran Church in Germany, but the Church to which I refer originated in America, and is commonly known as the Mormon Church. What can you tell me of the teachings of the Mormons?’

“ 'Well,’ said Dr. White ‘I know very little concerning them. They have an unsavory reputation, they practice polygamy, and are very superstitious.’

“Then Count Leo Tolstoy, in his honest and stern, but lovable manner, rebuked the ambassador. ‘Dr. White, I am greatly surprised and disappointed that a man of your great learning and position should be so ignorant on this important subject. The Mormon people teach the American religion; their principles teach the people not only of Heaven and its attendant glories, but how to live so that their social and economic relations with each other are placed on a sound basis. If the people follow the teachings of this Church, nothing can stop their progress — it will be limitless. There have been great movements started in the past but they have died or been modified before they reached maturity. If Mormonism is able to endure, unmodified, until it reaches the third and fourth generation, it is destined to become the greatest power the world has ever known.’ ”

Apparently White, after his return home, secured a set of LDS Church works to be placed in the library at Cornell.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Revisiting a prophetic talk

(by Geoff B. 10-14-15)

Neal A. Maxwell’s talk “All Hell is Moved” from 1977 seems to be starkly prophetic for our times. I would like to highlight some of the most interesting points.

The theme of my address comes from a prophecy in President George Q. Cannon’s speech given in the Tabernacle in May of 1866. President Cannon spoke of the generations that had passed before the restoration of the gospel during which the adversary was indifferent and unconcerned with regard to the fractious religious movements among mankind which were not based upon the fulness of truth. However, President Cannon observed that the movement of the Holy Priesthood of God and the Church were restored, “then all hell is moved.” He catalogued the forms of resistance that can be expected when “all hell is moved.”

President Cannon, who knew that the adversary regards this telestial turf as his own, said that Satan will vigorously resist all rezoning efforts because this is his world. President Cannon further observed that the Saints—meaning you and I—must not make the mistake of assuming the existence of any truce between the forces of Satan and God. To believe so, said President Cannon, is “a very great delusion, and a very common one.”

President Cannon then warned that the forms of resistance to righteousness will strike us “with wonder and astonishment.” This, he said, would occur because “the war” which was waged in heaven has been transferred to the earth,” and that this conflict, he said, “will [come to] occupy the thoughts and minds of all the inhabitants of the earth” (Journal of Discourses 11:227–29). Brothers and sisters, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be at the epicenter of all that.

He went on:

President Brigham Young observed that it would be at the very time when the Church was reaching out to all the nations of the world, when it was prospering and growing, that there would be in proportion to the spread of the gospel a rise in the power of Satan. We are in that very period of time now, too. The obscurity of the Church has given way to visibility. You who have entered here to learn and who go forth to serve mankind—wafted as you will be from place to place on this planet—are also builders of the kingdom. You must be especially aware of the confluence of events that I am describing. You must still go forth, for you have been sent to this planet at precisely this time because you could cope with the challenges being described.

Elder Maxwell, who was a president in the Seventy when he gave this talk, said:

In the beginning of the Restoration, Joseph Smith quickly became an object of scorn and ridicule. The reaction to him, except by Satan’s scale, was all out of proportion. Joseph reflected upon this when he observed:
How very strange it was that an obscure boy . . . should be thought a character of sufficient importance to attract the attention of the great ones of the most popular sects of the day, and in a manner to create in them a spirit of the most bitter persecution and reviling.

But as the Prophet observed, “strange or not, so it was “ (Joseph Smith 2:23). As with that individual, so with God’s institution. When the Saints are spotlighted, it will not always be for us to take curtsies and bows; sometimes the spotlights will be searchlights.

Note, brothers and sisters, that it is the validity which draws the fire of the adversary. Combine validity and visibility, as in our time, and there is even more reaction. The adversary would scarcely pay any attention to a still numerically obscure Church unless he recognized what is underway for just what it is. Jesus declared who he was, and many disbelieved him, but the unclean spirit in Capernaum recognized him and said: “I know thee who thou art” (Mark 1:24). Lucifer and his legions are alert; they know Christ’s church is what it is. The adversary is aware.

He continued:

There are those who chronically misunderstand the Church because they are busy trying to explain the Church from the outside. They are so busy believing what they want to believe about the Church that they will not take the time to learn what they need to learn about the Church. They prefer any explanation to the real explanation. Some prefer to believe the worst rather than to know the truth. Still others are afraid to part the smokescreen of allegations for fear of what they will see. Yet one cannot see the Louvre by remaining in its lobby. One cannot understand the Church by remaining outside. A non-believing but fair critic of the Church, a friend of mine, once said that the Book of Mormon was the only book some critics felt they did not need to read before reviewing it.

He later said:

Some insist upon studying the Church only through the eyes of its defectors—like interviewing Judas to understand Jesus. Defectors always tell us more about themselves than about that from which they have departed.

Some others patiently feed their pet peeve about the Church without realizing that such a pet will not only bite the hands of him who feeds it, but it will swallow his whole soul. Of course we are a very imperfect people! Remember, however, that while it is possible to have an imperfect people possessed of perfect doctrines (indeed, such is necessary to change their imperfections), you will never, never see the reverse: a perfect people with imperfect doctrines. The more people there are who bear false witness concerning a true movement, the greater the need for us to be true witnesses of the Savior and his way of life. We can be noble even when we are being treated ignobly. We not only can be, but we must be.


Jude warned of insidious disbelievers. He said,

For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ. [Jude 4]

Clearly, the Book of Mormon was needed as an added witness in these, the decades of deep doubt. Clearly, the theophany at Palmyra puts to rout all the chatter about the historicity of Jesus; it ended all the theological fuzziness about the nature of the Godhead.

He continued:

Christians who worship a resurrected Jesus Christ (a Jesus who not only lived but lives) and who believe in the sermon at Capernaum and the sermon on the Mount are kingdom-builders. When such individuals, clothed in the purple of the holy priesthood, preach Christ crucified and Christ resurrected, and when such people become increasingly effective in kingdom-building, indeed “all hell is moved.”

It would be so much safer to float with the ebbing theological tides as do so many today who simply regard Jesus as a Galilean Gandhi or as a Socrates who strode in Samaria. But we know Jesus to be divine, the literal Son of the Father. We know that he established his church, and that it is not simply a church built upon doctrinal debris from other dispensations or fragments of the faith from another age. It is a church built upon the fulness of his gospel; it bears his name and is his kingdom in these latter days, a kingdom to which the good men and women of all nations, cultures, and races will be drawn. Knowing this, we are like Joseph Smith—we speak the truth because we can do no other.

And this:

As the veil of unbelief thickens around the globe, nothing can rend “the dark veil of unbelief” (Alma 19:6) that is not sharp, piercing, bright, and true. Dull disciples will not light the way nor draw people to the kingdom. The philosophies of the world cannot do it, for so far as having some saving and consequential core to them, such philosophies are like peeling an onion. Perhaps that is why we cry when we peel onions. The truths we seek to live and to share are sweet, reassuring, and redeeming. But they are also tough truths; they keep us up against things that really matter. And central to all of these truths is the declaration of the Savior himself in which he said, “Behold, . . . I am the light, and the life, and the truth of the world” (Ether 4:12). These are not the words of some Buddha born in Bethlehem; these are the words of the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.

We say (without tying it to any sense of personal vindication) what Paul said: that the time will come “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow . . . and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10–11).

He concluded:

True, all hell may be moved, but as it moves, the devil’s kingdom will be irrevocably shaken, so that many can be shaken loose from his grasp. It is the kingdom of heaven that is coming—triumphant, true, and everlasting! God grant that we may each be faithful to all the assignments given to us during our premortal preparation for these dramatic days, I pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Elder Maxwell was named an apostle in 1981 and died in 2004.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Oliver Cowdery in Wisconsin

(by Daniel Peterson 10-15-15)

Some critics, realizing that the Book of Mormon was beyond young Joseph Smith’s capacities, have tried to explain it by invoking the help of Oliver Cowdery. But the historical facts offer them little or no support. Oliver always emphatically insisted that the book is exactly what it claims to be, and there are plenty of character witnesses on his behalf. A glance at the last two years of his life will illustrate my point.

In 1847, when Oliver had been out of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for very nearly a decade, he moved from Tiffin, Ohio, to Elkhorn, Wisconsin, mainly because of the health problems that would shortly kill him at an early age. Soon, he became co-editor of the Walworth County Democrat.

In the spring of 1848, having been in the area for less than a year, Cowdery was nominated as the Elkhorn district’s Democratic candidate for the Wisconsin state Assembly. (Wisconsin was admitted to the Union and became a state on May 29, 1848.) Endorsing him, the Wisconsin Argus on April 11, 1848, described Cowdery as “an honest man and a sterling democrat” (see "The Return of Oliver Cowdery" by Scott H. Faulring in "The Disciple as Witness: Essays on Latter-day Saint History and Doctrine in Honor of Richard Lloyd Anderson," edited by Stephen D. Ricks, Donald W. Parry and Andrew H. Hedges).

“We have known Mr. C(owdery) long and favorably by reputation … as a leading democrat, an eminent lawyer, and a worthy citizen, who is entitled to the fullest confidence of his party.”

John Breslin, the editor of the Seneca Advertiser, also offered his endorsement in May 1848, although he was based in Ohio rather than Wisconsin: “We are gratified to learn … that our esteemed friend and former fellow citizen, O(liver) Cowdery, Esq., has been nominated as the Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives in that state. This intelligence has been hailed with the highest satisfaction by his numerous friends here.

“Mr. C(owdery) was a resident among us for a period of seven years, during which time he earned himself an enviable distinction at the bar of this place and of this judicial circuit, as a sound and able lawyer, and as a citizen none could have been more esteemed. His honesty, integrity, and industry were worthy the imitation of all. Politically, Mr. C(owdery) was a prominent, active and radical Democrat, never tiring in furthering the good cause.”

Cowdery’s Whig opponents, however, made his association with the Book of Mormon a campaign issue, and he lost the election by 40 votes.

Immediately after his defeat, his good friend and political ally Horace A. Tenney, who edited Wisconsin’s leading political newspaper, wrote, as noted in Faulring's "The Return of Oliver Cowdery": “We regret to learn from the Walworth County Democrat that Oliver Cowdery, Esq., was defeated for the Assembly in the Elkhorn district, by a small majority. He is a man of sterling integrity, sound and vigorous intellect, and every way worthy, honest and capable. He was defeated in consequence of his religion!”

Similarly, only those who cannot tolerate the religious implications of his testimony seek to dismiss Oliver Cowdery as dishonest, unstable and unreliable.

However, as the leading authority on the lives and characters of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, Richard Lloyd Anderson, says, “Oliver’s solid career as a responsible attorney and public servant is completely inconsistent” with the assumption of fraud on his part (see Anderson's "Investigating the Book of Mormon Witnesses").

In 1848, slightly more than a year before he died and only months after all those testimonials to his integrity were given, Oliver Cowdery was rebaptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at Kanesville, Iowa. On Oct. 21 of that year, he bore his testimony to a special conference of the LDS Church at Council Bluffs, Iowa:

“I wrote, with my own pen, the entire Book of Mormon (save a few pages), as it fell from the lips of the Prophet Joseph Smith, as he translated it by the gift and power of God, by the means of the Urim and Thummim, or, as it is called by that book, 'holy interpreters.' I beheld with my eyes and handled with my hands the gold plates from which it was translated. I also saw with my eyes and handled with my hands the 'holy interpreters.' That book is true. Sidney Rigdon did not write it. Mr. (Solomon) Spaulding did not write it. I wrote it myself as it fell from the lips of the prophet. It contains the everlasting gospel. … It contains principles of salvation; and if you, my hearers, will walk by its light and obey its precepts, you will be saved with an everlasting salvation in the kingdom of God on high” (see “Last Days of Oliver Cowdery,” Deseret News, April 13, 1859, and Anderson's “Reuben Miller, Recorder of Oliver Cowdery’s Reaffirmations,” BYU Studies, 1968).


Friday, October 16, 2015

Major LDS growth in Africa unaffected by priesthood restriction, Elder Sitati says

Elder Joseph W. Sitati

(by Tad Walch 10-9-15)

The LDS Church is using a previously unreported self-reliance program in Africa that is yielding positive results on a continent where the church is seeing "close to exponential" growth, Elder Joseph W. Sitati said Friday.

A Kenyan who is a member of the Quorums of the Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Sitati shared the information during the lunch plenary session of the "Black, White and Mormon" conference at the University of Utah.

He also said African Mormons know about but "are largely unaffected" by the past restriction on blacks of African descent receiving the LDS priesthood, in part because the restriction ended in 1978 on the heels of the end of colonialism in Africa.

Since then, LDS Church membership on the continent has grown rapidly. In 1978, there were 7,567 Mormons in Africa. At the end of 2014, there were 448,487.

Among them was Elder Sitati, who joined the church in 1986.

Another 45,000 African immigrants have joined the church elsewhere, including 15,000 in the United States. In fact, over the past five years, more than 50 percent of new members baptized in Europe are immigrants from Africa.

"The rate of growth has been close to exponential," Elder Sitati said, adding that it is accompanied by some of the highest new-member retention rates in the church.

"This underlines the fact that pre-1978 temple and priesthood restrictions on black people have not impacted church growth in Africa to any extent that requires church leaders to address them specifically," he said.

Challenges of growth

The church is growing faster than it can train new local leaders or build meetinghouses.

"It is easy for missionaries to find converts almost everywhere," Elder Sitati said.

The church adopted a principle of establishing and growing centers of strength in urban areas where literacy is high and there are fewer languages.

Other challenges include terrorist activity or internal conflict in some nations, and governments that impose limits on the number of foreign missionaries.

Poverty also restricts the participation of many Latter-day Saints.

Senior couples often can't finance even stay-at-home service missions. Most young Mormons can't afford to serve as missionaries without church assistance — the cost of serving a mission in some cases exceeds the per capita GDP.

"All who want to serve are given the opportunity to do so," Elder Sitati said.

In 2012, in a previously unreported move, the church's First Presidency began to expand on the Perpetual Education Fund to create "Self-Reliance Services," which Elder Sitati called "a doctrinally based, fully supported initiative providing resources to support members in international areas in their efforts to become self-reliant."

The initiative opened the PEF — which provides loans for higher education — to all adults, no matter their age, and opened more routes to self-reliance by adding options for self-employment, accelerated job searches and learning marketable skills and trades.

New program

African Mormons who undergo 12 weeks of self-reliance training in the program are more likely to take the sacrament weekly, become temple worthy, save money, pay tithing and become debt-free, according to a July survey of more than 1,000 Africans from nine countries who graduated from the program.

"This priesthood-led initiative is already having a significant positive impact on the African Saints who are taking advantage of it, and their lives are being transformed," Elder Sitati said.

The survey showed a 106 percent increase in those who saved money and a 38 percent improvement in the number who were debt free. It also captured a 32-percent increase in weekly sacrament observance, a 14-percent boost in tithepaying and 11-percent jump in the number of members who were temple worthy.

American Mormons can get access to much of the program in the Gospel Library app on their phones or tablets, said Jermaine Sullivan, president of the church's Atlanta Georgia Stake.

"These programs were created for the international church, but we're doing the same thing in Atlanta," he said.

Sullivan called a stake welfare specialist in May and launched one part of the program called "My Job Search," which he'd found on his tablet app.

"We began with seven people and had amazing results," he said. "At the beginning, none of the seven were employed. At the end, five had one job (each), and the other two had two jobs each."

The overall program includes both temporal and spiritual self-reliance tools.

Differing perceptions

Elder Sitati, 63, served in Kenya as an LDS branch president, district president, stake president, mission president, Area Seventy and as the church's international director of Public Affairs for Africa.

He became a Seventy and general authority of the church in April 2009 and now lives in Utah, where he is an assistant executive director in the Temple Department and a member of the Perpetual Education Fund Committee.

His talk at the "Black, White and Mormon" conference at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts was set amid panels of African-American Latter-day Saints discussing race and Mormon women, race at Brigham Young University — there are no African-American faculty, a panelist reported — and how race affects LDS fellowship, proselytizing and teaching in congregations.

Most LDS leaders in Africa are black, and Sitati said he surveyed a number of them before his talk. He said most active adult African Mormons who have joined the church since the end of the priesthood restriction in 1978 know about it.

"The work of the church is largely unaffected by concerns about the past," he said. Moreover, the Saints in Africa are not preoccupied by these issues."

They find understanding and peace in gospel teachings and the past restriction in the context of African colonialism, when "long-established foreign-based mainstream Christian churches" placed limitations on their African members.

The LDS Church is not seen as any more American, white or racist than other churches that originated in the United States, he said.

African LDS sensitivity may arise when something suggests "they belong to a status that in some way makes them less than fellow citizens with North American Saints."

Sullivan, who is the online learning advisor at Clayton State University and was one of six Mormons highlighted in the 2014 documentary film "Meet the Mormons," was a panelist at the conference.

"I thought it was powerful to hear the perspective of Africans," Sullivan said of Elder Sitati's
presentation. "It's quite different from the African-American experience, but I really appreciated it."
The entire conference will be available to stream online at by next week.


Monday, October 5, 2015

An evening with Margaret Barker and Stephen Webb

On Saturday, 8 August 2015, about ninety Interpreter Foundation officers, editors, writers, donors, and friends gathered in Orem, Utah, to celebrate the Foundation’s third birthday.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Unique LDS family doctrine still drives church, propels it to friendships with other faiths

(by Tad Walch 9-29-15)

The gap between the LDS Church's position on families and Western culture has widened dramatically in the 20 years since the 15 church leaders known to Mormons as prophets and apostles issued "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" in September 1995.

At the same time, the divide between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and other conservative religions has narrowed so much that new partnerships now exist that were unthinkable a few decades ago, historians and scholars say.

The family proclamation has played a major role in those developments, and it remains as unique, distinctive and bold as it was when President Gordon B. Hinckley introduced it at a general Relief Society meeting of the church on Sept. 23, 1995. It has achieved an unusual staying power because of its use at every level in the church, from those who issued it — the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — to children's Primary classes in Africa and a college course at Brigham Young University that dissects and amplifies the document's 600 words.

"The usage of the proclamation among the leadership and membership of the church is really striking," said Patrick Mason, director of Claremont Graduate University's North American Religion and Mormon Studies programs.

"It hasn't been canonized, and as far as I know there's no immediate impulse to canonize it, to include it in either the Doctrine and Covenants or Pearl of Great Price, but just the way that it is used shows its importance.

"Mormons don't frame copies of (D&C) Section 76 and put it on the wall of their home. Just that act is a really significant statement of saying, 'This is really part of the bedrock of who we are and what we believe as Latter-day Saints in the 21st century.'"

Rare Place

LDS prophets, or the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, have issued messages, press releases, declarations and other statements, but the family proclamation was preceded by only four previous proclamations in the church's history since it was founded in 1830.

"For them to label it a proclamation does put it in rarefied air," Mason said. "There's only been a handful throughout the history of the church. ... Just by labeling it a 'proclamation' does elevate it in importance."

It's even unique among the proclamations, said Mason and Brigham Young University School of Family Life professor Alan Hawkins, who with others created the university course on the proclamation — SFL 100, Strengthening Marriage and Family: Proclamation Principles and Scholarship.

"This without question has been the most public and most influential proclamation the church has ever given," Hawkins said.

Church leaders give out framed copies of the proclamation to heads of state who visit church headquarters in Salt Lake City.

"I don't want to minimize the other proclamations," Hawkins added, "but this one has legs. It's 20 years later, and it's still going strong. My students today, many of them weren't born when it came out, but they know it, they've been aware of it their entire lives.

"From what I can tell, it's been intentional. In 1996 and '97, church leaders focused all of the general authority training sessions on the proclamation. They've had worldwide leadership training meetings for local leaders on it. It has seeped deeply into the lexicon of preaching in this church, both from the pulpit in the Conference Center and the pulpits in our local congregations in every part of the world."

Two Divides

In the proclamation, God is telling "us what a family ought to be and why," President Henry B. Eyring, today the first counselor in the church's First Presidency, wrote in a church publication in 1998 while a member of the Twelve.

The proclamation states clearly the doctrine of the family: God ordained that a family would have a father, a mother and children. It also states, "Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation."

President Eyring wrote, "It takes courage and faith to plan for what God holds before you as the ideal rather than what might be forced upon you by circumstances."

In the mid-20th century, those LDS teachings were so similar to Western cultural norms that "Mormons were held up by the general culture as paragons of the American family ideal," Mason said. "There was this sense that 'this is what we all believe about families, and Mormons maybe do it better than anybody.'"

That had begun to change by 1995, but since the proclamation, same-sex marriage has become legal throughout the United States and in Europe, creating sharpened contrasts between Western culture and the church's position. Elder Robert D. Hales of the Twelve illustrated the widening gap during a talk at a church general conference two years ago, recalling a devotional address he gave at BYU in 1982.

"I invited the students to imagine that the church was on one side of the podium, right here," he said, gesturing with one hand, "and the world was just a foot or two away on the other side. This represented the 'very short distance between where the world was and where the church standards were' when I was in college. Then, standing before the students 30 years later, I held up my hands in the same manner and explained, 'The world has gone far afield; (it has traveled; it is nowhere to be seen;) it has proceeded way, way out, all the way out of this (building and around the world). … What we and our children and our grandchildren have to remember is that the church will remain constant, (it’s still right here; yet) the world will keep moving — that gap is (becoming) wider and wider.'"

The proclamation "put the church into conflict with a lot of groups," Mason said, "with other religious groups and political groups and other groups such as especially the LGBT community."

On the other hand, LDS leaders weren't the only religious leaders to make a statement in the 1990s about traditional families. The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, also took a similar stand.
In that way, the proclamation "has become a point of common ground with other churches and religious groups," Mason said, "most notably evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Muslims, conservative Jews and others.

"The relationship with the Roman Catholic Church has really developed over the past 20 years. I think we can see this is a direct byproduct of the church's stance on families, that it has made partners of the LDS Church and the Roman Catholic Church to the point that BYU is welcoming prominent Roman Catholic theologians and cardinals to speak at BYU and LDS leaders like President Henry B. Eyring have been in Rome speaking about families in the heart of Catholicism."

At the invitation of the Vatican's Holy See Pontifical Council for the Family, Elder D. Todd Christofferson, a member of the Twelve, spoke last week at the World Meeting on Families, a major Catholic event held once every three years. He shared principles and activities that unify Mormon families worldwide

"LDS leaders are invited to events they simply weren't 30 to 40 years ago," Mason said. "This common cause over the concern about the family has brought Mormons and Catholics together."

Distinctive Doctrine

The centrality of proclamation is underscored on the church's official website, The second navigation tab on the top of the home page is "Families and Individuals," and the first item on the pull-down menu is "Doctrine of the Family." Click on that and the proclamation appears with a short introduction:

"The family is central to the Creator's plan for the eternal destiny of his children. The living prophets tell us why."

"This is one of the really distinctive aspects of LDS theology," Mason said. "Sometimes we talk about this as if nobody else loves their families like Mormons love their families. That's just not true, of course. Actually, the fact is that most people sort of, kind of think they'll be with their families in the next life. That's not actually the doctrinal teaching of any other Christian denomination, but for most people, the formal theology of whatever church they attend doesn't really matter so much as that just in their gut they expect that they'll be with their loved ones in the next life.

"The difference is that Mormonism has a formal theology that explicates that. In Mormonism, it's not just an idea, or a hope or a warm, fuzzy feeling that we'll all be with our loved ones in the next life. Mormonism has a set of rituals and ordinances that formalize these relationships as men and women are sealed in Mormon temples and then sealed to their children. The sealing power of the Mormon priesthood binds families together and transcends the power of death and the grave."

For Latter-day Saints, then, families aren't just a laboratory where they work out their Christian discipleship, Mason said — they are an essential unit for what Mormons call "exaltation."

To understand Latter-day Saints, Hawkins said, people have to understand, too, that Mormons believe in the eternal family, that every person is a son or daughter of heavenly parents.

"It's fundamental," he said. "It's not just historic tradition, it's fundamental to our understanding of the purpose of God."

Unique Source

BYU's School of Family Life has five sections of SFL 100 this semester. The class is also available online as a free, personal enrichment course for those who simply want to study the proclamation and its 600 words.

The proclamation generated a lot of buzz on campus, Hawkins said, and the BYU president at the time, Elder Merrill J. Bateman, a member of the church's Quorum of the Seventy, charged family life faculty to respond.

"It eventually led us to create a class that was an in-depth exploration of proclamation principles," Hawkins said. "We dissected into a number of chunks and shaped those into chapters for a textbook where we bring together the secular and the spiritual, the research and the sacred teachings in the proclamation."

Mason said Latter-day Saints use it more than any other source for defining the church's doctrines about gender, family and sexuality.

"The fact is that many of the points of doctrine that are taught in the family proclamation are only found implicitly or in kind of scattershot fashion across the scriptures," Mason said, "so actually what the proclamation does is it becomes a really effective way to have a one-stop shop where people can look for a quick and handy reference about what the church teaches about the family, gender and sexuality.

"That is part of the success of the proclamation. It pulls together a lot of strands that are found throughout scripture, throughout the teaching of the prophets over the past almost 200 years, all together in one page that is easily accessible, easy to read, but also with a kind of depth and potency that it's been able to sustain examinations over 20 years, and I think it will continue to for many years."

The proclamation warns that the disintegration of the family will bring "calamities" to people, communities and nations, and Hawkins said BYU's class adds research to illustrate those warnings. Students report the research gives them a new "language" for talking about families with other people.

For example, cohabitation for many Americans has become a lab for marriage, but research shows that it often traps people into marriage relationships that have higher rates of divorce and lower marital satisfaction.

Hawkins also said family instability is leading to increased rates of rape and family abuse, especially among more vulnerable parts of society.

Looking Ahead

The problems addressed in the proclamation had existed long before it was issued, Hawkins and Mason said. The proclamation was a product of its time, as cultural change began to gather steam.

"Certainly they anticipated the family was going to be a major issue over the next generation," Mason said, "and here we are 20 years later. Not everything has changed, but a lot has. The ground has shifted significantly under our feet."

He called it natural for men considered prophets to respond.

"Religion always operates in time and in culture," he said. "Prophets are always responding to the times in which they live. They speak out on issues of contemporary concern. They not only look backward but they look forward and they look at what's happening in the general culture and they speak out with God's voice, and with God's authority, to the issues they see as of most concern. It is a prophetic document in that sense."

While authoritative, the family proclamation is brief. Mason called that an absolute strength, but said it also provides flexibility in the interpretation of some points.

"It allows a certain kind of elasticity moving forward," he said. "I think actually that's the way a lot of Joseph Smith's revelations worked as well. Oftentimes they were more evocative and illustrative than systematic."

President Hinckley's daughter, Virginia Hinckley Pearce, looked back and ahead when she wrote an essay published on the proclamation's 20-year-anniversary last week, providing a close-up view of the event.

She said she has faith that God is real and life's purpose is to improve enough to live with him again. She expressed hope that all people — the family of God — would follow the proclamation's counsel to live by principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work and wholesome recreational activities.
She wrote, "Let’s work on those things for another 20 years!"


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Did Joseph Smith take the easy path?

(by Daniel Peterson 10-1-15)

Some critics have suggested that, by concocting what they deem false religious claims, Joseph Smith, who organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sought an easier path to wealth and social status than conventional hard work might provide.

If so, he must have been bitterly disappointed.

Joseph’s mother remembered that “every kind of opposition and persecution” started right after Joseph's First Vision, where he prayed to find out which church to join and Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ appeared (see "History of Joseph Smith by His Mother" by Lucy Mack Smith and Joseph Smith—History 1).

The Rochester Daily Advertiser announced the publication of the Book of Mormon under the headline “BLASPHEMY,” declaring that “a viler imposition was never practiced. It is an evidence of fraud, blasphemy, and credulity shocking to both Christians and moralists.” Within weeks, other newspapers were echoing the same theme (see "The Recovery of the Book of Mormon" by Richard L. Bushman).

“Soon after the church began to grow,” remembered Joseph Knight Sr., as recorded in “Joseph Knight’s Recollection of Early Mormon History” by Dean C. Jessee, “the people began to be angry and to persecute and called them fools and said they were deceived.”

Knight recalls one occasion when Joseph was arrested in Chenango County and, because the trial couldn’t be convened soon enough, was held overnight. But when the charges against him were dismissed the following day, he was immediately arrested by an officer sent from Broome County to the south — where the charges were again dismissed. As the saying goes, this was the first day of the rest of Joseph’s life. His enemies allowed him very little rest. It seems, for example, that Joseph had to defend himself in roughly 50 criminal cases, though he was never convicted in any of them.

“The Book of Mormon is true, just what it purports to be, and for this testimony I expect to give an account in the day of judgment,” David Osborn heard Joseph testify in 1837, as recorded in "The Juvenile Instructor's" March 15, 1892, edition. “… If I obtain the glory which I have in view, I expect to wade through much tribulation.”

Many tours of early Mormon history sites visit the room in the John Johnson home near Hiram, Ohio, from which Joseph was dragged during the night of March 24, 1832, before he was scratched, beaten, almost mutilated, nearly poisoned, tarred, feathered and left for dead (see (A tooth chipped when his attackers tried to force a vial of poison into his mouth left him with a whistling "s" for the rest of his life. A baby that he and his wife had adopted died of exposure from the incident.)

And then there’s the cramped, dank and cold jail at Liberty, Missouri, where Joseph and others spent roughly five and a half months during the winter of 1838-39. And there’s Carthage Jail, in Illinois, where on June 27, 1844, Joseph and his brother Hyrum were assassinated by an armed mob.

If Joseph’s goal was wealth and social advancement, his career plan seems to have been colossally inept.

Nor is there the slightest evidence for laziness in Joseph or his family. I’ve already discussed this subject in an earlier column (see "Were Smiths workers or slackers?" from May 2011), but please consider an additional fact:

According to Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph's mother, her family produced an average of one thousand pounds of maple syrup annually while living near Palmyra. To do so, they would have tapped more than 500 trees, collected 60,000 pounds of sap and burned 10,000 pounds of wood over perhaps a week of 20- to 24-hour days to boil off the water. Does that sound lazy?

Perhaps, though, Joseph founded Mormonism to escape such physical labor. Unlikely. One example, the 1834 march of “Zion’s Camp,” will have to suffice:

“The Prophet Joseph,” George A. Smith recalled, as recorded in "Ancestry, Biography, and Family of George A. Smith" by Zora Smith Jarvis, “took full share of the fatigues of the journey, in addition to the care of providing for the camp, and presiding over it. He walked most of the time and had a full share of blistered, bloody, and sore feet, which was the natural result of walking 25 to 40 miles a day in the hot season of the year. But during the entire trip he never uttered a murmur or complaint.”

John Chidester remembered him as the first man to help out with swamp-stuck wagons during the journey, sometimes barefoot (see "The Juvenile Instructor," March 1, 1892).

“He was always willing,” wrote George Q. Cannon in his "Life of Joseph Smith the Prophet," "to carry his part of the burden and to share in any suffering or deprivation inflicted upon his friends.” He “always sought to help the distressed. A cry of sorrow quickly touched his ear, and its appeal invariably aroused him to some helpful action.”

Lyman Littlefield described him as “the busiest man in the camp.”

Neither greed, ambition nor physical sloth seems to explain Joseph Smith. By contrast, the hypothesis that he sincerely sought to serve God seems to do pretty well.