Question: Did Joseph Smith lose control of the Church during the 1838 Kirtland apostasy?

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Question: Did Joseph Smith lose control of the Church during the 1838 Kirtland apostasy?

The historical record shows that Joseph Smith stayed firmly in charge of Church affairs during the 1838 crisis

Anti-Mormons claim that because of the problems caused by apostates in Kirtland, Ohio Joseph Smith suffered in his role as leader of the restored Church. While it is true that the apostates claimed Joseph Smith to be a fallen prophet, and tried to take over his role, the historical record shows that he stayed firmly in charge of Church affairs. In other words, the anti-Mormon claim that he needed to somehow boost his role as leader by modifying his story to sound more impressive falls flat. Consider the following timeline which leads right up to the time of the recording of the 1838 First Vision account.

  • On 7 November 1837 Joseph Smith was "unanimously" sustained by the Far West, Missouri Saints as the presiding officer of the Church.[1]:522 This is the same location where the Prophet had the 1838 First Vision account recorded.
  • About 10 December 1837 Joseph Smith returned to Kirtland, Ohio. While the Prophet was away at Far West, Missouri Warren Parrish and his band of "reformers" denounced the Saints in general as heretics and set Joseph Smith "at naught".[1]:528 During this period Parrish was under suspicion for embezzling tens of thousands of dollars from the Kirtland bank - which led to the apostasy of a considerable number of Saints.
  • On 22 December 1837 the apostates were threatening to kill a member of the Quorum of the Twelve who was supportive of Joseph Smith[1]:529
  • On 12 January 1838 Joseph Smith and another member of the First Presidency of the Church left Kirtland, Ohio in order to "escape mob violence" which was aimed at them.[2]:1
  • Some of the Kirtland apostates, armed with rifles and pistols, followed the Prophet for 200 miles with the intent of taking his life - he was a firsthand witness to their threats.[2]:2-3
  • On 10 February 1838 Joseph Smith's authority was recognized in Far West, Missouri while that of the apostates was rejected and they were removed from office "by a united voice."[2]:7
  • On 12-14 March 1838 Joseph Smith was met by several groups and escorts, "with open arms," as he approached Far West, Missouri.[2]:9
  • On 29 March 1838 Joseph Smith wrote a letter to Church leaders in Kirtland, Ohio, mentioning the warm reception he received and says of Far West: "The Saints at this time are in union; and peace and love prevail throughout." He also relates: "Various and many have been the falsehoods written from Kirtland to this place, but [they] have availed nothing. We have no uneasiness about the power of our enemies in this place to do us harm." He spoke of recently receiving a vision from the Lord. The Prophet signed his letter as "President of the Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints."[2]:10-12
  • On 6 April 1838 the General Conference of the Church was held in Far West, Missouri and Joseph Smith was the presiding officer.[2]:13
  • About 10 April 1838 Joseph Smith signs a letter identifying himself as one of the "Presidents of the whole Church of Latter-day Saints."[2]:15-16
  • On 28 April 1838 Joseph Smith attended a High Council by invitation and was invited to preside over it.[2]:25-26

Clearly, this is not the picture of a man in a leadership crisis who needed to bolster his standing among the Saints by making up some impressive-sounding story. This is the picture of a man who was being targeted by a small band of thugs but who still retained leadership standing among the vast majority of the Saints. The story that he told before the apostate problems of the Kirtland era was the same story he told after the troublemakers were shown the door.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Joseph Smith, History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 7 volumes, edited by Brigham H. Roberts, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1957). Volume 2 link
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 History of the Church. Volume 3 link