The Church is at it again. The different accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, which the Church has been sneaky enough to hide in places like the Ensign and BYU Studies, continues to be suppressed and hid from unsuspecting Church members. The damning contradictions in the Prophet’s different accounts are, in fact, so damaging that the Church thought it wise to talk about them only in a place so obscure and so concealed that nobody would be able to find it without any serious effort. I am speaking, of course, about YouTube. After all, nobody watches the Mormon Messages videos produced by the Church. What better place to hide this information from Church members than in a place that certainly has never been talked about in an official Church magazine or website?
But enough talk. Let’s take a look at the video itself:
Joseph Smith and the First Vision
Yikes! I do not envy Mark Ashurst-McGee. I can only image how much shame and scorn he is going to have to endure from Church members who will undoubtedly renounce him for saying such scandalous things such as there are “differences” in these accounts. I shudder at the disciplinary action this poor soul is going to weather for mentioning that the 1838 account of the First Vision “is not the only account of the First Vision that Joseph Smith ever gave.” And surely Ashurst-McGee’s mentioning of “this [the 1838 account] and three other accounts of the First Vision” won’t win him points with the ominous Brethren (cue scary music) who hold his fate in their all-powerful hands.
At several points in the video Ashurst-McGee even dares to talk about specific differences in the First Vision accounts. The 1832 account, he tells us, focuses more on Joseph’s search for a remission of sins and only mentions the appearance of Jesus Christ. The Prophet’s 1835 account, according to our sleuth, explains that the Father appeared first and then introduced the Son. To top it off, after a blistering cavalcade of shocking revelations on the gross contradictions in the accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision, Ashurst-McGee explains that the 1842 account of the First Vision “provides details not found in the other accounts.”
At this point, if the reader can compose him or herself, one may ask why the Church would do such a foolish thing as expose this deep, dark secret of Mormon history? The answer, actually, is quite simple: the differences in the accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision no more contradict each other than the differences in the accounts of the conversion of the Apostle Paul do. (Or the differences in the accounts in the life of Jesus in the Gospels, for that matter.) As such, the Church is quite safe to talk openly about this issue as it has done in the past.
Granted, critics of the Church won’t be really satisfied until the Church devises a missionary lesson in Preach my Gospel that extensively goes into this subject and other related controversies, such as polygamy, the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and the Book of Abraham and Joseph Smith Papyri. Until that time, however, we should be content with what little things the Church will grant us in the way of Mormon historical sources. (Ya know, the simple things like the Joseph Smith Papers.)
Next time, however, the Church should be more discrete with these issues. Mormon Messages and the Ensign are a good start when it comes to covering-up these sorts of things by hiding them in super secret retreats, but other more obscure places of concealment will have to be used in the future. Maybe General Conference will do the trick?
Personally, I think that as members of the church we believe that we have a good understanding of the type of theophany that Joseph experienced. We think that because of church films, artwork, and writings. In reality, we probably don’t understand how he actually pass through those experiences. And, with that lack of true understanding, it’s hard for us to say how he might (or might not) be able to translate those experiences accurately into text.
That said, I don’t believe that your thick satire serves your cause. This article with its mocking tone won’t be taken seriously (and maybe you didn’t intend for it to be). The two minute video does not address the fundamental issues that become faith-crushing experiences for too many good members of our community.
On the positive side, I applaud the church for publishing the JS papers. That is a wonderful thing. And I think that Ashurst-McGee makes a great point at the end of the video: there is much to learn from studying all the of accounts of the first vision. I hope that we can see more of that in the church from Sunday School classes to General Conference. I think we will all be stronger for it.
Um. But your forget, it’s a just a conspiracy. The Church is really just a super large cooperation that just wants to make money Stephen. Of course the only way this corporate cabal would ever come out with the truth is if they could sell a ton of books in the process! 😉
Being more serious: This “different accounts of the first vision” has always puzzled me. I think I’m mostly an anverage member. There was no particular reason why I would have been in the “know” growing up but I’d heard around the grapevine somewhere that there was more than one account and that they didn’t always match up.
When people get shocked about other things like the use of a seer stone to translate and Joseph Smith’s polygyny and polyandry, those I get because the church hasn’t dealt with them in as public a manner. At least, not one that I was aware of growing up. I never heard any rumors about either of those two subjects, but I admit, I wasn’t really looking either. But the first vision accounts were always something that I was at least aware of.
I think the question we should ask ourselves should not be is the church hiding information from its membership, but rather, is the church making enough information available to prevent members being blind-sided well into their membership?
I personally can’t criticize much in regards to the first vision accounts, because I think I learned that stuff pretty early on. However, I did not learn about polyandry until I read it in Bushman at the age of 28. Having grown up active my whole life, served a mission and gone through seminary and BYU’s religion classes, I felt pretty blind-sided by it. I believe I had heard the term polyandry in relation to Joseph Smith, but I assumed it was just another term for polygamy (i.e. I think those who mentioned it kind skirted around it, like “Joseph Smith, mumble mumble, polyandry, mumble mumble”). Not until Bushman did I understand that polyandry means Joseph married women who were married to other men at the time, and that was pretty frustrating to know that through all my membership no one had clued me in on that one. I felt blind-sided.
I’ve just gone through the religion manual I had at BYU, “Church History in the Fulness of Times”, which in my opinion should ostensibly be teaching correct history, right? Well, as far as I can tell, it mentions nothing of the multiple first vision accounts (although I think my professor did deal with that one), it mentions nothing of polyandry, nothing of Joseph Smith using a seer stone in a hat, and it is very vague on the Book of Abraham papyrii. If anything deals with these issues, shouldn’t a BYU class on the history of the restoration?
Now, I don’t think that this is some conspiracy where the church (i.e. the “brethren” at the top) is making some concerted effort to hide information or give disinformation. But I do believe that there is a general ethos among those who educate us of “let’s just teach the stuff that’s faith-promoting.” While for some that might seem a good plan for increasing faith and testimony, for others that is deceptive. Again, let’s not ask if the church is conspiring to hide information. We should ask, are we teaching our members enough to prevent these blind-sides 20 and 30 years into their membership. I think if I were to poll my ward and ask every member, “did you know that Joseph Smith married women who were married to other men at the same time,” a small minority would answer in the positive? To me that’s a problem, because it’s a disgruntled ex-member just waiting to happen. Yes, I’m sure you can find some ensign that mentions polyandry. But whether it’s in some literature put out by the church should not be the question we ask. We should ask, is this information generally known among our membership? If it’s not, then we should find more ways to inoculate ourselves.
And as another commenter mentioned, I don’t think it’s constructive to satirize the opposing views.