By René Krywult
This week’s Come, Follow Me lesson starts with the following words:
The afternoon of June 27, 1844, found Joseph and Hyrum Smith in jail once again, accompanied by John Taylor and Willard Richards. They believed they were innocent of any crime, but they submitted to arrest, hoping to prevent violence against the Saints in Nauvoo.
There were several reasons for this arrest:
- political tensions
- theological disagreements
- rumors of polygamy
- destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor
Among the political reasons, I want you to make a thought experiment. Imagine you live in a rural area that is quite homogeneous. And then, within 4 years, immigrants from another continent flood the county.
Think about the scare people had about refugees from Afghanistan and Syria, and how the media and politicians reacted. Think about how they talked about Mexicans crossing the borders to the US
They build one of the largest cities of the of your nation in your neck of the woods. Their language is slightly different, they do not know the land. What happens? Prices rise immediately, and the original people lose their feeling of home. Those people have strange religious beliefs (they say that your beliefs are apostate), seem to be not very democratic (they believe in some strange prophet), they dress differently and behave totally different (they do not drink what you drink). Within their city, they have different laws. And they talk about building up a political kingdom.
Can you see how this would get people to panic?
Visitors to Nauvoo described the city as a polished jewel amidst the dirty backwaters of Wild West borderlands.
Can you see how this raised aggression and envy?
Also, the Saints firmly believed that people should be given a chance to learn and to reform. In his political manifest, Joseph wrote about making schools out of jails, in order to help criminals become productive members of society instead of punishinng them and putting them away. This attitude is not popular today, and it was even more unpopular back then. It also meant that some unsavory characters like for instance John C. Bennet wreaked havoc in the city.
You can read more about the dynamics here.
Why do I write this? Weren’t the opponents of the Church savage murderers? They were clearly the bad guys, right? Like the German Nazis, the Stalinists and so on. Evil people doing evil things.
But if history shows one thing, it is that people with good intentions sometimes end up doing horrific things. What drove them? What were their reasons? Usually it is fear.
In the 1870ies, lots of refugees came to Germany, and they were welcomed with open hands and hearts. They were given legal status and rights, and help. But they kept coming, and soon people started to fear for their way of life and for their jobs. They claimed that the refugees were unwilling to assimilate, unwilling to learn the language, unwilling to change adapt their clothing styles and how they wore their hair, that they wanted to introduce their own value system and their own laws, that they wanted to live off of the benefits of Germany and that they simply were too many.
Those refugees were Jews from Eastern Europe. And these complaints were the beginning of modern antisemitism in Germany, that culminated in the Holocaust. If you look at the complaints, they are the same as the ones levelled against refugees from Islamic countries in the past refugee crisis, and maybe some of these are also used against Mexican illegals in the US.
Fear of the foreign and unknown often leads to violence. Good people full of fear can do horrific deeds. So, it is wise to watch oneself. Do I fall for arguments of fear? Do I see foreign people as a danger? Am I more willing to condemn them than get to know them?
Let’s return to Come Follow Me:
This wasn’t the first time that enemies of the Church had put the Prophet Joseph in prison, but this time he seemed to know that he would not return alive.
Indeed, Joseph knew this would be the end, and he went willingly, thus becoming a martyr for the Gospel.
He and his friends tried to comfort each other by reading from the Book of Mormon and singing hymns.
As John Taylor pointed out, they drank a bottle of wine there. This is due to the fact that back then the Word of Wisdom was not yet considered a commandment, and wine was sparingly used, almost as a a medicine. Read more about this here.
Then gunshots were heard, and within a few minutes the mortal lives of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum had come to an end.
As we can read in Saints I, p. 549, visitors had smuggled two guns to the prisoners: A six shooter pepperbox and a single shot pistol, and Joseph and his friends used those 7 bullets against 150 armed men trying to storm the jail. Therefore, some of our detractors claim that Joseph’s death was not a martyrdom, but a “blazing gun battle”. But honestly: What battle is 7 bullets against 150 to 700 bullets, two guns against 150, 5 defenders against 150 attackers? They also claimed that the Church tried to hide that Joseph had a gun, even though the gun was exhibited in the church museum.
Read more about this here.
Joseph, we read, died with the words “O Lord my God!”, according to D&C 135:1. And our detractors tell us, that this was not simply a religious exclamation, but rather a masonic Sign of Distress, as Joseph had recently been introduced to freemasonry. Were Joseph Smith’s final words, “O Lord, my God!” a cry for help or mercy from Freemasons in the mob at the Carthage jail? And why did Joseph join the masons in the first place?
3 Joseph Smith, the Prophet and Seer of the Lord, has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it. In the short space of twenty years, he has brought forth the Book of Mormon, which he translated by the gift and power of God, and has been the means of publishing it on two continents; has sent the fulness of the everlasting gospel, which it contained, to the four quarters of the earth; has brought forth the revelations and commandments which compose this book of Doctrine and Covenants, and many other wise documents and instructions for the benefit of the children of men; gathered many thousands of the Latter-day Saints, founded a great city, and left a fame and name that cannot be slain.
Joseph is the prophet of the restoration, and we often repeat what John Taylor wrote here: He has done more for the salvation of men in this world, than anybody else, with the exception Jesus alone. Christians of other denominations often misunderstand us, claiming that we put too much emphasis on Joseph Smith. They feel that we place him above even the Lord Jesus. Of course, this is not so. Without Joseph no restoration. But without Jesus no creation, no atonement, no resurrection, no exaltation. Without Jesus nothing makes sense. So, what is the status of Joseph in Latter-day Saint belief?
John Taylor lists some of the accomplishments of Joseph Smith. Let me add a few others:
D&C 135:3 mentions Joseph as a founder of a city. He was more than that. He developed a plan for the City of Zion, the so-called “Plat of the City of Zion”. This plan and its accompanying principles were followed in Nauvoo, and later in Utah. More than 500 cities were built after this plan, making it one of the most significant achievement in the United States. In 1996, Joseph was posthumously awarded the Planning Landmark Award of the American Planning Association.
Let’s switch to philosophy. From the 3rd century AD to the Enlightenment, it was believed that all the important knowledge is already there, and that we can achieve positive absolute knowledge of truth. In the 20th century, Sir Karl Popper showed that we can only have an approximal knowledge of truth. Alma 32 describes the same concept.
And while Joseph’s contemporaries, influenced by modernism, believed that everybody studying the Bible sufficiently will, if he is honest, arrive at the same conclusions, 14 year old Joseph noticed that each sect interpreted the same verses differently, and thus, there was no hope for him to settle his questions by more study. This is the foundation of a postmodern worldview, which Joseph also expressed in D&C 93:30.
Let’s talk about social science. In 1867, Karl Marx wrote his magnum opus, in which he defined capital as the evil that introduced classes, and he promoted a return to a classless society by distributing wealth by force. In the 4Nephi 17, we read about a classless society. But it was not formed on the basis of revolution and force, but it was Zion (PoGP Mos 7:18), people being one in Christ, based on their free decision to follow God.
Which leads to economics. The American-Jewish author Joel Kotkin wrote: “This vision of a a new ‘global church’ also draws upon aspects of Mormon theology, which links each ‘saint’ both to the cosmos and to his own tribal past. In Mormonism, upon conversion, members are said to become part o the seat of Abraham. Thus, members not only are part of the faith but also belong to one of the twelve ‘lost’ tribes of Israel.” He then describes how this ethnic identity together with a common set of rules for behavior including the Word of Wisdom discerns the Saints from their neighbors just as much as the kosher rules discern Jews from theirs. Being family oriented, thrifty and diligent, the Saints’ way of life appeals to socially ambitious people better than that of older denominations. Together with a mission which often leads to knowledge of another language and understanding of other cultures this makes member of the Church perfect for international jobs in leadership.
Health. The word of wisdom and monthly fasting are key elements for why members live longer and healthier than their nonmember relatives and friends. Some kinds of cancer are totally unknown among faithful membership. Both go back, of course, to revelations Joseph Smith had received.
Let’s go to physics. In D&C 93:29-33 we read that matter cannot be created out of nothing. Basically, this is a first formulation of the law of conservation of mass, which was first formulated by Hermann von Helmholtz in 1847.
Let’s go back to to politics. Josiah Quincy, who later was mayor of Boston, wrote the following:
“We then went on to talk of politics. Smith recognized the curse and iniquity of slavery, though he opposed the methods of the Abolitionists. His plan was for the nation to pay for the slaves from the sale of public lands. [..] It may be worth while to remark that Smith’s plan was publicly advocated, eleven years later, by one who has mixes so much practical shrewdness with is lofty philosophy [Ralph Waldo Emerson]. .. We who can look back upon the terrible cost of the fratricidal war which put an end to slavery, now say that such a solution of the difficulty would have been worthy a Christian statesman. But if the retired scholar was in advance of his time when he advocated this disposition of the public property in 1855, what shall I say of the political and religious leader who had committed himself in print, as well as in conversation, to the same course in 1844? If the atmosphere of men’s opinion was stirred by such a proposition when war-clouds were discernible in the sky, was it not a statesmanlike word eleven years earlier, when the heavens looked tranquil and beneficent? (Josiah Quincy, Figures of the Past, “Joseph Smith at Nauvoo,” p. 398)
Let’s look at Joseph the theologian:
“Whatever his lapses, Smith was an authentic religious genius, unique in our national history.
I also do not find it possible to doubt that Joseph Smith was an authentic prophet. Where in all of American history can we find his match? . . . In proportion to his importance and his complexity, [Joseph Smith] remains the least-studied personage, of an undiminished vitality, in our entire national saga.” (Harold Bloom, The American Religion: The Emergence of the Post-Christian Nation (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992), p 82 and 95)
“Joseph’s teachings provide solutions for most, if not all, of the genuine problems and contradictions of the Bible with which scholars have wrestled for generations.” (Heikki Raisanen, finnish theologian, “Joseph Smith und die Bibel,” p. 84.)
I could continue with Joseph’s restoration of the doctrine of exaltation/Theosis/Deification, which was lost to Protestantism and only obscurely kept in Catholicism. Both in the Lutheran and the Catholic Church, it has since risen to prominence again.
We could also look at the marvel that is the Book of Mormon, or the Pearl of Great Price (especially the Enoch material), we could talk about the temple and how it fits what is now known as ancient Temple Theology according to Margaret Barker.
Let this suffice. Either Joseph was one of the greatest universal genies, or he was a prophet of God. In the words of John Taylor:
“There was nothing particular about [Joseph Smith], he was a man like the balance of us. But the Lord, for certain reasons of his own, I suppose, selected him to be his mouthpiece to the nations in this age of the world. Perhaps Joseph, as well as many others, was set apart to a certain office before the world was. Christ was the Lamb slain from before the foundation of the world. Abraham was set apart to his office, and a great many others in the same way; and Joseph Smith came to do his work.”
I know like John Taylor did, that Joseph was a prophet of the Lord. I know it by personal revelation, but also through intellectual study of the man and his achievements. And like every prophet, he bids us follow in his footsteps to become prophets ourselves, followers of Christ.
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
René Alexander Krywult, a native of Vienna, Austria, Europe, has been a member of FAIR for over twenty years and instrumental in founding the German-speaking FAIR group. He is a software developer and project manager for a European financial institution. He is married to Gabriele Krywult, and they have four children and four grandchildren.
René had his first contact with anti-Mormonism at age 14, and from that time on one of his major interests has been to understand how anti-Mormon literature works, how to discern the reliability of information provided, and how to grow in faith while studying arguments made by the opposition.
Brother Krywult has filled many callings: ward Sunday school president, ward mission leader, elders quorum president, Seminary and Institute teacher and counsellor in a bishopric: Currently he serves as a High Councilor in the Vienna-Austria Stake. His native language is German.