Saints: The Standard of Truth? (Part 3)
Following the review of the new LDS book, Saints, we wanted to do a full blown annotation of the book to show where the LDS church still refuses to be honest with members about some difficult issues. This is Part 3 of Saints, covering the time-frame between April 1836 and April 1839. If you have not read Parts 1 or 2 yet, you can catch up on those chapters here.
Every day come back and we will review a new chapter -- we will do our best to point out where the church is being honest, where they are being fair, and where they are hiding and suppressing their difficult history as we've done in the LDS annotated essays.
Part One (Chapters 1-8): My Servant Joseph (April 1815-April 1830)
Part Two (Chapters 9-21): A House of Faith (April 1830-Aptil 1836)
Part Three (Chapters 22-33): Cast Into the Deep (April 1836-Aptil 1839)
Chapter 22: Try the Lord (Financial Worries, Parley Pratt, and Joseph's Treasure Seeking Revelation in Salem; Added Oct 14)
Chapter 23: Every Snare (the Kirtland Safety Society Anti-Bank and It's Collapse Under Joseph Smith; Added Oct 15)
Chapter 24: Truth Shall Prevail (Fallout from Kirtland, Us vs Them, and What the Church Doesn't Tell You; Added Oct 16)
Chapter 25: Move On to the West (Dissenters in OH and MO, Fanny Alger, More Fanny, and False Prophets; Added Oct 17)
Chapter 26: A Holy and Consecrated Land (Oliver Cowdery Excommunicated, Joseph's 'Pure Adamic Language'; Added Oct 19)
Chapter 27: We Proclaim Ourselves Free (Rigdon's Fiery Speech, The Rise of the Danites, Elijah Able, Tithing; Added Oct 21)
Chapter 28: Tried Long Enough (The Danites Fight Back, Joseph Smith Wanted For Trial, Fleeing to Far West; Added Oct 25)
Chapter 29: God and Liberty (Fights Between Mobs and Danites, Thomas Marsh, Milk Strippings Story; Added Nov 1)
Chapter 30: Fight Like Angels (Hawn's Mill Massacre; Added Nov 2)
Chapter 31: How Will This End? (Fallout from Hawn's Mill & Far West, Joseph's Trial, Faith Promoting Stories; Added Nov 5)
Chapter 32: Though All Hell Should Endeavor (Leaving Missouri, Faith Promoting Stories, and Failed Prophecies; Added Nov 6)
Chapter 33: O God, Where Art Thou? (Joseph Feels Forgotten, the Temple in Missouri, Joseph Escapes Jail; Added Nov 8)
Chapter Twenty Two: Try the Lord
The third part of Saints begins by continuing with the good feelings from the Kirtland temple opening, including the many who saw "hosts of angels, clothed in brilliant white, standing on the roof of the temple, and some people wondered if the Millennium had begun." As we discussed in chapter twenty one, it is very interesting how so many people had these experiences after drinking the wine or receiving the consecrated oils prepared by Joseph, while no one else afterwards received such feelings at the openings of any LDS temples. We won't rehash that here, but please read chapter twenty one if you haven't already for more information.
Saints then turns back to Missouri, where the members are still looking to reestablish Zion. Joseph wonders about the revelation in D&C 105 which commands the church members to buy all of the lands in and around Jackson County to live by the law of consecration, and how the church was in such bad financial shape with "tens of thousands of dollars in debt from building the temple and from earlier land purchases."
I will point out once again that during these financial hardships, Joseph Smith spent $2,400 on the Egyptian mummies and scrolls claiming they were the writings "by the hand of Abraham," when we now know that the scrolls have nothing to do with Abraham as discussed in our LDS Gospel Topics annotated essay. Critics have long pointed to the Book of Abraham as the biggest proof that Joseph Smith was not a prophet since we have source material to compare to, but it also is telling about Joseph's handling of money and finances.
The chapter spends a lot of time talking about Parley Pratt, who went on a mission after being told by Heber Kimball that he “shall yet have riches, silver and gold,” Heber prophesied, “till you will loathe the counting thereof.” He also spoke of (his wife) Thankful. “Thy wife shall be healed from this hour,” he promised, “and shall bear thee a son.”
These quotes are from Pratt's autobiography, which was written twenty years after the event supposedly took place. The problem here is that we have no contemporary evidence of Kimball's "revelation" to Pratt, and as we've covered with other Faith Promoting Stories, they rarely stand up to the test of time and evidence. It's possible that Kimball made this revelation to Pratt and these things just happened, but under the context of how other faith promoting stories stand up to evidence, critics would question the details of this story retold 20 years later in his autobiography.
Regardless, Pratt travels to Canada to preach Mormonism and after converting John Taylor, Joseph Fielding, and others, the converts "pressed money into his palms, amounting to several hundred dollars. It was enough to pay off his most urgent debts." This is a part of the 'prosperity gospel' that is often taught in the church, that if you pay tithing you will become wealthier from it. We recently heard Russell Nelson tell this to the most poverty stricken areas of the world, that only once they pay tithing will the cycle of poverty be broken.
Saints then turns back to Emily Partridge, who is now 12 years old and 7 years away from being a polygamous wife of Joseph Smith. The chapter discusses how the people of Clay County were accepting of the church when they thought the stay was temporary, but as the church began looking to make their stay permanent asked them to leave. The Clay County officials asked them to find another place to live, and the church did so.
Due to yet another move, Joseph Smith felt even more pressure to find money to buy lands in Missouri. He opened a shop that was not raising much money, which Saints blames on "many Saints (who) took advantage of Joseph’s kindness and trust, knowing he would not refuse them credit at the store." One theme that critics will constantly point out is that when it comes to early church history, the correlation department of the LDS church will always blame everyone else before they will criticize Joseph. We have seen this often in Saints, as the church members are routinely blamed when things go wrong for not being faithful enough, but Joseph's mistakes are glossed over such as his relationship with Fanny Alger which has already happened yet has not been mentioned yet.
As Joseph continued to look for ways to find money, he then led an expedition to Salem, Massachusetts after "hearing from a church member who thought he knew where to find a cache of hidden money."
When Joseph and company arrived at Salem and could not find the treasure they were seeking, Joseph received a revelation from God: “I, the Lord your God, am not displeased with your coming on this journey, notwithstanding your follies,” came the response. “Concern not yourselves about your debts, for I will give you power to pay them. Concern not yourselves about Zion, for I will deal mercifully with her.”
What Saints does not mention in this chapter is that Joseph's revelation also indicated that God told Joseph that if they made acquaintance with the people of Salem, they would receive the gold and silver they were seeking. From D&C 111:
2 I have much treasure in this city for you, for the benefit of Zion, and many people in this city, whom I will gather out in due time for the benefit of Zion, through your instrumentality.
3 Therefore, it is expedient that you should form acquaintance with men in this city, as you shall be led, and as it shall be given you.
4 And it shall come to pass in due time that I will give this city into your hands, that you shall have power over it, insomuch that they shall not discover your secret parts; and its wealth pertaining to gold and silver shall be yours.
Critics argue that this is a failed prophecy, as Joseph never found any of the treasure he was seeking, while apologists argue that the treasure referred to by God is the people they were preaching the gospel to. If you read the verses above from D&C 111, it is beyond clear that God is telling Joseph that he will be given the "gold and silver" in due time from the people of Salem.
We will leave it up to you to determine what Joseph claims God meant by "And it shall come to pass in due time that I will give this city into your hands, that you shall have power over it, insomuch that they shall not discover your secret parts; and its wealth pertaining to gold and silver shall be yours," but we will argue every time that it is clear that Joseph claims God revealed to him that he would be given the treasure they were looking for if they stayed in Salem.
As Saints concedes, Joseph and company return to Kirtland empty handed, still looking for a way to make money to pay down their debts and buy more land. This leads us to chapter 23, which is when Joseph decides to start a bank that will fail soon after and lose many church members their savings. That leads to a whole bunch of other problems, and we will begin covering those tomorrow with chapter 23. Thanks for reading!
Chapter 23: Every Snare
This entire chapter covers the Kirtland Safety Society, the anti-bank that Joseph created and oversaw that quickly went under, causing many early members to lose their life savings in the process.
As we have mentioned the last few chapters, Joseph Smith was constantly looking for ways to make money. First he opened a store, which was not successful at turning a profit, and then he led a mission to Salem to search for treasure that we covered in chapter 22.
Now Joseph Smith decided to open a bank. As Saints describes it: "Church leaders announced their plans to start the Kirtland Safety Society, a village bank designed to boost Kirtland’s struggling economy and raise money for the church. Like other small banks in the United States, it would provide loans to borrowers so they could purchase property and goods, helping the local economy grow. As borrowers paid these loans back with interest, the bank would turn a profit.
Loans would be issued in the form of banknotes backed by the Safety Society’s limited reserve of silver and gold coins. To build up this reserve of hard money, the bank would sell shares of stock to investors, who committed to make payments on their shares over time."
The church tried to get a charter from the state government for their bank, who did not approve of their application. This forced Joseph Smith to stop called the Kirtland Safety Society a bank, and to operate it as an "anti-bank" where it could still take deposits and issue loans under the laws at the time.
Saints tacitly admits early in the chapter that "Joseph felt that God approved of their efforts, and he promised that all would be well if the Saints heeded the Lord’s commandments." This is important because apologists constantly proclaim that there was no revelation to Joseph that the bank would be successful, but Warrin Parish, who had been an officer of the anti-bank because turning on Joseph after it's failure, said the following about Joseph's claim to revelation on the bank: "I have listened to him (Smith) with feelings of no ordinary kind, when he declared that the audible voice of God, instructed him to establish a banking-anti-banking institution, who like Aaron's rod shall swallow up all other banks (the Bank of Monroe excepted,) and grow and flourish and spread from the rivers to the ends of the earth, and survive when all others should be laid in ruins." (Painesville Republican, February 22, 1838, as quoted in Conflict at Kirtland, page 297)
While apologists claim there was no revelation, we also have Woodruff's journal entry which is referenced to here (but not quoted): "I also herd [sic] President Joseph Smith, jr., declare in the presence of F. Williams, D. Whitmer, S. Smith, W. Parrish, and others in the Deposit office that he had received that morning the word of the Lord upon the subject of the Kirtland Safety Society. He was alone in a room by himself and he had not only (heard) the voice of the Spirit upon the Subject but even an audible voice. He did not tell us at that time what the Lord said upon the subject but remarked that if we would give heed to the commandments the Lord had given this morning all would be well." ("Wilford Woodruff's Journal," January 6, 1837)
This is important because many church apologists claim that Joseph Smith undertook this project as a man and not as a prophet, but as we see here Joseph Smith tells those around him that he was instructed by God to open this anti-bank, and Saints here again stars to law the blame on the church members for not "heeding the Lord’s commandments."
After the Kirtland Safety Society opens, Saints spends a lot of time on the budding love story between Phebe Carter and Wilford Woodruff, who becomes one of the early investors in the anti-bank. Saints carefully interweaves the story of Wilford's faithful loyalty to Joseph into the problems that arise early on with the Kirtland Safety Society. This is a technique that Saints does well when Joseph finds himself in trouble because it keeps lessening the blows against Joseph by surrounding them with faith promoting narrative writing.
The chapter continues on to give all of the reasons that the anti-bank failed. They discuss Grandison Newell hoarding bank notes in order to deplete the reserves of the anti-bank, newspapers in the area that were "publishing articles that cast doubt on its legitimacy," over-speculation in land and goods that caused a credit crisis, and members that "neglected to make the required payments on their stock."
Joseph and Sidney then began looking for ways to keep the ani-bank afloat by partnering with other banks, but they found no success. This led to many members losing faith in Joseph, because they saw a prophet who claimed that God asked him to open this bank fail in front of their very eyes.
Saints then talks about how Joseph partners with another bank, and returns to Kirtland to discuss why they opened the bank. As we mentioned earlier, this is tucked in-between bad news in order to weave a faith promoting narrative around an issue that has always been troubling for Joseph Smith's credibility as a prophet.
Soon after, a financial crisis was upon the nation and the Kirtland Safety Society effectively went under. Saints again paints the church members as the unreasonable ones, saying that "Joseph could not do much to fix the dilemma, yet some found it easier to blame him than the national economic panic."
I realize our tone in this chapter sounds harsh, but we have pointed out time and time again where church members are blamed for Joseph's revelations not coming to pass. We were told that the problems in Missouri were in part because the Saints were not faithful enough and here we are told that the bank failed not because Joseph received incorrect revelation, but because church members found it easier to blame the person they put their trust in than the outside world Joseph promised to protect and guide them through.
Following the collapse of the anti-bank, Joseph and Sidney flee Kirtland to avoid being jailed for losing everyone's money. It discusses Emma's letters with Joseph to again weave a faith promoting narrative that Joseph is a victim here, and then Parley Pratt turned on Joseph just a chapter after he was featured in the most faith promoting way.
Pratt was upset because Joseph asked him to sell his house to cover his debts, even though Joseph had originally "told Parley that he would not be hurt in the deal." This leads to an angry letter from Parley to Joseph (which is contemporary unlike his autobiography that was heavily sourced the previous chapter), demanding that Joseph repent for his actions or else face legal actions.
The chapter finishes with a faith promoting narrative from Wilford, listening to Joseph defend himself against the congregation that had lost so much under his failed banking system. Saints points out that Joseph "had lost thousands of dollars in the collapse of the Safety Society, far more than anyone else.51 And, unlike many others, he had not abandoned the institution when it began to fail."
One thing critics point out here is that while scribes show Joseph Smith constantly putting his own money into the ledger, no one knows where it came from. He did not have any money to help print the Book of Mormon, which led to the revelation threatening Harris if he did not mortgage his property to pay for the printing, and in the time since the church has constantly been in debt. There is also an entry in the ledger that states "stock for friends," which makes us wonder if a lot of the money being put in were for church members donating to the cause as they did for the Egyptian Mummies or supplies for the Kirtland temple.
Doctrine and Convenants 43 even tells members to support Joseph financially if they want to be received into Heaven:
12 And if ye desire the glories of the kingdom, appoint ye my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and uphold him before me by the prayer of faith.
13 And again, I say unto you, that if ye desire the mysteries of the kingdom, provide for him food and raiment, and whatsoever thing he needeth to accomplish the work wherewith I have commanded him
Again, we're not trying to beat a dead horse here, but Saints is making the argument that Joseph Smith personally lost thousands of dollars of his own money, where every previous chapter discusses how completely broke they all were. It seems like 'The Standard of Truth' is not putting the contributions Joseph made in the most honest context.
As this chapter ends, I just want to make one final point about blaming the church members for holding Joseph accountable over the failure of his anti-banking system. Joseph Smith asked all of these early members to leave their homes to follow him to Kirtland, listen to his every revelation, and then commanded them to buy as much property as they could in the name of God.
Joseph then at the very least implied that God had commanded him to start this anti-banking system and instructed members to contribute their savings to this endeavor. Of course they are going to blame Joseph for this problem - he claims to be a prophet and yet he couldn't see this problem coming.
Going back to the Lost 116 pages, we are told that God knew those first 116 pages would be lost so he had the "Small Plates of Nephi" made for just that occasion. If God could see that far ahead to know such an event would happen, then critics would argue that if Joseph Smith was a real prophet he would be warned not to begin a bank that was destined to fail. Critics would make that same argument about Joseph's revelations in Missouri that they would build up Zion there as well.
Too often church members are blamed when there are problems in the church and we can see that today with our current leaders. Saints continues to do this throughout the book, and it is important to look at these events with a lens beyond what the church has taught us throughout our lives, and with the history that they carefully omit from the lessons. This is one such event, and once you get the full picture of Joseph Smith it makes a whole lot more sense than it did when hearing about it in church.
Chapter Twenty Four: Truth Shall Prevail
This chapter starts off in Missouri, where the church is just getting word of Joseph Smith's problems after his anti-bank, the Kirtland Safety Society, collapsed. They had begun settling along a stream called Salt Creek, and were hopeful to reunited with the others in the Twelve, but had heard of the dissent following the anti-bank's failure.
Back in Ohio, Joseph tells Heber Kimball that he has been called to preach in England, which stirs up much excitement for the church to go beyond North America. It is difficult for Heber to leave his family, but he decides to go. He receives both encouragement and discouragement from the church members, and prepares to leave.
Saints then spends a lot of time talking about Jonathan Crosby, an early member who remains loyal to Joseph. They use Jonathan's story to draw a contrast to those dissenters causing so much trouble for Joseph, which again ignores the issues of what Joseph has done in Kirtland after telling these members to sell everything and move to Ohio.
More importantly, Saints tucks this line into Jonathan and his wife Caroline's story: "She and Jonathan had not lost money to the Safety Society, but they had not been immune to the crisis either."
It is irresponsible for Saints to try and compare their story to those who lost everything after Joseph either explicitly claimed or implied that God was behind his idea to form an anti-bank. Of course those who weren't instructed to put their life savings in an anti-bank would not have those feelings of betrayal, and Saints is well aware of this which is why they are using their story.
The chapter then discusses how scarce food was because of the financial crisis, and how Emma had plenty to give Jonathan for his loyalty to Joseph. “I don’t know how you are off for provisions,” she said, “but you have stopped and worked while the others are all gone.” In her hands she held a large ham. “I thought I would make you a present.”
Again, critics here would take issue with Saints creating a long faith promoting story here about a ham after Joseph Smith lost tens of thousands of dollars for his fellow church members. And this story is immediately contrasted by the stories of the 'dissenters' in Kirtland interrupting church meetings and accusing Joseph "of all manner of sins."
This might be a good time to point out that Joseph has already had his extramarital relationship with Fanny Alger and that many church members had heard whispers of it, including Oliver Cowdery who called it a dirty affair. There is a reason that Saints has not discussed Fanny yet, because they would then have to detail the fallout of Emma finding out about it and Fanny being expelled from the Smith household.
Church members were also angry at Joseph for leading them to Missouri only to abandon the Missouri church members when he realized they would have no help. They also took issue at Joseph fleeing Kirtland to avoid legal problems when his anti-bank first started to collapse.
Again, Saints here continues to gloss over the troubling issues and just paint early members with a broad brush as being 'dissenters.' This is the self-proclaimed "Standard of Truth" that once again lies by omission, which we covered earlier as a violation of their own definition of honesty.
Saints ends the chapter with the missionaries landing in England and beginning to preach there. Back in Ohio, Parley Pratt apologizes to Joseph for his harsh letter, and Joseph forgives him and receives a revelation that instructs the Saints to stop worrying about the problems in Kirtland: “See to it that ye trouble not yourselves concerning the affairs of my church in this place,” He continued, “but purify your hearts before me; and then go ye into the world, and preach my gospel unto every creature.”
This is a relatively short fact-check chapter for Saints, mostly because the chapter focuses on stories that seek to paint "dissenters" in the worst light and Joseph as the victim. We have highlighted some of the problems Joseph has created during this time frame, and it is just important to view the dissenters as people who lost everything following Joseph to Ohio under the belief he spoke for God. This is why the bank failing, the revelations about Missouri not coming to pass, and allegations of Joseph not being faithful to Emma hurt them so dearly.
Saints works to create an "us vs them" narrative in this chapter, which is something they use even to this day. It is something that we've noted on our summary page, which highlights a lot of the most troubling topics of church history and doctrine. Critics point out that the church uses this "us vs them" mentality in order to ask their members to ignore and not listen to those with an opposing viewpoint. We heard some of that just this last General Conference from Dallin Oaks, who encourages members to stay away from material online from "anonymous" sources.
Oaks follows by stating "We should also be cautious about the motivation of the one who provides information," which to us summarizes the problem we have seen with Saints so far. The book was released as the "Standard of Truth" and church leaders and historians proclaimed this was the most honest, thorough depiction of church history. We are now about half way through and this book suffers from the same problems as every other church release - it is biased and refuses to use sources that do not promote faith in the history of the church and Joseph Smith.
And to that I ask this simple question: What is the church so afraid of? If they truly have the spirit to guide the members through difficult issues, why are they so afraid of telling them the full truth? Why can't they tell them about Fanny Alger in the proper timeline, teach how Joseph changed revelations, or about the true way the Book of Mormon was translated and produced?
Saints continues to talk about the Indians as if they are Lamanites, when DNA has proven that to be completely false. We are learning more every day that those who are gay are born with that predisposition, yet Dallin Oaks just this month again attacked what they believe is a normal attraction, saying the best they can do is lesser kingdom. It is hard not to be angry when you read these things, knowing that these kinds of talks are causing young LGBT members of the church to kill themselves, causing Utah to have one of the highest suicide rates in the country.
We need honesty from the church. I was never taught about the Book of Mormon being translated with a rock in a hat, that Joseph Smith was engaged in polygamy before he had the sealing power or revelation to do so, and so many other issues. The church has all of the same materials we do since we are sourcing from them, so again I ask - what are they so afraid of?
Chapter Twenty Five: Move On to the West
As we've been reading Saints, there have been some chapters that have stuck out from the others as being particularly egregious, and chapter 25 is definitely one of those chapters.
This chapter finally addresses the Fanny Alger issue, and how it impacts other early church leaders, especially Oliver Cowdery. As Saints likes to do in these chapters, they weave this troubling aspect of church history around faith promoting stories in order to tackle the issue all at once. To make this review easier, we are going to address the topics one at a time instead of weaving them as Saints has done.
The intro to Saints discusses some early converts in England, and makes note of Ann Walmesley, a woman who had been sick for years with declining health. She met Heber Kimball, who promised her that if she was baptized that her body would be healed. "Ann was baptized into the new church soon after, along with eight others, and her health began to improve steadily."
Again, we are not trying to beat a dead horse here, but these stories just do not hold up to history. If the LDS priesthood power truly had the power to heal, hospitals in Utah would have much higher rates of success over other areas of the country. We can't even verify the source that Saints uses as it is not online, but this story comes from Kimball's "History."
We discuss this on our summary page, but the priesthood power just does not have any healing power in modern times. In fact, as we discuss on #25, Lack of Modern Day Priesthood Miracles, we discuss how there is a complete lack of miracles with the priesthood once you get past the early years of the church and we've had better abilities to record events and document these subjects. In fact, this has led the church to move away from the idea of having the "Faith to be healed" and move to the "Faith not to be healed."
Saints continues to note the "dissenters" in Kirtland that are upset with Joseph over his failed anti-bank along with the issues we discussed in the last chapter including the failed march to Zion and his relationship with Fanny Alger, which we will discuss in just a bit here. This includes chaos erupting in the temple, as a fight broke out between the Smiths and the "dissenters" including John Boynton, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.
Joseph holds a vote to reaffirm the leadership, and the members sustained him as prophet while they "rejected John Boynton, Luke Johnson, and Lyman Johnson as members of the Quorum of the Twelve." Fearing these hard feelings have spread to Missouri, Joseph sought to leave Kirtland and head there to make sure they were not falling away as well.
This is where Saints finally mentions Fanny Alger. Because this is such an important part of LDS history, and because of how it is handled by Saints, we need to include the paragraphs discussing it below (in blue):
Oliver’s falling out with the prophet went beyond disagreements over how to lead the church. Since learning about plural marriage during his inspired translation of the Bible, Joseph had known that God sometimes commanded His people to practice the principle. Joseph had not acted on this knowledge immediately, but a few years later an angel of the Lord had commanded him to marry an additional wife.
After receiving the commandment, Joseph struggled to overcome his natural aversion to the idea. He could foresee trials coming from plural marriage, and he wanted to turn from it. But the angel urged him to proceed, instructing him to share the revelation only with people whose integrity was unwavering. The angel also charged Joseph to keep it private until the Lord saw fit to make the practice public through His chosen servants.
During the years Joseph lived in Kirtland, a young woman named Fanny Alger worked in the Smith home. Joseph knew her family well and trusted them. Her parents were faithful Saints who had joined the church in its first year. Her uncle, Levi Hancock, had marched in the Camp of Israel.
Following the Lord’s command, Joseph proposed marriage to Fanny with the help of Levi and the approval of her parents. Fanny accepted Joseph’s teachings and his proposal, and her uncle performed the ceremony.
Since the time had not come to teach plural marriage in the church, Joseph and Fanny kept their marriage private, as the angel had instructed. But rumors spread among some people in Kirtland.18 By the fall of 1836, Fanny had moved away.
We are going to spend some time unpacking this, because this is a very questionable portrayal of this time. If you have not read our annotated LDS Gospel Topics Essay on Polygamy in Kirtland and Nauvoo, please read that now. It is so much more detailed than we will go into here, and it really explains why the apologetics used here simply do not hold up to history.
First, as we cover in the annotated essay, the angel with a drawn sword story almost certainly did not happen during this time frame. The only mention that it happened before the 1840s was from Mary Elizabeth Rollins, who wrote in 1902 that “In 1834 he was commanded to take me for a wife. I was a thousand miles from him. He got afraid. The angel came to him [Joseph Smith] three times, the last time with a drawn sword and threatened his life.” (Hales: The Accounts of the Angel with a Drawn Sword)
That statement from Rollins, written 68 years later, implies that Joseph Smith was commanded to marry someone 1,000 miles away. Critics would also argue that if Joseph Smith was trying to pressure someone into marrying him, he would use this angel with a drawn sword story to tell the miraculous revelation of needing to marry someone so far away.
Furthermore, none of the other 'angel with a drawn sword' stories are in the 1830s, nor is there any evidence to indicate that Joseph Smith was thinking about polygamy at this time. The 1831 revelation that the church likes to cite is one that is entirely different than what Joseph implemented in Nauvoo. It is from a letter written bty W.W. Phelps, wihch states that W.W. Phelps, Oliver Cowdery and five other men who received instruction for their mission to the Indians were to take “wives of the Lamanites and Nephites, that their posterity may become white, delightsome and just." (Prophet Joseph Smith, Jr., 1831 revelation, recorded in a letter from W.W. Phelps to Brigham Young, dated August 12, 1861)
This needs to be established because what Joseph Smith undertakes with Fanny Alger does not meet any of the revelations received through this time, the relationship was before Joseph Smith claimed to have the sealing keys, and was hidden from all church members including his wife. Saints makes this relationship seem not just pure, but normal,where it is anything but normal.
We are told that "after receiving the commandment, Joseph struggled to overcome his natural aversion to the idea." The problem is that this commandment was not written until 1843, which again begs the question of what Joseph Smith was overcoming when all of the historical records point to there being no revelation or discussion of this kind of polygamy in the 1830s.
Saints then talks about how Fanny lived with the Smith family, although they do not note that many people considered Fanny an 'adopted daughter' of the Smith's due to her close relationship with Emma and Joseph. Ann Eliza Webb said "By degrees it became whispered about that Joseph's love for his adopted daughter was by no means a paternal affection, and his wife, discovering the fact, at once took measures to place the girl beyond his reach." (Compton, In Sacred Loneliness p 34)
This is important to note because Joseph will continue to wed the women that live in their household under the premise of being 'adopted' members of the family, which is likely why Saints is being so careful here not to paint Fanny as being so close to the Smiths and especially Emma.
Next, Saints claims that "following the Lord’s command, Joseph proposed marriage to Fanny with the help of Levi (Hancock) and the approval of her parents." They even source the autobiography of Mosiah Hancock, written 60 years later. But they do not give the quote, which is incredible. Levi Hancock had fallen for a woman named Clarissa Reed, who apparently had told others she would be a polygamous wife of Joseph Smith.
That is a problem mostly because in the 1830s no one knew Joseph Smith was engaging in relationships beyond Emma, where as in the 1840s it was talked about that a woman could be a polygamous wife of Joseph. Nevertheless, the source that Saints cites contains the following quote about this event: “Therefore Brother Joseph said ‘Brother Levi I want to make a bargain with you – If you will get Fanny Alger for me for a wife you may have Clarissa Reed. I love Fanny.' ‘I will' Said Father. ‘Go brother Levi and the Lord will prosper you' Said Joseph – Father goes to the Father Samuel Alger – Father's Brother in Law and [said] ‘Samuel the Prophet Joseph loves your Daughter Fanny and wishes her for a wife what say you' – Uncle Sam Says – ‘Go and talk to the Old woman about it twill be as She says' Father goes to his Sister and said ‘Clarrissy, Brother Joseph the Prophet of the most high God loves Fanny and wishes her for a wife what say you' Said She ‘go and talk to Fanny it will be all right with me' – Father goes to Fanny and said ‘Fanny Brother Joseph the Prophet loves you and wishes you for a wife will you be his wife?' ‘I will Levi' Said She – Father takes Fanny to Joseph and said ‘Brother Joseph I have been successful in my mission' – Father gave her to Joseph repeating the Ceremony as Joseph repeated to him.” (Mosiah Hancock Autobiography, pp. 62-63)
Critics would argue that it is clear why Saints did not want to actually use the quote they are sourcing this material from. It indicates that Joseph used Levi's affection for Clarissa Reed as a bargaining chip to get the family's approval of his relationship with Fanny Alger. Furthermore, that Joseph told Levi that he loved Fanny clearly contradicts the idea being pushed here by Saints that Joseph was an unwilling participant in taking on relationships beyond his wife Emma.
As we discussed in our annotated LDS essay on polygamy, we have two sources (William McLellin and Martin Harris) claiming this relationship began around 1832 or 1833, when Fanny Alger was 16/17 years old and Joseph Smith was 27/28. While apologists like to use the phrase "the past is a foreign country," critics wonder how appropriate it is for a self-proclaimed prophet of God to initiate a polygamous relationship (with sexual relations as this was not an eternity only marriage as Joseph had not introduced them yet) with a woman living in their household that is over a decade younger, all behind Emma's back.
Because this relationship began before the time of this chapter, rumors did spread around Kirtland regarding Joseph's relationship with Fanny. Saints concedes that by stating that "rumors spread among some people in Kirtland. By the fall of 1836, Fanny had moved away."
This again glosses over what history tells us, which is that Emma kicked Fanny out of the house following the discovery of what she considered to be an affair. Ann Eliza Webb's father, Chauncey Webb, who was likely Ann's source for her earlier quote we used above, recounted that "Emma was furious, and drove the girl, who was unable to conceal the consequences of her celestial relation with the prophet, out of her house.” (Compton, In Sacred Loneliness)
Oliver Cowdery called the relationship a "dirty, nasty, filthy affair (scrape)" in a letter to his brother Warren from January 1838. Apostle David Patten said that he asked Cowdery if "a certain story was true respecting J. Smith's committing adultery with a certain girl, when he turned on his heel and insinuated as though he was guilty; he then went on and gave a history of some circumstances respecting the adultery scrape stating that no doubt it was true. Also said that Joseph told him, he had confessed to Emma." (Cannon and Cook, Far West Record, p. 167)
Finally a quote from William McLellin in 1847, after he was excommunicated from the church, recounts a conversation he had with Emma Smith: "One night she [Emma] missed Joseph and Fanny Alger. she went to the barn and saw him and Fanny in the barn together alone. She looked through a crack and saw the transaction!!! She told me this story too was verily true." (William E. McLellin letter to Joseph Smith III, July, 1872)
Again, if you would like more information on just how messy and whitewashed the history of polygamy in the church is today, please read our annotated LDS essay. There is just so much more to come in Saints regarding it, and we can't wait to see how much they talk about and how much they leave out.
Finally we want to note one more part of this chapter which critics would argue proves their point. Before Wilford Woodruff and Jonathan Hale leave on a mission, Jonathan is supposedly told by dissenters not to go because they were "predicting that he would not baptize anyone there."
Later in the chapter they discuss how Wilford and Jonathan have a chance to baptize a new convert into the church. As Saints describes it: "Turning to Jonathan, Wilford recalled how the Kirtland dissenters had predicted their failure on the islands. “Go and baptize him,” Wilford said, pointing to Justus, “and prove those men false prophets.""
If we are going to declare people who make one false statement "false prophets," then they just condemned Joseph Smith to being a false prophet. In fact, the "dissenters" didn't even claim the prediction was from God, but just saying the mission was a waste of time. In just the last few chapters, Joseph Smith claimed via revelation that if they stayed in Salem and befriended the locals they would get the silver and gold they were seeking.
Joseph Smith also said the members in Missouri would be protected and that a temple would be build there. We could literally put a hundred quotes here from Joseph of things that never happened (the failed Civil War revelation, the warrior he named Zelph, the Book of Abraham being written by Abraham, saying that he could only see "but one wife" after he was involved in polygamy, the partial translation of the Kinderhook Plates, etc), so why Saints seeks to take one statement from these "dissenters" and label them false prophets for it is beyond me. Critics make the argument that Joseph Smith's failed prophecies deem him a false prophet, and those are much more compelling than singling out one prediction from dissenters here. Saints continues to skirt the definition of honesty in these stories, and this one just feels like a huge unforced error for anyone who might be paying attention beyond the "non-fiction narrative" being presented.
This is a long review, but the section on Fanny Alger was important to go into more details on. The truth is that polygamy is extremely messy, and although the church promised to be more upfront with the release of Saints, this chapter shows again that this book is nothing more than a more flowery rehash of the same apologetic arguments in the Gospel Topics essays. If they really wanted to be the "Standard of Truth," they would acknowledge all of the points about the Fanny Alger relationship that we mentioned about, including how hurt Emma was by polygamy and how difficult it was for her to have Joseph marrying women behind her back.
And I hope any women reading this fact-check understand that polygamy is still the "new and everlasting covenant." The current prophet, Russell Nelson, is sealed to two women for eternity as is the First Counselor, Dallin Oaks. Within church doctrine, those first wives had no say over their husband bringing a second woman into their forever family, and while many woman like to pretend that "we don't know what happens after we die," it is undeniable that polygamy is still a part of heaven, and that women have absolutely no say in the matter. We will talk about that more later, but it is something that we need to stop ignoring as a church and deal with head-on as it causes a lot of pain and anxiety for women who are researching this topic.
Chapter Twenty Six: A Holy and Consecrated Land
For the most part, Chapter 26 is about Joseph Smith moving to Missouri after being forced out of Kirtland following his Kirtland Safety Society anti-bank collapsing. The chapter begins with Oliver Cowdery trudging through the winter to find good land to settle in, only to find out that he was being investigated by the high council for selling his personal land, which was in violation of Joseph's revelation regarding the 'law of consecration,' which commanded that all land be given to the church even if it was owned personally by a church member.
As Saints tells is: "Oliver, John (Whitmer), and William (Phelps), moreover, had recently sold some of their land in Jackson County. Although they had a legal right to sell the Jackson County land, which was their personal property, it had been consecrated to the Lord, and a revelation had forbidden them to sell it. Not only had the three men broken a sacred covenant, they had showed a lack of faith in Zion."
Oliver defended himself against this charge by stating that he bought the property with his own money and not church money, so he did nothing wrong. "Because Oliver was in the First Presidency, he was outside the jurisdiction of the high council and retained his calling. David, John, and William, however, were removed from their positions."
Because Oliver had been investigated by the church for selling his land, he became sympathetic to those who were removed from their positions in the church. In addition, the growing tension between Oliver and Joseph stemmed from Oliver's feelings towards Joseph's relationship with Fanny Alger that we discussed in chapter 25.
Saints mentions that despite this falling out, that Oliver never recanted on his testimony of the Book of Mormon. As far as we know that is true, but the Times and Seasons (run by Joseph Smith) certainly indicated otherwise:
"Amazed with wonder! I look round
Or prove that Christ was not the Lord
To see most people of our day,
Because Peter cursed and swore?
Reject the glorious gospel sound,
Or Book of Mormon not his word
Because the simple turn away.
Because denied, by Oliver?
Or does it prove there is no time,
Or prove, that Joseph Smith is false
Because some watches will not go?
Because apostates say tis so?"
(Times and Seasons, July 15, 1841)
Upon arriving in Far West, Joseph and family were treated with a "joyful reception," which contrasted greatly with Joseph's standing in Kirtland with church members. Joseph Smith wanted a "fresh start" in Missouri, and even though they had already excommunicated William Phelps and John Whitmer, Joseph wanted to "address Oliver’s apostasy" before he could influence members in Missouri who might be influenced by Olivery's issues with Joseph.
Again, Saints seeks to make sure the reader could not possibly side with Oliver Cowdery. "On April 12, Edward Partridge convened a bishop’s council to review Oliver’s standing in the church. His defiance was well known... He was also charged with selling his lands in Jackson County contrary to revelation, falsely accusing Joseph of adultery, and forsaking the cause of God."
We have discussed this multiple times now, but there is no contemporary evidence that points to Joseph's relationship with Fanny Alger as being a marriage. We have the auto-biography written 60 years after the fact calling it a marriage, but at the time Joseph had not received any revelation for polygamy (beyond the WW Phelps letter which instructed them to marry Native Americans to turn them 'White and delightsome'), did not claim to have the sealing keys yet, and did all of this without Emma's knowledge.
So while the church fights aggressively to paint the Fanny Alger relationship as a marriage, there is just as much evidence to support the idea that it was an affair. While we do not expect Saints to take a stance that goes against Joseph Smith, we do expect the self-proclaimed "Standard of Truth" to at least give more understanding as to why these issues with Joseph Smith were happening instead of just labeling those who lost their savings, saw Joseph abandon the members in Missouri after marching down, or watched as revelations did not come to pass as "dissenters."
Oliver was excommunicated after the court of love, with Saints stating that "Oliver had turned away from these principles and relied instead on his own judgment, treating the church, its leaders, and the commandments of the Lord with contempt." This, by the way, is the same way that church leaders look at those who doubt the church today, and we can see that in the excommunications of members who try to address these issues such as Michael D Quinn, John Dehlin, and Sam Young.
This chapter of Saints ends with Joseph Smith claiming through revelation to have found "the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, where Adam, the first man, had blessed his children before he died." We discussed in an earlier chapter of Saints how Joseph Smith claimed to know "pure Adamic language," which he claimed was the language of Adam. Here is Joseph explaining the way it is spoken:
John Johnson Sr: What is the name of God in pure Language
Joseph Smith: Awmen.
John Johnson Sr: The meaning of the pure word A[w]men
Joseph Smith: It is the being which made all things in all its parts.
John Johnson Sr: What is the name of the Son of God.
Joseph Smith: The Son-Awmen.
John Johnson Sr: What is the Son-Awmen.
Joseph Smith: It is the greatest of all the parts of Awmen which is the Godhead the first born.
John Johnson Sr: What is is man.
Joseph Smith: This signifies Sons Awmen. The human family the children of men the greatest parts of Awmen Sons the Son Awmen
John Johnson Sr: What are Angels called in pure language.
Joseph Smith: Awmen Angls-men
John Johnson Sr: What are the meaning of these words.
Joseph Smith: Awmen’s Servants Ministerring servants Sanctified who are sent forth from heaven to minister for or to Sons Awmen the greatest part of Awmen Son. Sons Awmen Son Awmen Awmen
When you read that exchange and then read that Joseph claimed that God revealed to him that "Adam-ondi-Ahman" was the name of the place that Adam would return, it seems awfully similar to a distorted version of English, which would not have been known to Adam if he was indeed born in Missouri 6,000 years ago.
This follows a pattern that started when Joseph Smith copied down characters from the Book of Mormon plates that were shown to Charles Anthon in the hopes he would verify them to Martin Harris. Almost all of the characters (caractors) that Joseph copied down are variations of the English language either rotated, flipped, or slightly altered. These characters have absolutely no similarity to Egyptian as we know it, nor did they match Egyptian in any way during Joseph's lifetime. For those who missed them, here are the "caractors" that Joseph copied along with an image showing how similar they are to basic English letters and numbers.
As we have detailed so often whether it's these characters, Joseph's ability to pull from sources around him, or how he discussed speaking in tongues with Brigham, when you really dig down into the details they just do not hold up as Saints describes. We discuss in our annotated LDS essay on the Book of Abraham translation how Joseph Smith was caught making up languages when speaking to crowds, and how the papyrus he put the church into $2,400 in debt for didn't have anything to do with Abraham whatsoever.
We'll leave that to the reader as to what to make of this, but we just hope that those who are reading this and are open to the information read our annotated essays and other pages. These are difficult topics and the conclusions are heartbreaking when you've spent your life in the church, but the truth is important and unfortunately no amount of emotional feelings can change the truth once you uncover it.
Chapter Twenty Seven: We Proclaim Ourselves Free
This chapter is really interesting because it shows just how aggressive the church had become not just with "dissenters," but in warning the locals ahead of time that they will kill anyone who tries to force them to evacuate again. It is a much different church when Sidney and Joseph arrive in Missouri, and their fear of dissenters after Joseph's anti-bank failed reached a boiling point.
After starting with a faith promoting story about Wilford Woodruff finally converting his family to the church, they talk about how many major figures in church history had been excommunicated. After forcing Oliver Cowdery out in the last chapter, the church has now excommunicated David Whitmer and Lyman Johnson from the Quorum of the Twelve. That means that every one of the "three witnesses" had now been excommunicated from the church, and because they were central figures in the early church, Joseph and Sidney wanted them out of the area of influence.
This leads Sidney Rigdon to give his "Salt Sermon," where he used the fifth chapter of Matthew to militarize the church against dissenters. According to Saints, "echoing language from the Sermon on the Mount, he compared them to salt that had lost its savor, good for nothing but to be cast out and trodden underfoot."
The harsh language of this speak combined with Joseph expressing his "support for the rebuke" led to the formation of the Danites, a secret group that vowed to protect the interests of the church. While there is no evidence that the Danites were created by Joseph Smith, there are sources that show Smith was aware of them and even approved of their efforts, which forced Saints to make this concession: "Joseph did not organize the group, yet he likely sanctioned some of their actions."
We won't get too far ahead of the timeline here, but the Danites were involved in some horrific events in church history, and the fact that Joseph Smith sanctioned at least "some" of their activities leads most critics to believe that they had a direct line of communication to Joseph Smith and/or Sidney Rigdon.
After Sidney's "Salt Sermon" speech, the Danites "warned Oliver, David, and others to leave Caldwell County or face dire consequences." Saints is framing the letter that the Danites sent a bit nicely, and if the tables were turned would certainly not frame it this way. From their own citation, here is some text from the "warning" sent to Oliver, David, and others:
"You shall have three days after you receive this our communication to you including twenty-four hours in each day for you to depart with your families peaceably which you may do undisturbed by any person But in that time if you do not depart we will use the means in our power to cause you to depart for go you shall... Vengince sleeps not neither does it slumber; and unless you heed us this time, and attend to our request, it will overtake you at an hour where you do not expect it and at a day when you do not look for it. and for you there shall be no escape; for there is but one decree for you which is depart depart or else a more fatal calamity shall befall you." (Joseph Smith Papers)
First, it should be noted that the Danites here are doing to Oliver, David, and others what was done to the church in Missouri previously. Second, if you read the entire link at the Joseph Smith Papers, you will see a list of accusations against Oliver Cowdery regarding stealing, counterfeiting, and other crimes. This is interesting because the fallout with Oliver did not happen until the relationship with Fanny Alger was exposed and the Kirtland Safety Society anti-bank failed.
If the church truly believed that Oliver was a counterfeiter, why did they send Oliver to have the printing plates mate for the Kirtland Safety Society bank notes? (Mormon Enigma, p. 62) Furthermore, if Oliver was indeed guilty of counterfeiting, lying, and uniting "with a gang of counterfiters thieves, liars, and Blacklegs of the deepest die to deceive, cheat and defraud the Saints out of their property by every act and stratagem which wckness [wickedness] could invent using the influance of the vilust persecutors to bring vexatious lawsuits upon vilanous persecutions and even steeling not excepted," then critics wonder why God would appoint him as the second elder of the church? (Quote from Joseph Smith Papers)
We are so often told that God revealed so many things to Joseph and that He even knew that the first 116 pages would be lost and thus prepared the "small plates" so Joseph could redo the first 116 pages without the fear of the original pages resurfacing to be used again him. Yet here Saints wants us to believe that Oliver Cowdery was a man who was given the "gift of the rod" by God and yet years later would be nothing more than an adulterer, counterfeiter, and thief?
Apologists would contend that this is the work of Satan leading early members astray, but we now have all three of the "three witnesses" of the Book of Mormon excommunicated. Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon sought to destroy their reputations so that no other church members would listen to their side of the story, which critics argue still happens today as the church excommunicates members who discuss not faith promoting stories about the church such as the September Six. That case involved six LDS members who were excommunicated for speaking out about the church's history or cultural issues. Michael Quinn is the most prominent of the six, and while we was excommunicated twenty years ago for unveiling truth about LDS history, his work is now used in the LDS Gospel Topics essay as the church has been forced to admit that Quinn's work was both accurate and true.
The attacks on scholars continues to this day, as Dallin Oaks said in his October 2018 general conference talk: "We live in a time of greatly expanded and disseminated information. But not all of this information is true. We need to be cautious as we seek truth and choose sources for that search. We should not consider secular prominence or authority as qualified sources of truth. We should be cautious about relying on information or advice offered by entertainment stars, prominent athletes, or anonymous internet sources. Expertise in one field should not be taken as expertise on truth in other subjects."
I apologize for the slight detour here, but we want to point out how the church tends to treat dissent by excommunicating the members followed by telling the members to ignore and rebuke them. As critics have long pointed out, any church that believes their truth claims should welcome their members to research and study all aspects of their history, but the LDS church continues to fight "so-called scholars" or sources that are not faith promoting. It is important because Saints falls into this same trap, but only telling the faith promoting stories in detail while simply glossing over the issues that have long been troubling for the church's truth claims.
The final point on Oliver Cowdery is that if he was as deceitful and untrustworthy as we are told he was following his accusation of Joseph having an affair with Fanny Alger, why should we believe he was honest before that? Why should we believe that Joseph and Oliver really did see both Elias and Elijah to receive the sealing keys, when Elias and Elijah are the same person as we discussed in Chapter 21? Why would we now believe that Oliver Cowdery really did have the power of the divining rod as claimed in early revelations that we discussed in Chapter 6? We can go on and on here, but these chapters really show the lengths that Saints takes in order to demonize anyone who questions Joseph while ignoring the reasons why they are questioning him.
After the Danites are introduced, Saints discusses Sidney Rigdon's July 4th speech, where he made clear that any further violence or threats against the church would be met in kind. While he was clear that the church would not seek out a fight, he gave a fiery speech where he declared that any “mob that comes on us to disturb us,” he cried out, “it shall be between us and them a war of extermination, for we will follow them till the last drop of their blood is spilled, or else they will have to exterminate us.”
There is nothing wrong with declaring that the church will defend itself against any outside threats, and to be honest in this time frame the speech probably is not nearly as inciting as it reads today. That said, this is a much different approach that the church is taking both with dissenters and outsiders since Joseph and Sidney arrived, and it will contribute to the tensions that boil over soon.
Saints then introduces Elijah Able, one of the first black members of the church and one of the only black priesthood holders prior to the ban on blacks being lifted in 1978. This is of course a difficult topic for the church to address, because it won't be long from here when black members are banned from holding the priesthood or participating in any temple ordinances.
We encourage anyone interested to read our annotated LDS essay on race and the priesthood, because it covers this issue in much more detail. One thing of note in Saints is this line: "It was not uncommon for white people to spread lies about black people, even in places where slavery was illegal."
If you read our annotated LDS essay, you will see that the church spread quite a few theories about black people that many would consider lies. You can read some of those quotes on our priesthood ban quotes page, our priesthood ban timeline page, and our summary page (#10, Ban on Blacks from the Priesthood and All Temple Ordinances). Those pages include both LDS scriptures that refer to black skin as being curse along with church leaders throughout history considering the ban on blacks to be doctrine from God because of the 'curse.'
Next we are introduced to tithing as Joseph Smith continued to look for ways to pay down the debt of the church. Joseph was having a hard time because "much of the church’s debt was still unpaid, and many Saints had been left destitute by ongoing persecution, the national economic problems, the financial collapse in Kirtland, and the costly move to Missouri."
We have discussed this in previous chapters, but Joseph Smith did not handle money well and it caught up to him with the Kirtland Safety Society failing. Joseph was also worried because of the openings in the Quorum of the Twelve after the excommunications earlier, and promptly received a "flood of revelation" to address all of these issues. While critics would note that Joseph received revelation promptly on issues in ways that no other prophets since have claimed, we have discussed it multiple times already and will leave it at that.
The chapter ends by wrapping up Wilford Woodruff's faith promoting story line in the chapter as he finds out he has been called to the Twelve. As we've noted before, this is a theme that the church takes with Saints when they start and finish with faith promoting/fluffy narratives and tuck the difficult stuff in the middle.
This chapter ended up being a bit longer than we originally expected, but there are a lot of things in this chapter that foreshadow other events soon to come. Rigdon's speeches and the rise of the Danites are definitely events that will forever alter the church, and Elijah Able's story becomes much more magnified once the ban on blacks takes effect not too long after this chapter.
Chapter Twenty Eight: Tried Long Enough
Following the fiery speeches by Sidney Rigdon, chapter twenty eight starts off with Election Day in Missouri, and a fight that breaks out between the locals and church members including John Butler, a member of the Danites, the militia of the church.
According to Saints, tensions had grown between the locals and the church due to the growth of the church in the area, and as such "Saints could now influence the county vote, and that angered many other settlers." This led to William Peniston, a candidate for state representative, giving a speech at the polling place claiming the "Mormon leaders are a set of horse thieves, liars, and counterfeiters."
Saints recounts this story almost solely from John Butler's recounting, which asserts that the locals at the polling place had been drinking whiskey all day and attacked the church members unprovoked. This might be true, but again with the entire story being told from a single source, it becomes suspect as to how it all went down. Furthermore, Butler was a Danite, an aggressive militia with the church that had formed with the mission of defending the church and fighting anyone who they felt threatened their rights in Missouri.
As the incident escalates, Saints claims that "more whiskey passed through the crowd. John heard some men curse the Saints. He started to back away. He was over six feet tall and powerfully built, but he had come to Gallatin to vote, not fight." As a fight breaks out, Butler grabbed a fence rail and said "“Oh yes, you Danites, here is a job for us!”
From here, the Danites ended the fight "after two minutes" by using anything they could find as weapons. Butler claimed that he "clubbed the men attacking the Saints, measuring each swing to knock his opponents down, not kill them." Again, with this event being almost solely through the eyes of Butler, critics would argue this calls into question the accuracy of the event.
As "wounded men lay motionless on the ground," the others backed away and told the church members they could vote. After seeing all of the bodies on the ground, he no longer felt comfortable voting and left the scene. This led to rumors that the Danites had killed some of the locals, causing Joseph Smith to tell John Butler to get his family out of town for their safety. Soon after, Joseph finds out that no one died at the event, calming Joseph temporarily.
After this incident, Joseph and an armed group of over 100 went to the cabin of Adam Black, a local justice of the peace that was suspected of rounding up a mob to attack the church. The Danites stormed the cabin and attempted to get Adam Black to sign a peace agreement by force, but Adam Black wanted to talk to Joseph Smith. After the Danites turned Black over to Joseph Smith, "the prophet joined the negotiations and settled the matter peacefully, agreeing to let the justice write up and sign his own statement."
Critics again would argue that no such matter can be solved peacefully if it was done under duress, and again this is why we question John Butler's account above. The Danites were formed under the aggressive stance of Sidney Rigdon, and as we continue we will note that they do some very bad things in the name of the church. It is easy to see how this escalates as they attempt to get a justice of the peace to sign an agreement by force.
Soon after Adam Black signed the agreement, he demanded that Joseph Smith and Lyman Wight be arrested for intimidating him with an armed group to sign the agreement. Saints mentions that Joseph was able to avoid a trial but requesting it be done in their home county, but what they don't mention is that when they tried to arrest Lyman, they "found an armed force of from 80 to 100 men, and was told by Wight "that he would not be taken alive -- that the law had never protected him, and he owed them no obedience -- that the whole state of Missouri could not take him." (The Western Star, August 1838)
Joseph Smith then returns to Daviess County to answer the charges by Black, and during the hearing Saints claims the Black admitted that Joseph had not forced him to sign the agreement, but "the judge ordered the prophet to return in two months for a trial."
As time passed the tensions continued to escalate, as the Missourians believed the Danites were preparing for war, and the church appealed to governor Boggs for protection. After the church refused to leave, the mob began shooting at the church members which caused the church to fire back and wounded a man.
Since governor Boggs refused to send help to the church, Joseph Smith ordered the evacuation of De Witt and move to Far West. Upon arriving at Far West, Joseph Smith met with the church to discuss their next move.
“We have tried long enough,” Joseph cried out to the men around him. “Who is so big a fool as to cry, ‘The law! The law!’ when it is always administered against us and never in our favor?”
Joseph Smith decided that it was time to "defend themselves, the prophet declared, or die in the attempt."
Again, this chapter is pretty straightforward and building to some very difficult events in Mormon history. Our only real note here is that this escalation happens pretty quickly after Sidney Rigdon's preemptive "extermination" speech on July 4th, and that the Danites were an aggressive militia that the locals feared.
The problem is that the church had a right to defend itself and after the earlier attacks it is reasonable to want to defend themselves and even take the offensive in that battle. It is hard to read the earlier mob attacks and not feel terrible for the church members, but it is difficult in this chapter because there is no attempt to cite the Missourians to try and get the "other side of the story." While the church is under no obligation to teach their members about what the other side thought of their actions, it is important to include context in a book that is called "The Standard of Truth."
Chapter Twenty Nine: God and Liberty
Just like some previous chapters, this is a tough one because of the violence that erupts from the locals and the church itself. Unlike the earlier chapters, Sidney Rigdon's speeches to both church dissenters as well as the locals opened the doors to the Danites, who were feared by locals due to their aggressive tactics. That's not to say the church was to blame - we don't have a ton of details here beyond what the church offers from their point of view.
Because of this, we are not going to fact-check much in this chapter regarding the attacks. There is no justification for driving anyone out of their homes, and our concern in fact-checking Saints is about church historical issues, doctrinal issues, and scriptural questions. This chapter is difficult because it focuses on individuals going through horrible times, and we do not want to diminish those experiences because they were victims whether the church is true or not.
This chapter begins with the local mobs driving people from their homes, and many journeyed to Adam-ondi-Ahman for safety. From there, the Danites went to Gallatin, where they raided the local stores to take their goods and supplies before they "torched the store and other buildings and rode out of town."
Saints focuses from here on Thomas Marsh, who becomes a central figure of this chapter. They mention that Marsh had become in disagreement with Joseph Smith due to being left out of the England mission as well as fears that "Joseph and Sidney had exaggerated the threat of mob attacks in their fiery speeches and sermons."
They then introduce the "Milk Strippings Story," which has served as an often cited lesson about pride and the church. As Saints tells the story: "His wife, Elizabeth, had argued with another woman over an agreement they had made to exchange milk for cheese-making. After the bishop and high council heard the case and ruled against Elizabeth, Thomas had appealed the case to Joseph and the First Presidency. They too had decided against her.
The incident had bruised Thomas’s pride, and he struggled to hide his resentment. He grew angry, and he wanted everyone else to be angry. Twice already Joseph had asked him if he was going to fall away. “When you see me leave the church,” Thomas had replied, “you will see a good fellow leave.""
The problem with the milk strippings story is that the only source of it comes 18 years later in the journal of George A. Smith. This is the only time the story is shared, and it has no corroboration. The reason the story is so often used is to paint those who leave the church as easily offended people with no valid reasons for leaving. Like many other faith promoting stories, the lack of contemporary sources about this story followed by reliance puts the accuracy of the story into serious question.
We have seen this over and over again in talks throughout the years, and the 2013 study on member's who go through a faith crisis show that "being offended" is one of the last reasons people have for leaving. You can see our write-up of that study on our blog, but below are the top reasons that people are leaving the church.
Saints did have it right that the reason Marsh was critical of Joseph Smith was because he had feared the speeches by Joseph and Sidney were escalating the tensions before the attacks began, and he was not the only one to feel this way. Orson Hyde joined Marsh with these feelings, and the two signed an affidavit in which Marsh said that he "left because he was alarmed that his fellow coreligionists had formed mobs, expelled all the non-Mormons from Daviess County, stolen their property, and burned their homes and towns to the ground." There is actually a great piece on the LDS-friendly site, By Common Consent, that covers the milk strippings story in a more accurate context, along with how Marsh was treated by Brigham Young later in life.
The chapter ends by featuring more individuals involved in the different events, as well as a skirmish with the Missouri state militia that leads to Governor Boggs issuing an order that the "Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the state."
This order was bolstered by the affidavit from Marsh that claimed that "It is believed by every true Mormon that Smith’s prophecies are superior to the law of the land." We will see more of this later as Joseph implements policies that are against the law, yet the church follows Joseph's orders without question.
Overall this chapter is a difficult one because as a website we are interested in telling a true story of church history, but also focusing on whether or not the truth claims hold up to scrutiny. As such, we don't want to try and diminish the awful conditions that the church members suffered in these battles, and while there are always two sides to every story, we're not going to spend a lot of time fact-checking the specifics of these battles with the locals. We have covered how Sidney and Joseph's speeches led to the increased tensions along with the creation of the Danites, and how Saints tends to use personal stories of individuals/families to wrap around the difficult issues. While I know there are critics that take issue with the specifics in these faith promoting stories of the individual saints, we will leave it here for this chapter.
Chapter Thirty: Fight Like Angels
This chapter discusses the Hawn's Mill Massacre, which is the deadliest part of the 1838 "Mormon War" in Missouri. We're not going to fact check the chapter because no matter what you believe about the church, this was a horrific event. Looking back now, it is understood that the militia members who attacked Hawn's Mill did so before the extermination order was even received.
We hear a lot of stories in this chapter about the families that lost family in this attack, and while some are taught as faith promoting stories like Alma Smith's hip recovering after a gunshot wound, there is just no reason to dive in here. Again, this was something that should have never happened and the people that committed these kills were nothing short of monsters.
After the discussion of the Hawn's Mill Massacre, Saints talks about Joseph Smith being taken as a prisoner of war in Far West. They had surrendered once they realized how badly outnumbered they were by the militia, and Joseph Smith had agreed to meet the state militia leader to discuss avoiding further death. George Hinkle, one of the leaders of the Mormon militia/Danites, had left Joseph, Sidney Rigdon, Parley Pratt, Lyman Wight, and George Robinson with the state militia as prisoners.
I realize this is a super short recap, but there is just no reason to dissect what happened. It was horrible, it is unthinkable, and there's no justification for what happened. We want to focus on the truth claims of the church from a historical, doctrinal, and scriptural standpoint -- there is no reason this should have happened and we'll leave it at that.
Chapter Thirty One: How Will This End?
Starting off where chapter thirty left off, we get the initial reaction to Joseph and the others being caught as prisoners of war. Following the capture, the militia took all of the weapons from the church and then pillaged the homes for "weapons and valuables."
Just as with chapter thirty, we're not going to sit here and try to fact-check these events. We've discussed what the Danites did when raiding Gallatin, but what the militia did to the church is unthinkable. So we're just going to mention a few quick things here and move on as we did in chapter thirty.
Saints makes sure to demonize former apostle William McLellin in this chapter as he is among the Missouri soldiers. One of the themes of Saints throughout is to paint those who leave in the worst possible light after painting their time in the church in the most faith promoting way. It is a difficult line to walk, and because the stories are only told through the eyes of those in the church when written, it is hard to think the details aren't heavily skewed by those writing them down.
This also happens as Saints discusses how some members took deals with Missouri to testify against Joseph Smith. "The prosecution called more than forty witnesses to testify against the prisoners, including several former church leaders. Afraid of being prosecuted themselves, John Corrill, William Phelps, John Whitmer, and others had struck a deal with the state of Missouri to testify against Joseph in exchange for their own freedom. Under oath, they described outrages they had witnessed during the conflict, and all of them blamed Joseph."
Again, there has been a lot of tension between members and Joseph for years now, and it is not fair to paint everyone who spoke against Joseph as just being afraid. Many of them had reasons to distrust Joseph whether it was the initial failed Zion's march, the failed Kirtland bank, or the aggressive stance upon his arrival in Missouri.
The last point we want to make is a faith promoting story that Saints tells from when Joseph is in jail. As Saints tells it:
"Lying awake, Parley Pratt felt sick as their guards told obscene stories about raping and killing Saints. He wanted to stand up and rebuke the men—to say something that would make them stop talking—but he kept silent.
Suddenly, he heard chains clank beside him as Joseph rose to his feet. “Silence, ye fiends of the infernal pit!” the prophet thundered. “In the name of Jesus Christ, I rebuke you and command you to be still! I will not live another minute and hear such language!”
The startled guards gripped their weapons and looked up. Joseph stared back at them, radiating majesty. “Cease such talk,” he commanded, “or you or I die this instant!”
The room went quiet, and the guards lowered their guns. Some of them retreated to the corners. Others crouched in fear at Joseph’s feet. The prophet stood still, looking calm and dignified. The guards begged his pardon and fell silent until their replacements came."
This story is from Parley Pratt and told about fifteen years later. The reason I point it out is because it just does not fit anything else from this time period. None of the guards believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, so why would any of them "crouch in fear at Joseph's feet?"
Anything is possible, but this kind of story needs a second source that is not telling a story to promote faith in Joseph Smith. We have discussed how the church continues to use faith promoting stories that do not hold up to history, and while we don't have more records to compare to here, it just does not pass the sniff test especially when looking at what Saints includes in this chapter.
The chapter ends with the six men being transferred to Liberty Jail to await trial on charges of treason, which will pick up in chapter thirty two.
Chapter Thirty Two: Though All Hell Should Endeavor
Conditions were poor in the communities as winter took hold, and the church members were given ultimatums to leave Missouri by the following Spring. The militia told the church that they "brought upon yourselves these difficulties, by being disaffected and not being subject to rule.”
Saints then discusses the near-death experience of Phebe Woodruff, where she claimed to see two angels who asked her if she would like to return to the spirit world or continue to live. After she decides she wants to live, "Wilford’s faith was renewed. He anointed her with consecrated oil, placed his hands on her head, and rebuked the power of death. When he finished, Phebe’s breathing returned. She opened her eyes and watched the two angels leave the room."
We've touched upon this in other chapters, but these kinds of experiences were not that uncommon in this time as many believed in a magical worldview. They aren't even that uncommon now -- near death experiences are widely recorded and often talk of angels or spirits that tell the person that it's not time to die. Furthermore, as we've also discussed these kinds of events just do not happen in the same manner once the ability to record them has improved.
While these stories are indeed faith promoting, the use of consecrated oil does not improve the recovery among church members in present times, nor do priesthood blessings lead to higher rates of healing. If they did, you can bet the church would be boasting of those statistics in every manual, talk, or missionary material available.
Saints then covers the rough conditions at Liberty Jail, and the visits from the wives of Joseph and Hyrum are shocking to the women. Joseph then puts Brigham in charge of the church while he is gone, and Brigham takes charge to make sure everyone gets out of Far West and not just the rich members who had already been fleeing.
We are then brought back to the story of Alma Smith and his mother Amanda. Because Alma was still too injured to leave Missouri, he asked his mom if the Lord can mend his hip in time to leave. “Yes, my son,” she said. “He has showed it all to me in a vision.”
Again, this is a big faith promoting story from the horrors of Hawn's Mill and we do not want to try diminishing those even if other faith promoting stories do not hold up to historical records. Where I want to make note is that Amanda Smith claims that the Lord showed this to her "in a vision," which is a very common event in this time. Yet today you almost never hear anyone talk about seeing "visions," which is important when you think about the foundation of the church as a whole. When you think of Joseph Smith's multiple First Vision accounts or his revelations that he claimed were in vision (some even occurred with Olivery Cowdery), remember that at the time it was not something that was unique to a prophet. As Richard Bushman noted, the reason that Joseph Smith's First Vision wasn't taken seriously wasn't because of how insane it seemed, but because of how normal and common it was.
Saints then introduces James Hendricks, who was shot four times at Hawn's Mill. He was paralyzed from the neck down and was unable to quickly move out of Missouri, but Saints claims that "James had regained some movement in his shoulders and legs after receiving a priesthood blessing, but he could not walk very far."
Again, we're not going to sit here and dissect this story - the citation is from a book compiled in 1963 so it is impossible to know when exactly it was written. We just want to point out again how freely that Saints puts these stories out of healing when these stories do not happen today. Of course people heal from seemingly dire circumstances, but there is just no higher rate of healing in hospitals in Utah where blessings are given every day compared to similar areas around the country.
The chapter finishes with members meeting up around Quincy Illinois, led by Edward Partridge and Brigham Young. As Saints concludes, "Fortunately, Bishop Partridge and others had been talking with a man named Isaac Galland, who wanted to sell them some swampy land along a bend in the river north of Quincy. It was hardly the land of milk and honey they envisioned for Zion, but it was readily available and could provide a new gathering place for the Saints."
As we finish this chapter, I just want to reference the earlier revelations that Joseph Smith claimed such as being protected in Missouri, building a temple there, and settling near the spot that Adam and Eve supposedly lived. It is obvious why Saints can not ask the questions that those failed prophecies would raise, but it is beyond important to understand how these revelations failed when Joseph Smith claimed to speak frequently with God. While there are no answers to those questions in Saints, it is a question I want to leave you all with as we end this chapter, because dishonesty isn't just about what you say, but what you don't say as well.
Chapter Thirty Three: O God, Where Art Thou?
The final chapter of part three begins with the conditions at Liberty Jail, where the prisoners were mocked by the locals and treated poorly. Saints mentioned how Joseph and the others repeatedly tried to escape prison but were unsuccessful in their attempts. Because the church had mostly moved to Illinois, visits to the jail were rare and Joseph was becoming upset that he had not been saved.
"The injustice angered Joseph. In the Old Testament, the Lord often rescued His people from danger, vanquishing their enemies with the strength of His arm. But now, when the Saints had been threatened with extermination, He had not intervened."
We've pointed this out many times in our fact-check of Saints, but this is one of the biggest issues that critics have with Joseph's claim to being a prophet. Whenever he would find himself in trouble, he would quickly receive a revelation to reassert his authority and power over the church and those in it. A quick look at just some of the times Joseph Smith received revelation promptly when he felt challenged:
When Joseph Smith was caught in what was called an affair with Fanny Alger and members started talking (including Oliver Cowdery, the co-founder of the church), Joseph got a revelation to declare marriage was just one man and one wife. (D&C 101:4 - this is now removed from the D&C because it contradicts D&C 132, which will be revealed soon to help Joseph against polygamy charges)
When Joseph Smith needed to push Martin Harris for more money to get the Book of Mormon printed, Harris was being pressured by his suspecting wife that Joseph Smith was not a prophet. Soon after, Joseph Smith receive a prompt revelation that instructed Martin Harris to sell whatever he needed to sell and give the money to to Joseph or face eternal damnation. "Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not… And again, I command thee that thou shalt not covet thine own property, but impart it freely to the printing of the Book of Mormon…" (D&C 19:15&26)
When Martin Harris lost the original 116 pages after Lucy Harris took them to force Joseph to prove himself as a prophet, Joseph claimed revelations to avoid the test that Lucy Harris set him up for. In D&C 10, God tells Joseph not to re-translate the original 116 pages as Lucy wanted, because evil people would prove him a fraud by altering his pages (even though it would be incredibly obvious if they made any changes). Joseph Smith continued to dictate the Book of Mormon, but knew that he couldn't publish a book with the beginning missing. God then gives Joseph Smith a further revelation as he finished that He knew this was going to happen all along, so He had Nephi make a second set of plates that would cover the exact same time-frame but without all of the historical details that someone like Lucy Harris could use to prove that Joseph was making it all up.
In September 1830, Hiram Page found his own seer stone, and he claimed to receive revelation through it just as Joseph Smith claimed to translate the Book of Mormon through his stone. Page “looked at [the stone]. It contained a sentence on paper to befit it. As soon as he wrote one sentence, another sentence came on the stone, until he wrote 16 pages.” This is exactly how Joseph claimed to translate the Book of Mormon and early revelations, and Oliver Cowdery and David Whitmer believed Hiram. Joseph Smith promptly received a revelation, now D&C 28, where God tells Joseph that only Joseph can receive the words of God."But, behold, verily, verily, I say unto thee, no one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., for he receiveth them even as Moses." After the revelation establishes Joseph's authority, God then says: "And again, thou shalt take thy brother, Hiram Page, between him and thee alone, and tell him that those things which he hath written from that stone are not of me and that Satan deceiveth him." Critics find it striking that Joseph Smith can receive revelation from a rock he found buried under a well during a treasure dig, but when someone else claims to receive revelation that way... it's from Satan.
In 1831, Joseph Smith was traveling with 10 others when they experienced unusually rough waters. Elder William Phelps even claimed to see "the destroyer in his most horrible power, ride upon the face of the waters." After this happened, Joseph Smith received a revelation that God "cursed the waters.... Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters." (D&C 61:14-15) God then gives a commandment that Joseph, Sidney Rigdon, and Olivery Cowdery should travel by land and let the other 8 continue on in the cursed waters. "And now, concerning my servants, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, let them come not again upon the waters, save it be upon the canal, while journeying unto their homes; or in other words they shall not come upon the waters to journey, save upon the canal. 24 Behold, I, the Lord, have appointed a way for the journeying of my saints; and behold, this is the way—that after they leave the canal they shall journey by land, inasmuch as they are commanded to journey and go up unto the land of Zion."
Multiple revelations to the church members to give Joseph Smith a break, as we've discussed often in Saints. When Joseph Smith was losing members in Kirtland due to his anti-bank failing or when the Zion's March failed because Joseph did not want to help the Missouri members after arriving, he received revelations scolding those who questioned Joseph's authority. We covered these in previous chapters in more detail.
Critics would argue that Joseph Smith never had a problem receiving revelation or claiming miracles when there was no one to prove otherwise and he was in control of the environment around him, but in the jail he had no ability to do so. If miracles were real, surely Joseph Smith would have been escorted out by the angels, or he could have struck the prisoners dumb as prophets of old had done.
Again, Joseph Smith's own revelations claimed that the church would build a temple in Missouri during his generation, yet that had failed. He told the church members that God would protect them, and yet as we've seen that did not happen. Critics of course believe that Joseph Smith is not a true prophet, and the fact that miracles ceased when he was out of safety is further proof that he was not a prophet of God.
Joseph Smith continued to be angry in the jail and "railed against Governor Boggs, the militia, and those who had harmed the Saints. “Let thine anger be kindled against our enemies,” he cried out to the Lord in prayer, “and, in the fury of thine heart, with thy sword avenge us of our wrongs!”"
Again, what happened to the church was unthinkable, but there was an escalation of violence that began from the moment Joseph and Sidney arrived in Missouri. These kinds of comments here from the prophet of the church are going to lead to the assassination attempt of Boggs just a few years later, with some later claiming it was ordered by Joseph himself.
“We have learned by sad experience,” Joseph said under inspiration, “that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”
Critics would argue that Joseph is speaking from experience in this quote. Since declaring himself prophet, Joseph Smith has asked members to sell their lands to pay for church debts, put their life savings in a failed bank that he oversaw, and has already engaged in one extramarital affair that he claimed was commanded by God against all evidence. Soon after this revelation, Joseph Smith will begin pressuring young women to marry him, take other faithful member's wives as his own for eternity, and declare himself the king of the world.
Joseph then receives a response from the Lord, declaring "Thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes." Saints continues: "The Savior reminded Joseph that the Saints could not suffer more than He had. He loved them and could end their pain, but He chose instead to suffer affliction with them, carrying their grief and sorrow as part of His atoning sacrifice. Such suffering filled Him with mercy, giving Him power to succor and refine all who turned to him in their trials. He urged Joseph to hold on and promised never to forsake him."
Soon after, Joseph "urged the Saints to compile an official record of the wrongs they had suffered in Missouri so they could deliver it to the president of the United States and other government officials for review. He believed it was the Saints’ duty to seek legal reparations for their losses."
The only reason we're pointing that paragraph out is because we have mentioned a few times how all of the details in these chapters are from the viewpoint of the church members. This paragraph amplifies the need to keep in mind that the writings of these members were written in part to highlight the sufferings for both the US government and their history. That's not to say members lied, but that when these stories are recorded, they are recounted with tunnel vision.
Joseph Smith asked for the trial to be moved to a more neutral location and was granted the request. They were assigned new guards who treated the prisoners much better, and the prisoners bought whiskey for the guards and once they were drunk, Joseph and the others escaped to Illinois.
The other story in this chapter is how Brigham Young, Wilford Woodruff, and other went back to Missouri to lay down a brick for the temple as Joseph Smith declared in revelation. They rolled the stone in place, sang some hymns, and rolled it back before leaving. While this chapter looks to make this a faith promoting story of how the apostles went back just to obey the revelation, the truth is that the revelation of a temple in Missouri during Joseph's generation never happened.
After escaping the guards, Joseph and the others return to Illinois where the church members have now settled in, concluding part three of Saints. Come back tomorrow for the beginning of part four.