While we have all joked and pondered regarding rapture and the end of the world over the past few weeks, I’ve also pondered on a similar event closer to home for me.
According to stories told me by my grandmother, my great-great uncle, C.C. Smith was a very religious blacksmith in Oklahoma. He always had his Bible sitting on his anvil as he worked. One day, the wind blew the Bible open and the scripture he read told him to go forth and preach the gospel. As my grandmother explained it, he asked “who me?”, the wind opened the Bible to another spot, and it said, “yeah, you.”
He organized a church with Walter White, named the Followers of Christ. The church moved to Idaho (now in Oregon), where my great-grandparents were followers of the Church. Walter White was a very powerful preacher and used the pulpit to promote his religion. He quickly wrested power from my g-g-uncle and others, and was known as the “Apostle.” Being in Idaho where there are many LDS, White preached often against Mormonism.
One day, he pronounced that the end of the world was coming, and gave the date in the early 1920s (which I do not recall what it was). The members of the church sold everything they had, excited to be among the few to be saved. My great-grandparents sold everything. They sold most of their possessions to White at a heavy discount, as they would no longer need any of it.
The date came and passed, with no apocalypse nor Second Coming. My g-grandmother Eleanor Jennie Southard died in 1925 of a broken heart. Her husband, Henry Edward Smith died in 1930. The Followers of Christ Church divided with White and many of the members moving to Oregon.
(note, this was what my grandmother told me. My aunt just told me that the end of the world was predicted to be in 1940. So the story may have some flaws, but still applies mostly, with White disappointing my g-grandparents on some other regard).
This tragedy didn’t end for my family. My grandfather remained aloof from the FoC for many years, due to how it impacted his parents. He married my grandmother, who was LDS, and attended with her for several years until he became disaffected to the LDS Church, at which time he returned to White’s Church. My grandparents separated and divorced, but briefly reconciled. My grandmother said they attended White’s church, where my uncle was forced to sit in the front pew with his FoC cousins holding him in place. Meanwhile, White told the young boy that he was a “filthy Mormon deacon” who would essentially rot in @#!*% . My grandmother asked my grandfather to do something about it, but he froze in his seat. White was powerful, and held the group spellbound with his @#!*% fire and damnation sermons. My grandmother arose, took my young uncle out of the church, and never went back to my grandfather. It would be decades before my uncle attended LDS services regularly. I have no doubt that such division also affected my own father, who spent much of his life as an alcoholic, just like his own father.
For LDS today, we do not have to fear one man controlling things as did Walter White or the pastor of the Family Radio program of today. With councils that provide checks and balances, we obtain carefully considered decisions that do not stray far from foundations. For instance, we understand that no one will know the time of the Second Coming, except for Heavenly Father (Matthew 24). Official doctrine goes through the First Presidency and Council of Twelve, and often through a sustaining vote of the membership of the Church, prior to becoming official doctrine. With a minimum of fifteen independent thinking men considering such concepts, each step is prayerfully and carefully arrived at.
That said, we can also have confidence in our prophets. For example, President Hinckley gave a discourse in General Conference in October 1998 about a looming economic downturn. He hoped it would not be like the Great Depression, but spoke in depth about the effects of the Depression. He quoted Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams of good and bad years. He told us to get out of debt, own a modest home, and prepare for difficult years ahead. Those who listened were prepared for the Great Recession of 2008, which we are still struggling through.
We see signs that the Brethren are preparing for the Second Coming: smaller temples to dot the land, area authority seventies, more autonomy for stake presidents, new CHI, etc. However, they (and we) do not know if it will happen tomorrow, next year, or in one hundred years. We just know we must be prepared for the day.
As a false prophet, Walter White destroyed many lives, including those of my great-grandparents. Thankfully we have true prophets and apostles that carefully deliberate and pray to seek God’s will concerning the LDS Church and the world.