Testimonies in Nauvoo High Council Cases (May 1842)

Screenshot of Testimonies given to the Nauvoo High Council in May 1842 1

On 19 May 1842, President Emma Smith told the Nauvoo Female Relief Society that “now it is necessary that sin should be expos’d— that heinous sins were among us—”.

On May 21 the first of several individuals came forward to testify before the Nauvoo High Council regarding sins they either suspected or could confess to.

Brian Hales sent me a copy of a portion of these testimonies in 2014. Ironically, he has since asserted that he never looked at that pdf, suggesting that perhaps the pdf had been created from Dr. Val Avery’s notes by Don Bradley. While I had a theory leading into my 2013-2014 Faithful Joseph series of blog posts, it was the copy of these statements that confirmed the truth was even more sobering than I had speculated.

In 2018 I visited Utah State University, where Dr. Val Avery’s notes are housed. My visit was inspired by two purposes. First, I had reason to suspect that the pdf I’d been sent did not include all the pages. Second, I was looking forward to talking with the USU archivist, to ensure he was aware of my research and plans.

Unfortunately, I talked enough about my research and its implications that the USU archivist became very nervous. He strongly suggested I obtain permission to use the notes directly from the Church Archives. He was concerned that my research (which some find controversial) could prompt the Church to remove sensitive documents from the USU archives.

During the summer of 2016 I had attended the Mormon History Association. During that encounter, Elder Steven Snow had given me his business card. So I e-mailed Elder Snow directly. I praised Saints, the initial chapters of which were beginning to be published. Then I explained my concern about the Nauvoo Statements before the High Council.

Up until now these statements have been protected from publication, which is appropriate for documents related to Church Disciplinary Courts. Unfortunately, theories regarding Nauvoo have abounded, with the illicit intercourse activity neatly suppressed.

I did not hear from Elder Snow himself, but I did receive an e-mail from Keith Erekson. He assured me that these important documents were in the queue to be digitized and published on the Church History website. Though he could not promise when they would be available, he assured me that they should be available online by the time the Joseph Smith Papers Project reached 1842, which it did this year.

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  1. Testimonies in Nauvoo High Council cases , https://catalog.churchofjesuschrist.org/assets?id=aa99b602-c7ef-412a-991e-8ac468eb438a&crate=0&index=0 (accessed: July 31, 2019)

The Serenity Prayer

Serenity Prayer Medallion, photo by Jerry “Woody”

On the All Hallows Eve of 1932, Winnifred Wygal’s 1 diary contained the first record describing the Serenity Prayer:

R.N. [Reinhold Niebuhr] says that ‘moral will plus imagination are the two elements of which faith is compounded.’ ‘The victorious man in the day of crisis is the man who has the serenity to accept what he cannot help and the courage to change what must be altered.’

Wygal, October 31, 1932

That Which We Cannot Change

Many things can be changed, but the wisdom is determining if you are the one able to make the thing change.

Some of the most tragic episodes involve people trying desperately to change something they do not have the power to change.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt contracted polio. Thereafter he was unable to walk. But for a period of time shortly after his disability, his loved ones tried to help him regain his lost abilities. The hopeful treatments involved excruciating massage and constant anger and disappointment. Eventually the doctors were able to convince loved ones that there was nothing that could bring back FDR’s ability to walk. The pain and anger ceased, and constructive means of overcoming the limitations of the disability were developed.

Similarly, there was a time when people earnestly believed it was possible to change an individual’s sexual orientation. The hopeful treatments involved excruciating pain and constant anger and disappointment. Eventually doctors and others accepted that some conditions cannot be changed. The membership of the Church, for instance, is in the midst of shifting to a place where pain and anger can cease, where we as a people can develop constructive means to minister to those few dealing with this issue in their own lives.

Kate Kelly earnestly believed that God wished to immediately transform the Church into an organization where every position and privilege was open to individuals of any gender. She poured her soul into shaming the Church into asking God. But this change was not something Kate, of herself, could make. Like individuals from the 1830s, she presumed she could “command him who is at thy head, and at the head of the church.” 2

The Courage the Change What We Can [for good]

I remember pouring out my soul to God on behalf of my son, who had a serious heart defect. But ultimately my son died. At that point the healing I had so desired on his behalf was no longer possible. What was required was the courage to embrace a life without my son.

Unfortunately, my extended family had lived through what can happen when an infant dies suddenly. Knowing the bad that can happen, they rallied around me with love, ensuring that I got the rest I needed in those early days after my son’s passing. Where the family member who suffered a child’s death had gone through excruciating months of despair, I was able to rally relatively quickly. In the weeks after the child’s death, my family member had been in the hospital under heavy medication. I, on the other hand, was back at work.

In 1939 the British government knew that Britons would be faced with horrific realities arising from war with Germany. While America rationed and sent many of her children into war zones, British citizens faced bombing and blockades. In the face of these horrors, Britons were encouraged to remain courageous. Three posters were designed to hearten Britons in the face of these terrors. They said:

Freedom is in Peril. Defend It with All Your Might.

Your Courage, Your Cheerfulness, Your Resolution Will Bring Us Victory.

and most familiar to modern ears,

Keep Calm and Carry On.

1939-era Ministry of Information poster discovered at Barter Books in 2000
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  1. Ms. Wygal’s obituary characterized her as “retired secretary for religious resources of the community division of the National Board of the Young Women’s Christian Association.” Wygal had done postgraduate work under the guidance of noted theologian Reinhold Niebuhr while at Harvard.
  2. D&C 28:6

Standing with Paul on Mars Hill

This week in Come Follow Me we get to read Acts 17.  This chapter starts out with Paul and Silas making their way through Macedonia and Thrace, spreading the gospel and teaching the Saints.  After Paul escapes the angry mob in Thessaloniki, he ends up in Athens, a city, “wholly given over to idolatry”.  He goes to the Aeropagus, or Mars Hill, which is a place where people congregate to gossip and debate. While there he preaches the gospel. Continue reading