This is a guest post by Michael Davidson, who is a friend of the Millennial Star and occasional contributor. He also blogs at davidson-law.net occasionally.
In October 1905, Matthias Foss Cowley and John Whitaker Taylor resigned from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles over their disagreement with the Church’s decision to abandon the practice of polygamy. As the Manifesto was issued in 1890, this was clearly a long time coming, and the historical record makes it clear that Cowley, at least, had persisted in solemnizing plural marriages through 1905 even though he had been instructed to cease the practice and lacked the authority to do so.
In my study this morning, I was reading the remarks made by the Pres. Joseph F. Smith in the October 1903 General Conference, as he was getting ready to present the General Authorities and General Officers of the Church for a sustaining vote. Elders Cowley and Taylor were among those to be sustained that day, two years before their resignations. I can’t help but wonder if Pres. Smith had these two men in mind when he said the following:
“The freedom of the Latter-day Saints has never been curtailed or lessened one whit by their becoming members of the Church of Christ. Rather has it been enlarged. There are no freer people upon the face of the earth today than the Latter-day Saints. They are bound to the Church by no ties or strings, but their own conviction of the truth. And whenever a man makes up his mind that he has had enough of what is called “Mormonism,” all he has to do is to make it known and we will sever the bond that unites him with the body, and let him go his own way, only bearing toward him the feeling of sympathy and of true brotherly kindness, and wishing him still the mercies of God. We will cry, Father, have mercy upon him, because he knows not what he is doing. For when a man denies the truth, when he departs from the right way, when he rejects the right of God to counsel in the affairs of men, he is either ignorant or wilfully wicked, and it only excites our pity for him. As the Savior cried upon the cross, so will we cry in the same spirit, Father, forgive him; have mercy upon him; for he knows not what he does. Therefore, we expect only those to vote at this time who are members of the Church in good standing; but all such we do expect to vote, according to their own free will, whether it be yea or nay.” (a PDF of this talk can be found here)
I found myself wondering about what must have been going through the minds of these two men sitting on the stand and listening to the President of the Church say these words. No doubt these men chafed under the direction given by the First Presidency on the matter of plural marriage and they clearly couldn’t be said to be one with the rest of the Quorum of the Twelve. I suspect that they felt that their freedom to do as they wished was very restricted and that perhaps unrighteous dominion was being exercised over them.
As I consider this, it occurs that not much has changed. There are some in the Church today that feel like it controls their lives, that feel constricted in their freedom. Many, too many, of these individuals cut themselves off from the Church, either in name or just in deed, and gleefully proclaim their newfound freedom. This exercise, by itself, merely indicates that they were never in bondage because they are always free to go. I feel to echo Pres. Smith’s thoughts in this, as my heart goes out to these people in ways that they would not accept, and likely would not understand.
But, it is true that there are consequences to actions and words and thoughts. Those that choose to take a path contrary to the doctrines of the Church; contrary to he warnings and admonitions of the prophets and apostles; will find themselves cutting themselves off from the blessings of the Church and the Gospel, irrespective of whether they are still on the earthly membership rolls of the Church.