Of Apostates and History

imageNearly 170 years ago those who believed in the Church of Jesus Christ were directed to evacuate Nauvoo, their City Beautiful. Their two leaders, Joseph and Hyrum Smith, had been killed while in the protection of the state militia. The state had removed legal protections by revoking the Nauvoo City Charter, and the surrounding community had burned Mormon homes and killed Mormon adherents.

In the ceremony held this past Saturday to commemorate the flight of the Saints from Nauvoo, starting February 4, 1846, this failure of the United States to protect the rights of her citizens was discussed. But we also spoke of how we now enjoy full rights and protection before the law. And in this vein, we pledged allegiance to the flag of that government which has sustained us in our freedoms.

This month there has been a bit of fuss over some dissidents. Are they brave? Are they not?

Here is my question. Can you remember the dissidents of yesteryear?

Can you remember the names and stories of the folks who betrayed Joseph Smith to his death (unsuccessfully in Missouri, successfully in Illinois)? [No fair googling my blog posts if you can’t quite bring these names to mind.]

We now live in a day when we are not being killed. Our homes are not being burned. Our leaders are not being taken into custody and killed.

If you cannot remember the names of the apostates who wanted Joseph Smith dead in a time when the Saints were threatened with death, why would any of you imagine the names of apostates who run tattling to world newspapers would be remembered by popular history?

Non Sequitur

I don’t know why I felt it was so important to get to Nauvoo this past weekend. Certainly the chance to participate in the Untold Stories Symposium was fun. But I felt there was more than just that prompting me to travel to Illinois.

Two possibilities present themselves.

On Saturday we went to the temple. I had the chance to perform the proxy ordinances for Caroline Spearspoint, born near London circa 1880. Afterwards I began chatting with one of the lovely ladies serving in the temple. As I began telling her about my research into what had been happening in Nauvoo, her face lit up.

“Are you the woman who was in that article in Meridian Magazine? I read the first part, but I’m busy with the work here and never saw the second part.”

We spoke more, and I shared with her in that venue things I haven’t (and likely won’t) share on the internet. I can imagine God sending me a thousand miles to help a good sister know things her temple service time commitment had prevented her from following up on. Her heart was eased, and it seems as though she will now be able in turn to ease the hearts of others who have expressed their concerns.

Saturday evening we stopped by in hopes of visiting with a former ward member who now lives in Nauvoo. Her husband is often away from home, and she is therefore alone as so many of the women were in the 1840s, caring for her children, often (in the winter) unable to leave home because someone has a fever. English is not her first language, and the friends she has made in the city, in the shadow of the temple, are content to keep their distance during this time of family illness. As we spoke to her, she related that it had been six weeks since she’d had a chance to interact with other adults.

We talked about the gerbils we bought from them when they moved away from DC, accepted the delightful hand-made paper puppets her young daughter made, marveled at how tall her sons had grown, and waved across the room to her youngest, who is the one currently down with a high fever.

We finally bid our farewells, glad to have had a chance to spend time with this sister who we love, who had been so lonely for the past many weeks.

My God is a God of such miracles. They are the light touches of sweetness that help us know that we are loved, both by God Himself and by our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

I am sorry that certain modern folks have decided to set themselves against the Church. I hope they, like William W. Phelps and Orson Hyde will realize their error and return. But even if they spend the rest of their lives kicking against the pricks, I can still hope that at some future time they will humble themselves and embrace that God and truth they are currently so eager to damn in the eyes of the world.

In the meantime, I and mine will enjoy the sweet moments that come from our participation in the life of the Gospel.

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About Meg Stout

Meg Stout has been an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ (of Latter-day Saints) for decades. She lives in the DC area with her husband, Bryan, and several daughters. She is an engineer by vocation and a writer by avocation. Meg is the author of Reluctant Polygamist, laying out the possibility that Joseph taught the acceptability of plural marriage but that Emma was right to assert she had been Joseph's only true wife.

28 thoughts on “Of Apostates and History

  1. Good point Meg. The names of our current apostates will not be remembered long. The Godbeites were a big deal for a few years in the 19th century, and now very few people know who they were. The same thing will happen to the current crowd.

  2. The danger Geoff is that, like the Godbeites, their influence can last much longer than people’s memory of the individuals.

  3. It is wonderful how small miracles happen more often when we have the sensitivity to recognize them. You were literally an angel to those women. Your picture of the Nauvoo temple is lovely. I assume it must be yours instead of photo stock because it is a little tilted from vertical. ; )

  4. Geoff, The Godbeites influence has continued? No more than Korihor nor Judas nor the scribes or Pharisees. Excuse my banality but evil is banal.

  5. Bizarre things can happen. Imagine a world where Godbeites begin publishing a troublesome nuisance dissident newspaper, and it evolves into the Salt Lake Tribune!

  6. Lovely post, Meg, as usual.

    The things you write affirm my testimony very much. I appreciate your message of hope of some future reconciliation, as I struggle with my own feelings of anger and betrayal given a long history with the current apostate du jour. You give me a fine example to follow.

    In any case, I am deeply grateful for the work of the contributors to this site.

  7. I certainly remember the names of Margaret Toscano, Sonia Johnson, John Riess, John Dehlin, Kate Kelly, Denver Snuffer, Rock Waterman and the September Six. Does that count?

  8. alice, I was going to name them too, but all those names lost their power the moment they were ex-communicated. Even Kate Kelly’s name dropped from the newspaper’s support soon as she was no longer a member. They are now no more than an asterix, and John Dehlin will too eventually.

  9. The history of the Godbeites is quite interesting. As Jim noted the Salt Lake Tribune comes out of that and they pester the church for decades after the Godbeite movement proper ends. Also the types of spiritualism that the Godbeite movement brought into Utah unfortunately become part of the folklore of the state and I think leads to constant emergence of various apostate ideas.

    The book Wayward Saints is well worth reading for the history. It’s very interesting how complex Brigham’s relationship was given the stereotypes about Young. Sometimes he actually lets them use meeting houses whereas at other times he’s much stricter. I think if nothing else it’s interesting reading about this movement to compare and contrast with events of the last 20 years.

  10. Hi Alice,

    Those you mention were not plotting to kill the prophet in 1837-1844.

    Of course they “count” in general, but don’t meet the criteria I had stipulated.

  11. Meg, Your ego is unbecoming. If you married a man and then a year later learned he had 2 children living with his parents you might ask “why didn’t you tell me”, His truthful reply could easily be “I was afraid you wouldn’t marry me.” Many Apostates of today are simply angered that they have devoted there lives to a marraige to Christ that had illegitimate children hidden in the closet. I sympathize with them only because for years when I asked legitimate questions about the gospel, church history problems, polygamy, Adam-God, Book of Mormon Problems etc. I was met with silence.
    Their are two ways you can strip others of their free agency. Force and deceit. Deceit usually comes in the form of lies or omissions. The church is guilty of Omissions and taking years of service from people who would not

  12. Meg, Your ego is unbecoming. If you married a man and then a year later learned he had 2 children living with his parents you might ask “why didn’t you tell me”, His truthful reply could easily be “I was afraid you wouldn’t marry me.” Many Apostates of today are simply angered that they have devoted there lives to a marraige to Christ that had illegitimate children hidden in the closet. I sympathize with them only because for years when I asked legitimate questions about the gospel, church history problems, polygamy, Adam-God, Book of Mormon Problems etc. I was met with silence.
    Their are two ways you can strip others of their free agency. Force and deceit. Deceit usually comes in the form of lies or omissions. The church is guilty of many deliberate omissions and taking years of service from people who believe they would not have joined had they prayed about the real version of LDS history, instead of a sanitized version. Can you blame them.

  13. Dear Farren,

    Read my Faithful Joseph series. Be around me at any time. I am one who talks about Joseph and polygamy in the temple, on the bus, in church, and just about anywhere people don’t actively tell me to shut up about it.

    There is a reason this history regarding polygamy isn’t known. It is because Joseph and Emma didn’t want those they loved, the dozens and dozens of those they loved who had become involved in sin, to live their lives as known seducers and sluts. Those who didn’t care about Joseph and Emma together (which includes both the main Churches that survived Joseph’s death as well as all who hated the new Churches) had no incentive to really dig into the history and find out what the data really says.

    There are many ways to strip individuals of free agency. You cite the deceit of omitting fact. But there is also the lie of providing facts out of context.

    For example, John Taylor was provided food by the Indians during the terrible winter of 1847/48, in gratitude for his action in performing a faith healing of the Chief’s son. When the food ran out, and John went back for more, he learned what the food was: ground up crickets.

    In the actual version of the history, John made a decision to not share his knowledge with the others at the Old Fort. He, knowing that this knowledge caused him to be unable to stomach the stuff, decided that he wouldn’t risk having the pregnant women and children similarly reject the protein-rich food.

    We could distort the history, and claim that the supposedly honorable John Taylor deceived his followers, feeding them weeds and bugs rather than “wholesome” food. We’d have a tissue of truth to support us – certainly sego lily bulbs, thistle root, and Mormon crickets aren’t the kind of food I’d pay money to dine on today. But to claim that John had an alternative if he wished his people to live would be disingenuous.

    Similarly, modern Mormons, many of them, don’t seriously engage their past. However many modern apostates don’t seriously engage the past either. I recently popped over to exmormon.org to ask the folks there to examine my thoughts about Joseph. Their response was very similar to the uniformed response you are attributing to faithful Saints, in that they didn’t bother actually studying my reasons, flung patently untrue versions of the stories at me, claimed I was completely uncredible and should just shut up, and then shut down the thread.

    If God confirms to an individual that this is the true Church, then it is the true Church. You arrogate to yourself and your tribe the right to determine “the real version of LDS history.” I say that such people, who paint Joseph as evil and Emma as deceived, are a mixture of underinformed and malicious (more precise than to call them stupid and evil, which are the words which you would see me write if my sweet husband didn’t hold me to a higher standard of communication). It is impossible to take in the full historical record and not find an honorable Joseph. Emma hid her involvement much more fully, so it does take a bit more to find how supportive she was of Joseph. But that reading of events is completely legitimate, even if not yet the consensus.

    By the way, I do thank you for posting a full name. It’s not terribly easy to have dialogue with people when they call themselves “anon” and post using a patently incorrect e-mail address.

  14. Hi Farren,
    Meg and I do sympathize with the desire for honest discussion of LDS history, faults along with the good. On our drive to and from Nauvoo last week we read some of a history book of 1980s vintage, I believe. While reading about the Missouri persecutions and the exodus to Illinois, we agreed that we appreciated the many details included that we did not know, but wished it had mentioned problems on the LDS side.
    While we have a firm conviction of the restored gospel and the divine work in its history, we know that human weaknesses also frequently appear, and we don’t want people to be ignorant of that, and thereby set themselves up for a feeling of disillusionment or betrayal through unrealistic expectations.

  15. Hi Farren,

    I am sorry that you feel betrayed. May I share a few thoughts to keep in mind when going through church history. Just about every major religious movement has embarrasing events in its past. Look up the origins of the Southern Baptist Convention. Read the history of the Catholic Church or the various Protestant movements in Europe and the history of Islam through the ages. They all have their bloody and or embarassing bagage. Frankly I would never want to trade their history for ours. Nevertheless, each of these faiths offer their adherants and the world something of value. If these faiths did not exist we would all be the poorer for it.

    One last thing, it could easily be argued that the greatest atrocities of mankind were commited by atheistic regimes ie the Stalinist Soviet Union and Communist China (see the Cultural Revolution). Also read up on Pol Pot in Cambodia and Kim Ilsung of Korea. If you happend to be an Atheist now, just remember that you do share some philisophical beliefs with the guys mentioned here, so I would not recommend condemning Christians for sins of other Christians in the past.

    I wish you the best and hope that you find peace.I would lovingly suggest that you let go some of your bitterness, no matter what your relationship to the church. You will be happier if you.

  16. rk,
    I think the argument that we should not worry about the skeletons in the closet of the Church of Jesus Christ because Baptists and Catholics have skeletons too is nonsense. This is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Likewise, saying that atheists treated people worse is irrelevant. God’s standard is perfection, not being better than Stalin.

    I empathize with Farren. I never felt betrayed, exactly. But I now know that knowledgeable people lied to me when I asked questions as a teenager. I probed enough to learn answers in my own time. I realized as well that those who lied to me probably thought they were doing what was right. However, they were not doing the right thing. I needed to know. I would have avoided some late night crises if they had just answered my questions as truthfully as they could.

    That said, we have to realize that Heavenly Father is working with imperfect people. They make mistakes and sometimes hurt others unintentionally. I hope we can forgive and learn from those errors. Unfortunately, it seems that the learning can take a long while.

  17. DD,

    I did not say that we should not worry about the skeletons in the closet, it is just useful to keep some perspective precisly because people are imperfect as you said. I only mention atheism because it is itself a religious belief and a worldview. I guess I just have become very tired of self righeous telling me that religion is the root of all evil in the world and because of this they, as atheists are morally superior.

    I feel bad that you we not given the best answers to you questions. I was blessed to have a very good seminary teacher that was an well-studied scriptorian and skilled amatuer apologist for the church. He put a lot of time and study into countering anti-Mormon attacks and he did a good job at slipping what he knew in his lessons without detracting from gospel fundamentals. I knew that I could ask him any question and he would answer me the best he could. It is to bad you didn’t have anyone like this in your life at that time.

  18. I grew up in the fifties and sixties aware that Joseph Smith had multiple wives, was sealed to married women etc. This isn’t a recovered memory.

    I went to Sunday School and Seminary and the foundations portrayed were always a bit hagiographic but I was also aware (just read the Doctrine and Covenants) that these men of the Restoration were not perfect including Joseph Smith. I knew a lot about the Mountain Meadow Massacre and it all squared with the church’s most recent statements. I didn’t have any pipeline to heaven to know this. It was all known and discussed.

    But the thing Joseph Smith did was way bigger than he was. It was bigger than any man could be. We have rightly extolled the Restoration and also rightly have largely ignored the flaws of the agent of the Restoration.

    Truth be told I can read the New Testament and impute some ugliness to Jesus. Apparently the Scribes and Pharisees didn’t have any problems with imputing ugliness either. But Jesus was crucified (which he said was voluntary) and was resurrected three days later (proving that indeed it was voluntary). Paul states that there were over 500 witnesses. I am not surprised given the lightning growth of Christianity. His resurrection is an utter and total witness of the reality of His promises so anything in the record that rubs me the wrong way is entirely ignorable.

    Joseph Smith also had witnesses. They were many. Many gave their lives for the cause of the Restoration. When I weigh their testimony in blood against the flaws of Joseph Smith I am humbled into submission.

  19. rk,
    I also get sick of people telling me that religion is the source of all evil. However, I did not sense any of that from Farren. Perhaps, I did not read between the lines enough.

    I find your experiences in seminary very interesting. I think a large part of the problem in discussions like these is that we all have different experiences within the Church. Some of us had positive, honest experiences at Church. Others had a variety of negative experiences. Some are worse than others. My experiences were not nearly as bad as some that others have recounted to me. I am not sure how to make the experiences more uniformly positive.

  20. DD wrote:

    “I am not sure how to make the experiences more uniformly positive.”

    But here we do have an answer. Pray always, seek the spirit, love one another, study the scriptures, worship The Lord your God, Honor the sabbath, and seek learning, even by faith.

    As we come to know how to think and how to receive guidance from God, He will make our experiences to be for our good. That doesn’t mean terrible things won’t happen, but it will be for our good and will give us experience.

  21. Meg,
    Your suggestions are wonderful, but if all problems were meant to be solved individually then the Church organization is superfluous. Somehow, we as a Church family need to help our brothers and sisters deal with the doubts and concerns. I believe opportunities for helping are greater now than they were 20 years ago. I have hope they will be better in the future, but we are not there yet. I also do not think that progress will be made unless a conscious choice is made to make the situation better.

  22. Recovering those who let go of an “iron rod” fraught with manifest human shortcomings

    I was once charged with raising a colt
    When it was about 1 year old, we moved to way out in the county.
    I took one look at the corral the owner had made out of tree branches and thought “this isn’t going to work!”
    So I got the halter and took the horse to the most inviting pasture nearby where we both passed a very pleasant afternoon .
    The next morning the owner awoke, looked at the corral and cried. “The Horse is Gone.”
    Of coarse, with my input, we found him right away… and in due time we were able to effectively reinforce the corral .

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