Seeing with New Eyes

Northern rose window of Chartres cathedral. Photo circa 2009 by Eusebius (Guillaume Piolle)

On Saturday our stake hosted a fireside with Terryl and Fiona Givens, the authors of The God Who Weeps, The Crucible of Doubt, and The Christ Who Heals.

One of the delightful visual points they made was based on a recent trip to France. They had a picture they’d taken of one of the rose windows at Chartres cathedrale, showing glorious color. Then there was another picture of the same window, taken from the outside. While beautiful, it was void of color.

Northern rose window of Chartres cathedral

They suggested that if we have experienced the glory of spiritual conviction in the past but now find that spiritual conviction lacking, that perhaps it is not the Church that is different. Perhaps it is where we have positioned ourselves that has caused the change.

The Importance of Words

One of the points I so appreciated in the Givenses’ The Christ Who Heals was their demonstration that the loving, caring God of Restoration Christianity is the same God taught by the earliest Church fathers, the ones who had learned from those who had learned at the feet of Christ himself.

A challenge we have is that the words we use to describe the gospel are often the same words that were used by Catholic and Protestant Christians during the numerous hundreds of years during which Christianity rejected the idea of a loving, caring God. Traditional Christianity, as it is called, codified the idea that God was completely other, without physical form or “passion,” in other words, without any ability to interact with or care about mortals. Another crucial corruption was the idea that only a few could possibly be saved, despite constant scriptural assertions that God wishes to save all mankind.

These are the specific creeds it appears Joseph identified as abominations in the eyes of God.

In contrast to traditional Christianity, Restoration Christianity 1 glories in the hope that any individual can return to God, even those who die without any knowledge or action associated with belief in God. As Terryl Givens recounted telling a Jewish radio host in the wake of the uproar over “Mormons baptizing Holocaust victims,” we wish to have all mankind join us in a wedding feast with the Messiah. And so we are trying very hard to get the invitations to all, even knowing that some might ultimately refuse to attend.

In our words and deeds, do we in fact embrace all as fellow children of God, individuals we expect to reunite with in eternity with God? Are we willing to bear our fellows up? Do we mourn with those who are broken hearted? When we covenant to keep the commandments, do we realize that these loving and caring acts are among those commandments?

It has been delightful for me to see recent changes to vocabulary which move towards the ideal taught by Christ and reiterated by Joseph Smith and later Restoration Prophets. But we have a fair way to go, aside from the fact that over 90% of the world still hears traditional Christianity meanings when we say the words of God’s desire to save all mankind.

Understanding History

Other times it is not just that we misunderstand the words, it is that we don’t know pertinent history. While this was not discussed during the main fireside, follow-up discussion with the Givenses touched on the reasons behind the large loss of young members the Church of Jesus Christ has experienced in recent years.

I was reminded of John Hyde, who was baptized in 1848 in Middlesex, England, at age 15. John Hyde was filled with the fire of the Lord and was instrumental in converting many others. As a teenager, John went to France to join John Taylor in preaching the gospel.

John Hyde was too young to know what had happened in Nauvoo or why it was that Church leaders in England and France constantly preached against immorality and “polygamy”. Eager to unite himself to God’s work, John Hyde and his 11-year-old brother left Liverpool aboard The Jersey on February 5, 1853. They crossed the plains in the Joseph Young company that arrived in Utah on October 10, 1853. A month later John married Lavinia, a fellow convert from Middlesex.

John Hyde was distressed to find that “polygamy” was being practiced by the saints. He didn’t know about the difference between illicit intercourse/spiritual wifery and Celestial marriage. He kept his doubts to himself, but he was eager to learn all he could about the origins of this practice from English folk who had been in Nauvoo before Joseph Smith was killed. They told him stories, which a horrified John Hyde stored up on a shelf in his mind, unwilling to be parted from the glory of the gospel.

John Hyde didn’t know what had been written to Britons in the 1840s, 2 how they were prone to inappropriate intimacy, how they had to be warned to travel to Nauvoo together with their spouses, as inappropriate liaisons had occurred when individuals found themselves on the other side of the world without their legal spouse. The Millennial Star issues that contained that information were published before John Hyde joined the Church. It’s unlikely John Hyde ever read the journals from leaders such as Joseph Fielding and William Clayton that contained additional details. So John Hyde had no reason to be skeptical about the tales his fellow Britons told him suggesting that wanton behavior had been acceptable to the Church in Nauvoo.

In 1854 it was decided that the Church should go to additional isles of the sea. John Hyde, though barely twenty-one and newly married, was tapped to be President of the Sandwich Islands mission. A young Joseph F. Smith was one of the missionaries put in John Hyde’s care.

Once away from the Saints, however, John Hyde had a chance to bring his doubts off the shelf. Surrounded by the beauty of Hawaii’s shores, John Hyde decided the Church had betrayed him. John Hyde returned to California, where he attempted to proselytize Church members away from the Restored Gospel. John Hyde continued on to Salt Lake City, where he found his first-born son had died. John Hyde tried to convince Lavinia to leave Utah with him. 3 Though Lavinia loved John Hyde, she loved the Saints more.

John Hyde left Lavinia in Salt Lake City and continued on to New York. There he produced a book documenting his outrage, recounting the tales his fellow Britons had told him, filling chapter after chapter. John Hyde was authentically in anguish. But he did not document his sources in any useful fashion.

John Hyde certainly would have wished to reunite with Lavinia. Perhaps he sent her a copy of his published book in hopes of finally breaking her away from a religion he now despised. If he received any answer, it would have been the news that their second son had died.

John Hyde returned to England. Eventually he remarried, as Lavinia had done in Salt Lake. John Hyde died when he was only 42 years old, undoubtedly convinced the Church had betrayed him.

What does John Hyde have to do with the Restored Gospel?

In every other modern philosophy or religion, John Hyde would be judged solely according to his choices in life. In these other belief systems, he would have no chance after death to change his fate. 4

Only the Restored Gospel teaches that in the afterlife, each of us a will have a chance to interact with those we’d known in life, able to learn things we didn’t know in life. We mostly focus on the chance this gives those unacquainted with Christ to embrace the fulness of the gospel.

But it is also a time for those who felt betrayed to examine their mortal convictions in light of a more complete understanding. It is a time for them to see with new eyes and to be embraced by the love of the God who is their father (and the God who is their mother). It is a time for them to regret their mortal blindness and cast themselves on the mercy of that Savior who from all eternity stands ready to make us whole.

I look forward to a day when I may meet my loved ones beyond this life. And I hope my ancestor, John Taylor, will bring me to meet John Hyde. In that day, after this life, I expect to find that John Hyde has made his peace with all that occurred, a John Hyde who understands all that he so tragically misunderstood in life. I expect to find how our respective deceased infants are working to unite the family of mankind, with all their billions of fellow innocents. I expect to find a glory of unity, borne of repentance and forgiveness and love.

I look forward to the day when all of us and all our loved ones see with those new eyes, with a pure understanding of the love of God and that great good news that our Savior taught and made real so many years ago now.

Notes:

  1. My term.
  2. Letters printed in the Millennial Star prior to 1848 make it clear the English converts were unusually “familiar” outside of marriage, engaging in non-sexual co-sleeping (which occasionally produced a child), and individuals needing to be warned not to marry in America if they had a legal (and often believing) spouse in England
  3. I infer this from the fact that John engendered a second child with Lavinia following his time decrying the Church in California.
  4. Even in the case of belief in reincarnation, a subsequent incarnation is believed to be associated with choices in the prior incarnation. If there is a belief system I have incorrectly maligned in this statement, feel free to comment.
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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 may have privately defied the commandment for love of his wife, Emma.

12 thoughts on “Seeing with New Eyes

  1. Not only for those like John Hyde, who apparently acted from ignorance and who must regret the waste of opportunity to continue to gather the fruits of the Restored Gospel when the veils are removed from his eyes, but for all of us, I expect the revelation of truth as it stands and our own errors that kept us from joy in our mortal life will be the chief cause of sorrow after we die. I regard the regular opportunity to review our life and repent our errors that is offered by meditating on our recent thoughts and actions while partaking the sacrament as vital to seeing our individual ‘rose windows’ in all their color and glory.

  2. The value of an eternal perspective cannot be overstated. Thanks for this one, Meg!

  3. > John Hyde decided the Church had betrayed him

    Is there any question that Church leaders betrayed him, at least on one level? They claimed not to practice polygamy. They were, in fact, practicing polygamy.

    > a John Hyde who understands all that he so tragically misunderstood in life

    Seems like John Hyde came to understand the situation of polygamy with great clarity. Early Church leaders systematically taught that they were not practicing polygamy. They were, in fact, practicing polygamy. At least in this thing he was not mistaken, I think.

    See https://faenrandir.github.io/a_careful_examination/documents/polygamy/denials/denial_analysis.pdf and https://faenrandir.github.io/a_careful_examination/joseph-smith-polygamy-denials/

  4. Hi bwv549,

    There is indeed reason to believe John Hyde misunderstood. Like John, you are ignorant of pertinent factors (based on a quick review of the documents you have linked to). Obviously you are also ignorant of my research.

    I remain frustrated that the academics have effectively refused to debate my conjectures. When I’ve talked with noted historians (e.g., Claudia Bushman, Newell Bringhurst), they demur and assert they do not know enough to have an informed opinion regarding my conjectures.

    Please consider what I’ve written regarding Nauvoo’s illicit intercourse heresy. Also consider what I say about how Brigham created an artificial shortage of women by means of plural marriage, ensuring that no woman was forced into an abusive situation against her will.

    You can get a pdf of my book at reluctantpolygamist.com or at the link in my bio (visible if reading this post in a regular web browser (not a phone or tablet)).

    I assert that the history is not as simple as you (and the erstwhile John Hyde) suggest.

  5. To elaborate concisely, a generic term (e.g. polygamy for non-monogamous spousal configurations, abortion for termination of pregnancy) can be valid. But though generic, these terms have overtones.

    If a loved sister were pregnant and lost a wanted pregnancy, one would hardly be correct to post “She had an abortion” to Facebook. You would be technically right and socially wrong.

    Similarly, there is no contemporary support for the idea that Joseph sexually consummated the covenants into which he entered with women other than Emma Hale. DNA analysis consistently debunks belief that Joseph engendered children with these women. The explanations for why there are no children other than Emma’s children are not scientifically credible. All suggestions that Joseph had approved conjugal plural marriage (versus covenental plural marriage) arise after Joseph’s death (often many decades after Joseph’s death).

    Granted, Brigham made the clear and undisputed decision to permit and even promote instances of conjugal marriage between a man and multiple living women.

    Yet though this is technically “polygamy,” it was not the libidinous sexuality of which John Hyde writes, which John Hyde imputes to Joseph.

  6. Meg, thanks for that sound-bite summary. While your book finally untangled, at least for me, the three-way confusion (A- Bennet’s “spiritual wifery” sex ring. B- Joseph’s eternity-only sealings. C- Brigham’s full-on polygamy.), I didn’t have a blog-comment-sized recap.

    Your concise comments are now bookmarked for future reference.

    bwv, I second Meg’s recommendation to read her book. The three-way confusion goes all the way back to Nauvoo days; and the confusion encompassed, and continues to encompass members, non-members, supporters, critics, and the splinter groups (RLDS, Strangites, etc.)

    in her book, Meg plays detective as much as historian in unraveling the mutli-sided accusations and rejoinders of the various people in Nauvoo and later. When the historical “string” is untangled, and arranged, then you see the picture. That “untangled string” then “connects the dots” and makes a picture that, at least to me, satisfies the complicated questions and accusations.

    Meg’s picture is so complete and encompassing, that it even answers several other questions that even faithful historians have had no good answer for.

  7. I feel like Lehi, having found something precious and good, and I want so much to share it. But instead people insist on diving into filthy waters or they sit in vaunted towers, mocking rather than seeking to understand.

    My frustration, in part, is because I would like to glory in the insights others would bring to the landscape I see. I want to sit at their feet and be amazed, rather than remain frustrated that they are laboring under the same old, tawdry, insufficient explanations.

    When one understands the child-focused nature of the New and Everlasting Covenant, many modern questions similarly become resolved.

  8. So, Bookslinger,

    You write “Meg’s picture… answers several other questions….”

    Out of curiosity, what other questions are you referring to?

  9. Meg, I’ve forgotten some of them, but some that I remember:

    1. “Why the existence of, and so many, ‘eternity-only’ sealings?” you connected it to efforts to recover/heal the wounded souls from Bennet’s and others’ predations. And you illustrated, though you did not explicitly spell out, as far as I remember, that Joseph was just plain chicken in implementing the “full” polygamy program that he was ordered to do. Yes, he “did” plural marriage (eternity-only sealings) but not “fully” (Brigham style) as he was commanded.

    You were explicit in stating that Joseph procrastinated in implementing those portions of the plural marriage system that he did implement. My sound bite recap would be “he did too little, too late.”

    2. “Why was Brigham’s polygamy so different than Joseph’s?” Same answers. Brigham’s “full” (time plus eternity) plural marriage was the correct way. Joseph did too little too late. The plural marriage program under Brigham is what Joseph was supposed to have done all along. And Brigham almost certainly knew it even while Joseph was still living, having had it explained to him by Joseph himself.

    3. “Why did Brigham institute the policy of having the men who stood as proxy for sealing the deceased husband to a living widow then have to take that widow on as a plural wife for time-only?” I think you gave several reasons for that, but it was mainly to correct and prevent further misunderstandings and accusations that arose from the sex-ring/spiritual-wifery debacle and its conflation with sealings. The concepts of sealings, proxies, marriage for time versus eternity, were all new and nebulous to most members, and almost impossible for outsiders to understand. So the policy was likely/mainly to stave off further confusion, even if just for members, until people got up to speed on “the principle.”

    4. Another connect-the-dots your book does, without explicitly stating it is…
    Had Joseph implemented the “full program” when he was commanded, and been open about it, Bennet likely could not have had his secret sex ring going on. The sex ring and its participants, along with its conflation in the public mind with eternity-only sealings, was the main driver of public sentiment against the saints, and of the mob that killed Joseph and Hyrum.

  10. @Meg

    > Like John, you are ignorant of pertinent factors (based on a quick review of the documents you have linked to). Obviously you are also ignorant of my research.

    I skimmed/read one of the earlier additions of your book a couple years back, and I also sent a link of the pdf to a family member to read at that time. In the intervening time I have consulted a number of your blog posts and book chapters during my studies. I’m very familiar with your thesis and the majority of the data you use to support it.

    As you know, the polygamy data set is extremely messy, with layers upon layers of possible interpretation of events. I think your thesis has interesting explanatory power, especially for certain events, even if I haven’t adopted it in full. I do think your thesis is, generally, overly generous to Joseph and overly dismissive of everyone else. Your thesis seems to require Joseph to be standing in white garments untainted by the massive amount of smoke and ash produced by the swirl of polygamy around him, and it seems to require that we view massive numbers of early Saints and leaders as liars with Joseph as the lone truth-teller. Since the data is so messy and sparse, such a thesis can be supported (as you have done), but I simply think other hypotheses are more likely. To some extent our adoption of a particular hypothesis over a contradictory and data-poor data set is simply going to be conditioned on the background probabilities we bring to the topic (i.e., I’m happy to admit my naturalist bias which makes your thesis less probable to my mind).

    > I remain frustrated that the academics have effectively refused to debate my conjectures. When I’ve talked with noted historians (e.g., Claudia Bushman, Newell Bringhurst), they demur and assert they do not know enough to have an informed opinion regarding my conjectures.

    Which is a real shame. Your thesis is one highly useful way of viewing the data set, and I think it deserves generous scrutiny.

    > Please consider what I’ve written regarding Nauvoo’s illicit intercourse heresy. Also consider what I say about how Brigham created an artificial shortage of women by means of plural marriage, ensuring that no woman was forced into an abusive situation against her will.

    These must be in reference to John Hyde’s claims, which I’m not familiar with directly (which is why I buttressed my statement with my own personal research into Joseph Smith and other leaders’ polygamy denials). How would these even modulate my basic argument (i.e., they said they weren’t practicing polygamy, but they were)?

    > I assert that the history is not as simple as you (and the erstwhile John Hyde) suggest.

    Joseph Smith clearly had been practicing some kind of polygamy (whether “celestial” or carnal we can agree that it was something marriage-ish)? We agree here, correct? Other Church leaders were practicing some kind of polygamy? We agree here, too, right? But, as I’ve copiously documented with links to all the primary data, they clearly denied that they were doing this, right?

    If a friend says “I am not doing ‘A'”, but it turns out they are in fact doing some form of “A”, isn’t that deception grounds for feeling (legitimately) betrayed?

    Finally, I carefully researched everything I wrote in those two documents and stand by them unless/until you can demonstrate where my documents are in error. Nothing of your research that I’ve read suggests to me that I am in error (of course, I may still be missing something), even though you interpret some events differently.

  11. Hi bwv549,

    I am glad that you are somewhat familiar with my conjectures. And I am heartened that you think it would be useful if folks responded to (rather than suppress) my conjectures.

    Returning to the abortion term and my personal history, I had what is considered a spontaneous abortion (i.e., miscarriage) in October/November 2000. If someone where to go on social media and made a huge fuss about my “abortion,” you can imagine I would deny that I ever had an abortion. Because despite the validity of the “spontaneous abortion” term for what I experienced, it is categorically not true that I voluntarilly chose to terminate my pregnancy. Since I would know that 99% of the listening audience would infer elective abortion from any use of “abortion,” I would vehemently deny that I’d had an abortion, despite the technical correctness of the allegation.

    Similarly, contemporary accounts of Nauvoo do not use polygamy or spiritual wifery in reference to validated activities of Joseph Smith. The only reference I see indicating spiritual wives were anything other than illegal sex providers comes from a sermon Hyrum Smith gave in 1844, where he suggested his deceased wife was a spirit, and so in that sense he had a spirit wife. I view this etymological shift as unfortunate, as it initiated a wholesale reimagining of illicit intercourse and spiritual wifery activities during Joseph’s lifetime as being part of Celestial Marriage. John Hyde’s first chapter makes it clear that the British converts had liberally reimagined history to consider all the “multitude of sins” as part of the right and proper way plural marriage was introduced.

    Why plural marriage? Because it is impossible to unite the entire human family in bonds of covenant if you insist on every marriage of parents being eternally monogamous. Its a maths thing.

    Knowing how people are, I do suspect that Joseph was required to model in mortality the kind of non-monogamous marriage the Saints would sometimes be obligated to institute as they sealed their deceased loved ones together (and as they remarried after the death of a prior spouse).

    I do not accept that Brigham’s variant of plural marriage was necessarily the “right” way to do plural marriage. While I don’t think it was necesarily wrong, I do think it was a variant developed due to tactical threats that faced the Saints in the wake of Bennett’s illicit intercourse heresy. A significant indication of this that I have not fully explored is the large number of plural marriage sealings Brigham approved/officiated in the months between Joseph’s death and the beginning of ordinance work in the Nauvoo temple. Eighty women who had not been involved in sealings prior to Joseph’s death were sealed to men who were already married. It is my hypothesis that an evaluation of these women will uncover patterns that suggest involvement in the illicit intercourse heresy. In my mind, I am reminded of Dr. Snow’s statistical analysis of cholera deaths, which ultimately made it clear that water was the source of contagion. But this is research I have yet to do.

    At any rate, I will take time to more thoroughly read what you’ve put online. The initial glance suggested it was little more than a high level summary with underlying assumptions left unstated. The fact that you do not deign to connect your identity with these posts also leaves me a bit underwhelmed. Internet anonymnity allows folks to be careless much as masks allow folks to act like hooligans.

  12. Hi bwv549,

    Re-reading your comment, I was intrigued by this exchange:
    __________________
    Meg: Please consider what I’ve written regarding Nauvoo’s illicit intercourse heresy. Also consider what I say about how Brigham created an artificial shortage of women….

    bwv549: These must be in reference to John Hyde’s claims…
    __________________

    Did you miss what I say about Nauvoo’s illicit intercourse heresy? If you missed that (and the substantiating documentation which has largely been ignored by scholars), then you can’t really understand what I am saying.

    When one ignores the illicit intercourse heresy, then it is impossible to find Joseph honorable in light of the strum und drang regarding “polygamy.”

    But when one fully considers the illicit intercourse heresy, then it is obvious that Joseph was attempting to save his people from corruption, even if one is completely unwilling to include God in the equation.

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