WWJSHDHHL (What would Joseph Smith have done had he lived?)

Really, it doesn’t matter.

I see too many, usually of the progressive stripe, constantly trying to determine what Joseph Smith intended to do, where he would have gone – ordain women, have a different church structure, whatever.

This is pointless, really (and I’ll use C.S. Lewis to show how).

Before Lewis, though, I will quote Benson.

Ezra Taft Benson stated:

But it is the living prophet who really upsets the world. “Even in the Church,” said President Kimball, “many are prone to garnish the sepulchres of yesterday’s prophets and mentally stone the living ones.” (Instructor, 95:257.)

Why? Because the living prophet gets at what we need to know now, and the world prefers that prophets either be dead or worry about their own affairs. …

How we respond to the words of a living prophet when he tells us what we need to know, but would rather not hear, is a test of our faithfulness. …

The learned may feel the prophet is only inspired when he agrees with them, otherwise the prophet is just giving his opinion.

This constant speculation reminds me of a passage from C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce.  Here, a soul from Hell that gets a chance to stay in Heaven opts to return to Hell instead:

“Bless my soul, I’d nearly forgotten. Of course I can’t come with you. I have to be back next Friday to read a paper. We have a little Theological Society down there. Oh yes! there is plenty of intellectual life. . . I feel I can do a great work among them. But you’ve never asked me what my paper is about! I’m taking the text about growing up to the measure of the stature of Christ and working out an idea which I feel sure you’ll be interested in. I’m going to point out how people always forget that Jesus . . .  was a comparatively young man when he died. He would have outgrown some of his earlier views, you know, if he’d lived. As he might have done, with a little more tact and patience. I am going to ask my audience to consider what his mature views would have been. A profoundly interesting question. What a different Christianity we might have had if only the Founder had reached his full stature! I shall end up by pointing out how this deepens the significance of the Crucifixion. One feels for the first time what a disaster it was: what a tragic waste … so much promise cut short. Oh, must you be going? Well, so must I. Goodbye, my dear boy. It has been a great pleasure. Most stimulating and provocative. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye.”

Now, just change a few words (at the risk of falling into the trap where anti-Mormons claim we worship Smith over Christ!):

Joseph Smith was a comparatively young man when he died. He would have outgrown some of his earlier views, you know, if he’d lived. As he might have done, with a little more tact and patience. I am going to ask my audience to consider what his mature views would have been. A profoundly interesting question. What a different Mormonism we might have had if only the Founder had reached his full stature! I shall end up by pointing out how this deepens the significance of the Martyrdom. One feels for the first time what a disaster it was: what a tragic waste … so much promise cut short.

As I usually do, I will leave the readers to draw their own conclusions what relevance this has for several current and recent debates in the Bloggernacle and elsewhere.

[I think I will try and hold off quoting C.S. Lewis in my next few posts, lest people think I’m just a Lewis quote machine].

 

This entry was posted in Any, General, Gospel Principles, Joseph Smith by Ivan Wolfe. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ivan Wolfe

Ivan Wolfe teaches rhetoric at Arizona State University. He has a PhD in English from the University of Texas - Austin, and a BA and MA in English (with minors in Classical Greek, Music, and Philosophy) from BYU. He has several credits on various Christmas albums aimed at the LDS market, several essays in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy series, and various book reviews in academic and popular venues. He also competes in Scottish Highland Games and mud run/obstacle course races, and he can deadlit over double his bodyweight (his last PR was over 500 pounds). He is currently married to Lisa Renee Wolfe. He has six kids and four stepkids.

12 thoughts on “WWJSHDHHL (What would Joseph Smith have done had he lived?)

  1. I’ll always remember a man I taught as a missionary who was proudly telling us about a religious academic convention of some sort that he’d been to the previous weekend. The main question of study/debate over the weekend was “Why did Christ have to die?” because, in his words, “it obviously wasn’t for our sins” (from what I could tell, this group didn’t really believe there was such a thing as sin).

    I asked what answer they came up with. He said they didn’t really come up with one.

  2. “[I think I will try and hold off quoting C.S. Lewis in my next few posts, lest people think I’m just a Lewis quote machine].”

    You say that like it’s a bad thing.

  3. I like your first statement. It doesn’t matter if Joseph would have lived. The error the progressives make that it wasn’t Joseph making the decisions. Joseph was the prophet receiving direction from the Lord. So, the Lord would have still done what he did over the course of the years, no matter who the prophet was.

  4. We could always have some fun with our progressively-minded brethren by simply saying “Why, yes, it appears Joseph was about to ordain women. That must be why the Lord took him when He did . . .” Then offer a knowing, indulgent, condescending smile; and walk away.

    Heaven knows, I’ve heard enough liberals darkly suggest that Joseph’s Nauvoo-era innovations (polygamy, etc) were precisely why he needed to die. I say turnabout is fair play.

  5. I think a case could be made (along the lines of Meg’s polygamy series) that the Lord “killed off” (ie, allowed to be killed) Joseph because Joseph was procrastinating the full implementation (cohabiting and progeny, not just “eternity-only sealings”) of polygamy. Whereas Brigham implemented the full program.

    In other words, from a certain viewpoint, the Lord chose Brigham _over_ Joseph. A scriptural parallel might be Moses not being allowed to enter the Promised Land because he -struck- the rock at Meribah instead of speaking to it. Yeah, they both got their promised exaltation, but they didn’t get to stick around for the big move into the promised land.

    And man…. If the Lord doesn’t spare his prophets from chastening and consequences, …. I need to get my house in much better order.

    There’s another parallel to scripture. The Lord told people to do what the scribes and pharisees said because they sat in Moses’ seat (until the Mosaic Law was fulfilled.) Brigham sat in Joseph’s seat. President Monson sits in that seat today.

  6. Well I think the only issue with respect to the: “What would Joseph have done?” question is where the initial Restoration got it right (revelation received) and those that followed reversed course (for whatever reason). Blacks and the priesthood and the role of women seem to fall squarely into this category.

    The Church’s policy on blacks and the priesthood flipped fairly quickly, by the end of President Young’s time in office the ban was firmly in place, while the role of women acting in ordinances (particularly in the temple, but also in blessings) was slowly (and occasionally quickly, such as when President Young disbanded the Relief Society) constricted over time up until very recently. Within the last decade or two the role of women in Church governance has begun to expand (particularly see the current mission governance structure and the expanded role of ward and stake councils). Revelation to current prophets has been pulling the Church back towards where it was when it started, but it seems that a lot of opportunity was likely lost. Luckily we (nor apparently the Church) are not judged against perfection but rather on how well we did within the circumstances we were in – given the knowledge and direction we received.

    I think it will very interesting to view the history of the Church from an eternal perspective once the full Millennium is over. until then there is simply a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty which we are stuck with.

  7. Perhaps the real question is what would God have done had he not died.

    Oh, wait, God is not dead…

  8. Joyce brings up an interesting question: are president’s of the church interchangeable? Would the same revelations come forth with any president?

    If this is so, then the nature of revelation is such that God approaches prophets with revelations.

    If the nature of revelation is that God only answers the questions that prophets ask, then presidents are not interchangeable.

  9. YG, according to scripture (OT, NT, BoM, D&C) revelation works both ways. Some times the prophets inquire of the Lord, and sometimes the Lord/Holy Ghost come knocking and say “Hey, listen up…”.

    Modern prophets teach us at Gen Conf and in the Ensign that our own personal revelations and answers to prayer work the same way.

  10. Why did Joseph have to die? He didn’t. He had been inspired to leave and go west, with Hyrum. He told the saints the mobs would leave them alone if he left. However, many saints wrote a letter calling him a coward for leaving. They didn’t have faith that what he said was true.

    In other words, the faithless caused the death of Joseph Smith. And they’re still trying kill the prophets (figuratively), today.

    What would Joseph do? God’s will. Just like Thomas S. Monson and every prophet between the two.

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