Sunday, July 15, 2018
101 Reasons Why I Believe Joseph Smith was a Prophet.
This morning in my personal study time before Church I made what has to be one of the most remarkable spiritual discoveries in my almost seventy-five years of mortality. I am presently working on two projects. First, I have been making a study of prayer. At the moment I am studying the prayers in the Old Testament. Second, I am embarking upon what looks to be an intensive and long, perhaps three or more years long study of 3 Nephi. This morning the two projects converged.
As I worked on 3 Nephi 1:11-12, I decided to examine the idea of “mighty prayer” suggested by the statement in verse 12 that Nephi “cried mightily unto the Lord, all that day.” I brought up my trusty Bible search software WordCruncher and typed “mighty prayer” in the search line and hit enter. To my great surprise and shock, the phrase does not appear in the KJV of the Holy Bible! Really? If, I would have asked you how many times you thought the phrase “mighty prayer” existed in the Bible, my guess is that your response would be something like mine and that of my wife–“Oh, maybe a half dozen times.” But no. It isn’t in there at all. Astonishing!
Almost nothing in the Bible:
So I tried other phrases. “Pray mightily.” Nothing. “Prayed mightily.” Nothing. “Cried mightily” is in Revelation 18:2, but not in reference to prayer. “Cry mightily unto the Lord.” Same result “Cry mightily unto God” shows up one time, in Jonah 3:8. This comes from the king of Nineveh when his people accepted Jonah’s warning, and the king said, “But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands.” So the Bible is not without the concept, but it is hardly prominent. Many of the commentaries I checked for this verse said nothing about “cry mightily unto God.” Most were concerned with the syntax of the verse and sought to make it clear that the king was not advocating that the beasts were crying mightily unto God. Thus, there is only one peaked reference in the Bible to this potent idea.
When I turned to the Internet I was confident that some preacher or minister or some other Bible believing soul would have given a sermon or written a blog about mighty prayer. But almost nothing here either! Moreover, anything I could find, did not use a Biblical passage as a text upon which to build the idea. Can you believe it? It is probably because the concept is not prominent in the Bible.Is it possible this is a new religious idea? I really doubt it.Surely in the 6,000 years plus history between Adam and 1830 when the Book of Mormon was published, someone somewhere has discussed “mighty prayer.” But if they have, there isn’t much indication of it on the Internet as of mid-July 2018.
Another side to the coin:
There is, however, another side to this coin. The phrase “mighty prayer,” and similar phrases mentioned above, do appear in modern scripture. Surprisingly, most of them are in the Book of Mormon. Here is a breakdown. The phrase “mighty prayer” may be found six times in the Book of Mormon and twice in the Doctrine and Covenants. It is in 2 Ne. 4:24; Enos. 1:4; Al. 6:6; 8:10; 3 Ne. 27:1; Moro. 2:2; D&C 5:24; and 29:2. “Cried mightily” is found in Mos. 29:20 in reference to prayer; and 3 Ne. 1:11-12. “Prayed mightily” is in Al. 2:28 and 46:13. “Cry mightily to God” is in Mosiah 21:14". Cry mightily to/ unto the Lord” is in Mosiah 9:17; 11:25; and Morm. 9:6 (see the variation here).
It is obvious that the Book of Mormon champions the idea of “mighty prayer” and those who engage in it. This is in stark contrast to the Holy Bible. It appears that the Lord wanted the concept of “mighty prayer” to be a significant element in the Restoration of the fulness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
All of this, of course, leads to a rather obvious question. If the Book of Mormon is not a translation of an ancient sacred record; if it is a whole-cloth creation of Joseph Smith alone; if it comes from one whom many enemies characterize as a Satan-inspired religious knave, impostor and immoral megalomaniac, why does it contain the very specific, very righteous, and very important idea of “mighty prayer” which is only barely hinted at by a pagan king in the Bible? It is one more evidence to me of the divine nature of his call as a prophet/translator whom the Lord used as his instrument to begin the restoration of the fullness of the everlasting Gospel in the last days.
A follow-up question surfaces. Is it possible this is one of those “plain and precious” things that Nephi tells us was left out of the Bible?
Let’s think together again, soon.
Sunday, June 17, 2018
Frankly, I’ve been a little concerned about the way the new concept of “ministering” has been introduced and received in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Much of the discussion of moving from being a home or visiting teacher to a minister has stressed that ministers operate by the Spirit and show up when there is a great crisis, need, or problem of some sort. Frankly, a number of people, both ministers and those being ministered to, have sighed relief and said either, “Well, my people are active and don’t have big problems so they don’t need a regular visit and certainly not a regular lesson.” Or, “We are an active and very involved family in the Church; we have few problems and we are relieved, we don’t need to be bothered every month.”
Wanting to be faithful, wanting to magnify my calling, and most of all wanting to understand the real nature of my duty I went to work. Much of the discussion has revolved around the administrative natures of the changes, almost none of which helped me as an individual minister. I decided to see what the Lord has said about ministering in the church. I found half a dozen passages which were very helpful. They defined ministering in other terms, terms which surfaced again and again. They included, “watch over,” “be with,” “strengthen,” “nourish,” “shepherd,” “love,” “care for,” and “remember.”
Below I reproduce those passages with some emphasis to highlight things I think expand our understanding of both the term “minister,” and those individual words themselves. Below that I will have an observation or two.
Mosiah 23:18 18) Therefore they did watch over their people, and did nourish them with things pertaining to righteousness.
Alma 5: 59-61 59) For what shepherd is there among you having many sheep doth not watch over them, that the wolves enter not and devour his flock? And behold, if a wolf enter his flock doth he not drive him out? Yea, and at the last, if he can, he will destroy him. 60) And now I say unto you that the good shepherd doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed.61) And now I, Alma, do command you in the language of him who hath commanded me, that ye observe to do the words which I have spoken unto you.
Moroni 6:4 4) And after they had been received unto baptism, and were wrought upon and cleansed by the power of the Holy Ghost, they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith.
D&C 20:38, 42 38) The duty of the elders, priests, teachers, deacons, and members of the church of Christ.... 42) And to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church;
D&C 20: 53-55 53) The teacher's duty is to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them;54) And see that there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking; 55 And see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty.
Most impressive to me was a revelation given to Sidney Rigdon to watch over Joseph Smith:
D&C 35:18-19 18) And I have given unto him [Joseph Smith] the keys of the mystery of those things which have been sealed, even things which were from the foundation of the world, and the things which shall come from this time until the time of my coming, if he abide in me, and if not, another will I plant in his stead. 19) Wherefore, watch over him that his faith fail not, and it shall be given by the Comforter, the Holy Ghost, that knoweth all things.
And I liked this from Elder Holland:
Indeed, the report that matters most is how you have blessed and cared for those within your stewardship, which has virtually nothing to do with a specific calendar or a particular location.What matters is that you love your people and are fulfilling the commandment ‘to watch over the church always.(1)
Reflections upon the above passages:
It seems to me that the Lord has always been concerned for the spiritual welfare and progress of his people, from convert to someone like me with a foot and a knee in the grave. So he organized things so properly authorized people would be given stewardship over various groups to see that spirituality was developed, maintained, and increased and his children received attentive, loving ministrations throughout their lives. Those groups include every family and individual, as well as quorums, Relief Society, Young Men and Women, Primary, Wards, Stakes, and Regions.
When rightly understood, I believe, these and other passages suggest that everyone needs someone to regularly remember, be with, watch over, nourish, strengthen, love, and bless them. Watching over is not snupervising; it includes at least acting like a shepherd to watch for potential dangers and evils and help provide protection like a shepherd does for its flock. It is to “keep them in the right way ... continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ.” It is to “see there is no iniquity in the church, neither hardness with each other, neither lying, backbiting, nor evil speaking.” The word “always” also shows up in the context of watching over the church. Ministers nourish the Saints. President Nelson said, “Just as the body requires daily food for survival, the spirit needs nourishment as well. The spirit is nurtured by eternal truth.”(2) To nourish involves providing things pertaining to righteousness, and with the good word of God. The metaphor "nourish" implies at least necessity, regularity, consistency, and quality.
So I ask, “How can my ministers be with me, strengthen and nourish me, bless me, watch over and care for me, teach, exhort, and love me if they are not regularly in my home and my life? If they only show up when the Spirit prompts them that I have some emotional or physical crisis, problem, or need, how can they assist me in the ongoing sustaining of my spiritual life and testimony, my steady progress in things pertaining to righteousness, and protection from Satan’s doctrines, philosophies, and tactics, from his “ravening wolves?” How much care and love will I receive from infrequent visits or messages only when it is thought I’m in special need? These scriptures tell me I (and everyone else) am in constant need of strength, nourishment, encouragement, love, being cared about and watched over. My goodness, if Joseph Smith needed Sidney Rigdon to be assigned to watch over him “that his faith fail not,” who am I to say to my “minister,” I’m doing well, I don’t need your visit? Who am I to say that my family does not need to be taught, exhorted, and even have the gospel expounded to them regularly by a caring friend? People who think these things can be passed over are self-deluded and in greater need than they know.
BTW, happy Fathers Day!
Let’s think together again, soon.
1. Jeffrey R. Holland, “Emissaries to the Church,” Ensign (November 2016): 62.
2. Russell M. Nelson, Accomplishing the Impossible, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015), p. 42.
Monday, May 7, 2018
This morning I encountered one of the great lessons I have learned in life. It comes just weeks before my seventy-fifth birthday. Given the lesson, my age makes it all the more poignant. I have been studying the prayers in the Old Testament and this morning I came to Deuteronomy 26. It is a bit complicated, but let me see if I can simplify it for you, to make the lesson apparent.
The Lord delivered Israel from Egyptian bondage and brought them, after forty years of wandering to kill off the old disbelievers and unfaithful, to the Promised Land. Now he instructed Israel that on the day after the festival of the Passover a sheaf of the “first-fruits” of the harvest should be offered to God as a thanksgiving offering on behalf of the people generally. (See Lev. 23:10-ff.) In the early verses of Deuteronomy 26 the Lord instructs individuals to gather a basket of the first-fruits at the end of the harvest season as a thank offering. They are to bring it to the designated spot, probably the tabernacle or later the temple. Certain prayers of thanksgiving are to be offered. Tithing is to be paid on the harvest and additional prayers to be offered. The question arises, “Why does the Lord want us to give him the first-fruits?”
As I read some commentary on this chapter the point was made that the first-fruit offering was intended to be the best. It was young, tender, tasty, and nourishing. It was the best of the harvest and the best was for God. We have heard this often–that the best is for God. And there are good reasons that the first-fruits are given as a thanksgiving offering. First, it acknowledges that God is the giver of all the good things which support and sustain life. Second, we are to learn to give the best to God, even of those very things which we have anticipated and looked forward to all season. We glorify God and serve him first. This requires discipline and self-denial. These are wonderful and powerful ideas when it comes to worshiping God and thanking him for his blessings.
But there is a third lesson–and this is the lesson that was new and powerful to me. It comes from a commentary by a man named Matthew Henry. He was a believer–a real believer, and he had an extraordinary sensitivity to the Gospel and its teachings. I have learned to love him and his writings. They always instruct and edify me. And significantly, they are always attended by a special tender and sweet spirit, something I have found to be unusual in many commentaries. Here is what he said:
To give God the first and best we have .... Those that consecrate the days of their youth, and the prime of their time, to the service and honour of God, bring him their first-fruits, and with such offerings he is well pleased.(1)
Note please the application this has for the young–teenagers, young adults, young marrieds. To “consecrate the days of their youth”–the first-fruits–to God. And to consecrate the” prime of their time”--the first-fruits of time to God. Such actions by the young are noble and righteous acts of gratitude, consecration and worship. They acknowledge that all they have, including youth, energy, gifts and talents, come from God and they are only returning to him what is rightfully his.(1 Chron. 29:14; Ps. 24:1; D&C 104:17) The truth of this idea struck me as both self-evident and powerful. Unlike ninety-three-year-old Russell M. Nelson, as a seventy-five year old man my contributions are minimal. Recently I was released from serving as a sealer in the Logan Temple. Health issues were one of the main reasons. From such a perspective I have a greater sense of the necessity of consecrating one’s youth to God, his church and kingdom.
It would be a great blessing for the young of the Church to have this perspective. In late evening talks with the missionaries of my office staff in the California Roseville Mission we often discussed the “wasted youth” syndrome. Young men often spent great amounts of time practicing sports–I used to tell of boys in the parking lot of our church behind our house practicing skate boarding moves hours on end. Contrast that with the amount of time any of them spent preparing for a mission by reading and memorizing scripture. The comparison is stark and scary. Today similar problems arise with young men and some young women who are addicted to their personal devices and waste huge amounts of time surfing, socializing, and playing games on the Net.
I have also noticed in most wards I have lived in the past fifty years that the older High Priests do the family history and attend the temple. Many young couples argue that they are “too busy” to do those things–that will have to come later. So, when we have “ward temple days” the younger set are often conspicuously absent. But they can get to the basketball and football games, the latest movies, put prodigious amounts of time into careers, and make time for regular vacations. Remember the “Rich young ruler”? He had lots of money and authority and wanted to know what “good thing” he needed to do to be saved? (Mt. 19:16) His question was nearly perfect–except there is not just one thing one can do. The Lord took him seriously, in fact Mark says that Jesus “beholding him loved him.” (Mk. 10:21) The young man was told to sell all that he had, give it to the poor and follow Jesus. He had the opportunity to give the first-fruits–the best he had in resources, leadership, influence, time, energy, dedication, thought, and commitment, but he went away sorrowing because “he had great possessions.” Because of other priorities he squandered the opportunity to give the first-fruits.
Think about the energy, enthusiasm, strength, and quick minds of the young. No wonder the Lord want’s the first-fruits. Many have given them. Jesus is the prime and divine example. The most important life and act in the cosmos was completed by age thirty-three! Joseph Smith finished his mission at age thirty-eight. Remember young David, Samuel, and Mormon. All givers of the first-fruits par excellence. Alma taught his son Helaman to “learn wisdom in thy youth.”(Al. 37:35.) What greater wisdom can one learn than to give God the best and do it when you are young, healthy, energetic, and all your brain cells hitting on all six? What greater wisdom than to give God the first-fruits?
I urge the youth–most of my grand children fit here–high school and college age kids, young adults, returned missionaries and young marrieds (especially those from the CRM), to get a testimony that the Lord wants your “first-fruits” offering and then redouble your commitment to see that he gets it.
Let’s think together again, soon.
1. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, new modern edition in six volumes, (n. p.: Hendrickson’s Publishers, Inc., 1991), 1:647, emphasis added.
Sunday, April 22, 2018
If you have highly motivated children or grandchildren they may be interested in "The Congressional Award" styled as "America's Award For Youth." It has some similarities to the personal progress programs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and may be of special interest to young Mormons. The promotional literature about the program says:
"The Congressional Award is the United States Congress’ award for young Americans. ... Participants earn Bronze, Silver, and Gold Congressional Award Certificates and Bronze, Silver, and Gold Congressional Award Medals. Each level involves setting goals in four program areas: Voluntary Public Service, Personal Development, Physical Fitness, and Expedition/Exploration. Earning The Congressional Award is a fun and interesting way to get more involved in something you already enjoy or something you’d like to try for the first time. You move at your own pace – on your own or with your friends. This is not an award for past accomplishments. Instead, you are honored for achieving your own challenging goals after registering for the program.
Regardless of your situation, you can earn The Congressional Award. The Congressional Award has no minimum grade point average requirements. It accommodates young people with special needs or disabilities who are willing to take the challenge."
Friday, March 16, 2018
Back in the 1950s a furor was stirred up by a book entitled Why Johnny Can’t Read. It was a symptom of a ton of criticism at the time about American education. In 1957 the Russians put Sputnik into orbit ahead of the U.S. That added to the controversy. America’s education is multivalent–the primary, middle, and high schools have fallen under heavy criticism, while America’s post-graduate institutions are largely the envy of the world, and we go a long way in educating some of the world’s best and brightest in them.
In all of the controversy which is still underway–there is a second edition titled,Why Johnny Still Can’t Read--it might be worthwhile for modern young parents to consider some wisdom from one of America’s sages, Wallace Stegner. From here on, I turn the microphone over to him. What follows is an excerpt from an essay entitled “Excellence and the Pleasure Principle.” I recommend reading the entire essay. As always I welcome your comments.
It is commonly charged against teachers that Johnny can’t read–or write, or add without his fingers or a calculator, or find his way in the library door, or use a dictionary. A frequent suggestion is that teacher must work harder to motivate Johnny, the assumption being that if teacher doesn’t make the class as entertaining as an X-rated movie, teacher is muffing the job.
From what I have seen of students and teachers, I think it is quite as likely that Johnny is muffing the job; and that he is muffing it not because he is more stupid than he used to be but because he is less teachable; and that he is less teachable because something in his family, or his society, or himself, has broken down. The authority, parental or otherwise, that once made Johnny respect the hard process of stocking and exercising his mind, has been softened up and worn away, in considerable part by Johnny himself. Now Johnny makes up his own mind, or thinks he does, about what is important to him. Actually, what makes up his mind is the movies, television, and advertising, all the incessant repetitions of the mass media and the easy assumptions of popular culture. They tell him that book learning is a pain and a bore. He likes better to look at pictures than to work out the difficult symbolic system of print, and he looks at the easiest pictures. Years ago, when I worked for a while for Look magazine, it used to be a staff joke that Look was made for those too dumb to understand the pictures in Life. Look helped make things easy for Johnny, as some early Johnnies had helped make Look.
Johnny’s due and destiny, as the popular culture reads them to him, are satisfaction of desires, acquisition of things, gratification, stereos, dune buggies, ORV’s, trail bikes, laughing beautiful companions, rock, intimate whispers, fun: either that or envy of those who have these things. Johnny is a citizen of the world village that Marshall McLuhan wrote of. His world is oral, not printed; pictorial or musical, not verbal; immediate, not grounded in history; impromptu, not planned; experienced, not examined; free, not disciplined. To those who shoot down on the schools from protected places, I would suggest a possibility: that Johnny has been spoiled rotten by something entirely outside the formal educational process and beyond formal educational cure.
So far as I can see, a teacher has no professional obligation to turn his students on. His obligation is to know his subject and teach it. If students want to be entertained, let them go to the beach or the movies. I know: They do, they do! The teacher’s obligation is excellence and the pleasures of accomplishment, not entertainment in the usual sense, and students themselves are the first to acknowledge this fact in areas where they don’t need motivation. Of a basketball coach they don’t demand entertainment–in fact, they will put up with almost unlimited harshness and rigor. His job is to teach skills, and in this case the skills are skills the student wants to learn. How to dribble and shoot and pass, how to set a pick, how to go one on one, how to play zone or man-to-man, how to press and how to break the press–that is what it’s about, and a coach may work his team’s tongues out without drawing complaints. Players respect strictness, because the excellence demanded of them is an excellence coveted from away back. For this sort of excellence, moreover, there are rewards both immediate and delayed.... What a joy it is to a teacher–or would be–to come upon a student who is motivated in that way toward the calculus or the use of language! A certain portion of any class is so motivated–and makes teaching the profound satisfaction it sometimes is.(1)
Let’s think together again, soon.
1. Wallace Stegner, One Way to Spell Men, New York: Doubleday, 1982, pp. 56-60.
Wednesday, February 28, 2018
This morning my wife was reading news blurbs on her phone and she said, “Here’s something surprising that you will appreciate, but maybe find hard to believe.” She went on, “Dolly Parton reads 52 books a year!” It did surprise me, but it wasn’t hard to believe. She is a remarkable lady in many ways. My wife continued reading; the article said that Dolly has given over 100 million books to pre-kindergarten children! Now that was hard to believe. So I Googled, “Dolly Parton Imagination Library.”
When Dolly was a girl her father could not read nor write. The only book in their home was a Bible. Her mother read the Bible to her and told her Bible stories. She said her imagination was stimulated and she began to dream and she knew her dreams would come true.
As an adult she wanted that for other children and by now she had resources to fulfill another dream. She understood that books stimulate the imagination of children, so in 1995 she started a program in her county–that’s county not country–of giving pre-school children a book a month. In 25 years that program has grown to giving books away to children in four countries. She has given away almost 101 million books to pre-school children! The hundredth million book was donated to the Library of Congress. I don’t know much about how the program works, but apparently communities sign up and children can receive a book a month until they enter kindergarten.
How about that for creative, visionary, down-to-earth genuine humanitarian philanthropy?!!!
As some people in Utah might say, “Good on ya, Dolly!”
Oh! and by the way, here is the URL for the site:
Let’s think together again, soon.
Thursday, February 22, 2018
I recently finished reading a small volume of essays about what is called in Mormon history, “The Council of Fifty,” or “The Kingdom of God.” It is entitled The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal about Mormon History, edited by Matthew Grow and Eric Smith. It was published jointly by the Religious Studies Center at BYU, and Deseret Book Company in Salt Lake City in 2017. It was occasioned by the publication of heretofore unpublished and largely unseen, three volumes of minutes of The Council of Fifty, as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Those working on the project “learned that notwithstanding the mystique of the Council of Fifty had gained among the historical community and the importance of the council to early Latter-day Saint, the organization itself is little known among modern Latter-day Saints.” Moreover, they felt that although the minutes were readable and gave fairly complete records of the Council’s discussions, “we knew that most individuals interested in Mormon history and theology would simply not have the time or inclination to wade through the nearly eight hundred pages” in the published version.1 Thus, this introductory volume. The essays were also intended to engage scholars about the importance of these minutes in evaluating and understanding a wide variety of issues which the Council dealt with in the critical period of 1844-1846, and beyond.
The Council of Fifty was an organization set up by Joseph Smith on 11 March 1844, composed of fifty men, three of which were not members of the Church. Joseph Smith conceived of two types of power and authority–priesthood which dealt with religious and ecclesiastical matters and civil authority which dealt with civil government. He taught that the true form of civil government was a “Theodemocracy.” That is, a civil government ruled by God through The Council of Fifty. It was to be separate from the priesthood government of the Church. Nevertheless, this combination ran against the political grain in America as it was perceived as a uniting of church and state. Though the council initially started out intending to write a new constitution to correct it’s perceived weaknesses to protect the religious rights of minorities such as the Church suffered in Missouri and Illinois, the debates and subsequent history show that the Church-State relationship was never formally or finally worked out in Mormon thought. Eventually the Council was used by Brigham Young as a more practical organization to council, plan, and prepare for the exodus from Nauvoo and to set up a civil government once they arrived in Utah. Prior to the publication of the minutes, the purposes and activities of the Council were the subject of much speculation and controversy, but with that publication, as one contributor wrote: “some students of the Mormon past might be disappointed in the ... minutes because they do not contain salacious evidence that might bring Mormonism to its knees...” (p. 182.)
The book has an Introduction and fifteen essays of varying length and quality. Ten of the authors either had specific assignments on the Joseph Smith Paper’s Project or work for the Church Historical Department. Virtually all of them contributed to the project. Four of the five remaining authors are professors of history at various universities and one is the co-managing editor of Utah Historical Quarterly. Historians one and all. Each author was asked to consider this question: “How do the Council of fifty minutes change our understanding of Mormon history?” It is not surprising therefore, that there is some overlap and repetition in the essays, though to the credit of the authors, it is minimal and each brought to the question unique and creative approaches though many dealt with similar issues and observations. These essays vary in scope; some paint with a broad brush, others take a micro view and concentrate on detail.
Several contributors deal with broad historical perspectives. Richard Bushman begins the collection with his “The Separatist Impulse in the Nauvoo Council of Fifty.” He refers to a strong Mormon reaction against the American government following its anemic response to the Missouri persecutions. However, as more than one author noted, the desire to separate from American hegemony was not unique to the Latter-day Saints. Richard Turley chronicles many of the injustices to which the Mormons were reacting. In a similar context, Benjamin Park looks at “The Council of Fifty and the Perils of Democratic Governance.” Nathan Oman discusses the interesting phenomenon of the council trying to write a new constitution and basically failing. Joseph taught them that they did not need a written constitution, but should govern by ongoing revelation. The last two essays are thoughtful examinations of “The Council of Fifty in Western History,” by Jedediah S. Rogers and “The Council of Fifty and the Search for Religious Liberty,” by W. Paul Reeve. Several of these essays place Mormon political thinking within the wider context of American political thought, showing nineteenth-century Mormons to be motivated by some contemporary modes of thinking while at the same time illuminating some unique aspects of Mormon political, social, and religious thought.
Collectively these essays highlight and partially illuminate the most prominent themes to be found in the Council of Fifty minutes. They include, especially during Joseph Smith’s chairmanship, discussions of Mormon thought about civil government, the relationship of church and state, and protection of religious liberty of minorities. Indeed, as several papers show, Mormon perception of the weakness of the United States government and its leaders in dealing with injustices against the Mormons was a major catalyst behind the formation of The Council of Fifty. This became critical when Illinois revoked the charter of Nauvoo which heretofore gave the Mormons an unusual degree of civil autonomy. The minutes also show that the murders of Joseph and Hyrum brought very strong reactions against what was viewed as America’s ineffective political system. Mormon perceptions of Constitutional and organizational weakness prompted them to try to remedy the deficiencies of the Constitution with one of their own. These discussions were tinctured with important statements, especially by the Prophet Joseph, about the importance of religious liberty for all. But after Joseph’s death philosophical and political questions gave way to Brigham Young’s more practical use of the Council. A related theme which is prominent in the minutes is the Mormon desire to proselyte the American Indians, hoping for a mass conversion and use of Indian converts to defend the kingdom of God.
The Council of Fifty minutes also prove useful in facilitating a more complete and better analysis of a number of issues the Council was involved with such as, Joseph Smith’s presidential bid, Brigham Young’s role as chairman of the council after Joseph’s death, the differences between Joseph and Brigham’s leadership of the Council, completing the Nauvoo House and the Temple, Lyman Wight’s attempt to set up the kingdom in Texas, and even the interesting matter of insights about record keeping derived from the minutes.
As mentioned above the quality of the papers varies. A couple of the shorter ones seem to end abruptly with only cursory conclusions and insights or without either. The level and sophistication of historical thought and analysis differs, though all the essays are helpful, or at least evocative to the thoughtful reader. The quality of historical writing per se also varies, but is generally high.2 I can heartily recommend this volume and I believe it may be the stimulus for a number of more detailed and exhaustive studies.
Let's think together gain, soon.
1. All quotations in this paragraph are found on page xii of the “Introduction.”
2. I have one slight bone of contention which applies to many newer contributors to Mormon history beginning about the time of the Joseph Smith Papers project. It is what I might call “the had fault,” and the “past-tense passive fault.” In the late 1960s, I was fortunate to take a historical writing class in graduate school under the direction of Dr. Milton Backman at BYU. I vividly remember and still possess a paper which I wrote for him on which he underlined several places where I use the past-tense passive voice. He dinged me and said that the past tense active voice was much preferred in historical writing because the passive voice produces exactly that in the reader–a passive involvement and even interest. The active voice he argued, engages the reader and is more interesting as it more readily moves the narrative forwad and is less wordy. Below are some examples from the essays in this volume, with my suggested improvement, presumptuous as it may be of me to do so.
Richard Turley, Jr.: (p. 5, line 3) “...months earlier, the Smith family had buried the remains of Alvin Smith.” Suggested change: “...months earlier, the Smith family buried the remains of Alvin Smith.”
(p. 5, line 15) “Alvin’s remains had been removed and ‘dissected.’ Such rumors had been ....”
Suggested change: “Alvin’s remains were removed and ‘dissected.” Such rumors were....”
(p. 7, line 12) “Father Smith to confirm that Alvin’s body had not been stolen.”
Suggest change: “Father Smith to confirm that Alvin’s body was not stolen.”
(P.S. I left a “could have” alone in the first line.
(p. 9, lines 24-25) “The next day, the Mormons who had testified against McCarty were arrested...”
Suggest change: “The next day, the Mormon who testified against McCarty were arrested.”
(p. 3re and 2nd lines from the bottom) “...impoverished refugees from Jackson County had begun working for...”
Suggested change: “...impoverished refugees from Jackson County began working for”
P.S. I left a “has been called” in line 27 of page 13 alone, but it may be improved too.
(p. 15, lines 9, and 13) “Governor Boggs, who had participated in the expulsion...”
Suggested change: “Governor Boggs, who participated in the expulsion...”
“...four hundred Saints of De Witt, who had suffered intense hunger...”
Suggested change: “...four hundred Saints of De Witt, who suffered hunger...”
Spencer McBride: (p. 22, lines 18, 19) “But since he felt that his followers had been denied those rights...”
Suggested change: “But since he felt that his followers were denied those rights...”
(p. 25, line 18) “Church leaders had called for members...”
Suggested change: “Church leaders called for members...”
Benjamin Park: (p. 43, line 1) “The winter of 1843-44 had been exceptionally cold...”
Suggested change: “The winter of 1843-44 was exceptionally cold....”
(p. 47, last line) “Secular democracy had brought ..."
Suggested change: “Secular democracy brought...”
Nathan Oman: (p. 60, lines 8-13) “this constitutional model had been shattered.”
Suggested change: “this constitutional model was shattered...”
“Events in Missouri had played themselves out”
Suggested change: “Events in Missouri played themselves out”
“Mormon property had been seized, Mormons had been massacred by mods...”
Suggested change: “Mormon property was seized, Mormons were massacred by mobs...”
“Mormon women had been raped...”
Suggested change: “Mormon women were raped...”
“Lilburn Boggs had issued...”
Suggested change: “Lilburn Boggs issued...”
Matthew Grow and Marilyn Bradford: (p. 113, lines 20- 22) “decisions regarding the Church’s publishing program and the Nauvoo print shop that had been made the previous day...”
Suggested change: “...that were made the previous day...”
(p. 114, lines 4-5, 6) “The Latter-day Saints had explicitly designed the charter...”
Suggested change: “The Latter-day Saint explicitly designed the charter...”
“...to provide them with protections they had lacked in Missouri,”
Suggested change: “to provide them with protections they lacked in Missouri,”
(p. 115, lines 1- 2) “When council members learned that Texas had been annexed...”
Suggested change: “When council members learned that Texas was annexed...”
(p. 115, line 16) “...as they believed Joseph and Hyrum Smith had been the previous year.”
Suggested change: “...as they believed Joseph and Hyrum Smith were the previous year.”
(p. 115, last line) “...Young rebutted a comment that Almon Babbit had made about Mormon rhetoric...”
Suggested change: “...Young rebutted a comment that Almon Babbit made about Mormon...”
(p. 116, line 4) “...which many believed had contributed to violence...”
Suggested change: “...which many believed contributed to violence...”
(p. 116, lines 29-30) “...one of the council’s objectives had been realized...”
Suggested change: “...one of the council’s objectives was realized...”
(P. 116, line 32) “...in January 1845, Young had contemplated...”
Suggested change: “...in January 1845, Young contemplated...”
Jeffrey Mahas: (p. 123, line 17) “...Dana–a member of the Oneida nation–had been baptized...”
Suggested change: “...Dana–a member of the Oneida nation–was baptized...”
(p. 125, 5th line from the bottom) “Although Brigham Young had initially called...”
Suggested change: “Althought Brigham Young initially called...”
(p. 127, lines 1 and 2) “While the missionaries had been gone, Church leaders had largely...”
Suggested change: “While the missionaries were gone, Church leaders largely...”
(p. 127, line 4) “...a select group of Church leaders had formulated a new plan...”
Suggested change: “a select group of Church leaders formulated a new plan...”
(p. 127, lines 22-23) “...alliance with American Indians, they had had little or no success...”
Suggested change: “...alliance with American Indians, they had little or no success...”
Matthew Godfrey: (p. 134, line 27) “Miller, who had been serving as a trustee...”
Suggested change: “Miller, who served as a trustee ...”
(p. 132, 3rd line from bottom) “...Lyman Wight had evidently lost...”
Suggested change: “... Lyman Wight evidently lost...”
(p. 135, line 17) “...Woodworth claimed that he had been appointed...”
Suggsted change: “...Woodworth claimed that he was appointed...”
(p. 135, line 24) “...what Miller had done and was doing...”
Suggested change: “...what Miller did and was doing...”
(P. 135, last two lines) “...the total number of certificates that had been issued ...how many of those had been sold...”
Suggested change: “...the total number of certificates that were issued ...how many of those were sold...”
(p. 136, line 4) “...asserted that Joseph Smith had told him...”
Suggested change: “... asserted that Joseph Smith told him...”
(p. 136, line 7) “...Brigham Young declared that he had spoken to Joseph Smith...”
Suggested change: “... Brigham Young declared that he spoke to (with?) Joseph Smith....”
(p. 138, line 7) “...but that may have been an exaggerated portrayal...”
Suggested change: “...but that may be an exaggerated portrayal...”
(p. 139, n. 9, line 2) “Wight had been rejected...”
Suggested change: “Wight was rejected...”
Two additional unrelated suggestions for Matt:
(p. 130, lines 8-9) “...the Nauvoo House was nowhere near completion at the time...”
Suggested change: “..the Nauvoo House was far from competition at the time...”
(p. 138, line 8) “...the house never came close to completion.”
Suggested change: “...the house was far from completion.”
Christopher Blythe: (p. 141, line 6) “...some council members believed they had been granted...”
Suggested change: “...some council members believed they were granted...”
(p. 142, line 5) “Miller had been assigned...
Suggested change: “Miller was assigned...”
(p. 146, lines 13-14) “In April, the Twelve sent a messenger to Wight’s colony-who had already begun their trek...”
Suggested change: “...to Wight’s colony-who already started (or began) their trek...”
(p. 146, lines 25-28) “Miller, who had remained...”
Suggested change: “Miller, who remained...”
“...Wight had been expelled from ...
Suggested change: “...Wight who was expelled from”
“...when Young had revived the kingdom.”
Suggested change: “...When Young revived the kingdom.”
While on this subject, I give here two examples from Pulitzer Prize winning British author Daniel Walker Howe’s book, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. Howe has the maddening habit of very often falling in to the “had fault” and extensive use of the past tense passive voice. But when he does not use this form of syntax his writing is superb. However, it is so extensive in this 850 page tome that I find myself wondering why the editors at Oxford did not fix it? Below are two of a huge number of examples. These are companion paragraphs dealing with the William Morgan anti-Masonic episode in American history. In this first paragraph the past tense passive voice is in bold.
“On the evening of September 12, 1826, a stonecutter named William Morgan languished in the jail of Canandaigua, New York, where he was being held for an alleged two-dollar debt. Morgan had been subject to a series of persecutions by local authorities and mysterious mobs ever since he had undertaken to publish the secret rituals of freemasonry. His home in nearby Batavia had been ransacked in search of the manuscript. An attempt to burn down the shop where his work awaited printing had been foiled. Two days earlier he and his printer had both been transported to this jail on trumped-up charges. The printer had been released by a magistrate, ....”
Compare that with the next paragraph, in the past tense active voice, highlighted in bold:
“The investigation of Morgan’s disappearance was hampered at very turn by the cover-up of strategically placed Freemasons. Although his wife and dentist identified a partly decomposed body, three inquests did not make an official finding. Juries were packed with Masonic brothers; accused conspirators fled before testifying. Eventually the sheriff of Niagara County served thirty months for his central role in the kidnapping conspiracy, but otherwise prosecutors had little to show after twenty trials. Enough came to light, however, that the public felt outrage and the Masonic Order...was badly discredited.”(pp. 265-66)
The difference in readability and interest between the two paragraphs is palpable and significant. The first is bulky, wordy, and laborious. The second paragraph reads much easier. Readers are more engaged and the narrative moves forward readily. The differences when set side by side are stark. Howe uses the past tense passive at least half the time in this book. The alternation between the two past tense voices is so frequent that it is not only very noticeable, but it is really quite annoying. I honestly wonder how he won the Pulitzer! If Oxford editors would have helped him clean up this text to give it a more consistent voice I think his work would merit a superb rating. As it is, I’m am only left to wonder about those who made the selection.