Chapter 15: Latter-day Saints Family

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Chapter 15
Latter-day Saints Family

Consult the "Contents" pages to locate the entries in Part III, the Directory Listings Sections, that comprise this family.

"After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God. I had scarcely done so, when immediately I was seized upon by some power which entirely overcame me, and had such an astonishing influence over me as to bind my tongue so that I could not speak. Thick darkness gathered around me, and it seemed to me for a time as if I were doomed to sudden destruction. But, exerting all of my powers to call upon God to deliver me out of the power of this enemy which had seized upon me, and at the very moment when I was ready to sink into despair and abandon myself to destruction–not to an imaginary ruin, but to the power of some actual being from the unseen world, who had such marvelous power as I had never before felt in any being–just at this moment of great alarm, I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me.

"It no sooner appeared than I found myself delivered from the enemy which held me bound. When the light rested upon me I saw two personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name, and said, pointing to the other–"This is my beloved son, hear him!'

"My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. No sooner, therefore, did I get possession of myself, so as to be able to speak, than I asked the personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right–and which I should join. I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong, and the personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in His sight: that those professors were all corrupt; that "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; they teach for doctrines the commandments of men: having a form of godliness, but they deny the power there of.' He again forbade me to join with any of them: and many other things did he say unto me, which I cannot write at this time. When I came to myself again, I found myself lying on my back, looking up into heaven. When the light had departed, I had no strength; but soon recovering in some degree, I went home" (Joseph Smith, History of the Church. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1902–1912, 1:5–6).

Thus is described by the man to whom it occurred the first event that led to the founding in 1830 of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; the man– Joseph Smith, Jr.

Vermont-born Joseph Smith had moved to western New York in 1815 at the age of 10, along with many others who flooded the area following the War of 1812. With the immigrants came the revival-oriented church to stoke the fires of their emotions and burn the Word of God into their pioneer hearts. So successful had the evangelists been that observers would look upon western New York and label it "the burned-over district," the product of wave after wave of evangelical fervor and spiritual fire. It was in this same area that Charles Finney, discussed in the chapter on the holiness movement, made his triumphant tours of the late 1820s and early 1830s.

In this context Joseph Smith began to be moved by religious concerns and, like so many before him, to be confused by the plethora of churches, each claiming to speak God's truth. And in this context Smith began to see the visions (including the one related above) that resulted in his founding a new church to be the embodiment of God's true revelation. The two personages in the first vision (later identified as Jesus and God the Father) were followed by John the Baptist and various angelic beings in other visions. One of the angels gave to Smith in 1827 the plates of gold upon which was engraved what is now known as the Book of Mormon. The engraving was in what Smith called a reformed Egyptian language. Also given were two divining stones, the "Urim and Thummim" (Exodus 28:30), used to translate the tablets of reformed Egyptian text. The stones could be compared to crystal balls.

The story related in the Book of Mormon purported to be the history of two groups of people: the Jeredites, who came to America directly after the attempt to build the Tower of Babel, and the Israelites, who came following the destruction of Jerusalem in the sixth century B.C.E. The former group had been destroyed shortly before the arrival of the second group. The second group was essentially destroyed in the fourth century C.E., and Native Americans remained as its only remnant. The last of the prophets among the second group was commanded to write a history, which was buried in New York.

In 1830, the Book of Mormon was published and the church organized. Both events had an immediate impact on the religious community and began a debate that has grown in intensity to this day. The Book of Mormon was attacked, and the Mormons became outcasts.

But the Book of Mormon was not the only new revelation of Joseph Smith. His other major works were the Book of Moses, the Book of Abraham, and an inspired translation of the Bible. At regular intervals new revelations were given for specific purposes. These were gathered in a collection in 1833 as the Book of Commandments, now called the Doctrine and Covenants (D.C.). Also, there were fragmentary works and mention of other major works that were never undertaken because of Smith's untimely death. References to the Doctrine and Covenants are given with the initials D.C. and the number of the section under consideration. The Book of Mormon contains books within it, as does the Bible. References to the Book of Mormon resemble biblical references (e.g., II Nephi 2:46–47).

THE IMPETUS TO SCHISM. Smith's many revelations created a number of problems for Mormon theology. They also built into the system a ready-made impetus to schism. It did not take long for others to get the idea, "If Joseph Smith can, then I can also." So that, quite apart from the issue of the truth or falsity of the Book of Mormon or other writings produced by Smith, his example continually excited would-be prophets to action. Common to almost every Mormon group is one or more leaders who receive revelations. These leaders originated as disturbers of the peace in each new church center as the Saints migrated from Kirkland, Ohio, to Independence, Missouri, to Nauvoo, Illinois, and finally, after Smith's murder, to Salt Lake City, Utah.

The church was hardly organized before Brother Hiram Page began to obtain revelations concerning the church through "a certain stone." Smith soon learned that his confidant, Oliver Cowdery (1806–1850), and David Whitmer (1805–1888) had been taken in by Page, but Smith was able to handle this situation in a church conference. Page recanted, and he and Crowley were sent on a mission to preach to the Indians.

After the movement of Smith's followers to Kirkland, Ohio, genuine schism began to occur. Wycam Clark led a group of former Saints who established the short-lived Pure Church of Christ. A Mr. Hawley walked barefoot 600 miles from New York to tell Smith that he was no longer the prophet. In 1831, Smith was able to reconcile a group called "the family" to full status in the church. This communal group had joined the Mormons as a body and had to be persuaded to follow "the more perfect law." In 1832, a Mr. Hoton and a Mr. Montague organized a body of which the former was president and the latter bishop. The group fell apart when the bishop accused the president of visiting the "pork barrel" (stored supplies), and the president accused the bishop of visiting his wife.

The years 1837–38 were difficult for Smith, as two major movements took sheep from his flock. Warren Parrish, treasurer of the Kirkland Safety Society, became disillusioned with Smith's prophetic ability and withdrew. He and a number of prominent Latter-day Saints who joined him founded the Church of Christ. Also, there appeared in Kirkland an unnamed woman called the Kirkland seeress. She had a black stone and she prophesied that either David Whitmer or Martin Harris would succeed Smith, who had fallen into transgression. The movement in support of the anti-Josephite revelations was strong enough to spread to Missouri. No record of the eventual fate of the girl is known. The History of the Church by Smith has only a proclamation issued in the fall of 1837 expressing hope for the reclamation of David Whitmer and others. In 1838 the Saints moved to Missouri to a town called Far West. In 1839 they were forced to leave Far West, so they settled in Nauvoo, Illinois, and stayed there until Joseph Smith's death in 1844. In 1840 George M. Hinkle, a colonel in the militia that defended the Mormons at Far West, Missouri, founded the Church of Jesus Christ, the Bride the Lamb's Wife, at Moscow, Iowa. Hinkle, a trusted confidant of Smith, had a significant role in turning Joseph, his brother, Hiram, and others over to General Lucas of the Missouri militia. "Hinkle" has since been synonymous in Mormon circles with traitor. In 1845 Hinkle's church merged with Sidney Rigdon's Church of Christ.

In the 1840s during the Nauvoo era, Smith reached the height of his power. Nauvoo, in Hancock County, became the largest city in Illinois and, because of the evenly divided makeup of Illinois politics, it held the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans. Because Smith kept switching sides, the Mormons became a hated people. Added to the political situation was the jealousy of the people of Hancock County at the success of the whole Nauvoo enterprise. During the entire stay of the Mormons at Nauvoo, tensions were on the rise and schism could always find its support among gentile haters of the Saints.

At least three major schisms occurred here, each contributing to the downfall of the Mormon establishment. In 1842, the High Council excommunicated Oliver Olney, would-be prophet, who moved to nearby Squaw Grove, Illinois, to establish headquarters and to publish his anti-Smith literature. He was still publishing as late as 1845 but his full history is not known. Also in 1842, Gladden Bishop was for a second time excommunicated, this time for "having received, written and published or taught certain revelations not consistent with the Doctrine and Covenants of the Church." Bishop began setting up splinter churches and then rejoining the Saints. He is known to have had followings at various times at Little Sioux, Iowa; in California, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Salt Lake City. After being in and out of the church several times, he was excommunicated permanently.

But the major trouble for Smith at Nauvoo came from a schism caused by William Law and his associates– Wilson Law, Robert and Charles Foster, and C. L. Higbee. They and a large following left the church and set up a rival organization in Nauvoo with William Law at the head of it. This schism meant more than just the loss of some members. In May 1844, Law announced a newspaper to support his views. He then obtained an indictment against Smith for adultery and polygamy. Robert Foster obtained an indictment against Smith for false swearing. Francis Higbee sued for slander, demanding $5,000. On June 7, 1844, the first and only issue of the Nauvoo Expositer appeared. The Nauvoo Legion, after Smith declared the paper a public nuisance, destroyed it. This proved to be a political blunder and as news spread across the state, public pressure mounted against the Saints and Joseph Smith. He was forced to flee from Nauvoo to Iowa. He soon returned to Illinois.

The Law affair was significant in the series of episodes that led in 1844 to the arrest of Joseph Smith, his brother Hyram (1800–1844), John Taylor (1808–1887), and Willard Richards (1804–1854). On June 27, 1844, a mob broke into the jail at Carthage, Illinois, and killed Joseph and Hyram and wounded Taylor. The sudden and violent death of its leader left the church he founded in chaos. Smith had left no undeniable successor, only a martyr's image and a history of prophecy. The Saints were essentially united, but there began a power struggle that split the movement into at least four groups that, over the years, spawned more than 50 additional bodies.

Following the death of Joseph Smith, Jr., and the haste with which Nauvoo had to be abandoned, the church divided into several factions. Sidney Rigdon (1793–1876) was among the first to claim to be Smith's successor, and a few followed him back to Pennsylvania. James Jesse Strang (1813–1856) also claimed to be Smith's successor and some followed him to Wisconsin and eventually to Beaver Island, Michigan. The largest group took their guidance from Brigham Young (1801–1877) and migrated to Utah. This group survives today as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Many church members had not "gathered" at Nauvoo, but remained scattered around the Midwest. In the decade after Smith's death, attempts were made to reorganize these groups under Joseph Smith III (1832–1914), the prophet's son. He at first refused his father's mantle, but in 1859 accepted. The new organization was formed, which in 1860 became known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (since 2000 known as the Community of Christ). It drew some of its early strength from the followers of Strang who defected after his death in 1856. Still others who did not make the trek to Utah quietly moved back to Independence, Missouri, and bought the tract of land that had been cited in the Doctrine and Covenants as the site of the temple in the coming kingdom of Zion predicted by Smith.

BELIEFS. The key idea in Smith's theology was restorationism, the restoring of the Apostolic church that had been lost. Restorationism had been a major concept of the Disciples of Christ movement founded by Alexander Campbell (see Chapter 9) from which Smith's early confidant, Sidney Rigdon, came. Smith believed that the true church died with the first generation of apostles and was restored only with his ordination. The ordination at the hands of John the Baptist occurred on May 15, 1829, when Smith and Oliver Cowdery were given the Priesthood of Aaron. Subsequently, the Priesthood of Melchizedek was conferred and the church was formally established (April 6, 1830). Along with this restoration of the Apostolic church came a set of doctrines and a church order.

The "Articles of Faith," written shortly before Joseph Smith's death, are still used by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and most of the groups that have derived from it. The average non-Mormon needs some interpretation of the Articles, as they are worded to present Mormon doctrine in a format and with words quite familiar to members in most older traditional Christian denominations. However, the meaning of the affirmations is often quite distinct. For example, the first article affirms a belief in God, the Eternal Father, and in His Son, Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit. What might seem a statement of belief in the traditional Christian doctrine of the Trinity is in fact an affirmation of belief in three separate divine personages, i.e., what is generally termed tritheism.

The articles deny original sin, affirming that humans are not punished for Adam's sin, just their own. Christ's atonement establishes a condition by which individuals may be saved if they are obedient to the laws and ordinances of God. There are four ordinances–faith, repentance, baptism by immersion, and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

Part of what was revealed to Joseph Smith was the proper organization of the restored church. Derived according to biblical texts, the true church is headed by apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and others.

The church recognizes both the Bible and the Book of Mormon to be the Word of God. Not mentioned in the articles are the supplementary writing to which authority is given, the Pearl of Great Price, which contains the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham, and the Doctrine and Covenants. Smith also began work on an inspired translation of the Bible. It is not used by the Utah based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which prefers the King James Version, but is used by the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints headquartered in Independence, Missouri. Revelation is believed to be open, and new revelations are added to the Doctrine and Covenants as they are received by the church president. New revelations are quite rare, but now form a distinct body of material by which the Utah-based church and Missouri-based reorganized church differ.

The statement also affirms that the future kingdom of Zion will be built, not at Jerusalem in the Holy Land, but on the American continent. According to the Doctrine and Covenants, Zion will be centered on present-day Independence, Missouri. Others believe it will be centered on Salt Lake City. Prior to the establishment of Zion, there will be a "gathering" of the Saints in the immediate area.

ORGANIZATION. The restoration determined the nature of the church, which was to be organized after a revealed pattern. Two orders of priesthood were set up. The Aaronic Priesthood is the lesser order; all adult males are members, and from it are drawn deacons, teachers, and priests. The Melchizedek Priesthood is the higher order, and from it come the church's leadership–elders, seventies, high priests, and the presidency.

Organizationally, the church is ruled by a series of councils. Leading the church is the first presidency, composed of three people–the president and two other high priests elected by the 12 apostles. When the office of the first presidency is filled, the council of 12 apostles officiates under its direction as a traveling presiding council. Unanimous decisions by the council of 12 have authority equal to the decisions of the first presidency. Thus the first presidency and council of the 12 function much like the pope and college of cardinals in the Roman Catholic Church.

The presiding quorum of 70 and the presiding bishopric comprise the other two ruling councils. The presiding bishopric holds jurisdiction over the duties of other bishops in the church and over the organization of the Aaronic Priesthood.

CURRENT MORMON DIVISIONS. Most Mormons may be divided into Utah Mormons and Missouri Mormons, names that often refer to their history more than to their current headquarters. The churches known as "Utah Mormons" either have their headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, or were established by a former member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The great majority of present-day Mormons are members of the Utahbased church. The churches known as "Missouri Mormons" rejected the direction of Brigham Young, who led a large group, but by no means all, of the Saints to Salt Lake City. The early leaders of this church gathered the Saints who had dwelt across the Midwest into a new reorganized church body with headquarters eventually established in Missouri. The Missouri Mormons have strongly emphasized Joseph Smith, Jr.'s prophecy (D.C. 51) that the temple was to be built in Independence, Missouri.

No turmoil has so affected the Restoration movement founded by Joseph Smith, Jr., as did the controversy over the practice of polygamy in the post-Civil War era. Polygamy seems to have been introduced into the church in Nauvoo by Smith and to have contributed to Smith's assassination. Emma Hale Smith (1804–1879), Joseph Smith's first wife, seems to have never accepted the idea though she acquiesced during his lifetime. She remained in Nauvoo and did not travel to Salt lake City even though enticed by Brigham Young. She emerged as an anti-polygamy champion and affiliated with the Reorganized church, which strongly denounced polygamy, especially as it emerged as a public doctrine in Utah in the 1850s.

In Utah, polygamy was practiced and then openly proclaimed. Its practice was ingrained in the social structure (though only a minority of males were wealthy enough to participate) and it was a keystone of the Utah church's doctrine of salvation and the after life. It was also an irritant to the larger non-Mormon religious community that made it the object of a fervent crusade to rid the land of what was perceived by many as a blatant immorality. After the Civil War the federal government moved against the church with a series of actions asserting its hegemony in Utah and its hostility to the continuance of polygamy.

Twenty years of practice had made polygamy an essential part of the Mormon social system and theology, and it was only after a lengthy battle against overwhelming odds that the church slowly capitulated. This capitulation began in the form of a manifesto in 1890 by President Wilford Woodruff (1807–1898) abolishing the practice of plural marriage. The manifesto was unanimously adopted by the vote of the Latter-day Saints Church conference. Quietly, however, the practice was continued, and only a series of actions through the first quarter of the twentieth century– excommunicating those who either conducted plural marriage ceremonies or entered into a polygamous relationship–finally eradicated the practice from the Church.

Reaction to the threats of excommunication soon became manifest. Several polygamy-practicing groups formed but were broken up during World War I. After the war new groups were formed, which have continued to this day. Most of the groups of polygamypracticing Mormons accept a common history that dates to an incident they claim occurred in 1886, four years prior to the manifesto. They argue that on September 26, 1886, at a meeting of church leaders to consider a document prepared by George Q. Cannon (1827–1901), the first counselor on the polygamy question, President John Taylor, is supposed to have spent a night in conversation with Joseph Smith, Jr., and the Lord. The next morning President Taylor denounced the document and asked each to pledge himself to the principle of plural marriage. After the meeting, five copies were made of the revelation of the Lord on plural marriage; and five men– Samuel Bateman, Charles H. Wilkins, George Q. Cannon, John W. Woolley, and Lorin C. Woolley– were given authority to administer the covenant (i.e., plural marriage) and to see that no year passed without some children being born in the covenant. Taylor also prophesied that during the time of the seventh president (who turned out to be Heber J. Grant), the church was to go into spiritual and temporal bondage, and "one strong and mighty" would appear (D.C. 85). The Latter-day Saints Church claims this meeting never occurred and was a fiction created by Lorin Woolley.

Among the polygamists are Mormons called fundamentalists. They are distinguished from other polygamy-practicing groups in that they claim only to possess the presidency of the high priesthood. Other polygamy-practicing groups claim to possess both the presidency of the high priesthood and the presidency of the church.

In 1929 Joseph White Musser (1872–1954), the leader and most prolific writer among the fundamentalists, claimed he had received authority from Taylor's five disciples. He further claimed that after the manifesto was issued, the office of the president of the church and the president of the high priesthood were separated and the latter given to the fundamentalists. Hence the priesthood has authority apart from the church leadership. Musser felt that the movement away from polygamy was but one of several changes and departures from the faith made by the church. The fundamentalists believe in what is termed the Adam-God theory (as originally taught by Brigham Young) that "Adam is Our Father and Our God and is the literal Father of Jesus." Almost all fundamentalists claim authority through Musser and read his voluminous writings in his several books and the magazine The Star of Truth, which he published for many years.

The polygamists are living outside the laws of both the Latter-day Saints Church and the United States, and most have retreated into the desert and mountainous regions to escape legal and social pressure. They are somewhat of an embarrassment to the Latter-day Saints Church, which wishes to ignore them. The continuing concern over polygamy within the Mormon cultural milieu in Utah was most recently evident in the 2001 trial of Tom Greene, husband of five and father of more than 25, who was convicted on a spectrum of charges including statutory rape.

Sources–Latter-day Saints Family

The study of Latter-day Saints history, life, and thought is nurtured by the Mormon History Association, 581 South 630 East, Orem, Utah 84097 ( It publishes the Journal of Mormon History.

General Sources

Arbaugh, George Bartholomew. Revelation in Mormonism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1932. 252 pp.

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Cornwall, Marie, ed. Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

Cory, Delbert J. A Comparison Study of the Basic Thought of the Major "Latter Day Saint" Groups. Oberlin, OH: The Author, 1963. 42 pp.

Goodliffe, Wilford Leroy. America Frontier Religion: Mormons and Their Dissenters, 1830–1900. University of Idaho, Ph.D. dissertation, 1976. 287 pp.

Launius, Roger D., and Linda Thatcher, eds. Differing Visions: Dissenters in Mormon History. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

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Ostling, Richard N., and Joan K. Ostling. The Power and the Promise: Mormon America. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1999.

Rich, Russell B. Little Known Schisms of the Restoration. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1967. 76 pp.

——. Those Who Would Be Leaders. Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1967. 89 pp.

Shields, Steven L. Divergent Paths of the Restoration. Bountiful, UT: Restoration Research, 1982. 282 pp.

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Chapter 15: Latter-day Saints Family

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Chapter 15: Latter-day Saints Family