Mormonism’s “Near Deification” of Joseph Smith

By Sharon Lindbloom
6 September 2016

Mormon blogger Mette Ivie Harrison posted an intriguing article on August 23rd at Huffington Post. She titled it, “Do Mormons Worship Joseph Smith?” In the article Ms. Harrison expressed her dismay that some non-Mormons might misunderstand the way modern Mormons feel about the faith’s first prophet and wrongly conclude that Mormons worship Joseph Smith.

Joseph Smith PortraitLatter-day Saints are quick to clarify that while they love and honor the Prophet Joseph, they do not worship him. They recognize that he is but a man. Ms. Harrison explains,

“To non-Mormons, I would hasten to add that Mormons do not now nor ever have prayed to Joseph Smith. We do not believe that he has become a god. We do not think that he intervenes in our lives or in the present workings of the church. The current prophet of the church is inspired by Jesus Christ, not by Joseph Smith, and it is Christ who is the head of our current church…

“In the Doctrine and Covenants 135, our scripture claims that ‘Joseph Smith “has done more save Jesus only for the salvation of men in this world”.’ I worry that this sounds as if we think that Joseph Smith is in some way on the same level as Jesus Christ. Joseph Smith was a man, not the son of God. He was not divine in any way. He did not have the capacity to resurrect himself or to resurrect others from the dead. He could not suffer the Atonement of Christ which allows all of us to repent of our sins and return to God.”

In addition, Ms. Harrison is able to recognize and admit that Joseph Smith had flaws, something many Mormons are unable to do. She notes that members of the early LDS Church perhaps felt differently about the Prophet than Mormons feel today, a difference she attributes to a “near deification of Joseph Smith that happened shortly after his martyrdom.”

Even so, it’s worth noting that many of the points Ms. Harrison uses to humanize the Prophet—and thereby demonstrate why Mormons do not worship him or place him on the same level as Jesus Christ—contradict LDS scripture and teachings of LDS leaders.

For example, Ms. Harrison says it is Christ who is head of the Mormon Church; LDS scripture says that Joseph is “at the head of the church” (D&C 28:6).

Ms. Harrison rightly says Joseph could not provide Atonement for the sins of men and women, yet according to LDS leaders he is an integral part of a person’s salvation. In 1966 Mormon Apostle Bruce McConkie said that there would be no salvation if it had not been for Joseph Smith. The man who became the tenth LDS President, Joseph Fielding Smith, taught that one must accept Joseph Smith in order to enter the kingdom of God, and early Mormon prophet Brigham Young claimed that no man or woman will ever enter the “mansion where God and Christ are” without the “consent” and “certificate of Joseph Smith” as their “passport” (respectively, Mormon Doctrine, 670; Doctrines of Salvation, 1:189-90; Journal of Discourses 7:289).

Ms. Harrison points out that Joseph Smith does not have the capacity to resurrect others from the dead, while Brigham Young taught that Joseph “will stand at the head of the resurrection in this last dispensation” and, holding the keys of resurrection, “will seal this authority on others” who will find their friends and resurrect them (Discourses of Brigham Young, 116).

Ms. Harrison affirms that Mormons do not place Joseph Smith on the same level as Jesus Christ, yet in 1922 an LDS Church lesson taught that there are at least nine parallels between the lives of Joseph Smith and Jesus Christ. After listing them side-by-side, the lesson concluded, “Who shall doubt the divine mission of these Saviours of mankind?” (Weber Stake Ward Teachers’ Lesson, January 1922).

These Mormon teachings may not reflect the feelings of modern Mormons, as Ms. Harrison says (for an interesting look at how modern Mormons may feel about Joseph Smith, see Jesus & Joseph: Parallel Lives, Rodney Turner, 2005; find my review of this book at mrm.org); yet most of these teachings were far removed in time from the Prophet’s death. They are all authoritative, coming from LDS scripture, prophets, seers, revelators, and official Church publications. Mormons do not worship Joseph Smith, but Church leaders have substantially contributed to the “near deification” of the man. Consider these words about Joseph Smith said by Gordon B. Hinckley, the President of the LDS Church from 1995-2008:

“How great indeed is our debt to him. …Great is his glory, … We stand in reverence before him… Let us not forget him. Let not his memory be forgotten in the celebration of Christmas.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Ensign, 12/1997, 2. Find more at “Guess Who?” on mrm.org)

Sometimes, in Mormonism, the honor and glory and reverence and love that belong to Jesus alone is misdirected to Joseph Smith. How this must grieve the Spirit of God! The Bible teaches that Jesus is the foundation and head of His church; salvation is in Christ alone; and the LORD is the only savior (respectively, 1 Corinthians 3:11; Colossians 1:18; Acts 4:12; Isaiah 43:11).

Joseph Smith will not get anyone into heaven, but false worship or adoration of him – that is, giving Joseph Smith the honor, glory, love, and trust that belong to Christ alone – will keep people out (see Exodus 34:14; Ezekiel 14:6-8; 1 Corinthians 10:14; see also “The Truth About Idolatry”).

Check yourselves, Mormon friends. God insists, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The near-deification of Joseph Smith could be your eternal undoing.