By Sharon Lindbloom
22 February 2016
The Salt Lake Tribune recently conducted a survey, asking readers (Mormons) “if they have experienced a faith crisis, what triggered it and how they resolved it.” The newspaper received just over 1700 responses. The demographical breakdown was roughly in thirds: no longer members (538), inactive members (637), and still active members (532).
The faith-crisis triggers were also broken into three main groups: Joseph Smith’s history, historical polygamy/polyandry, and the LGBT policies of the modern Mormon Church. The first two categories really speak of the same issue: the troublesome history of Mormonism.
Joseph Smith’s instituting of polygamy, his own 3-dozen-plus wives, his marrying of women already married to other men (polyandry), his changing accounts of the First Vision, and concerns about his “translation” of LDS scriptures were cited by survey respondents as specific areas of concern to them. Learning Smith’s true history led to their crises of faith in Mormonism. And it’s no wonder.
The Church has long taught that Mormonism stands or falls on Joseph Smith.
“Mormonism, as it is called, must stand or fall on the story of Joseph Smith. He was either a prophet of God, divinely called, properly appointed and commissioned, or he was one of the biggest frauds this world has ever seen. There is no middle ground.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:188. Italics in original)
A current Mormon apostle conveyed the same idea when he wrote,
“Either the Book of Mormon is what the Prophet Joseph said it is, or this Church and its founder are false, a deception from the first instance onward…Joseph must be accepted either as a prophet of God or else as a charlatan of the first order…” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “Christ and the New Covenant,” quoted in Ensign, September 2002, 14)
Joseph Smith is essential to Mormonism. The LDS Church cannot move away from the foundation laid by its first prophet. In 2005, when then-President Gordon B. Hinckley was asked why Joseph Smith’s teachings remain so important in this day and age, he said,
“Because they are the foundation of our faith. Everything we have is a lengthened shadow of Joseph Smith. He was the key figure in the restoration of the gospel as we have it, and our foundation of doctrine and practice and procedure all come down from him.” (“Moving Church forward with faith,” Church News, 3/19/05, 3)
In an Ensign article honoring Joseph Smith, Area Authority Seventy Tad R. Callister explained,
“The gospel is somewhat like a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. When young Joseph came on the scene, perhaps 100 pieces were already in place. Then the Prophet exercised his divine mantle and put most of the other 900 pieces together.” (“Prophet of the Restoration,” Ensign, June 2002, 64)
For Mormons, the gospel itself hangs on Joseph Smith. Without him and his contributions, only a fraction of God’s truth is available to mankind. Consequently, Mormons have been taught that Joseph Smith’s character and accomplishments rival those of Jesus Christ. Brigham Young said,
“Well, now, examine the character of the Savior, and examine the character of those who have written the Old and New Testaments; and then compare them with the character of Joseph Smith, the founder of this work… and you will find that his character stands as fair as that of any man’s mentioned in the Bible.” (Journal of Discourses, 14:203)
And LDS Apostle M. Russell Ballard testified at a General Conference,
“…no one save Jesus only excels the singular accomplishment of the Prophet Joseph…” (“Hyrum Smith: ‘Firm as the Pillars of Heaven,’” Ensign, November 1995, 6)
Joseph Smith himself said,
“I have more to boast of than ever any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such a work as I. The followers of Jesus ran away from Him; but the Latter-day Saints never ran away from me yet.” (Joseph Smith, History of the Church 6:408-409)
Furthermore, according to LDS leaders, there is no salvation without Joseph Smith.
“NO SALVATION WITHOUT ACCEPTING JOSEPH SMITH. If Joseph Smith was verily a prophet, and if he told the truth when he said that he stood in the presence of angels sent from the Lord, and obtained keys of authority, and the commandment to organize the Church of Jesus Christ once again on the earth, then this knowledge is of the most vital importance to the entire world. No man can reject that testimony without incurring the most dreadful consequences, for he cannot enter the kingdom of god. It is, therefore the duty of every man to investigate that he may weigh this matter carefully and know the truth.” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Doctrines of Salvation 1:189-190. Emphasis in original)
“SALVATION WITH HIS PERMISSION. If we get our salvation, we shall have to pass by him; if we enter into our glory, it will be through the authority that he has received. We cannot get around him; we cannot get around President Young; we cannot get around President Taylor; we cannot get around the Twelve Apostles. If we ever attain to that eternal glory that God has promised to the faithful, we shall have to pass by them. If we enter into our exaltation, it will be because they, as the servants of God, permit us to pass by, just as the revelation says, ‘pass by the angels, and the Gods, which are set there’ (D&C 132:19), to our exaltation.” (George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth: Discourses and Writings of President George Q. Cannon 1:255)
“And thus, all men — every living soul who has lived or shall live on earth between the spring of 1820 and that glorious future day when the Son of God shall return to reign personally on earth all men in the latter days must turn to Joseph Smith to gain salvation. Why? The answer is clear and plain; let it be spoken with seven thunders. He alone can bring them the gospel; he alone can perform for them the ordinances of salvation and exaltation; he stands, as have all the prophets of all the ages in their times and seasons, in the place and stead of the Heavenly One in administering salvation to men on earth.” (Bruce R. McConkie, The Millennial Messiah: The Second Coming of the Son of Man, 334)
Joseph Smith is Mormonism. Without him, there is no LDS Church.
Mormons have been taught to honor and revere the Prophet. They’ve been told,
“He was a good, honest, humble, intelligent, and courageous young man with a heart of gold and an unshaken faith in God. He had integrity.” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “Precious Fruits of the First Vision,” Ensign, February 2009, 7)
“I testify that Joseph Smith was an honest and virtuous man, a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Neil L. Andersen, “Joseph Smith,” Ensign, November 2014, 31)
“I look to him. I love him. I seek to follow him. I read his words, and they become the standards to be observed in guiding this great Church as it moves forward in fulfilling its eternal destiny.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Church News, 12/13/2003, 3)
So what happens when a believing Latter-day Saint finds out that Joseph Smith lied to the Church about his plural wives? What happens when a Mormon discovers that Joseph Smith coerced girls into polygamous unions? Or that Joseph Smith seduced his friends’ wives? Or that Joseph Smith couldn’t get his story straight when relating his First Vision? Or that Joseph Smith’s allegedly divine “translations” of LDS scriptures are fraught with problems? Or that Joseph Smith arrogantly taunted his critics, proclaiming, “If they want a beardless boy to whip all the world, I will get on the top of a mountain and crow like a rooster: I shall always beat them”? (See History of the Church, 6:408-412)
Mark E. Peterson, an LDS Apostle in the mid-twentieth century noted,
“I do not believe we can be good Latter-day Saints and question the integrity of Joseph Smith.” (Conference Reports, April 1953, 84).
Indeed. Rather than questioning Joseph Smith’s integrity now that his true history is coming to light, today’s Latter-day Saints are instructed to “give Brother Joseph a break.” (Neil L. Andersen, “Faith is Not by Chance, but by Choice,” Ensign, November 2015, 66)
But when the curtain has been pulled back and Joseph Smith is seen by the light of day, the trigger has engaged and the faith crisis begins. As well it should.
The Bible warns of false prophets in the latter days. Jesus said to
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15-16)