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Oftentimes, it’s what they don’t say

By Bill McKeever

Note: The following was originally printed in the September/October 2022 edition of Mormonism Researched. To request a free subscription, please visit here.

For two weeks in July, Eric and I were able to visit several prominent historical sites pertaining to the Latter-day Saint movement. Traveling with us was our friend Trevor Wolfe who works with Haven Ministries in Denver, CO. Trevor has been a big help to Eric over the past few years when ministering at LDS temple open house events.

Our trip began in Nauvoo, Illinois, as we assisted Steve Dealy by distributing literature at the Nauvoo and British Pageants. Steve is the director of the Nauvoo Christian Visitor’s Center located on Mulholland Street, east of the Nauvoo temple that was rebuilt and dedicated in 2002.

The Nauvoo and British Pageants are two separate productions. One highlights the efforts of the LDS people who settled in Nauvoo while the other tells the story of British emigrants who converted to Mormonism through the missionary efforts of people like Wilford Woodruff, who later became Mormonism’s fourth president.

Bill McKeever shares his faith with a pageant-goer in Nauvoo, Ill.

During the days we visited several of the reconstructed buildings belonging to both The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Community of Christ. Naturally, these have special importance to members of both traditions as they provide a vivid picture of what the area looked like prior to Joseph Smith’s death at Carthage Jail. Carthage was our first stop. I’ve visited there many times since the early 1980s.

Never have the guides mentioned the smuggled pistols that were given to Joseph Smith by Cyrus Wheelock and John S. Fullmer (see DHC 6:607-608). Such was the case on our July 12th visit. A missionary couple took turns recounting the events leading to Smith’s death on June 27, 1844. However, nothing was said about The Nauvoo Expositor newspaper or of Smith ordering the destruction of the printing press that had been used to publish the Expositor’s unfavorable stories about him.

In the upstairs room where Joseph and his brother were killed, the couple offered an emotional recounting of the murders. Nothing was mentioned about Joseph shooting three of his attackers using the pistol left by Wheelock. I asked the husband afterward why that portion of the story was omitted and was told there was not enough time on our tour to give every detail. 

The senior missionary upstairs at the Carthage Jail shows how Joseph Smith tried to keep intruders from getting inside by using a stick at the door. The gun that Smith had smuggled in and shot was never mentioned in the explanation.

We also attended an outdoor recital of the King Follett Discourse by an actor portraying Joseph Smith. Given the fact that Smith took two hours to deliver this message on April 7, 1844, we knew that the 15-minute excerpt would be far from complete.

Though the actor did include the part where Joseph Smith said if you were to see God today, “you would see him like a man in form–like yourselves,” overlooked was the portion preceding this statement that reads, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man.”

Also left out was the part where Smith declared, “We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity, I will refute that idea, and will take away and do away the vail, so that you may see.” What I found fascinating is how some LDS scholars say the King Follett Discourse is the greatest sermon ever delivered by Smith, yet the portions that they claim make it so great were mysteriously omitted. For more on the King Follett discourse, click here.

Before driving to Kirtland, Ohio, we stopped by the John Johnson Farm located about 40 minutes south of Kirtland. It was here in the darkness of night on March 24, 1832 that Joseph Smith was dragged out of the Johnson home and brutally tarred and feathered. We were given the impression that this was merely a case of religious persecution. Still, there is more to this story. Luke Johnson, the son of John Johnson, later became an apostle in the LDS Church. According to his account:

while Joseph was yet at my father’s, a mob of forty or fifty came to his house, a few entered his room in the middle of the night. . . he was then seized by as many as could get hold of him, and taken about forty rods from the house, stretched on a board, and tantalized in the most insulting and brutal manner; they tore off the few night clothes that he had on, for the purpose of emasculating him, and had Dr. Dennison there to perform the operation; but when the Dr. saw the Prophet stripped and stretched on the plank, his heart failed him, and he refused to operate. Source

Castration seems to be a punishment reserved for sexual crimes. Sidney Rigdon was tarred and feathered that same night, though Dr. Dennison’s presence was not intended for him. Some in the mob apparently felt that the 26-year-old Joseph Smith was making sexual advances towards Marinda Nancy [sometimes Nancy Marinda] Johnson, the 16-year-old daughter of John and Alice “Elsa” Johnson and the sister of Luke Johnson.

We know that Marinda’s Uncle Eli was part of the mob. Could he or others have been motivated to defend Marinda’s honor? Though the attack on Smith doesn’t prove that such an accusation was true, it does offer another possible motive. Marinda later became a plural wife of Joseph Smith.

After taking a tour of the Kirtland Temple, we then stopped at the LDS visitor’s center located near the restored Newell K. Whitney store. It was not uncommon for the tour guides to ask where we were from. Eric and I made it clear that we were from the state of Utah but we were not members of the LDS Church.

As we sat in the portion of the building used for the “school of the prophets,” we were told that the room was considered sacred and we were asked to observe a moment of silence. Afterwards, our guide opened up for questions.

I explained that I have often heard the term “restoration” on several of the tours we had taken, but I noticed that this word is connected to doctrine that was never taught or practiced by early Christians. He tried to deflect by saying it is “what we believe.”

I politely said I had no intention of taking anything away from what he believed while pointing out that the word restoration implies something that was there before, even though Christians never believed these teachings. Rather than address my concerns, it was suggested that we should focus on those things we agreed on.

Omitting important information may divert questions in the short term, but what happens when the member (or non-member) finds out the LDS leaders were not being forthright with them? Should they be faulted if they see the LDS Church lacks integrity?

See more photos as well as a 3 1/2-week Viewpoint on Mormonism series that played in October and November 2022 by clicking here.

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