CONCLUSION | BRIGHAM YOUNG
The CES Letter seeks to make the final point about why we can't trust prophets. Let's explore this in more detail.
CES LETTER CLAIM
I’m told that prophets are just men who are only prophets when acting as such (whatever that means). I’m told that, like all prophets, Brigham Young was a man of his time. For example, I was told that Brigham Young was acting as a man when he taught that “God revealed to [him]” that “Adam is our father and God” and the “only God with whom we have to do.” Never mind that Brigham taught this over the pulpit in not one but two conferences and never mind that he introduced this theology into the endowment ceremony in the Temples.
I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call scripture. Let me have the privilege of correcting a sermon, and it is as good Scripture as they deserve. (the CES Letter deliberately omitted the portion in red)
CES Letter, Page 68-69
Misleading... The CES Letter left off the second half of that quote which impacts its meaning.
Brigham Young’s entire quote reads: “I have never yet preached a sermon and sent it out to the children of men, that they may not call Scripture. Let me have the privilege of correcting a sermon, and it is as good Scripture as they deserve. The people have the oracles of God continually” (italics added).
The author of The CES Letter seems confused on what it means to be a prophet. Webster’s 1830 dictionary defines a “prophet” as: “One that foretells future events; a predictor; a foreteller.”
On February 9, 1843, Joseph Smith taught “A prophet was a prophet only when he was acting as such.” The ability of a person to be a prophet is also dependent upon God. Amos reported: “Surely the Lord God will do nothing, but he revealeth his secret unto his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). So a “prophet” does not constantly foretell the future, a prophet can serve as a prophet only when God is revealing his secrets to him. A prophet’s opinions are not necessarily inspired, although they may reflect great wisdom.
On other occasions Brigham Young described his views using the term “reckon”: “I reckon that Father Adam was a resurrected being.” Whatever his reasons for employing that term, it is clear that he was not declaring “scripture” to his listeners, but his own opinion.
Concerning his own life, Joseph Smith declared shortly before his death: “I never told you I was perfect—but there is no error in the revelations which I have taught.” His non-revelatory statements and opinions may not have been perfect, but his revelations were.
CES LETTER CLAIM
Why would I want my kids chanting “Follow the Prophet” with such a ridiculous and inconsistent 187-year track record? What credibility do the Brethren have? Why would I want them following the prophet when a prophet is just a man of his time teaching his “theories” that will likely be disavowed by future “Prophets, Seers, and Revelators”? If his moral blueprint is not much better than that of their Sunday School teachers? If, historically speaking, the doctrine he teaches today will likely be tomorrow’s false doctrine?
CES Letter, Page 69
CES LETTER CLAIM
If Brigham Young was really a Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, would it not be unreasonable to expect that God would give him a hint that racism is not okay, sexism is not okay, blood atonement is not okay, and God’s name is not “Adam”?
CES Letter, Page 69
Brigham Young, like all of us, was undeniably shaped by the prevailing attitudes and beliefs of his time... Regrettably, this included racist views. What's wonderful about the Atonement is it allows you, me, our neighbor, and Brigham Young to learn and grow an put away flawed views.
The original issue was lineage, not skin color. The author of The CES Letter seems unaware that in the Old Testament under the Law of Moses, only males from the tribe of Levi were permitted to hold the priesthood and officiate in temple priesthood ordinances. Limitations on priesthood ordinations have a long religious history.
Even Jesus Christ acknowledged the importance of lineage telling the Twelve Apostles: “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6; see also 15:24). To blame Brigham Young for being concerned about ancestry is short-sighted.
Brigham Young’s implementation of the restrictions over time were undoubtedly influenced by surrounding cultural norms, a violation of which may have produced significant disdain and additional turmoil for the nineteenth-century Church. This does not excuse racism, but it does provide context for the policy Brigham eventually implemented.
In 1978 through a manifestation to the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve, the priesthood ban was removed.
Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, a man responsible for some of the Church’s justifications for a racial ban, denounced his own statements within months of the 1978 revelation. He told an audience at Brigham Young University to “[f]orget everything that I have said, or what President Brigham Young or . . . whomsoever has said in days past that is contrary to the present revelation. We spoke with a limited understanding and without the light and knowledge that now has come into the world.” It was a statement that suggested that prior teachings on race may have lacked “light and knowledge.”
The priesthood and temple restrictions were a trial for both white and black Latter-day Saints. In retrospect, it might seem like it was a needless trial that could have been easily remedied. However, the label of “needless” could be applied to many (most) of the individual trials we each face daily by those who do not possess God’s vision. He had the power to prevent its implementation or to remove it earlier, but He did not.
While the trials associated with the priesthood ban were ultimately removed, dealing with its memory is a trial for many today. We are here to face trials and God ultimately decides what those trials will be, although our individual choices will greatly modify the types and number we encounter. When trials appear that are not a result of our choices, then God is simply testing our faith, which is why we are here on earth. The Apostle Peter explained: “The trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:7).
The CES Letter seems more interested in sound-bites than accurate reporting.
John Taylor recalled his feelings toward plural marriage and it wasn’t seen as “sexism”: “The doctrine was first introduced of men having more wives than one[.] It was a thing new to the whole of us yet it was a thing that was substantiated by scripture and made manifest also by revelation and it only needed men to have the spirit of God or woman to know and to understand the principles that Joseph communicated unto them.”
Several of Joseph Smith's plural wives left accounts of their conversion experiences:
Mary Elizabeth Rollins remembered that, "An angel came to me – it went through me like lightning – I was afraid. Joseph Said he came with more revelation and knowledge than Joseph ever dare reveal."
Desdemona Fullmer reported a night vision in which an angel told her that the polygamy doctrine was true.
Lucy Walker recalled that, "As I was praying the last time, an angel of the Lord appeared to me and told me that the principle was of God and for me to accept it."
Helen Mar Kimball recounted that a "vision of my mind was open to see & understand the will & design of the Allmighty [sic]. I had a view of the order of plural marriage. The beauty & the glory which I saw in it was enough to make up for the trials in this life.
Other Nauvoo plural wives received similar manifestations:
Vilate Kimball's daughter Helen described that a "vision of her [Vilate's] mind was opened, and as darkness fleeth before the morning sun, so did her sorrow and the groveling things of earth vanish away, and before her she saw the principle of celestial marriage illustrated in all its beauty and glory, together with the great exaltation and honor it would confer upon her in that immortal and celestial sphere."
Elizabeth Whitney recalled that she and her husband, Bishop Newell K. Whitney “were seemingly wrapt in a heavenly vision, a halo of light encircled us, and we were convinced in our own bosoms that God heard and approved our prayers and intercedings before him."
Phoebe Woodruff reported that, "I went to God my heavenly Father, and enquired of him of the truth of this doctrine. He made it manifest to me as plainly as I could have wished, that it was of him."
Some Church leaders reported premonitions:
Brigham Young received special "reflections that were upon my mind while in England. But this was not until after I had told him what I understood."
Lorenzo Snow recalled that plural marriage "was revealed to me before the Prophet Joseph Smith explained it to me. I had been on a mission to England between two and three years and before I left England I was perfectly satisfied in regard to something connected with plural marriage."
James Allred remembered that “he did not believe it at first, it was so contrary to his feelings, but he said he knew Joseph was a prophet of God so he made a covenant that he would not eat, drink or sleep until he knew for himself, that he had got a testimony that it was true, that he had even heard the voice of God concerning it.”
Thomas Grover recalled a vision of a future plural wife: "On a sudden there stood before me my oldest wife that I have now and the voice of the Lord said that 'This is your companion for time and all Eternity.'"
Church member Martha Jane Knowlton Coray had a peculiar dream that convinced her of the propriety of plural marriage.
Samuel Amos Woolley, recounted his own dream-vision verifying the validity of plural marriage. Additional similar experiences from other Nauvoo polygamists are alluded to in numerous testimonials of the correctness of the principle of plural marriage.
Lucy Walker, recalled the value of plural marriage in teaching character strengths:
I will say [that polygamy] is a grand school. You learn self control, self denial; it brings out the nobler traits of our fallen natures, and teaches us to study and subdue self, while we become acquainted with the peculiar characteristics of each other. There is a grand opportunity to improve ourselves, and the lessons learned in a few years, are worth the experience of a lifetime, for this reason, that you are better prepared to make a home happy. You can easily avoid many unpleasant features of domestic life that through inexperience you otherwise are unprepared to meet.
Eliza R. Snow wrote that plural marriage helps to purify participants: “I bear my testimony that plural celestial marriage is a pure and holy principle, not only tending to individual purity and elevation of character, but also instrumental in producing a more perfect type of manhood mentally and physically.”
Plural wife Helen Mar Kimball Whitney also wrote about her feelings concerning the trials polygamy created in her life:
I did not try to conceal the fact of its having been a trial, but confessed that it had been one of the severest of my life; but that it had also proven one of the greatest of blessings. I could truly say it had done the most towards making me a Saint and a free woman, in every sense of the word; and I knew many others who could say the same, and to whom it had proven one of the greatest boons--a “blessing in disguise.”
Martha Cragun Cox related how plural marriage led to intense prayers that brought inspiration: “I knew the principle of plural marriage to be correct-- to be the highest, holiest order of marriage. I knew too, that I might fail to live the holy life required and lose the blessings offered. If I had not learned before to go to the Lord with my burden, I surely learned to go to him now. . . . I found relief only in prayer when the Holy Spirit gave me inspiration.”
The oversimplification of plural marriage as reflected in The CES Letter is unfortunate because it is deliberate and very misleading.
Brigham Young never attempted to contextualize his controversial statements about Adam (the first man) with references to Adam from the scriptures and Joseph Smith’s revelations and plain statements. Without clarity, the Adam-god theory was never a Church doctrine and members of the Quorum of the Twelve (e.g. Orson Pratt) firmly held to the traditional teachings in spite of the controversy.
President Young never devoted an entire discourse to the subject. Of the 1,500 known discourses of Brigham Young, a few dozen provides hints regarding his belief in the identity of Adam.
Knowing the exact nature and name of God does not change our form or worship or expectations of exaltation. The CES Letter exaggerates the importance of these unanswered questions.
In the scriptures Adam is called a “prince” and “archangel” but never a king (D&C 27:11, D&C 107:54-55, D&C 29:26, D&C 88:112). In contrast, Christ is called the King of Kings (1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 17:14, 19:16).
D&C 88:114 states that Michael will fight the battle of the “great God” and verse 115 states: “For Michael shall fight their battles, and shall overcome him who seeketh the throne of him who sitteth upon the throne, even the Lamb.” By most accounts, the “Lamb” could only be Christ suggesting a subordinate role for Adam in that battle.
Moses 6:50-52 teaches plainly that God is not Adam: “But God hath made known unto our fathers that all men must repent. And he called upon our father Adam by his own voice, saying: I am God; I made the world, and men before they were in the flesh. And he also said unto him: If thou wilt turn unto me, and hearken unto my voice, and believe, and repent of all thy transgressions, and be baptized, even in water, in the name of mine Only Begotten Son, who is full of grace and truth, which is Jesus Christ, the only name which shall be given under heaven, whereby salvation shall come unto the children of men, ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, asking all things in his name, and whatsoever ye shall ask, it shall be given you.”
Joseph Smith taught that Adam received his authority from Christ: “This then being the nature of the priesthood, every man holding the presidency of his dispensation and one man holding the presidency of them all even Adam and Adam receiving his presidency and authority from Christ, but cannot receive a fulness, until Christ shall present the kingdom to the Father which shall be at the end of the last dispensation.”
Respecting authority, Joseph Smith noted that “Christ is the Great High Priest, Adam next.” Joseph Smith also identified who was second to Adam: “The Priesthood was first given to Adam: he obtained the First Presidency and held the keys of it, form generation to generation; he obtained it in the creation before the world was formed as in Gen. 1:26-28. He had dominion given him over every living creature. He is Michael, the Archangel, spoken of in the scriptures. Then to Noah who is Gabriel, he stands next in authority to Adam in the Priesthood.”
Brigham Young did not claim a full knowledge of God: “The trouble between Orson Pratt & me is I do not know Enough & he knows to[o] much. I do not know evry thing. There is a mystery Concerning the God I worship which mystery will be removed when I Come to a full knowledge of God.”
The CES Letter fails to tell its readers that a comparison of the stenographer’s account of the quote “our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do” and to notes taken by Wilford Woodruff (as found in his journal entry for the date) reveals important discrepancies. The information provided by Woodruff potentially changes the meaning of Brigham’s Adam teachings that day.
Elder John A. Widstoe, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “Those who peddle the well-worn Adam-God myth, usually charge the Latter-day Saints with believing that: (1) Our Father in heaven, the Supreme God to whom we pray, is Adam, the first man; and (2) Adam was the father of Jesus Christ. A long series of absurd and false deductions are made from these propositions. Those who spread this untruth about the Latter-day Saints go back for authority to a sermon delivered by President Brigham Young ‘in the tabernacle, Great Salt Lake City, April 9th, 1852.’ (Journal of Discourses, 1:50.) Certain statements there made are confusing if read superficially, but very clear if read with their context. Enemies of President Brigham Young and of the Church have taken advantage of the opportunity and have used these statements repeatedly and widely to do injury to the reputation of President Young and the Mormon people. An honest reading of this sermon and of other reported discourses of President Brigham Young proves that the great second President of the Church held no such views as have been put into his mouth in the form of the Adam-God myth.
Elden Watson explained: “Brigham Young believed that one of the names of God, our Heavenly Father is Adam, and in many of President Young’s discourses he referred to God the Father using that name. There are therefore two Adams, and although President Young did not use the designation, it will be simpler for us in the following discussion to distinguish between the two individuals by referring to them as Adam Sr. (When referring to God, our Heavenly Father) and Adam Jr. (When referring to the embodied archangel, Michael, who partook of the forbidden fruit, fell, and became the father of Cain, Able and Seth etc.). It follows that there are also two Eves, and although in English the designation is never used with women, we shall distinguish between them as Eve Sr. and Eve Jr. This understanding allows us for the first time to correctly interpret a well known biblical passage… In interpreting Brigham Young’s comments, one must therefore determine by the context of the discourse whether he was speaking of Adam Sr. or Adam Jr. This simple process will relieve 98% of the difficulties encountered in understanding Brigham Young’s discourses on the topic of Adam.”
Early anti-Mormon writers charged that under Brigham Young the Church practiced “blood Atonement,” by which they meant Church-instigated violence directed at dissenters, enemies, and strangers. The exaggerated claims that appeared in the popular press and anti-Mormon literature are easily disproven.
Hard evidence of “blood atonement” offered by critics inevitably comes from questionable sources such as ghost-written “confessions” or third-hand accounts from critics. Even when purporting to offer solid, indisputable evidence that blood atonement was practiced, critics inevitably spend the vast majority of their time and print rehashing the same old (and limited) statements from Church leaders primarily in the late 1850s.
During the nineteenth century, occasional isolated acts of violence that occurred in areas where Latter-day Saints lived were typical of that period in the history of the American West, but they were not instances of Church-sanctioned blood Atonement. The Church never officially condoned taking life other than through legal processes. Responsibility for any reversions to primitive practices of blood shedding were the result of fanatical individuals and were brought to legal justice.
Most Latter-day Saints seem to have recognized that the blood atonement sermons were, in the words of historian Paul Peterson, “hyperbole or incendiary talk” that were “likely designed to frighten church members into conforming with Latter-day Saint principles. To Saints with good intentions, they were calculated to cause alarm, introspection, and ultimately repentance. For those who refused to comply with Mormon standards, it was hoped such ominous threats would hasten their departure from the Territory.” Antagonists were generally tone-deaf as they reported such hyperbole as factual directives.
Reformation-era (late 1850s) rhetoric centered around the concept of capital punishment for capital crimes, not ecclesiastical executions. However, it was not represented that way by critics and those hostiles to the Church who made unverifiable over-the-top accusations against Church leaders.
The First Presidency issued an official declaration on the matter of killing apostates, as a form of blood atonement, in 1889. This declaration reads, in part:
Notwithstanding all the stories told about the killing of apostates, no case of this kind has ever occurred, and of course has never been established against the Church we represent. Hundreds of seceders from the Church have continuously resided and now live in this territory, many of whom have amassed considerable wealth, though bitterly opposed to the Mormon faith and people. Even those who made it their business to fabricate the vilest falsehoods, and to render them plausible by culling isolated passages from old sermons without the explanatory context, and have suffered no opportunity to escape them of vilifying and blackening the characters of the people, have remained among those whom they have thus persistently calumniated until the present day, without receiving the slightest personal injury.
We denounce as entirely untrue the allegation which has been made, that our Church favors or believes in the killing of persons who leave the Church or apostatize from its doctrines. We would view a punishment of this character for such an act with the utmost horror; it is abhorrent to us and is in direct opposition to the fundamental principles of our creed.
References to “blood atonement” in The CES Letter reflect its commitment to an antagonistic agenda, rather than an attempt to find the truth.