September 21, 2007

Cut Their Throats: Brigham, Freedom, and the Kingdom of God

Brigham Young
July 8, 1855
A favorite quote of critics of the LDS Church such as Shawn McCraney, Will Bagely, the Tanners, Ed Decker and others comes from a sermon given by Brigham Young on the subject of the Kingdom of God. Recently the quote has received more play because of the release of the polemic film September Dawn, which claims to portray the Mountain Meadows Massacre. In the trailer for an upcoming movie called "A Mormon President," McCraney said "[Mormons] would love to take over the world, I think they believe that they will someday do it." (He's the bleach-blond guy with the first couple buttons on his shirt undone.) Mormons? Taking over the world? Is that what we're talking about in all those 3-hour Sunday meetings?
When torn from context, the quote seems quite damning:
To diverge a little, in regard to those who have persecuted this people and driven them to the mountains, I intend to meet them on their own grounds. It was asked this morning how we could obtain redress for our wrongs; I will tell you how it could be done, we could take the same law they have taken, viz., mobocracy, and if any miserable scoundrels come here, cut their throats. (All the people said, Amen.)
Pulling this quote from the discourse, removing the context is called "quote-mining,"[1] a favorite behavior of the anti-Mormon. Let's go through the entire discourse and see what we find.
To begin, Brigham said Elder J. M. Grant and one of the Pratt brothers had spoken on the Kingdom of God earlier in the day. He said the subject loomed so large it was nearly impossible for a speaker to cover everything it involved. Thus, he would speak to give clarification. He dove right in, describing the Kingdom of God. At times Brigham became too brash, and spoke too harshly, but especially in the rest of this sermon, contrary to a restrictive and despotic "taking over the world" notion, President Young's comments are exhilarating and liberating:
If you and I could live in the flesh until that Kingdom is fully established, and actually spread abroad to rule in a temporal point of view, we should find that it will sustain and uphold every individual in what they deem their individual rights, so far as they do not infringe upon the rights of their fellow creatures. For instance, if the Kingdom of God was now established upon the continent of North and South America, and actually held rule and dominion over what we call the United States, the Methodist would be protected just as much as the Latter-day Saints; the Friend Quakers, the Shaking Quakers, and the members of every religious denomination would be sustained in what they considered to be their rights, so far as their notions were not incompatible with the laws of the Kingdom. ...When the Kingdom of God is fully set up and established on the face of the earth, and takes the pre-eminence over all other nations and kingdoms, it will protect the people in the enjoyment of all their rights, no matter what they believe, what they profess, or what they worship. If they wish to worship a god of their own workmanship, instead of the true and living God, all right, if they will mind their own business and let other people alone. … When the Kingdom of Heaven spreads over the whole earth, do, you expect that all the people composing the different nations will become Latter-day Saints? If you do; you will be much mistaken. …the order of society will be as it is when Christ comes to reign a thousand years; there will be every sort of sect and party, and every individual following what he supposes to be the best in religion, and in everything else, similar to what it is now.
First, it's clear that Brigham believed the Kingdom of God would allow men of all ideologies to live in freedom. Second, it's clear he believed the Kingdom would not bear rule until Christ Himself returns in the Millennium. What about wickedness, isn't that to be done away? Christ shall reign one thousand years, the Devil being bound? (See Revelation 20:2) Wickedness, not diversity of opinion, will be done away:

Will there be WICKEDNESS then as now? No.

How will you make this appear? When Jesus comes to rule and reign King of Nations as he now does King of Saints, the veil of the covering will be taken from all nations, that all flesh may see his glory together, but that will not make them all Saints. Seeing the Lord does not make a man a Saint, seeing an Angel does not make a man a Saint by any means. A man may see the finger of the Lord, and not thereby become a Saint; the vail of the covering may be taken from before the nations, and all flesh see His glory together, and at the same time declare they will not serve Him.

They will ask, 'If I bow the knee and confess that he is that Saviour, the Christ, to the glory of the Father, will you let me go home and be a Presbyterian?'

'Yes.'

'And not persecute me?'

'Never.'

'Won't you let me go home and belong to the Greek Church?' 'Yes.'

'Will you allow me to be a Friend Quaker, or a Shaking Quaker?'

'O yes, anything you wish to be, but remember that you must not persecute your neighbors, but must mind your own business, and let your neighbors alone, and let them worship the sun, moon, a white dog, or anything else they please, being mindful that every knee has got to bow and every tongue confess. When you have paid this tribute to the Most High, who created you and preserves you, you may then go and worship what you please, or do what you please, if you do not infringe upon your neighbors.'

Brigham continues to explain all ideologies, so long as they are peaceful and do not molest their neighbors, will be allowed to worship whatever they please, or even worship nothing at all. Then he said something of great interest to those who believe the LDS Church is planning on taking over the world:
As was observed by brother Pratt, that Kingdom is actually organized, and the inhabitants of the earth do not know it. If this people know anything about it, all right; it is organized preparatory to taking effect in the due time of the Lord, and in the manner that shall please Him. As observed by one of the speakers this morning, that Kingdom grows out of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but it is not the Church, for a man may be a legislator in that body which will issue laws to sustain the inhabitants of the earth in their individual rights, and still belong to the Church of Jesus Christ at all. And further, though a man may not even believe in any religion, it would be perfectly right, when necessary, to give him the privilege of holding a seat among that body which will make laws to govern all the nations of the earth and control those who make no profession of religion at all; for that body would be governed, controlled, and dictated to acknowledge others in those rights which they wish to enjoy themselves. Then the Latter-day Saints would be protected, if a Kingdom of this kind was on the earth, the same as all other people... The Church of Jesus Christ will produce this government, and cause it to grow and spread, and it will be a shield round about the Church. And under the influence and power of the Kingdom of God, the Church of God will rest secure and dwell in safety, without taking the trouble of governing and controlling the whole earth. The Kingdom of God will do this, it will control the kingdoms of the world.
That's really what they were after: protection. The power they sought, and the power the Church still waits for is the power of protection, the power of all men to worship God as they please and not fear corruption in high places. After all the mobocracy they had faced, they just wanted peace and the right to worship God in their own way. Did the Mormons then hate the Constitution? Hardly. They were disgusted by the treasonous actions pursued against them in Missouri and Illinois. True, Brigham spoke in great generalities here, and should have been a little more temperate. I can't blame him for his fire, after seeing what he'd seen it would be difficult to remain completely level-headed. Brigham still did well:

It was observed this morning that the government of the United States was the best or most wholesome one on the earth, and the best adapted to our condition. That is very true. And if the constitution of the United States, and the laws of the United States, and of the several States, were honored by the officers, by those who sit in judgment and dispense the laws to the people, yes, had even the letter of the law been honored, to say nothing of the spirit of it, of the spirit of right, it would have hung Governors, Judges, Generals, Magistrates, &c., for they violated the laws their own States.

Such has been the case with our enemies in every instance that this people have been persecuted. If a person belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was guilty of stealing while living in the States, or if any of that Church were found guilty of murder, or any other transgression of the civil law, they ought to have been tried by the law, and have received the punishment affixed to the crime. Did any of the Latter-day Saints object to that? No, not one. Joseph the Prophet never objected to it, but on the contrary he urged it, prayed for it, and wished the Church to be delivered from all transgressors.

While we were in Illinois, if every trangressor [transgressor] of the law of that State, in our community, had been taken up and tried and punished, every Saint could have said, 'Amen, we are better without than with them.' So we say here, we are far better off without wicked men than with them. I would rather be in the midst of these mountains with one thousand, or even five hundred, men who are Latter-day Saints, than with five hundred thousand wicked men, in case all the forces of the earth were to come against us to battle, for God would fight the battles of the Saints, but He has not agreed to fight the battles of wicked men.I say again that the constitution, and laws of the United States, and the laws of the different States, as a general thing, are just as good as we want, provided they were honored. But we find Judges who do not honor the laws, yes, officers of the law dishonor the law. Legislators and law makers are frequently the first violators of the laws they make. 'When the wicked rule the people mourn,' and when the corruption of a people bears down the scale in favor of wickedness, that people is nigh unto destruction.We have the proof on hand, that instead of the laws being honored, they have been violated in every instance of persecution against this people; instead of the laws being made honorable, they have been trampled under the feet of lawyers, judges, sheriffs, governors, legislators, and nearly all the officers of the government; such persons are the most guilty of breaking the laws.

A brief historical note would be of interest here. When the Saints arrived in the Salt Lake Valley they set up a temporary Territorial constitution. they submitted such to the Federal government petitioning for statehood. The statehood was denied, but a territorial government created, naming Brigham Young governor. Soon federally appointed territorial judges were appointed, many of whom were aspiring politicians uninterested in the affairs of the Church. Others were scoundrels who greatly offended the saints, deserted their posts, went back to the east and published all manner of falsehoods against the Mormons. This the saints could not stand, and viewed it as taxation without representation: they felt they had the right to elect all their own officials. Eventually the troubles led to the Utah War in 1857. (For more, see Comprehensive History of the Church vol. 4, by B.H. Roberts.) Combine these tensions with the former persecutions of Missouri and Illinois when considering the next comments. This is the key stretch regarding the slitting of throats:

To diverge a little, in regard to those who have persecuted this people and driven them to the mountains, I intend to meet them on their own grounds. It was asked this morning how we could obtain redress for our wrongs; I will tell you how it could be done, we could take the same law they have taken, viz., mobocracy, and if any miserable scoundrels come here, cut their throats. (All the people said, Amen.)

This would be meting out that treatment to wicked men, which they had measured to innocent persons. We could meet them on their own ground, when they will not honor the law, but will kill the Prophets and destroy the innocent. They could drive the innocent from their homes, take their houses and farms, cattle and goods, and destroy men, women, and children, walking over the laws of the United States, trampling them under their feet, and not honoring a single law.

Suppose I should follow the example they have shown us, and say, "Latter-day Saints, do ye likewise, and bid defiance to the whole clan of such men?" Some who are timid might say, "O! our property will be destroyed, and we shall be killed." If any man here is a coward, there are fine mountain retreats for those who feel their hearts beating, at every little hue and cry of the wicked, as though they would break their ribs.

...You know that almost every time that Gentiles address us in public, they are very mindful to caution the Latter-day Saints "not to fight, now don't fight." Have we ever wanted to fight them? No, but we have wanted to preach to them the Gospel of peace.

Again, they say, 'We are afraid that you, Latter-day Saints, are becoming aliens to the United States, we are afraid your hearts are weaned from the brotherhood down yonder.'

Don't talk about weaning now, for we were weaned long ago, that is, we are or should be weaned from all wickedness and wicked men. I am so perfectly weaned that when I embrace "Mormonism," I could have left father, mother, wife, children, and every relation I had, and I am weaned from everybody that will turn a deaf ear to the voice of revelation. We are already weaned, but remember, we are not weaned from the constitution of the United States, but only from wickedness, or at least we should be. Let every man and woman rise up in the strength of their God, and in their hearts ask no favors of the wicked; that is the way to live and then let the wicked persecute, if they choose.

Are we going to fight? No, unless they come upon us and compel us either to fight or be slain. [2]

Brigham recounted the behavior of some Federal representatives who had been sent to Utah the year previous:

Last fall we were visited by some of the brotherhood from the east, and I said, 'Come in, my brother, come into my house; this is Mrs. Young, this is my daughter, and this is sister so and so. Wilford, Joseph and William; open your houses and let these eastern brethren stay with us in comfortable quarters this winter.'

Wilford turns his family out of a fine house into a log cabin, to let the brotherhood in. Not a person, with but one exception, opened his house for their accommodation, without first asking my counsel.

I said, 'Yes, open your houses, turn out your wives and children, and let the brotherhood come in, and prove to the old stock, that we are their friends if they will do anything like what is decent;' and we furnished them comfortable winter quarters.

Directly the brotherhood began to pass around, and, as brother Grant said to-day, with a glove half way on their fingers, apparently so virtuous in the day light that they durst not touch a female's hand with theirs, unless gloved, but under the shadows of night they would go whisking around, here and there, saying, 'Won't you take a sleigh ride with me this evening? Step into my carriage, and take a ride.'

These proceedings were directly in the face and eyes of this people. What did they do when I introduced them to a wife, a daughter, or a sister with all the grace, politeness, and kindness that could be expected from any man? As quick as my back was turned, it would be, 'Miss, or Madam, I want to get into bed with you. Look here, you come to my office, wont you? I have a good bed there.'

I will cut the matter short, and ask, once for all, did they return the compliment, and without exception reciprocate the kindness and courtesy with which they were invariably met? No, they did not, at least not all of them, for several returned evil for good, and introduced wickedness and corruption into our midst, and the Lord knows that we already had enough of that to contend with.

Past experience has taught the brethren that in future it will probably be the best policy to let soldiery quarter by themselves, and I am perfectly willing.

These offenses were very upsetting to the Saints. It only got worse when emigrants passing through on the way to California gold would try convincing women to join them, etc. Despite these scandals, Brigham wanted to be unflinching:

If persons come here and behave like gentlemen, they shall enjoy their rights, and we will enjoy ours or fight to the death. Let the laws of the United States be honored, and the laws of the individual States, and we will do as the Kingdom of God will do-protect every body in their rights.

The experience of the last winter has taught us a good lesson, and we hope it has taught the people generally a lesson. I am troubled all the time with, 'Brother Brigham,' and 'President Young, I do love you, President Young,' when at the same time some, who use such expressions, will have one arm round my neck, loving me dearly, and the other around the neck of a scoundrel, trying to get Christ and Belial together; this I cannot endure.

...I will say to such official gentlemen as tell and boast 'what the General Government is going to do,' or 'what they themselves will do,' or 'what they want to do,' thinking to terrify the Latter-day Saints, that you may as well undertake to terrify the Almighty on His throne, as to terrify a Latter-day Saint of the true stripe-one who has the true blood in him.True, there are many timid persons; timidity or fear is a weakness of the flesh; but to that person who has so far obtained the victory over the flesh as to know how God is dealing with the people, there is no terror, for he is just as ready to die as to live, just as the Lord pleases; his object is to do right, and he fears not.

Brigham returned to the theme; that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and the foundational rights of man would be given to all. The rights to progress and become like our Father. While government is currently imperfect, it won't always be so:

The kingdom of heaven is at hand. Jesus taught his disciples to pray that the kingdom of heaven might come upon the earth, and when it does come, you will find that it will be very different from what many people are imagining or expecting it will be. Its spirit will be to preserve their individual rights sacred to the inhabitants of the earth.

What is the foundation of the rights of man? The Lord Almighty has organized man for the express purpose of becoming an independent being like unto Himself, and has given him his individual agency. Man is made in the likeness of his Creator, the great archetype of the human species, who bestowed upon him the principles of eternity, planting immortality within him, and leaving him at liberty to act in the way that seemeth good unto him, to choose or refuse for himself; to be a Latter-day Saint or a Wesleyan Methodist, to belong to the Church of England, the oldest daughter of the Mother Church, to the old Mother herself, to her sister the Greek Church, or to be an infidel and belong to no church.

As I have just stated, the Lord Almighty has organized every human creature for the express purpose of becoming independent, and has designed that they should be capable of receiving the principles of eternity to a fulness; and when they have received them unto a fulness, they are made perfect, like unto the Son of Man, and become Gods, even the Sons of God.

I am so far from believing that any government upon this earth has constitutions and laws that are perfect, that I do not even believe that there is a single revelation, among the many God has given to the Church, that is perfect in its fulness.
For more on the revelations of the Church being imperfect, I refer you to this post, and continue on the theme of the Kingdom of God. Brigham said the Saints had greater responsibility because they had the gospel. Their job now wasn't to take over the world, Christ would take care of that in the best of ways; the saint's duty was self-improvement:

When we first received the spirit of the Gospel, what was the world to us, with its grandeur, its riches, its elegance, its finery, its gaudy show, its glittering array of paltry honors, its empty titles, and every thing pertaining to it? Nothing but a shadow, when the Lord opened our minds and by the visions of His Spirit revealed to us a few of the things He had in reserve for the faithful, which were only, as it were, a drop in the bucket, compared to the ocean yet to be revealed. Yet that little made our hearts leap for joy, and we felt that we could forsake everything for the knowledge of Jesus Christ and the perfections that we saw in his character.

Are you Saints still? If you are not, repent of your sins and do your first works. Has the Lord taught you how to consecrate yourselves to His service, build up His kingdom, and send forth the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth, that others may rejoice in the same Spirit that you have received, and enjoy the same things you enjoy? Yes, He has; and what more? A great deal more. He has taught you how to purify yourselves, and become holy, and be prepared to enter into His kingdom, how you can advance from one degree to another, and grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth, until you are prepared to enter the celestial kingdom; how to pass every sentinel, watchman, and gate keeper.
This has been the policy of the Church since its inception: not a global takeover by force, etc., not a "nation of perfect liberty," per se, but the unfurling of a realm of righteousness.
Brigham closed stating the Kingdom of God would roll forth despite all earthly kingdoms, God will bear rule, and the righteous people of all faiths, Latter-day saint or not, will enjoy freedom and peace:

When the day comes in which the Kingdom of God will bear rule, the flag of the United States will proudly flutter unsullied on the flag staff of liberty and equal rights, without a spot to sully its fair surface; the glorious flag our fathers have bequeathed to us will then be unfurled to the breeze by those who have power to hoist it aloft and defend its sanctity.

Up to this time we have carried the world on our backs. Joseph did it in his day, besides carrying this whole people, and now all this is upon my back, with my family to provide for at the same time, and we will carry it all, and bear off the Kingdom of God. And you may pile on state after state, and kingdom after kingdom, and all hell on top, and we will roll on the Kingdom of our God, gather out the seed of Abraham, build the cities and temples of Zion, and establish the Kingdom of God to bear rule over all the earth, and let the oppressed of all nations go free.

I have never yet talked as rough in these mountains as I did in the United States when they killed Joseph. I there said boldly and aloud, 'If ever a man should lay his hands on me and say, on account of my religion, "Thou art my prisoner," the Lord Almighty helping me, I would send that man to hell across lots.' I feel so now. Let mobbers keep their hands off from me, or I will send them where they belong; I am always prepared for such an emergency.I have occupied time enough; may God bless you. Amen (Journal of Discourses 2:309-318).

I have never seen a more liberal and exhilarating view of the coming Millennium than the one as taught by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. True, "we believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law," but additionally we believe true government will be rolled into one when "Christ will reign personally upon the earth; and, that the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory." (See Articles of Faith 10, 12.) Meantime, Brigham said the persecution could rage on, and the Church would still fulfill its divine destiny.[2]
With the entire discourse coupled with the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints in view it becomes clear what Brigham intended with the comment about cutting throats. The saints were tired of mobocracy and said "suppose we adopt the attitude of the mobs we face," so to speak. He was not advocating violence, he was speaking hyperbolically.
Footnotes:
[1]
As B.H. Roberts noted in the Comprehensive History of the Church, the law regarding murder and the shedding of blood had been given to the Saints early in the restoration:
"The law of God has not lodged the right of capital punishment with the church. Even where there is a church trial had, and proof given of the worthiness of death, at that point it becomes the duty of the church to turn over those guilty of offenses worthy of death to the law of the land, to be dealt with according to that law, and through its ministers. What the law of God does not auhorize the church to do, it has not authorized individuals to do." (Comprehensive History of the Church 4:176, footnote 26.)
Roberts cited Doctrine and Covenants 42:18-19, 78-79:
"And now, behold, I speak unto the church. Thou shalt not kill; and he that kills shall not have forgiveness in this world, nor in the world to come. And again, I say, thou shalt not kill; but he that killeth shall die...And again, every person who belongeth to this church of Christ, shall observe to keep all the commandments and covenants of the church. And it shall come to pass, that if any persons among you shall kill they shall be delivered up and dealt with according to the laws of the land; for remember that he hath no forgiveness; and it shall be proved according to the laws of the land."
(cf. D&C 63:31, wherein the saints are forbidden to shed blood.)
[2]
On several occasions Pres. Young encouraged the Saints by telling them the work of God would continue, despite all opposition:

"Let the wicked rage and the people mock on, for now is their day, and it will soon be over...

Let them do all they can, and if they have power to destroy any more of this people, Amen to it; what will it do? It will only augment the cause of Zion, spread the Gospel of Salvation, and increase the Kingdom of God on the earth. Their persecutions will never destroy this people, or the everlasting Gospel. Every time they have killed any of this people and opposed the Gospel, both have increased ten fold, and the work has spread still the more; yes, more than it would have done had they let it alone, and not have come against the Saints to drive them from their possessions.

…for we are determined, in the name of Israel's God, not to rest until we have revolutionized the world with truth; and if you persecute us, we will do it the quicker." (Journal of Discourses 2:318)

While revolutionizing the world with the gospel rather than the sword, treasuring up good wherever it comes from was important to Brigham, as well:
As I said when I commenced preaching twenty-three years ago, and saw the same spirit of persecution exhibited then as subsequently, 'Let us alone, persecutors, we do not wish to fight you, for we have not come to destroy men's lives, or to take peace from the earth, but we have come to preach the Gospel, and to make known to you the things of the Kingdom of God. If your doctrine is better than ours, let us know it, for we are searching after the true riches, we wish the light of heaven to accompany us, we are searching after salvation, and if you have anything better than this, let us have it, and if we have anything better than you, you are welcome to it. But just let us alone, for we are determined, in the name of Israel's God, not to rest until we have revolutionized the world with truth; and if you persecute us, we will do it the quicker.'

I say the same now. Let us alone and we will send Elders to the uttermost parts of the earth, and gather out Israel, wherever they are; and if you persecute us, we will do it the quicker, because we are naturally dull when let alone, and are disposed to take a little sleep, a little slumber, and a little rest. If you let us alone, we will do it a little more leisurely; but if you persecute us, we will sit up nights to preach the gospel." (ibid.)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just a comment on the following phrase from journalofdiscourses.org:

"...who bestowed upon him the principles of eternity, planting immorality within him, and leaving him at liberty to act in the way that seemeth good unto him..."

If you check the online scan from BYU of the JoD, you will find that the word shown as "immorality" is actually "immortality," a much more appropriate thing for God to plant in man. The site journalofdiscourses.org has a significant number of scanning errors - this is one of them.

LifeOnaPlate said...

Whoa, thanks for the heads up! I have been pretty careful with the .org site to catch the inaccuracies, but that one slipped right on by. It reminds me of a transcript of D&C 122, I think, which said the "very joys of hell" would gape open the mouth after thee. Good stuff!

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