December 10, 2007

Avoiding Annoyances

George A. Smith
April 6, 1856

Terryl Givens' People of Paradox examines LDS culture in terms of the seeming incongruities inherent in the gospel as restored through Joseph Smith. One particular paradox involves Joseph's collapsing together of the temporal and spiritual; what Givens calls the "blending and blurring of sacred and secular categories." He cites Brigham Young as explaining the paradox in these words:

When I saw Joseph Smith, he took heaven, figuratively speaking, and brought it down to earth; and he took the earth and brought it up, and opened up, in plainness and simplicity, the things of God; and that is the beauty of his mission.1
Givens concludes Americans were "not ready to disregard the boundaries that kept heaven and earth apart."2 Combining the heavens and earth flew in the face of the conventional dualism of Joseph's day; that heaven and God are "wholly other," the earth and mankind eternally different in fundamental ways.

Part of the combining of the sacred with the profane within the gospel framework lies in practicalities: avoiding distractions. By keeping our house in order we allow for more reflective time. We are less apt to be drawn from thoughts of higher things by knowing the dishes haven't been done yet. Additionally, mingling the sacred and profane combines with the paradox of Church authority and individual agency. Even more-so in the early days of the Church leaders were apt to offer counsel regarding temporal matters.

George A. Smith lighted upon the subject after Heber C. Kimball asked that he offer some temporal counsel to the conference.

First, George A. felt the difficult tasks that plagued life of early settlers served as a sort of filter; a mechanism to separate the wheat from the chaff. Their very location in the territory of Utah became a part of the gospel plan:

The condition of our Territory, the nature of our soil, the peculiarities of our climate, appear as if designed expressly by the Almighty for the fulfillment of this prophesy, and the upbuilding of the kingdom of heaven in the last days. It matters not what corner of the earth men come from, unless they possess the spirit of the leaven of truth, they will remain but a short time in these mountains before they begin to consider it the wrong place, for the leaven is working, they cannot quite endure the climate and the peculiarities of the country, or something of the kind, and off they go. On account of our altitude we are most advantageously situated for the drainage of the filth, scum, and corruption, when it accumulates to a certain extent, for it flows off in different directions, thus leaving the people of the kingdom remaining as it were alone.
As time passed, Utah became less exclusionary, as industry, railroads, and expansion changed the face of the West. Still, every-day tasks seem to form a part of the gospel plan to Latter-day Saints. Temporal arrangements are necessary; the gospel is not an all-encompassing transcendent event that leaves the reality of life behind; it combines the two. This was described by editor James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald in 1842, who said the Mormons

are busy all the time establishing factories to make saints and crockery ware, also prophets and white paint.3
Again, one reason Elder Smith mentioned these matters was for the practicality of avoiding annoyance:

There are many here, as religious as this congregation looks, who have not got a good fence around their farms, yet they will kneel down in the mornings, perhaps, to offer a prayer. By the time they have got one knee fairly to the floor, peradventure somebody thunders away at the door and cries out, "Neighbor, there are twenty head of cattle in your wheat; they have been there all night, and are there now."

The man of no fence is roused up, and instead of praying he is apt to think, "Damn it," and to start off get the cattle out and put them into the stray pen. Perhaps another neighbor has not been quite as wide awake in the morning, and had prepared no place in which to secure his cattle: he is about ready to say his prayers when his ears are saluted with, "Neighbor, all your cattle are in the stray pen, and $100 damage is to pay."

Thus you must see that some temporal arrangements are necessary, to enable men to enjoy that quiet which would be desirable in attempting to worship our Heavenly Father.
These temporal realities can be a proving ground; George A. related the story of the milk strippings which he said led to the apostasy of Thomas B. Marsh. George Albert emphasizes only one part of the story, the seemingly silly milk incident, and employs it homiletically to teach a principle. While he oversimplifies the reasons for Marsh's apostasy, he admonished the Saints to "avoid annoyances":

You may think that these small matters amount to but little, but sometimes it happens that out of a small matter grows something exceedingly great. For instance, while the Saints were living in Far West, there were two sisters wishing to make cheese, and, neither of them possessing the requisite number of cows, they agreed to exchange milk. The wife of Thomas B. Marsh, who was then President of the Twelve Apostles, and sister Harris concluded they would exchange milk, in order to make a little larger cheese then they otherwise could. To be sure to have justice done, it was agreed that they should not save the strippings, but that the milk and strippings should all go together. Small matters to talk about here, to be sure, two women's exchanging milk to make cheese. Mrs. Harris, it appeared, was faithful to the agreement and carried to Mrs. Marsh the milk and strippings, but Mrs. Marsh, wishing to make some extra good cheese, saved a pint of strippings from each cow and sent Mrs. Harris the milk without the strippings. Finally it leaked out that Mrs. Marsh had saved strippings, and it became a matter to be settled by the Teachers. They began to examine the matter, and it was proved that Mrs. Marsh had saved the strippings, and consequently had wronged Mrs. Harris out of that amount.

An appeal was taken from the Teacher to the Bishop, and a regular Church trial was had. President Marsh did not consider that the Bishop had done him and his lady justice, for they decided that the strippings were wrongfully saved, and that the woman had violated her covenant.

Marsh immediately took an appeal to the High Council, who investigated the question with much patience, and I assure you they were a grave body. Marsh being extremely anxious to maintain the character of his wife, as he was the President of the Twelve Apostles, and a great man in Israel, made a desperate defense, but the High Council finally confirmed the Bishop's decision.
Marsh, not being satisfied, took an appeal to the First Presidency of the Church, and Joseph and his Counselors had to sit upon the case, and they approved the decision of the High Council.

This little affair, you will observe, kicked up a considerable breeze, and Thomas B. Marsh then declared that he would sustain the character of his wife, even if he had to go to hell for it.
Then the President of the Twelve Apostles, the man who should have been the first to do justice and cause reparation to be made for wrong, committed by any member of his family, took that position, and what next? He went before a magistrate and swore that the "Mormons" were hostile towards the State of Missouri. That affidavit brought from the government of Missouri an exterminating order, which drove some 15,000 Saints from their homes and habitations, and some thousands perished through suffering the exposure consequent on this state of affairs.

Do you understand what trouble was consequent to the dispute about a pint of strippings? Do you understand that the want of fences around gardens, fields, and yards, in town and country, allowing cattle to get into mischief and into the stray pen, may end in some serious result? That the corroding influence of such circumstances may be brought to bear upon us, in such a way that we may lose the Spirit of the Almighty and become hostile to the people?

And if we should not bring about as mighty results as the pint of strippings, yet we might bring entire destruction to ourselves. If you wish to enjoy your religion and the Spirit of the Almighty, you must make your calculations to avoid annoyances, as much as possible.

George A. saw that many problems in the Church could be avoided by following his practical advice on fence-making; an odd topic for a religious gathering, to say the least:
Brother Kimball requested me to preach on matters of policy, and I have come to the conclusion that the best policy is to undertake to cultivate a little land, and to fence and cultivate it as it should be, and to only keep as many cattle as we can take care of, and keep from destroying our neighbors crops. In that way I believe we will be able to avoid a good many annoyances, and to adopt a great deal better policy than we now have in those respects. In the City of Provo, there has been more grain destroyed, every year since I first went there than has been saved, and the main cause has been the want of proper fences.
If anything, George A. quipped, you ought to have a good fence so as not to insult the cows, who might be offended enough to challenge you to a duel after seeing your weak and feeble fence.4 George A. felt that by being frugal and industrious, one could avoid annoyances, and also help Zion itself grow into the ideal community they were seeking:

In this way Zion can be made to blossom as a rose, and the beauty of Zion will begin to shine forth like the morning, and if the brethren have not learned by experience that this is the course to pursue, by that time they will learn it. I presume a great many have become satisfied that it would be better to avoid many of these annoyances.
The bretheren preached a self-sustaining principle, where the Church could produce their own goods independent of any outsiders; they would rely on no one but themselves and the mercy of God:

Good domestic policy requires us to be careful in providing such comforts and necessaries as we can produce within ourselves. If we let our sheep perish our clothing will be scanty, or we shall be forced into the stores to support distant producers. If we let our cattle die we shall not only lack beef, but our home made leather will be missing. In short, the difficulties and wrongs which may grow out of such carelessness are numerous. It should by all means be our policy to produce every article, which we can, within ourselves.
Again, blending the sacred and profane, George A. asserted these principles were a part of his faith, and would lead to temporal and spiritual prosperity:

These sentiments are strictly within the scope of my religion, and those comforts and conveniences, which we are constantly in need from day to day, are necessary to enable us to perform the duties God requires at our hands. One of those duties is, to take a course that will enable us to enjoy the blessings and comforts of life, that we may preserve our health and strength to labor for the upbuilding and spread of the kingdom of God.
These temporal matters have instilled Mormon culture with emphasis on personal responsibility, work ethic, and the reinforcement of the saying "cleanliness is next to Godliness" as referring to physical, as well as spiritual hygiene. While sometimes it is a metter of practicality, Saints continue to find the gospel in everyday living. Givens concluded the thought:

Those inhabiting the theological universe [Joseph Smith] created find themselves in a place where the sacred, the human, and the divine find new meanings and require new orientations.5
George A. concluded:
I have offered these remarks, on the subject of policy, in rather a rambling manner, something like the parson, who was told that he did not speak to his text, "Very well," says he, "scattering shots hit the most birds." May the Lord bless us all, and prepare us to enter His kingdom. Amen (JD 3:280-291).


Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 13:3352

Terryl Givens, "The Paradoxes of Mormon Culture," BYU Studies 46, no. 2 (2007): 191-192. In his interview on Helen Whitney's documentary The Mormons, Givens explained:
One finds in the revelations of Joseph Smith an immense range of subject matter. One can go to the Book of Abraham, where he describes in vision pre-mortal councils where God himself participated, and we were present as unembodied spirits. One can go to section 76 of the Doctrine and Covenants, which was called just The Vision, in which he describes the glories of the celestial world and the inheritance of those who go to the celestial or the terrestrial kingdoms. Those are examples of revelations that are about as exalted and transcendent as one could ask for. Then one can also find a number of revelations in which he tells people that they should open a print shop on this property, or they should sell this property here, or that they are called to New York to do this. His revelations range from the sublime to the mundane. And yet I think that there's no contradiction there.
Interview located at (last accessed 12-14-2007).

James Gordon Bennett, New York Herald, August 4, 1842 (as cited in Givens, ibid).

George A. jested:
There has been a constant complaint about selling the land for fencing, quarreling here and there about cattle doing mischief, and they have become thoroughly converted to the doctrine I recommended. Experience had to teach them the lesson, though it was not so much experience with me, for my father taught me that a man could not raise a crop with any certainty unless he first fenced his land, and it was considered one of the most ridiculous things a man could be guilty of, in a new country, to plant a crop and let the cattle destroy it for want of a fence. Some settlements have made tolerably good fences, but as a general thing the poles are stretched too long for their size, the points sag down, and should a cow or an ox happen to pass by such an apology for a fence, and understand that it was designed to keep out animals, they would be insulted, and, were it not against the law to fight a duel, you might expect such a cow or ox to give you a challenge for such gross insult (JD 3:285).
Terryl Givens, "The Paradoxes of Mormon Culture," BYU Studies 46:2 (2007): 192. A subsequent sermon by Brigham Young demonstrates the blending, especially in the early territorial Church when a Zion society was an immediate goal:
Our preaching to you from Sabbath to Sabbath, sending the Gospel to the nations, gathering the people, opening farms, making needed improvements, and building cities, all pertain to salvation.
The Gospel is designed to gather a people that will be of one heart and of one mind. Let every individual in this city feel the same interest for the public good as he does for his own, and you will at once see this community still more prosperous, and still more rapidly increasing in wealth, influence, and power. But where each one seeks to benefit himself or herself alone, and does not cherish a feeling for the prosperity and benefit of the whole, that people will be disorderly, unhappy, and poverty-stricken, and distress, animosity, and strife will reign (JD 3:228).


badseed said...

This post is really old so I don't know that this comment is worth the effort. That said I wanted to correct 2 points.

1- Thomas Marsh didn't apostatize in Kirtland. In fact I believe the record shows he supported JS when many others didn't. His left the Church in Missouri at the same time as Orson Hyde.

2- Thomas Marsh DID NOT leave over some disagreement over some milk stippings/cream. That myth was started by George A. Smith in the 1860s but is not supported by sources from the time of the event. Marsh left in protest to the militarization of the Church by Smith and Rigdon, treatment of apostates and actions by the Saints such as raiding, stealing and the burning of the town of Gallatin, MO. in repsonse to agression from the Missourians.

Unfortunately the myth has survived and is thrown around for effect (even by GAs) when it is apparently false.

BHodges said...

Thanks, badseed. You'll notice these older posts are essentially outlines of various Journal of Discourses sermons. Some of these posts are geared simply at underscoring the sort of ideas someone might have heard in the pews back then, mixed in with a little bit of contemporary LDS thought. Particularly, this isn't intended to vindicate or argue for the accuracy of the way Smith homiletically employed the story to teach a principle.

To be sure, I think the Marsh story is interesting and deserves a closer look. I am already working on a paper of sorts about the apostasy of Thomas B. Marsh (I was actually reminded of the story by Richard Dutcher).

To be sure, you overstate your case about the "false" myth. Thus far in my research I have found evidence that the milk stripping incident played a role in his apostasy, along with his concerns about activities in MO. Marsh himself spoke specifically about the milk stripping incident as playing a part. Thus, though the story is likely given more prominence by Elder Smith here, it is not simply a "myth" that is "apparently false." According to the historical record , your claim appears to be inaccurate. Of course, there were even other factors, too, like Marsh's desire to be the first elder to preach the gospel overseas. His hopes were dashed when JS sent others there first without consulting him. These are only two factors you've overlooked, but I am still working on the project.

Thanks for dropping in!

BHodges said...

PS- I hope my response isn't too annoying. ;)

BHodges said...

I should be more specific, badseed, and thanks for your comment because it helped me formulate part of the project I have been working on:

While GAS seems to turn the apostasy of Marsh into a morality tale which encourages people not to get upset over little things, while leaving out important details, you likewise appear to be turning the Marsh incident into a morality tale of your own by likewise leaving out important and relevant information.

Post a Comment

All views are welcome when shared respectfully. Use a name or consistent pseudonym rather than "anonymous." Deletions of inflammatory posts will be noted. Thanks for joining the conversation.