April 11, 2008


Everything else

is but of a secondary consideration,

when compared with the

atonement that has been wrought out

in behalf of man

by the great Redeemer.

(Orson Pratt, JD 3:253)

April 8, 2008

"The Devil Pitching Onto Joseph"

Heber C. Kimball March 2, 1856

You know that the world has made a great deal of fuss, and told many lies about the devil pitching on to Joseph Smith when he went to get the plates, but they will get to a place where the devils will handle them worse than they did Joseph when he got the plates; if they do not embrace the Gospel it will be so (JD 3:230).
Who was Pres. Kimball talking about and what was this about the devil pitching onto Joseph? Eber D. Howe published the first anti-Mormon book Mormonism Unveiled in 1834. As editor of the Painesville Telegraph in Ohio, Howe advertised his book in the November 28, 1834 edition:
Just published in this Town, a Book under the above title, containing a history of the Mormon imposition, from its rise to the present time, with many other peculiarities of the sect. 292 pages, 12 mo. For sale at this office, wholesale, and at the Painesville Book-Store.[1]
The book contains many interesting accounts and affidavits sworn by Isaac Hale, W.W. Phelps, Charles Anthon, Lucy Harris, and other people said to be neighbors or associates of the Smith family.[2] These affidavits were collected in the early 1830s by Mormon apostate Philastus Hurlbut. It appears Unveiled contains the first published account of the devil "pitching onto Joseph," including a woodcut illustration of the event which is described as follows:
REMARKABLE EVENTS The reader will already have observed, that a great variety of contradictory stories were elated by the Smith family, before they had any fixed plan of operation, respecting the finding of the plates, from which their book was translated. One is, that after the plates were taken from their hiding place by Jo, he again laid them down, looked into the hole, where he saw a toad,[3] which immediately transformed itself into a spirit, and gave him a tremendous blow. Another is, that after he had got the plates, a spirit assaulted him with the intention of getting them from his possession, and actually jerked them out of his hands -- Jo, nothing daunted, in return seized them again, and started to run, when his Satanic Majesty, (or the spirit) applied his foot to the prophet's seat of honor, which raised him three or four feet from the ground. This being the opening scene of Mormonism, we have represented the wonderful event in our frontispiece. Here then is the finding of the plates, containing a new revelation from Heaven; and the modus operandi may seem to the Mormon, truly wonderful, and in character with that Being who upholds and sustains the Universe; but to the rational mind it can excite no other emotion than contempt for his species.[4]
Joseph Smith was aware of the Howe account at least by September 1, 1835 when he sent a letter to John Whitmer mentioning Unveiled:
Behold, then is not this the Kingdom of heaven that is raising its head in the last days in the majesty of its God, even the Church of the Latter-day Saints, like an impenetrable, immovable rock in the midst of the mighty deep, exposed to the storms and tempests of Satan, but has, thus far, remained steadfast, and is still braving the mountain waves of opposition, which are driven by the tempestuous winds of sinking crafts, which have [dashed] and are still dashing with tremendous foam across its triumphant brow; urged onward with redoubled fury by the enemy of righteousness, with his pitchfork of lies, as you will see fairly represented in a cut contained in Mr. Howe's Mormonism Unveiled? And we hope that this adversary of truth will continue to stir up the sink of iniquity, that the people may the more readily discern between the righteous and the wicked.[5]
Eleven years after the Heber C. Kimball Journal of Discourses sermon quoted above another account of devils and Joseph Smith was printed in Pomeroy Tucker's Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, published in 1867:
Accordingly, when the appointed hour [to retrieve the plates, Sept. 22, 1827,] came, the prophet, assuming his practised air of mystery, took in hand his money-digging spade and a large napkin, and went off in silence and alone in the solitude of the forest, and after an absence of some three hours, returned, apparently with the sacred charge concealed within the folds of the napkin... Conflicting stories were afterward told in regard to the manner of keeping the book in concealment and safety, which are not worth repeating... Smith told a frightful story of the display of celestial pyrotechnics -- the angel who had led him to the discovery again appearing as his guide and protector, an confronting ten thousand devils gathered there, with their menacing sulfurous flame and smoke, to deter him from his purpose! This story was repeated and magnified by the believers, and no doubt aided the experiment upon superstitious minds which eventuated so successfully.[6]

In the illustration (click to enlarge) you can see the little devil imps dancing around Joseph on the hill as he retrieved the plates. The Howe and Tucker accounts seem to mix some truth with error regarding Joseph, the devils and the plates. Both accounts have interesting parallels to and differences from Oliver Cowdery's 1835 account of Joseph and the plates; which itself is not a definitive account:
On attempting to take possession of the record a shock was produced upon his system, by an invisible power which deprived him, in a measure, of his natural strength. He desisted for an instant, and then made another attempt, but was more sensibly shocked than before. What was the occasion of this he knew not-there was the pure unsullied record, as had been described-he had heard of the power of enchantment, and a thousand like stories, which held the hidden treasures of the earth, and supposed that physical exertion and personal strength was only necessary to enable him to yet obtain the object of his wish. He therefore made the third attempt with an increased exertion, when his strength failed him more than at either of the former times, and without premeditating he exclaimed, "Why can I not obtain this book?" "Because you have not kept the commandments of the Lord," answered a voice, within a seeming short distance. He looked, and to his astonishment, there stood the angel who had previously given him the directions concerning this matter. In an instant, all the former instructions, the great intelligence concerning Israel and the last days, were brought to his mind: he thought of the time when his heart was fervently engaged in prayer to the Lord, when his spirit was contrite, and when his holy messenger from the skies unfolded the wonderful things connected with this record. He had come, to be sure, and found the word of the angel fulfilled concerning the reality of the record, but he had failed to remember the great end for which they had been kept, and in consequence could not have power to take them into his possession and bear them away. At that instant he looked to the Lord in prayer, and as he prayed darkness began to disperse from his mind and his soul was lit up as it was the evening before, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit; and again did the Lord manifest his condescension and mercy: the heavens were opened and the glory of the Lord shone round about and rested upon him. While he thus stood gazing and admiring, the angel said, "Look!" and as he thus spake he beheld the prince of darkness, surrounded by his innumerable train of associates. All this passed before him, and the heavenly messenger said, "All this is shown, the good and the evil, the holy and impure, the glory of God and the power of darkness, that you may know hereafter the two powers and never be influenced or overcome by that wicked one.[7] Behold, whatever entices and leads to good and to do good, is of God, and whatever does not is of that wicked one: It is he that fills the hearts of men with evil, to walk in darkness and blaspheme God; and you may learn from henceforth, that his ways are to destruction, but the way of holiness is peace and rest. You now see why you could not obtain this record; that the commandment was strict, and that if ever these sacred things are obtained they must be by prayer and faithfulness in obeying the Lord.[8]

The stories each conflict, perhaps most obviously in regards to chronology. Cowdery and Chase (and thus, Howe,) describe the vision of devils as occurring in September 1823 during Joseph's first visit to the hill whereas Tucker dates the experience in September 1827 when Joseph actually took the plates from the hill.

There is additional evidence regarding Joseph's encounters with the Devil from sources friendly to the prophet and from the prophet himself. For a brief discussion see "Joseph and the Devil." Footnotes [1] "Mormonism Unvailed," Painesville Telegraph, Nov. 28, 1834. [2] For excerpts of the Harris, Hale, and Phelps affidavit's see RickGrunder.com, who recently sold a copy of Unveiled for $2,253.98. His auction listing includes a few scans and transcriptions. (Accessed April 8, 2008.) [3] This mention of the toad may have been what sparked Mark Hoffman's "salamander letter," which was the forgery of a letter written my Martin Harris which described Moroni as a white salamander. See Richard E. Turley, Victims: The LDS Church and the Mark Hofmann Case, p. 81-83. [4] Eber D. Howe, Mormonism Unveiled, 275-276. This description of Joseph's encounter is Howe's summary of an affidavit written by Willard Chase, printed on page 242 of Mormonism Unveiled. For more information on Eber D. Howe, see the website Saints Without Halo's. Unveiled was based mostly on affidavits collected by Mormon apostate Philastus Hurlbut who gave his collected information to Howe to publish. Perhaps Hurlbut's own excommunication and conviction by a court for publicly threatening the life of Joseph Smith was seen as potentially discrediting his account (see HC 2:46-47; Ohio, Geauga County, Court of Common Pleas Records, Book P, pp. 431-32; Milton V. Backman, Jr., The Heavens Resound). Milton V. Backman called the book "the first book of significance printed with the design of destroying the Church" (Backman, Jr. , The Heavens Resound, p. 207).
[5] History of the Church 2:268. The letter was published in the Messenger and Advocate in September of 1835. By 1838 Joseph decided to make a more official published account regarding the rise of the Church largely due to anti-Mormon accounts such as Howe's.
Owing to the many reports which have been put in circulation by evil-disposed and designing persons, in relation to the rise and progress of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, all of which have been designed by the authors thereof to militate against its character as a Church and its progress in the world—I have been induced to write this history, to disabuse the public mind, and put all inquirers after truth in possession of the facts, as they have transpired, in relation both to myself and the Church, so far as I have such facts in my possession (JS-H 1:1).
[6] Tucker, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, (NYC: D. Appleton & Co., 1867) p. 30-31. Tucker seems to follow more closely than Howe the Oliver Cowdery account. Jeff Lindsay's Light Planet page has a brief discussion on Tucker including some criticism of his book by Hugh Nibley. (Accessed April 8, 2008.) [7] See "Tempted in Proportion to the Light." [8] Oliver Cowdery, Letter III, Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate, 2(1), 195–201, October 1835. Reprinted in Francis W. Kirkham, A New Witness For Christ In America Vol. I, pg. 98-99.

April 6, 2008

How "American" is the Church?

[1]The early Saints were commanded by revelation to gather to geographic locations on the American continent where they would help establish a society in preparation for the impending second coming of Christ. During this gathering period the Church was somewhat provincial, especially after moving to the Utah territory.[2] Though still on the American continent, the Saints felt separated from a country they felt had rejected them and killed their prophet. Distance and difficult travel before the arrival of trains and faster transportation added to the feeling of isolation. Despite their feelings of alienation, how much were the early Saints still affected by the Church's American heritage; the "traditions of the fathers"? Some of those traditions can incorrectly become entwined with one's concept of the gospel (see Traditions: True and False). In speaking of the advantages and disadvantages of inherited traditions, Parley related a conversation he had with a man from New Hampshire who was raised among the "jarring of politics":

[The man said to Parley] “I was brought up to believe that my father was right in both religion and politics.” “What was he?” said I. “O, he was a Whig in politics, and a Congregationalist in religion;” and, says he, “I was so glad that my father was so lucky in both as to be right.” “What is the proof,” says I, “that your father was right in both?” “Why, the proof is, he was my father, and therefore he must be right, in both his religion and politics, for my father could not be wrong!” Well, fortunately or unfortunately, we have all had fathers; and, of course, because they are our fathers, they must be right in politics and religion, no matter which it is. Such has been our strong prejudice with reference to our fathers.
Parley believed that incorrect traditions or principles (in theory) ought to be done away through baptism, which initiates one into the community of disciples of Christ. People from diverse backgrounds come together and strive for unity by forsaking any prejudices or traditions that run counter to the new community.[3]
Well, now, how do we stand now: have we got rid of all this? How came we to have one faith, one Lord, and one baptism, and one Holy Spirit, as it is in a great measure this day? ... We came forward, when we see our sins, with honest hearts, determined to do right, believing in Jesus Christ; then some Apostle or Elder that had received the Priesthood through the ministration of Joseph Smith, or that grew out of his administration, took us and buried us in the waters of baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins, and we then resolved to lead a new life. It expresses a covenant, whether they said it in so many words or not —they promised to lead a new life. Then just as soon as they could receive sufficient instruction, the Elders laid their hands upon them in the name of Jesus Christ, and...confirmed upon them the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the power thereof. And, by and by, many others were ordained to holy and important callings, and were anointed to take part in the work and partake of the power of the holy Priesthood after the order of the Son of God, and it is this power that unites us together in one. The world do not believe this, I am aware.
Baptism, covenants, receiving the Holy Ghost and fulfilling various callings in the Church all contribute to the potential for unity in the Church. Based on Parley's comments, various nationalities were thought to be somewhat left behind in the waters of baptism.[4] Parley said he thought himself a "Saint" more than an American, or a Democrat, or whatever; and saw the gospel and Priesthood as something that could transcend cultural boundaries and unite all:
It is really so long since I was among the sectarian world, that I had almost forgotten that I was a sectarian of any kind, and that I was a political partisan of any kind. I have been so long removed from those scenes which characterize the numerous parties of the world, I had almost forgotten whether there was a whig or democratic party, or whether parties existed; I say, I had almost forgotten whether I had ever belonged to any sect or party, and I had almost forgotten my nationality. It is true that I do not speak a different language from what I did in the world, but I had almost forgotten that, but I feel that I am with the Priesthood, and with all good men, I am one with them, to be used nationally, politically, morally, and religiously, to hold fast our faith, to build up a righteous people from every country, to preach and establish righteousness, and union, and peace, to all people in every country, for the benefit of all men that will obey it, without regard to persons.[5]
Over time, the Church began expressing a desire to separate the gospel from culture; to not be seen as an "American religion" per se. This is a difficult task for many reasons, not the least of which being the number of American General Authorities and the majority of American missionaries spreading the gospel in foreign cultures. Wilfried Decoo, a Belgian professor of French and Italian at BYU, notes that early in the 20th century, as the principle of gathering was deemphasized, some Church leaders stressed that the Church is not an "American church."[6] Decoo cites, for example, a 1937 October Conference address of J. Reuben Clarke, Jr. who said
This is not an American Church. This is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its destiny as well as its mission is to fill the earth and to bring home to every man, woman and child in the world the truths of this Gospel of which I have spoken.

Decoo notes some ways the Church has been separating "Americanism" from "Mormonism," but he realizes that there are specific reasons why conversion to the gospel in any nation still involves an "infusion" of some American components, and as a corollary, we ought to anticipate and accommodate for an "infusion" of some converts cultural aspects. He notes three realms which keep the Church "American" in a certain sense: historical-geographical, ideological, and behavioral. (Bear with me, here's a very brief summary.) First, the historical geographical component includes the historical nature of the restoration. The sacred grove, the Book of Mormon speaking of a "choice land" and the revelations of Joseph Smith involving the location of millennial events. Second, the ideological includes the "American way of life" which involves rhetoric of liberty, freedom of choice, economic success and prosperity, hard work, family values, etc. The third, behavioral, is more ambiguous and involves more nuanced aspects of culture like appropriate greeting, dating rituals, humor, and eye contact, among many other things. How much of one's culture or tradition should be retained upon uniting with the Church of Jesus Christ, and how can this integration be accommodated in a global Church? How much of us are we to "leave behind in the waters of baptism" so to speak? The general guiding principle seems to be that converts ought to be prepared to forsake anything that would overshadow their allegiance to Jesus Christ. This can seem extreme, as do Christ's words in Matthew 10, “I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother…” I don't believe Christ would have us wield that sword if there was any other possibility of maintaining relationships with those important loved ones. Still, becoming a Saint will likely include the formation of a new identity which requires the shedding of some old beliefs, habits, or allegiances. Overall, as Parley emphasized, becoming one with the Saints is only a part of becoming at one "with all good men" while still "hold[ing] fast our faith, to build up a righteous people from every country, to preach and establish righteousness, and union, and peace, to all people in every country, for the benefit of all men that will obey it, without regard to persons." An article of faith states that we believe in seeking after anything that is virtuous, lovely, of good report or praiseworthy. Decoo rhetorically asks if the seeking involves some forsaking:
Do we want a gospel culture that develops in converts a Mormon identity which alienates them from the host culture (and often also their non-member family), or do we prefer, at least outwardly, that they continue to blend in?
For now, Decoo offers no immediate answers, but believes it is vital
that new converts, in particular for their retention, adopt as quickly as possible a proud, joyful, viable Mormon identity, which they also recognize as such for themselves, but which does not put them on a collision course with their non-Mormon environment.
While his study is tentative, Decoo offers this intermediary advice from Chieko N. Okazaki:
Before you dismiss any cultural practice, think about the principle behind it, decide if this principle is one you also believe, and see if you can find a way to participate in it in a way that honors that principle.[7]
Ultimately, the Church must accommodate an appropriate level of cultural integration as it spreads through every "nation, kindred tongue and people" building a united community of one heart and one mind; ZION. Footnotes: [1] The image is from LDS.org, where General Conference addresses are available in many different languages. "How 'American' is the Church" is a question that demands much further discussion that I am prepared to enter for my purposes here. The purpose of the question includes discovering how much of the culture of the United States of America effected the restoration and fleshing out of the principles revealed to and interpreted by Joseph Smith. [2] The gathering principle caused the majority of Mormons to congregate in the "Great Basin," Utah territory, where various nationalities cooperated to make the "desert blossom as the rose." One example of the effect of gathering was in the spread of the English language among immigrating converts. Efforts were made to assist newcomers in learning English; the Deseret Alphabet is one such development. It didn't last long. [3] The concept of ordinances, community, and unity was discussed in a previous blog post based on this sermon. See "A Visit to the Southern Settlements: The Miracle of Unity." [4] Parley explained:
Well, was there power in the ordinances of the kingdom, when administered by Joseph Smith? We say there was power in all that he did. Well, he ordained men to be Apostles, and Prophets, and Elders, and they went forth to administer in the sacred ordinances of the house of God; and I ask, is there power in their administration? ... You do not hear a man say that he is a Dane, or an Englishman, or of any peculiar nation, but losing his nationality, and all blending into one mass, with a united heart to build up the kingdom of our God, and to become one great nation, Americans to be sure, if you wish to call it so, as it is in that country. How came this to be, if there is no power in the modern Priesthood and in the modern ordinances? As I said before, if anybody disputes this power being with us, will they set us a similar example?
[5] Granted that this is a relatively simplistic view of culture, religion, politics, etc. As explained in "Political Neutrality" under the Public Issues section of the official Newsroom on LDS.org:
The Church is officially politically neutral, worldwide. The Church’s mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not to elect politicians. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is neutral in matters of party politics. This applies in all of the many nations in which it is established.
If the Saints ought to be
politically united in anything, perhaps it is that everyone is responsible for their own political views and ought to allow all the privilege of freedom of opinion in the political arena. Perhaps it is also beneficial to consider where our ultimate loyalty resides. Are we American Mormons, or Mormon Americans? Democrat or Republican Mormons, or Mormon Democrats or Republicans? and so forth. [6] Decoo has posted several preliminary discussions on culture and Mormonism on the LDS blog Times and Seasons. They are well worth the read, and I recommend them to all. His research aided me much in this post. See "Mormon identity and culture" and "How American is the Church?"

[7] Chieko N. Okazaki, Disciples, Shadow Mountain, 1998. Okazaki served as first counselor to Elaine L. Jack in the Relief Society general presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1990 to 1997.