Ep 177 – Jo 3.0 Boy Prophet, Seer, & Revelator
On this episode, we dive into a strange occurrence in early 1844. By the last year of his ministry, Joseph Smith had designated half a dozen people to be his rightful successors in his absence or in the case of his death. But, in early 1844, it was finally time for Joseph Smith III (Jo 3.0) to receive his ordination as rightful heir to the Mormon mantle. We discuss when it happened, a bunch of other succession instructions (as well as when and why they were given), and finally discuss the text of the actual Jo 3.0 succession blessing which was “discovered” by Mark Hofmann in 1981. The letter was a forgery, but the RLDS still have the most solid ground for rightful succession. If you disagree, fight me in the comments about it!
Mormon Enigma by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery
Lecture on Faith #2
The Mormon Succession Crisis of 1844 by D. Michael Quinn
Joseph Smith III’s 1844 Blessing and the Mormons of Utah
Benjamin Franklin Johnson, My Life’s Review
Hofmann audio tape Sunstone presentation
Music by Jason Comeau http://aloststateofmind.com/
Show Artwork http://weirdmormonshit.com/
Legal Counsel http://patorrez.com/
We’re nearing the end of Joseph Smith’s life in June of 1844. There’s still so much to cover, but I thought today we’d go through a bit of forecasting for what we can expect in the coming future of the History of Mormonism. I was reading Mormon Enigma, the excellent and groundbreaking biography of Emma Smith by Linda Newell and Valeen Avery when I read this short passage on page 175.
Sometime that spring of 1844, George J. Adams hurried from the red brick store to the Mansion to find Emma. He exclaimed, “The matter is now settled. We now know who Joseph’s successor will be: it is little Joseph, I have just seen him ordained by his father.” No extant account related Emma’s reaction to the news, or if it was news at all. Perhaps Joseph had told her beforehand. Details of the ceremony, however, were preserved by James Whitehead, financial clerk for Joseph.
Whitehead told a friend, William W. Blair, in 1873 that he was in the outer office at the time, but he heard others discuss the ordination. Later, under oath, he remembered there were about twenty-five people in attendance. Whitehead said “Hyrum Smith anointed [the boy] and his father blessed him and ordained him and Newel Whitney poured the oil on his head and he was set apart to be his father’s successor in office, holding all the powers his father held.”
As an old man Joseph III could not recall the specifics of the blessing, but wrote, “I was called into the room over my fathers store in Nauvoo… and was there anointed with oil and blessed by my father, and the privileges and callings to fit one to succeed him were conferred by name upon me. I was publicly acknowledged by my father to be his successor, on the stand in Nauvoo in the presence of hundreds, possibly thousands of people.” James Whitehead remembered Joseph announcing that “I am no longer their prophet,” and described him “putting his hand on young Joseph’s head: and saying, ‘This is your prophet, I am going to rest.’”
This blessing marking Jo 3.0’s ordination as rightful successor is an important event in Mormon history, and arguably one of the most disputed. It is notable that these sources were recounted long after the fact by people who were members of the RLDS church under the leadership of Jo 3.0 when he assumed the office of prophet and president of the church in April 1860. The fact that Whitehead reported Jo’s speech during the gathering like he was an old man headed into the woods to die reveals his memory was plagued with hindsight bias. And, as Avery and Newell stated, no extant contemporary record exists of the proceeding that day or the blessing itself. But, why is this so important, yet so disputed?
You see, Joseph Smith never left behind specific succession instructions in the event of his death. Every King or ruler of any kind is supposed to designate his successor prior to his own death, most often his son, preferably first-born son, but with Joseph Smith it wasn’t so simple.
He’d received a revelation in Kirtland that if he should live to his eighties then he would see the second coming of Jesus. Very few of us know when we’re going to die until the moment it happens and Jo had evaded death so many times he probably thought himself invincible by 1844. Death was the only event that would remove the mantle of Prophet, Seer, Revelator, Priest, and King over all of Israel from his shoulders as he never had any intention of stepping down, but certain events in Jo’s life precipitated him making an effort of appointing a rightful successor.
But, appointing a successor requires a couple of character qualities Jo was consistently short on, foresight and willingness to abdicate power when events require. You see, Jo lived in short increments and made short-term decisions that most often best suited himself. He was also very jealous with his power. So much confusion that comes from Mormon authority fights all hearken back to Jo’s suffocating need to be the sole dictatorial power of the church. He was capable of dictating tasks to certain individuals, but he was always the decision-maker with final say. When we consider the offices of priesthood and the constant evolution of each office’s duties throughout Joseph Smith’s ministry, that evolution is hard to reconcile with the idea that Mormonism is a restoration of the ancient religion instituted by Adam and brought to its final form through the sacrifice of Jesus, which was subsequently lost through the dark ages. If the one true religion existed, was lost, and was subsequently restored by Joseph Smith, why did it evolve so much in his lifetime and why did it change after his death? How are we to determine the rightful next prophet when the current prophet dies?
Here’s a fun exercise with believing friends and family. Why was Brigham Young the prophet after Joseph Smith? Usually the answer will be some wishy-washy form of the office of prophet is dissolved upon his death and his keys are given to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles so the lord can call the next prophet when the apostles give all the keys back to the man who holds the office. Simply ask this friend or family member, yeah? Where is that found in the Doctrine and Covenants? Is that from the Book of Mormon? Is it somewhere in the Bible? Is it taken from some obscure passage in the Pearl of Great Price? The answer is, this doesn’t come from the scriptures because Bloody Brigham Young made it up. He made it up! There is absolutely no scriptural, or even extra-scriptural justification for the modern Mormon succession instructions. It’s not found in the Council of Fifty minutes, the Book of the Law of the Lord during Jo’s life, and no public statement from Joseph Smith could ever be construed to justify this idea of the Apostles inheriting the Prophet’s keys until the next prophet is called by God. For those reasons, Bloody Brigham was very jealous and proactive in his tenuous hold on power during the first 2 decades of his presidency. Brigham’s power plays will come into focus as we progress through today’s episode.
The fact that Mormons today are unable to answer the authority and succession questions with any hard scriptural justifications merely underscores the fact that succession was a great source of controversy and division after Jo’s death. This isn’t because Jo didn’t name a rightful successor, it’s because he named so many of them at different periods of his life due to different extenuating circumstances. We’re going to discuss those extensively, but first let’s lay some groundwork.
Mormon theology is obsessed with pure bloodlines. Pure knowledge is transferred from fathers to sons. Prophets throughout the Book of Mormon are almost exclusively sons of the previous prophets, almost always the first-born. But it runs deeper than the Book of Mormon.
The Lectures on Faith used to be included as the Doctrine part of the Doctrine and Covenants, but were removed in 1921 making it just the Book of Covenants. The Lectures on Faith weren’t present in the first edition of the Doctrine and Covenants, because it was titled the Book of Commandments and printed in 1833, which simply contained many of Jo’s revelations up to 1832. Jo’s first military expedition in 1834 came to be known as Zion’s camp, which we’ll discuss soon. The expedition was a colossal failure, but upon his return to Kirtland he formed the School of Elders, the first official male Sunday school gathering for teaching deep Mormon Doctrine to initiates. In this School of Elders, various lectures were devised by Jo and Hingepin Sidney Rigdon. They collected 7 of these lectures and included them with the expanded edition of Jo’s revelations, which became the 1835 edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. It used to be the Book of Commandments, the lectures on faith were the added doctrine part so this new book was published under the new title Doctrine & Covenants.
One of the Lectures on Faith discusses extensively how true knowledge of God came through Adam to our current generation. It’s Lecture #2 and the entire thing is painful. Marie and I read through it on My Book of Mormon podcast back in October of 2018 so go listen there if you want to grind through it with us, but here’s a small sampling to illustrate my point from verses 31 and 33.
31 Adam thus being made acquainted with God, communicated the knowledge which he had unto his posterity; and it was through this means that the thought was first suggested to their minds that there was a God. Which laid the foundation for the exercise of their faith, through which they could obtain a knowledge of his character and also of his glory.
33 From this we can see that the whole human family, in the early age of their existence, in all their different branches, had this knowledge disseminated among them; so that the existence of God became an object of faith, in the early age of the world. And the evidences which these men had of the existence of a God, was the testimony of their fathers in the first instance.
Not only is the perfect gospel passed from father to son, but even the very knowledge of the existence of god is passed through patriarchal posterity. The entire lecture is like 56 verses with another 148 questions in the Q&A section, so a quick summary is that this gospel has passed from father to son for all human history and has been the source of the drive for people to learn and understand the nature and mind of god. More than illustrating how much of a windbag Hingepin Sidney Rigdon is, even giving yours truly a run for his money, the lecture encapsulates how important patriarchal succession is truly at the very roots of Mormonism. The Book of Mormon includes it as an underlying implication, the Doctrine & Covenants illustrates male-lineal succession explicitly, and the Book of Abraham extends this succession to not only blessings but curses being passed from fathers to sons.
The reason I bring this up is to illustrate that anybody claiming that Jo didn’t believe one of his sons would be his successor to the mantle of Mormon Prophet, Seer, and Revelator doesn’t have any idea what the hell they’re talking about. Very few things in Mormon theology are as cut and dry as the doctrine of patriarchal familial succession. Joseph Smith III was the rightful successor to his father in every sane world that takes into account the totality of Mormon theology.
You may be sitting there thinking, hey, the Mormon church had two prophets named Joseph Smith in the 20th century, and you’re right. But, both Joseph F. Smith, and Joseph Fielding Smith were nephew and grand-nephew of Joseph Smith, they were sons of Jo’s older brother, Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith. At the time of his death in 1844, Jo had 7 male sons born to him. The first, highlighting how important first-born lineal succession is, was named Alvin Smith. This also hearkens to the likelihood that Alvin Smith was originally designated as the prophet but Jo stepped into his place upon Alvin’s death in 1823, seven years before the Book of Mormon was published. Jo and Emma’s son, little Alvin, only lived a few hours and perished. His next son who would become the rightful heir to the Mormon throne met a similar fate as Alvin. Young Thaddeus and his twin sister, Louisa, were born premature and died a few hours after their births. Jo and Emma adopted Joseph and Julia Murdock, twins born 2 weeks after Thaddeus and Louisa, but twins who had killed their mother during childbirth. This adopted Joseph Murdock Smith died at 10 months old after falling ill to exposure in 1832. We discussed this all the way back on Episode 26 of the show when Jo was dragged out of the house and beaten, tarred and feathered, and nearly poisoned and castrated. Joseph Murdock Smith likely wouldn’t have made for a rightful successor as he wasn’t even Jo’s pure blood.
However, in November of that same year, 1832, young Joseph III was born, the first Smith infant from Jo and Emma that lived more than a few hours past childbirth. The third son of Joseph bearing the same name, the first to survive childhood, made Jo 3.0, as Marie and I call him on My Book of Mormon, the perfect candidate to inherit the mantle of prophet upon his father’s death.
A question remained though, when was the rightful time to designate Jo 3.0 as the rightful heir? When should he be endowed as the son to take the office of President and sole King over all Israel, especially as Jo himself was showing no signs of aging, illness, or slowing down his empire-building campaign? A proper king names his heir on his deathbed, but Jo didn’t realistically expect to be on his deathbed anytime soon. The events which precipitated Jo 3.0’s succession blessing in early 1844 alluded to at the beginning of the episode aren’t really clear, but for whatever reason this was chosen as the right time to give Jo 3.0 his blessing at age 11.
We’ll get to that blessing in a bit, but first let’s speculate on what may have precipitated this blessing at this time based on the data set provided of all the previous people Jo designated as his successors in some way.
For this I’ll be leaning on the work of D. Michael Quinn in Mormon Hierarchy, Origins of Power, and an article he published in 1976 in BYU Studies titled the Mormon Succession Crisis of 1844. We’ll also be discussing an article Quinn wrote for the John Whitmer Historical Journal. There’s a significant wrinkle to this blessing and the related articles that we’ll be discussing near the end of the episode.
Let’s get into the meat here. There wasn’t a clear path of succession at Jo’s death simply because he didn’t leave clear instructions. From Quinn’s 1976 BYU Studies article:
As President of The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints since its establishment in 1830, Joseph Smith, Jr., had been the apex of a pyramid of ecclesiastical leadership, but to many people he was viewed as though he were the keystone of the existence of Mormonism. In this view, as the removal of the keystone from an arch causes the arch to collapse, it was assumed that the entire LDS Church would collapse if at Smith’s death the role of the president were not filled properly and to the satisfaction of the general membership. A small group of men, most notably the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, had received private instruction from Joseph Smith in the spring of 1844 concerning the proper mode of succession. These private instructions, however, were unknown to the general membership of the LDS Church. In fact, by the summer of 1844 there was no explicit outline of presidential succession in print. This laid the foundation for a succession crisis among the Latter-day Saints when Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob on 27 June 1844. Not only did most Mormons have only the haziest concept of what should transpire in the leadership of the LDS Church if the founding prophet were to die, but between 1834 and 1844 Joseph Smith had by word or action established precedents or authority for eight possible methods of succession: 1) by a counselor in the First Presidency, 2) by a special appointment, 3) through the office of Associate President, 4) by the Presiding Patriarch, 5) by the Council of Fifty, 6) by the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, 7) by three priesthood councils, 8) by a descendant of Joseph Smith, Jr. In time, all but one of the major claimants were invalidated by their personal circumstances or the insufficiency of their personal circumstances or the insufficiency of their claims.
For those few to whom Joseph had given definite instructions relating to succession, their course following the martyrdom was clear once the shock of that event passed, but for the average Mormon the death of Joseph Smith, Jr., created a sometimes prolonged crisis in which it was necessary to decide which of conflicting succession claimants was authorized of God. The schismatic fragmentation of the LDS Church that followed the martyrdom resulted from a multiplicity of succession precedents and a general lack of uniform understanding of what Joseph Smith’s provisions for succession actually were.
The first mention of possible succession came in a revelation Jo provided in March of 1833. Canonized as section 90 of today’s LDS D&C, verses 5 and 6 say:
And all they who receive the oracles of God, let them beware how they hold them, lest they are accounted as a light thing, and are brought under condemnation thereby; and stumble and fall, when the storms descend, and the winds blow, and the rains descend, and beat upon their house.
And again, verily I say unto they brethren, Sidney Rigdon and Frederick G. Williams, their sins are forgiven them also, and they are accounted as equal with thee in holding the keys of this last kingdom.
This was 1833, the earliest true succession instruction we can find. It states that when Jo is absent, his presidency holds equivalent power as the prophet. But, this doesn’t explicitly state that they would be the ones to take over when Jo dies, it merely says they are equal. To make this more explicit, when Jo was about to head out on Zion’s Camp, the first Mormon military campaign from Kirtland to Missouri to restore the Mormons back to their land and property from which the Missourians drove them, Jo decided it was a good idea to leave explicit instructions as to who would run the church while he was gone.
On 19 April, 1834, Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and Zebedee Coltrin “laid hands upon bro. Sidney, and confirmed upon him the blessings of wisdom and knowledge to preside over the church in the absence of brother Joseph.”
Quin points out that ‘absence’ doesn’t mean ‘death’, which make these instructions less cut-and-dry than we’d hope. But, consider the context of when this was given. Jo was leaving the Kirtland HQ behind for a military expedition he didn’t want to lead in the first place. Every military leader needs a trusted right-hand man back at home to keep the lights on and pick up the mail while the leader is on his crusade. That was all this designation really did. It merely appointed Hingepin Rigdon to be the acting prophet until Jo returned. However, the subtext of this appointment is important to keep in mind. If Jo died during the march, which he almost did from cholera, Hingepin Rigdon would be the right guy. Jo had blessed him with all the wisdom and knowledge to preside over the church and no other person had such a blessing given to them. Jo 3.0 wasn’t even two years old when this blessing was given to Rigdon so he was in no place to lead the church if his father died in a firefight even though he was the first-surviving son and the rightful heir.
The idea of Jo 3.0 being his father’s rightful successor was recognized by Hingepin Sidney Rigdon during the succession crisis in 1844. Rigdon’s claim to power hearkened to this 1834 blessing Jo gave him, but that was to basically keep the presidency functioning as “guardians” of the church until Jo 3.0 came of age to lead the church. Of course, Brigham’s jealous advocacy for dissolution of the presidency upon the prophet’s death was directly opposed to Rigdon’s position as Rigdon posed the greatest legitimate threat to Bloody Brigham’s power grab. Rigdon’s position and influence in the church had waned through the Nauvoo years, but he was running as Jo’s Vice-Presidential candidate during the 1844 election so to some extent their relationship had been repaired by mid-1844.
Rigdon took an active role in fighting against Bloody Brigham’s power grab. The public largely sided with Brigham after a demonstration we’ll discuss when it comes up. But, after that demonstration, Rigdon attempted to form his own church in opposition to Brigham and the Quorum of Apostles. As Quinn reports from his 1976 BYU Studies article:
Bitterly disappointed, Rigdon refused the offer of the apostles to continue functioning under their direction. The seriousness of Rigdon’s position and the threat he represented in 1844 was indicated in the journal of one of the apostles, George A. Smith:
Tuesday Sept 3 I Learned Elder Rigdon was Making a Division in the Church ordaining Prophets Priests & Kings contrary to the Say of God The Twelve visited him he Said his Authority was Greater than ours Seemed Determined to Scatter the Church and Led up A Party he Claimed to have many visions and Revelation and at varance with those Given Prest Joseph Smith We Labored With him till 9 o’clock at Night and after Deliberation desfeloshiped him & Sent Elders P P Pratt O Hide A Lyman to Demand his Licenc he was angry he Said he Would Expose the Counsels of the Church and Publish all he knew against us he knew the Church had not Been Led By the Spirit to God for Long time.11
Unable to tolerate Rigdon’s schismatic activities, the Quorum of the Twelve prepared to excommunicate him.
Succession was anything but a clean transition of power in 1844. Rigdon always had this 1834 ordination to fall back on, but it clearly wasn’t enough to sway public opinion for so many factors we’ll explore in future episodes. Rigdon’s co-counselor in the presidency had been designation as Freddy G. Willey back in the 1833 revelation, but he died 2 years before Jo died and the schism crisis was born. The man who replaced Freddy G. Willey? That was William Law, the primary author of the Nauvoo Expositor which catalyzed Jo’s death in the first place. Needless to say, Law wasn’t in the proper place to lead the main body of Mormons alongside Rigdon until Jo 3.0 was old enough to inherit the mantle. However, this did not stop Law from leading his own small schism for a very brief period before it was absorbed into much larger contingents of Mormons.
Rightful successors dying or being removed from good standing in the church had also affected the ordination of David Whitmer to be rightful successor when he was ordained in July of 1834 when Zion’s Camp reached its destination. From volume 3 of the History of the Church reporting a sermon Jo gave in March of 1838.
President Joseph Smith, Jr. gave a history of the ordination of David Whitmer, which took place in July 1834, to be a leader or a prophet to this church, which [ordination] was on condition that he [J. Smith, Jr.] did not live to [see] God himself.
This was all well and good, but in a mere month after this sermon, Jo and Hingepin Rigdon would write the Danite Manifesto charging David Whitmer, John Whitmer, and Oliver Cowdery with apostasy giving them 48 hours to vacate Far West, Missouri or get a visit from the Danites. David Whitmer was still alive when Jo died in 1844 and he used this 1834 ordination as his claim to power to lead his followers, colloquially referred to as the Whitmerites, until his death in 1888. D-Day David Whitmer and Hingepin Rigdon weren’t the only ones to receive a direct succession ordination prior to Jo’s death. A major confounding player in all of this was a guy named James J. Strang. We’ll be discussing Strang extensively in coming shows, but suffice it to say, Strang emerged after the death of Jo with a letter of succession ordination dated the week before Jo was shot dead in Carthage Jail.
behold my servant James J Strang hath come to thee from far truth when he knew it not & hath not rejected it but hath had faith in thee the shepherd and stone of israel & to him shall the gathering of the people be fore he shall plant a stake of Zion in Wisconsin & I will establish it & there shall my people have peace & rest & shall not be moved
Quinn continues with his assessment of the letter as follows:
Even at face value, the letter seemed to be no more than a local appointment, but Strang insisted the document designated him as Joseph’s successor. Rather than presenting his claims to the Church in Nauvoo, Strang announced his position at a conference of the Church at Florence, Michigan, on 5 August 1844. The presiding elder of that branch, Crandall Dunn, denounced the claim as an imposture and observed that the postmark on the envelope of Strang’s letter proved it to have been a forgery.21 Brigham Young in 1846 denounced the entire letter as a forgery: “Every person acquainted with Joseph Smith, and his style of dictation and writing might readily know that he never wrote nor caused to be written that letter to Strang.”22 Modern analysts of the document have not only agreed with that verdict, but have also judged the signature of Joseph Smith on the letter to be a forgery.23 In addition to the letter, Strang also claimed that he had been ordained successor by an angel. Persisting in his claims, he was excommunicated by the branch at Florence, Michigan, on 5 August 1844, an action that was repeated by the apostles at Nauvoo
Of course Bloody Brigham called it a forgery, because Strang was a huge threat. Regardless of his denunciation and Strang’s excommunication from the church, Strang was a charismatic leader and was openly opposed to the practice of polygamy, making him an appealing candidate and the leader of the second-largest community of Mormon in the wake of the schism crisis until his assassination in 1856. Like I said, we’ll discuss Strang extensively in the future, but the point I’m making with introducing him into this discussion is that secretive ordinations of leaders in the church and designating successors made the problem of discerning Jo’s true intent immensely challenging for the body of Mormons at large. Who do they follow when they have 8 different people coming forward claiming to be the next prophet and the most reasonable next prophet Jo 3.0, is only 11 years old? It was a conundrum that held the exaltation of every average Mormon in the balance of their own decision.
Other people had stronger claim to lead factions than James Strang with his forged letter. Lyman Wight is an interesting example of this. Immediately prior to Jo’s death, Lyman Wight, the Wild Ram of the Mountains, was tasked with taking a group of Mormons to settle in Texas. Bloody Brigham tried to recall him from this mission, but Wight directly opposed Brigham’s decree because he was on a mission from God. He wrote this, which I’m reading from Quinn’s BYU Studies article:
This revolation of the Lord was given by the angel of the seventh dispensation and was to continue during my life it was given by the highest authority that then was and I can not see any use or benefit it could be to alter it especially as their is no power on earth that can do it. . . . my mission was to continue during my life and as Joseph never found fault with me and no other man has authority to do so I think my case will lay over till the Lord takes me to himself.
While this “revolation” doesn’t explicitly state that Lyman Wight was to be an actual successor, it does show that Wight understood he wasn’t beholden to the power claims of Bloody Brigham and the Quorum of Twelve. However, this revelation was given in secret, which constitutes a central issue of many of these ordinations for succession and leadership. The church was supposed to operate by Common Consent. Members were supposed to vote on changes in leadership and for canonizing revelations to become church scripture. Jo had abandoned that practice as the church grew and became less homogenous; he operated more of the church in the shadows as his ministry aged. But, if Jo blessed one guy with being the rightful successor and only three other guys were in the room at the time, as soon as Jo died and that guy came forward saying he would be the next prophet, what reason did the public have to believe him? James Strang was one of the earliest to claim secretive succession and therefore garnered the largest following aside from the Quorum of Apostles. Another of these came from Alpheus Cutler, a member since 1833 who was born before the Constitution of the United States was ratified. Cutler formed his church after briefly following the Quorum of Apostles to Iowa when he spoke of a secretive ordination. Once again from Quinn’s BYU article:
Joseph Smith, sometimes prior to his death, organized a Quorum of Seven, all of whom were ordained under his hand to the prophetic office; with all the rights, keys, powers, privileges, and blessings belonging to that condition. The only difference in the ordinations of the seven, was in the case of Alpheus Cutler, whose right to act as prophet, seer and revelator was to be in force upon the whole world from that very hour. Under this ordination, he claimed an undisputed right to organize and build up the kingdom the same as Joseph had done.
This Quorum of Seven is something which hasn’t survived in the Brighamite tradition of the church to this day, but is frequently used by many fundamentalist groups with various names including Council of Friends, Council of Seven, Holy Council of Friends, and dozens of other names. When Jo supposedly formed this Quorum of Seven, the leadership of the church was in constant flux as it could have only come in late spring of 1844 as chaos continued to unfold politically, religiously, and socially for the Mormons. But, once again, Cutler’s claim to rightful succession was in competition with half a dozen others in 1844-8 and only gained a relatively small following because his ordination was secretive to begin with and never announced from the pulpit for public approval.
Oliver Cowdery was absent during the succession crisis because he’d been excommunicated and removed from the body of Mormons back in 1838. However, he was the scribe for the Book of Mormon, the second elder of the church, and one of the three witnesses to the plates. He was royalty who’d been cast aside when his personal opinions about the sanctity of marriage conflicted with Jo’s and his alliance with the Whitmers represented the greatest threat to Jo’s power in Missouri. However, Ollie had been ordained as “Associate President” to the church in December of 1834, after Jo’s return from Zion’s Camp when he was conceiving of the first massive structural organizational shift in the church adding the Quorum of Twelve, 2 Quorums of Seventies, and creating dozens of other auxiliary leadership and middle-management positions. What was an Associate President? It didn’t matter much because Cowdery was exiled in 1844 when the question could be answered, but according to Quinn:
Cowdery’s minutes of his ordination indicate that he was not merely made an assistant whose role was subordinate to the first and second counselors in the First Presidency:
The office of Assistant President is to assist in presiding over the whole church, and to officiate in the absence of the President, according to their his rank and appointment, viz: President Cowdery, first; President Rigdon Second, and President Williams Third, as they were severally called. The office of this Priesthood is also to act as Spokesman-taking Aaron for an ensample.33
Although introduced as a member of the First Presidency after Rigdon and Williams, Cowdery was given supremacy over them. In fact, the definition of his powers gave Cowdery joint control with the Prophet. In the absence of Joseph Smith, Cowdery was president and the first and second counselors were his counselors.
Cowdery was a great candidate for next prophet if Jo had died in 1835 or 36 as he was essentially co-president with Jo. But, because he was estranged, Cowdery was nowhere near viable.
Another possible path of succession could have gone towards the Patriarch of the church. The way the Brighamite church is structured today is that each stake has their own patriarch who gives patriarchal blessings. Patriarchal blessings are essentially a rite of passage for Mormons, usually undertaken in their teens. But, the office of patriarch in Jo’s church was wildly different. The first person called in 1833 to be patriarch was literally Jo’s patriarch, Joseph Sr., Big Daddy Cheese. He was given a monthly stipend and a per-blessing fee for giving patriarchal blessings to members. He gave hundreds, many of which have survived and have been archived by church genealogists. Big Daddy Cheese died in September of 1840 and conferred his office of Patriarch of the church to Hyrum Sidekick-Abiff Smith. Jo said of this event in May of 1843, “The Patriarchal office is the highest office in the church, and father Smith conferred this office, on Hyrum Smith, on his deathbed.” Soon after this public declaration, Jo said in June of 1843, less than a month before the polygamy revelation was given, “that Hyrum Smith should ‘hold the office of prophet to the Church, as it was his birthright,’”.
This is tough to work with, because Big Daddy Cheese was never in a position above his son, Jo, in the church. The office of Patriarch didn’t hold much authority, it was a purely revelatory role in that the duty of the patriarch is to give blessings to parishioners. But, the actual role of the presiding patriarch had evolved in the short 4 years Hyrum had been presiding patriarch. Big Daddy Cheese’s role in the church was merely advisory and giving blessings until his death. Hyrum, on the other hand, was an active participant in the decision-making process of the church, gave his own revelations, had taken plural wives, and was completely inseparable from his younger brother. Jo declaring that Hyrum holds the office of prophet to the church and that this office is the highest office in the church as was Hyrum’s birthright meant that presiding patriarch wasn’t just an emeritus auxiliary role to the leadership of the church, it was an executive leadership position. Even the name of the office invokes that of a father, one who holds some level of dominion over the church within this theology, and Hyrum exercised his role. Upon Hyrum and Jo’s death, Samuel Harrison Smith followed them to the grave only a month later, Crazy Willy Smith was the last-surviving Smith brother who jealously advocated for a strong role in the church leadership Bloody Brigham was slowly forming with the Quorum of Apostles at the head. Bloody Brigham quashed Crazy Willy’s moves and usurped his power by neutering the office of Presiding Patriarch. This wasn’t hard for Bloody Brigham to do because Crazy Willy wasn’t held in the highest regard by most of the church, especially with previously owning a brothel in Nauvoo and openly advocating for the practice of Spiritual Wifery. Plus, Jo and Crazy Willy had a couple of public spats which included physical encounters which cast a cloud of doubt over Willy being level-headed enough to be in any powerful role of the church.
The primary avenue of succession which was actually exploited by Bloody Brigham during the crisis was the Council of Fifty. We’ve discussed the Council extensively but suffice it to say the Council of Fifty or Council of YTFIF if you listen to Latter-day Lesbian podcast, was the government Jo established to replace the American government when he finally took it over. All of the Quorum of Apostles were members of the Council of Fifty. Keep in mind, the Council of Fifty continued to meet with Bloody Brigham often as chairperson after Jo’s death. He was usually the guy calling the shots in the Council meetings which he used to slowly move the leadership in degrees toward favoring him as rightful president and follow his decision-making. Apparently a speech that Jo made during a certain meeting of the Council of Fifty led some members to believe that he was designating the council as a whole to be the rightful successor in the event of his death or absence.
This quote comes from a guy named Benjamin F. Johnson and I’m going to read it from Quinn’s paper in a moment, but first a precursor on Benjamin F. Johnson to understand this quote in proper context. Johnson was one of the youngest, possible THE youngest members of the Council of Fifty at age 26. He was the youngest member of the Army of Israel during the Missouri-Mormon war of 1838 and participated actively in the raids of the non-Mormon settlements. He helped to bury and later unearth a cannon the Mormons stole from the Missouri militia and was taken prisoner and released by the Missourians. He was also an early practitioner of polygamy and Jo married his older sister, Delcena with Benjamin officiating the ceremony sometime in spring of 1842. He was totally in the faith and he was a firebrand who zealously fought for the cause of building the Kingdom of God on earth.
There’s an apocryphal self-reported story from his life reminiscence, which we’ll discuss in a minute, about when he was a prisoner of the Missouri militia. According to Johnson, a man put a pistol to little Ben’s head and said “You give up Mormonism right now, or I’ll shoot you.” Because that’s how stuff like that worked. It wasn’t “tell us where Joseph Smith is,” or “tell us where you hid the cannon and rifles you stole from us,” no, it was a death threat for him to renounce his religion. Johnson said he refused to renounce the faith and the guy pulled the trigger but the gun misfired. He cursed the gun which had never misfired in 20 years and primed it again and attempted to shoot Johnson again, and the gun again misfired. It happened a third time when another Missourian told him to fix his gun and then “you can kill the cuss all right”. Then, the Missourian tried a fourth and final time to shoot Benjamin Franklin Johnson, at which point the gun exploded in his hand and killed the assailant, leaving Johnson completely unharmed. Another Missourian who just watched his friend die by his own gun exploding in his hand apparently quipped “You’d better not try to kill that man.”
So, does Benjamin F. Johnson sound like a trustworthy source to you, dear listener? With that in mind, Benjamin F. Johnson recalled a specific meeting of the Council of Fifty in his memoir, My Life’s Review, which he dictated some time before his death in the Brighamite tradition, but for some reason or another wasn’t published until 1947. So, this meeting he remembered where Jo designated the Council of Fifty as the rightful successor in case he died was remembered by Johnson, probably 50-60 years after the meeting actually happened, and the account wasn’t published until more than 100 years after the meeting. That’s my way of saying this is account is questionable and even that is being generous.
At one of the last meetings of the Council of Fifty after all had been completed and the keys of power committed, and in the presence of the Quorum of the Twelve and others who were encircled around him, he arose, gave a review of his life and sufferings, and of the testimonies he had borne, and said that the Lord had now accepted his labors and sacrifices, and did not require him any longer to carry the responsibilities and burden and bearing off of this kingdom, and turning to those around him, including the 12, he said, “And in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ I now place it upon you my brethren of the council and I shake my skirts clear of all responsibility from this time forth,” springing from the floor and shaking his skirt at the same time.
Quinn goes on to point out a detail within the record that various church leaders acted in accordance with this line of thinking, even if Benjamin’s recounting of it simply can’t be trusted.
Following the death of Joseph Smith, the apostles almost immediately referred to his remarks on this occasion as indicating the right of the Quorum of the Twelve to govern the Church in his absence.59 Nevertheless, the Kingdom of God in Mormonism was both ecclesiastical and temporal. The “Keys to the Kingdom” rested upon the shoulders of the Council of Fifty, which included the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. In 1846, Brigham Young stated: “Wherever the 12 & Council are there will the Keys be also.”60 Thus, it is not strange that some members of the Council of Fifty regarded that body as having a right of succession to lead and organize the Church.
But also consider this, each and every one of those members of the Quorum of Apostles and the Council of Fifty had vested interests in making sure the power was publicly shifted to the Quorum. All of them had internal and external motivating factors making them act in accordance with Bloody Brigham’s 40-year vision of taking power and moving the Mormons to Mexico.
There was, however, some scriptural precedence that the Quorum of Apostles were equal in authority to the prophet, in the way the three branches of government are equal in power in theory, even if in practice there is some disparity.
Section III of the 1835 D&C is titled “ON PRIESTHOOD” and it was given in April of 1835 right before printing of the 1835 edition began. It was included as section III presumably because it would be one of the earliest read to any new readers. It begins by creating the two different priesthoods, Aaronic and Melchizedek, which was mostly unknown before this revelation was printed and read by average Mormons. The section continues to lay out the leadership structure of the church and the duties of various offices. Verse 11 of the 1835 edition, 21-26 of the modern D&C 107. As I read this you’ll find what I mean when it’s set up similar to the government with 3 co-equal branches of ruling power, the Presidency, the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, and the Quorum of Seventy.
11 Of necessity there are presidents, or presiding offices growing out of, or appointed of, or from among those who are ordained to the several offices in these two priesthoods.
Of the Melchizedek priesthood, three presiding high priests, chosen by the body, appointed and ordained to that office, and upheld by the confidence, faith and prayer of the church, form a quorum of the presidency of the church.
The twelve travelling counsellors are called to be the twelve apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ, in all the world: thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.
And they form a quorum equal in authority and power to the three presidents, previously mentioned.
The seventy are also called to preach the gospel, and to be especial witnesses unto the Gentiles and in all the world. Thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling:
and they form a quorum equal in authority to that of the twelve especial witnesses or apostles, just named.
And every descision made by either of these quorums, must be by the unanimous voice of the same; that is, every member in each quorum must be agreed to its decisions in order to make their decisions of the same power or validity one with the other.
Three co-equal branches of church leadership established in 1835. It should be no mystery what Jo had in mind as a 30-year plan for the United States when we read this revelation in the context of his military campaign and general lawlessness of the previous 4 years of his ministry.
At the end of the day, Bloody Brigham’s power grab was successful. We’ll discuss the subtle and overt movements Brigham made in the coming succession crisis on this podcast, but suffice it to say he was successful. As Quinn states in this BYU Studies article, which you’ll find in the show notes, of course:
The Quorum of the Twelve was a known and trusted entity to the Mormons. As early as 27 March 1836, the apostles had been sustained with the First Presidency as “Prophets and Seers.”74 With their prophet dead and mobs menacing Nauvoo, the Quorum of the Twelve seemed to be the only stability upon which Mormons could depend. After 8 August 1844, the Church emerged from its crisis. An unsettled mode of succession could have destroyed it; the Quorum of the Twelve was determined that such a crisis should never be repeated. The apostles were careful, however, to specify that the place of Joseph Smith would never be filled by another. In an epistle of the Quorum of the Twelve to the Church, on 15 August 1844 they stated: “Let no man presume for a moment that his [Joseph Smith’s] place will be filled by another; for, remember he stands in his own place, and always will.”75 When the membership of the Church voted on 8 August to accept to Twelve Apostles as the First Presidency of the Church, they were not voting for a successor to Joseph Smith. The Mormons were simply acknowledging the fact that the Quorum of the Twelve presided over the Church by virtue of known Revelation and by the recognized ascendance given to them by the founding Prophet. Nevertheless, by virtue of his being president and senior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Brigham Young was already acting as President of the LDS Church. As early as 5 December 1844, Brigham Young signed himself in a letter as “Prest of the Church of L.D.S.”76 Moreover, the manuscript minutes of the general conference on 7 April 1845, show that Brigham Young was unanimously voted upon and sustained “as the President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to this Church and nation, and all nations, and also as the President of the whole Church of Latter Day Saints.”77 In pursuance of this mandate, Brigham Young on 8 May 1845 wrote Wilford Woodruff, then in England, to obtain foreign copyrights to Church publications “in the name of Brigham Young, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints,” and on 15 August 1845, he gave identical instructions to others for the securing of U.S. copyrights to Church publications.
By early 1845, Bloody Brigham’s power grab was complete through pressures within his control and capitalization on forces outside his control. It was soon after this in the Great Basin Mexico when Brigham approached Wilford Woodruff and asked his counseling on whether a separate presidency should be formed as presiding over the Quorum of Apostles, which was eventually done, removing some power from the Quorum of Apostles and consolidating it to the 3-man first presidency who operated as an autonomous body above the control of the Apostles. The Apostles from that time forward would become advisory to the presidency instead of the presidency being 3 selected men within the Quorum of Twelve having equal authority as the other 9 members.
The overall takeaway is that the current succession structure used by the church has no solid foundation in scripture, just inferential basis in a mishmash of a few cherry-picked scriptures and private statements made by Joseph Smith, some of which were remembered long after his death by people who were in leadership positions in the Utah church. Some would claim that a few of those statements were fabricated out of whole cloth to post-hoc justify Bloody Brigham’s tenure as President, which is a completely reasonable assessment.
The major point baked into the takeaway is that the succession process of the Brighamite church today is directly counter to the scriptural precedent the Book of Mormon, the Lectures on Faith, and the Pearl of Great Price instruct of patrilineal succession. The Book of Mormon, especially, is the most egregious example of the leadership of Brigham’s church willfully ignoring scripture to retain their own tenuous grasp on power. Given the entire body of Mormon scripture and the basis for Joseph Smith’s theology, Joseph Smith III is the rightful successor and the true holder of the keys to the kingdom.
Understandably, for a religion so focused on authority and the ethereal concept of specific people holding keys given by biblical prophets and apostles, the question of who holds the keys to the kingdom and thereby the authority of the church, is a hotly disputed subject. It always has been. Almost every fragment of the hundreds of factions of Mormonism began with a dispute among leadership about who holds the keys.
So, now we move briefly to Quinn’s second article up for discussion today, Joseph Smith III’s 1844 Blessing and the Mormons of Utah.
This is from the John Whitmer Journal Volume 1 of 1981 and the heading is rather interesting.
The discovery of the Thomas Bullock transcription of Joseph III’s blessing by his father has created much discussion among Latter Day Saint historians. D. Michael Quinn had previously undertaken a major study of the succession issue ["The Mormon Succession Crisis of 1844" BYU Studies, 16 [Winter 197 6], pp. 187-233], and was asked by the editors of the JWHA Journal to prepare an article on the blessing's historical significance to the Mormons.
Members of the Mormon Church headquartered in Salt Lake City may have reacted anywhere along the spectrum from sublime indifference to temporary discomforture to cold terror at the recently discovered blessing by Joseph Smith, Jr., to young Joseph on 17 January 1844, to "be my successor to the Presidency of the High Priesthood: a Seer, and a Revelator, and a Prophet, unto the Church; which appointment belongeth to him by blessing, and also by right.”
He continues by discussing the importance of the letter within the context of rightful successorship we’ve discussed on the podcast so far as well as the authenticity of the letter.
The Mormon Church follows a line of succession from Joseph Smith, Jr., completely different from that provided in this document. To understand the significance of the 1844 document in relation to the LDS Church and Mormon claims of presidential succession from Joseph Smith, Jr., one must recognize the authenticity and provenance of the document itself, the statements and actions by Joseph Smith about succession before 1844, the succession developments at Nauvoo after January 1844, and the nature of apostolic succession begun by Brigham Young and continued in the LDS Church today. All internal evidences concerning the manuscript blessing of Joseph Smith III, dated 17 January 1844, give conclusive support to its authenticity.
Historical support for the authenticity of a document doesn’t prove it is, indeed, authentic. It merely creates the historical model with which the document fits. Quinn continues:
Even though Joseph had ordained four other men before 1844 to succeed him and had given the Quorum of Twelve administrative authority[sic] over the church equal to the First Presidency, it is obvious that Joseph Smith intended his son Joseph Smith III to one day become president of the LDS Church. A revelation to Joseph Smith, Jr., given a month after the birth of young Joseph on 6 November 1832 stated that the priesthood "must needs remain through you and your lineage until the restoration of all things," and the revelation on priesthood and church officers of 19 January 1841 also stated "even so I say unto my servant Joseph: In thee and in thy seed shall the nations of the earth be blessed." Prior to this, Joseph had already advanced to be general authorities in the church his father, his brothers Hyrum and William, his uncle John, his aunt's first cousin Amasa M. Lyman, his first cousin George A. Smith, and his acknowledged fourth cousin Willard Richards, fifth cousin Heber C. Kimball, and sixth cousins Brigham Young, Parley P. Pratt, and Orson Pratt. Joseph was making the Mormon hierarchy[sic] an extended family, and there can be no reasonable doubt that he had every intention of his son serving at the apex one day.
Nepotism in early Mormonism was one of the strongest-running themes of the church. It was, indeed, the church of the Smith family and their extended relatives. Quinn puts it so succinctly that “there can be no reasonable doubt that [Joseph] had every intention of his son serving at the apex one day.” This is simply unequivocally true. Keep in mind, Quinn was a BYU professor when he wrote this. He was employed by the university run by the Brighamite church when this document surfaced that the Brighamite church has absolutely no grounds for rightful succession after the death of Joseph Smith. This blessing completely shatters any pretense that any other church than the RLDS was to be the one true church after Jo’s death. Jo 3.0 was the person in Jo’s mind all along that would be the next prophet to lead this dispensation.
This entire Quinn 1981 article is absolutely remarkable and you’ll find a link to it in the show notes. His concluding paragraph summarizes the complexity of the issue in a typical Quinn-esque forthright and understandable way. He leaves his readers to make their own conclusions and simply sticks with critical observations based on the data.
There were many complexities and contradictions in the fourteen year ministry of Joseph Smith as president of the LDS Church. Not only did he establish competing claims of individual succession to his office at the same time, but (with reference to polygamy in particular) Joseph Smith's public statements were moving in opposite directions from his private ministry. Brigham Young resolved the inconsistencies by adhering to the private instructions Joseph Smith the Prophet gave him in the name of the Lord during the last years of his life, and by dismissing the public inconsistencies as diplomatic concealment. Joseph Smith III resolved the inconsistencies by adhering to the public instructions published by Joseph Smith's authority during his lifetime, and be dismissing the secret developments at Nauvoo as aberrations. Both positions required rationalization or denial of discordant elements of the past. Both the Mormons of Utah and the Saints of the Reorganization were loyal to their conceptions of Joseph Smith's prophetic office, and from their differing viewpoints the recently discovered 1844 blessing of Joseph Smith III verified either the tragedy of unfulfilled prophetic office or the glory of a martyr’s heritage.
The only issue here is that the letter was a forgery by the infamous Mark Hoffman. Hoffman made this blessing as one example within his document forging empire and exhibited it to the world of Mormon history as one of the greatest document finds in all of Mormon history of the 20th century.
We discussed this near the end of part 2 of the 3-part series on Mark Hoffman back in August and September of 2016 and it feels particularly relevant because this is when the importance of this document fits into the historical timeline and I’m recording this 34 years almost to the day after Hofmann murdered 2 people to cover up his fraud. If you want the Mark Hofmann story near the current anniversary of his most infamous acts, consider going back to the podcast backlog and listening to that 3-part series, they’re some of our highest downloaded episodes.
Hofmann knew how important this document was to the RLDS church. He also knew the LDS church would want to buy this document for the purpose of suppressing it as they’d done with many of his forgeries, so he pitted the two religions against each other in hopes of getting the best bid from one of the two and making off with a sweet exchange or a big bag of money. Notably, in a rare moment, Hofmann recorded his phone call with the RLDS archivist when he pitched her the blessing in exchange for a nearly priceless artifact. I played this audio on the Mark Hofmann episode #2, but I’m going to play it again here. Fair warning, the audio is just under 6 minutes and it’s really terrible quality. Here’s the content of the phone call for those of you who skip it or need to understand what you’re about to hear. It begins with Mark introducing himself to Madeline Brunson calling from Salt Lake City. Then he tells Madeline that he came across an interesting manuscript and describes what it is, the dating of it, where he found it among the Thomas Bullock papers, and the analysis from then-church historian Dean Jessee. You can hear Madeline Brunson’s surprise. He then reads the content of the blessing designating Joseph III as the rightful successor of the church from generation to generation calling him to be “seer and revelator”. Then you hear Madeline say, “oh for heaven’s sake” in reaction to the content and you hear some of the Sunstone Audience laugh as that’s where this was played. You’ll find a link in the show notes to the entire presentation where this audio was played. After this you hear Madeline asking about the pedigree of the document once Mark asks if she might be interested in it. Then he drops the bomb, pun intended, of what he’s willing to exchange it for, a first-edition Book of Commandments, which were trading for just shy of half a million dollars at this time. To put that into today’s money context, there’s currently a trade being facilitated among a couple of Mormon rare document collectors today which includes David Whitmer’s copy of the Book of Commandments he used when writing his 1880s book “An Address to All Believers in Christ” along with his most well-known seer stone. This package, along with a few other loose documents is about to trade hands for $5 mil. So, Mark offering to trade the Jo 3.0 blessing for an original Book of Commandments was quite the interesting proposition, which is why you’ll hear Madeline Brunson say “oh my” and sheepishly chuckle when he makes the ask. The audio ends with him providing Brunson with his contact info. So, it’s about 6 minutes, feel free to skip it if you’d like as you now know the contents of the call.
Hopefully, now you understand the importance of this Joseph III blessing from his father just months before Jo’s death. The existence of an actual letter is still unknown. Maybe it exists locked away in some vault, maybe in somebody’s attic, maybe in a private collection, or maybe it was destroyed or never recorded in the first place. The point still remains, this blessing is the single greatest explicit claim to succession the RLDS had and it’s firmly rooted in the deepest theology of the religion. The Bloody Brighamite tradition simply has no explicit theological or scriptural basis for their claims to succession authority.
Should a blessing come forward where Jo explicitly designated Jo 3.0 to be the rightful successor, that would completely shatter any pretense to authority and authenticity the majority of Mormon religions claim. The possession of the keys to the kingdom of god in this dispensation had to be passed from Peter James and John, then through Elijah, Moses, and Aaron in the Kirtland temple to Joseph Smith and explicitly passed from one person to the next to get to the leadership today. If there was ever a break in the line of succession from Jo to Russell M. Nelson, the whole system is illegitimate within the context of Mormon theology.
At the end of the day, Mark Hoffman was a genius for pitting these two religions against each other with this forged blessing because it taps into the very roots of what make Mormonism, Mormonism. This is something which only matters to people who choose to place a value judgement on the priesthood and literal descent, outsiders like yours truly can simply sit back and laugh at the pretzels historians and apostles twisted themselves into in order to explain away the conflicts arising from patrilineal succession and what Bloody Brigham did. Mark Hofmann was a genius because he created documents that were within the context of the understood academic field of Mormon history. His forgeries weren’t fabricated out of whole cloth, that would give away the gag and he wouldn’t have made any money. What that really means is the scholarship surrounding a blessing being given to Jo 3.0 from his father designating Jo 3.0 to be the next prophet is rock solid, even if the document itself was a forgery. That’s why it passed as legitimate for 6 years before the extent of Hofmann’s forgeries was understood.
This whole conversation begs the question of authority. What even is authority and power in the Mormon context. I remember a presentation given by Steve Shields at Sunstone last year where he ran through 7 of the major schisms coming out of the crisis of 1844. In this presentation he went through multiple letter exchanges from various church leaders of various Mormon factions, most of which were calling into question the power and authority by which the other had the right to be prophet and president of their respective congregations. In the Q&A I got up and asked something to the effect of where does the power and authority actually come from and Steve’s answer was that he didn’t have an answer but he looked forward to my paper on the subject. I laughed and thanked him for taking my question, but there really is a fundamental question at the root of my superficial question that couldn’t be answered in a 10-minute Q&A and probably couldn’t be answered ever.
The presentation and Steve’s answer to my question have caused me to think about this a lot. What is power and authority in Mormonism? I’ve come to a few levels of understanding about it. First off, power is a real thing and people in power have authority, and therefore control, over parts of the world and groups of people whether we agree with or abide by that power and authority or not. I believe the climate disaster on the very short horizon is going to kill millions of people and displace hundreds of millions, but certain people in power with authority don’t see that as an important issue or don’t allow critical voices on the subject to be heard in certain parts of the world. I don’t agree with their power and authority, but they have power over the lives of billions of people so it doesn’t matter what I do or don’t agree with.
Power equals influence. A person who can influence others has power over them and that power extends beyond those they influence to spheres where they don’t have direct, but indirect, influence. From where does that power and influence originate? That’s a great question. Most often people are born into a caste or society where they have more influence and power based on their last name or the castle in which they live. In Joseph Smith’s case, he was one of those radical charismatics who realized that the best way to be in charge is to take charge and jealously guard that power once it’s acquired.
Each and every one of these factions of Mormonism has power and authority over the people who adhere to the specific system. They all agree that keys of the priesthood and leadership in the religion are important subjects, but simply disagree on the “most correct” system they follow. It’s the same end, but different ways to that end which leads to different people with power and authority over different groups because the individual structures are largely the same but the people within those leadership strata are unique. These systems perpetuate simply because people continue to adhere to them through tacit agreement that their system of belief is superior to any other. My system gets me to the most awesome heaven, all other systems be damned.
What stuns me about this story with the succession crisis and the Mark Hofmann forgery is that, by in large, people didn’t leave because of Mark Hofmann Jo 3.0 blessing forger. It is such a niche subject of Mormon history that only a few thousand people actually understood the historical significance of the letter, and most of those people had harmonized prickly historical issues long before this letter emerged. Sure, somebody might read the Deseret News headline about the blessing in 1981 and their faith might be shaken, maybe a few hundred left, maybe even a few thousand. But, the impact this letter had was so negligible when they had like 5 million people at the time; so what if a few hundred or thousand leave. This letter and the whole Mark Hofmann issue was a scandal of epic historical proportions. But the fact of the matter is, when an institution which has no grounding in reality anyway reaches a certain critical mass, it can weather any scandal. Joseph Smith learned this during his ministry and the church knows it today. When your system is built on lies, just lie until people no longer question you.
Lane Wade email
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