Recently, the LDS Church (my church) published online essays about the early practice of polygamy and particularly, Joseph Smith’s involvement with it. The Internet exploded.
It’s extremely hard to avoid the negativity, the anger, the confusion, and the assumptions that have been birthed at the publication of these essays. People think we Mormons are not only peculiar, but perverted. People think we’re not only confused, but delusional. And the world goes on as it always has, considering the existence of the LDS Church to be a sort of theological freak of nature.
Personally, I don’t care about that stuff so much as I care about what my friends and family members are saying. I know some of you who are struggling with this. It’s hard to see some of your testimonies teetering near the edge because of what you’ve learned about Joseph Smith. It’s hard to see some of you claim that you no longer love the prophet Joseph Smith and that you feel the rest of us are insane to even consider him a man, let alone a prophet of God. It’s hard to see you investing in Internet articles instead of your own faith.
Lately, it seems like many of us, if we were honest, would get up at fast and testimony meeting and say, “I’d like to share my testimony, I know the Internet is true.” If you believe that, it’s no wonder your faith is fighting an uphill battle.
At a time when Wikipedia and Buzzfeed are considered to have more legitimacy than scripture or prophets, it’s important to realize when we are grounding our testimonies in truth or domain names. If your testimony of Joseph Smith the Prophet is shaking right now and you’re confused, it may be because you’re giving more credence to the world wide web.
Here are four signs that the Internet is stealing your testimony of Joseph Smith:
1. You give more credibility to your favorite bloggers than to modern messengers of the Lord.
I’ll be honest. As an LDS culture blogger, I feel extremely satisfied when I publish my opinions and get a positive response. It feels good when people look to your thoughts to form their own. But does that mean I’m the number one source when it comes to the Gospel? Absolutely not.
Frankly, you’d be hard pressed to find a blogger online who is 100% credible and right about all things Gospel related, because we’re just people who like sharing our opinions. Many of us think we’re right, yes. Many of us have put hours of study into our craft, yes. But unless we are bona fide church historians, leaders, or the prophet Joseph Smith himself, everything we say must be taken with a grain of salt. We are _not the primary source. _
I know what you’re thinking, church critics. You’re thinking, “How can church leaders possibly be credible primary sources? They’re going to say whatever they can to paint a perfect picture of the church and its leadership.”
The fact that the polygamy essays were even published negates that claim. The following statements made by President Uchtdorf in a recent general conference also negates that claim: “…the Church would only be perfect if it were run by perfect beings. God is perfect, and His doctrine is pure. But He works through us — His imperfect children — and imperfect children make mistakes.”
I warn you that it is impossible for a blogger or writer with physical and, often, spiritual distance from church history, documents, and protocol, a blogger who has their own agenda and takes gratification in the thought of being correct or convincing, to be both credible and a primary source where Joseph Smith is concerned. It cannot be done.
If your qualms are related to the legitimacy of church leaders being the Lord’s messengers, then earnestly try seeking out the primary source where that is concerned: the Lord.
If you’re saying now, “Hold on. You’re saying that we can’t believe everything we read on the Internet, then why believe the essays?” Well, if the essays are authorized by church leaders and if you have the confirmation that church leaders really do speak with God, you do the math on that one.
2. You read more Mormon apologist and “fringe Mormon” opinions than you do your copy of the Book of Mormon.
If you’re spending less and less time in your Book of Mormon, you’re spending less and less time building a sure testimony in Joseph Smith’s legitimacy as a prophet and translator. Plain and simple. Sure, I’ve seen some good things come from some Mormon apologists and fringe Mormons, but the time you spend reading their words should never overwhelm the time you spend reading the Book of Mormon.
I love the talk “Safety for the Soul” given by Elder Holland in 2009, because in it, Elder Holland notes that leaving the church requires you to crawl “over or under or around the Book of Mormon.” And it’s true! From a writer’s standpoint, the Book of Mormon astounds me. When I read it, I feel its power and truth and goodness. Just as the book itself notes that “every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit” (3 Nephi 14:17), I have to note that a good man helped bring forth this book, which I’ve always considered to be good. The irony is that the Book of Mormon itself gives us direction to know whether or not Joseph Smith legitimately communed with God as His prophet, and yet we spend so little time reading it and so much more time reading the opinions of people whose words are not scripture!
In the kindest way possible, get off of Feminist Mormon Housewives and By Common Consent and get into your Book of Mormon if you want to know for yourself if Joseph was a prophet.
**3. You think of Warren Jeffs and molestation when you consider early practices of polygamy. **
I don’t claim to know the reasons for polygamy’s reinstatement, nor do I claim to know the ways in which it was practiced, though I must add here that the church website discusses economic and religious motivations rather than romantic. From my experience as a college student and a millennial, however, I know that the world teaches that the West was won by no heroes and that all of history is a whitewashed, politically incorrect hot mess.
What do I mean by that?
Well, we’ve gotten into the habit of looking at history through a 21st Century lens, and because we have, we see things at one angle. We look at the Civil War era South and see slavery. We look at Christopher Columbus and see a murderer of indigenous tribes. We look at the Salem Witch Trials and see a bunch of really stupid people. My old Constitutional Theory professor probably looks at Thomas Jefferson and sees a rapist. We pick out atrocities and perplexities that would not go unchecked in society today, and we’re really, really good at just looking at those things (which is not at all to say that they are right or justifiable).
The thing is that with our experiences and our society influencing how we think, we look at history and cannot see things in context, whether they are good things or bad things, right things or wrong things. It’s impossible for us to see them in context.
I can’t help but think that in a decade when we’ve grown so used to hearing about, reading about, and seeing pictures of Warren Jeffs and the monstrosities he committed at the head of the FLDS Church, it is extremely easy for us to believe that polygamy within the LDS church was practiced in the exact same ways, and that’s certainly the message we get from the Internet.
But we were not there. Think about it. Nobody who has posted anything on the Internet was there. I don’t know if that comforts you or not, but realize that context is everything, and we don’t have a whole lot of it. Mistakes were probably made, yes. Men probably did stupid things when polygamy was instated, yes. But, again, context is everything.
**4. You believe prophets should be perfect. **
Every contentious online forum I have ever stupidly tried to be a part of has brought up the following argument: men of God should be perfect or “better”.
Is this true? one would wonder.
Well, according to the books of God it isn’t.
Moses had major issues with speaking. Enoch, if he was telling the truth, was hated by all of his neighbors. Jonah ran away when the Lord asked him to do something. David, the same David who killed Goliath by the power of God, committed adultery, as we all remember, later in his life. Nephi said his heart “groaneth” at his sins (2 Nephi 4:19). Alma was probably sitting real cozy on one of those lounge chairs in King Noah’s court before Abinadi came a knockin’. Alma the Younger was trying to destroy the church before he got a spiritual wake up call. The list goes on and on.
By all means, wonder why prophets aren’t more perfect than they are, but according to the scriptures, that’s a standard they’ve never had to live up to. Nor could it be.
You see, we believe in and follow Jesus Christ, who is our perfect example. To say that prophets should be perfect is to say that prophets should be above the need for the Atonement, which would downgrade the singular divinity and mission of our Savior. Why does it alarm us that the messengers are less perfect than the king? It shouldn’t. They were never meant to be perfect, but to announce that Jesus Christ is and help us to become more like him.
There are many ways in which the things we read or the discussions we participate in online degrade and attempt to rob us of our testimonies. My hope would be that if these polygamy essays really bother you and you’re struggling to come to terms with them, please don’t turn the place with millions of clamoring, inaccurate, and biased voices. Turn to the source of all knowledge. Attend the temple, read your scriptures, and maybe, of more immediate importance, ask Heavenly Father. He sees everything in context, He understands that men aren’t perfect, and He is the primary source of all primary sources.
If you seek an answer from Him, you will know if Joseph Smith is a prophet. And, for as much as it’s worth from an imperfect and not omnipotent blogger, I dare you to try.