I wish to tell a short story. There once was a man with a beard.
He was a lunatic! An utter lunatic. He hung out in the desert, he mixed with a bunch of unsavory characters, he even physically assaulted people in houses of worship. Women especially seemed to fall under his spell. In some instances, he was discovered to have advocated for REVOLUTION against the government.
Thankfully the authorities arrested this man, and he can no longer trouble us or society at large with his dangerous and psychotic ideas. We are better off without him.
I’m not talking about Charles Manson. I’m talking about Jesus Christ. The problem with popular culture and society in general is their inability to distinguish between the two. One was a legitimate lunatic who deserves to serve time in prison, the other was the Savior of mankind. Be careful who you listen to.
If Roman popular culture (or even Judean culture) had taken note of Christ during his day, he would have been mocked and denounced in every village square and in every newsletter published from Hispania to Aegyptus. He was preaching things that were difficult to hear, things that were uncomfortable for people to listen to and live by.
Rome was too sophisticated, too cultured, and too proud to listen to the humble parables of a shepherd from Nazareth.
Now we come to Joseph Smith.
Several months ago, the LDS church published an essay on Joseph Smith. Perhaps you didn’t hear of it, though if you’re Mormon I’m sure you did. You couldn’t escape from the dang thing.
This seems to happen on occasion. The outside world finds some unsavory tidbit of the church’s history, and promptly throws it back in our faces.
The Mormon Church was started as a sex cult…Joseph Smith married fourteen year olds…The Book of Mormon is a plagiarism from other, similar works…Brigham Young operated a brewery in Utah, etc.
I don’t get my testimony from talking heads floating on a television screen. I certainly don’t get it from newspaper articles, and I DEFINITELY do not get it from a bunch of bitter ex-Mormon bloggers or their apologists still in the church.
Just remember that Moses murdered a man and was exiled from his home. Jacob tricked his father into giving him the birthright. Nephi beheaded a man incapable of defending himself. Joshua openly committed genocide against entire ethnicities in the Holy Land. The Lord’s ways are not ours. What we think crazy or wrong in our limited mortal understanding can, in fact, be moral in the Lord’s plan. Taken in the wrong context, anyone can be made to be a monster.
I admit: I don’t ever want to practice polygamy. I have a hard enough time dating; you think I want to double or triple that problem?
But neither did Joseph Smith. The man had to have an angel stand over him with a sword to get him to commit! This wasn’t easy for ANYONE to participate in, but they did it because they knew Joseph Smith was a prophet of God who had restored the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They didn’t listen to the anti-Mormons on the east coast or the ones burning their way through Mormon settlements in Missouri. They knew it, and so they followed. This isn’t the act of a bunch of sex-crazed men and docile, dim-witted women. This was a fiery trial of their faith, and they passed it. As the church noted, it rose up a righteous posterity in the truth, and many members today can trace their lineage to these righteous polygamists. I honor them for their efforts, and their faithfulness.
Some things can be confusing or unsettling from our perspective. That’s not the church’s fault; it’s ours. We’re mortal. That’s why it’s called “faith.” Eventually everything will make sense. It will seem silly to have our testimony shaken over such a small thing.
No one is perfect. Joseph Smith was a man, and a flawed one. That’s not surprising. God has to work with imperfect people to further the Gospel. But to focus only on Brother Joseph’s warts does a disservice to both him and the people talking about it. We need to keep perspective. Tens of thousands who never met him were willing to spend three months on a boat traveling to a new land with nothing more than the shirt on their backs, because they believed that he was a prophet. Even after his death his followers still had faith to follow his successor thousands of miles into the desert, and made it bloom like a rose.
These faithful pioneers did not cross thousands of miles and in some cases bury their own children on frozen and lonely plains for a sex-crazed con man.
The doctrine he preached and restored to the earth has brought hope and inspiration to millions of people. The book he translated has brought men closer to the divine. I’ve read it multiple times; I don’t see how a wicked man could have made up something so beautiful.
Don’t get your information on Joseph Smith from talking heads on television or newspaper articles. Read his story yourself. Come to your own conclusions. Listen to his successors in the church. They’re not quiet about Joseph Smith or what he preached. Every six months they seize control of my television, and they tend to dominate my Facebook feed and overflow my email inbox. I know they are prophets from the wisdom they preach, and the witness of Jesus Christ they offer.
I don’t understand everything about the Gospel, but just remember that the best place to understand something is at the source, not from secondhand sources or hearsay. The truth of the gospel stands on its own legs.
Even though Joseph Smith’s polygamy seems strange to a modern audience, remember to keep perspective. With that perspective, you can see the wonders that he accomplished, and the hope the Restoration has given to a dark and dreary world.
Like millions before, I too can declare, “Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah!”