Did you remember to celebrate today!? Did you celebrate the baby laying in the cradle? Did you celebrate the nativity that BYU titles, “Bless Be His Name?” I am not speaking about Christmas, but rather December 23rd. Today is a sacred day indeed, it is the day when we should be giving solemn thanks for the birth of the man that has “has done more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it.”, at least that is what LDS/Mormon scripture would lead us to believe. The Deseret News, LDS Church owned newspaper, boldly reminds us not to loose sight of this date with everything surrounding that other holiday we celebrate in December. The newspaper admonishes us, “However, another important December date is often forgotten in the rush of the season. On Dec. 23, 1805, in Sharon, Vt., the fifth child of Joseph and Lucy Smith, Joseph Smith, Jr., was born. “ (Kristine Frederickson, Deseret News 12/20/09) This newspaper for the Lord tells us to “acknowledge” Jesus Christ, but that we should “revere Joseph Smith.”
This admonition to “revere” Joseph Smith begs the question, what should we be celebrating? Should we be celebrating the polygamy, polyandry, the secret underwear, the constitutional crimes, or the incredible claims of seeing God The Father and Jesus Christ? Perhaps we should consider celebrating one of the more beautiful gifts that Joseph left with us, polygamy and polyandry. The church has never publicly acknowledged Joseph Smith’s participation and endorsement of polyandry and has done a phenomenal job keeping his polygamy a lesser-known fact to LDS membership.
Many have been told and taught that polygamy was necessary doctrine brought about by the senseless murders of too many Mormon males in the confrontations with mobs in the 1830-40 in Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio. Unfortunately this form of apologetics does not explain why it continued well into the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, and why the US census has always demonstrated that in this period there was many more males than females in the Utah/Deseret Territory.
The creation of officially recognized polygamous marriage was bore out of the necessity to explain Joseph’s and many of the church leadership’s relationships and marriages to other women. The creation of this “new & everlasting covenant,” as the LDS scriptures refers to it as, allowed for the creation of many of the secret rituals of Mormonism including garments/underwear and temple rituals.
Even more shocking than the polygamy was perhaps the polyandry. By most historian accounts more than ten of his 33-48 wives were married to other men and continued to live with their original husbands, but frequently visited Smith overnight. It has been written that Smith claimed these marriages were required to test the commitment of those closest to him.
The best example of this testing is the demand placed on LDS Apostle and close friend of Joseph Smith, Heber C Kimball. Joseph demanded that Heber give him his wife, Vilate. According to Orson Whitney in his biography of Kimball, Joseph gave him an ultimatum, Mormonism or his wife. Kimball gave in and presented him with his wife on Smith’s doorstep. Perhaps we should commemorate this day in history by presenting our wives to our church leaders as an offering for our Smithsmas spirit.
Another lasting memory of the “Prophet Joseph” comes in the form of his momentous First Vision, in which he reports seeing two personages that informed him that all of Christianity was an abomination. Nevermind those pesky Biblical teachings about angels and personages of light coming from Satan… The late Gordon Hinckley, President of the LDS until his death, commented, “Our entire case as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints rests on the validity of this glorious First Vision…Nothing on which we base our doctrine, nothing we teach, nothing we live by is of greater importance than this initial declaration.”
That is placing considerable weight and emphasis on something that has had a convoluted and unclear past. According to the LDS Church the First Vision occurred in 1820, but the first published account did not appear until early 1842. It is puzzling to say the least that if the Mormon Church was created upon a mandate from God The Father and Jesus, why was it not part of the original dialog or canon of the church?
Equally damning perhaps that in 1834-35 as the leadership of the church attended the “School of Prophets” there was no mention of the vision anywhere in the seven lectures included in the course. This school sought to teach church leadership the core doctrines and beliefs of the church. Despite these lectures’ discussions regarding the nature of God there is no mention of Joseph seeing or conversing with God or Christ.
During this same period, 1835, the LDS Church printed their canonized Doctrine & Covenants, a book of scripture that contains many of the churches most controversial and important doctrines. In the preface for this book it mentions that it includes, “the leading items of religion which we have professed to believe.” How does a religion supposedly built upon a heavenly mandate fail to mention that as a leading item of their belief?
The easiest answer to the above question is that is wasn’t important until it needed to be… At the time of the First Vision’s publication in the LDS periodical “Times and Seasons,” the Church was in a state of chaos. Members of the church’s leadership were being excommunicated and many more had become opponents of the church. Ironically, the first few handwritten accounts of the “First Vision” chronicle not a visitation from God and Christ but rather “angels” that gave Smith assurance that his sins had been forgiven. Considerably different that what is taught today…
The other interesting component of the “First Vision” story is the fact that most church leaders did not even teach this story until the mid-1870’s. In an 1850 letter by John Taylor, the third LDS President, wrote explaining that Joseph Smith was visited by “two personages” making no mention of God, Jesus Christ, nor any damnation of Christianity.
With so many questions and discrepancies surrounding this event why would church leaders place so much emphasis on this story? Again, Gordon Hinckley explains the paradox involved, “I would like to say that this cause is either true or false. Either this is the kingdom of God, or it is a sham and a delusion. Either Joseph talked with the Father and the Son, or he did not. If he did not, we are engaged in blasphemy” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Conference Reports, October 1961, p.116).
In the second point made, Joseph Smith does in fact make overt gestures to join the Methodist Church in the Harmony Township, in 1828, by signing up for the probationary classes. This is less than one year since being lead to the Golden Plates by the “Angel Moroni.” Additionally, despite the alleged story of a visitation from God and Christ, his family in 1824 joins the Presbyterian Church. Further damning, according to Joseph’s father, Joseph Smith was “baptized, becoming thus a member of the Baptist Church” (Interview With The Father of Joseph Smith, The Mormon Prophet…1870).”
A celebration of Joseph Smith’s birthday would not be complete without a true look at the quotes, words and songs that Latter-Day Saints use to describe their founder. Many Protestant Christians might be familiar with the usage of the phrase or song, “Blessed Be His Name,” but they would be mistaken in thinking this is referring to Jesus Christ. Consider how the LDS Church thinks that famous title should be used. In 2005, Brigham Young University, official LDS college, setup a Joseph Smith nativity scene to commemorate the 200 year anniversary of his birth and titled it, “Blessed Be His Name.” I guess we should be careful not to lose sight of the blessed name of Joseph Smith during this busy Christmas season.
An LDS Hymn takes it another step further and declares: “His equal now cannot be found, By searching the wide world around. With Gods he soared in the realms of day, And men he taught the heavenly way.” With all that being said, perhaps my favorite way of reflecting on Joseph Smith this Smithsmas is by reading a quote from his own hand,
“I have more to boast of than any man had. I am the only man that has ever been able to keep a whole church together since the days of Adam. A large majority of the whole have stood by me. Neither Paul, John, Peter, nor Jesus ever did it. I boast that no man ever did such work as I.” (History of the Church, Vol.6, pp. 408-09)
We should put our trust in the One and Everlasting God, and in the one that we come allows us to come to Him, Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Let us celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with full knowledge and appreciation for the immense sacrifice and freedom that He brings to us that seek and accept him! Remember that the Bible contains the everlasting message from God to his people. This Christmas season commit your life to following Christ. Christ boldly declares in John 11:25-26, while comforting Martha, “…I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth on me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever liveth and believeth on me shall never die. Believest thou this?” Do we now believe in this? Will we not trust in Him that he alone has the power to conquer sin and death? As Christmas approaches let us heed the divine counsel of our God come in flesh (John 1:1, 14). I will close with the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter the Ephesus, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe (Ephesians 1:18-19).”