Don’t go in the water!

Doctrine and Covenants Section 61 contains some bizarre stuff. Apparently Joseph Smith and his traveling companions had a rough trip on the Missouri River, so one of them saw a vision of “the destroyer riding in power upon the face of the waters.” This caused Smith to issue another revelation which includes this:

Behold, I, the Lord, in the beginning blessed the waters; but in the last days, by the mouth of my servant John, I cursed the waters. Wherefore, the days will come that no flesh shall be safe upon the waters.

This is apparently why Mormon missionaries are not allowed to swim on their missions (no joke). Some interpreters of this passage say that the revelation only refers to the specific waters of the Missouri River, and some of the language does tend toward that view, but the verses quoted above seem to refer to all waters on the earth. The reference to John seems to refer to Revelation, perhaps something like:

and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.

Either way, this promise of “no flesh” being safe upon the waters seems like a false prophecy. Next comes a threat to Cincinnati:

And again, verily I say unto you, my servants, Sidney Rigdon, Joseph Smith, Jun., and Oliver Cowdery, shall not open their mouths in the congregations of the wicked until they arrive at Cincinnati; And in that place they shall lift up their voices unto God against that people, yea, unto him whose anger is kindled against their wickedness, a people who are well-nigh ripened for destruction.

One would think that if Cincinnati was ripened for destruction in 1831 the time would be up by now, but apparently not.

The Congregations of the Wicked

As previously noted, the attitude of modern Latter Day Saints towards the world is one of near universalism. It is hard to square these beliefs with many statements in LDS Scripture. Today I was reading Doctrine and Covenants, Section 60. In it, God (via Joseph Smith) three times refers to churches that LDS missionaries were to evangelize as “congregations of the wicked.”

This kind of black and white, Abominable Church vs. Pure Church rhetoric is common in the founding documents of Mormonism, but you don’t hear it much from the General Authorities these days. They merely refer to ‘the Apostasy’ which is a catch-all phrase. They generally want to portray modern Protestants and Catholics as well-meaning but mislead. Their attitude is, “we don’t want to take anything you have away, just to come alongside and show you what you are missing in the Fullness of the Gospel.” How this works with our churches being congregations of the wicked is beyond me.

The LDS Church in the Book of Mormon

One of my Christmas presents was the book American Apocrypha, Essays on the Book of Mormon edited by Dan Vogel and Brent Lee Metcalfe. Much of the book is fascinating reading and I am thoroughly enjoying it. In the essay, Historical Criticism and the Book of Mormon: A Personal Encounter by Edwin Firmage, Jr. there is an assertion that I had not heard before. Firmage writes:

The key to this case is the fact that nowhere in the Book of Mormon’s many detailed prophecies of the last days is anything ever said about the establishment of a new church. The nature of God’s work subsequent to the appearance of the Book of Mormon is very vague, particularly so after the detailed prophecies pertaining to Smith’s involvement in the translation.

It appears that the detailed instructions towards the end of the BoM regarding eucharist and baptism may have been intended as a manual to reform ALL churches, not to establish a brand new church! Firmage discusses infant baptism and says in part:

The matter of infant baptism…is broached for the first and only time in Moroni 8:4ff…This is puzzling since the Nephites have been practicing baptism at least since Alma the Elder’s time (Mos. 18:10ff). How is it that only at the end of the history does the question arise?…Moroni 8 implies that the issue is new: Mormon and Moroni are initially at a loss for a response. Even with his thorough knowledge of Nephite history, Mormon has to go to God himself for an answer (v.7). Mormon’s justification (v.8) is a pastiche of New Testament sentiments taken out of context in a manner not uncharacteristic of the rest of the Book of Mormon.

Both the absence of these issues – the absence of the LDS church from the BoM and infant baptism not becoming an issue until hundreds of years after Nephites had been baptizing – are startling and obvious problems when one performs a close reading of the text. They knock even more holes into the edifice of those who want to maintain that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text.

LDS book changing

This link is tracking the changes to the most recent edition of the LDS book Gospel Principles. You can read more about it here.

Aaron Shafovaloff tells me that the book is “the main introductory book for new converts and for members in general. The Mormon missionaries widely use it, they use it in classes on Sunday morning, and members will use it for family home evening studies.” Given this fact, and the fact that the thrust of the changes seems to be to make the LDS Church seem more vanilla Protestant in its doctrine, this is worth consideration.

Cynics (and I am amongst them) might think that this is simply a PR move to try and hide more objectionable doctrines for those who go ‘further up and further in.’ On the other hand, there is a real possibility that the Salt Lake church is going the way that the former RLDS Church (Community of Christ) went in moving towards a more orthodox Christian position. This would still leave many smaller Mormon sects in the movement that retain the charismatic and radical nature of the early LDS Church out there, but would mean that the Salt Lake church will continue on the path towards blandness, conformity, a business culture and an attempt to be as unobjectionable as possible. It is hard to see how the LDS Church can become orthodox while holding to the Standard Works that it accepts, but I suppose creative leaps could be made. Either way, the tensions with Mormonism are playing themselves out and it seems like the Mormon neo-orthodox have the upper hand in leadership positions.

Mormons and tongues – 2

Writing in the Latter-Day Saints’ Millenial Star, someone (I believe it is Heber Kimball), mentions Brigham Young speaking in tongues:

We received the gift of tongues and interpretation a few days after we were baptized. The brethren who brought the Gospel to us belonged to the first Branch of the Church that received the gift of tongues, and the Branch at Mendon was the next. Brothers Brigham and Joseph Young and myself went to Kirtland, with my horses and wagon, to visit the Prophet, a distance of three hundred miles. We saw brother Joseph Smith and had a glorious time; during which brother Brigham spoke in tongues before brother Joseph, it being the first time he had heard any one speak in tongues; he testified that the gift was from God, and spoke in tongues himself. Soon the gift of tongues became general in the Church in Kirtland. We had a precious season and returned with a blessing in our souls.

Leonard Arrington in his book Brigham Young discusses this same incident:

Still with the Prophet that evening at prayers, Brigham again spoke in tongues. “As soon as we arose from our knees the brethren flocked around him [Joseph Smith] and asked him his opinion concerning the gift of tongues that was upon me.” Joseph told them, “It is of God.” During the course of the evening the Prophet, who had never before heard speaking in tongues, received the gift himself. Those present remembered this event as a modern replication of “the day of Pentecost,” when the early apostles were “filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” That Brigham, a seemingly practical, rather staid person, should have been one of the few who exercised this “gift” is extraordinary.

Young spoke in tongues prior to this. Arrington relates:

One morning, happening upon the Kimballs as they knelt in family prayer, Brigham silently joined them. Serving as voice was Alpheus Gifford, the Pennsylvania missionary who had done most to convert the Youngs and Kimballs. Gifford suddenly began to speak in an unknown tongue. “At the same instant,” said Brigham, “the spirit came on me like an electric shock to speak in an unknown tongue, and though I was kneeling in an opposite direction, the same moment I turned round on my knees towards him and spoke in tongues also.”

Young counseled a branch of the church and:

taught them that when they spoke in tongues the language might be from the Lord, but with that tongue they spoke the things which were in their hearts, whether they were good or evil; the gift of tongues was given for a blessing to the Saints, but not to govern them, nor to control the elders, or dictate the affairs of the church.

In the book Mormon Enigma by Newll and Avery, we read: “The practice became a part of the Saints’ worship-particularly among women-until well into the next century.” Indeed, this tongues-speaking by Mormon women also generated poetry. In her book White Roses on the Floor of Heaven, Susanna Morrill discusses a poem called “Lines” by L.L. Greene Richards:

The circumstances surrounding the composition of the poem are telling, however, because the messages were conveyed through the gift of tongues by Clara H. James, then interpreted by Rida Taylor, and finally put into polished verse by L.L. Greene Richards…In order to most authentically communicate the revelations delivered in the gift of tongues, often identified as the primordial language of the Garden of Eden, or the Nephite language, Greene rendered them into poetic verse, in this way capturing both the message and the mood….

Ian G. Barber has noted that within the LDS community women were seen to be “natural” seers and visionaries who could more easily than men tap into supernatural and divine messages and powers. Women rather than men most often exercised the gift of tongues. While men sometimes attended and headed these meetings where women spoke in tongues, they rarely seem to have joined in the tongue-speaking themselves. As the community settled in Utah and as the practice of tongue-speaking became routinized, this gender separation became even more pronounced, as did a separation based on age and prestige within the church. This is not to necessarily say that those who spoke in tongues were the ones who wrote the poetry. Sometimes this was the case as, for instance, with Zina D.H. Young who was well known to regularly speak in tongues during Relief Society meetings, but who was also a sometime author, poet, and contributor to the Exponent. Rather, it is more accurate to say: the same forces that led to tongue-speaking also led to nature and flower poetry.

July Mulvay Derr notes in her review of The Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow, that:

In informal gatherings at Winter Quarters, Eliza and other women, many of them plural wives of Joseph Smith, repeatedly received the charismatic gifts of tongues, prophecy, and healing. These spiritual outpourings Eliza described as “a glorious time,” “a rejoicing time,” “a refreshing time”.

Mormon disobeys Ammaron

In the book of Mormon – by this I mean the book by that name within the overall Book of Mormon – the record keeper Ammaron chooses Mormon to be the next keper of the plates of Nephi and the other sacred records of his people. Ammaron has hidden these records in a hill called Shim. Ammaron tells Mormon:

And behold, ye shall take the plates of Nephi unto yourself, and the remainder shall ye leave in the place where they are; and ye shall engrave on the plates of Nephi all the things that ye have observed concerning this people.

Ammaron’s command to take the plates of Nephi is obeyed by Mormon, however, Mormon disobeys his command to leave the rest of the records in the place where they are in Mormon 4.23. Instead, he removes ALL of the records during his second visit to the hill. His justification is that the Lamanites were going to overthrow the land, but the same thing happens later when Moroni hides the records and God preserves them until Joseph Smith recovers them in the 19th century. All we know is that Ammaron commanded him to leave the remainder of the the records and Mormon disobeyed that command.

LDS Inclusion ~ LDS Exclusion

A straightforward reading of the Book of Mormon appears to endorse eternal punishment in hell for many people. A random example of this is found in 2 Nephi 28.15:

O the wise, and the learned, and the rich, that are puffed up in the pride of their hearts, and all those who preach false doctrines, and all those who commit whoredoms, and pervert the right way of the Lord, wo, wo, wo be unto them, saith the Lord God Almighty, for they shall be thrust down to hell!

Passages like that from the Book of Mormon (BOM) could be multiplied, but you get the picture. Now, if the BOM was allowed to stand alone as a text and govern the LDS church, things would look very different. But in essence, the book simply establishes the authority of Joseph Smith: “for the thing, which the Lord shall bring forth by his hand, by the power of the Lord shall bring my people unto salvation” (2 Nephi 3.15). Once Smith was established in his role of authority by the book he produced, he started improvising new theological viewpoints almost immediately.
In fact, a vision given to the false prophet in March, 1830 said that “Endless” is one of God’s names, therefore ‘endless’ punishment simply means ‘God’s punishment’ or punishment from God (Doctrine and Covenants 19). Mormon doctrine developed away from the Book of Mormon on many points and, by extension, away from the Bible. Mormon Professor James McLachlan writes:

With respect to life after death, the LDS church is a universalist religion. All beings have immortality through the atonement of Christ. Joseph Smith claimed that not only humans but animals and plants have eternal spirits (Moses 3:5, 19; 7:48-49; Abraham 3:18-19). Every creature is immortal, having everlasting life, but “eternal life” is interpreted as deification…all will attain immortality, but only those who learn to love perfectly will attain godhood, eternal life” (Musser and Paulsen, 2007).

Essentially almost everyone is ‘safe’ in the Mormon scheme of things – we’ll all end up in one of the three kingdoms. Craig Hazen has summarized things accurately:

Everyone in the next life (except for the small handful of “sons of perdition”) would ultimately enter (perhaps after a limited time in a purgatorial setting) one of the “three degrees of glory” of which even the lowest level (the telestial) has a glory that “surpasses all understanding” (D&C 76:89). [this revelation]…provided the answer to another important question that was probably being asked by early seekers: Why must I join the church if in the end all are going to be saved anyway? Answer: to have a shot at the highest state of glory” (Beckwith, Mosser, Owen 2002).

There is only one category of people in the LDS scheme of things that are in trouble: the sons of perdition. Who are the sons of perdition? Basically they are apostate Mormons:

“Those in this life who gain a perfect knowledge of the divinity of the gospel cause, a knowledge that comes only by revelation from the Holy Ghost, and who then link themselves with Lucifer and come out in open rebellion, also become sons of perdition” (McConkie 1966).

The bottom line seems to be that you are better off living any way you choose than in joining the LDS church and then leaving it. All of mankind will experience some sort of enjoyable eternal life with the exception of those who betray the LDS church.

Book of Mormon – textual corruption

Let me assume for a minute that the Book of Mormon is true. A few questions:

Why was the BOM preserved intact when the Bible was corrupted? What was the difference?

How do you *know* that the BOM is any more uncorrupted than the Bible? What if the same processes that corrupted the Bible worked on the BOM? How do you prove or disprove this?

How do we know that the narrators of the BOM are honest? What if Nephi, Alma, Moroni, or anyone was dishonest and recorded legends and fables that never happened? How do you verify any of thi

I am asking a methodological question: why is one text “pure” and the other “tainted?”

What processes caused this to not happen to the BOM?