Monday, November 4, 2019

How Much Information Do We Need?

A reader wrote in recently and stated: “I feel like Nephi has betrayed us all. He openly stated that he has left out much of the history of his people in the small plates. That means that when we read the Book of Mormon, we aren’t getting the full picture. What do you think he was trying to hide? Can’t history be “spiritual” though? I think there are just as many lessons that can be drawn from history. Are you uncomfortable with what you might find if you read a detailed history of the Nephites? If Nephi truly was inspired by God, he certainly would have made sure the large plates had gotten to us, too, right? I mean, why hasn’t he just appeared to a prophet today to reveal the large plates to him? Why hasn’t the church focused on this subject.”
Response: The interesting thing about this is that the Church has publicly acknowledged this before and published this fact often. This particular concern is simply inaccurate. They’ve published it in the Church’s Doctrine and Covenants Sunday School manual, the Church History Institute manual, Ensign articles (dating back at least several decades), and, most importantly, it is in our scriptural canon (Doctrine and Covenants 132).
    What this means is that we just need to be better as parents and individuals at directing our children and people to all the many resources that the Church has already published on the topic. And when we come across media on the topic, we need to be “critical consumers of information,” as one blogger pointed out. The Lord has commissioned the Church to declare doctrine, not history (and of course, there are some historical events that are closely tied to doctrine). It seems that is one reason why, in any given church lesson, the manual spends so much time teaching applications to the brief history it provides—because that’s what members need most.
    If we only get two precious hours now per week in Church, how do we determine what is a priority to learn? If we only have two hours per week of instruction about how to become more Christ-like, we need to be getting the most relevant information to help us in our journey. One reason people have had issues with the LDS Church posting these essays is because they misunderstand that it has never been the Church’s role to be historians.    Criticizing the Church for not publishing every detail of its history is like criticizing the federal government for not publishing more American History text books. It is just not its job. Other people and organizations fulfill that role. And that’s OK. There are many researchers, professionals, and organizations that research and publish things about Church history. Church and Sunday School, and more than the Book of Mormon, was never meant to just be a history lesson. There are other LDS historical conferences, LDS scholars and researchers, and external professional gatherings to fill that need. And it is a very different need than the Church fulfills.
Like Nephi, we are also limited in the amount of “space” we have to be officially instructed about the gospel. The difference is that Nephi was limited by physical space (on the plates), and we are limited by time (two hours of Church per week). If we only have a limited amount of Church time to be taught the most important, relevant-to-our-life things about our salvation, Joseph Smith’s personal life and especially polygamy are probably not the most relevant to us today. In Joseph Smith’s case, we are taught about his role in translating the Book of Mormon, the restoration of the priesthood, the re-institution of temple worship, organizing missionary work to the world, etc.
     Those things are all still relevant to us today: we can read the Book of Mormon daily, we can experience the power of the priesthood daily, we can attend the temple as often as we can, we can support our full-time missionaries by trying to live the gospel the best we can as an example to our family and the world. However, polygamy is an obsolete practice. The Lord has never asked that we make it a part of our daily/weekly life like the other things Joseph played an active role in establishing. There is wisdom in the fact that the Church focuses on teaching us things that are directly applicable to us today.
    In many of the objections we read about online, many people have assumed that Joseph’s Smith’s practice of polygamy was a moral failing. It is understandable how the idea that Brigham Young or Joseph Smith practiced plural marriage might make someone uncomfortable; it made Joseph, Brigham, and others uncomfortable! But we need to be careful that we don’t let our comfort level gauge whether or not something was commanded of God, who sometimes commands things that are uncomfortable (like Nephi killing Laban), or things that we have trouble making sense of (like Jesus commanding his apostles to not teach Gentiles, and also later refusing to talk to a Gentile woman).
    Not everything will always make sense to us. Jesus wouldn’t speak to a Gentile woman because as he said the gospel was not supposed to be preached to Gentiles at that time. Though that may seem out of step with our view of the Gospel and Christ, it doesn’t mean Jesus was wrong to do that.
    One helpful step for someone who is having doubts about this is to see what the Church and other prophets have said on the topic. Nowhere is it stated that polygamy was an unfortunate mistake, or that Joseph shouldn’t have taken more wives. We know that previous prophets have practiced plural marriage such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Solomon.
So polygamy itself is not evil—in certain cases it is commanded of God. We should be careful to not be so quick to think that we possess more insight, wisdom, or inspiration than a prophet. It can be too easy to slip into the “guilty-until-proven-innocent” mindset.
    We all know that the Savior was the only one who ever lived a perfect life. Thankfully, prophets’ weaknesses do not prevent them from God effectively using them as spokesmen. We can trust that the Lord will never let them lead the Church astray—though there have been those from time to time who think so. If someone thinks that Joseph was wrong in practicing polygamy, they need to understand that polygamy, when directed by the Lord, is not a sin; however, it is hard for people today to get their mindset above the carnal nature that drive us in mortality.
    But if you think about it, the fact that all prophets are imperfect doesn’t really have anything to do with Joseph practicing polygamy—because polygamy was not a sin. If someone thinks that polygamy is evidence that Joseph was imperfect, then the problem is not that they thought Joseph Smith was perfect (although that does go against Church doctrine); the problem is, they didn’t know that polygamy was not a sin.
    Likewise, if a person is bothered that a prophet could make such a big mistake like practicing polygamy, the remedy is not teaching that prophets can make mistakes (although it’s fine to acknowledge that); it’s to show that polygamy itself is not a mistake when directed by God. We believe the Lord commanded it, and Joseph followed the Lord’s command, in fact quite reluctantly at first, just as Nephi followed the spirit’s guidance in dispatching Laban, though he was very reluctant to do so.
So how Joseph Smith has been presented to someone will not help their concerns. But how polygamy is presented—as a commandment Joseph was following—can resolve their concerns. Polygamy was difficult for Joseph and the other Saints to live, but they were still obedient to the Lord. Just know that you are in good company if the Church’s history of polygamy is something you struggle with. And as we act in faith, like the early Saints, the Lord will bless us with peace.
    Members of the Church have had access to lots of already-published historical information on Joseph Smith and polygamy, through official Church publications and non-official publications. But now that the Church has recently been in the limelight, it seems like their approach to history is looked at by some as “denial” or at worst, “deception.” 
    It is obvious that those opposed to the Church have their favorite topics to write about to “prove” that the Church or a prophet is false, and polygamy is one of those false ideas. So someone trying to find faithful and historically accurate information about polygamy will undoubtedly come across many of the non-faithful sites. And often, it’s hard to tell some of the faithful and non-faithful sites apart at first glance. It should be understandable to members and non-members alike, that the Church in wanting to do something to make the correct information more accessible than it already was, because we live in an information-oriented society today, unlike any time in the past, and are attempting to increase their statements and explanations.
    We find it interesting that people have created a Catch-22 for the Church. If the Church publishes a history of polygamy (again) on its website, they get falsely accused of “hiding it in the past for so long.” On the other hand, they were also being falsely accused of not taking an active approach to explaining detailed history to members. It seems like no matter what the Church does, there will always be those who oppose its efforts. But the work of God will still go forth in spite of those negative efforts of people and critics.
    Members should become more familiar with the historical aspects of the Church, including polygamy, since the way many fringe comments and critics phrase this issue in dubious terms, making the truth of it confusing. But it does not have to be. There is always sufficient truthful statements dealing with any gospel and Church subject to help individuals understand the matter the way it was intended.


  1. I still believe that the scriptures do not teach that God will never allow the church President to lead the church astray. That is tradition, not scripture.

    Instead, God has revealed that EVERY MAN is to esteem his brother (this includes leaders) as himself (D&C 38:24-25). And EVERY MAN must stand or fall for himself, and not automatically trust even the Eye of the Body. (The Prophet). (JST Mark 9:40-48)

    The Eye of the Body (the Prophet) can fail as shown by the second witness of D&C 107:82-84 which gives revelation for a trial before a special Bishop's court to end any controversy over a member of the the First Presidency. It gives this obvious conclusion: “thus NONE are exempt from the justice and laws of God”

    Obviously no one has the right to come in and try to take over the church and teach new doctrines. But all faithful members DO have the simple scriptural right to NOT sustain even the Church President and to have a sincere controversy over him until it is settled fairly.

    God has revealed that He will try the Saints in ALL THINGS (D&C 136:31). Those who say the Lord would never try the Saints with having to live by D&C 107:81-84 (that they COVENANT to live by) and settle a controversy over even the President of the church are simply denying the revelations of God.

    Because this simple right has been effectively denied members for so long, there is room for many things to be wrong in the church. The fulfillment of 2 Nephi 28:21 of a pacified spirit of “all is well in Zion” that can lead one to hell is certain to be --above all else-- the false, unscriptural doctrine that members are to place the church Prophet (a man in the flesh with blood in his veins) above possible controversy and failure.

  2. Polygamy is divinely inspired and mandated. That being said, it's also a dangerous practice that must be carefully and closely regulated.

    The nephites began practicing polygamy within a few short generations of landing in the promised land. They were warned heavily against it. Likely because of the lack of genetic diversity at that point. The polygamy surely caused a genetic bottleneck which was a factor in the collapse of the first nephite society 200 years later.

    With proper oversight and regulation, polygamy would have ensured the church covered all of the United States today. However, the church at the time lacked the industrial and financial bases to survive a war that would be the outcome of the explosive expansion caused by polygamy