Doctrine and Covenants Section 132:62: “And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.”
It was right there in front of them. There, in what they consider God’s Word (as spoken through Joseph Smith), was not only the justification but also the command for plural marriage among the Latter Day faithful. But, for many years, it was taught that Joseph Smith did not participate in polygamy—that he was married once and only to his beloved Emma.
When the Latter-Day Saints (LDS) church could control most of the information their members were able to access regarding church history, doctrine, etc., it was not difficult for people to believe what they were told about this. With the advent of the Internet, though, things have changed dramatically.
Just recently, the official website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints actually admitted that Emma was not Joseph’s only wife. In a belated attempt to “get ahead of the curve,” it was decided that it was better to present a more accurate, though sanitized, version of this part of their history.
The response from among the faithful to this revelation was described in a November 10, 2014, article in The New York Times: “‘Joseph Smith was presented to me as a practically perfect prophet, and this is true for a lot of people,’ said Emily Jensen, a blogger and editor… She said the reaction of some Mormons to the church’s disclosures resembled the five stages of grief in which the first stage is denial, and the second is anger. Members are saying on blogs and social media, ‘This is not the church I grew up with, this is not the Joseph Smith I love.’”
An understandable reaction, to be sure.
This Sentinel article, though, is not about Mormon polygamy; the issue here is understanding the nature of those of the true Christian faith who have gone on before us. The Christian Church has over the centuries produced histories of the saints called “hagiographies.” In these, the believers of the past are portrayed in the best way possible… and go well beyond even what the Eighth Commandment requires regarding the “best construction.” Often ignored are the foibles, the mistakes, and the outright sins these men and women committed so that the Christian faith is portrayed in the best light possible.
This is something we all do. At funerals, Christian pastors are sometimes accused of doing violence to the memory of the deceased by speaking about them as—wait for it—“sinners!” In film, as Martin Luther stands before the Emperor in Worms, a soft glow is cast upon his face as the music swells and he declares: “Here I stand. I can do no other!” all while his times of weakness are ignored. The rotten nature we have is sometimes excused or ignored in those examples from Scripture that are well-known, as indicated by the surprised response to my stating that in all likelihood Abram was an idol-worshiper when the Lord called him out of Ur.
With these new revelations about Joseph Smith, there will be some who will lose their trust/faith in the way of salvation taught by the Mormon church. May that be, as God so wills. But that’s the danger of not being honest about who the saints were who have preceded us in death, and with whom we are.
As God’s Word teaches, “ALL have sinned, and have fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, emphasis added). ALL. No one—other than our Lord Jesus—is excluded. That truth must daily be proclaimed and hourly be confessed. This is precisely why our hope is not in these people and not in ourselves. May it never be so! No, we are redeemed by God’s Son. Our Savior alone is Jesus Christ, our crucified and risen Redeemer. He alone has done everything necessary for us to be saved. We cannot even add to it to make it more sure.
The psalmist wrote: Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; in that very day his plans perish. Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God (Psalm 146:3–5).
No matter what you might learn about Abraham, Peter, Paul, Luther, or even your pastor, then, trust not in them, but in the Word of God spoken BY them that gives you the TRUE story of your salvation in Christ Jesus.
Reverend James Braun
Trinity Lutheran Church