In my post on Joseph Smith’s supposed polygamy, I provided a quotation from the Prophet strongly condemning apostle Brigham Young. Joseph said that if Brigham were ever to lead the church, he would “lead it to hell.” He told this to several people in the few years leading up to his death and was quite concerned over the future of Mormonism. Joseph had an interesting dream the night before he was murdered, the account of which has been recorded in the Documentary History of the Church. The full text of the dream is as follows:
I was back in Kirtland, Ohio, and thought I would take a walk out by myself, and view my old farm, which I found grown up with weeds and brambles, and altogether bearing evidence of neglect and want of culture. I went into the barn, which I found without floor or doors, with the weather – boarding off, and was altogether in keeping with the farm.
While I viewed the desolation around me, and was contemplating how it might be recovered from the curse upon it, there came rushing into the barn a company of furious men, who commenced to pick a quarrel with me.
The leader of the party ordered me to leave the barn and farm, stating it was none of mine, and that I must give up all hope of ever possessing it.
I told him the farm was given me by the Church, and although I had not had any use of it for some time back, still I had not sold it, and according to righteous principles it belonged to me or the Church.
He then grew furious and began to rail upon me, and threaten me, and said it never did belong to me nor to the Church.
I then told him that I did not think it worth contending about, that I had no desire to live upon it in its present state, and if he thought he had a better right I would not quarrel with him about it but leave; but my assurance that I would not trouble him at present did not seem to satisfy him, as he seemed determined to quarrel with me, and threatened me with destruction of my body.
While he was thus engaged, pouring out his bitter words upon me, a rabble rushed in and nearly filled the barn, drew out their knives, and began to quarrel among themselves for the premises, and for a moment forgot me, at which time I took the opportunity to walk out of the barn about up to my ankles in mud.
When I was a little distance from the barn, I heard them screeching and screaming in a very distressed manner, as it appeared they had engaged in a general fight with their knives. While they were thus engaged, the dream or vision ended. (DHC 6:609-619)
One possible interpretation of this dream is that after the martyrdom there was mass confusion and many men vying to be the successor of Joseph Smith. This list included Brigham Young, Sidney Rigdon (the only surviving member of the First Presidency), Samuel Smith (who died a month after his brothers Joseph and Hyrum), William Marks (president of the High Council), and James J. Strang (a recent convert who claimed possession of a letter from Joseph appointing him as the Prophet’s successor). A conference was held in August of 1844 to discuss leadership options. Sidney Rigdon contended for the position on the grounds that church authority was vested in the First Presidency and he was a surviving member. Brigham claimed that Joseph had bestowed “keys” on the Twelve that gave them authority over the church, and he had their support.
This is interesting because under Joseph the Twelve were ordained as traveling ministers with no authority over the stakes of the church. Originally it was the High Council that governed church affairs, but that changed after Joseph’s death. After Brigham was elected president by the majority of the newly empowered Twelve, a vote was extended to the church and he was sustained by those who were present. One of his first acts was to immediately excommunicate all dissenting votes against him, including Sidney Rigdon. Having obtained the church presidency, he was now ready to alter the Council of Fifty.
Most members of the modern LDS church would probably conflate the term Kingdom of God with the organizational church. Early Saints knew better. The Kingdom of God, or the Council of Fifty, was a shadow government created by Joseph Smith. It was comprised of both members and non-members alike, and its ultimate goals were to establish a literal Kingdom of God on earth in preparation for the second coming of Christ. Joseph was anointed a “king” by it’s council, an authority he had no intention of wielding on this side of the veil, similar to Christ telling Pilate that his “kingdom was not of this world.”
When Brigham took the reigns of church president, he expelled eleven church members from the Council and all the non-members, an action that was not previously possible because the Kingdom of God was supposed to be independent of church hierarchical authority. The Council would eventually ordain Brigham Young as a “King, Priest and Ruler over Israel,” which he concluded was a secular as well as a spiritual mantle. Young began to undermine the Council and the Twelve Apostles during the 1846-47 trek to Utah by organizing ad hoc meetings devoid of a majority of either group, often recruiting “immigrant leaders to imitate the required number for a theocratic council” (Quinn, The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, p.235).
After October of 1851, the Council adjourned for fifteen years, allowing Brigham to consolidate all power of the church and state into the Quorum of the Twelve and the First Presidency, with himself acting as the de facto leader of the Utah Territory, or Deseret, as they called it. Young had established the first successful and longest running religious theocracy in American history, which endured until 1858 when President Buchanan sent in an army to quell the “Mormon rebellion.” He made no bones about his “right” to rule the Territory in an 1853 Sermon:
We have got a Territorial Government, and I am and will be Governor, and no power can hinder it, until the Lord Almighty says, “Brigham, you need not be Governor any longer,” and then I am willing to yield to another Governor. (The Complete Discourses of Brigham Young, Richard S. Van Wagoner, Quoted in Brigham Young’s Telestial Kingdom, Denver C. Snuffer, 2012)
According to D. Michael Quinn, Brigham’s theocracy was set up like this:
Not surprisingly, the hierarchy was conspicuous in public office until the end of the nineteenth century. In the State of Deseret, 1849-51, the president of the church was governor, his first counselor was chief justice and lieutenant governor, and his second counselor was secretary of state. The Presiding Bishop and an apostle were associate justices, and other general authorities comprised 19.2 percent of the House of Representatives and 21.4 percent of the Senate. (The Mormon Hierarchy: Extensions of Power, pp. 265-66)
If it’s true that Brigham Young did indeed lead the “church to hell,” then we need to provide some evidence that he actually did. There is already a pretty good case that Joseph fought against polygamy being introduced into the church, and that he was innocent of it himself. But what of Brigham’s other antics, such as blood atonement, secret blood oaths, the Mormon Reformation, and other abuses of priesthood authority?
Indeed, what about the myriad of scriptures that predict the apostasy of the “holy church of God”(Mormon 8:38) in the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants? For instance, most Mormon’s read through D&C 124 without even realizing the significance of it. In it the Lord gives a command to build the Nauvoo Temple, with a stipulation that it had to be done in a certain time frame or He would reject the church with its dead:
But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto you a sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable before me. But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead shall not be acceptable before unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead, saith the Lord your God. (vs. 31-32)
The Lord goes on to promise the saints that, if faithful to these things, they would “not be moved out of their place” (vs. 45). Yet, we know that they were “moved out of their place,” and had to emmigrate to the west to escape persecution. There are many other scriptures that allude to an apostasy of the modern church; Mormon 8, 2 Nephi 26 & 28, D&C 112:25, 85:7, etc. But the one I want to focus on is 3 Nephi 16:10. It is the Lord Himself addressing the Nephites.
And thus commandeth the Father that I should say unto you: At that day when the Gentiles shall sin against my gospel, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, and shall be lifted up in the pride of their hearts above all nations, and above all the people of the whole earth, and shall be filled with all manner of lyings, and of deceits, and mischiefs, and all manner of hypocrisy, and murders, and priestcrafts, and whoredoms, and of secret abominations; and if they shall do all those things, and shall reject the fulness of my gospel, behold, saith the Father, I will bring the fulness of my gospel from among them.
The Lord uses the preposition “against” very particularly here. He says that the Gentiles will “sin against” his gospel at some future time. He also says that if they “reject the fulness of my gospel,” he will “bring” it “from among them.” He can only be addressing one group of people here; the Mormon church organized by Joseph Smith. Many church members don’t realize that Mormons are included in the group called “Gentiles.” The very title page of the Book of Mormon states that the plates were, “Sealed by the hand of Moroni, and hid up unto the Lord, to come forth in due time by way of the Gentile…” (Emphasis mine, See also 1 Nephi 15:13)
That’s right folks, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were Gentiles and so are all of us. Moreover, it is impossible to sin against something and have it brought from among us if we hadn’t already received it in the first place. Now that we know the Lord has our attention, the rest of the verse should be extremely alarming to us. The Mormons did what? Were more prideful than any people on earth, filled with lies, deceits, and mischiefs, hypocrisy, murder, priestcraft, whoredoms, and secret abominations? Wait, who are the bad guys again? Maybe the era of Brigham Young deserves a second look by believing Mormons. Just exactly what were the Mormons up to during his reign? Indeed, what weren’t they up to?
Lifted up in Pride Above All the People of the Earth
Brigham Young and his followers truly believed they were God’s chosen people on the earth. He once remarked that “All things will have to bow to Mormonism or eternal light and truth. We have the true government of all the earth.” And “Everything is against Mormonism and Mormonism is against everything. Everything is against us. Hear it, O earth, for the Kingdom of God is against all earth and hell. This is true and we shall fight them until the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of our God.” (Complete Discourses, Vol. 1 p.448, 461). Brigham made these statements in response to Washington’s appointments of non-member judges to Utah, who “intended to return to Washington and raise political opposition to Utah’s leaders.” (Brigham Young’s Telestial Kingdom, p. 11)
Ironically, Utah Mormons did not consider themselves part of the Gentile population, even though the Book of Mormon says otherwise. Brigham once reassured his followers in a sermon following the Nauvoo exodus that, “The Gentiles cannot reach us now. If they try it they will find themselves in trouble” (Wife No. 19, Ann Eliza Young, p. 69). The term was used by the Mormons pejoratively to describe non-believers and any who opposed their religion or way of life, especially polygamy. “Gentile” pilgrims and settlers were sometimes the victims of Mormon violence and theft, which was most likely the result of church leader’s rhetoric on blood atonement.
Brigham discouraged the saints from trading and fraternizing with the Gentiles, unless of course it was to convert them to Mormonism. He asserted that he had never, “worked a day, or an hour, to build up a Gentile city or the Gentile world,” further explaining that if they were allowed open economic trading with them it would be tantamount to giving their money to “coadjutors” with the devil. (Journal of Discourses 11: 295, 300)
The Book of Mormon describes a similar people puffed up with pride called the Zoramites. Once a week they would stand on their “Rameumptom,” or high pulpit and speak flattering words to each other about how awesome they were. Here is a snippet of a prayer they repeated each week:
…and thou hast elected us that we shall be saved, whilst all around us are elected to be cast by thy wrath down to hell; for the which holiness, O God, we thank thee… (Alma 31:17)
Brigham made remarks on other occasions, referring to the “infernal gentiles” as “the very scum of hell,” forbidding his people to intermarry with them, and even threatening the death penalty to those who partook with them in “committing abominations in Israel” (Complete Discourses Vol. 2). While it is true that Young was tolerant of the gentiles who converted to Mormonism, his rhetoric incited extreme exclusion to the rest who were uninterested in joining the faith.
Suffice it to say, the Mormon’s cultivated an us-versus-them mentality in regard to outsiders in the gentile world, fearing that trading, mingling, or intermarrying with them would bring “cursings” instead of blessings upon the saints. In contrast, the Jesus of the New Testament spent most of his time among those whom the Jews considered the un-chosen sinners, outcasts, adulterers, publicans, or otherwise downtrodden. His way of loving everyone, including enemies, was missed by Brigham and his Mormon zealots, who like the Zoramites, viewed themselves as “chosen” and above reproach.
The Mormon Reformation: Lies, Deceits, Mischiefs, Hypocrisy
I discussed in my former post on polygamy that it’s very plausible that Brigham and his cohorts in the Twelve falsely painted Joseph as the initiator of plural marriage. I also presented evidence that Brigham, not Joseph, was the true author of D&C Section 132.
Because Brigham Young reigned in a literal theocracy over the Utah Territory, and his ideas on the subjugation of women stemmed from Udney Jacob’s book The Peacemaker, it is not unreasonable to assume that he coerced the women who claimed to be Joseph’s plural wives into conjuring false testimony. This is conjecture on my part but it’s at least worth considering. Shouldn’t we think it strange that all the testimony on Joseph’s wives came out years after the fact with nothing contemporary?
Brigham Young became the church president because he convinced the members that the Twelve had received keys from Joseph and given them to him. He had a vested interest in making sure that the saints believed that those keys included the sealing of plural wives and came straight from the founding prophet, otherwise he’d be seen as an impostor. All dictators have to convince their subjects in the supposed legitimacy of their authority, otherwise the people see that “the emperor has no clothes.”
Brigham was able to accomplish this through “lies, deceits, mischiefs, and hypocrisy,” and when his people began to balk their heads at his authority, he commenced the Mormon Reformation, or what his own son referred to as, “a reign of terror” (Brigham Young Jr. Diary, December 15, 1862).
The Mormon Reformation of 1857-58 was the response of church leadership to rising criticism and insubordination among members. When natural disasters and plagues hit Utah a few years before, Brigham assumed that the Saint’s unfaithfulness had invoked the wrath of Almighty God. However, Brigham never once considered that it could’ve been the unrighteous dominion of church leaders that incited God’s displeasure, and the Reformation was instituted to “rekindle faith and testimony throughout the Church.”
Brigham pioneered a new program among the Saints to help keep everyone in line, which involved two elders visiting families and asking certain inquisitorial questions about their faith. We know it today as the Home Teaching Program. Although the modern program is definitely more about love and service, it began as a system to weed out the unfaithful and disobedient, almost reminiscent of the Roman Catholic Inquisition. One writer explained it this way:
The Reformation included a twenty-seven question interrogation put to all the saints by inquisitorial Home Missionaries. These questions asked about issues such as “betraying your brothers or sisters,” committing adultery or shedding innocent blood. These three sins were grounds for blood atonement. The questions were designed to bring into the homes of every resident of the kingdom the reality that unfaithfulness may not be tolerated by the kingdom.(Brigham Young’s Telestial Kingdom, p. 26)
Ann Eliza Young, one of Brigham’s many wives, was only twelve years old when her family was first exposed to the Inquisition. She explained that the elders usually questioned each family member separately, even children, but they made an exception in her case and she was allowed to remain with her mother. This is her recollection of the event:
This “Reformation” was more systematically conducted than Hovey’s revival; a catechism [list of questions] was compiled by the leading spirits of the church, and printed by their order, and elders were appointed to go from house to house with a copy of it, questioning the people. This catechism contained a list of singular questions, many of which I distinctly remember. I dare only mention a few. They were after this style:-
“Have you ever committed a murder?”
“Have you ever stolen anything?”
“Have you ever been drunk?”
“Do you believe in polygamy?”
Many were grossly indelicate, others laughably absurd; yet every question was obliged to be answered on pain of expulsion from the church. Men, women, and children alike were catechized; many of the little ones did not know the meaning of some of the questions which were put to them; but they were obliged to answer them; whether understandingly, or not, it made no difference… The elders… were astonished at the grossness of some of the immoralities which were brought to light. The private history and secret acts of all were unfolded. People were accused of sins of which they never committed, and yet they were afraid to deny them. Some of the elders were shocked beyond measure at the sickening details revealed, and begged that a stop be put to this mania for confession; but the poor fanatics were urged forward by their leaders, and they firmly believed that in the fullest and freest confession lay their only hope of salvation. They were goaded to the very verge of frenzy. Every person throughout the Territory was commanded to be re-baptized, even if their sins had not been very grave. (Wife Number 19, pp.106-8)
The New York Times would report in August of 1857 that over a thousand people were fleeing Utah to escape the “relentless tyranny of the Brigham Young oligarchy” (Brigham Young’s Telestial Kingdom, p. 26). Brigham and other church leaders had made it painstakingly clear that Saints were to “forsake their evils… or take up their line of march and leave us…” (Ibid, p.26)
Make no mistake, this was a cleansing, destined to weed out the less obedient, while purporting the leadership to be faithful and true. This is the epitome of the “hypocrisy” that the Lord prophesied would be displayed by the Gentiles who would reject his gospel. The reformation did indeed incite a “frenzy,” as Mrs. Young asserted in her memoirs, which unfortunately led to much of the violence that occurred in the next few years. The catalyst for which came from the fiery doctrine of blood atonement, which was used by some Mormons as a justification for murder.
According to different writings and speeches of Brigham Young there are at least ten sins that are worthy of blood atonement, which is the teaching that Christ’s atonement does not cover certain sins, and that the only way to receive forgiveness is for the sinner to have his own blood shed. Here is how Brigham explained it:
There are sins that men commit for which they cannot receive forgiveness in this world, or in that which is to come, and if they had their eyes open to see their true condition, they would be perfectly willing to have their blood spilt upon the ground, that the smoke thereof might ascend to heaven as an offering for their sins; and the smoking incense would atone for their sins, whereas, if such is not the case, they will stick to them and remain upon them in the spirit world. (Complete Discourses, Vol. 2 p. 1169-1170)
This is an interesting doctrine to say the least, because in the Bible and the Book of Mormon there is nothing that indicates that Jesus’ atonement is anything but infinite and eternal (See Alma 34). Those two words seem to cover everything. For instance, in the book of Alma we learn that King Lamoni and his people were forgiven for the many murders they committed. They had to make an oath never to kill again (even in self defense) but were still able to receive forgiveness for their crimes.
Alma told his son Corianton that it was even possible to be forgiven for committing murder “against the light and truth of God,” but it was “not easy” (Alma 39:6). Alma explained that the only sin that was “unpardonable” was blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, which does not show up on Brigham’s list of sins for which blood atonement was necessary. If one can be forgiven for murder, then it follows that one could also receive forgiveness for any lesser sins. This logic would render Brigham’s blood atonement philosophy as false doctrine and even anti-Christ. What follows will be a list of Brigham’s sins that “The blood of Christ will never wipe..out.”
This first quote was given by Joseph Smith in a Nauvoo debate with George Albert Smith. He never uses the term “blood atonement” but the saying has been used for later Mormon’s to justify the doctrine. He may have been referring to capital punishment, which is a very common sentence for committing murder. Notice that Brigham used the same language about spilling blood on the ground and the smoke ascending up to heaven:
…I was opposed to hanging, even if a man kill another, I will shoot him, or cut off his head, spill his blood on the ground, and let the smoke thereof ascend up to God; and if I ever have the privilege of making a law on that subject, I will have it so. (History of Church, Vol. 5, p. 296)
Not sure why the Prophet preferred shooting or beheading to hanging, I mean it’s definitely creepy, but there is nothing he said that would indicate that a murderer killed in this way could “atone” for his own sins and bypass the atonement of Christ.
Suppose you found your brother in bed with your wife, an put a javelin through both of them, you would be justified, and they would atone for their sins, and be received into the kingdom of God. I would at once do so in such a case; and under such circumstances, I have no wife whom I love so well that I would not put a javelin through her heart, and I would do it with clean hands. (Complete Discourses, Kindle Version, Loc 16130)
There is not a man or woman, who violates the covenants made with their God, that will not be required to pay the debt. The blood of Christ will never wipe that out, your own blood must atone for it; and the judgments of the Almighty will come, sooner or later, and every man and woman will have to atone for breaking their covenants. (Ibid, Loc 16130)
I should be perfectly willing to see thieves have their throats cut, some of you may say, if that is your feelings Brigham, we’ll lay you aside some day, well do it if you can; I would rather die by the hands of the meanest of all men, false brethren, than live among thieves. (HC Vol. 7, p. 597)
Using the Name of the Lord in Vain
I tell you that the time is coming that man uses the name of the Lord is used the penalty will be affixed and immediately be executed on the spot. (Words attributed to Brigham Young in the Journal of Hosea Stout, Vol. 2 p.71)
Rejecting the Gospel
The time is coming when justice will be laid to the line and righteousness to the plummet; when we shall take the old broad sword and ask, “Are you for God?” and if you are not heartily on the Lord’s side, you will be hewn down. (Complete Discourses, Vol. 2 pp. 1058-61)
For Marriage to an African
Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God is death on the spot. This will always be so. (JD, Vol. 10, p. 110)
I say, rather than that apostates flourish here, I will unsheath my bowie knife, and conquer or die. [Speaking to the congregation] Now you nasty apostates, clear out, or judgment will be put to the line, and righteousness to the plummet. If you say it is right, raise your hands [All hands go up]. Let us call upon the Lord to assist us in this, and every good work. (JD, Vol. 4, p. 375)
I preached on the condition of the camp of Israel… And warned those who lied an stole and followed Israel that they would have their heads cut off, for that was the law of God and it should be executed. (Manuscript History of Brigham Young, Dec. 20, 1846, Typed Copy)
We investigated several orders purporting to be drawn by J. Allen Lieut. Col., signed by James Pollick, which I requested should be burned. I swore by the Eternal Gods that if men in our midst would not stop this cursed work of stealing and counterfeiting their throats should be cut. (Ibid, Feb. 24, 1847, Typed Copy)
Some of his followers were so devout that they actually came to him and begged to have their blood spilled. Can you imagine having that kind of power over people? He got his people to fall in line with only the threat of violence. He never once, as far as we know, got his own hands dirty. Some claim that he contracted out his killings through Danite henchmen like Orin Porter Rockwell and “Wild” Bill Hickman. Hickman’s own autobiography says as much, but most church scholars and historians ignore it.
What we do know is that the 1850s were an era of violence among the saints, from the Aiken party murders to the Mountain Meadows Massacre, most likely inspired and facilitated by the fiery rhetoric of church leaders on blood atonement. Whether the violence that erupted from this rhetoric was intended by church leaders or not, we know that local leaders in various parts of Utah committed gross atrocities. This doctrine is stilled believed by some fundamentalist groups, and foul play has occurred even in the last thirty years. In contrast to Brigham’s doctrine, the scriptures are replete with teachings that only Christ’s blood can atone for sins, and that there is only one set of conditions for salvation. Consider the words of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon:
I say unto you, if ye have come to a knowledge of the goodness of God, and his matchless power, and his wisdom, and his patience, and his long-suffering towards the children of men; and also, the atonement which has been prepared from the foundation of the world, that thereby salvation might come to him that should put his trust in the Lord, and should be diligent in keeping his commandments, and continue in the faith even unto the end of his life, I mean the life of the mortal body- I say, that this is the man who receiveth salvation, through the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world for all mankind, which ever were since the fall of Adam, or who are, or who ever shall be, even unto the end of the world. And this is the means whereby salvation cometh. And there is none other salvation save this which has been spoken of; neither are there any conditions whereby man can be saved except the conditions which I have told you. (Mosiah 4:6-8)
Murders and Secret Abominations
There is much confusion surrounding the origins of the Mormon Temple Endowment. Brigham Young claimed that Joseph received it in the upstairs loft of the Rid Brick Store in Nauvoo and revealed it to him. The truth is we don’t really know what parts came from Joseph (if any at all) and what parts came from Brigham. They were both Freemasons and there are certainly many elements of that secret society incorporated into the endowment ceremony, but thankfully the most extreme and morbid parts have been eliminated.
Some assert that Joseph had nothing to do with the endowment ceremony at all, and that it was all a fabrication of Brigham and the Twelve. One such claim came from Mary Page Eaton who testified to this fact in the Temple Lot Case I discussed in my previous post on polygamy. Her and her husband, Apostle John E. Page, went through the Nauvoo temple on December 10, 1845, and this is what she told in an interview with RLDS editor W.W. Blair in 1883:
Any other secret order, (than Masonry), grips, oaths, signs, robes, or tableaux, I never heard of in Joseph’s days; but after his death I lived in Nauvoo in 1845 and 1846, and was taught them under the rule of the Twelve. I can prove, by some of the covenants we were required to make, that Joseph never originated them. Mr. Page was with me, and went through the same ceremonies. The words of our covenants were spoken to us by Brigham. After we had received the endowment in the temple, as soon as we were alone in our house, Mr. Page said to me, “Mary, I tell you that endowment is all of the devil.” He could not have heard it or polygamy from Joseph. (The Saints’ Advocate 5 [March 1883]: 295) (Source)
In addition to all of the Masonic stuff, Brigham added an oath to swear vengeance on those who shed the blood of Joseph and Hyrum, even though the Lord has stated in scripture that, “vengeance is mine.” George Q. Cannon discussed this with the church apostles in an 1889 meeting:
Father said that he understood when he had his endowments in the Nauvoo that he took an oath against the murderers of the Prophet Joseph Smith as well as other prophets, and if he had ever met any of those who had taken a hand in that massacre he would undoubtedly have attempted to avenge the blood of the martyrs…
Bro. Joseph F. Smith was traveling some years ago near Carthage when he met a man who said he had just arrived five minutes too late to see the Smiths killed. Instantly a dark cloud seemed to overshadow Bro. Smith and he asked how this man looked upon the deed. Bro. S. was oppressed by a most horrible feeling as he waited for a reply. After a brief pause the man answered, “Just as I have always looked upon it-that it was a d-d cold-blooded murder.” The clouds immediately lifted from Bro. Smith and he found that he had his open pocket knife grasped in his hand in his pocket, and he believes that had this man given his approval to that murder of the prophets he would have immediately struck him to the heart. (Diaries of Abraham Cannon, pp.34-35)
This “blood oath” that was part of the Nauvoo endowment, could have contributed to the raft of murders that happened over the next twenty years. Although it is beyond the scope of this blog post to go into the details of each of the violent incidents, there are a few worth mentioning briefly. The murders of ex-convicts John Ambrose and Thomas Betts, the Parrish-Potter murders carried out by orders of a local bishop, the Aiken party murders, also done under the purview of a bishop, and the Mountain Meadows Massacre, orchestrated and executed by bishop John D. Lee.
Lee was the only man implicated and punished by church leaders even though there were several other men involved in the massacre. It was believed that the pilgrims had something to do with Joseph’s death and the perpetrators added sacrilege to the slaughter by engaging in a prayer circle beforehand. Over 120 men, women, and children were executed in cold blood that day, none of which had anything to do with Joseph Smith’s murder or the Mormon church at all. Bishop Lee was “blood atoned” by church leaders for his crime, but none of the other incidents were ever investigated by Brigham or the church.
This is a dark time in Mormon history indeed, and it’s no wonder that the Lord told the Nephites that the Gentiles who would reject his gospel would be guilty of murders. As these are just some of the recorded incidents, there is really no telling how many people died under Brigham’s oligarchy.
There is however, an interesting anecdotal account that might shed some light on how women were really treated by polygamous husbands acting under the authority of church leaders. A man who was converted in England and emigrated to Utah to settle with the Mormons wrote on account of his experience with polygamy. He lived among the Mormon’s for twelve years before he’d finally had enough. He only took one plural wife because he and his first wife were told that they had to enter plural marriage in order to obtain Celestial glory. He describes his experience as a literal “Hell on Earth.” He relates the fate of one plural wife who was unfaithful to her husband while he was away on a mission. When he returned home she lovingly submitted to the following atrocity:
I shall give a chapter of horrors in regard to the brutal and murderous practices of polygamy further on, here I pass over tragedy, and merely relate one case. To show this in a proper light, I will introduce a paragraph of Apostle Kimballâs sermon preached at Salt Lake. âWhat power has any one of my wives to act independently; she has not a particle of power. She must act in connection with me as the limb acts in connection with the tree from which it springs. If not she is a dead limb; will they ever come to life again after they are dead? No! They must be cut off and thrown back into the earth to return to their mother element.â [Journal of Discourses, vol. 6, p. 67]. The case I give is that of a Mormon who had ten wives. One of them disobeyed him, or in the words of the sermon quoted, âacted independently of him.â Her lord and master sharpened his razor; then taking this wife upon his knee he lovingly kissed her, and then cut her throat from ear to ear, and held her till she expired. He afterwards dug a grave in his garden, and consigned her to mother earth âto return to her mother element.â This man still lives in Utah, with his other nine wives, and no law reaches him. ( Hell on Earth, W. Jarmin 1884, This account can also be found on p. 469 of the book, The Rocky Mountain Saints)
We are not told how the woman was “unfaithful.” She could’ve been adulterous or merely just “acted independently” from her husband. Either way she did not deserve to be murdered. Perhaps she was just attempting to free herself from the bondage that is polygamy, and to accuse her of adultery, even if it was true, is hypocritical considering her husband had nine other wives. Whatever the case, this “loving” husband did not apply the teachings of Jesus when he saved the woman from being stoned for adultery; “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Whether it was Joseph or Brigham that introduced the Masonic rites into the Mormon temple does not matter. If Joseph did it he was going against what was recorded in the scriptures that he translated, if Brigham did it he was going against Joseph. The secret signs, words, and oaths incorporated into the temple ceremony are described in scripture as “abominable.”
In fact, the Book of Mormon condemns this stuff voraciously, even to the point of the Lord declaring that those who usually do these things, aka “secret combinations,” are “most abominable and wicked above all, in the sight of God” (Ether 8:18). Consider the following verses from the Book of Helaman describing the workings of these secret societies:
And it came to pass that they did have their signs, yea, their secret signs, and their secret words; and this that they might distinguish a brother who had entered into the covenant, that whatsoever wickedness his brother should do he should not be injured by his brother, nor by those who did belong to his band, who had taken this covenant. And thus they might murder, and plunder, and steal, and commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness, contrary to the laws of their country and also the laws of their God…Now behold, it is these secret oaths and covenants which Alma commanded his son should not go forth unto the world, lest they should be a means of bringing down the people unto destruction. (Helaman 6:22-23, 25)
In addition to this, Brigham’s blood oath to avenge the blood of the prophet should be given careful consideration. Whether he knew it or not, Brigham was mimicking an ancient order that has been around since the days of Adam:
For Lamech having entered into a covenant with Satan, after the manner of Cain, wherein he became Master Mahan, master of that great secret which was administered unto Cain by Satan; and Irad, the son of Enoch, having known their secret, began to reveal it unto the sons of Adam; Wherefore Lamech, being angry, slew him, not like unto Cain, his brother Abel, for the sake of getting gain, but he slew him for the oathâs sake. For, from the days of Cain, there was a secret combination, and their works were in the dark, and they knew every man his brother. (Moses 5:49-51)
The scriptures are littered with versus condemning the practice of priestcraft, but perhaps the clearest definition is given to us by Nephi:
He commandeth that there shall be no priestcrafts; for, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get gain and praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion… But the laborer in Zion shall labor for Zion; for if they labor for money they shall perish. (2 Nephi 26:29, 31)
Brigham and the Mormons considered the newly settled Utah Territory to be God’s Zion. In the Salt Lake Tabernacle in January of 1853, Brigham stated the following:
Admit that the Spirit of the Lord should us understanding, what would it prove to us? It would prove to me, at least, and what I may safely say to this congregation, that Zion is here. (CD, Vol. 2, p. 267)
This is interesting because the Saints had already failed to establish Zion in Missouri, Ohio, and Illinois. And according to the scriptures the conditions for Zion are quite different than what transpired under Brigham’s newly acquired autocratic nightmare. Historically, Zion is quite difficult to attain. In fact, the only scriptural records we have of people actually establishing a Zion community are the city of Enoch, the city of Salem, and the Nephites in the city of Bountiful. And they never last for very long. Nephi describes the conditions that are characteristic of such a society:
And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift. (4 Nephi 1:3)
In Brigham’s Utah there was anything but the equality described above. There were most certainly, “rich and poor,” and one could argue that many women trapped in polygamy did not feel “free.” When the Saints first settled the area everyone was poor and starving from the trek. Immediately Brigham began to dictate in economic matters like labor, agriculture, and basic industry. In fact, church missions were called and dedicated to the sole efforts of economic progress:
When water was needed to plant, and cultivate, ditch digging was a church duty. Water rights were decided by church authorities, as was the allocation of timber rights. There were 200 families called to develop iron, and coal resources near Cedar City. Several hundred people were called on a sugar mission in the 1850’s to establish a sugar beet industry. Men were called to lead a mission in Nevada. There was a cotton mission, a flax mission, a wool mission, and a wine mission. Because these were callings, the production belonged in part to the church. The church founded a newspaper, a retail store chain, and banking ventures. The church’s development necessarily involved it in political activities, as well. By the 1880’s, meetings of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve were predominately devoted to politics, railroad, mining, cattle, and banking discussions. The church’s highest leadership became the nerve center for economic development and resource management. (Snuffer, Passing the Heavenly Gift, Kindle Version, Loc 2308-2326)
With the First Presidency and the Twelve calling the economic shots in Utah, ample opportunity for corruption opened up. These labor “tithes” of Brigham’s diligent followers allowed the church to get ahead financially, and the subsequent gains led to other business ventures. The once spiritual body of church hierarchy gradually morphed into a body of economic advisors, investors, and businessmen. Sadly, this is still true today. During Brigham’s tenure it was not uncommon for church leaders to skim off the top for personal or business loans. Church Historian Leonard J. Arrington related the following:
Brigham Young and other church authorities, when need required it, drew on the tithing resources of the church, and at a later date repaid part or all of the obligation in money, property, or services. No interest seems to have been paid for the use of these funds…. This ability to draw, almost at will, on church as well as his own funds, was a great advantage to Brigham Young and was certainly one of the reasons for his worldly success. (The Settlement of the Brigham Young Estate, 1877-1879, Reprinted from the Pacific Historical Review, vol. 21, no. 1, Feb. 1952, p.7-8) (Source)
Brigham only repaid “part” of his obligation to the church. When he died in 1877, he is estimated to have owed the church over $1 million, and was still able to leave $1.6 million worth of real estate, housing, factories, farms, mines, and manufacturing to his posterity. The guy had 56 wives and over 50 children, I imagine his monthly bills were outrageous. His wives were housed at an estate called the Lion House, and after his death some of his children quarreled over his holdings.
Brigham started out as a hardworking carpenter before his days of oligarchy. He admitted at one point that his ecclesiastical duties were too time consuming to continue a personal career. He asserted, “I have given it up, I do not intend to work any more at manual labor” (Brigham Young’s Telestial Kingdom, p. 14).
In contrast we look again to the Book of Mormon, which contends that priests and teachers should not be paid for their services, and that after they are through preaching they should return to their labors. I do not think that the church was ever supposed to become such a bureaucratic governing body that the leaders would not be able to continue in their chosen trades and professions. Here is what King Mosiah had to say on this subject:
Yea, and all their priests and teachers should labor with their own hands for their support, in all cases save it were in sickness, or in much want; and doing these things, they did abound in the grace of God. (Mosiah 27:5)
Alma the elder, who escaped from the tyranny of king Noah, also taught that priests and teachers should labor with their own hands:
And he also commanded them that the priests whom he had ordained should labor with their own hands for their support… And the priests were not to depend upon the people for their support; but for their labor they were to receive the grace of God, that they might wax strong in the Spirit, having the knowledge of God, that they might teach with power and authority from God. (Mosiah 18:22, 24)
There was even a man named Nehor who introduced to the church a doctrine that was considered anti-Christ by Nephite saints. He was advocating, “that every priest and teacher ought to become popular; and they ought not to labor with their hands, but that they ought to be supported by the people” (Alma 1:3). This doctrine was shot down by Alma’s son…, also named Alma, who was the chief judge of the land and a high priest of the church. This is how Mormon explains the functions of the church during Alma Jr.’s day:
And when the priests left their labor to impart the word of God unto the people, the people also left their labors to hear the word of God. And when the priest had imparted unto them the word of God they all returned again diligently unto their labors; and the priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal, and they did all labor, every man according to his strength. (Alma 1:26)
Amazingly, Alma stepped down from his government position and dedicated his full time to the ministry, which he did not get paid for. In fact, he got spit on, rejected, cast into prison, and beaten by those he was ministering to. This what Alma told Korihor when he accused him of “glutting off the labors of the people”:
Now Alma said unto him: Thou knowest that we do not glut ourselves upon the labors of this people; for behold I have labored even from the commencement of the reign of the judges until now, with mine own hands for my support, notwithstanding my many travels round about the land to declare the word of God unto my people. And notwithstanding the many labors which I have performed in the church, I have never received so much as even one senine for my labor; neither has any of my brethren, save it were in the judgment-seat; and then we have received only according to law for our time. (Alma 30:32-33)
In contrast, Brigham received much more than a “senine” for all of his labors in the church. In fact, he amassed a large fortune, I’m no economist, but $1.6 million dollars in the 1870’s has got to be an assload of money today, maybe even in the hundreds of millions. All of the initial investments from this money came from tithing funds. Yep, right from the “widows might,” all while captain Brigham was enjoying the simultaneous positions of governor and church president.
The “modest stipend” that is given to general authorities today is paid from the profits of the myriad investments of the church. This too originated with tithing funds. Perhaps we as Mormons should ask ourselves why we need such a bureaucracy to run Christ’s church when the examples in the Book of Mormon, written supposedly for our day, describe a church without a paid clergy at all? And why do so many of us assume that God is pleased with us because our church is rich? Consider the words of Nephi:
And others will he pacify, and lull them away into carnal security, that they will say: All is well in Zion; yea, Zion prospereth, all is wellâand thus the devil cheateth their souls, and leadeth them away carefully down to hell. (2 Nephi 28:21)
Indeed, all because a religion prospers financially, does not mean it has the approval of God. Consider Nephi’s two telling characteristics of priestcraft; to get gain and praise of the world. Nephi also reveals that those who lead such religious movements “preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world.” Whenever any religious group teaches it’s members that God has commanded them to be obedient to their leaders, priestcraft is present. How is leader adoration and worship not setting them up to be a light unto the world?
Brigham preached subordination to leaders, and had the power of the state to enforce it. Wilford Woodruff taught that God would not permit him, or any church president, to lead the church astray, and even recently in general conference Elder Ballard admonished the members to “keep your eyes on the leadership of the church… we will not and cannot lead you astray.” This is priestcraft, plain and simple. Joseph Smith taught that depending on the prophet will darken our minds. Nephi taught that we shouldn’t “put our trust in the arm of flesh,” and Paul said that we “ought to obey God rather than men.”
Priestcraft is destructive because it replaces our focus on Christ with a mortal man. Christ is the bridge between us and God, but there is no bridge between us and Christ. Indeed, there is only one “keeper of the gate…” and “he employeth no servant there.” (2 Nephi 9:41)
Why would the Lord accuse the modern gentiles of committing whoredoms? Brigham’s punishment for adultery and fornication was death by javelin. That should’ve been a pretty strong deterrent. I know it would be for me. But maybe we are missing something. Maybe all Brigham and the brethren were doing was attempting to legitimize sin. If you want some obscene thing to become cool you just attach the name of God to it, or some other authority.
George Orwell described how governments do this very thing. They convince their subjects that “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ” and “ignorance is strength.” Didn’t Isaiah say something about good being called evil and vice versa? Brigham taught that not only was polygamy approved by God, it was required for exaltation. You had to have at least two wives to get there, one-wifer’s were not welcome. But ole’ Brig took it a lot farther than this, he actually said in general conference that if a woman desired to leave her husband and marry someone with higher priesthood, she could do it. Now c’mon that’s just playing dirty.
Also, there was another way in which a woman could leave a man– if the woman preferred a man higher in authority and he is willing to take her and her husband gives her up. There is no bill of divorce required, in [this] case it is right in the sight of God.” ( Conference Reports, 8 Oct. 1861, reported by George D. Watt, LDS archives; also found in the journal of James Beck, 8 Oct. 1861, LDS archives, as cited in Campbell and Campbell, New Mormon History, Quinn, p. 195)
Brigham’s legacy is strangely reminiscent of a certain Nephite king that the writers of the Book of Mormon called evil. His name was king Noah, and he was a theocratic ruler over his people, having also consolidated the power of church and state:
For behold, he did not keep the commandments of God, but he did walk after the desires of his own heart. And he had many wives and concubines. And he did cause his people to commit sin, and do that which was abominable in the sight of the Lord. Yea, and they did commit whoredoms and all manner of wickedness. And he laid a tax of one fifth part of all they possessed… And all this did he take to support himself, and his wives and his concubines; and also his priests, and their wives and their concubines; thus he had changed the affairs of the kingdom. (Mosiah 11:2-4)
Notice the verse equates polygamy with committing whoredoms. The Book of Mormon condemns polygamy again in the book of Ether. It seems there was a certain Jaredite king named Riplakish who was heavily involved with the practice, as well as levying oppressive taxes:
And it came to pass that Riplakish did not do that which was right in the sight of the Lord, for he did have many wives and concubines, and did lay that upon men’s shoulders which was grievous to be borne; yea, he did tax them with heavy taxes; and with the taxes he did build many spacious buildings. (Ether 10:5)
In yet another verse of scripture, the Book of Mormon again condemns the practice of polygamy. This time it was Jacob, the younger brother of the first Nephi, who said:
Behold, the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you; for they have not forgotten the commandment of the Lord, which was given unto our Father-that they have save it were one wife, and concubines they should have none, and there should not be whoredoms committed among them. (Jacob 3:5)
Ok, so the Lord did say in Jacob 2:30 that, “if I will…. raise up seed unto me, I will command my people; otherwise they shall hearken unto these things.” Joseph Smith is alleged to have over thirty wives, but where is the seed? To date there is not any DNA evidence that Joseph fathered any children that weren’t Emma’s, so what was the point?
Did Brigham raise up seed? Oh yes, all kinds of seed, he had seed running through the streets, he didn’t even know some of his seed. But was he commanded? This is a great question. I’ll let Brigham answer that for you. You see, most “prophets” receive what are called revelations from God, at least the ones in the scriptures do. Joseph Smith had plenty of them. But Brigham…, well not so much:
I have flattered myself, if I am as faithful as I know how to be to my God, and my brethren, and to all my covenants, and faithful in the discharge of my duty, when I have lived to be as old as was Moses when the Lord appeared to him, that perhaps I then may hold communion with the Lord, as did Moses. I am not now in that position, though I know much more than I did twenty, ten, or five years ago. But have I yet lived to the state of perfection that I can commune in person with the Father and the Son at my will and pleasure? No,-though I hold myself in readiness that he can wield me at his will and pleasure. If I am faithful until I am eighty years of age, perhaps the Lord will appear to me and personally dictate me in the management of his Church and people. A little over twenty years, and if I am faithful, perhaps I will obtain that favour with my Father and God. (CD, Vol. 3, p. 1498, quote in Brigham Young’s Telestial Kingdom, p. 41)
On another occasion, when he found out that President Buchanan was sending an army to Utah, he said, “I am not going to interpret dreams; for I don’t profess to be such a Prophet as were Joseph Smith and Daniel; but I am a Yankee guesser” (Ibid, p. 41).
Are you kidding me? A Yankee guesser? This is the guy the LDS church claims authority through? A man who Yankee guessed his way into the presidency of church, across the plains, into the governorship of Utah, and into the arms of 56 women? He never had a revelation on polygamy, or anything else.., ever. Joseph didn’t have one on polygamy either, unless he wrote Section 132, but as we have seen that is highly improbable.
Apparently God didn’t need any “seed” raised up at that time. Guess what? When he did command it, the dudes didn’t get 56 wives. Abraham was given Sarah and Hagar. That’s two. Isaac was given one. Jacob was given four. David and Solomon took way too many and were rejected by God. There really aren’t any more examples, and it was certainly not taught anywhere in the bible that polygamy was necessary for salvation.
Perhaps the Mormon’s should consider the possibility that Brigham was a fraud and stop hiding behind his pretended authority. He even admitted by his own mouth that he wasn’t a prophet. It doesn’t mean that Joseph wasn’t a prophet, or that the Book of Mormon isn’t true, or that the church Joseph set up wasn’t the “true church.” The Lord declared that it was (D&C Section 1:30. Actually, I just came across a blog post explaining that this was an invitation from the Lord, not a declaration).
It was structured much differently than the powerful behemoth we see today. It wasn’t a multi-billion dollar corporation run by lawyers and businessmen, it did not have a paid clergy, it did not keep it’s financial records secret from the common members, it did not build luxurious condos and malls, and it did not excommunicate people for not “following the prophet,” or refusing to submit to priesthood authority.
In fact, the real definition of the “church” is much different than most of us have been taught. It’s not a building, it’s not the leaders, it’s not a corporation, it’s not dogmas or creeds. It’s just a group of people who believe in Jesus and are baptized in his name. That’s it. Here is a great blog post about it. (See also 3 Nephi 18:5)
Perhaps if Joseph were to show up today and speak to the church, he’d be booed off the pulpit and cast out of the synagogue. Most of us may be too steeped in the traditions of men to accept the simple gospel that he would teach.
Similarly, the Jews, were also so inoculated in their traditions that they couldn’t accept Jesus Christ and his simple gospel of love. “No healing on Sunday” they jeered, “meetings have to be three hours long and extremely boring, no cooking or cleaning or taking too many steps on Sunday, no coffee, no beer, change the wine into water, earn your way into heaven, check the righteousness off your list, fast and pray into front of men, obey your leaders who sit in the chief seats, change the ordinances, buy and sell in the temple, and for heaven’s sake, don’t help the beggars, they brought their misery on themselves, give your tithes to us.”
Things aren’t always as they seem. I have found that if history ever contains neat little warm and fuzzy stories then the whole story has not been told. History is messy, especially religious history. There is never just a cute little narrative that you can snuggle up by the fire and read…, unless it’s fiction.
Real life history is more like a briar patch, going in hundreds and thousands of different directions, having no rhyme or reason, making your head spin, shattering your world views and shaking your traditions. That’s why Nephi said that even “the humble followers of Christ… are led, that in many instances they do err because they are taught by the precepts of men” (2 Nephi 2:28). It’s damn near impossible not to be deceived in this world. The least we can do is honestly research what past church leaders have taught and compare it with the scriptures. Careful though, you might not like what you find.