Thursday, August 14, 2014

History, Hearsay and Heresy Part 5:
Ain't that Brother Brigham?

And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
—2 Timothy 4:4


In this series of posts, we're examining so-called Mormon myths, also known as faith-promoting rumors. These are lies taught as truths, in hopes of promoting an agenda.

Some of them are dishonestly published in anti-Mormon publications; others are dishonestly published in official church manuals and materials. The point is that they aren't true, and therefore aren't faith-promoting at all. Remember, faith must be based on truth--the ultimate truth being God himself--and therefore belief in anything that is untrue cannot ever mature into saving faith.

Such belief will not, indeed cannot, save you. It will damn you. Therefore, uncritically believing any doctrine that is not taught in scripture and ratified by the Holy Ghost is dangerous indeed when your eternal life is at stake 

Similarly, substituting faith in leaders, for faith in Christ will damn you just as quickly. Only faith in Christ can save, and His faith requires His truth.

Unfortunately, we do seem to love us a good fable more than we love truth.

Take, for example, the well-known story of the transfiguration of Brigham Young. Here it is from the 2003 LDS-church-produced manual, Church History in the Fulness of Times:


The Mantle Falls on Brigham Young 
Thursday, 8 August 1844, stands as one of the most important days in the history of the Restoration. On that day a miracle occurred before the body of the Church—Brigham Young was transfigured before the people, and the succession crisis of the Church was resolved...
People of all ages were present, and they later recorded their experiences. Benjamin F. Johnson, twenty-six at that time, remembered, “As soon as he [Brigham Young] spoke I jumped upon my feet, for in every possible degree it was Joseph’s voice, and his person, in look, attitude, dress and appearance was Joseph himself, personified; and I knew in a moment the spirit and mantle of Joseph was upon him.” Zina Huntington, who was a young woman twenty-one years old at that time, said “President Young was speaking. It was the voice of Joseph Smith—not that of Brigham Young. His very person was changed. … I closed my eyes. I could have exclaimed, I know that is Joseph Smith’s voice! Yet I knew he had gone. But the same spirit was with the people.” 
George Q. Cannon, then a boy of fifteen, declared that “it was the voice of Joseph himself; and not only was it the voice of Joseph which was heard; but it seemed in the eyes of the people as though it was the very person of Joseph which stood before them. … They both saw and heard with their natural eyes and ears, and then the words which were uttered came, accompanied by the convincing power of God, to their hearts, and they were filled with the Spirit and with great joy.” Wilford Woodruff testified, “If I had not seen him with my own eyes, there is no one that could have convinced me that it was not Joseph Smith speaking.”
You can read it in a much longer recounting in the (2010) Teachings of the Living Prophets Student Manual. It's far too lengthy to quote here. 

But here it is, in a much more abbreviated form in the Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young manual (1997):
Many witnesses noted that President Young looked and sounded like the Prophet Joseph as he spoke, a powerful manifestation of divine approval. 
Well, who doesn't love a "powerful manifestation of divine approval?" Especially when that powerful manifestation tells you that you made the right choice, pleased God, revelation continues, and all is well?

Here's the trouble with this faith-promoting story about Brother Brigham: It never happened.

Now, rather than go into all the specific detail required to substantiate such a statement, I'll just save time by referring you to the thoroughly researched paper, published in 1995, that provides all the details. This is important stuff, but if you're not up for reading all 23 pages, here's the summary:
  1. The winners always write the history. It's well documented that the church under leadership of Brigham Young and the twelve redacted, revised, and rewrote history to promote their claims to leadership, and specifically to discount Sydney Rigdon's equally valid claim. 
  2. The minutes of the actual meeting (several sets by different scribes) make no mention of any  supernatural event being witnessed. For such a marvelous manifestation to received no notation whatsoever in the minutes is quite extraordinary.
  3. Apostles Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, and Wilford Woodruff, all of whom made 8 August 1844 entries in their diaries, make no reference to any epiphany.
  4. Neither the Times and Seasons nor the Nauvoo Neighbor, local newspapers owned by the church, mention any miraculous event associated with the 8 August 1844 meetings.
  5. The earliest detailed accounts of a purported transfiguration did not begin to surface until long after the Saints were settled in Utah. The fact that no account was included in Joseph Smith's History, completed in August 1856, or in The Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, completed before his 1857 death, suggests that the myth was not fully developed by that time.
  6. The first public reference to a "transfiguration" may have been an 1857 statement by Albert Carrington before a huge gathering of Saints that "he could not tell [Brigham Young] from Joseph Smith" when Young "was speaking in the stand in Nauvoo" during the 8 August 1844 convocation.
  7. As the event became more remote in history, increasing numbers of people began to record "memories" of the event decades after it happened, with many accounts disagreeing with one another and the story getting better with each retelling. Many journal entries are now cited as proof of the miraculous events, though ALL of them were written decades after the fact. 
  8. Apostle Orson Hyde, prone to exaggerate, particularly when attempting to undermine the succession claims of his archenemy Sidney Rigdon, did not arrive in Nauvoo until August 13th. Yet he left two elaborate personal reminiscences of a "transfiguration" he could not possibly have witnessed on August 8th because he wasn't there.
  9. Similarly, John D. Lee claimed to have witnessed the miraculous transformation, though he did not arrive in Nauvoo until nearly two weeks after the purported event. 
  10. Wilford Woodruff (also prone to embellishment) made a lengthy journal entry of the day's events, totaling nearly 2,200 words, that made no mention of any miraculous transformation. But by 1874, nearly 30 years after the fact, Woodruff was making lavish claims about a miraculous transformation, which he continued to embellish through 1892. 
  11. In the final analysis, there is not one, single, contemporary source that provides eye-witness testimony of anything extraordinary happening when Brigham Young spoke to the saints in Nauvoo on August 8, 1844. All such claims arose decades after that date.
This research was published two years before the church published the Brigham Young manual, eight years before the Church History manual, and 15 years before the Teachings of the Living Prophets manual; yet the church saw fit to continue the myth of the transformation of Brigham Young in the face of strong historical evidence that the event never happened. In short, the church lied. 

Why would the LDS church do such a thing?

Well, for the same reason that the story was invented in the first place: It serves a specific purpose.

When the Brigham Young transformation story first began its life in the late 1850's, it filled unique needs. Here's the climate in which the story was born:
  • There had been no new revelation to speak of since Joseph Smith's death
  • Brigham Young was promoting new doctrines that were difficult to accept, while also ruling the Utah territory with dictator-like authority
  • The church was struggling with intense economic, political and spiritual difficulties
  • The RLDS church was making plausible claims to be the true successor to Joseph Smith's restoration
In the midst of these turmoils, a cultural myth proving Brigham was indeed the one chosen of God to lead the saints was most welcome because it vindicated him and vindicated the saints who followed him. The transfiguration story provided a connection with the divine that had been desperately lacking since the days of Joseph Smith. And the story provided reassurance that all was indeed well, despite the hardships of the 1850's.

In the end, the story started innocently enough with claims that the "mantle of Joseph" fell upon Brigham, and from there it just got legs. Soon, folks were claiming that Brigham became taller, thinner, spoke with Joseph's trademark whistle, had the gestures, mannerisms, voice, and even face of Joseph. The more time went by, the better the story got.

But if it were really all that impressive, doesn't it make sense that someone would have mentioned something--anything--about it when it happened? Why is the first mention 13 years later? Why did the twelve issue a statement the following week that there was no longer a prophet on the earth? And why was the vote specifically for the TWELVE to lead the church, and not Brigham Young individually? Such a convincing display should have produced a vote for Brigham himself to be the next leader. But it didn't. 

Because it never happened.

Now, I'm not saying Brigham wasn't the man for the job. I'm convinced he was probably the only man in the church at the time who could have possibly kept the church together, relocated the saints to Utah, preserved the scriptures and teachings to the degree they were preserved, and left a legacy for us to comment upon 170 years later. Brigham did all this and more. He managed to preserve the church against nearly insurmountable opposition. It's no wonder people began making him into something more than a man who was voted in by a group. The saints wanted, no, needed him to be called of God, chosen in a miraculous way, and every bit the measure of Joseph Smith. 

But he never was Joseph's equal--a fact which he frequently pointed out to the saints. Nevertheless, the myth stuck and a hero was born. Sadly, Brigham did nothing to dispel it.

Today, we repeat the myth in our histories and manuals. It's clearly dishonest to do so. What would be so wrong with appreciating Brigham's contributions, without the need to make him more than he was? I personally appreciate Brigham Young for all that he accomplished so that I could receive the legacy of what Joseph started. I'm certain that if it weren't for Brigham's work, I would never have heard of Joseph Smith or the Book of Mormon. I thank God for that legacy daily. 

I don't need any divine doppleganger display to convince me of Brigham's accomplishments. Why lie about the man? Insisting on such a sign in the face of clear evidence it is false does a disservice to Brigham's memory. Yet the myth continues.

And so it is with the Latter-day Saints of today. We love a good faith-promoting rumor so we can comfort one another as we march toward Hell in our unbelief. Since we don't publish new revelation, we instead publish falsehoods in our manuals and histories to promote a narrative of relying on leaders instead of the Lord.

So long as we value tingles over truth, we'll never rise up to become what God intended. Our God is a God of truth. Until we learn that lesson, we will remain unredeemed.

17 comments:

  1. So, the question I encounter is this: How can one have any faith whatsoever in the leaders of an organization that has been shown over and over and over again to have lied, from the time of Brigham Young all the way down to the present baldfaced lie that general authorities have not been behind the current spate of excommunications of people who were raising embarrassing questions and pointing out glaring inconsistancies in current church doctrine?
    Every Latter-day Saint knows that our God is a God of truth. Believing in and following these leaders is a classic case of gross UNBELIEF which our Lord has declared to be one of the great failings of our generation.
    The lies and deceits coming out of this organization wh. touts itself to have the fulness of truth are disgusting beyond my ability to communicate. Apostasy? OH YEAH…Indeed the ancient prophets saw our day and warned us of this. Time to follow Christ and let no man convince you there is safety in following any mortal man.
    JR

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    1. Chris H. Independence, MOAugust 21, 2014 at 10:18 AM

      A growing number of us are starting to realize that the leaders of our various organizations had good point and bad points and were used by God for His purposes to preserve pockets of Saints until the pure in heart can be gathered. We are realizing the walls of separation between us are of our own doing and not God's will. We are seeing that it is time to breakdown those walls. We are recognizing authority to administer the ordinances in all the churches of the Restoration and beginning to accept where we once rejected. The LORD'S whispering voice is calling to the pure in heart, as it whispered to the Nephites and at first they did not understand. But more and more will begin to listen for the voice and we will begin to gather together to worship and fellowship in spite of the separation leaders and "stalwarts" will want to maintain. I eagerly await those days ahead.

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  2. The following is taken from Preach My Gospel and is presented to investigators in the discussion on commandments:

    "A prophet is called and chosen by God and is a righteous man with great faith. The Lord reveals truth to him through the Holy Ghost. He commands His prophet to teach truth to all people. Those who believe God’s words as revealed through His prophet are blessed.

    Christ’s Church is built on the foundation of apostles and prophets, who direct the Church by revelation. The Lord called Joseph Smith as the first prophet and head of this last dispensation. His successors who lead The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today are also prophets and apostles. The President of the Church today is a living prophet. We are to have faith in God’s chosen prophet, gain conviction of his divine calling, and follow his teachings.

    We have frequent opportunities to sustain Church leaders publicly. Sustain means to support. We are to prepare ourselves so that when the prophets and apostles speak, the Holy Ghost can confirm the truths they teach, and we can then determine to follow the counsel they give us.

    Those who listen to and follow the counsel of living prophets and apostles will not go astray. The teachings of living prophets provide an anchor of eternal truth in a world of shifting values and help us avoid misery and sorrow. The confusion and strife of the world will not overwhelm us, and we can enjoy the assurance of being in harmony with God’s will."

    Of particular interest (read shock) were the statements that " we are to have faith in God's chosen prophet" and also "Those who listen to and follow the counsel of living prophets and apostles will not go astray" Finally, to include this in the section on commandments is unsupported by scripture. I am saddened by these teachings which will put people to sleep right after being awakened

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  3. Adrian,
    Have you read the below listed article and the paper it references? They are quite convincing.

    http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865585792/Event-convinced-Saints-of-Brigham-Youngs-mantle.html?pg=all

    https://byustudies.byu.edu/PDFViewer.aspx?title=hidden&linkURL=36.4JorgensenMantle-78ad9ce7-65da-496c-996a-493c51928471.pdf

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  4. Hi Anonymous,

    I have read both the article and the paper. I find the paper unconvincing for a number of reasons. Clearly, there were lots and lots of testimonies recorded years after the fact. I don't deny that at all. And as the paper acknowledges, some are second hand, some are clearly fraudulent, and many disagree upon important facts. Nevertheless, there was clearly a groundswell of people who believed something or other miraculous happened.

    But as the paper makes clear, there were no concurrent accounts recorded at all. The journal entries and newspaper articles from the period make no mention whatsoever of anything out of the ordinary. All the miraculous reporting was added years later.

    I watched as President Monson announced the change in mission age in October 2012. It was a policy change. He never said it was a revelation. He never said the Lord is hastening the work.

    And yet, I have heard dozens, if not hundreds of testimonies claiming president Monson had a revelation and the Lord is hastening the work. And we have the ACTUAL VIDEO of the event we can watch anytime we're not too lazy to bother.

    So, given the fact that we'll gladly invent the miraculous after the fact, even in direct contradiction of easily-accessed proof otherwise, and we'll do it based on herd mythology, I don't find it hard to believe that people would do the same in the 1800's, when there were NO verbatim records to check, but there was an extraordinarily strong, and tight-knit herd mythology.

    Human memory is fraught with unreliability. It's very easy to "remember" details about an event that were not there, simply because someone else explains them to you.

    I still laugh about an event that happened while my brother was on his mission. He was halfway across the world at the time, yet he's heard the story so many times, he swears he was there. He can tell you all sorts of details about it. It's really funny.

    There were several hundred (or several thousand, depending on who you believe) people there, and they could easily "remember" details years later after hearing versions of them through the Mormon Faith Promoting Rumor Grapevine. They had it then just as we have it now.

    But the actual records of the day, written when memory was fresh and powerful, deny the event happened. Everyone agrees on that.

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  5. I actually noticed an account of the event in an ancestors dairy that was not a high profile member of the church.

    This got me thinking that perhaps some of the saints did have the experience causing leaders of the church in later years to play off of their experiences and retroactively provide sensational testimonies of their own to justify the succession choice of BY.

    To me the larger issue has to do with whether God uses such a transfiguration antics as the approved method of succession and divine appointment.

    If one documents everything God tells us in modern revelation about the process of succession, particularly with regard to section 43, it becomes apparent that making someone look and sound like someone else is not the approved and appointed method.

    Hence, if such an event did take place, it would more likely be conducted by the adversary than the Lord.

    What the saints should have been looking for, according to the succession protocol in section 43, was not a circus act of transformation, but rather, someone who had been appointed and ordained by God through Joseph Smith.

    The saints were expressly commanded to not accept the "teachings" of any man as "revelations and commandments" that had not been thusly appointed.

    Had the saints been obedience to that commandment, they would never have allowed themselves to be re-baptized in Utah under the commandment of Brigham Young, and they would not have been duped into accepting the many false doctrines that he taught.

    I agree they had the right to reject the Lord's designated successor by using the law of common consent to actuate their own choice.

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  6. Yes I agree that is a fair reading of Section 43. Hyrum was of course ordained by Joseph as his successor . He was the only one i am aware of . Do you know of any other, If the answer is no is it your position that their is no higher authority in the church since Josephs death ? In your view what does this mean for the COJCOLDS ?

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    1. Section 112: 30-32
      30 For unto you, the Twelve, and those, the First Presidency, who are appointed with you to be your counselors and your leaders, is the power of this priesthood given, for the last days and for the last time, in the which is the dispensation of the fulness of times,
      31 Which power you hold, in connection with all those who have received a dispensation at any time from the beginning of the creation;
      32 For verily I say unto you, the keys of the dispensation, which ye have received, have come down from the fathers, and last of all, being sent down from heaven unto you.

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    2. Since there is no list of keys held by the church, or keys held by particular quorums or officers, there is no definitive way to say which keys are held by the twelve vs. the first presidency, etc.

      I think it's valid to read these verses in section 112 in the larger context of the section, which is about missionary work and sending the twelve "among all nations" and "into all the world." The twelve specifically hold the keys to this missionary work and to "unlock the door of the kingdom" in places where the First Presidency cannot come.

      112:16-17 Verily I say unto you, my servant Thomas, thou art the man whom I have chosen to hold the keys of my kingdom, as pertaining to the Twelve, abroad among all nations— That thou mayest be my servant to unlock the door of the kingdom in all places where my servant Joseph, and my servant Sidney, and my servant Hyrum, cannot come;

      That makes the keys of the twelve subordinate and inferior to the keys of the first presidency.

      D&C 107 makes it clear that the function of the twelve is missionary work.

      23 The twelve traveling councilors are called to be the Twelve Apostles, or special witnesses of the name of Christ in all the world—thus differing from other officers in the church in the duties of their calling.

      33 The Twelve are a Traveling Presiding High Council, to officiate in the name of the Lord, under the direction of the Presidency of the Church, agreeable to the institution of heaven; to build up the church, and regulate all the affairs of the same in all nations, first unto the Gentiles and secondly unto the Jews.

      35 The Twelve being sent out, holding the keys, to open the door by the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and first unto the Gentiles and then unto the Jews.

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  7. The Benjamin F Johnson quote is directly from his autobiography published in 1847 titled " My Life's Review". That seems to be a timely account. I found the transcript online. How closely did you check out these references?

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  8. I believe you mean 1947, not 1847 (easy mistake to make ;-) The transcript in question includes a letter he wrote in 1903.

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  9. Yep, you're right. Just 100 years off. :)

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  10. You have the problem that spiritual experiences don't lend themselves to the same kind of analysis that natural phenomenons do. I'm sure we would all be untroubled by one person commenting on a profoundly spiritual sacrament meeting, (maybe it was a spiritual experience that changed an individual's life so that they would not forget it), and then hearing from another person who was present that it was just a regular meeting of no consequence. That isn't troubling because we are comfortable with the idea that one person can be affected by the spirit and another not be affected by it, even if they are in close proximity and listening to the same speaker. We aren't trying to establish whether or not an earthquake took place or an explosion or some other such event. We are determining whether or not a spiritual witness happened. The fact is that individuals who were present insisted that they did have such an experience. Their witness is unaffected by those who adopted it for themselves or who embellished it. It is also not necessarily to be rejected simply by the late reporting. Joseph Smith didn't record the first vision until long after it happened and the details he shared were not the same in every retelling of it. I would argue of course that the details were not contradictory even though they were not always the same. From a historical perspective Brigham Young's transfiguration has better support than the first vision does (multiple accounts, from people that we can verify were present for the event) while I understand the doubt that many have over both events I don't think historians have the ability assert conclusively one way or the other on either event. Which leaves us with a question of faith, I am of the firm belief that both events did in fact take place.

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  11. This one really hits home for me for a couple of reasons.

    I don't know if you, or anyone else, has ever listened to Truman Madsen's "Presidents of the Church" lectures (interestingly not titled "Prophets of the Church")given some years back. I own the CD set and I've listened to them many, many times. I loved them. Of course, having the veil on unbelief stripped away and allowing the Lord to start anew with me, I can't listen to them in the same way anymore because there's a lot of unintentional untruth mixed in with the good stuff. But that's a conversation for another day.

    At any rate, Brother Truman relates this story of Brigham "taking the mantle" and appearance of Joseph and he's very emotional about it. He chokes up. He weeps. He believes it and accepts it as Divine manifestation.

    I don't think anyone could argue Brother Truman's sincerity or devotion to the Lord. I think by just about any measure he's a good, righteous, humble and decent man. I think most of us would probably consider Truman one of the giants among us - up there with Brother Hugh. I hold him (and Hugh) in the highest regard.

    And yet, if he, one of the giants of our faith, can be deceived by this account, what does that say for the rest of us?

    This example, to me, shows just how powerful emotion is and that emotion is not Truth. We're all susceptible to it and the Adversary will use it to manipulate, control and blind us.

    Deception is the Adversary's oldest and most effective trick and a lot of us (referring mostly to myself) will spend a lifetime trying to separate the truth from the deception. It's not easy.

    Side note - I was cleaning out my garage the other week and came across a box of old VHS tapes from the 90s - Labor of Love, Legacy, Ensign to the Nations, etc. I thought about donating them to DI (realizing that nobody uses a VCR anymore), but instead I just chucked them and didn't really feel badly about it. Those videos excelled at the HeartSell. ;)

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  12. I disagree with the conclusions, with all respect. As with any spiritual manifestation, some may see it, and others present do not. I have read over 20 first hand accounts of mormons who saw it and recorded it in their histories. I do not defend Brigham, as he as deeply flawed. A few mormons were notorious liars, but most were honest sincere people. You want me to believe most were liars. Some of the first hand accounts are very impressive to me. Just because others present did not see it does not discredit it. If someone records their history, even 40 years later (such as Nephi) That does not discredit their account. Signed Jim Boren

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    1. Hi Jim,

      I see your point, and I would agree with you if human memory were really that reliable. But study after study shows that human memory is not reliable at all. For example, I recently read a study in which young adults were convinced they had committed a crime in their teenage years that they had not committed.

      Here's a quote: “All participants need to generate a richly detailed false memory is 3 hours in a friendly interview environment, where the interviewer introduces a few wrong details and uses poor memory-retrieval techniques.”

      If it only takes three hours to convince someone of something very negative, and have them produce detailed false memories of the event, how easy would it be to convince someone who was there that they saw something positive they didn't? Particularly when such memories are welcomed and encouraged?

      They weren't lying--at least not intentionally. They all honestly, sincerely believed they were telling the truth years later when all the "impressive" details got shared and amplified among the insular Utah Mormons.

      Now, as to your thought that perhaps some witnessed and some didn't, I'll reiterate the point that NOBODY made any record until years after the fact. I have read the first hand accounts just like you. Yes they are impressive. But they were ALL recorded many years after the fact, and they were fiction.

      There is still not one, single, recorded account from the time period. People were certainly not shy about recording and sharing it. So why did they wait so many years? And why did the results of the meeting contradict the alleged event? It just doesn't hold up to any kind of scrutiny.

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    2. Forgot to add the link to that study: http://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/people-can-be-convinced-they-committed-a-crime-they-dont-remember.html#.WDcbvHeZMmI

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