New article: Review of a paper on “Mormon Transhumanism”

For my reader [emphasis on the singular] out there, I have a new article recently published.

 

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A note on a proposed Book of Mormon geography

This is a somewhat technical and fairly esoteric essay.

But, given how badly the author I review stumbles, and given the rather unpleasant way he engages in the discussion and treats those with whom he disagrees, I think it was worth doing.

I don’t expect it will alter any views, but I think we need to at least call attention to bad reasoning and problematic claims, especially when authors or those selling a product use them as a springboard for other things.

http://www.mormoninterpreter.com/from-the-sea-east-even-to-the-sea-west-thoughts-on-a-proposed-book-of-mormon-chiasm-describing-geography-in-alma-2227/

To judge or not to judge: not much of a question

Justice_scales

I recently noticed a web article on Facebook which explains, in essence, that idea of “Love the sinner, hate the sin” isn’t a good way for Christian to approach such things. Instead, we are supposed to love our neighbor, and hate our own sin.

Now, surely hating our own sins is a good idea. And certainly loving our neighbors is part of the Christian call.

It is not surprising that this approach is superficially appealing. It speaks to the primary “sin” or zeitgeist of the modern, liberal (in the traditional sense of the term, not the politicized variety), secular west. And, that is this: tolerance is the great good, and the only sin that is unpardonable is the sin of intolerance. (I have written about this in detail here.)

Problem #1: Moral Confusion

For starters, though, if this doctrine was really implemented, it leads to moral confusion, if not outright moral paralysis.

If we are only allowed to recognize our own sins, then we become mute in the face of the great evils of the world. I had nothing to do with the murder of six million Jews—thus, under the dictates of “ignore others’ sins,” I’m not either supposed to or required to abhor and resist things like the Holocaust. But, that is absurd.

A double standard?

Now, I’m sure that the author or advocates of this theory don’t really believe the Holocaust or ISIS, or the kidnappings by Boko Haran, or Mao’s murder of millions by famine or Stalin’s in the gulag were of no moral moment; or that we shouldn’t denounce, resist, and even fight and die against such sins and evils.

They simply apply their ideas inconsistently. Thus, they see no irony in denouncing those who notice sin in others—because after all, wouldn’t it then inappropriate for them to point to my supposed sin in recognizing sin in others? Should they be preaching this doctrine at all, save in the chambers of their own hearts? It is logically inconsistent.

But, this doctrine is useful—and thus attractive—if one wishes to silence people who speak against sins that one wants left uncriticized—be it unwarranted divorce, or abortion, or homosexual acts, or whatever.

To speak against these acts is to be intolerant (the great secular sin, remember). So, this “don’t notice others’ sins” claim is a clever method of trying a bit of religious ju-jitsu against the Christian. But, it isn’t likely to be invoked when we are confronted with the sins or evils that the liberal secularist wants to eradicate: like homophobia, or racism, or sexism, or “intolerance.” Those will continue, one suspects, to be fair game for identification. They might even be decried, and those judged guilty of the same might even be persecuted or shamed into silence.

But, either ignoring great evil or selectively focusing only on a certain select class of sins isn’t this doctrine’s only weakness.

Problem #2: Personal evils

Perhaps even more troubling is how this idea eviscerates one of the great beauties and powers of Christianity—the idea that God can liberate us from the effects of others’ sins upon us. This applies not just to the massive, industrial-scale evils of genocide and terror discussed above. It applies to the searing personal ones as well.

Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? (Matthew 18:21)

Under the proffered doctrine, one might expect Jesus to say something like, “Peter, you shouldn’t be noticing the sin at all. Hate your own sins, my man.”

But, that isn’t what Jesus says. Instead, he says:

Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. (Matthew 18:22)

The very idea of forgiveness, the whole doctrine itself, presupposes two things:

  1. The existence and genuine reality of sin and evil; and
  2. The recognition and identification of that sin and evil by the Christian, and the necessity to react to it in a way that will be spiritually helpful, rather than damaging.

But bluntly, one cannot forgive what one does not spot. (I have written elsewhere of the difficulties people encounter when urged to “forgive” before they have counted the cost of a sin upon them.)

Here again, I suspect the author and advocates are not really taking their doctrine fully and seriously. Are we really to tell a victim of rape, or child abuse, or physical violence that they are not to even notice that they have been deeply wounded, violated, and sinned against? One hopes not.

Is someone violates my trust, am I not to have it register? If a sin causes me sorrow, am I to deny the reality of my tears? The beatitudes (Matthew 5:1–12) presuppose the recognition that one has been sinned against—and yet Jesus offers freedom from that. He does not, however, start by a denial that such suffering has occurred, or an insistence that we not notice it. (That, if anything, seems more Buddhist than Christian.)

Only among our own, or up the power structure?

Another related idea is that Jesus only intends a critique of his own religion or people, and then only of what we might call “the power elite.”

This likewise isn’t true. Jesus was quite happy to call Jews to account for sin. He did not reserve that right to himself; he clearly instructed his followers to reject the teachings and acts of others (e.g., Matthew 7:6; 16:6; Mark 8:15), which certainly implies that one will notice, assess, and then reject.

But, he was likewise willing to critique pagans (e.g., Matthew 6:7; 18:17; 20:25).

Other Biblical data

Besides the gospels, there’s a great deal of other data that shows that this stance simply isn’t Christian or biblical in any meaningful sense.

At the very beginning of the Christian era, Peter speaks to a large crowd. Presumably he’s putting into practice something of what he learned from Jesus. And his very first remarks address sin:

Ye men of Israel, hear these words; Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know:

Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain… (Acts 2:22–23)

Shouldn’t Peter just be forgiving and loving them? Apparently not—he is confronting them with their sinful behavior, and even labels it “wicked.”

But, in a key and more profound sense, Peter is forgiving and loving them. It would be unloving not to speak the truth—to ignore or wink at their sin. And, he is pointing them to the source of forgiveness. His own forgiveness matters little for them (though it matters for Peter, of course). They need God’s forgiveness, and so Peter’s invocation of their sin is prelude to an offer to help solve it.

Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.

Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?

Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:36–38)

Now, to be sure, they can accept or reject the offer. But, Peter seems duty-bound to make it. And, that offer presupposes the existence of sin. It makes no sense to offer someone the atonement and redemption of Christ if one is unaware that one is a sinner. Notice that some in the crowd “were pricked in their heart”—they had not known (or faced up to) their sin, until Peter called them on it. And, Peter went on at length, saying “Save yourselves from this untoward generation.” In other words, he indicted all of sin. Far from never mentioning sin and simply spreading love blossoms around, Peter mentioned everyone’s sin.

He returns to this theme repeatedly:

But ye denied the Holy One and the Just, and desired a murderer to be granted unto you; And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses….And now, brethren, I [know] that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. (Acts 3:14–17)

Notice that Peter is not simply calling the power elite to task—he calls everyone, the lowly Jews up to “your rulers.”

Peter later calls Ananias and Sapphira out for lying to the Lord (Acts 5).

Stephen, the first martyr, is pretty clear about sin (Acts 7:40, 51–53) and gets killed for it.

And, don’t get me started on Paul’s writings, or we’ll be here all night.

“Judge not”

It is common, of course, to invoke Jesus’ command to “Judge not, that ye be not judged” in these circumstances. Yet, as we have seen, Jesus at times seems to have encouraged his followers to do some judging, of both ideas and behavior. Furthermore, he encouraged us to follow his example—and the early Christians did so.

Those who invoke this trope tend to ignore (if they know) that elsewhere Jesus explicitly says, “Judge not according to the appearance, but judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24). So, there are contexts and ways in which judgment must be undertaken.

Judge not and judging righteously

So, how might we reconcile these ideas? We are both not to judge, and yet to judge. Was Jesus really that inconsistent? The early Christians did not think so.

I think the best treatment is by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Judge Not and Judging.”

I strongly recommend you consult the entire thing. I offer, in conclusion, only a few highlights:

We must, of course, make judgments every day in the exercise of our moral agency, but we must be careful that our judgments of people are intermediate and not final. Thus, our Savior’s teachings contain many commandments we cannot keep without making intermediate judgments of people: ‘Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine’ (Matthew 7:6); ‘Beware of false prophets….Ye shall know them by their fruits’ (Matthew 7:15-16); and ‘Go ye out from among he wicked’ (D&C 38:42).

We all make judgments in choosing our friends, in choosing how we will spend our time and our money, and, of course, in choosing an eternal companion. Some of these intermediate judgments are surely among those the Savior referred to when he taught that ‘the weightier matters of the law’ include judgment (Matthew 23:23).

I will let Elder Oaks conclude, and again encourage the reader to consult his far better treatment of the issues we’ve raised here:

Let us consider some principles or ingredients that lead to a ‘righteous judgment.’

First of all, a righteous judgment must, by definition, be intermediate. It will refrain from declaring that a person has been assured of exaltation or from dismissing a person as being irrevocably bound for hellfire. It will refrain from declaring that a person has forfeited all opportunity for exaltation or even all opportunity for a useful role in the work of the Lord. The gospel is a gospel of hope, and none of us is authorized to deny the power of the Atonement to bring about a cleansing of individual sins, forgiveness, and a reformation of life on appropriate conditions.

Second, a righteous judgment will be guided by the Spirit of the Lord, not by anger, revenge, jealousy, or self-interest….

Third, to be righteous, an intermediate judgment must be within our stewardship. We should not presume to exercise and act upon judgments that are outside our personal responsibilities….

A fourth principle of a righteous intermediate judgment of a person is that we should, if possible, refrain from judging until we have adequate knowledge of the facts.…

A fifth principle of a righteous intermediate judgment is that whenever possible we will refrain from judging people and only judge situations. This is essential whenever we attempt to act upon different standards than those of others with whom we must associate–at home, at work, or in the community. We can set and act upon high standards for ourselves or our homes without condemning those who do otherwise….

A final ingredient or principle of a righteous judgment is that it will apply righteous standards. If we apply unrighteous standards, our judgment will be unrighteous. By falling short of righteous standards, we place ourselves in jeopardy of being judged by incorrect or unrighteous standards ourselves. The fundamental scripture on the whole subject of not judging contains this warning: ‘For with what judgment je judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again’ (Matthew 7:2; see also 3 Nephi 14:2)….

A standard can be unrighteous because it is too harsh–the consequences are too severe for the gravity of the wrong and the needs of the wrongdoer…. [1]

Conclusion

Can and do people—including and especially Christians—judge unrighteously? Of course.

But, the mere presence of a judgment is not sufficient evidence that such unrighteous judgment has occurred. To make that judgment, ironically, requires the same approach as any judgment. It requires judging.

So, we all must and will make such judgments. We might as well be honest with ourselves that we are making them.

It is either that, moral nihilism, or self-deception.

Jesus hadn’t much patience with the last two options—you might even say he judged them as wanting.

Endnotes

========

[1] Dallin H. Oaks, “Judge Not and Judging,” address given at BYU on 1 March 1998, reproduced in Brigham Young University 1997–98 Speeches; all citations here are from this address unless otherwise noted.

Timely quotes on the passing scene–Part 7: Other scriptures

Book of Mormon:

Therefore I say unto you, that he that will not hear my voice, the same shall ye not receive into my church, for him I will not receive at the last day. Therefore I say unto you, Go; and whosoever transgresseth against me, him shall ye judge according to the sins which he has committed; and if he confess his sins before thee and me, and repenteth in the sincerity of his heart, him shall ye forgive, and I will forgive him also. 30 Yea, and as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me….Now I say unto you, Go; and whosoever will not repent of his sins the same shall not be numbered among my people; and this shall be observed from this time forward….

And it came to pass that Alma went and judged those that had been taken in iniquity, according to the word of the Lord. And whosoever repented of their sins and did confess them, them he did number among the people of the church; And those that would not confess their sins and repent of their iniquity, the same were not numbered among the people of the church, and their names were blotted out. (Mosiah 26:28-36)

 

Bible:

Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened.  For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without?  do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth.  Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person. (1 Corinthians 5:6-13)

Timely quotes on the passing scene–Part 6: Doctrine and Covenants

D&C 134:10

We believe that all religious societies have a right to deal with their members for disorderly conduct, according to the rules and regulations of such societies; provided that such dealings be for fellowship and good standing; but we do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them.  They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.

D&C 42:90-93: Why are some discipline matters announced publicly?

And if thy brother or sister offend many, he or she shall be chastened before many. And if any one offend openly, he or she shall be rebuked openly, that he or she may be ashamed.  And if he or she confess not, he or she shall be delivered up unto the law of God. If any shall offend in secret, he or she shall be rebuked in secret, that he or she may have opportunity to confess in secret to him or her whom he or she has offended, and to God, that the church may not speak reproachfully of him or her. And thus shall ye conduct in all things.

D&C 41:5

He that receiveth my law and doeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and doeth it not, the same is not my disciple, and shall be cast out from among you;

D&C 50:6-9

But wo unto them that are deceivers and hypocrites, for, thus saith the Lord, I will bring them to judgment. Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power; but behold such [those deceived by hypocrites] shall be reclaimed; But the hypocrites shall be detected and shall be cut off, either in life or in death, even as I will; and wo unto them who are cut off from my church, for the same are overcome of the world. Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me.

D&C 64:34-35

Behold, the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion in these last days. And the rebellious shall be cut off out of the land of Zion, and shall be sent away, and shall not inherit the land.

D&C 85:11

And they who are of the High Priesthood, whose names are not found written in the book of the law, or that are found to have apostatized, or to have been cut off from the church, as well as the lesser priesthood, or the members, in that day shall not find an inheritance among the saints of the Most High;

 

Timely quotes on the passing scene – Part 2: The Abuse of Pelatiah Brown

It is popular, in certain circles, to invoke the case of Pelatiah Brown in early Church history. Joseph Smith said this:

Elder Pelatiah Brown, one of the wisest old heads we have among us, and whom I now see before me… was hauled up for trial before the High Council.

“I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammeled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.” (History of the Church 5:339-340; see also TPJS, 288)

The implicit or explicit claim then made is that Joseph Smith would be opposed to subjecting those who teach and advance false doctrine, or who seek to undermine the Church, its leaders, or members, to Church discipline.

The First Problem

In the first place, this is absurd, because Joseph clearly countenanced–and participated in–the application of Church discipline to many who opposed the Church, fought against it, claimed its leaders were fallen prophets or frauds, or taught doctrines at variance with those he taught.

What, then, is going on in this case?

Well, those who invoke this episode don’t know (or count on you not knowing) the context.

The Second Problem–What Was Elder Brown Teaching?

Elder Brown advanced some ideas about the interpretation of the Revelation of St. John. You know the Book of Revelation–it’s that massively symbolic book at the end of the Bible that many Christian hobbyists have for millennia interpreted and applied to a vast variety of world figures.

The Beast, for example has been declared to be everyone from the Pope du jour to President Jimmy Carter. (Carter may have been many things, but he was not The Beast.)

In fact, you would know this immediately if those who quoted the above phrase had not omitted key text with an ellipsis.

An “ellipsis” is that little dot-dot-dot (…) mark they put in to show they’ve omitted text. So, I suspect that they did read this part, but omitted it because it undercuts their whole argument.

Let’s read the phrase with the text replaced, as in the original. I have bold-faced text that our helpful quote-miners have not included:

I will endeavor to instruct you in relation to the meaning of the beasts and figures spoken of. I should not have called up the subject had it not been for this circumstance. Elder Pelatiah Brown, one of the wisest old heads we have among us, and whom I now see before me, has been preaching concerning the beast which was full of eyes before and behind; and for this he was hauled up for trial before the High Council.

I did not like the old man being called up for erring in doctrine. It looks too much like the Methodist, and not like the Latter-day Saints. Methodists have creeds wich a man must believe or be asked out of their church. I want the liberty of thinking and believing as I please. It feels so good not to be trammelled. It does not prove that a man is not a good man because he errs in doctrine.

The High Council undertook to censure and correct Elder Brown, because of his teachings in relation to the beasts. Whether they actually corrected him or not, I am a little doubtful, but don’t care. Father Brown came to me to know what he should do about it. The subject particularly referred to was the four beasts and four-and-twenty elders mentioned in Rev 5:8—”And when he had taken the book, the four beasts and four-and-twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odors, which are the prayers of saints.”

Thus, the high council has objected to one Elder’s interpretation of Revelation, and has disciplined him for it. Joseph says that he wouldn’t even bother to speak on this subject, if not for what they’ve done.

Core Revealed Ideas vs. Peripheral, Speculative Ones

Clearly, he’s not upset that Brown has been disciplined for his views about some core Church doctrine or for undermining belief in a core Church doctrine–like whether God exists, or whether Jesus was divine, or whether Jesus lived as a real person, or whether the doctrine of the atonement is absurd, or whether Church leaders are called of God with a unique and exclusive authority, or whether the Book of Mormon is a divinely-inspired volume. (These are all claims which the current crop of dissidents are being called to account for.)

No, he’s upset that a speculative matter–about which the high council knows no more of the truth than Brown may–is trying to settle a silly squabble over a gospel hobby-horse through Church discipline.

More Context, If You Need It

This becomes even clearer when you read Joseph’s rebukes to all involved (I here bring some snippets; you can read the whole thing at your leisure).

  • “I have seldom spoken from the revelations [of St. John]; but as my subject is a constant source of speculation amongst the elders, causing a division of sentiment and opinion in relation to it, I now do it in order that division and difference of opinion may be done away with, and not that correct knowledge on the subject is so much needed at the present time.” [This stuff doesn’t matter, but so you’ll stop arguing about it, I’ll tell you a bit.]
  • “The evil of being puffed up with correct (though useless) knowledge is not so great as the evil of contention.” [If Brown sinned in insisting upon his interpretation a bit much, those who fought with him about it are in a worse state.]
  • “Father Brown has been to work and confounded all Christendom by making out that the four beasts represented the different kingdoms of God on the earth. The wise men of the day could not do anything with him, and why should we find fault? Anything to whip sectarianism, to put down priestcraft, and bring the human family to a knowledge of the truth. A club is better than no weapon for a poor man to fight with.” [Brown wasn’t exactly right, but his heart was in the right place–he was advancing a doctrine he believed in an effort to bring others to Christ. He was not striking at the foundations of belief or faithfulness.]
  • “Father Brown did whip sectarianism, and so far so good; but I could not help laughing at the idea of God making use of the figure of a beast to represent His kingdom on the earth, consisting of men, when He could as well have used a far more noble and consistent figure. What! the Lord made use of the figure of a creature of the brute creation to represent that which is much more noble, glorious, and important—the glories and majesty of His kingdom? By taking a lesser figure to represent a greater, you missed it that time, old gentleman; but the sectarians did not know enough to detect you.” [Joseph corrects the misunderstanding, but note how kindly–he acknowledges its good intention. In peripheral matters, intention counts a great deal. If Brown had continued to teach false doctrine when corrected by Joseph, the outcome likely would have been different.]
  • “Oh, ye elders of Israel, hearken to my voice; and when you are sent into the world to preach, tell those things you are sent to tell; preach and cry aloud, “Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand; repent and believe the Gospel.” Declare the first principles, and let mysteries alone, lest ye be overthrown. Never meddle with the visions of beasts and subjects you do not understand. Elder Brown, when you go to Palmyra, say nothing about the four beasts, but preach those things the Lord has told you to preach about—repentance and baptism for the remission of sins.” [These are trivial and peripheral matters–so don’t preach them, and quit arguing about them! Surely don’t excommunicate an otherwise faithful member over them.]
  • “I make this broad declaration, that whenever God gives a vision of an image, or beast, or figure of any kind, He always holds Himself responsible to give a revelation or interpretation of the meaning thereof, otherwise we are not responsible or accountable for our belief in it. Don’t be afraid of being damned for not knowing the meaning of a vision or figure, if God has not given a revelation or interpretation of the subject.”  [And thus, one ought not to discipline Elder Brown, since no authoritative revelation or standard applies in this case–God has not revealed it.]
  • “we never can comprehend the things of God and of heaven, but by revelation. We may spiritualize and express opinions to all eternity; but that is no authority.”

John Taylor made perhaps the best remark after Joseph’s: “I have never said much about the beasts, &c., in my preaching. When I have done it, it has been to attract attention and keep the people from running after a greater fool than myself.”

Those who quote this (significantly edited) material either don’t know the context (and are thus ignorant) or know it and hope you don’t (and are thus dishonest).

Neither case suggests you should trust their reading.

So, if you know someone being disciplined because of a slightly-bizarre view of the Revelation of St John, quote this episode.

Spare us, please, the specious claim that this means that you can oppose repeated instructions from local and general Church leaders about public acts and teachings.


 

Tune in next time when we see the same treatment offered to a more modern figure: President Dieter F. Uchdorf of the First Presidency. These folks are equal-opportunity quote-miners–both the nineteenth and twenty-first century leaders are fair game, it seems.

(One Reason) Why I Love Brigham Young

I’ve let the ol’ blog go a bit to seed.

I’m really not what great bloggers are made of–too many seem to think that people want to read the least thing that drops from their lips.

(And, honestly, on the few blogs I follow that’s actually true–I do simply enjoy those writer’s company. They don’t have to be constantly dropping wisdom and bon mots; it’s a little like a college bull-session between classes. So, hopefully someone out there finds the same pleasure in a few minutes of my virtual company.)

Image But, it occurs to me that it is Brigham Young’s birthday today, and that has shaken me from my slumber. And, in stake conference we were encouraged again to engage in these types of conversations.

Brigham Young

Brigham was the second–and longest serving–leader of my faith, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He kept the Church together following the murder of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum, and got them out of Illinois (and the United States) when citizens of that state and nation were trying to kill them, as other citizens had before.

Much has been said and written about and by Brigham–we have a much more robust record of his sermons and actions than we do of Joseph, for example. He was a powerful personality.

One thing that often gets lost, however, in accounts of Brigham is why he was as successful as he was.

Why was he–despite his rough edges, which were evident even to his contemporaries–almost universally supported, and even loved? Why did people follow him out into a desert, and persist despite persecution, famine, bad harvests, grasshoppers, Indian raids, US Army expeditions, and all the rest?

I found an account from my great-great-great-grandfather’s history that is little known outside the family, and I think it gives a window into part of the answer to that question.[1]

My grandfather’s background

He and his family lived outside of Nauvoo, and they were poor people:

My father was wont to go up to Nauvoo twice a year to attend conference, but never had the privilege of gathering with the saints until long after they were driven into the wilderness….The fact of our [327] being Mormons brought much persecution on our family of which I had my full share. Notwithstanding most of my playmates were relatives of one grade or another, mostly cousins on my mother’s side, I found myself early subjected to ridicule, taunts and many times to blows on this account. Our house was frequently stoned, the windows smashed in. Such was frequently the lawless and mobocratic spirit that prevailed in those days throughout the whole of the western country wherever a Latter-day Saint could be found….

…my father was taken with some disease which disabled him from working more or less for years, and we were as a consequence in poverty and distress, and this was the reason for not gathering with the Saints in Nauvoo….

Impending marriage

Isaiah discussed his love and impending marriage for a non-LDS woman, and noted:

[336] I had already caught the spirit of the gathering, and I knew that sooner or later it was my duty to gather with the Church….I at last laid my entire history before Elder Erastus Snow, one of the Twelve, and asked his counsel as to what I should do. He advised me to keep my engagement with Sarah, to marry her and leave the event with God….

Isaiah was teaching school in an area in which he was the only member. Despite being the only Mormon family, prejudice was sufficient to threaten his lifelihood:

[338]…Many of my patrons became highly incensed at the idea of their school teacher being a Mormon and began to withdraw their children from school and to clamor for my dismissal. I knew that eventually I should have to quit. About this time, an uncle of [my wife’s]…came on a visit….When he learned that I was a Mormon, his fury knew no bounds. Being a giant in physical proportions and strength, he seriously contemplated annihilating me utterly….[My wife] was afraid of him from the first, and when he threatened to follow me to the frontiers, if I started with her and to kill me wherever he found me, her mind that had all the time been wavering on the subject of accompanying me, was made up that she would remain. I told him flatly that I should go to Utah when spring opened and that I would take my wife with me if she wished to go.

In the meantime my once thriving school was now almost deserted, and I saw myself daily become more and more isolated from the community. Very few of my old friends stood by me in this trying hour. If my wife had been one with me I should not have minded it, for I had fully calculated on everything else; but she too was drifting away from me, and this it was that drove me almost to distraction. Still I labored on heartsick and weary until the 6th day of April when I went again to St. Louis to attend conference. While there I again sought the advice of Bro. Snow. After hearing me through he said, “You can have your choice of two things, either go on a mission to England to preach the gospel or go home to the valley. If you go to England your wife will likely repent while you are gone and be willing to go with you anywhere by the time you get back; if she sees you starting for the valley she may change her mind even at the eleventh hour and conclude to accompany you.”

After a night’s reflection on the subject, sleeping none, praying much, I decided to go with the emigration to Utah, be the final decision of my wife what it might. “Very well,” said Bro. Snow, “that is as I would have decided myself. It is the best thing you can do.”

Trip to Salt Lake

Isaiah’s wife did not decide to go with him.

[339]…when I came to part with my wife, my heart sank like lead within me. Henceforth, we were to see each other no more in this life…Hurrying away I entered the wagon that was waiting, buried my face in my hands, and looked not up again until [the town] and all its near and dear associations were left far behind. If I had not turned to a pillar of salt or ice, the sight of my beloved wife standing in the door would have melted my heart within me and I should have returned, and thereby braved the displeasure of the Almighty and perhaps have yielded little by little to the voice of the tempter until I, with her, should have been eternally lost and shut out form the presence of God and the holy Angels. The responsibilities resting upon me were too great. My father, brothers, and sisters tied hand and foot in Babylon with the iron chain of poverty, looked to me as a deliverer; they expected me to go ahead and open the way for them to come. A long line of ancestors who had died without the gospel in the ages past were calling to me with their spirit voices and bidding me go up and assist in rearing a temple wherein to officiate for them that they might come up and receive blessings equally with the living. And last, though not least was the consideration that I was obeying the voice of God and that I was taking a course that would secure my own glory and exaltation and that would eventually either in this life or that which is to come enable me to bind my wife to me in bands that could not be broken. She was blind then but the day would come when she would see….

[344] The year of my arrival in the valleys was one of hard times. The grasshoppers had preyed on the crops until starvation seemed to stare the people in the face. Grave apprehensions were entertained by many, of a famine. Being a thousand miles from the frontiers with no connecting railroad on which to bring supplies, we found ourselves thrown on our own resources of sustenance. Under the same circumstances any other people would have starved to death. But the Saints hearkened to the counsels of the prophet and were saved. A public feast was proclaimed every week and what was thus saved was distributed to the poor. Every man who had bread divided with his neighbor and thus the community was saved from the horrors [345] of famine. I heard of no instance of rich or well-to-do men taking advantage of the necessities of the poor. President Young himself set the example in this respect and dealt out to the people as long as any remained in his bins. Greens, wild roots, etc., were freely eaten by all classes so as to spin out the bread stuff until the harvest of [18]56….

Conclusion: Birth of a son and what followed

We come now to my point about Brigham. It’s taken a bit of time to get here, but you need the background to understand what comes next.

We’ve seen Brigham function on a broader scale–the territory-wide food shortage. But, he remains a somewhat remote figure, as he’d almost have to with thousands of members spread out over a huge area.

In spring of 1856, Isaiah learned that his estranged wife had given birth to his first child, a son.

…[345] I longed for the power of an immortal that I might transport myself in a moment to the side of my wife and babe. I felt as if I were caged, bound hand and foot and I struggled in spirit to free myself. And yet I was not sorry for what I had done. I could not however put out of my mind the intense longing to see my loved ones. It seemed as if I could not contain myself. While in this state of mind I one day met Bro. Erastus Snow and as he had always taken a very kindly interest in my welfare, I told him the news I had received and my feelings in relation to it. He advised me to go to President Young and lay the whole matter before him and then act on any counsel he might give me. I lost no time in adopting this advice.

During the whole of this recital [President Young] sat with one hand on my knee, looking in my face and listened attentively to what I had to say. At the close he took me by the hand in his fatherly way and said, “Bro. Coombs, you had better take a mission to the States this fall to preach the gospel and to visit your wife. Brother Snow had represented your case to me before. He is going to start on a mission to St. Louis in a few days and will be in charge. He would be pleased, I know, to have you as a co-laborer. Travel under his directions; visit your wife as often as you please; preach the gospel to her, and if she is worth having she will come with you when you return to the valley. God bless and proper you.” Such was the counsel of God’s prophet to me and I need not say that it sounded to my ears like the voice of my Father. It was sweet—-it was just what I had hoped he would say to me, and it was entirely satisfying to my soul. I felt as if I had suddenly been transported to the seventh heaven, so great was the joy that filled my bosom (emphasis added).

His wife never did accept Mormonism. Yet, Isaiah would love and honor Brigham for the rest of his life–and was eventually employed as one of Brigham’s clerks.

Here we have a young, poor member of the Church. He was not from Nauvoo; he did not move in the circles of Church power and influence. He doesn’t come in to the histories of the period.

His family was destitute, and still back in the east. He was, quite literally, a nobody—or, so you would think. But, Brigham evidently didn’t think so.

I think Brigham’s behavior and treatment of this troubled, unimportant young man speaks for itself. And, I think it shows why Isaiah and thousands of other Saints loved Brigham, and followed him to the ends of the earth.

So, whenever I hear someone criticize Brigham, I think of this story. And, I think my grandfather would have my hide if I ever turned on “Brother Brigham.”

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[1] Kate B. Carter, ed., Isaiah M[oses] Coombs from His Diary and Journal (Salt Lake City, Utah: published by Daughters of Utah Pioneers through Utah Printing Company, n.d.). Page numbers have been inserted into my citations in square brackets.